Easy as Pi

Good news for all of you who want to even more precisely calculate the area and/or circumference of a circle. Says The Guardian: “Swiss researchers calculate pi to new record of 62.8tn figures.”

“The calculation took 108 days and nine hours,” the Graubuenden University of Applied Sciences said in a statement.

Its efforts were “almost twice as fast as the record Google set using its cloud in 2019, and 3.5 times as fast as the previous world record in 2020”, according to the university’s Centre for Data Analytics, Visualisation and Simulation.

Researchers were waiting for the Guinness Book of Records to certify their feat. Until then they have revealed only the final 10 digits they calculated for pi: 7817924264.

The previous world-record pi calculation achieved 50tn figures.

Faith in Numbers

Loves Me Like a Rock

Those of you who remember the 1970s may recall the Pet Rock fad. Unless you were six years old (and even then…), the idea of paying $4 for a rock was kind of dopey, which is why the fad died out very quickly.

Well, as they say, everything old is new again, and now the pet rock has become a non-fungible token (NFT) and the $4 has become $272,679 (a bit more than adjusted for inflation). And it isn’t even a real rock. It’s clipart of a rock. Says Gizmodo:

Clipart of a rock. Clipart of a rock that anyone can download for free right here, but that is also being sold on the blockchain for the price of a small house

If reading that doesn’t make you want to walk into the ocean, then good news: You, too, can own one of the EtherRock up for sale right now, for the low, low price of $272,679. And that cost is only going to keep going up. When the anonymous dev behind this project first rolled out these collectibles in 2017, there were only 100 pet rocks put into circulation. As the site explaining the project points out, this limited run means that “each new virgin rock gets more and more expensive.”

They also helpfully added that these virtual rocks don’t serve a purpose “beyond being able to be brought and sold, and giving you a strong sense of pride in being an owner of 1 of the only 100 rocks in the game.” So, yeah. 

We’re not entirely sure what a “crypto personality” is (only one comes to mind), but apparently they exist:

Two weeks ago, the angel investor-turned crypto personality Gary Vaynerchuk tweeted about EtherRock as one of the “pre-2019 NFT projects” to keep an eye on over the next decade.

Uh huh. We’d rather just go stare at a rock.

Concrete Improvements

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! This time, 3D-printed graphene-reinforced concrete will be installed at Euston Station in London.

HS2 London tunnels contractor Skanska Costain Strabag JV (SCS JV) is set to pioneer the on-site 3D printing of graphene-reinforced concrete. The technology, called “Printfrastructure,” promises to bring big environmental benefits and cost savings, if deployed more widely. The technology will initially be used to build part of the retaining walls for the mainline out of Euston station as well as materials stores on the project.


Thank You for Smocking

Special fibers mimicking spider silk is brewed like beer, says Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato, as part of a process called Biosmocking.

Brewed Protein is a synthetic protein material, produced through a microbial fermentation process. This is a biobased, microplastic free and animal free material, which you can control the physical properties by designing it from the molecule level. Biosmocking, is a technology leveraging a specific type of Brewed Protein fabric. Leveraging the unique property of Brewed Protein where it shrinks when it touches water, by precisely controlling the shrinkage by digital printing technology, Biosmocking enables us to create a super complicated three dimensional fabric, from a rectangular fabric without producing any waste

Basically, specially designed patterns where the fabric is folded and then secured with specialized fasteners eliminate the need for sewing, and also make the garment more flexible by allowing wearers to easily change its configuration. It’s in the early stages, but is a nice peek into the potential future of apparel!

The Full Monty

Fiber Shedding

How much fiber is shed in the average home washing machine? These fiber fragments are sometimes referred to as “microfibers” or “microplastics” and eventually make their way to waterways were they are a big component of aquatic pollution. This week, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) has announced the first global standard addressing fiber fragment release during home laundering.

AATCC TM212 was developed to provide a means to determine the mass of fiber fragments released in an accelerated laundering setting.  This method provides the global industry with a consistent and uniform test method to follow.

AATCC TM212 defines standard nomenclature with the terms fiber fragment and microfiber, which address discrepancies that have long been a source of confusion for many who work to tackle pollution.

Originally assumed to be a plastics problem, natural fibers are also appearing in marine life's food cycle. AATCC TM212 is not limited to man-made fibers, as it can be used to determine the fiber shedding potential of natural fibers and blends.

Ceçi Bon

Hair of the Dog

If you’re really into sustainable fashion and are looking for all-natural, compostable footwear, try the “sneature,” a sock/sneaker featuring a mycelium mushroom sole and a knitted upper part knitted from shed dog hair. It is the brainchild, if that’s the right word, of German designer Emilie Burfeind. Says Dezeen:

The trainer has no laces and largely consists of one seamless sock, made from dog hair that was crowdsourced from dog owners by Berlin start-up Modus Intarsia.


This hair is spun into a high-quality yarn known as Chiengora, which is 42 per cent better at retaining heat than sheep's wool and was historically used by indigenous societies on America's West Coast.

And as any dog owner can tell you, pet hair is a highly renewable resource—often too renewable.

"In Germany alone, 80 tonnes of this raw material are discarded every year," said the designer.

"Compared to animals that are bred and kept solely for fibre production, the domesticated keeping of dogs is no additional burden on the environment but a resource that exists anyway."

And since it is created using on-demand 3D printing, it prevents overstock, and the design can be customized.

So why not use dog hair to keep your own dogs warm.


For the Nonce

Did you know that Dr. Seuss coined the term “nerd”? Or that poet John Milton first used “pandemonium”—i.e., “the place where all the demons lived”—in Paradise Lost? That “quark” comes from James Joyce? Or that Geoffrey Chaucer coined the word “twitter” in 1392 (thanks, Geoff). Via Boing Boing, a video in the PBS Storied by Dr. Erica Brozovsky looks at words that were coined by famous authors. A highly entertaining seven minutes for all you word nerds out there.

Oh, and if you bill yourself as a “freelancer,” thank Sir Walter Scott.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Beyond Cookies

Do you own Big Brand swag like an Arby’s “Beefy Aloha” swimsuit and matching flip-flops? A Taco Bell Hot Sauce Packet Garter? How about a Panda Express Honey Sesame Scented Candle? Any other big brand swag? A DiGiorno’s Pizza Pillow maybe? While it is easy to think that this type of swag is just a way to get a few extra bucks out of consumers, as AdWeek points out, there is a bit more to it than that. It all started when Google decided to phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser, effective 2023. You know cookies—those annoying bits of code that sites stick in your browser so if you make the mistake of looking at a pair of shoes online, those shoes will stalk you everywhere you go. As a result, brands need a better way to glean consumer data. How does that involve Pizza Pillows and a Honey Baked Ham Spa Kit?

To continue delivering online ads with precision, large companies from PepsiCo to Procter & Gamble are seeking ways to collect first-party data in a shopper-friendly fashion. One popular method is direct-to-consumer platforms.

Last week, for instance, Kellogg’s debuted a website dedicated to century-old cracker brand Cheez-It. Visitors can purchase merchandise, such as a Cheez-It fanny pack and socks, along with an exclusive variety pack containing four flavors of its Extra Toasty crackers.

So basically brands sell directly to their customers, bypassing third-party retail stores. This way they have your info, know you already have a relationship with the brand if you’ve bought something tacky from them (or, to be fair, the actual product they are known for), and thus have a mechanism for pitching you new products.

“There is no substitute for having a firsthand relationship with a consumer who’s purchasing directly from you and telling you exactly what they want to buy,” Michael Lindsey, chief growth officer for PepsiCo Foods North America, told Adweek in June.

As for collecting information about shoppers, Narducci explained it’s a core part of designing the Cheez-It site.

“It’s only going to get harder and harder for us to purchase data,” Narducci said. “And first-party data is one of the biggest drivers of media efficiency across our organization.”

But Is it Art?

Hand Engraving

Core 77 has a compendium of works by a hand engraver who uses a microscope to create incredibly detailed and intricate designs.

At the age of 12, Nebraska-based artist Steve J. Lindsay was taught to engrave by his father, an accomplished jeweler and watchmaker. Now Lindsay's been at it for over 50 years, peering into a Zeiss microscope to create these stunningly intricate designs.

Signs of the Times: This Means You


The bane of many outdoorsy people’s existence is the mosquito, aka Florida’s state bird. As if the pesky buzzing and itchy welts weren’t bad enough, there is also the whole host of diseases these pests transmit, such as malaria. And we all know some people who seem to be invisible to mosquitoes (surely a superpower), while most of the rest of us are an Aedes all-you-can-eat buffet.

However, it may be possible for all of us to get that superpower. The mechanism by which a mosquito targets a host is a complex combination of senses. CO2 is a big mosquito attractant, as anyone who has gone on a long run in a mosquito-infested park can tell you. But they also use visual cues, homing in on dark colors. But what if mosquitoes could be genetically engineered to not be able to detect those dark colors? Sure, we’ve seen enough horror moves to know this could end, but, via the NY Times, there are researchers working on exactly that.

For the first time, scientists have used the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9 to render humans effectively invisible in the eyes of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which use dark visual cues to hunt, according to a paper recently published in the journal Current Biology. By eliminating two of that mosquito’s light-sensing receptors, the researchers knocked out its ability to visually target hosts.

So while the skeeters could still pick up carbon dioxide, they couldn’t precisely home in the source of it.

The new paper could inform future strategies to control mosquito populations. If female mosquitoes were unable to see hosts, they would have a harder time finding the blood required for their eggs to develop. “The population would crash,” Dr. Montell said.

The researchers have yet to expose the double mutants to hosts. If and when they do, Dr. Thakre is curious to know exactly how impaired vision affects the ability of mosquitoes to actually feed on blood, given the insects’ many other senses. “The thing you want to control is a mosquito bite,” Dr. Thakre said.

As climate change heats up regions of the planet, it lays out an unwelcome welcome mat for Aedes aegypti to enter new areas, including parts of China and North America.

“Every year there’s a pandemic from mosquito-borne diseases,” Dr. Montell said.

And the last thing we need are more pandemics.

The Smartest Monkey

Sleep Time

Next week will mark the 75th anniversary of a classic movie: Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep was released on August 31, 1946. Based on Raymond Chandler’s debut novel, and whose team of screenwriters included William Faulkner, the classic film noir was the second (and arguably best) pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It is also one of the most confusing movies ever made…and that’s actually a good thing. The BBC has a tribute:

All these decades later, the film's judgemental Wikipedia entry tuts that it "is impossible to follow", and is celebrated by "movie-star aficionados" only because "they consider the Bogart-Bacall appearances more important than a well-told story". Take that, movie-star aficionados!

Well, it’s not impossible (especially if you’ve read the book, although they made lots of changes), although some plot elements defy easy explanation. There is a famous story about the movie’s production that involves no one being able to figure out whether a particular character killed himself or was murdered, and if so by whom. Howard Hawks asked Chandler—and the author didn’t know either.

As knotty as the plot may be, the labyrinthine structure isn't a defect that is balanced out by Bogie-and-Bogart's smouldering interplay. On the contrary, the fact that your mind has to race to keep up with Marlowe's is a major part of the film's appeal. Instead of just watching the detective, you become a detective yourself. The Big Sleep keeps you wide awake. "It comes down to input and output," says Buckland. "The more effort you have to put in, the more pleasure you get from working it out. If a film has a simple narrative, then your pleasure is different. With a puzzle film, you have to process it and you're rewarded for that."

And watching The Big Sleep is its own reward.

What About Turning Off Actual Unwanted Memories?

Squid Pro Quo

The inky depths of the world’s oceans are home to a variety of bioluminescent creatures, fishes and other critters that, often thanks to symbiotic bacteria, generate light. Some squid are bioluminescent and one species, the firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans, aka hotaru ika in Japanese), is able to generate its own light, sans bacteria. Usually they dwell up 1,200 meters under the sea, but every year in April and May, they rise to the surface to mate, and Toyama Bay, a fishing port in central Japan, “glow[s] an otherworldly blue. It is a tourist draw with an added bonus: the squid are also good eatin’. Says Atlas Obscura:

“Seasonality is regarded as one of the most important elements in Japanese cuisine,” says chef Nobuhiro Yoshida, who helms the kitchen at Kozue, a kaiseki restaurant at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. “I prefer to pair hotaru ika with spring vegetables such as bamboo shoots and wild plants from the mountains, which usually have subtle bitterness. Hotaru ika’s rich flavor and sweetness match the bitterness very well.”

Firefly squid dishes can turn some people off. Even though calamari is pretty popular in the US and elsewhere, even diners who can’t deal with arms and tentacles have little problem with the rings, which is basically the hollow body tube of the squid cut up. The firefly squid, though, is served whole. US diners, such as those who have been to Geoffrey Lee’s J?-Ni, in San Francisco, can be a little weirded out.

“At first, some guests are kind of intimidated by the appearance of it, because not too many people [here] have eaten a whole squid before. So when they see this deep purple creature with legs, they think it looks like an alien,” Lee says. In the years since he began serving hotaru ika, demand has grown, both from repeat customers and curious diners who spied the dish on the restaurant’s social media.

This sounds a lot grosser than it really is:

For those in the know, the firefly squid’s body contains a highly coveted surprise. “The outside has a nice meatiness to it, but the majority of the flavor comes from the innards, which are very creamy,” Lee says. Rather than remove those rich internal organs in order to serve the firefly squid raw, Lee prefers them boiled, blanched, and served whole. “We reheat them on the grill, so it’s almost like charred calamari. We pair it with a house-made mustard miso sauce to complement the creaminess, as well as green onions or chives.”

Might be worth a try.


This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

August 16

1858: U.S. President James Buchanan inaugurates the new transatlantic telegraph cable by exchanging greetings with Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. However, a weak signal forces a shutdown of the service in a few weeks.

1930: The first color sound cartoon, called Fiddlesticks, is made by Ub Iwerks.

1954: The first issue of Sports Illustrated is published.

1977: American singer, guitarist, and actor Elvis Presley dies (b. 1935)—or so they said.

August 17

1549: The Prayer Book Rebellion is quashed in England.

1607: French lawyer and mathematician Pierre de Fermat born.

1807: Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat leaves New York City for Albany, N.Y., on the Hudson River, inaugurating the first commercial steamboat service in the world.

1908: Fantasmagorie, the first animated cartoon, created by Émile Cohl, is shown in Paris, France.

1932: Trinidadian-English novelist and essayist, Nobel Prize laureate V. S. Naipaul born.

1945: George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is first published.

1970: Venera 7 launched. It will later become the first spacecraft to successfully transmit data from the surface of another planet (Venus).

August 18

1850: French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac dies (b. 1799).

1868: French astronomer Pierre Janssen discovers helium.

1958: Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita is published in the United States.

August 19

1631: English poet, literary critic, and playwright John Dryden born.

1646: English astronomer and academic John Flamsteed born.

1662: French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal dies (b. 1623).

1839: The French government announces that Louis Daguerre’s photographic process is a gift “free to the world.”

1906: American inventor (the Fusor) Philo Farnsworth born.

1921: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry born.

1939: English drummer and songwriter Ginger Baker born.

1964: Syncom 3, the first geostationary communication satellite, was launched.

1977: American comedian and actor Groucho Marx dies (b. 1890).

August 20

1858: Charles Darwin first publishes his theory of evolution through natural selection in The Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, alongside Alfred Russel Wallace’s same theory.

1882: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuts in Moscow, Russia.

1890: American short story writer, editor, novelist H. P. Lovecraft born.

1920: The first commercial radio station, 8MK (now WWJ), begins operations in Detroit.

1926: Japan’s public broadcasting company, Nippon H?s? Ky?kai (NHK) is established.

August 21

1888: The first successful adding machine in the United States is patented by William Seward Burroughs.

1952: English singer-songwriter and guitarist Joe Strummer born.

1961: Motown releases what would be its first #1 hit (in America), “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes.

2005: American businessman, founded Moog Music Robert Moog dies (b. 1934).

August 22

1485: “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” The Battle of Bosworth Field, the death of Richard III and the end of the House of Plantagenet.

1849: The first air raid in history. Austria launches pilotless balloons against the city of Venice.

1862: French pianist and composer Claude Debussy born.

1893: American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist Dorothy Parker born.

1902: Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first President of the United States to make a public appearance in an automobile.

1920: American science fiction writer and screenwriter Ray Bradbury born.

1971: American singer-songwriter and guitarist Craig Finn born.