5 Intriguing Things: Wednesday, 1/15

The Blackphone, screwing the pooch, listicle as literary form, the Tumblrs of the 18th century, and how QuarkExpress died.

1. The Blackphone, a privacy-first device, was announced today by a team including Phil Zimmerman, creator of PGP

"It has the features necessary to do all the things you need, as well as all the things you want, while maintaining your privacy and security and giving you the freedom to choose your carrier, your apps, and your location.

The tools installed on Blackphone give you everything you need to take ownership of your mobile presence and digital footprints, and ensure nobody else can watch you without your knowledge.

You can make and receive secure phone calls; exchange secure texts; exchange and store secure files; have secure video chat; browse privately; and anonymize your activity through a VPN."

+ There are a lot of questions about all these kinds of devices, but they are a trend. See also: Cryptophone and Bull Hoox.


2. Satisfyingly, the etymology of NASA's "screw the pooch" goes right to the military's "fuck the dog."

"Dictionaries of American slang recognize that 'screw the pooch' must have developed as a euphemism for an older military vulgarism: "fuck the dog."

In The F-Word, lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower gives examples of 'fuck the dog' dating back to 1935, when it appeared in Jack Conroy’s novel A World to Win. And there are even a couple of examples from the World War I era that refer to the expression obliquely, in the more decorous, and therefore more printable, versions 'feed the dog' and 'walk the dog.'

Whether the action was feeding, walking, or fornicating, though, all of these early examples were used to mean 'to loaf around' or 'to waste time' (dogs have often been associated with laziness, as in the expression 'dogging it'). Later on, possibly around World War II, 'fucking the dog' and its euphemistic equivalents took on a secondary meaning of 'blundering.'"


3. The listicle as literary form, with the argument summarized as a haiku, limerick, and listicle

"List of reasons why
people like restricted forms:
world overwhelming

A lady assembled a listicle
To give interesting facts a receptacle.
Lists make the world neater
For many a reader
(But this is a limerick so … testicle).

Eight fun facts about the listicle
1.     A listicle is an article in the form of a list.
2.     It is kind of like a haiku or a limerick.
3.     It has comforting structure.
4.     It makes pieces.
5.     It puts them in an order.
6.     Language does that too.
7.     Sometimes with great difficulty.
8.     Lists make it look easier."


4. A project to track popular phrases in commonplace books, the Tumblrs of the 18th century, got funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"Researchers and computer scientists from the University of Chicago (US) and the University of Oxford’s e-Research Centre and Voltaire Foundation (UK) will use sequence alignment and large-scale visual analytics to track and map the use of frequently cited passages within a collection of 18th-century “commonplaces” — scrapbooks used to collect and organize quotations, proverbs and other bits of information—to identify trends and conventions in the compilation of commonplaces and examine their role in the formation of a collective literary culture. (NEH grant support: $124,948)"


5. How QuarkExpress, the publishing software of the 90s, died.*

"With 95 percent market share for its competition, InDesign faced an obvious uphill battle. But this market war turned out to be shorter than anyone would have predicted. It didn’t hurt that InDesign was backed by the much larger Adobe, but it was the energy and excitement surrounding InDesign's features that created a buzz you never saw with Quark. Adobe wasn't just copying Quark's approach or feature set—it made a program that was both for production nuts who needed to work efficiently and creatives who were shown how digital typography and layout was meant to be. As I wrote in my review, A QuarkXPress User’s Review of InDesign CS, the creative features of InDesign CS1 were impressive and made you realize that text could be honored, not just corralled into dull templates. Some of its innovations seem like common sense because they were. There are too many to write about here, but consider this list of the kind of stuff that InDesign CS1 had that QuarkXPress 6 didn't have..."


Thanks Ashkan S.


Today's 1957 Language-Usage Tip:

align(ment), aline(ment). The first is now the established form.

But damn, doesn't alinement make so much sense?


* I laid out my first publication, Reckless Abandon, in QuarkExpress. I'd print it at Kinko's, then I'd take the master way up I-5 into the logger territory that exists between Portland and Olympia. There was a really cheap printer in Castle Rock (our middle school football archrivals) who would run me 5,000 copies on newsprint for less than a thousand dollars (or so my memory tells me). The quality was so bad, the ink jumped off the page and onto your fingers. The whole lot went into the trunk of my Escort, and I went around to dozens of coffeeshops and begged them to let me put a few somewhere. A lot of them did, taking pity on this 17-year-old rube with ink all over his fingers and a really bad Ethan-Hawke goatee. 

Once I saw someone reading one and I celebrated. We only made it a few issues.

Those were the days! Them papers had aura. They smelled like something. 

And yet, I rejoiced when I saw a CMS.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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