Shared posts

22 Feb 17:42

ofsparrows:Breakfast sorcery: the only superpower I want to...


Breakfast sorcery: the only superpower I want to have.

12 Feb 16:46

True color picture of our moon, unfiltered by our nitrogen rich...

True color picture of our moon, unfiltered by our nitrogen rich blue atmosphere.

12 Feb 04:01

For anyone curious, below are some of the recommended twitter bots that came in in response to...

For anyone curious, below are some of the recommended twitter bots that came in in response to yesterday’s request for favorites:

Pentametron: A sonnet bot

Reverseocr: A sort of drawing bot.

The Desire Bot: Anything starting with “I just want”

Autocharts: Absurd charts, twice daily.

CrushBot: A DMing bot that connects crushes from The New Inquiry.

Anything done by Darius Kazemi.

11 Feb 15:37

Are these the best Amazon reviews ever? (Anti-vaccination edition)

by Chris Blattman

61bNGvoLVYL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Salon reports:

In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.”

It also highlights some truly, truly wonderful Amazon reviews:

“This book has been a wonderful distraction while I sit in the hospital to support my friend whose baby has this delightful disease. Since the child now has both pneumonia and encephalitis, I’ll have to check out the additional titles mentioned in Michael J. Gulgoski’s wonderful review. We’re going to be here a while. Unfortunately, I had to give this only one star because I hate the name Melanie.” –This Daydreamer

“Finally! A children’s book with an agenda I can get behind! I always thought I loved kids until I actually had one of my own and boy was I wrong! I researched anything and everything I could possibly do to get rid of the little brat, but I didn’t want to be arrested for murder and childhood cancer is just too darn unpredictable. Fortunately, I stumbled upon ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’, and learned that there is a huge community of people who hate children as much as me! Thanks to Melanie, I was able to ignore my pediatrician’s recommendations to vaccinate my daughter before our trip to Disney World, all while acting like I want what is ‘best’ for my child.” –brittany

Amazon page is here in case you want to add your voice.

The post Are these the best Amazon reviews ever? (Anti-vaccination edition) appeared first on Chris Blattman.

26 Jan 01:00

Eyeing up

by Rick Kurshen


A cartoon by Edward Steed in the New Yorker

18 Jan 20:57

FuzzBeed Parody social news site which algorithmically generates...


Parody social news site which algorithmically generates listicle content (often with absurd results).

See for yourself here

10 Jan 18:51

dollychops: Happy Birthday David Bowie! This should be on the...


Happy Birthday David Bowie!

This should be on the Tumblr Radar

04 Jan 22:51


30 Dec 22:28

…and a happy new yearOriginal illustration by Neil Evans

by abvh

…and a happy new year

Original illustration by Neil Evans

15 Dec 15:42


by Grant

15 Dec 10:09

lgbtlaughs: Photo of ‘twins’ used in Virginia billboard by...


Photo of ‘twins’ used in Virginia billboard by ‘ex-gay’ group are of same man - and he’s gay

"I was obviously quite shocked, so that why I decided to send you guys an email saying hey, I’m that guy in that billboard," Roux said.

Roux hasn’t thought about that photo shoot in nearly a decade. He says the pictures used on the billboard were part of a stock photo shoot he did. Roux signed away the rights and was told the pictures would be used in commercial and corporate ads and brochures.

Thursday morning, friends, family and even Roux’s trainer asked if he was featured in the ad, which claimed to show identical twins and the statement, “Nobody is born gay.”

It’s ironic, says Roux, given that he’s not a twin and openly gay.

"It just seems like there no place in today’s world for an organization that is promoting this as being some kind of deviant or distasteful lifestyle, because I’ve lived my life openly gay and happy for my entire life," he said.

15 Dec 01:29

It’s the Happy Gnome Dance.

by nanoramas

It’s the Happy Gnome Dance.

14 Dec 22:21

Punch A Monet Silly brief browser game lets you virtually punch...

Punch A Monet

Silly brief browser game lets you virtually punch a certain piece of fine art.

Try it out for yourself here

15 Dec 19:19

Surveillance Camera Captures a Fastidious Elephant Picking Up Litter and Properly Putting It in the Trash

by Lori Dorn

This elephant is tidier than you (or me)

A surveillance camera captured the sight of an elegantly fastidious elephant as she picks up litter from the ground and properly puts it the trash can at the Thornhill Safari Lodge in Limpopo, South Africa.

via Nothing To Do With Arbroath

14 Dec 20:34

p-kyle: Merrry Xmas from Thatcher’s Britain. 


The Yule burned true


Merrry Xmas from Thatcher’s Britain. 

10 Dec 23:19

GIF-JAM Compilation of GIF art arranged for the cinefamily...


Compilation of GIF art arranged for the cinefamily Animation Breakdown festival, featuring the talents of many artists on Tumblr:

This collaboration was part of Animation Breakdown’s Free For All program at Cinefamily ( ). The mighty Paul Fraser ( ) created the amazing music track first, not knowing what imagery was to go with it. Participants turned in GIFs not knowing what would happen. Then I edited the GIFs to the music. So music was done BEFORE the edit, which if you think about it is kind of crazy but it magically came together (I think).

Included are: wolfandunicorn, Christian Villacañas, courtneygarvin, wackom, daveofthedead, david-maingault, Dylan Hayes, edskudder, Felix Colgrave, henryscrapeteria, jackiecous, timecard, jdweiss, jayhasrajani, Jen Lee, jeremysengly, Jeremy Couillard, onemillionmouths, John Lisle, Johnny Woods, jonvier89, Justin Hilden, Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera, Lilli Carré, Matt Furie, Matthias Hoegg, kclogg, Max Wittert, Nath Milburn, neilsanders, Nick Arciaga, probertson, Peter Burr, Sarah Schmidt, time-cop, timbeckhardt, rauchbros, and mrbuffalo.

A wide range of stuff, and something for everyone.

21 Nov 13:14


19 Nov 17:52

Thanksgiving across the US

by Jason Kottke

From the NY Times, an epic listing of recipes for traditional (and not so traditional) Thanksgiving food from each of the 50 US states. Featuring lefse from North Dakota, salty pluff mud pie from South Carolina, turkey tamales from Texas, and cheddar mashed potatoes from Vermont. (via @jimray)

Tags: food   holidays   Thanksgiving   USA
13 Oct 14:31

Teachers and professors: please stop

Hello all teachers and professors!  I know you all read my Tumblr without exception, so this is a great place to talk about this.

Please stop assigning your students to interview cartoonists.  I love students and I love doing interviews, but I can only do so much, and when you have entire courses of students at multiple schools all trying to interview people at the same time, it just doesn’t work.  I get emails probably about once a week during the school year saying “Hi I go to school [REDACTED] I was assigned in class to interview to a cartoonist, can you answer the attached questions for me please?”

I can’t do them all.  So I have to say no (or not reply) and the student goes away thinking “Wow he couldn’t spare one HOUR to talk to me?  What a jerk.”  And then the student has to go begging to other people, which sucks, and I go away feeling like all I’m teaching these students is “people who are self-employed are usually busy and cannot accommodate every stranger who email them out of the blue with a request because their teacher told them to”, which also sucks. BEHOLD MY LEGACY.

If the goal is for students to find out more about what being a cartoonist is REALLY like, here are several interviews I’ve done that explore this:

There are similar Google searches for every other cartoonist you can think of!

On the other hand, if the goal is for the students to practice interviewing people, have them interview each other!  I bet they have lives that are even MORE interesting than the life of a guy who sits alone in front of a computer all day (ps: this is me) (ps: no regrets)

Okay, that’s all!  I know y’all do good work, but I just feel bad about shooting down students all the time and now since we’ve cleared the air here I’m sure this problem is resolved forever.

27 Sep 14:20

How to Crochet Yourself the Perfect Bowl of Ramen

by Johnny

Amazing and delicious!

Youtuber betibettin recently created a tutorial on how to make ramen. The final product looks so yummy that you can’t help but feel hunger pains. The only thing is, he’s not a chef and his ramen isn’t edible. Try and you’ll end up with a mouth full of yarn. Betibettin is a power crocheter and his latest creation is a bowl of ramen created entirely from yarn. The only thing that’s not yarn is a thin piece of cellophane place over the noodles for added soup-effect.

knit ramen (7)

knit ramen (5)

the trick to making lifelike ramen: create a ball of yarn and then undo it

knit ramen (6)

knit ramen ingredients

all the ingredients – egg, scallions and bamboo shoots – made from yarn

18 Oct 15:40

Life 1960 Vol. 49, No. 10


1960 Vol. 49, No. 10

20 Sep 01:03

The Long Game

by Matt Thomas

Part I:

Part II:

Filed under: inspiration, video, work
16 Sep 19:38

Full fart

by Victor Mair

Advertisement at a train stop in Oslo:

Photograph courtesy of Alexy Khudyakov

"Mest fart for pengene" means "most speed for the money". From that, you can figure out what "Full Fart" means. If you haven't already guessed, this is an advertisement for a mobile broadband service.

This reminds me of the Swedish word "fartlek" ("speed play"), a type of athletic training.

Petter Solberg, the well-known Norwegian rally and rallycross driver, is famous for his special brand of Norwegian style English, where — among other humorous habits — he uses Norwegian words that he thinks mean the same thing in English as they do in Norwegian, but are often quite different.

I can't figure out all of the Solbergisms collected in Wikiquote and copied below, but my favorite — one that I can explain — is "It's not the fart that's kill you, it's the smell." Here "fart" is "speed", as above, while "smell" is Norwegian for "bang", as when your car slams down on the road after leaving the surface upon going over a bump.

  • It's not only only to win this race (Norsk: Det er ikke bare bare å vinne dette løpet)
  • Det begynner å bli moro (artikkel i
  • But but, it's not only only (Norsk: Men men, det er ikke bare bare)
  • When I came around the corner, it all went to hælvette
  • I came with a great fart and disappeared as a prick in the sky
  • I had a stop in the start
  • I drivved and then it was a sving and a sving til, så a stein and pang – I drivved rett in the juletre.
  • He is my wife in the car.. ehh… no sex(om kartleser Phil Mills).
  • I had bad pigs in my dekk (artikkel i Her og Nå)
  • I don't know what you call it in Egland, but in Norway we call it "air condition!"
  • I absolutt love Krister Bredsten Sangolt!'
  • The Henkini is a really vakker oppfinnels, it only shows what a man can takle and what a woman can nøye her with.
  • It's not the fart that's kill you, it's the smell.
  • The rat was loose.
  • In Norway we rape after dinner…… and then the girspak got broken.
  • It was a moose in the engine.
  • Can you strø her, it's very glætt!
  • It was a very crap swing. (sagt for å beskrive en krapp sving) (crap=dritt)
  • I came around a sving, and veltet on the tak.
  • I had a very big fart, and suddenly I fucked off the road.
  • We have a good kåk (cock) were we sleep!
  • I tried to screw the rat in the place (Han forsøkte å skru rattet på plass igjen, fordi det hadde løsnet under en etappe.)
  • It vås so møtch dog on the vindøv
31 Aug 14:07


n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

29 Aug 11:30

My Week on the All-Emoji Diet

by Kelsey Rexroat

“Why isn’t there a sandwich emoji?”

The instant message flashed on my screen from a coworker suggesting lunch. It was followed by: “TRAGEDY.”

Tragedy may be an overstatement to apply to emoji, the standardized set of symbols used in texts and online messaging. But when the Unicode Consortium released an update this July expanding its library to include 250 new emoji, my coworker wasn’t the only one disappointed that the only new food is a chili pepper. A petition calls for a hot dog emoji, a Facebook page demanding a taco emoji has more than 1,000 likes, and thousands follow a Twitter account advocating for an avocado emoji.

As these foods continue to wait for emoji immortalization, I wondered why so many of my everyday foods lack a presence in computer text. Including the chili pepper, there are 59 food-themed emoji. What are they? How can they be assembled into recipes? And most importantly, could someone live on emoji alone?

I had to know. I undertook a challenge:

  1. For seven days, I would only eat foods represented by emoji.
  2. I would eat every emoji food by the end of the seven days.

Some further specifications were needed. Though it can be argued that pigs, cows, and other emoji in Apple’s Nature category are food sources, I sacrificed bacon and stuck with the clearly defined foods grouped under Objects to avoid sliding down the “technically edible” slope. As I scoured New York for items such as oden and dango, I also learned about the origins of these tiny pictographs from Japan.

Day One

I start the first day of the diet by assessing the contents of my refrigerator. A breakfast smoothie uses bananas, milk (which I judge to be the bottle character) and strawberries, checking three items off the list already. Confidence sets in: This week will be a breeze.

I begin to make a list of what I plan to eat for the week, but some pictures prove hard to interpret. My confusion is cleared up with a visit to Emojipedia, which lists the symbols’ official names as designated by the Unicode Consortium. Some of the names give me more dietary leeway than I expected, such as the ambiguous “pot of food,” which I eat for lunch in the form of a vegetable stew. Others I’ve been misinterpreting all along—what I thought was rice and beans is actually curry, and the orange is technically a tangerine. I edit my list accordingly and stock up on fruits and veggies for the week.

Day one’s produce-shopping bounty
(Kelsey Rexroat)

All this produce is offset by a chocolate bar, cookie, and candies. I have a lollipop on my list as well, but this candy seems to have fallen out of modern favor. I can’t find one at two different grocery stores and have to make a special pilgrimage to F.A.O. Schwarz (famed for the oversized keyboard scene in the movie Big), where I find them stocked with other old-timey sugar relics. As I wait in line with my single lollipop, I suspect that I’m the only one there to fulfill a diet.

Dinner is spaghetti and red wine. It’s not a far stretch from my usual diet, though I have a moment of dismay when I realize there is no cheese emoji, and I must pass up the aged Gruyere I had bought a few days earlier.

Breakfast: coffee (“hot beverage”), banana, strawberries, milk; lunch: veggie stew (“pot of food”), cherries, lollipop; dinner: spaghetti, red wine.

Day Two

I’m already scrounging for breakfast without my go-tos of yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, or bagels. After settling for an apple and green tea with honey, I decide to get more creative with lunch. I chop up roasted sweet potato, eggplant and tomato and combine it into an improvised emoji ratatouille, which suffices for a filling meal, especially supplemented with mid-afternoon chocolate.    

Day Two: oden, sake (Kelsey Rexroat)

For dinner, it’s time to face down my fear of the unknown: Specifically, the mystery brown shapes on a stick. I’m relieved to learn that though this emoji resembles some primitive meat-based weapon, it’s actually oden, a soul-food dish of varying ingredients such as eggs and fish cakes stewed in a dashi broth. Like many of the foods, it reflects emoji’s origins as a character set created for a Japanese phone operator in 1999. If Western users feel that the characters aren’t representative of their daily diets, it’s because they were never expected to catch on globally.

I use this opportunity to visit a neighborhood Japanese restaurant and order items I usually skim past due to unfamiliarity. My oden arrives in a bowl rather than on a stick, but I’m told that skewers are more typical of the street-food variety. The meal is rounded out with a carafe of sake and shaved ice with plum syrup.

Breakfast: green tea with honey (“honey pot”), red apple; lunch: roasted sweet potato with eggplant (“aubergine”) and tomato, chocolate bar; dinner: oden, fish cake, sake, shaved ice.

Day Three

Thus far, I’ve made an effort to stay true to the emoji depictions of the food. Since my iPhone shows a chocolate glazed doughnut with sprinkles, that’s the variety I order for breakfast, even though someone on an Android or Windows operating system may see a different picture. The Unicode Consortium has standardized the characters descriptions, but emoji fonts—and the technology firms that, for now, are their only designers—are free to interpret those descriptions however they choose. (Android eschews the sprinkles.)

Hamburger and fries for dinner on Day Three. (Rexroat)

For lunch, I make my way to a bustling Japanese grocer and find neatly packaged rice balls for $1.50 each. It’s by far the cheapest lunch I’ve seen in this business district of $14 salads, which explains why the line to check out is 30 people deep. I devour the sticky rice stuffed with tuna and regret that it took an emoji to discover this place.

Since I’m usually goading my boyfriend into healthy dinners of salmon and quinoa, he’s thrilled when I suggest burgers and fries instead. We order at our local gastropub, and I wash it down with a fruity gin sling—since surely “tropical drink” means “tropical cocktail.”

Breakfast: coffee, doughnut, grapes; lunch: rice ball, green apple, cookie dinner: hamburger, fries, tropical drink.


Day Four

I’m still feeling bloated from yesterday’s starch fest, so I stick with a peach for breakfast and then make a healthy vegetable curry for lunch.

By evening, I’ve  recovered and am ready for more greasy goodness. I’ve learned on emojitracker, which shows emoji usage on Twitter in real time, that pizza and beer are the most popular of the food emoji. Who am I to argue with millions of Twitter users? I pick up a six-pack on the way home from work and order in a pepperoni pizza. It’s over halfway through the week and I’ve had a different kind of alcohol every night—clearly the emoji diet is not for teetotalers.

Breakfast: green tea with lemon, peach; lunch: curry and rice, watermelon; dinner: pizza, beer.

Day Five

Aside from Day 3’s rice-ball discovery, lunches have been a low point of the emoji diet. With sandwiches, soups, and salads all banned, there are few places I can join my coworkers during lunch breaks. I’m also missing Mexican food, a dietary staple since my days living in Texas.

Dinner, Day Five (Kelsey Rexroat) 

By now, some friends have suggested ways I can cheat in order to expand my diet. One friend is particularly concerned that I can’t have tacos and attempts to draw me one with a series of slashes and underscores. However, simple emoticons like :) and more complex ASCII art are not interchangeable terms for emoji, as each emoji corresponds to a specific two-byte Unicode sequence. In lieu of tacos, I have breaded shrimp and a mid-afternoon ice cream cone. Dinner is sushi and rice, making this the most seafood-centric day of my diet.

Breakfast: coffee, fruit salad of watermelon, melon and pineapple; lunch: fried shrimp, tangerine, soft ice cream; dinner: sushi, cooked rice.

Day 6

The emoji diet has had me eating more seafood and fresh fruit, which I welcome as healthy additions. But as I assess what I still need to cover in the final days, I notice two common themes: white rice and sugar.

This diet is essentially the opposite of Atkins. Of the 59 food emoji, eight incorporate rice, and 11 are desserts. One manages to be both—the colored balls on a stick are dango, sweet dumplings made from rice flour and often filled with red bean paste. I locate them at a Japanese food market in SoHo along with a sesame chicken bento box for lunch and rice crackers, a crispy snack food.

After a dinner of veggie ramen (the “steaming pot” emoji), I realize that I’m facing a problem most dieters have never experienced: I need to step up the dessert eating if I’m going to reach my goal. I still have to cross off custard, shortcake, ice cream, and birthday cake, so I stop by a couple shops to purchase the first three and then ride out the ensuing sugar rush.

Breakfast: green tea, fried egg (officially named “cooking,” but represented as an egg in a pan); lunch: bento box, dango, rice crackers; dinner: ramen, custard, shortcake, ice cream.

Day 7

It’s the last day, and I’m ready to wrap things up. The emoji diet hasn’t left me hungry or dissatisfied—if anything, my dessert binge has added some pounds—but it has slimmed down my wallet, since I’ve been making more food purchases as I avoid the majority of my pantry. I now have lots of recommendations for new food emoji, from my typical cooking staples like garlic, onion, and spinach to snacks like chips, cheese, and popcorn.

Kelsey Rexroat

To celebrate my last emoji meal, I invite friends to join me at a new restaurant on my block, and we gorge on the final items on my list with a meal that manages to be as true to emoji as it is to Southern home-style cooking: ribs (“meat on bone”), fried chicken (“poultry leg”), corn on the cob (“ear of maize”) and biscuits (“bread”).

The final remaining food is birthday cake, since my attempts to crash a birthday party this week failed. With only a few hours until midnight, we procure a cupcake, stick a candle in it, and look up which celebrities are celebrating their birthdays today. My week of emoji eating ends in a way that deserves some smiley faces, or at least a thumbs up: with us toasting martini glasses and singing “Happy Birthday” to Tom Hanks.

Breakfast: coffee, banana; lunch: ramen leftovers, pear, candy; dinner: ribs (“meat on bone”), poultry leg, ear of maize, bread, birthday cake, martini (“cocktail glass”).

So is the emoji diet a contender in the weight-loss market? Not likely, given its emphasis on white rice, alcohol, and indulging in a dessert (or three) each day. I did, however, enjoy exploring new foods and restaurants as I undertook my phone-food mission. I won’t be limiting myself to emoji again, but I will be eagerly watching to see which foods are added in future releases.

For now, you can find me on Team Sandwich.

15 Aug 13:22

The Difference Between Marvel and DC

by Geeks Are Sexy

You have to give credit to the creator of this for being an equal opportunity flamebaiter…


[Via: Tickld user hikergirl]

30 Jul 21:35


by boulet
25 Jul 02:45

House of the Infinite

by Natalia Repolovsky

The House of the Infinite, recently completed by Spanish architect Alberto Campo Baeza, is more than a dwelling, it also an impressive piece of landscape architecture. Erected on the seashore, the building features a long horizontal plane, that merges with the sea view, appearing almost as a continuation of the horizon.

The architect gives his poetic description of the concept:

On a marvelous place like a piece of earthly paradise, at Cádiz, we have built an infinite plane facing the infinite sea, the most radical house we have ever made. At the very edge of the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, where the sea unites the new and the old continent, emerges a stone platform. At the place where all the ships from the Mediterranean used to pass and still pass by as they head off into the Atlantic.

To accentuate this dramatic idea, all the terrain has been moved as far back as the entrance wall separating the building from the street. Because the main entrance to the house is located on the roof platform, all public areas are concentrated on the upper level. It houses the living room, dining area, kitchen and a massive balcony. Bedroom suits are located on the first floor, and separated by a communal central space that leads straight out to the beach, once more, blending the house with the land it occupies.

Photography by Javier Callejas.

10 Jul 16:34

10 Other Facebook Experiments On Users, Rated On A Highly-Scientific WTF Scale

by Kashmir Hill

A former Facebook data scientist who set out to defend the company’s emotion-manipulation experiment on nearly 700,000 users decried the hubbub about it, saying that experiments are happening all the time at the company and that every Facebook users has been part of one at some point. Yes, we can all wear t-shirts saying, “I, too, am a Facebook lab rat.” Most of the “experiments” are A/B testing that’s standard on the Web and rather boring — such as which color blue you’re mostly like to click or how big an ad needs to be for you to notice it — but some are interesting enough to warrant academic write-ups for shedding new light on human behavior.

Here’s other research done by Facebook data scientists on users (possibly on you) that we know about because it’s been published. I’ve given each of these studies a “WTF rating.” In my opinion, the hubbub-inducing study in January 2012, which involved curating the emotional content of users’ News Feeds to see if Facebook could manipulate their emotions, is the most intrusive, WTF-y of experiments for poking and prodding users emotionally to see what happens, so that’s the high end of the scale. These other studies run by Facebook data scientists, sometimes in collaboration with academic researchers, are in reverse chronological order. Facebook data scientists who pop up often as study creators are Adam Kramer, who conducted the emotion study; Cameron Marlow, who founded Facebook’s in-house sociology team but has since left the company; and Dean Eckles, an academic cited in Eli Pariser’s Filter Bubble for his work on persuasion.

Facebook wanted to see how easily users were duped

Study 1: Rumor Cascades
What Facebook wanted to find out: How easy is it for lies to spread?
When it happened: July and August 2013
How many users: ?
How they did it: Researchers looked at over 200,000 photo comments posted to the site with links. Snopes is a rumor-debunking site so would indicate the shared photo was an example of someone being duped and then erroneously passing it on to their friends, such as people claiming this guy was Trayvon Martin at 17 or that Obamacare would tax non-medical items like clothes and rifles. They then looked at how viral those photos went.
What Facebook found out: People like spreading rumors. Outrageous stuff travels farther and faster than debunking of that outrageous stuff. But researchers also noted that posts that “get Snoped” are 4.4 times as likely to get deleted.
WTF rating: Low. Interesting study, but it’s a reminder that Facebook can easily figure out which users are the dumb, rumor-spreading ones, and that Facebook has the ability to keep track of the dumb thing you posted even after you delete it. Business case for this could be that Facebook is a news service and wants to stop the spread of false information.


Study 2: Calling All Facebook Friends: Exploring requests for help on Facebook
What Facebook wanted to find out: Who asks for something on Facebook?
When it happened: Two weeks in July and August 2012
How many users: 20,000 users
How they did it: Researchers looked through public status updates looking for requests like “What movie should I watch tonight?,” “Is it okay to eat canned food that expired in 2005?” or “I need a ride to the airport.”
What Facebook found out: Researchers were more interested in people asking for help than whether they got it. People who visit Facebook less often, but who have a lot of friends, are most likely to ask for help with stuff.
WTF score: Nil. These are public updates, no surprise that someone’s collecting and studying them. There’s a business case in saying that Facebook helps you solve your problems, if the study had actually proved that.


Study 3: Self-censorship on Facebook
What Facebook wanted to find out: How many people hold back from blasting the network with their thoughts on something?
When it happened: 17 days in July 2012
How many users: 3.9 million users
How they did it: They tracked every entry of more than 5 characters in a comment or compose box that didn’t get posted within 10 minutes.
What Facebook found out: We’re thinking things that we don’t put down to digital paper. 71% of the users “self-censored,” drafting comments that they never posted.
WTF score: Medium. One of the two authors of this study is our friend, Adam Kramer, the Facebook data scientist who ran the emotion manipulation experiment. The study tracked these entries regardless of a user’s privacy setting though it only tracked that they entered something not what it was. Still, it led to quite a few headlines about Facebook tracking what you don’t do on Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson told me at the time that the site doesn’t usually do that. The business case for running this study is a little hard to parse, though you could argue it’s necessary for Facebook to figure out how to get us all to overshare to keep its site going.


Lucky test subjects got to decide whether they wanted to share

Study 4: Selection Effects in Online Sharing: Consequences for Peer Adoption
What Facebook wanted to find out: Does broadcasting that you plan to buy something make your friends jump on the same opportunity?
When it happened: Two month period in 2012
How many users: 1.2 million users
How they did it: Users who claimed “Facebook Offers” — such as an offer for free lace panties from Victoria’s Secret — were put into two groups. One group had the offers they claimed auto-shared so that friends would see it in their News Feeds. People in the other group were graciously given a button to click if they wanted to broadcast the offer claim to their friends.
What Facebook found out: Friends are more likely to also claim the offer when you actively decide to share it with them. But when it comes to the sheer numbers game, more offers get claimed when everyone in your News Feed gets spammed every time.
WTF score: Medium-high. Auto-sharing is creepy and users had the active or “passive” sharing randomly assigned to them, changing their experience (and their spammed friends’ experience) of the site. When given the option to share, only 23% chose to do so. There is a clear business case for Facebook finding out how to get offers claimed as it’s key to revenue. Media reports at the time the paper came out claimed Facebook was killing the auto-sharing though Facebook’s Help Page indicates you still have to opt out, offer by offer.


The two different ads subjects would see depending on their assigned test group

Study 5: Social Influence in Social Advertising: Evidence from Field Experiments
What Facebook wanted to find out: Do ads work better on you when your friends’ names appear next to them, endorsing them?
When it happened: 2011
How many users: 29 million users
How they did it: They showed users ads with and without a “Kashmir Hill likes this” style endorsement from users’ friends and then measured clicks.
What Facebook found out:The stronger your buddy bond with the person endorsing the ad, the more likely you are to click.
WTF score: Nil. This is exactly the kind of test I’d expect Facebook to run. Clear business case for making ads work better. Facebook has dealt with that whole legality around putting users’ likeness in endorsements thing, so now it’s smooth sailing though I certainly expect they’re running experiments all the time to optimize advertising.


Study 6: Inferring Tie Strength from Online Directed Behavior
What Facebook wanted to find out: Which of your Facebook friends are true IRL friends?
When it happened: 2010/2011
How many users: 789 users
How they did it: The relatively tiny group of users were recruited with Facebook ads to take a survey asking who their closest friends were in real life.
What Facebook found out: The more you interact with someone on Facebook, the more likely you are to be IRL friends. And you’re as likely to interact with them publicly, putting your closeness on display for all to see via Wall posts, as to send them private messages.
WTF score: Low. I initially wondered if those survey takers realized that by naming their closest friends they were signing up to have all of their Facebook activity scrutinized by researchers. The study says this was IRB approved and that written informed consent was obtained from all participants, so Facebook does know how to do that! The business lesson for Facebook (and other social networks): “It is not critical to have information about private communication behavior in order to characterize the likelihood that two users are closely connected in the real world.”


Information choking for science

Study 7: The Role of Social Networks in Information Diffusion
What Facebook wanted to find out: How does information spread on Facebook?
When it happened: Seven weeks in August/October 2010
How many users: 253 million users (At the time, this was half of all Facebook users)
How they did it: Researchers “randomly” assigned 75 million urls a “share” or “no-share” status. The links could have been news articles, or job offers, or an apartment for rent, or news of an upcoming concert. Any kind of links that Facebook users share. Except if it got a “no-share” status, it was “disappeared” meaning it wouldn’t show up in News Feeds. “”Directed shares, such as a link that is included in a private Facebook message or explicitly posted on a friend’s wall, are not affected by the assignment procedure,” wrote the researchers. Well, thanks for that! Researchers then compared the virality of links that were allowed to be seen with those that weren’t. The researchers wanted to know whether the censored information would still “find a way,” Jurassic Park style, to spread.
What Facebook found out: Unsurprisingly, you’re more likely to spread information if you can see friends sharing it. Researchers found that distant friends are more likely to expose you to novel information than your close friends, as judged by your likelihood of sharing it after seeing it.
WTF score: Medium-High. Hope no important information got censored. I’m not sure about the business case for this one. One of the closing lines reads a little ominously in context: “The mass adoption of online social networking systems has the potential to dramatically alter an individual’s exposure to new information,” including making sure they don’t have access to it at all.


Facebook tries its hand at making users better citizens

Study 8: A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization
What Facebook wanted to find out: Can it encourage people to vote?
When it happened: 2010 midterm elections in the U.S.
How many users: 61,279,316 users over the age of 18
How they did it: They offered test subjects an ‘I Voted’ button at the top of their News Feeds and information on how to find their polling place. Some users also saw the names of their friends who had clicked the button. The control group got no prompt to vote. Then the researchers checked public voting records to see which of the millions actually voted.
What Facebook found out: Peer pressure works. People were more likely to click the “I Voted” button if their friends’ names appeared there. When researchers checked actual voting records, they found that people who got the “I Voted” message in their News Feed were 0.39% more likely to have actually voted, and were more likely to have voted if their friends’ names appeared. Those are miniscule percentages but the researchers think their experiment resulted in 340,000 votes that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
WTF score: High. While getting people to perform their civic duty and vote is an admirable enterprise, this enters serious society control territory. As many critics have pointed out, Facebook could theoretically put the “I Voted” button only in the feeds of users that are in favor of immigration reform (something Zuck has been pushing for with his lobby group) or only in the feeds of Republicans or Democrats to potentially swing elections. None of the users realized that they were part of this experiment or that Facebook would go looking for their names in voting records; they did come up with a privacy-preserving way to do that. There wasn’t an obvious business case for this one; it was a pure can-we-really-do-this study.

The researchers in the paper said they certainly want to do more of these: “[T]he
growing availability of cheap and large-scale online social network data means that these experiments can be easily conducted in the field. If we want to truly understand—and improve—our society, well-being and the world around us, it will be important to use these methods to identify which real world behaviours are amenable to online interventions.”

There’s evidence that Facebook ran another experiment around the election in 2012, but we won’t know what it was until (or if) there’s a paper published about it.


Study 9: The Spread of Emotion Via Facebook
What Facebook wanted to find out: Does your emotional state affect your friends?
When it happened: Some three-day period prior to 2012 (when the paper was published)
How many users: 151 million users
How they did it: Run by Adam Kramer, this was the precursor to the “emotional contagion” study. In this study, he just looked at 1 million users’ status updates, rating them as positive or negative based on terms used, and then looked at the postivity or negativity of the posts of those users’ 150 million friends.
What Facebook found out: Your happy updates lead friends to suppress their negative posts, and your negative posts lead them to suppress their happy ones. If you say something upbeat on Facebook, one out of every 100 friends (who wouldn’t have otherwise, according to the study) will do the same within 3 days.
WTF score: Low. Assessing the emotional tone of status updates on Facebook is pretty mundane. However, it did lead this researcher down the path of trying to see if it was possible for Facebook to actively manipulate the emotions of individual users based on which of their friends’ posts they expose them to.

Kramer warned users not to try to manipulate friends themselves: “These results suggest that posts to Facebook have the ability to affect our friends’ subsequent posts… [H]owever, we would not advise Facebook users to go around expressing disingenuous positivity or to suppress the expression of negative emotions in order to keep one’s friends happy.” Facebook though did go on to do something similar to see what would happen.


Study 10: Feed Me: Motivating Newcomer Contribution in Social Network Sites
What Facebook wanted to find out: How do we get newcomers to Facebook to stick around?
When it happened: 15 weeks starting in March 2008
How many users: 140,292 newcomers
How they did it: They invited 7 people in for face-to-face interviews about using Facebook. The rest simply had their clicks studied. They looked at the activity of a bunch of people who joined Facebook and stuck around for at least 3 months to see what they looked at on the site, who interacted with them and how, and what they contributed.
What Facebook found out: Facebook was surprised to discover that newcomers didn’t find it especially compelling to be tagged in photos, but they did really like getting comments on photos they uploaded. They basically looked to their friends’ activity to figure out what they were supposed to do on the site. It helps to show newcomers their friends adding, tagging and commenting on photos to addict them to the site. “It is vital for developers of social networking sites to encourage users to contribute content, as each individual’s experience is dependent on the contributions of that person’s particular set of connections,” they write.
WTF score: Low. This is exactly the kind of research you’d expect from Facebook: how do we addict people to this site? It’s a reminder to users though that on every site they are on, their every click may be getting measured and weighed, whether they’re a site virgin or not.


There are lots of other studies that have come out of Facebook: Is fandom contagious? (Spoiler: Yes.) How many status updates are political? (Spoiler: Less than 1%) Can you predict if someone is lonely based on their Facebook activity? (Spoiler: Yes.) How close do you live to your Facebook friends and can your location be predicted based on their locations? (Kind of.)

As people have said before, a terrible outcome of this controversy would be that Facebook starts doing experiments secretly. I hope instead it leads to more transparency, corporate standards for running experiments, and the ability for users to opt in or out of being part of experiments, much like beta testers for new apps and hardware. Facebook could take a page from the Google Glass book and call those who are willing to be part of mass psychological experiments Facebook Explorers.

Follow @kashhill

02 Jul 00:00

Vanishing Water

by xkcd

"Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

Vanishing Water

What would happen if all the bodies of water on Earth magically disappeared?

—Joanna Xu

As is often the case with these questions, everyone would die.

The first people to notice would be swimmers and boaters, for obvious reasons.

To avoid a glass half empty scenario, we'll assume the water is replaced by air.

Most people swim in water which is relatively shallow, so most of them would survive the fall to the bottom, albeit with a few broken bones.[1]Those swimming in quarries and glacial lakes, on the other hand, could easily fall to their deaths a few feet from shore. People out on the ocean, on the other hand, would be in trouble.

The ones in shallow water would hit bottom first, since they wouldn't have as far to fall. Within the first second, a large fraction of the boats in lakes, rivers, and harbors would crash into the bottom, and many of those on board would survive.

Boats out on the ocean would take longer to fall. Over the next five seconds, a wave of crashes would spread outward from the continents, as boats struck the continental shelf farther and farther from shore. These boats would be smashed to tiny fragments, killing everyone on board.

After the first six or seven seconds, there would be a brief lull in the ship destruction rate. Continental shelves drop off steeply, and most of the ships out over the deep sea would take a little longer to fall.

The Titanic sank in about two miles of water. After it disappeared beneath the surface, the two halves of the ship took between 5 and 15 minutes to reach the bottom.[2]When the Titanic bow hit the sea floor, it was moving at almost exactly the same speed as when it struck the iceberg three hours earlier. (This is not quite a coincidence.) Without the ocean there, it would have reached the bottom in about 30 seconds, striking it at airliner cruising speed.[3]Although no one has ever dropped a cruise ship from a high altitude,[citation needed] their terminal velocity at the surface is probably a little below the speed of sound. Because the air in the ocean basins would be compressed, the terminal velocity of ships near the bottom would be lower than at the surface. This compression also means that to magically replace the water, you'd need more air than you'd expect from the ocean's volume alone, since it would need a varying density profile. In other words, your water-replacement spells will need to have some calculations behind them.

Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Within the first minute, just about every large ship would be on the bottom. The final boat to reach the bottom would probably be a small sailboat or life raft that was crossing an ocean trench when the water vanished. Thanks to low weight and/or drag from the sails, one of these vessels could take many minutes to reach the bottom.

If there were a seaplane floating on the deep ocean, it could conceivably survive, although it would take some luck and quick thinking by the pilot. The plane would initially drop, but as it gained speed it would tend to pull into a glide. After the initial shock, the pilot would have a reasonable amount of time to try to start the engine. Thanks in part to the thicker air, it's possible a seaplane could successfully land on a smooth patch of seabed. If the engine got started, the pilot could also try to fly to shore and land on a runway.

Fish, whales, and dolphins, and nearly all marine life would die immediately. Those near the bottom would suffocate or dessicate, while those near the surface in deeper water would suffer the same fate as boats.

Then the really weird stuff starts.

Without evaporation from lakes and oceans feeding the water cycle, it would stop raining. Without pools of water to drink from, people and most animals would dehydrate and die in a matter of days. Within a few weeks, plants would start withering in the ever-drier air. Within months, mass forest die-offs would begin.[4]Some drought-resistant trees could survive for years, but others wouldn't.

Huge amounts of dry, dead vegetation lead inevitably to fire, and within a few years, most of the world's forests would have burned. Forests store huge amounts of CO2, and this burning would roughly double the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

All in all, Joanna's scenario would result in virtually all life dying out pretty fast. But then things would get even worse.

Without a water cycle to weather rocks, the carbon-silicate feedback system which acts as a long-term thermostat to stabilize climate[5]CO2 is added to the atmosphere by volcanoes (although at the moment, it's being added about ten times faster by people.) When water flows over certain rocks, chemical reactions suck CO2 from the air and eventually bury it in seafloor sediments. With less CO2, the planet gets colder. A colder planet means less evaporation, which means less weathering, which means CO2 removal slows down. This feedback loop—which operates over much longer timescales than human-caused climate change—is probably what's kept the Earth's temperature relatively stable over the last few billion years (give or take a few snowball Earths) even though the Sun has gotten hotter. would shut down. Without this feedback, volcanic CO2 would build up in our atmosphere, leading—in the long term—to scorching temperatures similar to what's happened on Venus.[6]Interestingly, because of Venus's lighter color (and thus higher reflectivity), it only absorbs about half the solar radiation that Earth does despite being substantially closer to the Sun. The thick blanket of CO2 in its atmosphere is what keeps it hot.

We were going to lose our oceans anyway. As the Sun gets hotter, eventually water will start escaping through evaporation, and—one way or another—the planet will dry out and heat up. However, the loss of the oceans never seemed like something worth worrying too much about, since it's a billion years in the future. The oceans will be here long after our species is gone.

Unless Joanna ruins everything.