Some under-celebrated internet slang

Tom Chatfield at the Guardian has written a column, The 10 best words the internet has given English, that has some great entries.  There are the common ones, yes:  trolling, memes, lol -- but there are also a couple really great entries, whether because the word is less obviously associated with the internet, or because the explanation he gives is fantastic.  For example, Scunthorpe problems:

Computing can be as much combat as collaboration between people and machines, and the Scunthorpe problem is a perfect example. Entirely innocent words can fall victim to machine filth-filters thanks to unfortunate sequences of letters within them – and, in Scunthrope's case, it's the second to fifth letters that create the difficulty. The effect was labelled in honour of the town in 1996, when AOL temporarily prevented any Scunthorpe residents from creating user accounts; but those who live in Penistone, South Yorkshire – or people with surnames like Cockburn – may be equally familiar with algorithms' censorious tendencies.

Or, Spam:

The most enduring gift of British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus may prove to be a digital one: the term "spam". The key episode, first broadcast in 1970, featured a sketch called "SPAM": the brand name used since 1937 by the Hormel Foods Corporation as a contraction of the phrase spiced ham. Set in a cafe where almost every single item on the menu featured spam, the sketch culminated in a chorus of Viking warriors drowning everyone else's voices out by chanting the word "spam".  A satirical indictment of British culinary monotony, it took on a second life during the early 1980s, when those who wished to derail early online discussions copied out the same words repeatedly in order to clog up a debate. Inspired by Python, the word spam proved a popular way of doing this. "Spamming" came to describe any process of drowning out "real" content – and the rest is repetitive history.

Apologizing instructions

On Whatever, one of my new favorite blogs (I've been meaning to start reading it for years), writer John Scalzi recently published an instruction manual to apologies, that looks to me like a really good and important instruction manual on whether and when to apologize.  We all learn that apologizing is important in elementary school -- this post, I think, covers the high school level of that skill. One of my favorite parts:

Are you willing to let your apology be an apology? Meaning, once you’ve apologized, are you going immediately start backtracking from it, adding caveats, exclusions, conditions and defensive annotations? It’s remarkable the number of perfectly good apologies that don’t stick the dismount. People can’t leave them alone, I suspect, because of defensiveness and ego — yes I was wrong but you have to admit I’m not the only one who was wrong here, or yes I was wrong but in general you have to admit my point still stands, or even yes I was wrong but it was wrong of you to make a big deal out of it. Which, again, is going to make things worse.

Chris Nolan is making real sci fi; Anne Hathaway involved

Okay, "Real sci fi" is a pointlessly prejudicial term, but what I mean is science fiction that, at the time of creation, doesn't break any known rules of science, and relies entirely on plot devices that scientists agree might turn out to be true.  This kind of SF has gotten rarer and rarer, as science progresses further and further away from the comprehension of most writers. That is the kind of sci fi that it seems Christopher Nolan (and his brother Jonathan) are making with the assistence of Kip Thorne, who was until recently the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech.  Maybe there will be a lot of bad science by the time it goes in one end and out the other of a major studio, but the Nolans probably have the power, and might have the conviction, to keep it plausible.

The film is called Interstellar, IMDb says it will come out in 2014, and describes it:

An exploration of physicist Kip Thorne's theories of gravity fields, wormholes and several hypotheses that Albert Einstein was never able to prove.

So, that's the good news.  The awesome news is that Anne Hathaway is apparently going to be in it.  This is awesome news because, since the Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables, and her responses to assholes in interviews[1. I was looking for the one where she talks about how much it sucks that we live in a culture where people sexualize non-consenting participants, but I couldn't find it, and this one's also pretty great.], she has become one of my favorite actors.

So, at some point next year, we (might) get an awesome new sci fi film, from a fantastic director, featuring a great cast[2.  Alright, that's a dubious claim.  I love Anne Hathaway, but I have fewer warm feelings about Matthew McConaughey.  Nothing vitriolic, just not enthusiastic.], and potentially really solid science.

What the hell, Fox?

So, Fox owns a lot of the rights to Firefly.  That's kind of sucky.  But as long as they leave the Browncoats alone, it's not that big a deal, right?  I mean, it's not like Fox is responsible for the premature death of a defining sci fi show of a generation or anything. So, yeah.  They screwed the community very nearly from day one.  The least they could do is just leave us the hell alone.  But apparently not:  they still want to make a profit on Browncoats.  Io9 reports, Fox is shutting down independent makers of Jayne hats, so there's no competition against their mass-produced version.

io9 writes,

Recently, Ripple Junction has licensed the fan apparel and obtained the rights to mass-produce the product. And in return, Fox is shutting down all the mom and pop Jayne hat makers. Which is ridiculous because the very point of a Jayne hat is to own a mangled handmade orange monstrosity that warms your noggin, not something churned out on an assembly line. But now that Fox has sold the licence, they now have to shake down Etsy members who are lovingly knitting their Firefly memorabilia.

ThinkGeek have something to say for themselves, too:

Browncoats, we hear your concerns about the cease and desist on Etsy Jayne Hat sellers!

We weren't involved in that process, but we have reached out to FOX and we've heard what you've had to say. As a result, we've decided to donate the profits from all Jayne Hat sales on our site to Can't Stop the Serenity, a Browncoat charity dear to ThinkGeek's heart that raises funds and awareness in support of Equality Now. We'll continue making that donation until we run out of stock.

We hope the Hero of Canton himself would approve.

Movie Triggers: the best new website I've seen lately

A while ago, I had an idea for a website, that would use a social network/review system to catalog movies with triggering content.  It's a pretty basic idea, I don't think it was stolen or anything, and the hard part is obviously the work on putting something like this together. I'm thrilled to say that someone has actually done that work. is a catalog of movies which, over time, will hopefully accumulate a decent collection of trigger warnings for popular movies.  Right now, most of them say there are 0 triggers -- which, the site stresses, "does not mean that this movie is non-triggering."  (Emphasis theirs.)

Symbols specifically indicate whether more than 10 people have agreed something is triggering, and whether there are comments on the thread, which would hopefully offer a better idea of what the triggering content is, so visitors can make informed judgements about whether they can handle it.

I'm personally looking forward to when the site gets enough traction to start warning about spiders -- I sent a feedback message asking whether arachnophobia was an appropriate tag here's the thread:

[me:] Is there any sort of guideline on what counts as a trigger, or what sorts of things you hope to cover?  For example, I'm arachnophobic -- would it be appropriate for me to add a spiders warning to movies that caused me to panic?  (Right now, my strategy is looking away if spiders show up and letting my partner tell me when it's safe to look back up.)

[Response:] Hi,

Tagging with spiders is completely appropriate. There are no specific guidelines for what counts as a trigger. We specifically left it open ended so people could share their experiences.

Thanks for using the site!

- John

Please, use this site, share it, add your experiences to the catalog.  Including spiders.

Idea Channel covers postmodernism

In their new video, "Is Community A Postmodern Masterpice?"  Mike (the host) opens up by explaining what postmodernism is.  I mean, not really.  That's not how postmodernism works.  But he does a pretty good job of covering the major reasons it's not easy to explain, and leads into the general idea enough that viewers might be able to distinguish postmodernism from other philosophical perspectives.  It starts at the 1:00 mark, with the perfect introduction, "What is postmodernism?  I'll give the philosophy and art history students a moment to finish their collective 'Ugh.'"

I'm posting this because I will be referring back to it regularly in otherwise usually frustrating conversations with my extended family.

An update on Super Clyde

According to Andrew Sims at, Super Clyde (a show about which I gushed in anticipation last week) is "Expected to premiere this Fall on CBS." He continues,

It follows the story of fast food worker Clyde, who uses money inherited from his uncle to become a superhero of sorts by using his $100,000 weekly inheritance to do good deeds. It is currently in the pilot stage, meaning the show may not get a full season order. If it does, it will be [Rupert] Grint’s biggest project to date since the Harry Potter film series ended in 2011.

The main focus of the article is a set of three pictures that have "surfaced" from the set.  Here's one, featuring Rupert Grint with Tyler Labine, who Sims says is going to play Clyde's brother.

I hope he wears a cape.

Charity Debt: Rootstrikers

My charity debt page is still screwed up, so this won't be going in the ledger quite yet.  (Which, by the way, I should really back up.) Nonetheless, March's commitment is going to Rootstrikers, the organization founded by Lawrence Lessig to get the corruption of campaign funding out of politics.

Corruption is the one major issue that doesn't really have a party split.  Everyone is affected.  And it's not just buying votes on big bills -- the influence he describes is more than a simple "I want you to do this, here's some money so you'll do it."  He describes politicians undermining the best interests of both the public and the corporations, in order to make it necessary for the corporations to keep donating, every election cycle.  He describes politicians treating congress as an internship before graduating into lobbying.

He lays it all out in a Google talk, @Google:  Lawrence Lessig:  Republic, Lost...

Rootstrikers's website is right here, and they could definitely use our money.

Yellow dots

I learned something creepy about printers today.  It turns out, most major printers add pale yellow dots to every page, which encode the date and time of the printout, as well as a serial number tying the paper to a specific printer.

It's called "Printer steganography."  According to Wikipedia, Steganography is "[T]he art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message[.]"

Now that I'm aware of this, I'm having trouble thinking of anywhere I could print out a document without making it obvious where I am.  I can't do it at home, because duh; I can't do it in the newsroom at school because I'm one of like 10 people who can get in, and they[1. "They" being any powerful or well-connected person or group that either has something against me or makes any kind of mistake that leads them to believe they have something against me.  Or someone less well-connected, but with a serious vendetta against me and access to, for example, the above-linked EFF site where the Xerox printer dots are decoded.] could compare the time on the stamp to the times that computers were in use;  I can't use the computer lab at school because they make everyone sign in... I can't remember how the computers work in the library, but I do know I have to pay for copies.  Maybe they don't log people's names.

Not saying I have anything particularly sensitive to print out, and as far as I know nobody hates me enough to track me down by stealing pieces of paper I might have printed, but the whole idea totally creeps me out, anyway.

Amanda Marcotte on the Friend Zone

Apparently "Friend Zone" is going into the Oxford English Dictionary, and Amanda Marcotte has some great commentary on it, in her article on Slate, Friend Zone Goes in the OED, and Women Give Up Trying to Let You Down Easy:

In the past, the English language had its fair share of terms to describe the state of being infatuated with a person who does not return your feelings. There was unrequited love for those who prefer more flowery language or crush for those with a more casual flair. Alas, these terms failed on one front: They assigned responsibility for the situation to the person having the feelings. They even went so far as to imply that the object of the affection has no obligation whatsoever to return the feelings (or have sex with someone as a consolation prize). Thus, the angry dudes of the Internet came up with the termfriend zone, which shifts the locus of responsibility from the subject to the object of the crush. It implies that, as the object is at fault for "putting" her admirer into the friend zone, it is her duty to do something to remove him from it, preferably by getting naked.

Unsurprisingly, the masses are fond of this new term. (And let's be honest: While men and women of all sexual orientations get crushes, the friend zone is mostly a straight-male phenomenon based on the widespread sexist belief that straight men can never truly be friends with women without having an ulterior motive.) It’s so popular, in fact, that it is now being put in the Oxford English Dictionary, a sacred tome widely believed to be both a better dictionary and a better step stool than, say, Merriam-Webster.

After that, she says some mean things about Bronies and Reddit users -- which isn't totally unfair -- and encourages women to keep an eye out for Friend Zone style self-pity and shut it down hard.

Since "Friend Zone" is getting acknowledged by the OED, I'm glad someone's pointing out that there are ways to say "I'm bummed out that someone I like isn't into me," without saying "and they're wrong for feeling that way."

(via Twenty Two Words) I watched this video hoping that it would vindicate my position in a long-standing argument with my partner that alarms spaced at half-hour intervals is better than hitting the snooze button every nine minutes for an hour, but it sounds like they're both awful, according to science.  Still, I love learning about details of sleep cycles, and this video captures the main points (including some information I didn't already know) in a quick, easy two and a half minutes.

Should You Use The SNOOZE Button?  By AsapSCIENCE:

Also this is totally unrelated but the narrator's voice sounds a lot like Michael from Vsauce, and I'm just sleepy enough to begin to wonder if it isn't a conspiracy... I mean, Mike from Idea Channel looks enough like Michael that it could possibly be CGI, and CGPGrey doesn't sound anything like either of them but voice altering software has come a long way, and he never allows himself to be photographed...

Laci Green on rape culture

I don't really know what to say about the Steubenville rape case, outside the obvious -- those boys got less punishment than they deserved, and the media sources that have been covering it like the tragedy is two rapists getting punished for rape are sick and horrible and people should be made to resign -- I find it difficult to articulate what I feel about it, and I'm not sure I feel qualified to talk about it. But part of rape culture is letting rape apologetics pass by unquestioned, so I think it's wrong not to say anything, too -- which is why I'm glad Laci Green has made a video about it, because now I can just embed that and say "I agree with her."

Laci Green's WTF HAPPENED IN STEUBENVILLE? (Trigger warning: rape):

I agree with her.

Super Clyde

I've been wondering for like two weeks now why I haven't seen Rupert Grint in anything.  (Never quite enough to go and check IMDb, though.  Apparently he's got six things in post-production.)  All the news I've seen about it is leading with the fact that Stephen Fry is playing the butler, which is awesome, but Rupert Grint is starring in a new sitcom on CBS, called "Super Clyde," which is currently in pre-production. I have no idea when it's going to come out, hopefully soon.

Also: The Guardian says it's a sitcom, but IMDb says it's a TV movie.

Govt. petition to recognize nonbinary genders on legal documents

Dear everyone who reads my blog: Please go and sign this petition.  It's a really tiny change that's a huge deal to a lot of people, and there's no good reason not to make the change. All the petition asks for is for US legal documents (like similar documents in Australia, New Zealand and the UK) add a check box for "None of the above" in the "Gender" question.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize "male" and "female" as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose, and the UK recognizes 'Mx' (pronounced "Mix") as a gender-neutral title.This petition asks the Obama administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary, and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

Here's the link.  Go sign it.  Now.

Phones that hang up

Ian Bogost at the Atlantic has written a really pleasant nostalgia article about phones that could actually hang up on people, in a really satisfyingly forceful way.

Unlike today's cellular network, the public switched telephone network was robust and centralized thanks to monopoly. Apart from flukes like my son depressing the hook switch, a disconnected landline call is almost unheard of. By contrast, it's not possible to hang up on someone via smartphone with deliberateness, because it's so much more likely that the network itself will disconnect of its own accord. Every call is tenuous, constantly at risk of failing as a result of system instability: spectrum auctions, tower optimizations, network traffic, and so forth. The infrastructure is too fragile to make hangups stand out as affairs of agency rather than of accident.

Today a true hangup -- one you really meant to perform out of anger or frustration or exhaustion -- is only temporary and one-sided even when it is successfully executed. Even during a heated exchange, your interlocutor will first assume something went wrong in the network, and you could easily pretend such a thing was true later if you wanted. Calls aren't ever really under our control anymore, they "drop" intransitively. The signal can be lost, the device's battery can deplete, the caller can accidentally bump the touch screen and end the call, the phone's operating system can crash.

And he provides the necessary caveat to make this kind of nostalgia article uncomplicatedly nice to read, by doing the work for you in pointing out the silly things about it:  "Lamenting the demise of hangups offers little more than crass nostalgia for an admittedly weird, anonymous aggression. It's pointless wistfulness, too, since the phone call itself has become an endangered species."

Applied Aquaponics

Roman Gaus, an entrepreneur in aquaponics, has written an article about his journey from curiosity to trailblazing, ending up where he is now, running (among other farms) a farm on a rooftop in Switzerland.  The article is called The Farming Technique That Could Revolutionize the Way We Eat.

Aquaponics is a method of combined fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a recirculating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish feces and urine. The net result: a 90 percent reduction in freshwater use compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.

The above is a good summary of what aquaponics entails, and highlights one of the huge advantages of the method that's not really dealt with in this article:  It's a way to mass-produce food that might be able to replace the environmentally damaging fertilizers that are necessary to produce enough food to keep all the people currently on earth still-alive.  (Hank Green talks about this near the end of his SciShow video, Fritz Haber: Great Minds.)

To test and prove my idea, I investigated urban-farm options and came across a French design for a 20-foot cargo ship container with a greenhouse module built on top. It looked like it could house an aquaponics system. The container was relatively small and portable — the size of two parking spaces — and could be easily toured in public places: in front of schools, supermarkets, or parking lots. All it required were electrical and water hookups. I liked the ruggedness of the cargo container combined with the leafy beauty of cultivation. The UrbanFarmers Box was born.


We are building a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse farm on a rooftop in Basel, Switzerland. We started selling fresh produce to five local restaurants in January 2013, just six months after construction started. This roof-garden-on-steroids should yield more than five tons of fresh vegetables and nearly a ton of fish per year, feeding a local community of 100 people year-round.

Gaus also brings up one of the other cool qualities of aquaponics:  the inherent bias towards moderation and balance.  It might be a little bit aggressively optimistic to say, but I imagine if the majority of our food was produced in a process that required excruciating attention to a complex balance, we might generally be forced to be a little less all-or-nothing as a civilization.

Amid the excitement, however, we must remember that commercial-scale aquaponics is a delicate technology requiring a sensitive balance between the cultivation of fish and vegetables. You cannot maximize yields for either part without creating problems. Maintaining food safety and quality in these systems is critical. Going forward, it will take time, ingenuity, and significant investment to perfect our methods, become profitable, and make an impact.

Check out the whole article -- it's really good, and it's great to hear about examples of aquaponics farms having direct success in real life.  My fingers are crossed that this is the future of food in America.  (And, hey.  My town just passed a ballot measure to allow the construction of casinos.  Maybe I can try and persuade someone running a casino that organic, aquaponic fresh fish and vegetables would be a good novelty draw for people who feel a bit morally queasy about gambling.)

MentalFloss's video channel exists now

Mental_Floss, my favorite website for days when I can't think of anything to blog about, has a vlog now, hosted by my favorite vlogger who is also a parent,[1. And makes that fact known to the internet.  Maybe Charlie McDonnell has vidcon groupie kids or something.  Also, sorry, Joe Beretta: SourceFed doesn't count as a vlog, so you weren't in the running.] John Green.  Check it out:

Mental_Floss content causally contains a lot of stuff I've already heard, but pretty much every piece of content they create has something in it I didn't know.  Here are some of the things from this video that were new to me:  02. Iron Maidens didn't exist.  17. Chameleons change color for reasons other than camouflage. 24. I knew that people use more than 10% of their brains, but I didn't know that the myth comes from a metaphor that was apparently misconstrued.

Also:  Don't eat batteries.

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

(via Boing Boing) This list comes form a post on Aerogramme Writer's Studio (a blog I am now following), and, they write, "were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, Pixar’s Story Artist."

I've heard some of these rules before, but I'm republishing them all here, because they're awesome, interesting to read, and I'm going to need to refer to them like fifty times in the next week.

Also, Mark Frauenfelder, the Boing Boing editor who reblogged this, picked his favorite (#13) and so did Aerogramme (#9) so I figure I should contribute my favorite, too.  It's #4.  I'm trying to figure out how it maps to a lot of my stories, and it's depressingly difficult to work it out with some.  This illuminates a lot of room for improvement.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Tropes vs Women episode 1 is up!

HOLY CRAP IT'S HERE FEMINIST FREQUENCY'S TROPES VS WOMEN IN VIDEO GAMES IS HERE OH MY GOD I CAN'T EVEN In May of 2012, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian launched a kickstarter for a video series, "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games," asking for six thousand dollars to fund a web series exploring systematic sexism in video games. The kickstarter raised over 25 times its goal, and misogynists all over the internet freaked the hell out.

Since then, she launched the Tropes vs Women Tumblr, which over the last few months has been posting examples of hundreds of games that feature Damsels in Distress, the subject of the first upcoming video.

Today, the first episode of Tropes vs Women in Video Games went up:  Damsel in Distress Part 1.

I can't find any information about what kind of schedule the videos will go up on, but as soon as I know, I will report back.

I'm so excited!  This is the coolest thing that has gone up on YouTube today.

SimCity's new release

I was vaguely aware of the existence of a new SimCity game in production over the last few weeks.  Today, I found out it came out yesterday, and I started looking into it.  Adam Sneed at Slate has written a long post about his experience with the game, that has made me drool a little bit:

To tinker with the environment during a preview of SimCity, I created Sneedville, a playground for my more destructive tendencies. The area in which I founded my city was rich in coal and metal ore, so I chose to specialize in industry. [...]

Because of the work available to them, the residents of Sneedville were low-income. This limited the city’s tax revenue, and there was little incentive for people to move into town. Worse, data showed that pollution from the industrial park was lowering property values and diminishing quality of life. It also turned out that the ore beneath the mines was being depleted.

The city was off to a decent start financially, but following the trend lines wasn’t hard. Real estate was limited, so I needed to make a decision. Should I dedicate myself to industry, knowing it will bring money as well as environmental damage, and that the area’s lifeblood would someday run out? Or should I try diversifying the economy by shifting to, say, commerce, education, or tourism?


Another way SimCity accurately captures in the leading edge of urban planning is through its use of Big Data. Cities around the world are using sensors to measure everything from energy and water usage to pollution levels and crime trends. The game puts the player at the helm of the ultimate smart city as it tracks just about every metric of life in the simulation. At the click of a button, dynamic, colorful maps—inspired by the infographics of data scientist Edward Tufte—present real-time data on traffic, crime, pollution, public health, property values, and much more.

Apparently, there are some serious problems with server access going on right now, but EA says they're working to sort them out.