Your Friday Ukulele Orchestra Cover of “500 Miles”

Come Sail Away

What it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! This week, we give you a graphene-enhanced jacket designed specifically for sailing. It will even display navigational information via Bluetooth, making it more fun and even safer to sail into the sunset!

Why 666 Doses Then?

Captchad Alive

OK, good, that answers one question we’ve had: says Vox: “It’s not you — captchas really are getting harder.” Whew, that’s a relief. Wait, what: “The worst thing is that you’re partly to blame.” Huh?

A captcha is a simple test that intends to distinguish between humans and computers. While the test itself is simple, there’s a lot happening behind the scenes. The answers we give captchas end up being used to make AI smarter, thus ratcheting up the difficulty of future captcha tests.

But captchas can be broken by hackers. The tests we’re most familiar with have already been broken. Captcha makers try to stay ahead of the curve but have to balance increasing the difficulty of the test with making sure any person — regardless of age, education, language, etc. — can still pass it. And eventually, they might have to phase out the test almost entirely.

Oh, that would be a shame.

Poi Dog Pondering

Accept Cookies

A would-be burglar picked the wrong place to allegedly burgle. From Fox 13 News: A bakery in Milwaukee was robbed, surveillance video caught perpetrator, and the and the police circulated a photo of the suspect. The owner of the bakery then took the photo and digitally printed it on a batch of cookies using edible dye.

Here’s the icing on the cake cookies: The cookies were widely reported, an officer saw the report, recognized the suspect, and nabbed him.

For more serious felonies, perps get their mugs on an entire sheet cake.

Dog Days

AI-Yi-Yi: Part the Infinity

Via Boing Boing, a short story anthology written by AI, specifically the GPT-2 neural net.

GPT-2 is neural network software that completes the beginning of a story you tell it. GPT-2's database contains the text of millions of web pages, which it uses to produce the stories, one word at a time, in the same way smart phones use autocomplete to help people write text messages. The stories it generates contain the interests and cultural biases of the internet-using population.

Sounds horrifying. And it turns out it is! Someone used the GPT-2 neural network to generate 100 answers to the prompt “What will Happen to Me?” and compiled their favorites into a zine, albeit a dark one.  

What I noticed immediately was the dark, morbid nature of many of the AI generated responses. If the entire internet was a single brain, it would be a very tormented one.  Although some of the responses don't make complete sense or flow the way that a normal sentence would, I think this adds to the eeriness of the zine.

Yeesh. And that’s not the creepiest either.

Labor Shortage

AI-Yi-Yi: Part the Infinity + 1

OK, so AI writers make Sylvia Plath sound upbeat and cheery, but what about AI painters? Does their work make you want to kill yourself? Well, meet Ai-Da, the robot artist. Via The Guardian:

Emo Philips?


Named after the computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da took a team of programmers, roboticists, art experts and psychologists two years to build. She was completed in 2019 and is updated as AI technology improves.

Here’s something that will blow your mind:

Ai-Da’s move into self-portraiture will be seen for the first time at the museum, with three large-scale works going on display. They raise interesting questions about identity and creativity. “It is literally the world’s first self-portrait with no self,” said Meller. “She has no consciousness, she is a machine.”

…In an unnerving conversation with the Guardian, Ai-Da said she was working on a new self-portrait. “I’ve always been fascinated with self-portraits to self-question what exactly you’re looking at,” she said, blinking.

Does she enjoy it? “I do not have feelings like humans do however I’m happy when people look at my work and they say what is this? I enjoy being a person who makes people think.”

Then again, we’ve read some Dylan interviews that were more unnerving. At any rate, Ai-Da is getting its own display at the Design Museum in London, which we’re sure living artists don’t resent at all.

Tag Team Effort

It’s a Cookbook!

The cicadas have started to emerge and perhaps the first question one asks about them is not, “Do you know any good cicada recipes?” But if that is your first question, well, good news! Via The Washingtonian, author Jenna Jadin has you covered. The last time—17 years ago—the cicadas emerged in the Washington, DC, area, she wrote Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas. Supposedly they taste like chicken shrimp.

As Jadin was researching and writing the book in 2004, she discovered the best ways to find and prepare the cicadas—and shared her do’s and don’ts with us. For starters, young grubs are the best to eat since they haven’t developed a hard exterior yet. However, grubs can only be found when they’re coming out of the ground in the evening, so it’s necessary to be vigilant and check a yard or wooded area almost every evening after 9 or 10 PM. 

You can’t get them via Instacart? Dang. OK, now things are getting gross:

Jadin says the best way to both kill and store cicadas is to freeze them (if you’re brave, pluck the legs and wings off first). If you’re really into foraging for nutrition, she says nutrient-rich adult females are your target. Males, which don’t carry eggs, are of less value. To distinguish between the two, Jadin describes how adult female cicadas have an ovipositor, which is a thin tube folded up around their bodies that’s full of eggs. Adult males are hollow in their abdomen and have tymbals (thin membranes) on their sides that produce sound.

Why that should sound grosser than “peel and devein shrimp” or anything we do to a lobster or crab—which many of us happily do—is a mystery, but there it is.

If this sounds appealing, click through for her Old Bay spiced cicada recipe. (Four pounds of cicadas?! Yikes.)

None of Your Poultry Excuses


Some of us live in a part of the country non-native to cicadas, but we still have our usual entomological issues: lightbulbs attracting insects. However, says Prevention magazine via Core 77, one way to reduce phototropic bugs is to install LED bulbs.

Bugs are most drawn to the blue end of the color spectrum and ultraviolet light in particular. "Incandescent lights have a much broader spectrum of colors that are generated along with much more heat generated, both of which are attractive to many insects," [entomologist Doug] Webb explains.

Enter: LEDs, which "do not output much UV light," [entomologist Emory] Matts says, so it's possible that switching your bulbs may make a difference. The wavelengths in typical LED household lights "are simply not the wavelengths that are most attractive to insects," Webb adds.

Worth checking out.

Driven Crazy

Frank Talk

It’s grilling season, at least in a lot of places, so Gizmodo asks: “Looking for a more hygienic way to roast a hot dog that doesn’t involve it rolling around on a rarely cleaned grill?” Not really, no. But if that does bother you, why not try a levitating hot dog roaster. Say what? “Taking advantage of the Coand? effect, YouTube’s NightHawkInLight has created a bizarre BBQ alternative that instead levitates a wiener inside a red hot coil.”

Even if you’re not familiar with the Coand? effect, you’ve probably seen a video or two online of it in action, and have definitely experienced it in real life. Named after Romanian inventor Henri Coand?, it describes an effect where a fluid jet—either a liquid or gas—has the tendency to cling to the contours or a convex surface. If you’ve ever tried to empty a mug into a sink and had the coffee run down the side and drip off the bottom of the mug, that’s the Coand? effect at work. But it can also be used to make objects with curved surfaces float using an air gun by generating lift that counteracts the effects of gravity, like ping pong balls, oranges, screwdrivers, and now grilling season staples.

Who’s grilling staples? Don’t they fall through the grate?

Anyway, check it out:

For the Birds

Don’t Threaten Us Like That

Says Mental Floss: “U.S. Residents Will Be Able to Stream the Eurovision Song Contest Live on NBC’s Peacock”

Make of that what you will.

Word to the Wide: Don’t Take Selfies while Bicycling

In The Village

Finally this week, via Laughing Squid, we end with Mike Boyd teaching himself how to ride a penny farthing bicycle. At least he was smart enough not to take a selfie.

Be seeing you.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

May 17

1792: The New York Stock Exchange is formed under the Buttonwood Agreement.

1875: Aristides wins the first Kentucky Derby.

1900: L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is first published in the United States.

1902: Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais discovers the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical analog computer.

1949: English drummer, songwriter, and producer Bill Bruford born.

1977: Nolan Bushnell opens the first Chuck E. Cheese’s in San Jose, Calif.

1983: The U.S. Department of Energy declassifies documents showing world's largest mercury pollution event in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (ultimately found to be 4.2 million pounds), in response to the Appalachian Observer’s Freedom of Information Act request.

May 18

1048: Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyám born.

1593: Playwright Thomas Kyd’s accusations of heresy lead to an arrest warrant for Christopher Marlowe.

1822: American photographer and journalist Mathew Brady born.

1872: British mathematician, historian, philosopher, and Nobel Prize laureate Bertrand Russell born.

1912: The first Indian film, Shree Pundalik by Dadasaheb Torne, is released in Mumbai.

1931: American cartoonist Don Martin born. (Splork!)

1949: English progressive rock keyboardist and songwriter Rick Wakeman born.

May 19

1743: Jean-Pierre Christin developed the centigrade temperature scale.

1864: American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne dies (b. 1804).

1941: American director, producer, and screenwriter Nora Ephron born.

1963: The New York Post Sunday Magazine publishes Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

May 20

1570: Cartographer Abraham Ortelius issues Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first modern atlas.

1609: Shakespeare’s sonnets are first published in London, perhaps illicitly, by the publisher Thomas Thorpe.

1660: English-American printer William Bradford born.

1799: French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac born.

1806: English economist, civil servant, and philosopher John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, born.

1851: German-American inventor, and inventor of the Gramophone record, Emile Berliner born.

1873: Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive a U.S. patent for blue jeans with copper rivets.

1891: The first public display of Thomas Edison’s prototype kinetoscope.

1908: American actor James Stewart born.

1983: First publications of the discovery of the HIV virus that causes AIDS in the journal Science by Luc Montagnier.

1985: Radio Martí, part of the Voice of America service, begins broadcasting to Cuba.

2019: The International System of Units (SI): The base units are redefined, making the international prototype of the kilogram obsolete.

May 21

1471: German painter, engraver, and mathematician Albrecht Dürer born.

1688: English poet, essayist, and translator Alexander Pope born.

1703: Daniel Defoe is imprisoned on charges of seditious libel.

1927:  Charles Lindbergh touches down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world's first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

1932: Bad weather forces Amelia Earhart to land in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland, and she thereby becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

1981: Transamerica Corporation agrees to sell United Artists to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $380 million after the box office failure of the 1980 film Heaven's Gate.

1992: After 30 seasons Johnny Carson hosted his penultimate episode and last featuring guests (Robin Williams and Bette Midler) of The Tonight Show.

May 22

1783: English physicist and inventor (the electromagnet and electric motor) William Sturgeon born. 

1804: The Lewis and Clark Expedition officially begins as the Corps of Discovery departs from St. Charles, Mo.

1813: German composer Richard Wagner born.

1859: British writer Arthur Conan Doyle born.

1885: French novelist, poet, and playwright Victor Hugo dies (b. 1802).

1900: The Associated Press is formed in New York City as a non-profit news cooperative.

1906: The Wright brothers are granted U.S. patent number 821,393 for their “Flying-Machine.”

1907: English actor, director, and producer Laurence Olivier born.

1927: American novelist, short story writer, editor, and co-founder of The Paris Review Peter Matthiessen born.

1967: American poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes dies (b. 1902).

2010: American mathematician, cryptographer, and author Martin Gardner dies (b. 1914).

May 23

1752: English-American printer William Bradford dies (b. 1660).

1829: Accordion patent granted to Cyrill Demian in Vienna, Austrian Empire.

1906: Norwegian director, playwright, and poet Henrik Ibsen dies (b. 1828).

1911: The New York Public Library is dedicated.

1934: Electronic engineer and inventor of the Moog synthesizer Robert Moog born.

1995: The first version of the Java programming language is released.

Anything catch your eye “around the Web”? Share it with us at [email protected].