What is this all about? It’s a challenge. The Invictus Games are coming up in Orlando May 8-12. Founded in 2014 by Prince Harry, the Invictus Games are a series of sports competitions between injured active service members and military veterans from many different countries. The first games were in London in 2014. The second Invictus Games inspired some trash talk between the Obamas and the Royals. Harry pulled out the big gun for his response.
If you spend enough time watching a peacock shake his tail feathers, you start to see weird things. We were so impressed with a peacock’s magnificent tail feathers that scientists assumed for a long time that a bird with the longest or brightest tail feathers would be the most attractive to peahens. But a new study by a team led by Roslyn Dakin of the University of British Columbia studied the way they vibrate those feathers. At the proper frequency, it makes the colors even brighter, and the “eyes” of the feathers stand out without appearing to move themselves.
Well, it was “bottled” in 1965, in recycled reused bottles, too. Here we get to see the process, all grooved up with hepcat teens doing their thing. If you are old enough, you’ll even sing along with the instrumental tune… “Things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke.”
Can you imagine the mind-numbing job of looking at bottles go by, checking for nicks and chips, all day, every day? I’m hoping those guys get to drive a truck or something at least one day a week. I know there weren't many chipped bottles, because the grocer would examine them before he'd give you the deposit money. Two cents a bottle. Watching these machines do their job on thousands of bottles at once is hypnotic. That’s what it took to bring you such a groovy drink. -via Digg
The U.S. military is the world’s premiere fighting force, but only in real life. They are no match for the undead. Not even when they team up with NATO or another group of allies. That’s a necessary plot hole in any zombie apocalypse story. It’s like killing off a child protagonist’s parents, because otherwise they’d be protecting the child and preventing dangerous adventures. One of these days, someone is going to produce a film in which military strategists are the heroes who actually save the world from a zombie infection. That would be cool. This is the latest from John McNamee at Pie Comic.
Can a machine learn from experience? Of course they do, we have artificial intelligence computer programs that learn from experience, from people, and from other computers. But all that had to start somewhere. In 1961, Donald Michie built a device called MENACE, which stands for Machine Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine (Noughts and Crosses is known as Tic-Tac-Toe in America). It was made out of a bunch of matchboxes and a supply of glass beads. In 2010, artist Julien Prévieux built a nice version of that same machine, called MENACE 2, with tiny drawers that resemble a library card catalog and a huge supply of colored beads. But what’s really mind-blowing is how it works. Many young engineers have recreated the project, but it’s new to me, and is a nuts-and-bolts lesson in how machines learn.
There are 304 little wooden drawers (or matchboxes in the original version created by Michie.) Each of them represents a unique board position that the player can encounter during a game. Each drawer is filled with coloured beads that represent a different move in that board state. The quantity of a colour indicated the “certainty” that playing the corresponding move would lead to a win.
Menace “learns” to win the game by playing repeatedly against the human player, honing its strategy until its opponent is only able to draw or lose against it. The trial and error learning process involves being “punished” for losing and “rewarded” for drawing or winning. This type of machine learning is called reinforcement learning.
A Chihuahua puppy named Bobby was only two days old when his mother was hit by a car and killed. The Michigan Humane Society took him in, but he was so young, what to do? They had a cat in residence with a litter of young kittens, and they just gave Bobby to her. Gwen the mother cat took to him like he was just another kitten.
A 6-month-old cat named Boots became stuck high in a tree in Melbourne, Australia, early on Wednesday morning. The RSPCA and the local fire brigade declined to help. The cat’s owner couldn’t afford to hire a professional animal rescue service, and the tree branches were too spindly for anyone to climb.
To raise the money needed, neighbor Susie Butler started a Go Fund Me account. The required $205 was raised within a day, and Thursday morning Nigel's Animal Rescue managed to get Boots out of the tree. He had been there over 24 hours by then. You can see video of the rescue operation here. -via Arbroath
Imagine a coffee table in your living room with an embedded computer. One that you could put your drink or even dinner on and not worry about ruining. One that you could even order dinner from! Use it for playing music, surfing the web, watching TV, or playing games with your friends. There are even touch screen models that won’t mind a few drinks set on top. Check out five different models of these smart tables, with different features and different prices, at Housely.
A photo posted by Heather Baird (@sprinklebakes) on Apr 4, 2016 at 6:16pm PDT
Suddenly, I want to throw a birthday party for someone, anyone, so I can try this cake. Alas, it may be beyond my abilities, and it's certainly beyond my existing utensils. Baker and food artist Heather Baird was impressed by the Veil Nebula and created a cake to resemble the images. It’s a black velvet cake (using extra black) with white confetti sprinkles for stars. The outside is black fondant painted with gel food coloring. You can find the complete instructions (and more pictures) at Sprinkle Bakes. -via Laughing Squid
Auralnauts have re-dubbed the lines from Kylo Ren scenes in The Force Awakens, giving him the depth of character that you suspected all along in a young emo Sith wannabe. The movie could have used a bit more humor, after all. And it reveals a connection to another popular fantasy world you didn’t know about.
Monica, Marcia, Tonya, and Anita were household names in the 1990s for widely varying reasons, to the point that we didn’t even need to use their last names. What they had in common was the media circuses that grew up around them. The tabloids relied on them for headlines, no matter how shallow. Every facet of their lives were picked apart, but only the most outrageous bits were printed or aired.
In the past, we have been all too ready to assume that, if the media pillories a woman for being bad, trashy, pushy, slutty, greedy, greedy, crazy, or just—the most evergreen dismissal of all—a bitch, they must be right. Now, more than ever, we are beginning to wonder: How many times has a woman been made to suffer not because of anything she has said or done, but simply because she was the only girl in the room?
And all this happened decades after the beginning of second-wave feminism. Looking back at those headlines now, twenty years later, we might be horrified by the way women connected with a scandal, no matter how tangentally, were treated. But then again, how much has really changed? Sarah Marshall writes about the scandalous women of the ‘90s from the viewpoint of a later generation at Fusion. -via Metafilter
I’ve always subscribed to the idea that real Star Wars fans hate Star Wars, and they live to pick apart everything George Lucas ever did. That is apparently transferring to Disney. Now that the warm glow of a new Star Wars film has worn off, and critics all over have their hands on the home video, we get to hear about everything possible they can pick at. Hang on to your seats, the critique of The Force Awakens takes a whopping 19 minutes.
A group of scientists have described four new species of weevil beetles found in Papua New Guinea. One of them was named Trigonopterus chewbacca, after the Wookiee we all know and love from Star Wars. The other beetles have names that don’t relate to any pop culture franchise. The names were reported in the journal ZooKeys.
Researchers said that they named the weevil after the Wookiee because of its dense scales on the head and legs, which “reminds the authors of Chewbacca’s dense fur.”
Yeah, right. Dense scales. They were just looking for an excuse to name a species after a Star Wars character. But that’s a legitimate desire, as far as I’m concerned.
A bizarre medieval manuscript written in a language no one can read has baffled the world’s best cryptologists, stumped the most powerful code-breaking computers, and been written off as a masterful hoax. Can the hive mind finally unlock its secrets?
The breakthrough, when it finally came, happened in a most unremarkable way. Stephen Bax was in his home office late at night. It was April 2013, and he’d spent the previous 10 months poring over reproductions of a 15th-century manuscript bursting with bizarre drawings: female figures in green baths; astrological symbols; intricate geometric designs; plants that seemed familiar but also just slightly off. Strangest of all—and the reason Bax, a 54-year-old professor of applied linguistics in Bedfordshire, England, had become obsessed—were the 35,000 words in the manuscript. Written in an elaborate, beautiful script, the language has never appeared on any other document, anywhere. Ever.
At his day job at the University of Bedfordshire’s Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment, Bax focuses on English language learning. Decoding ancient manuscripts is not in his purview. But ever since he’d heard about this mysterious book, he’d been fixated on it: scouring the web, talking to scholars, analyzing 14th-century herbal manuscripts at the British Library. And he was fairly confident he’d identified a few words in the document: juniper, cotton, the constellation Taurus. But before he could go public with his findings, he needed more.
On this particular evening, he was looking at the first word of script on a page numbered f3v, which contained an illustration of a plant that looked like hellebore. According to the scheme Bax had worked out, the word spelled out kaur— a word he wasn’t familiar with. So Bax did what anyone would do: He pulled up Google and typed “hellebore” and “kaur.” Then he pressed enter.
The Voynich Manuscript—a soft-bound, 240-page volume—has baffled cryptanalysts, linguists, computer scientists, physicists, historians, and academics since it was rediscovered in the early 20th century. To date, no one has deciphered it, and no one knows why it was made. Experts don’t know what to make of it: is it a cipher, a code, a long-lost language?
There’s been plenty of speculation, both inside and outside academia. Over the past century, the case of the Voynich has been cracked and debunked, cracked and debunked again, and even—rather convincingly!—exposed as a hoax. Even the book’s acquisition is a mystery.
The story starts with a London-based book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich, who discovered the book in 1912. From the beginning, Voynich was evasive about how he acquired the tome—he claimed he’d been sworn to secrecy about its origin, and the story he recounted changed often. In the one he told most frequently, he’d been at “an ancient castle in Southern Europe” when he found this “ugly duckling” buried in a “most remarkable collection of precious illuminated manuscripts.”
For a book dealer, it was like stumbling onto treasure. Back in London he dubbed his acquisition the “Roger Bacon cipher,” after the 13th-century English monk and scientist, and put it up for sale. A letter that came with the book suggested Bacon was the author; whether Voynich actually believed it, or whether he simply believed that associating the book with Bacon would help him fetch a higher resale price, is unclear.
Inventor and crazy man Colin Furze has built himself a dual-rotor hovercraft out of two gas engines and a couple of fans. It has no seat, no steering, and no brakes, but it flies! Do I have to add that you shouldn’t try this at home?
Why doesn’t it have those things? They couldn’t add an ounce more weight, or it wouldn’t have been able to take off. You can see his plans in this video and some of the early tests in this one. -via Digg
Prince not only came out with a new album every year (sometimes more than that), but he also changed his look, especially his hair, just as often. Artist Gary Card illustrated those looks in purple paint for every year between 1978 and 2013. That’s a lot of purple paint. See them all at Visual News. -via Everlasting Blort
Unless you yourself are a plastic surgeon, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about what they do. The specialty was born to help those who were wounded in war, but is now heavily supported by people who want to look better. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but most of us will never be able to afford such surgery, or else are unwilling to undergo surgery without a medical reason. But you might very well be interested in this fascinating career and the details that go with it.
3. THEY’RE DRAWING LANDMARKS ON YOU.
Watch enough reality television and you’ll eventually spot a plastic surgeon taking a black marker to the bare torso of a patient. Matthew Schulman, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in Manhattan, says that surgeons are basically acting as topographers, marking areas of the body that may change shape or become less visible when a patient is lying down. “We’re drawing landmarks for ourselves because a person looks different when on the table,” he says. “I might circle where the fat is thickest, or where the nipple is while standing.” No special medical ink is used: It’s just a Sharpie.
10. THEY WORK WITH WITNESS PROTECTION.
That gangster-movie cliché of having to modify your face to avoid being spotted after offering damning testimony? It’s true. Kress has operated on several government witnesses, and they can forget about follow-up visits. “I’ve had Federal Marshals come in and tell me, ‘This is the only time you’re going to see this guy, so give him whatever instructions he needs,’” he says. Kress has also worked on covert military operatives who have had their name and image published in media and run the risk of being recognized.
A lamb born without fleece at a farm in Chilton Foliat in Wiltshire, UK, was rejected by his mother. It was just too odd. Farmhand Sally-Ann Fisher says they named the lamb Skippy because he looks like a kangaroo. He’s now being hand-raised by humans.
Ms Fisher, who farms with her partner near Ramsbury, said the lamb had been born 10 days ago but they were "not aware" that its lack of wool was a condition or a "health problem".
"He's just unlucky, but he's doing great," she said.
That area of your house that has a slant roof over it is pretty useless. It’s often only good for storage, and in this case it had two closets, but they didn’t hold much. So MetalMan83 transformed that spot into a castle fort as a gift for his daughter’s fifth birthday, with doors and lights and a lookout tower! See a series of images from the building process at imgur. He’s a pretty handy dad. Look at how he decorated the nursery for his younger daughter.
There’s a lot going on here. This is the Sink-Wall, a pivoting room divider (also called a “door”) made from 20 stainless steel kitchen sinks. Each sink also serves as a storage or display unit for books or other objects. Lot-ek Architects designed and built two of these units for Edizioni Press in Chelsea, New York City. The users no doubt learned that you can’t pivot a bookcase quickly, or you’ll have to pick up books from the floor. This is just one example of recycling odd castaways into new furniture. See more of them in the post Five Incredible Pieces of Furniture Made from Recycled Parts.
A group of Kansas City, Missouri, police officers found themselves stuck in an elevator. We can only speculate how long they sat there discussing their situation before they broke down and called emergency services. The Kansas City Fire Department responded, and couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the rescue. This picture will no doubt be on the wall of every firehouse in the midwest. If Kansas City puts out a fireman’s calendar, it will be on that, too. -via reddit
A desert fox only wants to devote his time looking for something to eat, like most wild creatures do, but this annoying young fennec fox kit named Nibbles wants to be buddies or something. What’s a fox to do?
You know what’s even more cold and heartless than the universe? Someone trying to correct you when you express your sadness and need. She could have just told him to quit whining. That way, he’d just be depressed and angry, instead of depressed, angry, and baffled. This is the latest from John McNamee at Pie Comic.
This dramatic video shows the angst and desperation of a helpless cat trapped in a hexagon taped to the floor. He cannot escape on his own, but needs a little help from a friend. Together, they create an opening in the infernal trap and allow escape. Yay! -via Boing Boing
In case you didn’t know, there’s a new Baywatch movie now in production, starring the Rock and Zac Efron. You might have seen some well-staged publicity stills, but Zac Efron posted an outtake as well. It seems he was messing up the less-to-more-clothing progression, and tripped while trying to quickly get in the right spot. I think the second picture would easily bring more people to the movie, but this scene probably didn’t end up in the movie this way. -via reddit
Making your bed every morning is the most dumb, useless waste of five minutes ever created. You should stop right now because you’re wasting your time.
It’s one of the most annoying possible tasks out there—a chore with limited value that gets undone every single night. Unlike tying your shoes, making your bed doesn’t protect you or significantly improve your life. It’s an aesthetic task at best. Yet, for some reason, we as a society value this form of busywork way too freaking much. There are people who swear by folding their blanket over two sets of sheets, perfectly creasing the top sheet under the mattress, but I’m not one of those people. And by the end of this piece, I hope that you too will leave your comforter lumped in a pile on top of your bed, just as disorganized as you left it the night before. I’m like the Howard Beale of bedding over here.
Who Needs a Bed?
“I realize it might seem crazy for a thirty-year-old to exist without a bed, but I just can’t get myself to buy one; it never seems worth it, because all I would use it for is sleeping (and once I’m unconscious, what do I care where I’m lying?). I get by fine with my ‘Sleeping Machine,’ sort of a self-styled nest in the corner of my bedroom.”
— Author Chuck Klosterman, discussing his sleeping habits at the time of the writing of his breakout book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman’s rebellious screed against sleeping in traditional beds came up in a section of the book where he highlighted the requirement that, in The Sims, the characters must own a bed. Klosterman eventually admitted that he changed his sleeping habits, telling a Redditor in a 2014 IAmA session, “I have a bed now. You can’t be married while still sleeping in a sleep machine.”
Cities are looking for ways to make themselves cleaner, greener, and more sustainable. So cities here and there are trying out pilot projects and even have permanent installations that other cities should seriously look at, like installing solar panels in places you wouldn’t think of otherwise.
Cycling is a popular hobby in the Netherlands. As such several companies combined forces for the installation of bike pathways that can collect harvest solar power to go back into the grid. The project consists of concrete panels topped with glass; there are silicon solar cells between the glass and concrete designed to trap energy of over fifty kilowatts annually per square meter. Although it doesn’t appear to be much, eventually the paths could cover over a hundred and thirty seven kilometers of the pathway.
Other projects include solar-powered markets that can set up anywhere, architectural designs that employ passive cooling and water collection, wind farms, and capturing storm water. Read about all of them at Housely.
Tea is the most popular beverage in the world -besides water. It sure is at my house! My husband goes through about a gallon of sweet tea a day, and I drink hot tea all afternoon and evening after one pot of coffee these days. It’s like that all over the world. Brew some leaves, have a nice drink. Or, if you're in the US, make it hot to brew it, put ice in to make it cold, then put in sugar to make it sweet, and lemon to make it sour -while the rest of the world shakes their heads. John Green gives us a lot more trivia about tea in the latest episode of the mental_floss List Show.
The 1979 movie Alien launched a franchise that now has five movies and another on the way, and that’s not even counting the two Alien vs. Predator movies. Why so many sequels? Because the second movie, Aliens, was so good that it rivaled, or even eclipsed, the first one. James Cameron directed the 1986 sequel, which brought back Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who has to battle the xenomorph once again. None of the later movies could compare. Let’s learn what went on behind the scenes of Aliens.
1. CONAN THE DESTROYER HELPED IT GET MADE.
The movie, not the guy. Based on the strength of his script for The Terminator (then in pre-production), James Cameron was approached by 20th Century Fox to write an Alien sequel. But the outline he came up with for Alien II got a lukewarm reaction at Fox, and the idea was put on hold for the time being. Then, as luck would have it, the start date for The Terminator was pushed back nine months so that Arnold Schwarzenegger could make Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to his 1982 hit (in which Conan had been merely a Barbarian). This extra three-quarters of a year gave Cameron time to write three-quarters of a full screenplay for Alien II, not just an outline. (He also co-wrote Rambo: First Blood Part II during this time, by the way.) The Fox bosses liked what they read. Cameron was told that if The Terminator proved successful, he could write and direct the Alien sequel.
6. THE SET WHERE THE ALIEN NEST IS FOUND SHOWED UP IN TIM BURTON’S BATMAN.
It was a defunct power station, called Acton Lane, and it had the right atmosphere for Aliens. It later appeared as Axis Chemicals, which is where Jack Napier falls into some acid and becomes Joker-fied in 1989's Batman. Parts of the alien hive were still there when Burton and his crew came in, which must have freaked them out a little.