The Universal Tea Machine: This is maybe my favorite thing ever? In honor of Alan Turing, the London Olympics features a giant tea dispenser / computer which makes you a free cup of hot tea with milk and sugar -- but only "if you can perform binary addition.... Would-be tea drinkers will have to perform five sequential additions correctly in order to produce a perfect cuppa." Mess up, and you'll end up with a Frankencuppa. (Edible Geography)
The Shard, reviewed: Terrific essay on the new London skyscraper by Hugh Pearman. "Getting out of a train has become a very spectacular thing for millions of commuters as they are suddenly confronted with a glacier of glass disappearing into the sky.... Once I got to a duplex apartment on floor 62, I could see why rumours circulate of £50m price tags. Up there you can look down on helicopters. On cold foggy days you can even be above the clouds. It is alleged that on clear days you can see out to sea. Looking straight down, the railway lines are like a Hornby train set." Still, it'd be better if it were taller. (Hugh Pearman)
Why is memory so fallible? Great summary of the psychology of memory by Charles Fernyhough. "Two forces go head to head in memory. There is the drive to represent events accurately, which means being true to the often vivid impressions we have about what actually happened. And there is the drive for coherence, the need to produce a narrative whose elements fit together." Our memories are actually very accurate -- but "confabulation reminds us how the force of coherence can win over the force of correspondence." (The Independent)
Firefighters don't fight fires: Shocking numbers about the amount of waste in fire departments. "Over the past 35 years, the number of fires in the United States has fallen by more than 40% while the number of career firefighters has increased by more than 40%." 90% of the time, firetrucks leave the firehouse merely to accompany ambulances to accident scenes -- at a cost of $3,500 per trip. (Marginal Revolution)
Fifty Shades of Grey, reviewed: For real, by Andrew O'Hagan, who turns out to be quite knowledgable about terrible erotic fiction. "Each era gets the erotic writing it craves, or deserves, if that doesn’t sound too much like I’m asking you to spank me into an ecstasy of submission." It's a book "for mothers who wouldn’t mind a slightly naughty son-in-law if he also had tousled hair, an Audi R8 Spyder, several apartments and a general handiness with the black Amex.... In the absence of good comedy there is always the appeal of bad seriousness. Laughter arrives early here and it never stops coming -- ‘in waves’, as the author might say." (London Review of Books)
It's official: tight jeans cause "testicular problems": At least, according to an industry study funded by "TENA Men, the leading male bladder weakness brand." (The Telegraph) Related: Dad berates son for his skinny jeans.
How did dinosaurs have sex? I have to admit, I wasn't expecting the pictures to be quite so... expressive. (The Daily Mail)
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.