All the city’s flotsam and jetsam

1: Cancer and climate change

I’m a climate scientist who has just been told I have Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

This diagnosis puts me in an interesting position. I’ve spent much of my professional life thinking about the science of climate change, which is best viewed through a multidecadal lens. At some level I was sure that, even at my present age of 60, I would live to see the most critical part of the problem, and its possible solutions, play out in my lifetime. Now that my personal horizon has been steeply foreshortened, I was forced to decide how to spend my remaining time. Was continuing to think about climate change worth the bother?

2: Ten thousand years of the mortar and pestle

3: Vader's Redemption: The Imperial March in a Major Key

4: The tube at a standstill: why TfL stopped people walking up the escalators

It’s British lore: on escalators, you stand on the right and walk on the left. So why did the London Underground ask grumpy commuters to stand on both sides? And could it help avert a looming congestion crisis?

5: Google Earth fractals

The following is a "photographic" gallery of fractal patterns found while exploring the planet with Google Earth. Each is provided with a KMZ file so the reader can explore the region for themselves. Readers are encouraged to submit their own discoveries for inclusion, credits will be included. Besides being examples of self similar fractals, they are often very beautiful structures ... not an uncommon characteristic of fractal geometry.

6: The digital materiality of GIFs

The history, present and future of GIFs.

7: A collection of Bat-labels

Collecting the explanatory labels on everything in the 1966-1968 Batman TV series.

8: Michael Wolf captures abstract, accidental sculptures in Hong Kong alleyways

For over 20 years Michael Wolf has been photographing Hong Kong. During that time he has captured the towering pastel facades of its high rise architecture in a vein similar to Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, but perhaps more interestingly he has delved into the hidden maze of the city’s back alleys. What he found and has faithfully documented, are the innumerable abstract urban still lifes seen throughout. All the city’s flotsam and jetsam, from clusters of gloves and clothes hangers, to networks of pipes and a full colour spectrum of plastic bags, are photographed in strange, but entirely happenstance arrangements.

9: A list of the 100 oldest rockstars still living

10: 'Shocking celebrity nip slips': Secrets I learned writing clickbait journalism

I spent six months writing traffic-baiting articles about 'nearly naked' red carpet dresses and Hollywood bikini shots. Here is my dispatch from the dark side of online celeb journalism.

11: Poachers using science papers to target newly discovered species

Academic journals have begun withholding the geographical locations of newly discovered species after poachers used the information in peer-reviewed papers to collect previously unknown lizards, frogs and snakes from the wild, the Guardian has learned.

12: Why I ignore the daily news and read The Economist instead (and how you can too)

But there’s one big downside to the The Economist: it’s a bear to read every week. Not because of the writing, which is crisp and engaging, but because of the volume. Each issue contains about 90 pages of densely packed 9-point type and few photos.

Here’s my 7-step system for reading The Economist every week.

A jigsaw everyone could put together differently

1: Simply everything: On David Bowie

But as much as Bowie borrowed and benefitted from the likes of Iggy Pop and Brian Eno, there was a there there. Bowie may not have had a soul, but he had heart (or maybe it was the other way around). Everything he absorbed was then refracted back through his unique sensibility, one that was at once and in no particular order sentimental and dead-eyed. With Bowie, you could never tell if you were being lured into feelings, if the whole thing was an elaborate prank, or if Bowie’s music was pulsating with emotion despite all its cunning and pretense. It almost doesn’t matter. Bowie’s music means so much to so many of us that artist intention seems beside the point. “Soul Love” projects warmth even if it’s meant as kitsch; the melodramatic “Life on Mars” soars; his over-the-top version of “Word on a Wind” still cuts to the quick.

2: David Bowie: Ground control to Davy Jones

Cameron Crowe’s 1976 feature for Rolling Stone:

"Rock & roll is a very accessible medium for any young artist. Don't you think so? I like music but it's not my life by any stretch of the imagination. I mean I was a painter before, but as a painter I couldn't make enough money to live on. So I went into advertising and that was awful. That was the worst. I got out of that and tried rock & roll because it seemed like an enjoyable way of making my money and taking four or five years out to decide what I really wanted to do. I have no ideals on being a starving artist at all."

3: David Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust years: 'We were creating the 21st Century In 1971’

Having not really written any generational songs, I think maybe two or three of the songs that I've ever written have any bearing on the age of the listener. My stuff tends to be far more concerned with the spiritual, and with subjects like isolation and being miserable, so I think that sort of touches on really any age group. So in my terms, they're just songs. The vehicle for those songs is a music that did indeed start as a youth-culture music, but it has aged well in itself and it has become a vast and complex thing now. There's so many subdivisions and styles and variations. No, it's just what I do. I wouldn't know how to write and play any other kind of music, frankly.

4: Go put on David Bowie's Hunky Dory

My friend Jeva:

But when I discovered David Bowie on my own terms, it was with 1971's Hunky Dory — an album I still believe to be his greatest, if not one of the greatest albums of all time. For someone as prolific and ever-shifting as Bowie, the singer's fourth album is still the best chance we have to hear all the different shades of him in one go — the outer-space song alongside the song for kooks, a track about Andy Warhol following up a command to fill our hearts. Hunky Dory is both a "start here" album and an "end here" album, even though so many of us never thought there'd truly be an end. Blackstar, Bowie's latest album that was released on his 69th birthday Friday, is hailed to be as good as the stuff he was making in his so-called prime.

5: ohyouprettythings.com

6: The life changing power of discovering David Bowie

What you found wasn't one Bowie, but layers of him, a jigsaw everyone could put together differently. Fit it together in the right way, and the jigsaw's solution was a mirror—a way to understand yourself through this extraordinary man. For many, the mirror arranged itself in a way that let them realize who they were and who they wanted. The boxes of gender, style, self-expression or sexuality you were put into were just a push away from tearing open.

7: David Bowie's top 100 must-read books

American classics of the 50s and 60s are strongly represented – On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood – as are tales of working-class boys made good, which emerged in the postwar years: Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar and Room at the Top by John Braine, and The Outsider by Colin Wilson, a study of creativity and the mindset of misfits. RD Laing's The Divided Self speaks to a fascination with psychotherapy and creativity, as does The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. There is no evidence that Bowie's scientific inquries extend beyond psychology – Stephen Hawking's cosmic theories are out – but his tastes are otherwise broad.

8: BowieNet: how David Bowie's ISP foresaw the future of the internet

9: My husband's stupid record collection: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

(The premise of this blog: ‘Where I listen to my husband's record collection, one record at a time, and tell you what I think.’)

Oh okay, so The Spiders From Mars are the band members. I get it. I feel like if this is such a concept album that the lyrics should have been included in the liner notes to really pore over the story. I could tell he was trying to tell a story just by looking at the cover though! According to the website, “The album is the story of an alien rock superstar called Ziggy Stardust who reaches fame just as the Earth enters the last five years of its existence. He ends up the victim of his own success and becomes a “rock n roll suicide.” I didn’t exactly get that on my own. But that’s okay. Honestly, the meaning of the concept album isn’t that important to me, I just like the songs. I will definitely put this album on again, I feel like I’ll discover more and more layers with each listen, and I’ll remember to play it at maximum volume.

10: Queen and David Bowie - “Under Pressure” (isolated lead vocal tracks)

I want to be a 55-year-old black musician

1: Better as a Tweet

From John Herrman’s excellent Awl series, The Content Wars:

What’s unusual about text, and which helps explain why journalists’ reactions to this change are so confident and visceral—as opposed to the resigned and uncertain responses they have to changes in Facebook, which, to them, is much more powerful in ways they can control much less—is that, unlike, say, native Twitter images, which marginalized a small number of Twitter-specific companies, longer posts change a professional calculus for anyone who uses Twitter to promote writing online. An old boss used to say, half-joking and then eventually not joking at all, “maybe that story would be better as a tweet.” What was initially almost pejorative—said to mean “short” or “slight” or “unworthy of a longer post”—became a complex judgement. Could this piece of news be conveyed well in a sentence or two with an image or video? Could we just screenshot that statement, or release, rather than asking people to follow a link to a post where it’s quoted? If the answer is yes, then the corresponding reader question—would I rather see this on Twitter, or click on some site—is answered as well.

The ability to post 10,000 characters will make the answer to that question “yes” in a majority of situations. Possibly a large majority! This post, for example, would fit in a 10,000 word text card. I doubt anyone reading it expanded in their Twitter feed would think, “damn, I wish I was reading this on a website instead of right here! I wish I had clicked a link, for some reason!” This is somewhat worrying if you’re in the business of making posts against which ads are sold.

2: What's the plural of emoji?

You may well have seen this doing the rounds—just as interesting is Meyer’s follow-up note.

3: An isochronic map of the world, c. 1914

This is an isochronic map – isochrones being lines joining points accessible in the same amount of time – and it tells a story about how travel was changing. You can get anywhere in the dark-pink section in the middle [London] within five days – to the Azores in the west and the Russian city of Perm in the east. No surprises there: you’re just not going very far. Beyond that, things get a little more interesting. Within five to ten days, you can get as far as Winnipeg or the Blue Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal. It takes as much as 20 days to get to Tashkent, which is closer than either, or Honolulu, which is much farther away. In some places, a colour sweeps across a landmass, as pink sweeps across the eastern United States or orange across India. In others, you reach a barrier of blue not far inland, as in Africa and South America. What explains the difference? Railways.

4: After years directing indie films, Transparent star Jay Duplass found himself in an unlikely place: in front of the camera

It’s a choice that belies Jay’s relative lack of acting experience. He and Mark began making movies in New Orleans when they were very young, and because of their age difference — Jay is four years older than Mark — it worked out that Jay would operate the camera while Mark stayed in front of it. As they grew up, they lived what Jay calls an “uncultivated, un-curated” childhood, filled with street football and DIY art projects and a general improvisational spirit, including a deep involvement in music.

“When you grow up in New Orleans, like, the only way to be an artist is to be a 55-year-old black musician. That’s basically what we wanted to be,” he said. “If you had asked me very truthfully what I wanted to be when I was 16, the answer would’ve been, ‘I want to be a 55-year-old black musician.’”

5: Ruth and Martin’s album club: Ram by Paul McCartney

Martin Carr (The Boo Radleys) listens to Ram for the first time. Spoiler: he loves it. As he should. (See also Dave Depper’s The Ram Project, where he re-recorded everything you can hear on the album over the course of a single month.)

6: Pavement: 10 of the best

Where is ‘Shady Lane’?

Participation in a metaphysical polemic

1: The DNA of a London Underground Station

This is endlessly fascinating:

On 1st December 2015 Transport for London (TfL) unveiled its new design bible, the Design Idiom. Though the name may sound grandiose, the goal is simple: create a document that captures the design aesthetic of the Underground, so that good design can help drive decision-making at London Underground.

“It’s all about bringing good design to the forefront of our thinking.” explains Mark Evers, Director of Customer Strategy at TfL. “Very simply, setting out the key principles that can help us deliver well-designed stations in the future, every time.”

“This Design Idiom is about taking that step back and making sure that in the future we are thinking far more holistically about the way we should be undertaking work on our stations.”

2: My first book: Adventures in learning to read Japanese

All readers are familiar with the sensation of falling into a book. By their very nature, books invite you to immerse yourself in the world they have constructed. When it comes to a book in another language, however, such immersion feels both familiar and alien. While reading Kokoro no mori, I felt like a seasoned explorer suddenly sent to scope out Mars: the process was the same, but everything else was totally different. I had to attune myself to the rhythms of another language, to slowly gather an instinct for its patterns and structures, its particular logic. After spending so long in comfortable, well-trod terrain, finding myself in a new one was intimidating, exhilarating, and mesmerizing, all at once.

I'm currently learning Italian and, a few weeks ago, I opened up La Gazzetta dello Sport. Big mistake. I could feel the motivation evaporating out of me. I can hardly imagine reading a novel in another language.

3: Toward a new fantastic: Stop calling it science fiction

This is a wonderful paragraph:

This attitude toward science is widespread and can be found in both the resurgence of the popular television show Cosmos, as well as with popular websites like “I Fucking Love Science,” both of which exist in some form to produce questionably accurate infographics for social network sites. In terms of the latter, we are able to see the confusion: When my cousin posts a picture of a wild-looking insect from an exotic part of the world with the caption “I Fucking Love Science,” I am not sure what I am supposed to be celebrating. Is my cousin an enthusiast of the natural world? An advocate of empirical methodologies? Is his participation in a metaphysical polemic willing or unwitting? Either way, science did not give us the tap-dancing mating ritual of the rainbow spider, and it sure as hell is not the gatekeeper for my enjoyment of it.

4: Why we all dream of being jewel thieves

Stories about burglaries and heists don't often appeal to me. But using them as jumping off points to discuss city topology, that's something else entirely:

These examples are not only fascinating on their own as infrastructural factoids or as urban esoterica: They are also evidence that the logic of the city of London is already a logic of secret connections and startling proximities. Putting this knowledge to work in order to access bank vaults or to plunder safe deposit boxes is thus, in some ways, just an everyday temptation encountered by living in England’s capital city—as if cutting holes through walls, or digging tunnels between buildings, is, perversely, one of the more efficient ways of moving through the city.

The fabric of London, then, is one defined by perforation: serendipitous adjacencies that allow for movement out of sight and across property lines, through walls, from one building to another. After all, in a city where you can open a door in the base of a statue and walk underground to an entirely other neighborhood, in a sense, why not dream of bank tunnels?

5: When San Diego hired a rainmaker a century ago, it poured

As California endures its worst drought in 1,200 years, residents of the Golden State are turning to extreme—and desperate—measures to quench their collective thirst. Sun-baked farmers are hiring “water witches” to divine underground water sources with forked branches, while a company called Rain on Request has pledged to end the drought by building electrical towers that would induce rainfall by ionizing the atmosphere. When California found itself in a similar parched position exactly 100 years ago, the city of San Diego did something that seems even more bizarre—it hired a rainmaker. The thing is, it might have worked. After Charles Mallory Hatfield began his work to wring water from the skies, San Diego experienced its wettest period in recorded history. So was the rain an act of God or an act of Hatfield?

6: Dear architects: sound matters

A nice interactive look at how architects should consider sound in their plans. (This works on all devices but is best on a desktop with headphones.)

7: Windows 95 on a Nintendo 3DS is as strange as you'd think

8: Word count for web pages

Key takeaway:

Word counts can be harmful to usability. Structured, user-centred, well researched content is all you need.

9: 25 years after its imperial phase: Who killed shoegaze?

With the release of MBV's Loveless, 1991 marked the high water mark for shoegaze before the music press turned its back with a nose-high snort of derision. Ben Cardew looks over the history of the genre and asks if its decline was simply because the music just got boring.

10: Style guide best practices at Beyond Tellerrand

Brad Frost:

Last month I was in beautiful Berlin for the wonderful Beyond Tellerrand conference, where I had the opportunity to talk about style guide best practices and all that goes into creating and maintaining successful pattern libraries.

The result is this garbage

1: The website obesity crisis

A typically great talk by Maciej, who appears on this site more than most:

Let me start by saying that beautiful websites come in all sizes and page weights. I love big websites packed with images. I love high-resolution video. I love sprawling Javascript experiments or well-designed web apps.

This talk isn't about any of those. It's about mostly-text sites that, for unfathomable reasons, are growing bigger with every passing year.

While I'll be using examples to keep the talk from getting too abstract, I’m not here to shame anyone, except some companies (Medium) that should know better and are intentionally breaking the web.

2: What’s a species, anyways?

The search for the red wolf’s origins have led scientists to a new theory about how evolution actually works.

3: All I want for Christmas is MIDI

i put “All I Want for Christmas is You” through a MIDI converter, and then back through an mp3 converter

the result is this garbage

4: The Music Word Processor: Who we are

In short: rather than music criticism, The Music Word Processor is music criticism criticism. This blog is a space to explore questions like: what is the state of music writing in the 21st century? Is the corporatization of music writing inevitable? What are the kinds of narratives constructed by music writers and publications?

5: Make Believe Mailer Vol. 6: ナイス ニューズレター! 力限りない

From a newsletter by Patrick St. Michel about supposedly “Japanese” artists on the web:

At some point in 2015, these badly photoshopped, boring homages to the first generation of vaporwave -- which had been released unobtrusively through Mediafire for the most part -- outnumbered releases from real Japanese artists. For a while, I just stopped using Bandcamp as a place to explore new Japanese music, because everything tagged "Japan" seemed like a lie. it was annoying, but not as annoying as toggling over to the "best-selling" section and seeing the exact same thing. And all of the albums seemed to come primarily from one place.

6: The science myths that will not die

Some dangerous myths get plenty of air time: vaccines cause autism, HIV doesn't cause AIDS. But many others swirl about, too, harming people, sucking up money, muddying the scientific enterprise — or simply getting on scientists' nerves. Here, Nature looks at the origins and repercussions of five myths that refuse to die.

7: What I’m currently reading

Let's see what the dog will do

12 weird, excellent Twitter bots chosen by Twitter’s best bot-makers

This includes several of my favourites. (A reminder that I have an ebooks bot (also created by Brett), @cold_ebrains. If you follow it it might talk to you.

Noel Gallagher talks to GQ

I’m not quite sure it deserves its own subdomain, but it’s typically good value from Gallagher. A typical quote:

And I hate pop stars who are just… neh. Just nothing, you know? “Oh, yeah, my last selfie got 47-thousand-million likes on Instagram.” Yeah, why don’t you go fuck off and get a drug habit, you penis?

How we became the heaviest drinkers in a century

Everyone in alcohol research knows the graph. It plots the change in annual consumption of alcohol in the UK, calculated in litres of pure alcohol per person. (None of us drinks pure alcohol, thankfully; one litre of pure alcohol is equivalent to 35 pints of strong beer.) In 1950, Brits drank an average of 3.9 litres per person. Look to the right and at first the line barely rises. Then, in 1960, it begins to creep upward. The climb becomes more steady during the 1970s. The upward trajectory ends in 1980, but that turns out to be temporary. By the late 1990s consumption is rising rapidly again. Come Peak Booze, in 2004, we were drinking 9.5 litres of alcohol per person – the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine.

Why is English so weirdly different from other languages

Nevertheless, the Latinate invasion did leave genuine peculiarities in our language. For instance, it was here that the idea that ‘big words’ are more sophisticated got started. In most languages of the world, there is less of a sense that longer words are ‘higher’ or more specific. In Swahili, Tumtazame mbwa atakavyofanya simply means ‘Let’s see what the dog will do.’ If formal concepts required even longer words, then speaking Swahili would require superhuman feats of breath control. The English notion that big words are fancier is due to the fact that French and especially Latin words tend to be longer than Old English ones – end versus conclusion, walk versus ambulate.

Alvin and the Chipmunks played at 16 RPM

Super sludgy and very listenable.

What can a technologist do about climate change?

A hugely comprehensive look at what Silicon Valley’s best could do to tackle a rather bigger problem.

This is a “personal view”, biased by my experiences and idiosyncrasies. I’ve followed the climate situation for some time, including working on Al Gore’s book Our Choice, but I can’t hope to convey the full picture — just a sliver that’s visible from where I’m standing. I urge you to talk to many scientists and engineers involved in climate analysis and energy, and see for yourself what the needs are and how you can contribute.

This is aimed at people in the tech industry, and is more about what you can do with your career than at a hackathon. I’m not going to discuss policy and regulation, although they’re no less important than technological innovation. A good way to think about it, via Saul Griffith, is that it’s the role of technologists to create options for policy-makers.

The archive of eating

One 84-year-old librarian has spent more than half her life building a comprehensive database of cookbooks throughout history. […] From ladyfingers to latkes is a prose poem suggestive of whole worlds. The list runs on and on, from aal (German for eel) to zucchini, seeming to contain the promise of a universal cookbook of European and American cuisine, pieced together from all the recipes ever written — a Borgesian feat of quixotic and fantastical taxonomy.

The new New York skyline

This is beautifully presented.

Manhattan is in the midst of an unprecedented boom in tall buildings. Before 2004, Manhattan was home to 28 skyscrapers 700 feet and taller. Since then, an additional 13 have been built, 15 are under construction, and 19 are proposed—47 more in all. These additions are rapidly—and radically—changing the skyline.

Quiz: The pieces everything is made of

A quiz about the elements of the periodic table by Randall Munroe.

Several years ago, Munroe, the creator of the Web comic “xkcd,” published his own blueprint of a Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon. He called it “Up Goer Five.” The blueprint, he explained in a parenthetical note, was annotated “using only the ten hundred words people use the most often”—that is, the thousand most common words in English. It was aerospace engineering made simple. The rocket’s tower-jettison motor became the “thing to help people escape really fast if there’s a problem and everything is on fire so they decide not to go to space.” The Apollo command module became the “people box.”

Buster Keaton - The art of the gag

Before Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson, before Chuck Jones and Jackie Chan, there was Buster Keaton, one of the founding fathers of visual comedy. And nearly 100 years after he first appeared onscreen, we’re still learning from him. Today, i’d like to talk about the artistry (and the thinking) behind his gags.

Brown acid black leather: The story Of The Jesus And Mary Chain's Psychocandy

We couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love both things and that combination of melody and extreme noise was so obvious to us. And they were equally as important. And so was Motown. Take ‘Just My Imagination’ – that’s three chords with really strange reverb on it. Everybody talks about The Velvets but we were more than that. Nobody really mentions the Motown influences or glam rock. You know, stuff like Gary Glitter and that were a huge thing in our life when we were young. The first thing we bought was T-Rex.

Optimising a WordPress news site for content editors

I’ve produced OU News, a news and media WordPress site for my employer, The Open University (OU). It complements and may eventually replace an existing press release repository.

It’s aimed at a wider audience than just journalists: students, staff, alumni as well as the general public.

I approached it with a firm focus on content strategy, and this post outlines some choices I made to make it useful and usable for its readers as well as making the content publishing process as quick and easy as possible for editors.

The existing OU news site

I believe the press release site to be nearly 15 years old. It’s had minor incremental improvements since then, but mostly to stop things breaking rather than proactive enhancements.[1] Various features have been removed or deprecated, such as the RSS feed.

The site isn’t terribly useful for its intended audience: navigation isn’t great, and it is quite restrictive in terms of what can be included in a post. Just text and a thumbnail image. I understand the content publishing process can be laborious and time-consuming.

New OU sites are typically built using Drupal[2] and OU ICE, a front-end HTML, CSS and Javascript framework for quick and easy production of accessible and brand-compliant sites. This suitable for the vast majority of cases. In the 5–10% where something more is needed, OU IT will produce and support custom Drupal themes or sub-themes. In this case, IT weren’t able to support the design and build, so we embarked upon it ourselves.[3]

Building a WordPress replacement

I hadn’t used WordPress in anger for several years and, if I’m honest, I didn’t have terrific memories of using it. When I started this site (the one you are reading) I didn’t even consider it.

I spent a couple of days downloading, installing and testing a dozen or so CMSs. The majority were wholly unsuited for this project. They required technical expertise beyond what would be expected of the team who manage the content—their skills are in media relations, not wrangling static site generators using the command line.

It was obvious that I should leave any bias behind. WordPress ticked the most boxes: a couple of the team had used it before, it’s thoroughly extensible, and there’s a huge support community in case things go wrong.

CMS chosen, I looked at themes. The intention was always to buy a flexible theme and to customise it to better suit our needs. We chose Sense. It has good navigation and UX out of the box while being much more visually appealing than the previous site. There are a large number of ways to organise and lay out posts.

There are several other good things about Sense. It has a highly usable drag and drop interface for building page layouts and uses widgets to build sidebars and footers in a intuitive way. Site editors can drop in URLs from media and social media sites and they automatically embed the content—no need for shortcodes or embed codes.[4]

Choosing plugins to help editors

Part of the reason I hadn’t had a terrific experience with WordPress on a previous project was that I had bad experience with plugins failing or being incompatible. This time round, I spent a lot of time searching for reliable plugins to make my life and the editors’ lives easier.

Here’s a rundown of the plugins I used:

  • Advanced Custom Fields. I ended up using this less than I expected. It allows you to customise the fields used in your posts in order to structure your content in a much more useful way. One for the content modellers out there. As the project developed, it was apparent that most of our content types were well served by WordPress’s standard content types and fields.
  • Avatar manager. Allows me to upload images of the site editors rather than them using Gravatar.
  • Better writing. Adds a readability score to all posts using the Flesch reading ease test. As a university we’re prone to unnecessary verbiage; this plugin is a reminder to editors to speak plainly for a general audience.
  • Broken Link Checker. Periodically scans your site for 404s (internal and external). Prints the results on the admin dashboard and emails them to the editor who published the post. I’m unsure how resource-intensive this plugin will be as the site grows, so I’ll keep my eye on it.
  • Google Analytics (Yoast). Makes it easy to add tracking code regardless of theme and see headline metrics in your WordPress admin interface.
  • ImageInject. Lets editors insert Creative Commons images based on the post title or a search string of their choosing. Adds them in the body of the post or as a featured image, and includes attribution information consistent with the licence.
  • Inline Tweet Sharer. Lets you turn quotes or other short passages of text into anchor text for Tweetable links. I might remove this as the editors haven’t really taken to using it.
  • P3: Plugin Performance Profiler. If you’ve looked at this list and thought, “That’s a long list of plugins”, you’ll like this one. It undertakes an on-demand scan of your site to see if any plugins are drastically affecting site performance. (For the record, there isn't anything in this list causing alarm.)
  • Radio Buttons for Taxonomies. I have a compulsion that all posts should sit in a single category and have multiple tags, so I’ve enforced that on the editors using this plugin. Forces editors to choose one term from your taxonomy or taxonomies.
  • UK Cookie Consent. Adds a cookie banner to the site and produces a cookie information page. I discarded the default text, preferring to rewrite the OU’s existing cookie information into slightly better text so that it explains what a cookie is, why we use them, and which cookies are used.
  • WP Help. This is pretty great—it allows administrators to add custom help documentation for editors. I’ve made it quite granular, so there are entries for how to source and use images, guidelines for categorising and tagging content, improving readability scores, that sort of thing.
  • WP Hide Post. Allows you to publish a post to the live site but hide it from the main page, or its category page, or the author page, etc. Limited use cases, but potentially very helpful.
  • WP Super Cache. If you’ve used WordPress before then you probably know this one: a fast caching plugin to speed up sites. I adjusted the settings while building the site so I could see changes as I made them.
  • Yoast SEO. Probably the most important plugin we use, and another one you’ve probably heard of. We expect the posts to be shared widely on social media, and it makes it trivially easy to add Open Graph and Twitter metadata for better presentation in Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. It reminds the editors to optimise their posts for search by adding a primary keyword and ensuring that it is included in the title, URL, metadata and body content. The editors seem to like it as it focuses them on the user and what they might search for. There’s a useful analysis tab where you can review how well your content is optimised for search and readability. There’s now an equivalent Drupal module which I’d like IT to add to our standard distribution.

We’ll likely add Yoast’s Google News plugin in order to create a dynamic XML sitemap that conforms with the Google News schema.

All in all I’m hugely impressed with the options available to optimise a WordPress site for better content strategy. And I only managed to delete all the site content once! (That was a hairy hour or so while I arranged for it to be restored from a recent backup. Don’t tell my boss.) WordPress and its community hardly need my patronage but I’ll definitely use it for future projects (where appropriate). I’m considering moving this site across to it.


  1. I haven’t worked at the OU for this long, so this is what I’ve heard rather than experienced.  ↩

  2. The major exception being the prospectus site, which was rebuilt using Kentico in 2014.  ↩

  3. This explains the current URL. The site may well move to become part of the main OU information architecture, but for the moment it uses a non- *open.ac.uk domain name and is hosted externally.  ↩

  4. I think this is the theme doing this—since this site was produced I’ve played with other themes where it hasn’t done this.  ↩

The current abbrev trend has been increasing

1: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared 5

I hadn’t seen or heard of the previous five episodes of this bafflingly brilliant series.

2: Ermahgerddon: The untold story of the ermahgerd girl

Meet Maggie Goldenberger, who helplessly watched an Internet meme spawn from her awkward adolescent photo. Except, maybe the “Gershberms” girl never existed at all?

3: The biggest man: understanding Andre the Giant, wrestling’s massive, indefinable contradiction

Andre Roussimoff, a.k.a. Monster Roussimoff, a.k.a. Monster Eiffel Tower, a.k.a. Géant Ferré, a.k.a. Giant Machine, a.k.a. Andre the Giant, was neither particularly childlike nor particularly averse to fly-hurting. Very large men who deal in violence for a living are seldom unchanged by what they do, even when the violence is mostly symbolic and theatrical, as it was for Andre.

4: Jonathan Gliniak’s answer to ‘What are the best true scary stories?’

About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend my cousins dinner party. I have never seen my cousin before and only spoke to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me after all these years.

5: A melody written by a crowd

This is an experiment in crowd-sourced songwriting. A melody is currently being generated, note by note, in real-time, using the popular vote of the crowd.

Will the Wisdom of the Crowd create something special?

6: Elliott Smith is sad, like you

The singer, who died on October 21, 2003, always maintained that he loved making his music, even as his music usually claimed that he didn’t love much at all.

7: Cast of characters

Taking a closer look at new Medium fonts: Charter and Kievit.

8: Wind and solar keep getting cheaper and cheaper

The report was based on analysis of some 55,000 projects around the world, says Henbest. And it found that globally, onshore wind now on average costs $83 per megawatt-hour of electricity ($2 cheaper than in the first half of the year), and thin film solar photovoltaics costs $122 per megawatt-hour — a drop of $7 in just half a year.

That presents an increasingly favorable comparison with fossil fuels — though it still depends greatly on where you are located. Coal-fired electricity cost $75 per megawatt-hour in the Americas, but $105 in Europe. Gas-fired generation cost $82 in the Americas and $118 in Europe, on average, the report found.

9: I went under the sheets of New York's professional cuddling industry — here's what I found

Liza Stahl's head bobbed gently as it rested on my chest; her breathing was calm and measured. With my left arm I held her close to me. We joked and giggled as our bodies intertwined. It was a spectacular day; sunlight poured into her East Harlem, New York City, apartment. It was a scene from a movie. In another world, she was my girlfriend; in another place, we were madly in love.

Stahl, however, was not my girlfriend, and we were not in love. In fact, we had only met minutes before. Stahl (which is not her real name) is a professional cuddler, and for $80 an hour, she will cuddle, spoon, comfort and caress just about any man who walks through her door.

10: Why are your fav abbrevs totes legit hard to spell?

Linguist Rebecca Starr points out that while there are some earlier abbrevs, like commish (from commissioner) from 1910 and delish from 1920, the current abbrev trend has been increasing since the mid-2000s.

The interesting thing about abbrevs is that they're based on sound, not on spelling. Just think about how we have to respell certain words when making them into abbrevs, such as delish, presh, profesh, unfortch, and sitch. And with words like funksh (function), relash (relationship), fuche (future), natch (naturally), or sosh (sociology), you might not even be able to tell from the abbrev what the original word was.

11: Mike Rugnetta’s answer to “how do I read interesting and challenging stuff?”

Ah! This is a great question! And one I don’t think have a great answer to. My interest in reading difficult stuff didn’t really develop until well after I was in a position to be taught, by professional Readers of Difficult Stuff, how to do so. BUT! I’ve learned some things on my own and they work for me and maybe they’ll be of some assistance?

12: Subscribe by email

Most readers of this blog subscribe by RSS. If you’d rather get posts by email, or know someone else who might like to, visit the subscribe page.

Gluten-free economic meritocracy

1: Why I unfollowed you on Instagram

I’m looking for an intelligent feed of my interests. A feed of stuff I’m going to like, drawn from a white-list of trusted curators but personalized for me. Not specific to one vertical (News, Music, Stuff to Buy, etc) or one content type (movies, photos, text, links). Ordered by the most relevant, the stuff I need to see RIGHT NOW. [...] We would do ourselves a favor to stop lumping all these tools together and calling them “Social Networks” or “Social Media” and instead note what makes each service uniquely great and push these companies to improve what they’re best at. What they all are is “distribution”, ways of building direct connections between people and each other or brands. Person -> Person, Brand -> Person, Person -> Brand.

2: A new use for the @-symbol

This is a gorgeous old carousel in Jerez, Spain. Both adults and kids likely want to ride it. Let's look closely at the motorcycle, too small for adults to ride. The sign says it's exclusively for niñ@s to ride. I believe they are using the @ to be an a and o simultaneously, creating a clever all-encompassing plural for "boys and girls".

3: Computer Show

Today’s technology transplanted to 1983. Made by the wonderful @lonelysandwich.

4: Women who sniff this Hawaiian mushroom have spontaneous orgasms

According to a 2001 publication in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, the smell of the fresh fungus can trigger spontaneous orgasms in human females. In the trial involving 16 women, 6 had orgasms while smelling the fruit body, and the other ten, who received smaller doses, experienced physiological changes such as increased heart rate. All of the 20 men tested considered the smell disgusting. According to the authors, the results suggest that the hormone-like compounds present in the volatile portion of the gleba may have some similarity to human neurotransmitters released in females during sexual activity. The study used the species found in Hawaii, not the edible variety cultivated in China.

5: The most mysterious star in our galaxy

Astronomers have spotted a strange mess of objects whirling around a distant star. Scientists who search for extraterrestrial civilizations are scrambling to get a closer look.

6: Business Town

An ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.

7: Why ‘social justice warrior,’ a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry

Most people hadn’t heard of a “social justice warrior” until about a year ago, when it emerged as the preferred term among the Gamergate movement for the people they believed to be their greatest enemies. Now, the word has crossed over enough into mainstream use that in August, “Social Justice Warrior” was included in the latest batch of words added to Oxford Dictionaries. The online dictionary from Oxford University Press defined the phrase as an informal, derogatory noun referring to “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.”

8: How urban planning made Motown Records possible

The family piano’s role in the music that flowed out of the residential streets of Detroit cannot be overstated. The piano, and its availability to children of the black working class and middle class, is essential to understanding what happened in that time and place, and why it happened, not just with Berry Gordy, Jr. but with so many other young black musicians who came of age there from the late forties to the early sixties. What was special then about pianos and Detroit?

9: Most readers of this blog subscribe by RSS. If you’d rather get posts by email, or know someone else who might like to, visit the subscribe page.

Beyond personal hygiene

1: Reclaiming social: Content strategy for social media

This is one of the best things I've read about content strategy or social media. Terrific.

“We want to go viral!” says the chief communications officer. “Can’t help you” used to be our standard answer. But by doing this, we’ve left social media in the hands of marketers and self-appointed “gurus” more concerned with Klout than user needs. It’s about time we reclaimed social media.

2: Please be patient--this page is under construction

'Under construction' GIFs rescued from Geocities by the Archive Team.

3: Sad Topographies on Instagram

Places on Google Maps with desperately sad names.

4: What’s really hot on dating sites? Proper grammar

Dating site Match asked more than 5,000 singles in the U.S. what criteria they used most in assessing dates. Beyond personal hygiene—which 96% of women valued most, as compared with 91% of men—singles said they judged a date foremost by the person’s grammar. The survey found 88% of women and 75% of men said they cared about grammar most, putting it ahead of a person’s confidence and teeth.

5: When I'm gone

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But only when this particular week is the next week.

6: Lessons From Five Years in Mobile News Apps: #1 Don’t have a news app

I spent five years working on a mobile news app — first as an editor helping curate and package content and then as a product manager shepherding it through a complex visual and technical redesign.

And here’s the #1 lesson from my experience: If you are a small or medium sized publisher don’t have a news app. If you already have one, shut it down. Use your resources to make your mobile web site better. Kudos to The Atavist for making this decision.

7: Think the floppy disk is dead? Think again! Here’s why it still stands between us and a nuclear apocalypse

When was the last time that you used a floppy disk? While still used as the save icon in modern software packages like Microsoft’s Office suite, it’s unusual to see one out in the wild. Given that a typical floppy disk offers up a minuscule 1.44MB of space — not even enough to house a three-minute pop song in MP3 format — there’s seemingly no reason for these disks to stay in circulation.

But while the average user might not have any cause to use a floppy disk, there are those out there who can’t settle for anything else. They’re in dire need of the disks, which most manufacturers have stopped producing. The floppy disk might seem like something better left in the 1990s. Instead it’s a product that’s alive and well in the 21st century.

8: Uncovering the secret history of Myers-Briggs

Not one article details how Myers, an award-winning mystery writer who possessed no formal training in psychology or sociology, concocted a test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, the US government, hundreds of universities, and online dating sites like Perfect Match, Project Evolove and Type Tango. And not one expert in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry with over 2,500 different tests on offer in the US alone, can explain why Myers-Briggs has so thoroughly surpassed its competition, emerging as a household name on par with the Atkins Diet or The Secret.

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder

1: Karaoke ebooks

This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.

2: Stop your team using technical terms and jargon – disambiguity

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

3: Across the USA by train for just $213

Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.

4: Scenes from our unproduced screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

5: As the Guardian Berliner format turns ten, we look back at a decade of design change

Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…

6: How to Have 106 babies (and counting)

Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions

7: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale

The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.

8: Me Inc.

The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”

9: P.G. Wodehouse On The Dangers Of Literature

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

And:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.

10: Apologies To The Queen Mary turns 10

A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.

Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.

11: Future reading

I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

11: Nihilistic password security questions

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

12: WEIRD SIMPSONS VHS

Critiquing the Ewoks

1: Curiosity and the cat: quantum theory and the Coen brothers

I didn’t expect to read an article about quantum mechanics and the Coen’s ouvre. But I’m glad I did.

We’re used to a world in which seeing is believing, which we test through the evidence of our own eyes. It’s why expressions like these exist in the first place. Whether we’re scientists, artists or just looking at the view, what we see is a Newtonian world. Apples drop from trees, capsules hurtle into space and Van Gogh’s sunflowers can’t be anything else, no matter how hard we screw up our eyes in an effort to see something different. Anything outside of our Newtonian comfort zone seems immediately counter-intuitive, unreal, and often disturbing. But we’re in a comfort-zone nonetheless, because what we might like to think of as ‘real’ is bigger. We know that now. At the level of ultimate detail, the one on which everything else is built, the rules of engagement are different. Welcome to the quantum level. And welcome, too, to the Coen Brothers, those frustrating indie auteurs whose films seem most at ease when they occupy a space which seems both recognisable and alien in turn. Now we see it… or do we?

2: Notion

This looks very interesting: drag and drop elements to create and edit documents; link them together to create a hierarchy and publish them; collaborate with other within the doc and by video chat.

Beautiful. Lightweight. Always organized. Notion is an expressive and collaborative document editor that gives your ideas a place to grow.

3: I reviewed jail on Yelp because I couldn’t afford a therapist

User-review sites have become an unlikely destination for raw, informative accounts of Americans’ everyday interactions with our criminal justice system. Yelp declined to provide the number of prison and jail reviews on its site, but dozens of correctional facilities are filed under “Public Services & Government” alongside DMVs and post offices. Search for your local prison or jail and chances are that Google reviews will pop up alongside more traditional hits. (Even TripAdvisor once hosted a lively debate about whether a tourist visit to Sing Sing Correctional Facility or Rikers Island would be ethical, if such a thing were allowed.)

4: Mobile-friendly web pages using app banners

I missed this Google announcement from the beginning of the month about websites that take mobile users to an interstitial page to drive app installations:

After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly. This does not affect other types of interstitials. As an alternative to app install interstitials, browsers provide ways to promote an app that are more user-friendly.

5: If you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism

When I tweeted about my frustration with the female characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (one human, one primate, both of whom contribute very little to the plot), a friend replied, “Sorry to hear it’s a bad movie.” But it isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it was one of my favorite action blockbusters of last summer. Yet my specific feminist frustrations were extrapolated into a larger condemnation of the film. No one assumes that critiquing the Ewoks means you dislike Star Wars. So why did my complaints imply I hated Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes?

6: A terrible perfect couple

A very short story about a couple who are a little too alike.

7: Exist

Exist links various services (calendar, fitness tracking, location, weather, social stuff) and provides feedback based on averages rather than goals. I’m not completely sold on the quantified self moment, but have signed up for a 14-day trial to see what this is like.

8: NASA Graphics Standards Manual

The original manual from 1976.

9: The hunt for a possible Pynchon novel leads to a name

I obviously had my eyes and ears closed while this was playing out on the literary scene last week:

The post went viral. How could it not? Even without proof, the possibility that Pynchon was playing a giant practical joke on all of us was too enticing. Even after Pynchon’s publisher, Penguin Press, told New York magazine’s Nate Jones, "We are Thomas Pynchon's publisher and this is not a book by Thomas Pynchon,” people kept sharing Winslow’s piece, and the subsequent, inevitable writeups in Vice and The New York Times. In fact, many saw Penguin’s denial as proof of Pynchon’s involvement. Jones himself ended his piece with a wink: “But, then again, they would say that, wouldn't they?”

10: How Google's new logo is just 305 bytes

By using standard geometric shapes with fewer anchor points Google have reduced their logo’s size from 14,000 bytes.

11: Where do languages go to die?

If a Middle Eastern man from 2,500 years ago found himself on his home territory in 2015, he would be shocked by the modern innovations, and not just electricity, airplanes, and iPhones. Arabic as an official language in over two dozen countries would also seem as counterintuitive to him as if people had suddenly started keeping aardvarks as pets.

In our time-traveler’s era, after all, Arabic was an also-ran tongue spoken by obscure nomads. The probability that he even spoke it would be low. There were countless other languages in the Middle East in his time that he’d be more likely to know. His idea of a “proper” language would have been Aramaic, which ruled what he knew as the world and served, between 600 and 200 B.C.E., as the lingua franca from Greece and Egypt, across Mesopotamia and Persia, all the way through to India. Yet today the language of Jesus Christ is hardly spoken anywhere, and indeed is likely to be extinct within the next century. Young people learn it ever less. Only about half a million people now speak Aramaic—compared to, for example, the five and a half million people who speak Albanian.

12: The mind-bending physics of a teen ball’s spin

How tennis players create spin is about as complicated a physics question you can set about solving without invoking subatomic particles.

13: “This is a shady business we in, fam”

Here’s another post about ‘parody’ Twitter accounts, the content they steal, and Twitter’s new (sort-of) stance against them.

14: Amazon web services in Plain English

Hey, have you heard of the new AWS services: ContainerCache, ElastiCast and QR72? Of course not, I just made those up.

But with 50 plus opaquely named services, we decided that enough was enough and that some plain english descriptions were needed.

15: Waluigi's Unbearable Existence

The new Mario Maker game for the Wii U looks fantastic—the levels some people are making are brilliant. Here’s a particularly unsettling one.

Migrants are too wealthy

1: Spotify is getting unbelievably good at picking music — here’s an inside look at how

There’s a playlist on Spotify I love called Discover Weekly. It’s updated every Monday with a mix of songs, some I know and some I’ve never heard, crossing into almost every genre with no discernible pattern. Like magic, it just knows what I want to hear.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m listening to Spotify more than ever. And I’m not alone.

I’m pleased with Spotify’s Discover playlist. Mine this week is 30 songs (2hr 1m) and is a nice mix of bands I’ve never heard of, back-catalogue songs by bands I know, and a handful of songs I own and/or I’ve listened to (on Spotify) multiple times. I think this last tactic is deliberate; relatively few people will want two hours of music that they’re completely new to, and will appreciate a bit of familiarity along the way. I'd like more new (to me) music, but I’m a bit odd: maybe ‘Discover’ could be an integral part of the Spotify app, along with ‘Browse’ and ‘Radio’ and the like, that we could tinker with using filters and settings depending on what we want to expose ourselves to.

I still like Apple Music, by the way, and I’ll likely carry on paying for it and using the free version of Spotify, which I downgraded to a couple of months ago. But the excitement of the ‘For You’ section in Apple Music has worn off. There’s only so many times I want to see ‘An Introduction To’ an act whose back catalogue I own in its entirety, nor ‘Deep Cuts’.

2: Social decay: How Tweets can predict the death of an app

We used Twitter data to analyze the health of social apps and find out which ones might be in trouble — or, as we call it, in social decay.

Interesting to see the slow decline of This Is My Jam, and how Ello has peaked, dropped and plateaued.

3: How to write a great error message

Your job as product manager, designer or developer of an app is to recognize that writing copy in your app is not something that you can just do on the side. It’s just as important as having the application work correctly and the user interface being easy and efficient to use.

4: Surprised that Syrian refugees have smartphones? Sorry to break this to you, but you’re an idiot

On the surface this may look like xenophobia searching for something to grab on to following a shift in the public mood towards refugees from the Middle East. But it is actually a fairly progressive stance: just weeks ago the anti-immigration brigade were complaining that migrants are unskilled and just want our benefits. And now they’re arguing that migrants are too wealthy instead, implicitly arguing we should prioritise helping the poor. But in any case, it does raise an interesting question: Exactly how surprised should we be that people from Syria carry smartphones?

5: How media ‘fluff’ helped Hitler rise to power

In the years preceding World War II, news outlets from home magazines to the New York Times ran profiles of the Nazi leader that portrayed him as a country gentleman — a man who ate vegetarian, played catch with his dogs and took post-meal strolls outside his mountain estate […] The 1930s marked the rise of celebrity culture, in the era of talking movies, radio and new lifestyle magazines […] Hitler’s propagandists took advantage of the new celebrity culture and even helped to shape it.

6: Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto explaining World 1-1 is the best game design lesson of the week

Miyamoto talks level design.

To cheep, as a young bird

1: An interactive guide to ambiguous grammar

This might be the best thing I’ve read all year. I didn't guess where it was going.

2: The great big Twitter purge (you probably haven’t heard about)

Specifically the millions of followers that have been wiped from dozens of so-called parody accounts, the influential profiles that satirize celebrities or pop culture. The most powerful accounts have audiences in the millions, and their owners can make thousands of dollars per day through sponsored posts. But many accounts are being accused of stealing the content they share.

3: Facebook's new spam-killer hints at the future of coding

When Facebook engineers needed to build new anti-spam system, they turned to Haskell, a relatively niche programming language. Here’s why. (This is of broader appeal than it might first appear!)

4: Today I fucked up by letting my brother take advantage of my Yu-Gi-Oh! card addiction

A cautionary tale of why you should always follow doctor’s orders. No matter if your siblings bribe you.

5: How podcasts have changed in ten years: By the numbers

I’ve noticed since starting a podcast of my own that research on the field is scant. Most of the research I’ve read has focused on listener behavior, which is fine for marketers, but other questions about the medium have gone unanswered. I decided to address a few.

  • What iTunes categories have the most podcasts?
  • How many podcasts are launched per month?
  • How many podcasts are active?
  • How long is a typical podcast episode? How often is a typical podcast updated?
  • How many podcasts have explicit content?
  • How many podcasts are not in English?
  • How many ratings or reviews does a typical podcast receive?

6: Tools we use 1: Publishing print newspapers online: CMSs

Which newspaper sites use which CMSs? I expected to see a big difference between BLOX for U.S. dailies and Wordpress for everything else, but the gap is huge.

7: A brief history of yippee-ki-yay

The yip part of yippee is old. It originated in the 15th century and meant “to cheep, as a young bird,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The more well-known meaning, to emit a high-pitched bark, came about around 1907, as per the OED, and gained the figurative meaning “to shout; to complain.”

8: Create free brand & design style guides with Frontify style guide

Manage logos, images, colours, typography etc. See also Canva for Work.

9: Tips for writing and editing news stories involving trans people.

10: Dear pedants: Your fave grammar rule is probably fake

It turns out, virtually all authoritative sources agree these rules are nonsense. We can consider the authority of historical texts before the advent of these pop grammar rules. Does historical record show that speakers were breaking these rules before they even existed? Yes. Or we can appeal to literary usage by expert wielders of the English language such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, James Joyce, Mark Twain to name just a few. They’ve all had their fair share of grammatical ‘errors’. There are examples throughout the history of the English language of many of these grammar rules being blithely broken by speakers. Even the style guides of contemporary publications such as The Economist admit that “Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive: the ban is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.” Or as Geoffrey K. Pullum wryly translates it “this mythical and pointless prohibition against a natural syntactic construction has never been defended by any serious grammarian; but observe it anyway, because we’re scared of our readers.”

11: Lastly, type I’m feeling curious into Google.

Ballet Slipper, Spice Route, Jurassic Gold, and Sea Turtle

1: What it’s like to run the Twitter handle “@message”

It’s an increasingly important part of any publication on the web, and it’s always changing and moving. Doing it successfully takes more than being good at Twitter, being good at talking to people, coming up with headlines or snappy descriptions, paying attention to traffic and timing, being willing to experiment and learn from it. It’s also depressingly easy to screw up and send the wrong tweet from the wrong account, which I managed to do more than once. Social media is a full-time job, and anyone who does it well has my admiration and respect.

2: Movie lists

Analysing the sentiment and volume of Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb ratings to find lists of the best recent, best unknown, most underestimated, and most overrated movies. Lots to dig through.

3: Rain is sizzling bacon, cars are lions roaring: the art of sound in movies

Skip Lievsay is one of the most talented men in Hollywood. He has created audioscapes for Martin Scorsese and is the only sound man the Coen brothers go to. But the key to this work is more than clever effects: it is understanding the human mind.

4: A blankness full of meaning

The app, OMBY, is a game that you win by unscrambling Moby-Dick, a few words at a time. The complete text of the book has been broken into 10,395 consecutive morsels of about twenty words each, but with each morsel missing a few words, and the missing words’ letters mixed up like Scrabble tiles. Rearrange the alphabetic chaos of those tiles to form the missing words, and swipe forward to the next puzzle. Now do that 10,394 more times, in order, all the way through the book […] What I love about this is the occasion it provides to engage Moby-Dick on the level of the word, which might be Moby-Dick’s weirdest and most delicious level.

5: How pantone is still turning color into money

Some 210 new colors came into the world last week. Ballet Slipper, Spice Route, Jurassic Gold, and Sea Turtle, among others. These shades always existed in nature, but now they are official—dramatic names and all. One can buy them from Pantone, a small company in Carlstadt, N.J., that literally snatches its products out of the air.

6: The secret history of “Y’all”: The murky origins of a legendary Southern slang word

Many discussions of the word connect it to the history of second-person pronouns in English. Old English had singular and plural forms of “you,” and these eventually morphed into the formal “you” and informal “thou” pronouns you find in Shakespeare and the King James Bible. But “y’all” isn’t a descendant of these, and there’s still debate about its origins.

7: Bar chart baselines start at zero

There are visualization rules and there are visualization suggestions. Most are suggestions. The ones that are rules exist because of how our brains process visual information. There’s just no getting around it.

I already covered the small handful of rules that pertain mostly to traditional statistical graphics. The first one—to always start your bar charts with a zero baseline—unexpectedly drew some disagreement, and I am unexpectedly compelled to go into more depth.

It’s true that every rule has its exception. It’s just that with this particular rule, I haven’t seen a worthwhile reason to bend it yet.

How most people experience ink

1: The momentary compression of design

It’s not that designers coding is totally irrelevant right now; I would happily debate that with anyone interested. But if software is eating the world, software design ought to be as diverse as the world itself. I would encourage designers to think about their roles and skills in the broadest sense, in terms of their knowledge of humanity and the world, rather than the technical deliverables of today. Divergent processes will become mandatory for survival and in the future I expect the question “should designers code?” to make as much sense as “should urban planners carve wood?” Our practice on the other end of this moment has a good chance of entering the most diverse, vital era we’ve ever known, which should be celebrated and encouraged rather than squashed and judged.

2: Limetown

New fiction podcast: part Serial, part X-Files. A bit hammy at times, but promising.

Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.

In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, "What happened to the people of Limetown?"

3: Radical sandcastles

These aren't your prototypical bucket-and-pail sand structures. Matt Kaliner's creations deserve an architectural category all their own.

See also Renzo Piano: how to build the perfect sandcastle.

4: Woman with no recollection of last 10 years asked to run major media company

She has a knack for a good story, she’s great with people. Sure she couldn’t remember whether the Prime Minister of Great Britain attended her 40th birthday party. But then, who does remember these sorts of finer details?

5: The guy who owns .xyz will only get $8 from Google every year

Sure, but he’s making over $160k per day on new registrations.

6: The hamburger menu doesn't work

It's a beautiful, elegant solution that gets it all wrong, and it's time to move on.

7: How the ballpoint pen killed cursive

The ballpoint’s universal success has changed how most people experience ink. Its thicker ink was less likely to leak than that of its predecessors. For most purposes, this was a win—no more ink-stained shirts, no need for those stereotypically geeky pocket protectors. However, thicker ink also changes the physical experience of writing, not necessarily all for the better.

See also Bic uses the same photo to advertise their pens and razors.

Memory is like a text that cannot change

1: Secretive fusion company claims reactor breakthrough

In a suburban industrial park south of Los Angeles, researchers have taken a significant step toward mastering nuclear fusion—a process that could provide abundant, cheap, and clean energy. A privately funded company called Tri Alpha Energy has built a machine that forms a ball of superheated gas—at about 10 million degrees Celsius—and holds it steady for 5 milliseconds without decaying away. That may seem a mere blink of an eye, but it is far longer than other efforts with the technique and shows for the first time that it is possible to hold the gas in a steady state—the researchers stopped only when their machine ran out of juice.

2: Inspirograph

Nathan Friend’s digital replica of the classic Spirograph toy. Written in TypeScript, using D3.js.

3: Writing.Rocks: Tighten This! challenge

I like this weekly challenge to readers to rewrite a sentence as concisely as possible. It’s likely that by the time you read this, the answers to this week’s challenge will be posted. The sentence to shorten is ‘This tool helps companies identify which of the 60 the most likely cyberattack scenarios are relevant to their situation’.

4: Introducing the MailChimp Style Guide

I forgot to post this last week. MailChimp have released their internal style guide under a Creative Commons licence. See also Voice and tone their guide to, well, those two things.

5: Emoji mosaic

THIS IS CRAZY MAGIC. Upload an image to turn into a mosaic made out of emoji. (Emojis?)

6: In defense of the present tense

In the present tense, you aren’t stuck to the moment—you can go forward and backward in time. In fiction, the demands of the present tense are in some ways the opposite of that exploration of uncertainty—the tense places a demand for the elimination of all other possibilities in the writer’s imagination—this is what happened and is what is still happening whenever this memory returns to this character or whenever this moment matters. Granted, it requires a belief that memory is like a text that cannot change, in the way writing can, once printed, be permanent and collectible. But the best writers play with this, say, as in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, where she moves from the past tense recollections of an adult painter returned to her hometown to the present tense narrative of the child that painter was—and the subject is soon what she has chosen to remember and what to forget—and this is given to the reader, not to the narrator, to discover.

Write a comma using a mailbox

1: Laugh factory

Read this one even if you read none of the rest of the links today.

It’s not just the Fat Jew. A whole online ecosystem exists to cut, paste, and cash in on other people’s jokes.

2: Wired Style: A linguist explains vintage internet slang

Two of my favourite topics collide: linguistic style and internet history. Gretchen McCulloch digs out Wired’s style guide to explore the evolution of internet slang and the importance of having a personal style guide.

3: Philosophy: the subject that improves children’s literacy, numeracy and conduct

We’re only about 2,500 years behind the Greeks but Philosophy is finally making it on to the school curriculum. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is drafting plans for a short course in the subject to be introduced as part of the new Junior Cycle curriculum.

4: Replacing “crazy” for ableism and preciseness of language

If you’ve arrived at the conclusion that the word “crazy” is ableist, or at least makes some people uncomfortable, or is commonly misused and overused to the point of losing its meaning, you may be struggling to find substitute words. This post is for you. I’ve put together a list of many words that convey better what you mean when you say “crazy” and the specific usages and contexts where they make sense. And fear not: many of them are colorful, and all of them pack punch.

5: Imgur Is the last true internet culture remaining — but can it survive?

There is no more popular online destination for the modern male than Imgur. By the numbers, this humble photo-sharing site is in firm command of the millennial dude, blowing BuzzFeed, Reddit and even Tumblr out of the water with over 150 million monthly visitors and the highest concentration of millennial males in the U.S.

But you wouldn't know it unless you've stared Imgur right in its eyes. Or unless you're part of the club.

6: The hidden bias of science’s universal language

The vast majority of scientific papers today are published in English. What gets lost when other languages get left out?

7: Why the Wingdings font exists

It seems as bizarre as it is ubiquitous. What is Wingdings thinking? Why would someone want to write a comma using a mailbox? Why would anyone think we want to compose in peace signs and crosses and heart shapes?

Harry and the rest of the Connick Jrs

1: The rise of phone reading

Since the release of the bigger, sharper iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last September, Apple has seen an increase in the number of people downloading books onto iPhones through its iBooks app. Some 45% of iBooks purchases are now downloaded onto iPhones, an Apple spokeswoman said. Before that, only 28% were downloaded onto phones, with most of the remainder downloaded onto iPads and a small percentage onto computers.

2: Europe shouldn’t worry about migrants. It should worry about creeping fascism

The greatest threat to our “way of life” is not migration. It is that we will swallow the lie that some human lives matter less than others.

3: One of these images is Jupiter’s moon Europa, the rest are frying pans

4: 'Space Jam' forever: The website that wouldn't die

How a ragtag group of young coders skirted the studio and created a pop culture sensation that's still standing two decades later.

5: The danger of being neighborly without a permit

All over America, people have put small ‘give one, take one’ book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

6: How SETI will understand messages broadcast by an alien intelligence

Imagine the day when we finally receive a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence, only to find that there’s a message embedded within. Given that we don’t speak the same language, how could we ever hope to make sense of it? We spoke to the experts to find out.

7: Guy annoys girlfriend with puns at Ikea

This is funnier than it should be.

8: A conspiracy theorist’s guide to understanding Anna Kendrick’s 2012 film “Pitch Perfect.”

How long was Harry and the rest of the Connick Jrs working for the Taliban?