May a Moody Baby Doom a Yam?

If you are a math nerd, you may have noticed that on Monday, March 20, we started a 10-day run of palindrome dates. We all know that a palindrome is a word or  phrase that reads the same backward as forward, the most famous being “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama.” Perhaps the most brilliant example of palindromes is “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Bob,” in which each line is a palindrome, sung in the style of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-era Bob Dylan and sounding not unlike the lyrics Dylan was writing at the time:

Unembeddable video here


But what, you may ask, is a palindrome date? KWCH explains: “Monday can be seen as a palindrome in two ways: 3/20/23 or 3/20/2023.” But the rest of the week is palindromic in the mm/dd/yy format:

  • 3/20/23
  • 3/21/23
  • 3/22/23
  • 3/23/23
  • 3/24/23
  • 3/25/23
  • 3/26/23
  • 3/27/23
  • 3/28/23
  • 3/29/23

Oh, no, Don Ho!

Full Stop

Some of you may recall a time (before 1961) when the New York Times’ nameplate featured a period at the end of it:

But today’s Times does not.

Steven Heller writes in Print magazine about how his former boss and mentor Lou Silverstein, the Times’ corporate art director and later assistant managing editor of design, became known as the “guy who eliminated the period” in the nameplate. As Silvertein wrote in his memoir, Some Call It Work: A Life in Graphics, Before, After and During The New York Times:

“This was done while I was promotion art director. I was discovering that the logo as it then appeared was too ‘lacy’ and rather weak as a sign-off in printed promotion pieces. To strengthen the logo, I redrew it, making the thicks thicker and the thins thinner. This provided a stronger, more graphic look. And, as a byproduct of this effort at modernization, I dropped the period.”

This initially didn’t go over well—at first.

Dropping the period caused much consternation and soul-searching at the Times, until finally the production manager came up with the calculation that eliminating the period would save some $600 a year in ink! That saved the day. 

What’s a Periodic Table When it’s Not a Table?

Speaking of periods, linguist Rob Watts of RobWords—to whose excellent etymology videos we have linked before—has a new video out about the origins of the names of some periodic table elements. “Hydrogen” comes from the Greek hydro- (water) and gen- (generator)—as you need hydrogen to form water. The other thing you need to make water is oxygen, but oxy- in this case is Greek for “acid” (so the name means “acid generator”) as it was originally thought that you needed oxygen to make an acid. (We also encounter the Greek gen in words like “carcinogen”—generator of cancer—or “pathogen”—generator of pathology.) Fans of lithography may be interested in lithium (for any of several reasons): we know lith- is Greek for “stone,” so lithium means “stone element.” By the way, -um and -ium are suffixes that are added to turn something into a substance or an element—and that there are two of these suffixes is why in the UK people refer to aluminum as aluminium (or, in the US, people refer to aluminium as aluminum).

At any rate, we won’t spoil the rest of the video. Check it out, word nerds (hooray! YouTube let us embed it):

Cuckoo for Cocoa Press

WhatTheyThink contributor Mark V (heir to the throne of Mark IV) points us to a new business based on 3D printing…of chocolate. Penn engineering graduate Ellie Weinstein founded Cocoa Press in 2019 to use 3D printing to create customizable chocolates.

Via The Daily Pennsylvanian:

Cocoa Press reimagines 3D printing by allowing individuals and companies to use the technology for producing chocolate treats. Throughout high school and her undergraduate years at Penn, Weinstein worked to bring Cocoa Press to fruition.

Chocolate is not a substance that lends itself easily to 3D printing.

“You need incredibly precise temperature control. The chocolate needs to be in a gel-like state, where it's not even a liquid, you then push on it with about 10 pounds of force, and it solidifies after being extruded,” Weinstein said. “A quarter of a degree Celsius is too high — it's going to be liquid.” 

Chocolate has other constraints. For example, its temper and crystal-like structure can make it prone to molding mistakes. Weinstein used the example of a chocolate bar to describe how melted chocolate will never fully solidify, even after it is cooled.

Melts in your mouth, not in your printer.

Cocoa Press supplies chocolate-enabled 3D printing systems, not the service itself. There are two configurations of printer available from the company: a $1,499 “DIY” version aimed at users with previous printing experience and a $3,995 “professional” package, which arrives fully assembled. 

Weinstein says her goal is to meet the needs of “3D printing hobbyists and professional chocolate shops.”

Anyone interested in purchasing a 3D chocolate printer can put down a $100 deposit (get it, deposit?) for a Cocoa Press unit starting in mid-April. 

Say Cheese

What would go great with 3D-printed chocolate? How about a 3D-printed cheesecake? Via CNN:

Engineers at Columbia University…whipped up a seven-ingredient vegan cheesecake that was assembled and cooked entirely by a 3D-printing machine and — in a new innovation — laser technology, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal NPJ Science of Food.

3D-printed food isn’t all that new; there has been a plant-based steak, and there are actually restaurants that offer meals—and even utensils and furniture—produced entirely by 3D printers. And while there are machines available that can 3D-print and bake desserts, the cheesecake researchers (a phrase never before used, here or anywhere, we suspect) came across one stumbling block: there aren’t yet any cookbooks for 3D printers.

“If this (technology) were to hit the market, it’s like having an iPod without any MP3 files,” said study coauthor Dr. Jonathan Blutinger, a mechanical engineer and postdoctoral researcher at Columbia Engineering’s Creative Machines Lab. “So there needs to be a place where you can download recipes, create your own recipes, and get some inspiration for what you can actually do with this machine in order for it to really take off in a big way.”

So you could say that it’s no cakewalk. 

Underground Music

When in Hannover, Germany, be sure to visit the Ernst-August-Platz where, directly opposite Hannover Central Station, you can check out a “musical manhole.” Says Atlas Obscura:

hidden beneath the seemingly normal metal plate lies two loudspeakers, an amplifier, and a CD player, piping music to the world above. The “DJ Gulleyman” as it is known, can only be heard within a few meters of the manhole, and there is no sign or mark at street level of what is making the music or why. 

Created by architect Timm Ohrt, it was part of a 2000 renovation project.

[He] wanted to create a piece of unusual and playful art for the people of Hannover to enjoy. The music is split into day and night playlists of 12 hours and is refreshed every month, meaning this tiny disco is open 24/7. 

Speaking of Graphene…

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Researchers have developed a graphene-based intelligent, wearable artificial throat. Say what? From (who else?) Graphene-Info:

A team of researchers at China’s Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have developed a graphene-based intelligent, wearable artificial throat (AT) that is sensitive to human speech and vocalization-related motions. It is a wafer-like tool one centimeter square that can allow barely audible sounds, or even whispers, to be converted into speech at normal volume.

The device is about the width of plastic cling wrap. The 25-micrometer deep device may be applied to one's throat with a simple adhesive. Tiny wires connect to a microcontroller powered by a coin-sized battery.

Voice-disabled medical patients are often forced to rely on cumbersome microphones, so the graphene-based AT is a much more convenient option.

Tianling says further research is needed to bring more expressiveness to vocalizations achieved by the artificial throat. But he said he believes the simplicity and effectiveness of the device may make it commonplace in the future.

AI-Yi-Yi, Part the Infinity: Talk Amongst Yourselves

We suppose this was just a matter of time. Two AI chatbots are now citing each other and the results are not positive. Via The Verge:

Right now,* if you ask Microsoft’s Bing chatbot if Google’s Bard chatbot has been shut down, it says yes, citing as evidence a news article that discusses a tweet in which a user asked Bard when it would be shut down and Bard said it already had, itself citing a comment from Hacker News in which someone joked about this happening, and someone else used ChatGPT to write fake news coverage about the event. 

(*I say “right now” because in the time between starting and finishing writing this story, Bing changed its answer and now correctly replies that Bard is still live. You can interpret this as showing that these systems are, at least, fixable or that they are so infinitely malleable that it’s impossible to even consistently report their mistakes.)

For those worried about the spread of misinformation, this is even more worrying, especially as this was misinformation by accident. Imagine what can happen when it becomes deliberate, which it almost surely will be.  

These companies can put as many disclaimers as they like on their chatbots — telling us they’re “experiments,” “collaborations,” and definitely not search engines — but it’s a flimsy defense. We know how people use these systems, and we’ve already seen how they spread misinformation, whether inventing new stories that were never writtenor telling people about books that don’t exist. And now, they’re citing one another’s mistakes, too.

Diamond Jubilee

Diamonds may be forever, but climate change doesn’t have to be. If you read about (or actually read) this week’s dire IPCC report on climate change, you know we have more carbon in the atmosphere than we can reliably handle, and full-blown climate crises are not far off. Carbon capture is one way of mitigating climate change, but the issue becomes, what do you do with all that carbon once you’ve captured it? Startups are developing carbon-based industrial products, like concrete. But a startup called Aether has what could be a jewel of an idea: why not use captured carbon to make diamonds—which are, after all, pure carbon? Of course, you can see the problem: diamonds are pretty small and unless you’re Ernst Stavro Blofeld, there wouldn’t be enough of them to make that much of a difference in carbon levels. But that’s not necessarily the point. Via Semafor:

Diamonds…are tiny both in proportion and in market size, drawing a negligible amount of carbon. But they have an advantage: They’re really expensive. That allows Aether to justify spending top dollar for carbon captured by direct air capture facilities, a nascent technology that draws CO2 from the atmosphere. A ton of carbon from one of these facilities, which produce carbon credits with impeccable climate credentials, sells for more than $10,000, so buyers are few and far between. But that figure breaks down to a per-diamond cost of about $10, peanuts for stones that start at $2,000, co-founder Ryan Shearman said.

…In addition to his juicy margin on the diamonds, Shearman wants to prop up an essential technology that needs to scale before it can become cheaper.

Maybe Blofeld’s giant diamond-powered space laser wasn’t so bad an idea.

Remember What The Deer Mouse Said

In the classic Christmas comedy Scrooged, Bill Murray stars as the Scrooge-like programming director of a TV network preparing a live production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In a directive from the network president (Robert Mitchum), he is instructed to add elements that will boost appeal of the broadcast among cats. So in one scene, a propmaster is seen trying to apply reindeer antlers to mice. (Murray’s character suggests staples.)

As it happens, turning mice into reindeer may not just be the stuff of a yuletide comedy. Says Science Times:

Scientists were able to grow antler structures on mouse foreheads through stem cell technology. The stem cells were taken from deers.

Is “deers” the right plural? At any rate, there is actually a point to this:

Deer antlers are among the fastest-growing tissues in the entire animal kingdom, as noted by Interesting Engineering. Given this, looking deeper into its mechanisms could someday help the field of regenerative medicine. In fact, these structures may grow 0.75 inches each day during springtime. The antlers may fully develop within a few months.

…Though these findings are still preliminary, the researchers are hopeful that these results may have significant medical implications for mankind. Tao Quin, the study leader, states that the results suggest how deer may have clinical applications in the repair of bones. In the future, the induction of human cells into cells that are similar to ABPCs could also be used in the field of regenerative medicine. It may be helpful for limb regrowth or skeletal injuries.

Or breed more combative mice.

I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?

Some of us here in the AtW Cultural Accretion Bunker are big fans of playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, most famous perhaps for creating and writing virtually every episode of the first four seasons of The West Wing, as well as the original stage play and screenplay for A Few Good Men, and the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network. (We think his 1998–2000 comedy series Sports Night was one of the best shows on television.) A few years ago, he rewrote a new stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a critical and commercial success. His latest project is a new book for the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. Says the New York Times:

Today the musical, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is remembered as one of the last of Broadway’s Golden Age shows, but its traditional narrative — Arthurian legend with all of its romance, politics, swordplay and sorcery — has never quite clicked.

“Unfortunately, ‘Camelot’ is weighed down by the burden of its book,” the New York Times critic Howard Taubman wrote of the opening. That assessment has persisted. “It has one of the great scores of all time,” said Theodore S. Chapin, the former president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, “but the plot starts to go haywire.”

So Sorkin rewrote the book.

Sorkin is not the first to revise the musical — even Lerner and Loewe reworked it post-opening, and others have tried, too — but his deft hand with witty, fast-paced dialogue and audience nostalgia for “Camelot,” which is adapted from T.H. White’s fantasy novel, “The Once and Future King,” has made the production one of the most anticipated on Broadway this year, with theater mavens eager to see how Sorkin puts his stamp on it.

Followers of Sorkin know of his fondness for Camelot, as it is quoted or referenced in many of his series, especially The Newsroom. The idea was not just to fix the plot, but also to update a few dated elements.

Sorkin quickly realized that two songs, in particular, posed problems: the sexist-sounding “How to Handle a Woman” and the classist-sounding “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

“When I first started writing it, I thought, there’s an easy way to solve this: Don’t sing the songs,” Sorkin said.

But Sher asked Sorkin to reconsider, given fan fondness for the score. “There’s a reason we see ‘Camelot’,” Sorkin acknowledged, “and the reason isn’t me.”

So he came up with an alternative solution: humor. The songs are back, preceded by dialogue in which Guenevere preemptively defuses their sting with Sorkin-esque wit.

Halfway through the Times article, the writer drops a bombshell: Sorkin had a major stroke—and not of genius.  

In November, two months before rehearsals were set to begin, he woke in the middle of the night and noticed that, while walking to the kitchen, he was crashing into walls and corners. He thought nothing of it until the next morning, when the orange juice he was carrying to his home office kept spilling.

Sorkin called his doctor, who told him to come in immediately; his blood pressure was so high, Sorkin said, “You’re supposed to be dead.” The diagnosis: Sorkin, 61, had had a stroke.

For about a month afterward, he was slurring words. He had trouble typing; he was discouraged from flying for a few weeks; and until recently, he couldn’t sign his name (he has just discovered, thanks to “Camelot” autograph seekers, that that’s improving). Those issues are now behind him, and the main lingering effect is that he still can’t really taste food.

Thankfully, he has recovered. We’ll be interested to see how the revised Camelot goes over.

Angel’s Share

Here’s a quick quiz: how easily can you tell a whiskey bottle from a dog toy? If you’re like most of us, probably quite readily. However, Jack Daniel’s thinks it’s not so easy, so they have taken a dog toy maker all the way to the Supreme Court. VIP Products LLC is a maker of dog toys, and they recently introduced a “Bad Spaniels” chew toy, shaped like a Jack Daniel’s bottle and featuring a mock label that reads “Old No. 2 on your Tennessee Carpet” in vaguely similar type to the “Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey” Jack labels. NBC News has the background on this case, perhaps best read while enjoying a dog toy glass of Jack Daniel’s. OK, VIP gets no points for taste, but…

VIP says its products, including the “Bad Spaniels” toy shaped like a whiskey bottle, are obvious parodies and should therefore be protected as free speech under the First Amendment. 

…The whiskey maker, describing the offending products as “poop-themed dog toys,” counters that there is a likelihood of confusion, meaning the product violates trademark law.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 ruled in favor of VIP Products, saying its toys are protected under the First Amendment, which prompted Jack Daniel’s to seek further review from the Supreme Court.

See if you can spot the difference:

I guess one question to ask would be, is PetSmart likely to be selling whiskey? Or your local liquor store pet toys?

[Samuel Alito] also asked whether anyone would confuse the dog toy for an official Jack Daniel’s product.

“Could any reasonable person think that Jack Daniel’s had approved this use of the mark?” he asked.

One possible outcome is that it could be kicked back to the lower court for further analysis of whether the parodic nature of the product means VIP didn’t violate trademark law. You know what they say: the law’s a dog’s ass.

Did anything catch your eye “around the Web” this week? Let us know at [email protected].

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

March 20

43 BC: Roman poet Ovid born.

1828: Norwegian poet, playwright, and director Henrik Ibsen born (not in a doll’s house).

1852: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published.

1896: With the approval of Emperor Guangxu, the Qing dynasty post office is opened, marking the beginning of a postal service in China.

1915: Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity.

1922: American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter Carl Reiner born.

1923: The Arts Club of Chicago hosts the opening of Pablo Picasso’s first United States showing, entitled Original Drawings by Pablo Picasso, becoming an early proponent of modern art in the United States.

1948: With a Musicians Union ban lifted, the first telecasts of classical music in the United States, under Eugene Ormandy and Arturo Toscanini, are given on CBS and NBC.

1950: English drummer, percussionist, and songwriter Carl Palmer born.

1964: Irish republican and playwright Brendan Behan dies (b. 1923).

March 21

1952:  Alan Freed presents the Moondog Coronation Ball, the first rock and roll concert, in Cleveland, Ohio.

2006: The social media site Twitter is founded.

March 22

1765: The British Parliament passes the Stamp Act that introduces a tax to be levied directly on its American colonies. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well for the British.)

1832: German novelist, poet, playwright, and diplomat Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dies (b. 1749).

1887: American actor Chico Marx born. (Why a duck?)

1931: Canadian actor William Shatner born.

2020: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces the country's largest ever self-imposed curfew, in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.

March 23

1842: French novelist Stendhal ( Marie-Henri Beyle) dies (b. 1783).

1857: Elisha Otis’s first elevator is installed at 488 Broadway New York City.

1910: Japanese director, producer and screenwriter Akira Kurosawa born. (Everyone who witnessed his birth described it differently.)

1965: NASA launches Gemini 3, the United States’ first two-man space flight (crew: Gus Grissom and John Young).

March 24

1693: John Harrison, English carpenter and clock-maker, invented the Marine chronometer. (Harrison was the subject of Dava Sobel’s excellent book Longitude.)

1721: Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated six concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, now commonly called the Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046–1051.

1834: English textile designer, poet, and author William Morris born.

1874: Hungarian-Jewish American magician and actor Harry Houdini ( Ehrich Weiss) escaped from the womb.

1882: American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dies (b. 1807).

1905: French novelist, poet, and playwright Jules Verne dies (b. 1828).

1909: Irish playwright and poet John Millington Synge dies (b. 1871).

1907: The first issue of the Georgian Bolshevik newspaper Dro is published.

1949: English singer-songwriter, bass player, and producer Nick Lowe born. And so it goes.

1958: Elvis Presley is drafted in the U.S. Army.

March 25

1811: Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.

1881: Hungarian pianist and composer Béla Bartók born.

1925: American short story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor born.

1931: American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells dies (b. 1862).

1939: American screenwriter and producer D. C. Fontana born.

1957: United States Customs seizes copies of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” on obscenity grounds.

1995: WikiWikiWeb, the world's first wiki, and part of the Portland Pattern Repository, is made public by Ward Cunningham.

March 26

1484: William Caxton prints his translation of Aesop’s Fables.

1812: A political cartoon in the Boston Gazette coins the term “gerrymander” to describe oddly shaped electoral districts designed to help incumbents win reelection.

1827: German pianist and composer Ludwig van Beethoven dies (b. 1770).

1830: The Book of Mormon is published in Palmyra, N.Y.

1859: English poet and scholar A. E. Housman born.

1874: American poet and playwright Robert Frost born.

1892: American poet, essayist, and journalist Walt Whitman dies (b. 1819).

1911: American playwright, and poet Tennessee Williams born.

1931: American actor Leonard Nimoy born.

1959: American crime novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler dies (b. 1888).

1969: American novelist John Kennedy Toole dies (b. 1937).

1973: English playwright, actor, and composer Noël Coward dies (b. 1899).

1980: French linguist and critic Roland Barthes dies (b. 1915).

1996: American engineer and businessman, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard David Packard dies (b. 1912).