The Zipf mystery

This is brilliant. It’s long, it’s complex, and you may not think you’re interested in it in the first few minutes, but stick with it and you’ll learn, among other things, why online social popularity leads to more online social popularity (it’s called “preferential attachment processes”).


I struggled to explain a bit of this a while back when I discussed Flickr’s Explore feature and the possible effects it has on photographers who are concerned with it (social popularity building more social popularity).

I’m not a linguist, a mathematician or a scientist of any kind, but I am interested in patterns of all kinds and this is a behind the scenes look at a collection of patterns and the processes behind them.

I like the various Vsauce videos, produced and hosted by Michael Stevens. Here’s their youTube channel: Vsauce.


Zipf’s law
Zipf–Mandelbrot law
Hapax legomenon

[via Devour]

Oliver Sacks 1989 interview

In case you missed the news, the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks passed away over the weekend. I’ve been thinking about a post about him for a few days now but wasn’t quite sure how to frame it.

My interest in Sacks comes from the fact that he explained neurological anomalies in a way that humanized the people he was talking about. He didn’t exploit his subjects; he shared their stories with us to take the scariness away from different ways of being human. During the time I was coming to terms with my own learning disabilities (dyslexia, ADHD) reading Sacks’ books and these stories were a comfort to me.

This is a wonderful interview done in 1989 by Joanna Simon for the The McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (now called the PBS NewsHour).

I’m really glad the folks at the NewsHour dug up this piece and no doubt had to digitize it to get it up on youTube. It’s a treasure.

At the end of the piece, Jim Lehrer mentions that the Sacks book Awakenings is being turned into a movie. That movie came out in 1990 and was fantastic. It starred the late Robin Williams as Oliver Sacks. Here’s the trailer:

Makes me sad that both of these people are now gone. Two brilliant folks.

Abbott and Costello: Who’s on First

This is William “Bud” Abbott and Lou Costello doing their famous “Who’s on First” routine in 1953. Note that this routine was never done line for line exactly the same way which means some of it was improvised. Brilliant. It was done on radio, on stage, and on the newly invented television variety shows.

Abbott and Costello were an American comedy duo who were active in the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

I both heard and saw this routine numerous times growing up, it’s one of the most famous comedy sketches of all time.

I found the video embed on The Kid Should See This this morning and their post is worth reading: Who’s on First – Abbott & Costello (1953) as is the Wikipedia post linked to in my first paragraph above which gives some background on the routine.

Joey Alexander

This is a spectacular studio performance of “Giant Steps” by Joey Alexander (piano), Larry Grenadier (bass), and Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums). I highly recommend zooming it out, and connecting your computer to a set of speakers that allow you to really hear these guys.

The amazing thing is, Joey Alexander is 12 years old. He plays so incredibly well, gets deeply into the zone, but also is totally with the other two musicians (who are outstanding) it’s mind-boggling.

The NPR piece on Joey is worth listening to, it provides some background on him: A (Very) Young Jazz Pianist Takes Giant Steps Towards Musical Mastery.

Wikipedia has a nice entry on him too: Joey Alexander.


Ink – Written by Hand (#INKdoc) from Ryan Couldrey | @RyTron on Vimeo.

INK follows Tanja Tiziana – a freelance photographer in Toronto, Canada – and her journey to rediscover the written word.


I particularly like her take on the fact that handwriting is going away and she’s on a personal quest to save it, for herself.

As someone who’s severely dysgraphic, I enjoy watching other folks hand-letter things well. I’ve always wondered if I could end-run my poor handwriting with daily practice and truth be told, the typewriter and then the computer took care of the problem so well that I never worked on it. For more on this you might want to check out: Rooster Rock, Julia King, and a climbing trip that changed my life, One person’s path to literacy, and How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.