Pictures lie

July 12, 2009

This video is a very clear illustration of the fact that you can’t trust photos. You can’t really trust video, either, as I’ve pointed out before. And you can’t trust real life, as I learned when I noticed that Santa had the same cursive as my mother. TRUST NOBODY, that’s my motto.

John Hodgman’s roast

June 22, 2009

Thanks to Elliott for the tip.

Obama at the snack bar

June 8, 2009

Remember I showed you guys President Obama’s Flickr photo stream? Consider it the gift that keeps on giving.

obama snack bar

Photo by Pete Souza. Thanks to Reub for the tip.

Obama’s Flickr account

May 18, 2009

Barack Obama has a photostream on Flickr. Every day a handful of new photos go up, courtesy the White House photographers. Lots of these pics are of the “People in Suits Sit at a Table” vein you’d expect- not exactly scintillating photojournalism- but some of them are pure gold. For example, recently the son of a White House employee wondered aloud whether Obama’s haircut felt like his own haircut. In the name of science, the POTUS allowed for some exploratory palpitation:

If that little boy is Muslim, I know some Republicans who are going to be verrry upset about this

If that little boy is Muslim, I know some Republicans who are going to be verrry upset about this

Adorable. Thanks to Reub (link goes to a funny essay he wrote, which is worth a read) for the tip.

Cosmonauts’ secret conversations

April 30, 2009

In the early 1960s, a pair of Italian brothers allegedly managed to hack into Soviet and US transmissions from the first cosmonauts. For strategic reasons, some early space missions were kept secret until they were proven successful, but the Cordiglia brothers (age 20 & 23), managed to make a satellite dish that they claim picked up secret transmissions from space shuttles back to Russian & US home bases:

… on 11 April 1961, an Italian journalist working for the International Press Agency in Moscow received a tip-off that something “of immense importance” was about to happen. He called the Cordiglia brothers.

“We leapt out of bed,” said Achille, “dashed over to our receivers and began listening. Suddenly, in what was a magical moment, the hiss faded and this Russian voice emerged from very far away for a few seconds.” At that stage, no one in the West – not even the President of the United States – knew that the Russians had launched a rocket.

Russian translators were few and far between but the brothers had this covered – their younger sister was fluent in Russian. The first sentence they heard was: “The flight is proceeding normally. I feel well. The flight is normal. I am withstanding well the state of weightlessness.”

As the brothers listened, the cosmonaut experimented with zero gravity. They lost the signal as the cosmonaut prepared for re-entry while whistling a communist hymn. It was only then that President John F Kennedy was awoken at 2am to be given the news that Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space.

Fascinating article here. Cosmonauts and space missions seem very theoretical and almost like works of fiction to me: this article made them seem much more real, even if it may be an exaggeration or hoax.
Via Metafilter.

Auto-tune the news

April 24, 2009

The gossip world is buzzing about Beyonce’s allegedly leaked mic track, the real sound of her keening and wailing dead flat during a lip-synched and/or auto-tuned appearance. Similar clips of Britney Spears show more of the same. The idea that Beyonce can’t really sing upset me so much that I shoved my fingers in my ears, went LA LA LA (flat, in sympathy), and ate two creme eggs. Then I watched this: the evening news on autotune.

The whole clip is pretty funny, but the best part is Katie Couric singing about global warming.

I’m very happy the track was revealed to be a fake. To be honest when I listened to it again after writing this post, I couldn’t even parse it- if you’re lipsynching, I understand that you’ll fake some of the high notes just to get by, but that track was so radically flat that you pretty much couldn’t even do it on purpose. If you can sing in tune, deliberately singing out of tune is surprisingly difficult to sustain.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to Beyonce sing Halo for day-los now, and I’m convinced she did it live on Letterman- she was a teeny bit pitchy a couple times and she faked the two hardest parts of the song- the low note on “they didn’t even make a sound” and the wicked-ass, very difficult descending octave run on “burning through my darkest ni-i-i-i-i-ght”. If she was lipsynching, I think they’d have made those moments truer to the studio track, as they’re impressive as hell. It’s really hard to do that octave run in a single beat- basically you have to hit 8 notes spot-on in just over a second. This guy does a cute cover that just NAILS it (at 30 seconds in) and it impressed me so much I broke a personal rule and commented on his YouTube video.

Woah, Beyonce's fake boyfriend is a big dude.

Woah, Beyonce's fake boyfriend is a big dude.

Also, the music video for Halo is quite lovely despite the fromage factor. I enjoy the fact that she depicts a regular gal living in a nice apartment with a man who is not Jay-Z. Except that she’s also rehearsing choreo for the “Single Ladies” video even in her imaginary normal life. So down-to-earth!

Obama love

April 9, 2009
Whatever you do, don't touch the Queen.

Whatever you do, don't touch the Queen.

British Bobbies never acknowledge people while at their posts.

British Bobbies never acknowledge people while at their posts.

Xinran, Chinese interviewer

March 8, 2009

Cool article about “China Wintess” author Xinran, a woman who earned the confidence of hundreds of Chinese women, despite strict censorship laws and cultural taboos against disclosing personal stories.

Friends warned her that Chinese people would not speak frankly about their suffering and would be unwilling to reveal their private, emotional responses to upheavals in China. But Xinran was the interviewer, and that made all the difference. From 1989 to 1997, she had a nightly radio program, Words on the Night Breeze, in which Chinese women phoned in to discuss their lives.

Her unusual manicure – one fingernail painted red, while all others are a transparent pink – is a reminder, she says, of how she got one of her early interviews. Make a mistake in your makeup, and women will come to you and say, “Silly girl, come here, can’t you see…” and before long you are deep in conversation and confidences.

Via my mom.

Reminds me of Canadian journalist & author Jan Wong, who used to pretend she didn’t understand how to work her own tape recorder in interviews. Her seeming incompetence disarmed her subjects, who then disclosed all kinds of intimate information to her. I can’t find a citation for that tidbit, but I vividly remember reading it years ago. Invisible prize to anyone who finds the quote, I guess.

Barack, Rickrolled

January 21, 2009

Rickrolling. That link will not actually Rickroll you, which is reeeally meta.


January 20, 2009


Tomorrow my friend is having an inauguration lunch and we’re gonna have cornbread and chili and oreos and we’re gonna freak out, hurray!


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