Your Friday How Types of Dried Pasta Are Made

’Hog Wild

Wednesday was Groundhog Day, and are you curious about Groundhog Day as a holiday? Well, we’re going to tell you all about it anyway. Over at Mental Floss, nine “surprising facts about Groundhog Day.” A few choice items:

Groundhog Day is an offshoot of the Christian celebration of Candlemas, which was held every February 2—exactly 40 days after Christmas. In parts of Europe, it was believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of winter were on the horizon. In Germanic Europe, Candlemas was denoted as dachstag, or "Badger Day," which utilized badgers to help with the weather predictions.

For some of us, every day is “Badger Day,” but never mind that…

As you might expect, the groundhog itself isn’t always that excited to be part of whatever festivities are planned. Some are quite cranky about it and have been known to bite the masters of ceremonies. (If the Oscars were like that, we’d be more inclined to watch them.) And of course, sometimes the carnage isn’t the fault of the critter:

In 2014, then-Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio dropped the Staten Island groundhog Charlotte during their ceremony. She died a few days later, and the Staten Island Zoo had to issue a press release stating that the fall wasn't what killed her. De Blasio never attended the ceremony again.

The most famous groundhog is of course Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil who, needless to say, is not the same rodent every year. Groundhogs only live to be about six or so, but, er, now we get into a whole weird area:

Punxsutawney Phil is reportedly kept alive via a magical elixir that he drinks a sip of every summer. As per the lore, it is the same Phil—who used to just be called “Br’er Groundhog” or “The Punxsutawney Groundhog” until 1961—who has been delivering weather pronouncements since 1887, which puts him at 135 years old.


And, to point out the obvious, Phil does not have a particularly good track record at weather prediction.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Phil has only been right 50 percent of the time between 2011 and 2020.

Kind of what random chance would predict. Who’d’ve thought?

A Bad Omen

While we know what happens when a groundhog sees its shadow, and what happens when it doesn’t, this raises all sorts of issues. From NPR:

Milltown Mel, a groundhog who has for years offered his weather predictions on Groundhog Day, has died, his handlers say. They say Mel "recently crossed over the rainbow bridge" — and their scramble for a replacement rodent before Feb. 2 was fruitless.

Mel was apparently a celebrity in Milltown, N.J., and supposedly provided residents of the town an indication of when they should start their spring planting. (Note to Milltown: there are professional meteorologists.) A new Mel was hard to find as this is the time of year when any respectable groundhog is hibernating.

Whether this bodes well for 2022 is anyone’s guess, but perhaps the good news is that Mel didn’t emerge from his burrow, have a look around, and then drop dead, which really would have been such a 2020 throwback.

Da Bomb

Expanded Gamut

Most humans have three different color photoreceptors (aka cones) in their eyes, which detect red, green, and blue and all the combinations thereof. This gives us the ability to see about a million distinct colors, give or take. However, some people have a fourth photoreceptor that allows them to see 100 times as many colors. Called tetrachromats, they can perceive about 100 million colors. It is believed that about 12% of women have the gene that could allow tetrachromacy to express itself. (Sorry, guys, men are unlikely to be tetrachromats.) The Guardian introduces us to Concetta Antico, who has used her tetrachromacy to her advantage: she is—what else?—an artist.

It would be easy to look at the vivid array of colour contained in the paintings of artist Concetta Antico and assume she is using artistic licence. The trunks of her eucalyptus trees are hued with violet and mauve; the yellow crest on her cockatoo has hints of green and blue; the hypercolour of a garden landscape looks almost psychedelic.

“It’s not just an affectation and it’s not artistic licence,” says Antico. “I’m actually painting exactly what I see. If it’s a pink flower and then all of a sudden you see a bit of lilac or blue, I actually saw that.”

There is an interesting downside to having this ability:

While the natural world is a positive stimulant for Antico, many man-made environments, such as a large shopping centre with fluorescent lighting, have the opposite effect. “I feel very uneasy. I actually avoid going into those kinds of buildings unless I absolutely have to,” she says. “I don’t enjoy the barrage, the massive onslaught of bits of unattractive colour. I mean, there’s a difference between looking at a row of stuff in a grocery store and looking at a row of trees. It’s like, it’s ugly, and the lights are garish. It makes me not happy.”


Invisible Touch

Sure, in this age (and even before, if we’re honest), we like self-checkout options at shops. The downside, of course, is having to touch a potentially germy or COVIDy touchscreen. Or, maybe not. Some 7-Eleven stores in Japan are floating the idea, as it were, of floating holographic displays that don’t require actual physical contact. (Would we call them no-touchscreens?) Says Gizmodo:

Unlike Amazon’s stores where shoppers can simply leave with bags of carts full of goods, the upgraded 7-Eleven stores still require shoppers to stop and individually scan their items before paying. What’s different is the lack of traditional LCD touchscreens which have been instead replaced by a system developed by Toshiba called Digi POS that creates the illusion of a touchscreen interface simply hanging in the air in front of a shopper, while those behind them in line don’t see anything at all.

Privacy isn’t the main advantage of the Digi POS. Through the use of hidden sensors, the system can detect the presence and movements of fingers, so a shopper can press buttons and interact with the virtual touchscreen without actually having to physically touch anything. So not only is there nothing to clean and sanitize afterward, but there’s also much less risk of the hardware being damaged or suffering from physical wear and tear over time.

The holographic self-checkouts will be trialed at six different 7-Eleven stores in Tokyo starting tomorrow and will allow most in-store items to be purchased autonomously. Payments are handled either by touchless payment cards or by scanning the screen of a mobile device. Other products, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and even paying bills, are excluded from the new checkouts and will still require a physical cashier to complete purchases.


Signs of the Times: Lost In Translation

Here’s a tip from a Welsh supermarket: carefully proofread your signs—especially if they’re in two languages. From ITV:

A translation blunder at a supermarket caused it to accidentally promise free alcohol to customers. 

The sign was supposed to guide shoppers to "alcohol-free beer" at the Asda supermarket in Cwmbran.

But translators on the beer aisle wrote "alcohol am ddim" - meaning alcohol for free - instead of the correct Welsh of "di-alcohol" for alcohol-free beer. 

Guto Aaron, who spotted the sign, said: “Get yourself to Asda, according to their dodgy Welsh translations they are giving away free alcohol!" 

The sign was taken down and the store clarified there was no "free alcohol" available.

Our favorite mistranslated sign of all time, though—also in Wales—is this one:

Emailing the text to be translated and accepting the response sight-unseen, the signmaker added a Welsh “translation” that reads: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”

"When they're proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh," said journalist Dylan Iorwerth. 


Clue Doh!

Socket to Me

Now that important travel documents like boarding passes are increasingly mobile phone app-based, there is the very real fear of a phone battery dying just as one is queuing at the airport gate (you laugh…). So some of us take a fully-charged power bank along with us when we travel, as some airports are still stingy about having ample outlets. (And, if you ever want an airport bartender to mock you mercilessly, walk in, ask if there are any outlets available, and then stomp out in a huff when they don’t have any. It’s pretty amusing.) Anyway, we digress.

Some people apparently can have a fairly unhealthy obsession with the size of their…power banks. As per Kotaku:

YouTuber Handy Geng noticed that all his buddies had bigger power banks than his. “I’m not so happy with that,” he writes. It bothered him! In the video below, he claims he could not sleep. So Handy Geng decided to change that by building the biggest power bank of all.

Handy Geng put his D.I.Y. skills to the test, welding a metal frame and making a 27,000,000-mAh portable (!) charger power bank. That’s equal to around 900 normal-sized large power banks. Outfitted with sixty sockets, it could fully charge 5,000 smartphones with 3,000-mAh batteries. It can even charge power banks, laptops, and electric bicycles!

The resulting power bank is enormous, measuring around 180 cm by 120 cm by 30 cm (5.9 ft by 3.9 ft by .98 ft).

Try hauling that through an airport. It won’t just be the bartenders who mock you.

Your Move

The Walls Are Closing In

Quite literally. Over at Core77, a collection of “automated furniture” projects made using motion control products developed by Progressive Automations. These include a WiFi-controlled window; a set of automatic trap doors, perfect for any executive office; hidden bookcase doors that open in exactly the way they should, perfect for hiding one’s secret lair; and a set of stairs that turn into a wheelchair ramp (not sure why the eerie music as this would be a great space saver for creating wheelchair-accessible entrances). Pretty cool, and while most would be good for people with mobility issues, it’s amazing how many of these have been featured in episodes of Scooby-Doo.

Many many more examples in this YouTube playlist.

Blind Ambition

Cold Comfort

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Researchers have enhanced the energy storage capacity of graphene supercapacitors used in solar heating. Says Graphene-Info:

This newly created supercapacitor is said to have many advantages. When the temperature dropped to -30 centigrade, the electrochemical performance of the supercapacitor, which is normally severely degraded, could be enhanced rapidly to room temperature under solar irradiation at light intensities of 1.0 kW m-2. Meanwhile, at room temperature (15°C), the surface temperature of the devices increased by 45°C under solar irradiation at light intensities of 1.0 kW m-2.

…This work provided new approaches to solving the low temperature issue of supercapacitors and developing high energy density devices and was supported by the National Key R&D Project of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Anhui Provincial Science and Technology Major Project, and the Anhui Provincial Key R&D Program.

Slack Bird Singing in the Dead of Night

Weird Old Books

Looking for something to read that’s a bit out of the ordinary? Head on over to Weird Old Books, a search engine that tracks down books that are in the public domain. Creator Clive Thompson wrote about his M.O. in Medium:

Last fall, I wrote about the concept of “rewilding your attention” — why it’s good to step away from the algorithmic feeds of big social media and find stranger stuff in nooks of the Internet.

I followed it up with a post about “9 Ways to Rewild Your Attention” — various strategies I’d developed to hunt down unexpected material.

One of those strategies? “Reading super-old books online.”

Any book published in the U.S. prior to 1925 is in the public domain, so sites like, Google Books—and let’s not forget Project Gutenberg—can let you read public-domain books for free and in their entirety.

I still do this! Old books are socially and culturally fascinating; they give you a glimpse into how much society has changed, and also what’s remained the same. The writing styles can be delightfully archaic, but also sometimes amazingly fresh. Nonfiction writers from 1780 can be colloquial and funny as hell.

And man, they wrote about everything. Back in those centuries they wrote books about falling in love via telegraph wires, and about long-distance balloon travel. They wrote books that soberly praised eugenics, and ones that inveighed against it. They published exuberant magazines of men’s fashion and books on how to adopt vegetarian diets. The past being the past, there’s a ton of flat-out nativism, racism, and gibbering misogyny — but also people fighting against that, too.

It’s rarely dull.

Thompson’s search engine takes the hassle out of finding old, public domain-only books. Check it out!

Hear the Wind Sing

Function Follows Form

It’s not uncommon to hear printing equipment product managers hear from customers about uses for their equipment that they never intended, but one industrial designer went one better: he developed a product that had no predetermined use. From Core77:

Swiss industrial designer Tobias Brunner designed this object, which is “5kg milled from a single block of granite without a predetermined function.”

And, well, why not? If you build it, they will come, right? And, well, they did!

So if you have an idea for invention but think it may not have a practical use, just don’t take it for granite.

Mind Over Matter

Stop In the Name of Tesla

Trying to get machines to emulate human behavior is a major goal of robotics and AI researchers, but some things may be going a bit too far. From Reuters:

Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) will recall 53,822 U.S. vehicles with the company’s Full Self-Driving (Beta) software that may allow some models to conduct “rolling stops” and not come to a complete stop at some intersections posing a safety risk.

And a traffic ticket risk (yes, we know people who have been ticketed for “rolling stops”). Why would this even be a feature that you would design into this kind of software? Also, perhaps the most terrifying set of parentheses ever is “Full Self-Driving (Beta) software.” There are some things you really don’t want to in beta.

Mr. Microphone Lives!

Cents and Sensibility

Do you like wearing cocktail dresses? And chain mail? And do you have a lot of pennies? If you’re in that weird Venn diagram, good news! Via Laughing Squid:

Maker Crescent Shay gathered up all the pennies she could find so that she could make a shiny chainmail dress out of the coppery one-cent pieces. This project took a great deal of time and effort. Once she gathered the pennies she needed, Shay washed them, machined holes into them, and then sewed them into a flirty cocktail dress. She first completed the top of the dress and then the bottom, attaching them together at the end. As it turns out, Shay used 2,652 pennies to make the dress.

Although we hear that inflation is getting so bad that she had to make one out of dimes.

All Maps Amazing and Terrible, Part the Infinity

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

January 31

1930:  3M begins marketing Scotch Tape.

1949: These Are My Children, the first television daytime soap opera, is broadcast by the NBC station in Chicago.

1956: English author, poet, and playwright, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh A. A. Milne dies (b. 1882).

2020: The United Kingdom’s membership within the European Union ceases in accordance with Article 50, after 47 years of being a member state.

February 1

1462: German lexicographer, historian, and cryptographer Johannes Trithemius born. His famous treatise In Praise of Scribes implored monks to not abandon manuscript copying. However, his need to distribute a large number of these treatises quickly resulted in his having to have it printed on a printing press, a great moment of historical irony.

1851: English novelist and playwright Mary Shelley dies (b. 1797).

1884: The first volume (A to Ant) of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.

1896: La bohème premieres in Turin at the Teatro Regio (Turin), conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini.

1902: American poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright Langston Hughes born.

1904: American humorist and screenwriter S.J. Perelman born.

1938: American drummer and singer (Mothers of Invention) Jimmy Carl Black born. He was the Indian of the group.

1942: Voice of America, the official external radio and television service of the United States government, begins broadcasting with programs aimed at areas controlled by the Axis powers.

1942: Welsh actor, director, screenwriter, and Python Terry Jones born.

1964: The Beatles have their first number one hit in the United States with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

1996: The Communications Decency Act is passed by the U.S. Congress, apparently.

February 2

506: Alaric II, eighth king of the Visigoths promulgates the Breviary of Alaric (Breviarium Alaricianum or Lex Romana Visigothorum), a collection of “Roman law.”

1468: Johannes Gutenberg dies (b. 1398).

1882: Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet James Joyce born.

1887: In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania the first Groundhog Day is observed. Again and again and again...

1922: Ulysses by James Joyce is published. Yes.

February 3

1690: The colony of Massachusetts issues the first paper money in the Americas.

1811: American journalist and politician Horace Greeley born.

1907: American author and philanthropist James A. Michener born, in rather epic fashion.

1947: American novelist, essayist, and poet Paul Auster born.

1947: English singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Davies born.

1959: The day the music died: Rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

February 4

1859: The Codex Sinaiticus is discovered in Egypt.

1960: American composer and playwright (Rent) Jonathan Larson born.

2004: Facebook, a mainstream online social networking site, is founded by Mark Zuckerberg.

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic causes all casinos in Macau to be closed down for 15 days.

February 5

1909: Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland announces the creation of Bakelite, the world's first synthetic plastic.

1919: Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith launch United Artists.

1924: The Royal Greenwich Observatory begins broadcasting the hourly time signals known as the Greenwich Time Signal.

1926: American publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger born.

1940: Swiss painter, sculptor, and set designer (Alien) H. R. Giger born.

February 6

AD 60: The earliest date for which the day of the week is known. A graffito in Pompeii identifies this day as a dies Solis (Sunday). In modern reckoning, this date would have been a Wednesday.

1515: Italian publisher, founded the Aldine Press Aldus Manutius dies (b. 1449).

1756: American colonel and politician, 3rd Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr born.

1945: Jamaican singer-songwriter and guitarist Bob Marley born.