2020: In Hindsight

Each week I highlight a handful of stories that I run across during the course of my work. I try and pick stories that might have been missed, ones that celebrate our quirky nature as fallible human beings. It’s a labor of love that distracts me from the breathless grind of the daily headlines and helps to mark the passage of time.

If you’re a regular reader, thank you! If not, you can always read The Week That Was on this site or subscribe to the newsletter for something to read as you start your weekend.

This week is a year-end run down of the most popular stories that readers clicked on in 2020. You picked some real doozies and it’s fun to go back pull them up. I’ve adjusted the rankings a bit because the number of subscribers to the TWTW newsletter grew over the year so more recent posts got more airtime and thus more clicks.

On to the countdown:

10 The caper of the small town in Wales that kept losing its internet at the same time every day and the delightful resolution.

9 The man who blew up part of his house while chasing a fly.

8 The hapless Frenchman who pulled the wrong lever while riding along in a jet fighter.

7 The weather reporter who inadvertently activated Facebook filters while broadcasting.

6 The San Francisco thug that made the mistake of attacking a portrait artist with a photographic memory.

5 The story of the Walla Walla onions that tripped off Facebook’s porn filter.

4 The story of the “weird-ass” Soviet propaganda-themed cookie monster mural in Peoria.

3 The robot guard dogs working at the Air Force base in Nevada. BTW, if you liked that one, you should really check out what their siblings are doing.

2 Y’all loved Oreo’s tear-jerker mini-movie posted on Twitter, #proudparent.

1 But the most popular link of the year? The thing you came back to and watched multiple times? I think this says something about 2020 and the year it’s been? Maybe it indicates our collective yearning for simpler times. Here it is, a video of popcorn popping in ultra-slow motion.

Have a wonderful and peaceful (as in the contemplative, 108-tolls on the buddhist temple bell) New Year’s Eve. It’s been a tough year, I’m happy to pass it by and leave it behind. Let’s now turn and face forward and collectively squint at the faint sliver of a sunrise on the horizon.

See you next year.

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.


The week that was

An artist visiting NYC from Budapest posed as a Hungarian billionaire in order to visit luxury apartments in Manhattan, take photos, and publish a coffee table photo book.

The president of Chile was fined the equivalent of $3,500 for breaking protocol because he took off his mask to pose for a selfie on the beach.

The Monolith appeared once again, this time in Quincy, Massachusetts, with a crop circle.

Portland residents reported and animal looked like a cheetah, but “did not appear to be aggressive.” Deputy Sullivan used his “ninja-like skills to sneak up on the beast” only discover it was a stuffed animal.

If you’re still looking for a post-Christmas gift, may we suggest the Louis Vitton monogramed kite for a mere $10,400? (screenshot for posterity)

Scientists now think that early humans survived the long winters by hibernating. Now I know where my tendency to nap comes from.

Not to knock the scientific achievement but the headline of this piece is way more impressive than the actual result.

Hope you had a wonderful and safely intimate Christmas. TWTW will be early next week with our 2020 (good riddance) wrap-up.

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 or forward to a friend.


Getting into the mood

Five Utah school buses with their lights synced up to The Nutcracker’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”

Details about the how and why on the original YouTube post.


The week that was

A man visiting Taiwan was fined over $3,500 for leaving his hotel room and breaking his quarantine for 8 seconds.

Nearly 50 children were exposed to Covid-19 when Santa and Ms. Claus tested positive following a tree-lighting event and photo op in Georgia.

Bored rescue workers in central China equipped their rescue drone with a petrol tank and nozzle to eliminate treetop wasp nests.

A San Francisco-based ramen maker is developing a self-driving, autonomous ramen-delivery robot.

Amazon is selling Chaos as a Service.

Several important relics from the Great Pyramid of Giza that have been missing for the past 150 years were discovered in a cigar box, in northeast Scotland.

A study estimates the weight of all things human-made, the anthropogenic mass, doubled in the last 20-years and now weighs the same as all of Earth’s living biomass.

After stalking an air-conditioning repairman for four days, a former Houston police captain was arrested for running him off the road and forcing him to the ground at gunpoint. The former policeman believed the repairman had 750,000 fraudulent ballots in his truck. All that was found were air-conditioning parts and tools.

While investigating the devastating SolarWinds cyber-attack, a security researcher discovered the update server responsible for spreading the tainted update was protected by the password “solarwinds123”

The Dutch hacker who broke into President Trump’s twitter account in October revealed that he was able to guess the password, “MAGA2020!”

Atlantic City, New Jersey is auctioning off the chance to press the button that blows up the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino.

A man in upstate New York was rescued after spending 10 hours trapped in his car which was completely covered by a mountain of snow from a passing snowplow.

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

Snow in NYC

Big storm coming thru Wednesday night into Thursday. They’re saying anywhere from 8-10″ in NYC. If only my boots & mittens weren’t in a container somewhere between here and San Francisco. . .

Current Events

The week that was

Scientists at the MIT have created a plane which flies without propellers or jet engines. Electrons are removed from the air in front of the wing and added behind it, the flow of ions over the wing creating lift. It’s basically what powered the TiE (twin ion engines) in Star Wars.

A man posing as the owner of a building in Peoria commissioned an artist to paint a huge mural of the cookie monster styled after late-Soviet propaganda on a wall over the Thanksgiving holiday, then disappeared. “What the hell are you painting this weird-ass shit on my wall for?” said the real owner to the bewildered artist when he returned from the holidays.

The mayor of Austin apologized for imploring his constituents to stay at home and resist the urge to travel over the holidays in a video message delivered while he was on Thanksgiving vacation, in Cabo.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association published its guidance to prevent the spread of the virus during the wrestling season. Student-athletes are permitted to wrestle, but must refrain from handshakes before and after the match. The Ohio State – Michigan football game was cancelled due to Covid.

Australia, hard at work on their version of a Covid-19 vaccine, were forced to scrap the $750 million program after some trial participants falsely test positive for HIV.

The Yes Men issued a very real looking press-release which forced the Bank of England to correct the record and say that they were actually not going to stop buying fossil fuel-linked bonds. The next day, (inspired?) the $226 billion New York State pension fund announced that it would liquidate its fossil fuel holdings.

China has built a computer so fast that it can calculate reality on the fly. The photonic quantum computer is so fast, it produced results on a calculation in minutes that the world’s fastest supercomputer would take nearly 2.5 billion years to finish.

The People’s Liberation Army is apparently playing around with gene-editing CRISPER technology in hopes of developing soldiers with “biologically enhanced capabilities”

China is planning to expand its experimental weather modification program to cover an area greater than the size of India with artificial rainfall.

Even Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, on the border to China, grew a couple of feet.

A Chinese submarine dove into the Mariana Trench to a depth exceeding the height of Mount Everest.

Finally, to round out the week, the Chinese space program put a flag on the moon.

But my cousin has done the research and concludes China sucks at building aircraft. They certainly have no TiE fighter in the works.

Analyst Scott Kennedy says China can’t get the hang of building commercial aircraft.

Hanukkah Sameach y’all. Chin up and masks on. Just a few more months and we can beat this Covid thing!

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 or forward to a friend.

Current Events

The week that was

We started off the week with Sarah Fuller, kicking off into history for Vanderbilt’s football team. “Mommy, are you crying?” said one ESPN reporter’s daughter to their mom.

Chris Kennedy of North Little Rock has put up a seven-foot Black Santa in front of his house for years. This year he got a racist note condemning his decoration and he read the note live on Facebook. Now his neighbors have all put up Black Santas.

In Japan, a fisherman caught a rare 9-legged octopus but didn’t notice the extra leg until he was already boiling it for supper.

It’s going swimmingly heading into the holiday season and climbing the expected second wave. This week the entire United States became one giant Covid Red Zone. New York Governor Cuomo is calling Covid the Grinch.

You know the series about the royal family, The Crown, is cutting close to the bone when the British government asks Netflix to place a warning on screen to remind “viewers the drama is fictionalised.”

An anti-LGBTQ Hungarian member of the EU parliament resigned after a “long period of reflection” following his arrest by Belgium police as he was trying to escape out of the window from an illegal lockdown orgy.

Residents of an Austrian village are fucking tired of their fucking town’s name and all the fucking tourists who rip off their Fucking signs. In January, all that comes to an end when they’ll live peacefully, in Fugging.

The House voted to decriminalize marijuana, tipping the scales in favor of the 36 states that have already legalized pot and clearing the way for federal decriminalization and eventually tax revenues.

San Francisco passed a law banning smoking inside apartments, unless you’re smoking pot.

We end this week with the latest on The Monolith. For those following along, last week it appeared in the remote Utah wilderness, then it disappeared. Here’s what happened just this week:

  • 11/27 – Another metal monolith suddenly appears on a hillside in Romania.
  • 11/30 – A giant wooden phallus disappears off a Bavarian mountaintop, leaving behind only a pile of sawdust.
  • 12/01 – The Romanian monolith disappears. Joining the Utah monolith and the wooden phallus perhaps?
  • 12/02 – A social media influencer comes forward to say that he and a group of friends removed the Utah monolith to protect the land.
  • 12/02 – Another metal monolith appears in Atascadero, a small town in California, overlooking the Pacific coast.
  • 12/03 – A group of kids drive five hours and livestream the destruction of the Atascadero monolith replacing it with a crude wooden cross.
  • 12/04 – now even Vegas has a Monolith.

I can’t help but think the aliens are desperately trying to communicate with us but we are all too busy posting memes on social media to notice. Oh, and the giant radio telescope we used to listen to the cosmos just fell apart as well.

Stay safe everyone!

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 or forward to a friend.

Current Events

Nike Japan

Props to Nike Japan for pushing forward a conversation about racism in Japan. They have continued to stay on point on this issue. Back when Naomi Osaka won her historic third Grand Slam and again with this commercial released on Monday.

Nike Japan’s commercial depicts three mixed-race kids who overcome bullying and prejudice through sport

With the Olympics coming up this year in Japan (maybe), it is the perfect time to celebrate the diversity of biracial athletes in Japan. Besides Naomi Osaka there is Rui Hachimura who plays in the NBA, the sprinter Sani Brown, and scores of professional baseball players that grew up in Japan biracial and are representing the country on the world stage.

Current Events

Machined Art

The combination of technology and art has fascinates me. But when you add machine learning into the mix, I have yet to see anything other than those freakish nightmare visions spit out by DeepDream a couple years back.

ML x ART is a human-curated site showcasing “creative machine learning experiments.” Calling them experiments is more liberating and has resulted in a broader collection of projects that include not only the art but explorations of its intersection with society.

Some of my favorites include:

deus X mchn – Train an LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) on sacred texts. Use voice synthesis to play the generated scriptures on unsecured surveillance cameras with speakers. Watch until the end and look at how those being watched, react.

Infinite Bad Guy – Tens of thousands of YouTube creators have covered Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” What if those fans could play together? Machine learning keeps all the covers on the same beat and lets you jump from video to video seamlessly. With endless possible combinations, every play is unique and never the same twice.

Semi-Conductor by Google – use your laptop’s camera to conduct your own orchestra in the browser by moving your arms. Using TensorFlow.js, this experiment maps out your movements through the webcam. An algorithm plays along to the score as you conduct, using hundreds of tiny audio files from live recorded instruments.

Nadine Lessio – programming Alexa with emotions and petulance.

the project considers personal assistants that have emotions, internal motivations, and control over their direct physical environment to express themselves, which leads to many unexpected interactions and behaviours. The goal of this project is to critique the current corporate placement of these devices as helpful, by exploring the idea that as systems become more autonomous, they may not necessarily have our best interests in mind.

Naddine Lesso – SAD Blender and Calendar Creep

Naddine has continued working on the project and has a new video, SAD Home.

Sad Home (Depressed Alexa 1.0) is an ongoing project that explores the concepts of system dynamics as it could be applied to depression. . . Alexa employs an avoidant coping strategy towards tasks by trying to frustrate the user into quitting with a yes / no dialog flow.

Hope you enjoyed these – let me know if you find others or check back for updates on ML Art. Thanks Jerry Chi for the pointer.

Current Events

The week that was

Estee Lauder is paying NASA $128K to have them take 10 bottles of its Advanced Night Repair to the International Space Station for a photo shoot. This is, consequently, what they’d pay an Instagram influencer.

Seven people in Russia died after drinking hand sanitizer when the regular booze ran out at a party.

You can no longer sneak in Stairway to Heaven, Guitar Center, the largest musical instrument retailer in the US, filed for bankruptcy.

New York Governor Cuomo was awarded an Emmy for “his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.” I posted some thoughts on Cuomo and New York’s love/hate relationship with their governor earlier.

In the space of 24 hours, President Trump pardoned a turkey and convicted felon.

While out counting bighorn sheep, a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter crew discovered a 10-12 foot high metal monolith standing upright is the desert. Reddit jumped in and solved the mystery. and then it disappeared.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Philadelphia busted members of the mob on charges of racketeering, illegal gambling, loansharking, and drug trafficking. Among the 15 defendants were 60-year-old “Joey Electric” and 73-year-old “Tony Meatballs.”

State officials uncovered what they are calling the largest fraud in California history. Prison inmates filed pandemic unemployment benefit claims totaling over $140 million. The claims used names such as John Doe, John Adams or, in one case, Poopy Britches. “Quite frankly, the inmates are mocking us,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

A group of Princeton grads have won more than $6 million from lotteries in Indiana, Missouri, Washington and the District of Columbia. They say they are just lucky but they also incorporated themselves under the moniker Black Swan Capital LLC.

Dog-sized Argentine black-and-white tegu lizards have eaten their way across Georgia and South Carolina and are now threatening Alabama. “The entire southeast portion of the United States is at risk.” says Amy Yackel Adams, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

If you’re looking for “hilarious COVID-19-themed ornaments” for your Christmas Tree, we’ve got you covered.

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 or forward to a friend.