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Yonatan Zunger
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Yonatan Zunger

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"The Coolness Spiral of Death:" a mathematical study of why people in their thirties don't like that damned noise those kids listen to these days. (For arbitrary definitions of "those kids" and "these days")

The graph below was derived from studying Spotify streaming data from users in the US, to try to focus on a somewhat uniform cultural slice. As you move from the center outwards, you move from more popular artists (Taylor Swift, at #1, is at the very center) to less popular ones (e.g., Norah Jones at #1000, Natasha Bedingfield at #3000). As you move clockwise, you look at the ages of listeners, from 14 to 48. The dots show the median musical taste of listeners of that age.

What we see is that teenagers have a much stronger preference for more popular music, with tastes gradually becoming more eclectic until the mid-30's, when tastes seem to level out. The researchers say that this is probably a combination of effects: discovering more music over time, personality changes, and "taste freeze," liking the same stuff even as it becomes less popular.

The effect is more pronounced for men than for women, as you can see below, but it's even more pronounced for parents: they found that when you look for people with kids (as evidenced by their music streams containing a significant fraction of children's music), tastes become significantly more eclectic, on the whole, and the difference between men and women vanishes.

There's plenty more in this article, and it's a great little bit of data mining.
As users age out of their teens and into their 20s, their path takes them out of the center of the popularity circle. Until their early 30s, mainstream music represents a smaller and smaller proportion of their streaming. And for the average listener, by their mid-30s, their tastes have matured, and they are who they’re going to be.

Two factors drive this transition away from popular music.

First, listeners discover less-familiar music genres that they didn’t hear on FM radio as early teens, from artists with a lower popularity rank. Second, listeners are returning to the music that was popular when they were coming of age — but which has since phased out of popularity.
After sixty years of research, it’s conventional wisdom: as people get older, they stop keeping up with popular music. Whether the demands of parenthood and careers mean devoting less time to pop c...
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It would be interesting to see how this is impacted by the increase in unlimited streaming and the general easy access of music now. 
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There's a listicle up on +Cracked which is significantly more interesting than you may at first expect: 34 subplots that deserve their own movie.

Why is this interesting? It's because it illustrates an important idea in good stories: when minor characters are developed beyond the level of faceless mooks or stock tropes, when they become interesting enough that you want to know more about them, the entire world and story become a lot richer. 

I love running role-playing games, and one of my favorite things in running a game is to quickly generate NPC's with enough texture that they each become memorable. It turns out to be fairly easy to do this: the simple rule is that, the less screen time a character gets, the more vivid their idiosyncrasies have to be to stick in the memory. So the receptionist in the waiting room for the dead is this vividly colored character below; the guy selling you a horse has one eye, swears like a sailor, and has very strong opinions about his neighbor's butcher shop. 

Note that these details were trivial to create; I've literally assembled tables of random personal characteristics, just to stimulate the imagination. (The great thing about an RPG is that if the side character proved interesting enough that it attracts the players' attention, you can then move them more and more front and center, and add nuance as needed; the cycle time of movies makes that not work as well there)

And seriously, an office comedy about the waiting room for the recently deceased in Beetlejuice? I would totally watch that movie.
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Speaking of RPGs, one trick I've learnt is that whenever you need a stand-in NPC, write down their story and details. Once you have some X of packaged NPCs, start recycling. It gives the world more realism if the players start to see the same characters from time to time 
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In the category of extremely bizarre life forms, this one is definitely one of the stranger-looking. Discussions on the Internet suggest that this is a type of ribbon worm called a Gorgonorhynchus, and the white thing it is ejecting is an unusual proboscis -- a branching feeding tube.

From looking at the video (, it seems to me that its mouth detaches from the white stuff almost as soon as it has been ejected, which would suggest that it's something quite other. 

So I'm going to file this under "I'm not sure exactly what this is, although the 1932 paper linked does sound at least somewhat like it, and this is pretty damned weird and kind of wonderful to watch."

via +Sai.
The Gorgonorhynchus
So the strange white thing that seems to “erupt” from the worm is its proboscis. This is a tubular sucking organ that some worms use to feed.
During eversion, which takes place almost explosively, the short main trunk first appears, then this divides and the finer and filter branches appear, but since each one of these is the result of an evagination the effect is almost indescribable. It is as if a large number of lively, wriggling, minute worms had been shot out.


  #gorgonorhynchus   #worms   #proboscis   #coolcreatures  
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C'est incroyable, Yonatan
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Did you ever wonder what it would sound like to hear the whine of a 1200-baud modem morph into the terrified screams of the dead?

That's about the best description I can give of this musical instrument. This device, which the Aztecs referred to as a "death whistle" (cheerfully built in the shape of a skull), was apparently played by the hundred as a prelude to battle. Two of them were found in a temple of the wind god Ehecatl, clasped in the hands of a sacrificed male skeleton, because why would Aztec psychological weapons be anything less than maximally creepy?

Here you can hear Quijas Yxayotl, an expert in the music of pre-Colombian Mexico, play one of these recovered instruments, and hear for yourself what others may have gotten a chance to hear by the hundred, through the jungle mist, as they were preparing to do battle with people who considered human sacrifice of their victims just the way you wrapped up a good fight.

You will want headphones for this.

Via +Craig Froehle
Okay, I watched the video and "scream" is the right word. A hundred of those things playing at once would be TERRIFYING.
When odd, skull-shaped grave items were found by archaeologists decades ago at an Aztec temple in Mexico, they were assumed to be mere toys or ornaments, and were catalogued and stored in warehouses. However, years later, experts discovered they were
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Saw the movie....
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Continuing the subject of "sex work as work:" there's an extraordinary thread on /r/AskReddit that asked: "Current or former sex workers, what is your opinion of your customers?" And this is a thread worth reading. You'll find in it a huge variety of stories; people who came to different kinds of sex work from different places, and had different experiences. If you want to see what the real variety of people's experience is, this is a great place to start.

The thread is not NSFW, by the way. It deals with mature topics -- sex, life, loss -- and is "adult" in the sense that it discusses things with real maturity and depth.

There are a lot of stories here that are going to hit you hard emotionally, but probably not in the ways you would expect. Lots of stories of particular customers that stand out in people's heads, who they were and what it was about them that made them special.

So here's a post for you that straddles the line between my normal threads of politics, society and the law on the one hand, and how things are made on the other: a chance to see sex work through the eyes of people who do it. And like any explanation worth a damn, it doesn't have any summary that will fit on a bumper sticker.

via +A.V. Flox and the ASPASIA project (
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I was struck by how much therapy gets done by sex workers. I've worked service jobs myself and noticed the tendency to that, but because of the intimacy I think it draws that out even more. It makes me wonder what our society would be like if receiving therapy wasn't stigmatized, or if sex work was also not stigmatized, and explicitly considered to be thereputic as well as recreational.

It was a little surprising to me that the physically safer workers such as cam models expressed more dissatisfaction with their customers, on the whole, than the ones who were at more risk from a bad client. Better vetting in the case of the face to face clients? In general people described the spectrum of service work, where some customers are great and some are not, and most are in between.
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Milestones in Engineering: Today +Samantha Cristoforetti brewed the first espresso in space, and drank it while sitting in the cupola of the ISS.

I think I need a better morning coffee routine. 
This morning aboard the International Space Station, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti brewed the first espresso ever in space. After, she enjoyed the beverage viewing Earth from the station's cupola and wrote, "Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised. Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew..."

Read why brews served in microgravity will percolate better science than coffee, thanks to the Space Cup:

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Wow.... Good Samantha enjoy smile
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Yonatan Zunger

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The first road-legal self-driving truck has been issued a license plate by the state of Nevada. The vehicle is "NHTSA level 3" certified, which means that it can drive itself, but a driver is required to be able to take over control if the need arises. (Level 4, at which nothing has yet been certified, can operate completely autonomously, without any humans paying attention at all)

Daimler (which owns Freightliner) is pitching this as a solution for driver drowsiness, which is a significant issue for truck drivers. Going forward, this is likely to be an important milestone in getting autonomous transport into our day-to-day world.
The autonomous big rig is meant to reduce driver drowsiness, and thus accidents.
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+Uilliam Nebel Read more Whitman...

A noiseless, patient spider,  
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;  
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,  
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;  
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.          
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,  
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,  
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;  
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;  
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
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What happens when an engineer has a mechanically failing heart? The engineer comes up with a fix, of course. In this case, the traditional duct tape was replaced with a material more suitable for surgical implantation, but the idea remains the same.
Furo Jumbo originally shared:
I've always suspected that a mechanical engineering degree might be beneficial to surgeons.

As the heart pumps blood around the body, the aorta - the main vessel from the heart- stretches to accommodate the blood-flow. In most people it relaxes back to normal size, but for people with Marfan syndrome it can fail to recover, gradually enlarging over time.

From an early age Mr Golesworthy was fully aware he was living with the risk his aorta could one day stretch so much it would burst. And during a regular check-up in 2000 he was told the time had come to consider pre-emptive surgery.

But he was "unimpressed" with the options available to him. Traditional surgery is lengthy and complex and includes replacing the stretched segment of the aorta with an artificial graft. Sometimes surgeons also have to put metal valves inside the heart to replace ones that are cut out.

So he engineered himself a solution.

His thinking was straight-forward.

He says: "If the hose-pipe is bulging, I must get some insulation tape and wrap it round the outside of the hose-pipe to stop it bulging.

"It's that crude and simple, and we have all done it in our gardens."
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+Matt Schofield​ that chart has a major flaw... it does not include a flow to hammer or bigger hammer
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This telescope is far from derelict: 52 years after its completion, the Arecibo Observatory remains the world's largest single-aperture telescope, a 1000-foot dish that scans the heavens in radio frequencies. These very red colors of light -- beyond infrared or microwave -- contain many of the key visual "fingerprints" we use to identify the chemical composition of distant stars. (For example, in 2008 the telescope identified the presence of prebiotic molecules -- methanimine and hydrogen cyanide -- in the galaxy Arp 220, 250 million light-years away) And, of course, it's the centerpiece of SETI: the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. (Radio signals may be the easiest things to detect from distant civilizations)

But sitting, as it does, in the middle of the Puerto Rican forest, it steadily acquires a patina, and is often shrouded in mist, giving it the appearance of an artifact from an ancient technological civilization. It's hard not to imagine early hominids stepping out of the trees and staring, fascinated, at it, wondering what force could have made this thing.

Arecibo is far from alone in this regard: the best place to put most kinds of telescope is far from cities. Apart from radio telescopes, which work in frequencies of light to which the atmosphere is fairly transparent, it's often important to put them on high mountains in the open desert as well, to minimize atmospheric distortion, or sometimes in locations that optimize viewing angle. This tends to result in a combination of high drama and exotic locations: the GTC, perched on a high rock in the Canary Islands; Keck, on top of Mauna Kea; the VLT, in the middle of the Atacama Desert; or the SPT solar observatory, located at the South Pole. (Where I almost ended up getting stationed once)

So for your enjoyment today, some pictures of the tools that do science.

h/t +Rich Thoma 
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is one of the most famous telescopes in the world—it’s been in a James Bond film (GoldenEye) as well as Contact. Now that the telescope is aging, though, it’s only looking more dramatic.
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A significant new feature launch for Google+ today! We've been playing with Collections behind the scenes a lot, and they've proven a lot of fun and a great way to share your stuff. Collections can be private or public, and in our internal testing I've found them incredibly liberating: you feel that you can post much more about a single subject when you've got a single "magazine" for it.

One of the important things to know about Collections is that you can set a collection to either be automatically followed by anyone who follows your profile (i.e., it basically is a way to label parts of your profile, although people can also subscribe to just that) or not (i.e., it's a separate channel that you can run). Collections do the first by default, which means you can create new collections and keep all your readership -- and if readers don't want some particular subject, they can just unsubscribe from that.

I recommend you play around with these. I've found that for myself, at least, a small number of collections really represented what I write, and I'm going to try organizing all of my content that way to see how it goes. 

In my case, those are:
Today I Learned: -- science, history, math, engineering, or any other interesting thing to broaden your world.
Politics, Society & the Law: -- the news, the law, and the changes affecting our world.
Brief Dispatches: -- a miscellanea of art, science, and my rather odd sense of humor.
Google Updates: -- you're seeing it now!
Introducing Google+ Collections, a new way to group your posts by topic

Our happiest Google+ users are those who connect with others around shared interests and passions. So we set out to give people a place to express the things they love. Today, we’re announcing Google+ Collections, a new way to group your posts by topic.

Every collection is a focused set of posts on a particular topic, providing an easy way for you to organize all the things you’re into. Each collection can be shared publicly, privately, or with a custom set of people. Once you create your first collection, your profile will display a new tab where other people can find and follow your collections.

Posts in collections you follow will appear in your Home stream, with a link to easily jump right into the collection so you can get to similar content from that author. Collections give you a great way to find more of the stuff you love from the people you follow.

Collections is available on Android and the web, and iOS is coming later. For Android users, make sure to update your Google+ app to get access to Collections.

For inspiration on interesting topics, check out our Featured Collections page here:

Create your collections today and share what you love.
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Oh man, I wish this launched when Google+ launched. It sounds like what I really wanted from Circles. I think it's too late now. 
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A great series of photos by +Thomas Hawk​. Not shared for any particular message, but just because they capture this stretch of road and history so well.
Thomas Hawk originally shared:
#Route66  America
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Merci, Yonatan
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I can barely imagine what this experience must have been like for the riders of the day: one of the original "dark rides" (amusement park rides that take place in a dark space so they can move you through settings and create the experience of a trip; Disneyland made them a centerpiece, five decades later), and by any account one of the grandest.

Interesting side note: after the exhibition, the amusement park built around this was named "Luna Park." To this day, that's the generic term for an amusement park in Hebrew.
In 1901, you could pay 50 cents to ride an airship to the Moon

This article by Ron Miller is so cool I'm just going to quote some:

The passengers wait eagerly in the ornate lobby of the enormous spaceport. Soon, a signal indicates that their spaceship is ready for boarding. As they wait, special displays instruct them about how their spaceship functions and what to expect once they leave Earth's atmosphere. Aboard the giant spacecraft — as luxuriously appointed as any yacht — they are soon on their way to a vacation on the Moon.

No, this isn't a vision of the future of space tourism. It's what happened in 1901, when people could pay a princely half dollar for a ticket to ride into space.


Thompson spared no expense in creating the illusion of a trip to the Moon. To house his show, he erected an eighty-foot-high, 40,000-square-foot building that for sheer opulence put European opera houses to shame. It cost a staggering $84,000 to construct... at a time when a comfortable home could be built for $2000.

For fifty cents — twice the price of any other attraction on the midway, such as the ever-popular "Upside-Down House" — customers of "Thompson's Aerial Navigation Company" took a trip to the moon on a thirty-seat spaceship named "Luna". The spaceship resembled a cross between a dirigible and an excursion steamer, with the addition of enormous red canvas wings that flapped like a bird's. The wings were worked by a system of pulleys and the sensation of wind was created by hidden fans. A series of moving canvas backdrops provided the effect of clouds passing by and the earth dropping into the distance. Lighting and sound effects added to the illusion.


Every half hour, at the sound of a gong and the rattle of anchor chain, the "Luna" — "a fine steel airship of the latest pattern", according to one newspaper — rocked from side to side and then rose into the sky under the power of its beating wings. The passengers, sitting on steamer chairs, see clouds floating by, then a model of Buffalo far below, complete with the exposition itself and its hundreds of blinking lights. The city soon falls into the distance as the entire planet earth comes into view. Soon, the ship is surrounded the twinkling stars of outer space. After surviving a terrific — and spectacular — electrical storm the "Luna" and its passengers sets down in a lunar crater.

Read the whole thing here, and look at pictures:

Thanks to +Matt McIrvin for point it out!
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Steve S
+Richard Hoefer Or, if you want to be less happy, you could always use Bing. :-)
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  • Stanford University
    Ph. D., Physics, 2003
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
    B. A., Mathematics, Physics, 1997
Basic Information
Chief Architect, Google+
Lots of people ask me what my job title means. I'm the senior engineer on the Google+ team, and my primary responsibility is to oversee and guide the technical design of Google+ and all of the things related to it. In practice, I'm also involved in lots of non-technical issues as well: my job is to make Google as fun, exciting, social, and pleasant a place to be as it can possibly be.

(I've been at Google since 2003, but you probably haven't seen me before this, because I worked deep in the back end: planet-scale storage, very large-scale search, ranking, and so on. Lots of teams whose unofficial motto is "if we told you, we'd have to kill you" -- as opposed to Google+, where we get to go out and talk and interact with our users.)

For those who just came here, welcome to the Google+ Project. It's something that we're all very passionate about, and which (as its name indicates) is going to continue to develop and improve at what we hope is an amazing rate. I'm avidly interested in hearing user feedback, and while I can't guarantee that I'll have time to respond to all of it, it will most certainly be listened to.

And the obligatory (very important!) disclaimer: I'm not on this system as an official representative. While I'm listening to user feedback and interacting about the system, I'm also here for perfectly ordinary social networking purposes. If I am saying something official on behalf of Google, I will make that explicitly clear; anything else that I say here is not the position of Google, or of anyone other than myself.

In fact, most of what I post about has nothing to do with CS at all. If you want a taste of it, take a look at my blog.
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Mountain View, CA
Boulder, CO - Rehovot, IL