Designing page previews for Wikipedia 

Wikipedia recently launched page previews for their content—hover over an internal link (i.e. from one Wikipedia entry to another) and you’ll reveal a pop-up with summary information about the destination page.

The link at the bottom of this post summarises some of the design and UX work that went into the new feature. But why so much thought? It’s a simple, straightforward new feature, right? Well:

  • Nearly ~28 percent of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from clicking on internal blue links. a.k.a going down the rabbit hole
  • Blue links account for ~230 million page views per month
  • ~2 million links get hovered per minute across all Wikipedias

In other words, blue links are the most frequently-used interactive elements on Wikipedia. This makes messing with or changing any feature related to blue links a bit more… delicate and challenging.

Not only that, but not every destination page has the same content. They can have long or short titles or descriptions; images of any size or aspect ratio; differing licence information; or other textual formats such as mathematical formulae or musical notation. The post gives a good idea of the challenges and how the feature might develop from here.

Source: How we designed page previews for Wikipedia — and what could be done with them in the future – Wikimedia Blog

Raw power: Britain’s changing appetite for veg

Who would have thought that cauliflower – which was traditionally served under what chef Jean Conil described in his 1953 book Haute Cuisine as “a merciful disguise of sauce” – might one day be so celebrated it would be served proudly whole and slow-roasted, like a prime cut of beef? For a while it felt as if the vegetables that inspired love in Britain were Mediterranean ones such as red peppers that were roasted and safely removed from anything we had grown up with. But there is a renewed appetite for locally grown root veg too. From 2016 to 2017, sales of beetroot in the UK grew by £34 million, an increase of 6% year on year. Still more startling is the rise in people who centre their entire diet on vegetables, gathering under the hashtag #plantbased. The number of self-declared British vegans has risen by more than 360% since 2006.

Great. Vegetables are increasingly the star of the show. But a diet rich in fresh produce is still out of reach for far too many:

At the vegetable summit, Kerridge said her teenage daughter often begged her for pre-packed spiralised courgettes in the supermarket because she had seen it idolised on social media. The problem is that Kerridge can’t afford to buy it.

Granted, it’s much more affordable to buy courgettes and spiralise them yourself. (If you must.) But the broader point is painfully clear—vegetables are cool again, yet large swathes of the population are missing out.

(Aside: I learned recently the that author of this piece, Bee Wilson, is the sister of classicist Emily Wilson, whose translation of the Odyssey is currently on my bedside table.)

Source: Raw power: Britain’s changing appetite for veg | Life and style | The Guardian

Why is New Zealand sparing crayfish but torturing rabbits?

Nikki Mandow:

Lobsters have a total of 100,000 neurons. In the overall scheme of things, this isn’t many. It’s less than half those of an ant and a tenth of those of a cockroach.

By contrast, a rabbit has nearly 500 million neurons. (Humans, in case you are interested, have around 86 billion.)

So it seems inconsistent at the very least that it is illegal in New Zealand to cause a couple of minutes of bubbling suffering to an animal with almost no feeling, on the basis that they nevertheless do have a functioning nervous system. Yet it is fine to cause up to four days of suffering to an animal with a sophisticated nervous system.

This seems an appropriate place to drop in a link to DFW’s Consider the Lobster (pdf).

 

Fact checking tools in the browser

Mike Caulfield has some ideas about how the humble browser could be used to combat mis- and disinformation. For example:

Site info: Browsers expose some site info, but it’s ridiculously limited. Here’s some site info that you could easily provide users: date domain first purchased, first crawl of URL by Google or archive.org, related Wikipedia article on organization (and please financially support Wikipedia if doing this), any IFCN or press certification. Journal impact factor. Date last updated. Even better: provide some subset of this info when hovering over links.

Likely original reporting source: For a news story that is being re-re-re-reported by a thousand clickbait artists, use network and content analysis to find what the likely original reporting source is and suggest people take a look at that.

Other suggestions: in-built reverse image lookups, OCR of image memes, related sites.

 

A new generation of food magazines thinks small, and in ink

Despite some off-putting names — like Toothache or Mold — many of these publications are beautiful and inviting, with ink-saturated pages filled with original art, and nuanced, complex stories you want to spend time digesting. Their cover prices are fittingly high, with many around $20, and a few don’t even bother to post their content online, focusing entirely on print.

Staffs tend to be tiny (often just one or two people), as do circulations (150 to 15,000). But what these titles lack in size or legacy, they make up for in originality and ambition, often zooming in on stories that have been overlooked or misrepresented in traditional magazines, and publishing them on their own terms.

Source: A New Generation of Food Magazines Thinks Small, and in Ink – The New York Times

I’ve bought and read a few of these—Mold, The Gourmand and Put a Egg on It spring immediately to mind, delivered as part of my Stack subscription—and they are things to treasure. Worth seeking out if you are in any way interested in food and culture.

Janus words are their own opposites

Frequently described as “words that are their own opposites,” Janus words are also known as contronyms, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms. These are words that have developed contradictory meanings. Cleave is often cited as the go-to contronym: it can refer to splitting something apart and uniting two things. But it’s not the only one out there, and there is usually some sort of logic behind most auto-antonyms.

Source: Contronyms, Janus Words, and Auto-Antonyms | Merriam-Webster

As well as cleave: clip, fast, oversight, sanction. All have contradictory meanings which arise from a word’s original specific definition becoming much broader. Or, somewhat appropriately, the opposite.

What to read on a subway commute

Adam Sternbergh on subway novels:

So I want thrilling plots, yes — but also thrilling language. I want sentences I’ll stop to read twice. This is why standard throwaway airport thrillers don’t migrate well beneath ground. The writing may be “muscular” and “spare,” but if it’s not also “inventive” and “excellent” there’s a good chance the book will wind up abandoned on a platform bench. With a long day behind me and a wearying commute ahead of me, I don’t want to settle for distraction; I want to look forward to reading my book with the palpitating excitement of a second date with someone I’ve already fallen for. I want to miss my stop. Ideally, I’ll miss a few.

 

This couple keeps getting mystery packages from Amazon they didn’t order

A new type of scam where companies send out their products solely so that they can themselves write 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Here’s how two experts who used to work for Amazon, James Thomson and Chris McCabe, say it probably works: A seller trying to prop up a product would set up a phony e-mail account that would be used to establish an Amazon account. Then the seller would purchase merchandise with a gift card — no identifying information there — and send it to a random person, in this case the Gallivans. Then, the phantom seller, who controls the “buyer’s” e-mail account, writes glowing reviews of the product, thus boosting the Amazon ranking of the product.

 

Why do we use non-English words?

We resort to foreign words for a number of psychologically interesting reasons. A lot of them, I’d argue, are rooted in the middle class aversion to bluntness or crudeness. When what we’re saying has an underlying tone that may cause embarrassment to either the speaker or listener, we borrow from Latin or modern European languages (often French) to give a veneer of refinement, glossing over what’s crass, base, or stark.

Source: Strictly entre nous: why do we use non-English words? – OxfordWords blog

For example, on the use of entre nous: “I want to gossip but gossiping is common so I’m going to get away with it by using the pretentious French phrase for it.”

The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English

Not only is she the first woman, but she’s making some fairly radical changes to the established translations:

“Treat me,” I interrupted, “as if I don’t know Greek,” as, in fact, I do not.

“The prefix poly,” Wilson said, laughing, “means ‘many’ or ‘multiple.’ Tropos means ‘turn.’ ‘Many’ or ‘multiple’ could suggest that he’s much turned, as if he is the one who has been put in the situation of having been to Troy, and back, and all around, gods and goddesses and monsters turning him off the straight course that, ideally, he’d like to be on. Or, it could be that he’s this untrustworthy kind of guy who is always going to get out of any situation by turning it to his advantage. It could be that he’s the turner.”

Source: The First Woman to Translate the ‘Odyssey’ Into English – The New York Times

See also two ‘Troy Story’ videos we made that re-tell the Iliad and the Odyssey in a couple of minutes each:

 

Elephas Anthropogenus

After the fall of the Roman Empire, elephants virtually disappeared from Western Europe.

Since there was no real knowledge of how this animal actually looked, illustrators had to rely on oral and written transmissions to morphologically reconstruct the elephant, thus reinventing an actual existing creature. This tree diagram traces the evolution of the elephant depiction throughout the middle ages up to the age of enlightenment.

Some of these are great, e.g. this from around 1400:

The amateur cloud society that (sort of) rattled the scientific community

Jon Mooallem wrote a wonderful piece last year about clouds, their identification and classification, and being part of a group of likeminded people:

He was, by then, closing in on his 10th year as head of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, as he’d done after 10 years with The Idler magazine, he was questioning his commitment to it. Somehow, being a cloud impresario had swallowed an enormous amount of time. He was lecturing about clouds around the world, sharing stages at corporate conferences and ideas festivals with Snoop Dogg and Bill Clinton and appearing monthly on the Weather Channel. Then there was the Cloud Appreciation Society’s online store, a curated collection of society-branded merchandise and cloud-themed home goods, which turned out to be surprisingly demanding, particularly in the frenzied weeks before Christmas. The Cloud Appreciation Society was basically just Pretor-Pinney and his wife, Liz, plus a friend who oversaw the shop part time and a retired steelworker he brought on to moderate the photo gallery. It was all arduous, which Pretor-Pinney seemed to find a little embarrassing. “My argument about why cloud-spotting is a worthwhile activity is that it’s an aimless activity,” he said. “And I’ve turned it into something that is very purposeful, that is work.”

At the same time, he realized that he’d conjured a genuine community of amateur cloud-­lovers from all over the world but regretted never doing anything to truly nourish it; it felt so “fluffy,” he said, “with no center to it, like a cloud.” Soon, that spectral society — that cloud of people on the Internet — would be celebrating its 10th anniversary. “I’m thinking that it might be a nice reason to get everyone together,” he said.

How dolphins eat octopus

Joanna Klein for NYT’s Trilobites:

Try having no arms and eating a live octopus that’s crawling around on your head with its tentacles. Failure could mean it’s your last supper. But a population of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Australia has found a way to do it.

“These ones in southwest Australia have worked out: How do we catch them? How do we bite them? And how do we kill them so we can eat them?” said Kate Sprogis, a behavioral ecologist at Murdoch University in Australia who with her colleagues described the behavior in a study published last month in Marine Mammal Science.

The recipe is as follows: Bite off the head. Shake the body. Toss until the arms are tenderized and the suction cups no longer function. Slam the body against the water repeatedly until it breaks into bite-sized pieces. Steps may be varied. Enjoy. The estimated preparation time ranges between one and six minutes.

This is how I eat everything.