June 7, 2018

Swan Song

led zeppelin

The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BCE, and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art.

In Greek mythology, the swan was a bird consecrated to Apollo and was therefore considered a symbol of harmony and beauty. Continue reading

May 29, 2018

Trust, But Verify

Reagan and Gorbachev by Terry Mosher

Trust, but verify is a Russian proverb that became well known in English when used by President Ronald Reagan on multiple occasions in the context of nuclear disarmament.

Suzanne Massie, an American author living in Russia, met with President Ronald Reagan many times between 1984 and 1987. She taught him the proverb, advising him that ‘The Russians like to talk in proverbs. It would be nice of you to know a few. You are an actor – you can learn them very quickly.’ The proverb was adopted as a signature phrase by Reagan, who subsequently used it frequently when discussing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union. Using proverbs that the Russians could relate to may have helped relations between the two leaders. Continue reading

May 22, 2018

Mezcal

Mezcal (lit. ‘oven-cooked agave’) is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico. Agave, which is often misidentified as a variety of cactus, grows in many parts of Mexico, though most mezcal is made in Oaxaca, a southern state. A Oaxacan expression regarding the drink is: ‘Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también.’ (‘For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well.’)

It is unclear whether distilled drinks were produced in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest. The Spaniards were introduced to native fermented drinks such as pulque, a milky-looking, alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant (also known as agave americana). Soon, the conquistadors began experimenting with the agave plant to find a way to make a distillable fermented mash. The result was mezcal. Continue reading

May 15, 2018

Socks and Sandals

Kyle Gass Band

Wearing socks and sandals together is a controversial fashion combination and social phenomenon that is discussed in various countries and cultures. In some places it is considered a fashion faux pas.

The earliest evidence of wearing socks and sandals is documented at an archaeological site in England. The discovery suggests that old Romans wore socks with sandals at least 2,000 years ago. The earliest known surviving pair of socks were designed for use with sandals. Dating from 300–500, they were excavated from Oxyrhynchus on the Nile in Egypt. Continue reading

May 8, 2018

Flower Power

Levitate the Pentagon

Flower power was a slogan used during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a symbol of passive resistance and non-violence ideology. It is rooted in the opposition movement to the Vietnam War. The expression was coined by the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1965 as a means to transform war protests into peaceful affirmative spectacles.

Hippies embraced the symbolism by dressing in clothing with embroidered flowers and vibrant colors, wearing flowers in their hair, and distributing flowers to the public, becoming known as ‘flower children.’ The term later became generalized as a modern reference to the hippie movement and the so-called counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music, psychedelic art, and social permissiveness. Continue reading

April 30, 2018

Sneakernet

El Paquete

Sneakernet is an informal term for the transfer of electronic information by physically moving media such as magnetic tape, floppy disks, compact discs, USB flash drives or external hard drives from one computer to another; rather than transmitting the information over a computer network. The term, a tongue-in-cheek play on net(work) as in Internet or Ethernet, refers to walking in sneakers as the transport mechanism for the data.

Also known as trainnets or pigeonets, these types of physically mediated networks are in use throughout the world. Sneakernets are used when data transfer is impractical due to bandwidth limitations or other reasons such as data security. This form of data transfer is also used for peer-to-peer (or friend-to-friend) file sharing and has grown in popularity in metropolitan areas and college communities. The ease of this system has been facilitated by the availability of USB external hard drives, USB flash drives and portable music players. Continue reading

April 19, 2018

Falsifiability

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

A statement, hypothesis, or theory has falsifiability or refutability if there is the possibility of showing it to be false. It is falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an empirical observation which could refute it. For example, the universal generalization that All swans are white is falsifiable since it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single swan that is not white.

The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper’s scientific epistemology referred to as ‘falsificationism.’ Popper stresses the problem of ‘demarcation’—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience. Continue reading

April 14, 2018

Twelfth Night

She's the Man

‘Twelfth Night, or ‘What You Will” is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–02 for a festival marking the close of the Christmas season, on the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. The play centers on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck. Viola (who disguises herself as Cesario) falls in love with Duke Orsino, who in turn is in love with the Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her thinking she is a man.

The play expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion, with plot elements drawn from the short story ‘Of Apollonius and Silla’ by English author Barnabe Rich, based on a story by Italian writer Matteo Bandello.  Continue reading

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April 6, 2018

Chernoff Face

Chernoff

Chernoff faces, invented by American statistician Herman Chernoff in 1973, display multivariate data in the shape of a human face. The individual parts, such as eyes, ears, mouth and nose represent values of the variables by their shape, size, placement and orientation.

The idea behind using faces is that humans easily recognize faces and notice small changes without difficulty. Chernoff faces handle each variable differently. Because the features of the faces vary in perceived importance, the way in which variables are mapped to the features should be carefully chosen (e.g. eye size and eyebrow-slant have been found to carry significant weight).  Continue reading

March 19, 2018

Sheats Goldstein Residence

Jackie Treehorn

The Sheats Goldstein Residence is a house designed and built between 1961 and 1963 by American architect John Lautner in Beverly Crest, Los Angeles, just a short distance from the Beverly Hills border. The building was conceived from the inside out and built into the sandstone ledge of the hillside; a cave-like dwelling that opens to embrace nature and view.

The house is an example of ‘American Organic Architecture’ that derives its form as an extension of the natural environment and of the individual for whom it was built. Lautner, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, sought to create unique structures that solved the challenges of their sites. Continue reading

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March 12, 2018

Precognition

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab

Precognition (Latin: ‘acquiring knowledge’), also called ‘prescience,’ ‘future vision,’ or ‘future sight’ is an alleged psychic ability to see events in the future.

As with other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP), there is no reliable scientific evidence that precognition is a real ability possessed by anyone and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Specifically, precognition appears to violate the principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause. Continue reading

March 1, 2018

Webring

GeoCities

webring is a collection of websites linked together in a circular structure, and usually organized around a specific theme, often educational or social. They were popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly among amateur websites.

Webrings are seen by some as a relic of the early web of the 1990s. When the primary site that managed web rings, webring.org was acquired by Yahoo, ‘ring masters’ lost access to their webrings and the web ring hubs were replaced by a Yahoo page. By the time Yahoo stopped controlling webring.org in 2001, search engines had become good enough that web rings were no longer as useful. The webring.org site was still active in the mid-2010s. Continue reading