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1. Facebook as a Nation-State

The world’s largest social network announced that it had reached 500m members on Wednesday July 21st. If Facebook were a physical nation, it would now be the third-most populous on earth. And if the service continues to grow as rapidly as in the three months to July, it will reach one billion in about 15 months—almost the size of India. Not least because of its gigantic population, some observers have started to talk of Facebook in terms of a country. “[It] is a device that allows people to get together and control their own destiny, much like our nation-state,” says David Post, a law professor at Temple University, Philadelphia.


2. Life Insurance for Astronauts - Because an astronaut’s mission into space was literally uninsurable, NASA came up with an innovative solution during the Apollo space program:

The answer was provided by NASA in the form of ‘Insurance Covers’, as seen here, a number of which were given to every crew member and subsequently signed by every astronaut involved, as close to launch as possible. Its value would instantly be high, but would no doubt sky-rocket (no pun intended) should the astronauts never return; the deceased’s surviving family then at least safe in the knowledge that in future they could cash-in their makeshift insurance policy if required.

(Via: Neatorama )


3. The Coconut – Nature’s Best Packaging Design

The humble and tropically ubiquitous coconut, besides producing one of the tastiest cocktail starters out there (mmmm . . . ..piña coladas!), is one the best package design solutions for a perishable food item ever designed by nature. Not only do coconuts survive falling from heights of 50 feet to the ground (landing on anything from cushy golf courses to lava rock), but they often travel thousands of miles via ocean waves, still perfectly protected. Viable Caribbean coconuts, which are the seeds of the Coconut palm, have been found as far north as Norway, which is why the tree has propagated so successfully from 26 latitude North to 26 degrees latitude South.


4. Study of the Week: Foreign Accents Make Speakers Seem Less Truthful to Listeners

A foreign accent undermines a person’s credibility in ways that the speaker and the listener don’t consciously realize, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

Because an accent makes a person harder to understand, listeners are less likely to find what the person says as truthful, researchers found. The problem of credibility increases with the severity of the accent.


5. Novel approach: reading courses as an alternative to prison

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the death penalty, the US state of Texas seems the last place to embrace a liberal-minded alternative to prison. But when Mitchell Rouse was convicted of two drug offences in Houston, the former x-ray technician who faced a 60-year prison sentence – reduced to 30 years if he pleaded guilty – was instead put on probation and sentenced to read.

(Via: Text Patterns )


6. Weird News of the Week: The World’s First Ice Cream Truck For Dogs

A new ice cream van with tasty treats specifically for canines will have man’s best friend howling with delight.

Instead of offering the traditional vanilla whip cones topped with a flake, these frozen feasts contain gammon and chicken ice cream - complete with a crunchy canine biscuit bone.

A team of scientists investigated the perfect combination of temperature, texture and taste, ensuring the treats would be delicious to dogs and completely safe.


7. Simple computer program decodes lost biblical language

A project led by professor Regina Barzilay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may be the first to show how ancient, lost or unknown languages can be decoded using a computer program, according to National Geographic.

The MIT team was able to decode the “lost language” of Ugaritic, an ancient Semitic language used in Old Testament times, using no more computing power than that of a laptop. The program took no longer than a few hours to link most Ugaritic symbols to their Hebrew equivalents.


8. Quote of the Week: “Most people are surprised to hear that the world economy doubles roughly every fifteen years; when they think back fifteen years, the world doesn’t seem that different.” - economist Robin Hanson


9. Adam Smith and Reality-Based Economics

conomists wishing to re-engage economics in a wider discussion about the truth of human reality could thus do worse than return to the writings of Adam Smith. Here one finds a truly synthetic approach to comprehending not just the economic dimension of human reality, but also how that economic component fits into a fuller picture of human reality—one that is committed to treating moral virtues as real to the same extent as the forces of entrepreneurship and peaceful free exchange, not to mention institutions such as the rule of law that are the very stuff of modern flourishing economies. Returning to Smith does not imply wholesale abandonment of all the tools and methods developed in a range of different schools of economic thought since 1776. It does, however, suggest that efforts to quarantine economic science from normative considerations or even knowledge of the basic moral goods knowable by human reason ought to be themselves viewed as unreasonable and unscientific.

(Via: Acton Institute PowerBlog )


10. Women are most attractive at 31

Women are at their attractive bets when they are 31— that’s the precise age when, according to a survey, they are considered most beautiful.

The poll of 2,000 men and women, commissioned by the shopping channel QVC to celebrate its Beauty Month, found that females in their early thirties are seen as more attractive than younger girls as they are more confident and stylish.


11. Pick-up lines from the philosophers


12. Image of the Week: Beer to be sold in dead animals

Twelve bottles of The End Of History ale have been made and placed inside seven dead stoats, four squirrels and one hare.

And at 55 per cent volume, its makers claim it is the world’s strongest beer.

A taxidermist in Doncaster worked on the animals, which were not killed for bottling the new drink, with some having been killed on the roads.


13. 9 Undesirable Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well


14. Infringing the Copyright of a Copycat

So let me get this straight: according to the Las Vegas Sun, the Fab Four, a Beatles ‘tribute band’ [a lousy generic descriptor for bands like this, imho — how about ‘murder band’ instead], is suing the Fab 4, a different Beatles ‘tribute band,’ alleging that The Fab 4 is “essentially identical in sound and appearance” to The Fab Four. Imagine that — why, they’re trying to cash in on the popularity of another band!


15. Which animals make war, other than humans?

[The] report in the NY Times on chimpanzee “warfare” isn’t quite accurate in the use of the word “war,” as my investigations of ants confirm.

As in most human hunter-gatherer groups of similarly small size, chimpanzees target single individuals in a stealthy raid, rather than carry out the full-bore mass attacks developed over the past two millennia by the human societies populated with hundreds of thousands or millions.

In my book Adventures Among Ants , I found the same strategic shift occurs across ants as the size of their societies similarly increases from dozens into the millions. Indeed, among animals only ants and humans have societies at the upper end of this size continuum, and only ants and humans turn out to have true warfare.

Of course chimpanzees are close relatives of humans. But the behavior of ants suggests the size of social groups can explain strategies for fighting, even across unrelated species.


16. Infographic of the Week: Six or so degrees of great geniuses . . . and Kevin Bacon.


17. The Sisterhood 50: America’s Influential Women Rabbis (Via: BibleBeltBlogger )


18. The Attenborough Design Group created the Gesundheit Radio, which ’sneezes’ to clear away dust, the AntiTouch Lamp, which turns away if you get too close, Floppy Legs,” a portable floppy drive that immediately jumps up on legs and protects its cargo if there’s any liquid nearby.

(Via: Geekosystem )


19. Key Dates in the Formation of Hipster Christianity


20. College Offers Flirting Class to Computer Science Students

otsdam University in Germany is offering formal instruction in flirting to IT graduate students:

The 440 students enrolled in the master’s degree course will learn how to write flirtatious text messages and emails, impress people at parties and cope with rejection.

Philip von Senftleben, an author and radio presenter who will teach the course, summed up his job as teaching how to “get someone else’s heart beating fast while yours stays calm.”

(Via: Neatorama )


21. America’s Most Disgusting Kid Meal: The 2,300-Calorie Mac & Cheese Quesadilla


22. HistoricalLOL of the Week


23. Quantum Time Machine Lets You Travel to the Past Without Fear of Grandfather Paradox

Looking to build a time machine but nervous about the classic grandfather paradox, aka the Marty McFly conundrum, aka the idea that you might unwittingly do something that causes you to never exist in the first place? An MIT professor and a few of his quantum quoting buddies have published a theory that allows for time travel while circumventing the grandfather paradox. All you need is a quantum teleportation device and a precise understanding of the idea of postselection—Flux Capacitor optional.


24. What is vacation good for?

They found that in all three cases, the respondents were least happy about the vacation while they were taking it. Beforehand, they looked forward to it with eager anticipation, and within a few days of returning, they remembered it fondly. But while on it, they found themselves bogged down by the disappointments and logistical headaches of actually going somewhere and doing something, and the pressure they felt to be enjoying themselves.

A recent Dutch study had a more striking finding. Looking not at vacation memories, but measuring general happiness level through a simple three-question questionnaire, the researchers found that going on vacation gave a notable boost to pre-vacation mood but had hardly any effect on post-vacation feelings. Anticipation, it seems, can be a more powerful force than memory


25. What’s Your Pooch Thinking?

As Spaniards respectfully pass on the calamari in honor of Paul the Octopus, who predicted the country’s World Cup win, people all over the world are becoming more curious and determined to figure out exactly what it is animals are thinking.

“Horses are the most gossipy,” says Lisa Greene, a pet psychic from Houston. “They’ll always tell me everything that’s going on in the barn. Snakes usually have a pretty bizarre sense of humor. And rodents like to spell for me.” Recently on the schedule: a reading for a whale.


26. Why GPS voices are so condescending

As it turns out, the best computer voices may be those that sound exactly like the person who’s listening. If a computer voice matches your mood, your speech patterns, your accent and your tonal range, you’re less likely to be annoyed by it, researchers said.

How well a computer voice matches the listener’s mood is not just a matter of preference — it’s a matter of safety, said Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor who studies computer voices.

In a 2005 study, Nass found that these emotional mismatches may actually be dangerous in driving situations. Sad drivers who get instructions from happy computer voices — and happy drivers who listen to sad voices — are more likely to have accidents, he said. The emotionally confused drivers are also less likely to be able to pay attention to the road.

So, if you’re having a groggy sort of morning, instructions from a GPS device that sounds like a caffeinated cheerleader might just push you over the edge.


27. How-To of the Week: How To Win At Rock Paper Scissors


28. Star Theoretically Too Massive to Exist, Exists

A European research team headed up by Paul Crowther, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield in England, discovered a cluster of stars including a few larger than astronomers previously thought possible. The largest of them, R136a1, measured in at 300 solar masses. This shatters the maximum figure that scientists had provided, which was a meager 150 solar masses.

For some time, there was no theory regarding a maximum size for stars, but in 2005 the Hubble telescope examined the Arches cluster, the densest in our galaxy. Many expected us to find stars ranging from 100 to 1,000 times as massive as our own sun, but no stars of more than 150 solar masses were found. This was startling, and led to a longstanding theory that stars couldn’t exceed 150 solar masses.


29. The Gambler Who Blew $127 Million

During a year-long gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, Terrance Watanabe managed to lose nearly $127 million.

The run is believed to be one of the biggest losing streaks by an individual in Las Vegas history. It devoured much of Mr. Watanabe’s personal fortune, he says, which he built up over more than two decades running his family’s party-favor import business in Omaha, Neb. It also benefitted the two casinos’ parent company, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., which derived about 5.6% of its Las Vegas gambling revenue from Mr. Watanabe that year.


30. One-star reviews of classic books


31. ATMs in Antarctica - From an interview with a Wells Fargo VP about the unique challenges of operating those machines.

You know, the other thing too that you may find interesting — I don’t know how much you know about folks that need to go down to Antarctica — it’s a huge process to do it. So when we’re preparing for the vendor visit, it’s like a ten-month process. The reason being is, they obviously go in the off-season when it’s obviously warmer because no planes fly onto the ice in their winter months. And so anybody that goes to Antarctica has to be cleared with a physical, a dental, and a psychological evaluation, because if for some reason the plane can’t get out, you’re trapped down there until the next season.

(Via: Kottke )


32. Another 33 Things


33. Don’t Argue With An Ibex

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