The week that was (02-22-19)

Chimpanzees from the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland used downed branches from a recent storm to fashion a ladder to get them up and over their enclosure wall and take a bit of a walk-about.

What started out as a prank snowballed into a full-fledged movement. Someone created an online petition to sell Montana to Canada for $1. “We have too much debt and Montana is useless. Just tell them it has beavers or something,” says the preamble.

Nike’s new self-lacing sneakers were all the rage and the shoe to get. Until a software update bricked them.

Someone discovered an old Saturn V rocket engine, sitting in a junkyard in Missouri.

Starting next week advertisements for junk food will no longer be allowed anywhere on London’s public transit system. The ban on foods that are, “too high in fat, salt and sugar” extends to all subways, buses and bus shelters and is to combat child obesity.

Breakdancing is now a sport and is expected to be included in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Photo credit: Reddit user topcatthomas

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The week that was (02-15-19)

A library in Maryland received a book in the mail (ironically titled The Postman) that was checked out back in 1946.

A member of the Slovenian parliament stepped down after admitting to stealing a sandwich.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating the heist of melted iceberg water from a vodka distillery in Newfoundland. They are unaware of black market for iceberg melt are asking people to be on the lookout for anyone trying to unload 30,000 liters in a tanker.

A phone lottery scammer picked the wrong 94-year old to try and shake down. William Webster was director of the FBI and then the CIA under Presidents Carter and Reagan. Webster worked with his old colleagues to collect evidence, record conversations, and finally arrest 29 year-old Keniel Thomas from Jamaica to 71 months in prison.

Denmark began construction of a 43-mile barrier with Germany, to keep out wild boar.

The White House put out a statement declaring the imminent declaration of a national emergency, using the iPhone Notes app.

The classic game of Tetris got an update with a feature that gives a nod to the battle royale format made popular by Fortnite. You can now play against 99 other players at the same time which apparently changes the game completely.

A couple in Houston broke into an abandoned house to find a quiet place to smoke some pot and found a caged tiger instead. At first the police had a hard time believing the story and dismissed the couple as over-imaginative stoners.

Photo credit: Reddit user MrPinky79

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The week that was (02-08-19)

Sacks of ink powder ruptured in a fire and were blown around by the wind, covering a town in England and turning all the cats and dogs temporarily blue.

A Hawaiian Airlines jet bound for Maui never quite got there. After leaving Los Angeles, Flight 33 circled over the Pacific before returning back to LAX. They tried three times before finally giving up. Aloha kind of loses its shine the sixth time around.

People in an Albuquerque neighborhood are getting tired of the unwanted bologna sandwiches being dropped off at their doorstep. Some are getting so creeped out they are moving away.

A Canadian cryptocurrency tycoon took $137 million of his customers’ deposits to his grave when his associates were unable to login and retrieve the tokens stored on his laptop. Conspiracy theories are swirling so much that the hospital in India where he died is having to defend itself and state he didn’t fake his own death.

A 27-year old man is taking his parents to court for giving birth to him without his consent. Ever supportive, his mother said, “I must admire my son’s temerity to want to take his parents to court knowing both of us are lawyers. . .if [he] could come up with a rational explanation as to how we could have sought his consent to be born, I will accept my fault.”

NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency on testing out a missile that can be used to knock an incoming asteroid off-course should we ever need such a thing.

What makes the Warriors different from other basketball teams? They have a DJ at their practices for one.

Samsung thinks it can spice up your life with a tinder-like dating app that shares a photo of the inside of your fridge with other members of a weird dating network. I think it was developed as a way to get all the lonely refrigerators talking with each other. Imagine the conversation.

I did this little write-up on the Super Bowl ads if you’re interested.

Photo credit: Reddit User: JackSokool

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Super Bowl 53 – the ads

So the game was not that interesting – like watching trench warfare – resulting in one of the lowest scoring Super Bowl games on record. Someone said it was like both teams knew the winner was going to have to eat fast food at the White House.

Even the half-time show was a disaster as Maroon 5’s lead singer strutted out in a designer tank top that looked remarkably similar to Target’s throw pillow covers.

Instead, here’s a selection of commentary on the advertisements. At $5 million a pop, it’s the grand showcase of the creative output of our economy so worth paying attention to see what advertisers think will get our attention.

SBNation did a frame-by-frame analysis of the NFL commercial to identify all the players.

If you were paying attention to the Expensify commercial, using the app to take a photo of the receipt in the video would automatically enter you into a contest. Clever!

Verizon underscored that they are often the network of choice for first responders. Here is the backstory behind how LA Chargers coach Anthony Lynn ended up in the emergency room.

AdAge tells the story of how executives at Burger King acquired the rights to the Andy Warhol film of him eating a Whopper and why they didn’t run the entire 15-minute film.

Jason Bateman operates an elevator in a building that stops at all the things we sometimes have to do but would rather not. Middle row seats, root canals and jury duty are unfortunate but unavoidable and Bateman is a modern day Virgil from Dante’s Divine Comedy. But vegans didn’t take to kindly in Hyundai’s dig at their beet salad dinner.

Pringles, TurboTax and Michelob all poked fun at our dystopian future. Who can forget the dark nod to the famous Ronald Regan campaign ad Morning in America by Hulu and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Doritos expressed how adding spice to an original can make things fresh by having Chance the Rapper remix the Backstreet Boys and it was pretty awesome.

Michelob hired Zoe Kravitz to introduce the internet sensation that is ASMR to the Super Bowl crowd and used it to sell beer.

It was five years since Bob Dylan was first used in a Super Bowl ad (for Chrysler) so the use of Blowin in the Wind in a Budweiser commercial didn’t raise too many eyebrows. What was surprising was the backlash from the fossil fuel industry.

Bud Light had several commercials including a weird hybrid one where Bud Light gets killed off by Game of Thrones (?). Budweiser also highlighted that they are one of the few beers to list their ingredients of which corn syrup is not one of them (not like Miller Lite or Coors). The National Corn Growers Association was not pleased.

Amazon hired Harrison Ford and Forrest Whitaker to explain why Alexa-everywhere might not be such a good idea. (regular readers of TWTW will recall Rocco, the Alexa-obsessed parrot) This follows last year’s Alexa spot which featured Cardi B, Gordon Ramsey, Rebel Wilson and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Cardi B turned down a chance to perform at the halftime (in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick) but she did get to make an entrance in a totally-over-the-top Pepsi commercial.

Google, on the other hand, played down their technology and focused on the human side of what they enable.

Two ads tipped their hat to female football players. The NFL ad featured Samantha Gordon and Toyota featured Toni Harris. 

Finally, the male-oriented Dodge Ram pickup truck broke tradition and celebrated the strong women of the future. The other Dodge Ram advert was brilliantly meta.

The week that was (02-01-19)

It was so cold in the Midwest that Chicago transit workers set fire to the commuter rail tracks to thaw out the switches, Post Offices stopped delivery, and even Hell froze over.

Somehow, a man got locked inside a 24 Hour Fitness.

Anthony Scaramucci, famous for his 10-day residence as White House Director of Communications, had an even briefer stint on the Big Brother house. He lasted 6 days.

A man robbed a bank and thought he could make a quick getaway on a rental scooter. He was easily tracked down by his digital trail. Austin Police retrieved the GPS data from the scooter company and followed his credit card address to his home. The time-stamped data to put him at the scene of the crime.

A 14-year old kid in Memphis built a nuclear reactor, in his bedroom.

A refugee in an Australian detention center wrote an entire book using the WhatsApp encrypted chat application. “I did not write on paper because at that time the guards each week or each month would attack our room and search our property. I was worried I might lose my writing, so it was better for me to write it and just send it out.”

A grown man posed as a human-sized cash register receipt for a full 20-minutes while his boss introduced a new law that he hopes would ban paper receipts in California.

Photo credit: Reddit user OMGLMAOWTF_com

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The week that was (01-25-19)

You can now edit genes at home. “People can alter a frog’s anatomy with a few simple injections right in their own home,” said Josiah Zayner, the founder of The Odin, makers of the $300 Frog Genetic Home Engineering Kit.

A ship’s anchor sliced through Tonga’s main fiber-optic cable which took it off the internet disrupting, “overseas phone calls, money transfers, airline bookings, university enrollments as well as Facebook.”

A sinkhole opened up a block away from the White House.

The Governor of Louisiana sent a formal letter of complaint to the NFL Commissioner following a botched call in the final minutes of the playoff game that knocked the New Orleans Saints out of contention for the Super Bowl trophy.

Excitement in Scotland over the discovery of a prehistoric stone circle lost steam when the former owner of the property showed up to say that he built the stone circle for fun back in the 1990s.

Police in Fremont, California purchased their first Tesla Model S which it has outfitted in black and white to go out on patrol.

There’s now a company that will sell you a box of tissues (at $80 each) that come pre-infected with germs so you can, “get sick on your terms.”

I thought the emotional support peacock was the winner but word of Wally, the 5-foot emotional support alligator is my new favorite. His owner, “frequently takes Wally out for meet-and-greets at places like senior centers and minor-league baseball games.”

Former 49er’s quarterback Joe Montana and former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz invested in a weed dispensary and delivery startup.

Photo credit: Reddit user FauxPoesFoes228

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The week that was (01-18-19)

Teenage vandalism plans were dashed when the Washington highway authority hatched a plan to thwart the rash of thefts of the 420 and 69 mile-marker signs on the state’s freeway. These signs now say 419.9 and 68.9.

McDonald’s lost its trademark on the Big Mac in Europe.

A woman in Wichita Falls has been banned from the local Walmart after she reportedly had been drinking wine from a Pringles can for several hours while riding on an electric cart.

China proudly announced that a cotton seed they planted on the far side of the moon had successfully spouted. Later that day, they had to announce it had died.

Ambrosia, a startup that charges $8,000 to fills the veins of older people with blood from younger donors, is up and running in five cities.

Scientists have deployed wasps against killer ants in an epic battle to save the crabs of Christmas Island, a technique called biocontrol. Over the past 10 years they are hesitatingly calling the mission a success as the crab population has begun to recover. The crabs be raving.

Roads are melting in Australia during a record heatwave and the Rhine River in Europe is drying up.

Nike released self-lacing sneakers that you can adjust with an app.

A Japanese hotel owner who had hoped to completely automate his operation with robots admitted that the novelty had worn off and admitted that maybe robots are not ready for the hospitality business. One guest complained that he was woken up regularly through the night by a virtual assistant robot that was put in each guest’s room. The doll kept asking him, “Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. Could you repeat your request?” when it was activated by the guest’s snoring.

Photo credit: The Language Nerds (thanks Uncle Peter!)

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The week that was (01-11-19)

Norway, a country that plans to ban sales of all gasoline-powered cars by 2025, is well on its way with 50% of cars sold last year being either hybrid or electric.

In North Carolina, a man tried to kidnap a woman. She fled and ran into a nearby karate studio. It did not end well for the man.  In Rio, a man tried to rob a woman waiting for her Uber and he found out the hard way that she was a professional UFC fighter.

Someone bought a fish for $3.1 million in Japan.A 612-pound bluefin tuna.

At Costco, you can now buy Nutella in bulk. $22 will get you a 6.6 pound bucket. If you’re still feeling peckish after that, they also have on offer a 27-pound bucket of Mac & Cheese. Both items are available in the store’s emergency foods section.

Traffic ground to a halt when an 18-wheeler crashed on an Alabama highway spilling its load of chicken tenders and drivers stopped to pick up the food.

At the CES tech conference, Kohler announced an intelligent toilet, “fully immersive,” with ambient lighting, surround sound speakers and built-in Alexa (so you have someone to talk to?).

A Florida man arrested for drugs was accused of trying to smuggle contraband into jail after three syringes were found in his rectum. The man insists they don’t belong to him.

Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, a San Francisco institution for over 125 years, recently closed its doors. When they put up their eclectic decor for auction, they discovered that the 8-foot vase that has been gracing the central dinning room since as long as anyone remembers was in fact a rare Japanese art piece had been missing since it was shown at the California Mid-Winter Fair in 1894.

The “sonic attack” noise which caused diplomats visiting Cuba to complain of headaches and nausea could just be the mating song of Indies short-tailed cricket.

A Virginia home was overrun with baby praying mantises after eggs hidden in the branches of a Christmas tree hatched. When asked whether the homeowner had seen any insects in the bedroom, she said, “I don’t want to think about that. It’s possible, but I don’t want to know.”

Amazon Alexa fact-checked a Qualcomm executive giving a presentation at the CES trade show. During an on stage demo of Amazon’s voice service, Alexa interrupted up saying, “No. That’s not true.”

Photo credit: Reddit user dvne3K

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US Immigration, visualized

In celebration of the diversity of the 116th congress, I’m sharing this beautiful visualization illustrating the diverse origin of immigrants to the United States over the years.


Data visualization with a poetic take on the data — historical immigration to the U.S. is shown as a set of tree rings (1830-2015). As time advances, the tree grows, forming rings of immigration. Each ring corresponds to a decade. Cells are deposited in layers, and each cell corresponds to 100 immigrants that arrived in that decade from a specific region outside the U.S.

Pedro Cruz is an Assistant Professor in information visualization at Northeastern University and his work above was one of the winners in the Kantar Information is Beautiful awards. If you like this kind of stuff, you really should check out the other winners.

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