Links! January 22, 2021

It’s a new year and it feels like a new world, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m inhaling the pungent aroma of possibility. I’ve got some new writing on the way that will be featured here, as well as some new maker projects / hardware experiments that I’ll also write about. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a fresh batch of links.

Here’s a Twitter account that posts animations of the three body problem with random starting conditions. What’s the three body problem? It’s when three objects with mass (like stars, planets, etc) are orbiting each other and flinging each other around with their respective gravitational pulls. When this happens with two bodies, calculating orbital mechanics is pretty easy, but not so with three. According to Wikipedia, “no general closed-form solution exists.” If I’m understanding that correctly it means that positions over time can be worked out mathematically, but they can’t really be predicted. There’s also a really great Chinese sci-fi book called The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Read it.

There are several systems for indexing the motifs of world folk literature, like Dewey Decimal Systems for folk tale themes. The two primary systems are the Thompson Motif Index and the ATU Tale Type Index, both are fully listed on this website. It’s a really fascinating thing to scroll through, there are thousands and thousands of motifs, each one an odd little story (or bit of a story). The indexes work by establishing a broad theme, then indicating more specific sub-themes. E classified stories about the dead, stories classified E300 to E399 are about a friendly return from the dead, stories classified as E321.2.1 are about dead husbands returning to help their wives knit socks and make quilts. E321.3 stories are about dead husbands returning and asking their wives to make them coffee. Browsing these long lists, it’s tempting to think that every possible story is indexed in there somewhere.

A proposal to use the natural curvature of a crater to make a radio telescope on the far side of the moon. It would be able to pick up frequencies with wavelengths greater than 10 meters (!) which is impossible on Earth, thanks to the ionosphere.

Artist Nina Chanel Abney designed an amazing deck of UNO cards (they’re already sold out). Other products in the Mattel Creations line seem kinda silly. I love Chanel Abney, but UNO is only ok. Now I’m wondering what other contemporary artists could revamp various card and board games.

I get a lot of joy from Upcoming Oreos, a Twitter account that announces fake and absurd new Oreo flavors.

I recently learned about the sad life of serial art vandal Hans-Joachim Bohlmann. He made a habit of standing in front of old master paintings in European museums and splashing them with sulfuric acid. He spent a fair amount of time in prison in Germany, but once he got out he went to Amsterdam and doused Banquet of the Amsterdam Civic Guard in Celebration of the Peace of Münster (1648) by Bartholomeus van der Helst in lighter fluid and set it ablaze. Luckily, it mostly just burned the varnish layer. Take some time zooming in and looking at van der Helst’s masterpiece. What would those guys have thought?

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