Recent links: December 2012

A few recent links of note:

Cape Tribulation

Maciej Cegłowski writes about the dangers of jellyfish and crocodiles in north-eastern Australia:

The box jellyfish is one of those Australian animals that are venomous beyond reason. It is a transparent creature about as big and as clever as a handbag, and although it subsists entirely on small fish and crustaceans, its three-meter long tentacles contain enough venom to kill an orchestra.

The article is fascinating and rather scary:

Visitors’ guides stress the importance of “crocodile safety” in the same gentle language they use to warn against sunstroke. The universal theme in crocodile attack stories is that of complete surprise, the victim usually disappearing under the water before they can get out one good yell. The crocodile prefers to store its supper to age a little bit before eating, so the aftermath of many crocodile attacks is a grisly hunt for both the reptile and the cached body.

In a better world, box jellyfish and crocodile would be mortal enemies, battling each other out in the shallows like the kraken and the whale, but as best I can tell the creatures coexist in the tidal zone in perfect friendship and harmony, possibly buying each other beers after a hard day’s work of making it impossible for a hot and weary traveler to put so much as a toe in the water.

Maciej also runs Pinboard, the site I use to save links like these. He also recently announced his Pinboard Investment Co-Prosperity Cloud, a hilarious attempt to help prospective start-ups. Each of the six winners gets $37, a sum Maciej notes are the only costs involved in the startup and operation of an online project. The winners get publicity, the biggest obstacle to success.

At once a piece of satire yet a sincere offering, it’s especially amusing for the various ways he describes it: for people with no concept of humour, in words of one syllable, and in PR-speak.

Testing, Testing: 12/12/12 12:12:12

Matt Strassler looks at our fascination with numbers and dates/times, with a particular focus on the recent run of twelves. Why do we use particular lengths for our minutes, hours, years? How would time be if it was base-10? Why twelves? Are we really in 2012?

See also more on dozenalists, the people who are very obsessed with base-12.

The Stuff of Knightmare

In the UK, Knightmare was a popular children’s TV series in the 1980s and ’90s:

On paper, Knightmare is a terrible idea. It’s a kids’ TV show that simulates the experience of playing a computer game, as if kids wouldn’t rather just play a computer game. The bulk of each episode is comprised of three children staring at a television screen and shouting at a fourth kid, who is wearing a giant hat. They are constantly interrupted by a man dressed as a camp Hobbit. It’s a game show, but winning is almost impossible, and the penalty for failure is death.

The videos in the article are an uncomfortable reminder of how it really looked, outside our memories. Very funny, very comprehensive, and very nostalgic for anyone about my age.

How the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine gave rise to modern animation

Josh Weinstein, formerly of The Simpsons, gives his recollections of The Beatles classic animation. Supremely interesting in and of itself, the film’s influence on modern animation is unarguable; you should also read the linked article about how the voice talent was anything but the Fab Four, and what happened to them:

Director George Dunning had overheard [Peter] Batten talking in a Liverpudlian accent in a London pub. He cast him on the spot as George Harrison, although Batten had never acted before. Towards the end of the production, Batten was in bed with one of the young women on the production team when the military police burst in and arrested him for desertion. He has not been seen or heard of since.

Why Theories Don’t Go Into Hospitals

Second appearance for Matt Strassler’s blog Of Particular Significance, in which he discusses the progress of science, and how theories are accepted or dismissed. You don’t need to be a physics expert to read this, but you’ll need to pay close attention and not get hung up on the details of the likes of supersymmetry, and try to pay attention to the broader themes.

If this sort of thing interests you, try the classic literature on the subject, particularly Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

The Moth Presents Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

This is a difficult video to watch. It’s about trying to make sense of tragedy. Anthony Griffith is a comedian and actor and this is his appearance on The Moth, a sort-of arena for storytelling. I’m not a parent, and if I was, I don’t think I’d be able to watch this.

the web

Mike Harrison writes sci-fi books, none of which I’ve read, but after the past few months reading his blog, I really want to. Every day you get a paragraph, two if you’re lucky, about something. Some are taken from his books, and attributed thusly; maybe they all are, I don’t know. But they’re so brilliantly written: so easy to visualise, so tricky to decipher if he’s talking literally or metaphorically.