The week that was (2018-09-28)

An amateur botanist in search of rare flowers in remote West Papua, Indonesia took a snapshot of a tree kangaroo so rare and elusive that it disappeared for nearly a century and was assumed to be extinct. “Only an intrepid Pom in pursuit of rhododendrons would have persevered.”

Scientists determined that sonar signals picked up by the Canadian Coast Guard were from sei whales, previously believed to be extinct.

NASA picked up a faint white dot on the surface of Mars that they believe to be the Opportunity. The 14-year old surface rover has been silent for an agonizing 107 days since going into hibernation to conserve energy from a planet-wide dust storm.

The loss of ice mass due to human-driven climate change, particularly in Greenland, is contributing to a change in how the earth “wobbles” on its axis.

It was observed that praying mantises have learned how to catch fish.

A cafe staffed by robot waiters remotely-controlled by staff with disabilities will open in Tokyo this November. The restaurant is an experiment to see if technology can be used to allow people that, due to their physical handicaps, could otherwise not be employable.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo accidentally created the strongest controllable magnetic field in history and blew the doors of their lab.

German handgun manufacturer Walther is manufacturing a Limited Edition Colt Government 1911 A1 Semi-Automatic pistol that features Donald Trump on the grip and the phrases Make America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and End Fake News on the barrel.

92-year-old Jean Briggs Watters was buried in Omaha, Nebraska with full British military honors, the Union Jack draping her casket, to the surprise of her unsuspecting neighbors.

Photo credit: Astronaut Alexander Gerst

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Feeling a bit overwhelmed from the events of the day? At SmartNews we try very hard to keep the number of times we interrupt users of our app to only the “whoa!” type news events but today those types of stories just kept breaking. Here’s a rundown of the day’s events:

Just when we thought we were done for the day – another tidbit would cross the wire. There were other stories too that would have normally qualified but we were getting numb. Tomorrow’s Kavanaugh hearing is bound to bring more fireworks.

In preparation, I’ve remixed a video posted by Taiyo Masuda, a kayaker in New Zealand, that basically summarizes how I felt today and share it here for all to use when you feel it just can’t get any stranger.


Yes, that’s a seal slapping someone in the face with an octopus. Enjoy!


The week that was (09-21-2018)

Parents in South Korea are hiring intimidating ‘uncles’ to protect their child from bullies. With the ‘Uncle Package’ a big, intimidating man pretends to be a student’s uncle and gives a stern warning to the bullies, and accompanies the student on their way to school. The service costs about $450/day.

A TV station abruptly went off the air during their weather update on on Hurricane Florence because the newsroom was flooded by Hurricane Florence.

Fed up with the unwinding of proven science, Governor Jerry Brown announced that California will be launching “our own damn satellite” to track climate change.

Police in Alabama are testing an electric lasso that can ensnare a suspect up to 25 feet away and has been likened to a Spider-Man technology.

Golfers at the King’s Walk Golf Course in North Dakota can order food from the clubhouse and have it delivered to them by drone.

The 2nd oldest lightbulb in the world celebrated its 110th birthday.

The airline Cathy Pacific misspelled it’s name on one of its new Boeing 777s.

Coca-Cola is jumping on the CBD train and thinking about making a cannabis-infused drink.

That container ship that set off to attempt passage through the Arctic, over Russia, made it through and is due in St. Petersburg next week.

It was decided that if you’re going to have your kidney stones dislodged by a roller coaster at Disneyland, Big Thunder Mountain was the best one for the task.

After “months of torment” the Ipswich Borough Council finally tracked down why the children’s nursery rhyme  It’s Raining, It’s Pouring was eerily playing from the industrial park in the middle of the night. Spiders.

Photo credit: Reddit user logangrey123

Current Events

Questions about Kavanaugh

Two things nagging at me as we await what is gearing up to be the showdown of the decade. There’s no about-ness about this. Someone is not telling the truth. It’ll be winner takes all.

Brett Kavanaugh has categorically denied being at the party where  Christine Blasey Ford alleges that she was pinned down and almost raped by the current nominee for the Supreme Court.

Late night TV host Seth Meyers has this observation on curious timing of the release of list of women that support Kavanaugh,

Yet, Chuck Todd from NBC asks,

The problem with the denial is Dr. Ford didn’t make a specific allegation of a specific event. She admitted she couldn’t remember which house where this was. So, why does he have a very specific ability to deny?

How can Kavanaugh deny being at party when accuser never said which party it was?

Then there’s this tweet that makes you go hmm,


The week that was (09-13-2018)

A Mississippi high schooler was chosen first as the homecoming queen, then later kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime at the homecoming game as the football place kicker. Kaylee Foster later posed for a photo in her tiara and football uniform.

You know stressed jeans right? A company in Venice is selling sneakers that simulate the old sneaker look. Price? $560.

A man in Florida ran from his car after getting pulled over for speeding. Jumping into a canal to escape pursuit, he later can be heard calling for help. The canal was full of brackish water, overrun by toxic algae. The police rescued him, hosed him off and rinsed his mouth out before taking him in.

A 75-year old Cleveland man spent 14 hours locked in his Cadillac when the electrical system failed and prevented him from opening the doors. Screaming for help from inside his garage and without his cellphone, his neighbors went blissfully about their day until they discovered him later that evening. He was without the car manual that would have guided him to the manual override tucked below his seat.

Two visiting Australian firefighters, volunteering to fight forest fires near the California/Oregon border, reported they were shot at by “men with scoped rifles.” When asked, the people with the rifles said they were hunting bears.

In Portland, the author of How to Murder Your Husband was charged with murdering her husband.

An “enthusiastic parishioner” thought a 500-year old wooden sculpture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus needed a little color and painted them in day-glo jumpers to disastrous effect.

The company that owns Cadbury chocolate, Mondelez International, is stockpiling chocolate and biscuits in case of a hard Brexit.

Photo credit:  “There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” – Albert Einstein

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Current Events

XOXO 2018

Excerpts from a trip report published for my SmartNews colleagues

When: Thursday, Sept. 6 – Sunday, Sept. 9
Where: Portland, OR

XOXO is an experimental festival for independent artists and creators who work on the internet

That is what it says on their website but it’s so much more. It’s a community of people that live their lives online coming together to meet each other face-to-face, share side projects and talk about ways to make the internet feel more human.

I highly recommend this conference to anyone with an interest in online culture, design, or gaming. Because this conference is by invitation-only, there is a bit of an exclusive feel to it but also it means that most people you meet are interesting and talented and excited to share. You will leave refreshed with new sense of optimism about the future.

The invitation to attend comes months in advance along with an invitation to join the XOXO Slack community so much of the fun at the conference is meeting face-to-face all the people you have been communicating with via Slack or Twitter. I arrived Friday afternoon so unfortunately missed some of the social events on Thursday evening at during the day on Friday but what follows are some notes of things I saw. Photos are discouraged so I do not have many photos to share.


Games I saw at the Arcade, an open space demoing indie video games:

Busy Work, an installation of four office cubicles where your team has to frantically answer inane customer service questions.

Kids, more interactive art than a game, it was on an iPad projected on a big screen and had the audience shouting commands to the person “playing” the game as we all tried to figure out how to “win”

Goose Game, where you play a naughty goose and cause havoc.

Cathode Mk1, a turn-by-turn game played across a series of tube televisions by the folks at [public games].

The Film & Animation section (which was held in a half of a huge indoor stadium). Here I saw:

Graham Annable spoke about his uniquely dark view of pets.

Film critic Lindsay Ellis took questions from the audience about how she built her audience and the challenges of delivering serious, academic research via YouTube. Here’s an exhaustive deconstruction of Disney’s depiction of indigenous female characters that got over 1M views.

Bill Wurtz is most famous for his History of Japan video (below) but he has a whole YouTube channel of nonsensical videos which he sampled for us. In Q&A we learned that attempted to do a History of the United States video initially but eventually had to give up because “he know too much” and could not summarize effectively. Japan (about which he knew nothing) was easier because his lack of knowledge gave him the distance to help him summarize it.

At the Art & Code session I missed Baratunde where he debuted his new app in which you are quizzed on headlines to determine if they are real or not as a way of alerting you to the problem of “over-policing.” He shared insights about why he built the app and the importance of data privacy in a Medium post.

Janelle Shane shared bits from her AI “research”

Nicole He gave a talk (Yelling at Computers) about the rich space between what technology can do today and what people think technology can do today and shared Twitch videos of people playing her new browser-based game, Enhance Computer.

Diana Smith showed us her amazing digital renderings done entirely in CSS and HTML and then shared how the art beautifully degraded when viewed in older browsers. She then shared how the Internet used [Inspect Element] to fork and remix her work so that each piece lives on and have taken on a life of their own. Try it yourself – it’s an amazing labor of love – you will not be disappointed!

Pure CSS Francine

Botnik Studios uses AI to write examples of movie reviews, Twilight Zone episodes, and Tinder profiles.


Andy Baio, co-founder of XOXO kicks off the official conference

Jennifer 8. Lee – Emoji Activist

Jennifer 8. Lee is a self-proclaimed emoji activist described her experience lobbying for (and getting accepted) the emoji for dumpling.

Matt Furie

Matt Furie, the guy who invented Pepe the Frog, spoke about what it was like to get your character co-opted by the alt-right and what he had to do to try and get it back.

Natalie Wynn spoke about gender identity on the internet and her experience as a transvestite character online. She runs the YouTube channel, ContraPoints.

In the evening the arcade and table-top game rooms were back.

On the main stage John Hodgman and Jean Grae held court and told stories based on topics submitted by the audience on a large, projected spinning wheel which randomly chose which topic to discuss.


Someone had printed out and put all the terms of service of several social networks side by side. The long yellow one is Snapchat.

There was an art exhibit where you could mail a postcard to yourself in a year’s time. My favorite one said, “Have you asked her yet?” I assume this person is getting ready to marry his (or her) girlfriend.

Because of some work stuff I was in and out of the Sunday sessions but I did get to see a couple.

I caught the closing credits of Demi Adejuyigbe’s talk.

I came back to see Adam Conover talk about the difficulty of presenting facts to people that don’t want to hear them. Adam has a TV show called, Adam Ruins Everything.

Other Resources


The week that was

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station were forced to temporarily plug a small hole with someone’s finger and later with some duct tape and epoxy.  As the week progressed, blame shifted from nature (a micrometeoroid) to internal (sabotage) before finally settling on institutional (shoddy workmanship).

Headline of the week award goes to:  Left behind: Thieves raid Virginia store of right foot shoes  h/t to Jane Costello for this one.

A fishmonger in Kuwait was shut down by authorities after it was discovered that they were sticking googly eyes on fish to make them appear fresher.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota have built a bionic eye prototype that could restore sight to the blind.

Africa will, for the first time ever, be host to genetically modified mosquitoes in the wild that produce mostly male offspring as a method of population control.

A motorcycle broke a speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, topping out at 113 mph, powered by vodka.

Scientists are developing a new type of metal alloy that changes shape and composition at higher temperatures. Such shape-shifting technology holds promise to make more efficient jet engines for quieter airplanes.

A 53-foot trailer loaded with nearly $100,000 worth of ramen noodles was stolen from behind a gas station in Georgia. h/t to Rick Kennedy for this one.

A farmer on the island of Crete who was struggling to free his truck from a mud patch accidentally uncovered an ancient tomb from a civilization that vanished thousands of years ago.

A congressional candidate in Georgia will be running his campaign for office from behind bars after being thrown in jail for drunk driving.

After they were stolen over 13 years ago, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz were recovered by the FBI and returned to their owner.

TWTW is a weekly collection of bits and pieces I run across each week while looking after things at SmartNews. Feel free to sign-up to get this via email, follow on Facebook, or forward to a friend.

Current Events

Crazy Town

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Infowars host Alex Jones with cameos from Google Glass and an old-school casio calculator wrist watch converge on Washington DC.
Jack Dorsey and Alex Jones converge on Washington with cameos by Google Glass and a Casio calculator wristwatch. Read about how this photo came to be in Wired.

If I had to choose one photo to sum up how crazy things were this past week, this would be it. Here’s a run down of SmartNews’ breaking push alerts from last week after a relatively quiet Labor Day weekend:

Then there was this

It’s all just words. Rep. Billy Long (NPR)

The Week That Was will publish a bit earlier tomorrow, I’ll be off to Portland to visit the XOXO conference. Look me up (@iankennedy) and say “hi” if you’re there.

Current Events

Putting it on the line

“As I’ve been saying from the beginning, this process has been a sham,” Senator Booker said. “The fact that tens of thousands of documents revealing a Supreme Court nominee’s views on key issues were deemed Committee Confidential and not available to the public reflects the absurdity of this process. The public has a right to access documents about a Supreme Court nominee’s views on issues that are profoundly important, such as race and the law. This process has demonstrated an unprecedented level of secrecy and opaqueness that undermines the Senate’s Constitutional duty to advice and consent.”
Current Events

Meghan McCain’s eulogy of her father

Meghan McCain’s full eulogy of her father, Senator John S. McCain

The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She’s resourceful, confident, secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she’s strong. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great. That fervent faith, that proven devotion, that abiding love, that is what drove my father from the fiery skies above the Red River delta to the brink of the presidency itself.

Read the full text here.