The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo OR How to Get Laid and Solve Crimes In Scandinavia

Just like the Nobel Prize, Dolph Lundgren and a certain variety of delicious red fish, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the latest Swedish phenomenon to capture the hearts of Americans. Flying off book shelves at a rapid pace and quickly surpassing the degenerates from “The Jersey Shore” as the primary topic of water cooler conversation, Stiegg Larsson’s debut novel is a captivating tale loaded with financial intrigue and family drama with a healthy dose of European sexuality peppered in for good measure.

Larsson’s story centers around the decades old disappearance of a member of the powerful but fading Vanger family. The patriarch of the Vanger clan, Henrik, enlists the help of disgraced financial journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, to solve the mystery of his missing niece, Harriet Vanger. Henrik uses the carrot on the stick approach to lure Mikael with the promise of clearing his sullied name.

As the plot thickens, Mikael realizes that he will not be able to solve the mystery by himself. He then enlists the help of the unusual albeit brilliant Lisbeth Salander. Together the pair dig deeper into the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger and unravel the deep dark secrets of the Vanger clan.

This book easily surpasses The Da Vinci Code as the best thriller of the 21st century with its fast pacing, sharp writing and interesting characters. Larsson does a great job here keeping the reader glued to the pages until the final act. While there are obvious suspects, the writer keeps you guessing up until the very end as far as who the culprits are and what is the ultimate outcome.

One of my gripes with the book is that the characters are a bit flat. This could be because the intent was to draw out the development over a string of ten books, but the characters remain pretty stoic throughout this volume. Mikael remains righteous, moral and extra resoursceful; Lisbeth is always strange, cold and jaded; and Henry is always rich and old. None of the characters really grow or change in any way.

Spoiler Alert

The only other problem I had with the book is the huge amount of sexual ambiguity in the story. While sex, sexuality and rape are a huge part of the plot, I feel like there was plenty of intercourse that was just plain unnecessary – particularly that of the two main characters. I sort of felt their sexual relationship was misplaced and illadvised, especially considering Mikael has an ex-wife, a best friend/lover AND a concubine on the grounds of the Vanger compound by the quarter point of the story. I expected the two to have more of a mentor/mentee, father/daughter type relationship rather than one that gets convoluted with intimacy.

Conclusion
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book for anyone looking for a fast entertaining read. Don’t expect James Joyce, but then again, don’t expect James Joyce.

Happy Reading!

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Missing Links – February 25, 2011

The Missing Links is just what it sounds like – a collection of links to interesting things I found on the interwebs this week. I hope you enjoy them. This is the fifth in a never-ending series. Sorry for the delay this week. I was committed elsewhere today.
Winner! Behold… The Map of Metal!
A Close Second: Patrick Rodgers forecloses on Wells Fargo bank. This guy is my hero. Here’s the story of how he won.
Best in Show: The 50 Worst Band Photos Ever. Manower makes the list, but so does, shall we say, the world’s lesser known bands.
And this week’s Crazypants Award goes to (you guessed it)… Charlie Sheen, who out crazypantsed such a heavyweight as Alex Jones right in front of Jones himself. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on to, well, continue his crazy streak.

History:
The Washington Post has set up a site for ongoing special coverage of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. There are recommendations on which Lincoln books to read, a blog about the Civil War, and even a link to the Civil War Twitter feed, as told by the people who were there. It’s really great and I’ll try to remember to repost it closer to April 15th.
The World: 
Muammar Gaddafi says that the world looks up to Libya, but that he brought glory to Libya. I don’t mean to portray a terrible situation in humorous terms, but going full-on crazypants might just be what makes Gaddafi lose any respect and/or support he may have left (and therefore help the Libyans move past him).

Technology:

Have you ever blamed your lack of productivity on dead batteries? Do you worry about the heat and energy wasted by your laptop when it’s plugged in? Well, companies like Transphorm may make those bulky and wasteful laptop charging bricks a thing of the past, while Thinkpad and HP are coming out with laptops that have 30+ hours of battery life.
Helsinki, Finland has become the eco friendly underground wonderland. An efficient system of pipes cools their computers and heats their homes. Check it out. Just don’t go looking for any morlocks in the video.
How much would it cost to turn the world into a green economy? Not that much actually. Just 2% of the world’s GDP or $1.3 Trillion per year. Pocket change.
You wouldn’t steal a car, would you? Then don’t steal a movie. Because the movie industry doesn’t want you to know that profits from movies are up.
Babies:
There are only three countries in the world that do not offer a legal guarantee of paid maternity leave. Can you guess one of them? Here’s a hint: Judging by my site stats, a large percent of you are visiting me from that country right now.
Language:
Here’s a short article from mental_floss on National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, which estimates that the world loses a language every 14 days.
Popular Linguistics, Issue 2 – including such hot topics as exactly how many words Eskimo-speak has for snow (the answer: don’t worry about it) and why the n-word is so controversial
Oscars:
It’s Oscar time! Ok, I’m not that excited. But I do like me some Jackie Harvey and his predictions. See you on the outside!

Patriot’s vs People’s – Part I – Patriot’s Introduction

Patriot’s vs People’s is an analytical review of two books about American history that most would assume are politically opposed – Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen’s A Patriot’s Guide to the History of the United States and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It started as an idea after I bought Zinn’s book and was given Schweikart and Allen’s by an uncle who so rightly explained his gift as a way for me to read “the other side of the story.” I decided to read them side by side, chapter by chapter, in order to compare and contrast the two works to each other. It didn’t go so well. This is Part I, here are Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Everything leading up to Patriot’s first chapter, from the phrase on its spine to the introduction, not only has me looking for inspiration to read the rest of the work, but is carefully crafted to appeal to one particular type of reader. In my analysis below, I’ll number the clues to which type of reader Patriot’s is written for in order to make a nice and handy list when we’re done.

The phrase on Patriot’s spine, “From Columbus’ Great Discovery…,” starts off the tone on the work. It smacks of selfishness. The back isn’t much better. I’ll quote it here in full:

Is America’s past a tale of racism, sexism, and bigotry? Is it the story of the conquest and rape of a continent? Is U.S. history the story of white slave owners who perverted the electoral process for their own interests? Did America start with Columbus’s killing of all the Indians, leap to Jim Crowe laws and Rockefeller crushing the workers, then finally save itself with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal? The answers, of course, are no, no, no, and NO. [Emphasis not mine – JM]
One might never know this, however, by looking at almost any mainstream U.S. history textbook. Having taught American history in one form or another for close to sixty years between them, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen are aware that, unfortunately, many students are berated with the tales of the Founders as self-interested politicians and slaveholders, of the icons of American industry as robberbaron oppressors, and of every American foreign policy initiative as imperialistic and insensitive.
The authors of A Patriot’s History think that an honest evaluation of the history of the United States must begin and end with the recognition that, compared to any other nation, America’s past is a bright and shining light. America was, and is, the city on the hill, the foundation of hope, the beacon of liberty. They utterly reject “My country, right or wrong” – what scholar wouldn’t? But in the last thirty years, academics have taken an equally destructive approach: “My country, always wrong!” Schweikart and Allen reject that too.
Cover design by Joseph Perez
Whew! It’s going to be hard not to take pot shots at this book. For starters, the first paragraph is right and wrong. While America’s past most definitely does include racism, sexism, and bigotry, the paragraph implies that America’s past includes more than these things. Whoddathunkit?
The second paragraph just baffles me. None of the textbooks I read in school ever said anything about U.S. history being “the story of the conquest and rape of a continent.” And how do Allen and Schweikart know that “students are berated with tales of the Founders as self-interested politicians” unless they’re doing the berating (sorry, that one slipped out).
The third paragraph elaborates on the selfishness of the phrase on the spine. Why does an “honest evaluation of the history of the United States” have to be a comparison? Also, empty phrases like “city on the hill” and “beacon of liberty” serve only to trivialize an honest evaluation of any country’s history.
After reading the back, the main concern I have about Patriot’s is that it will fall victim to pointing out the better aspects of America’s history while omitting the worse. I’m afraid it will deliberately tell only one side of the story. In People’s, Zinn warns against this by saying, “One can outright lie about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions […] outright lying or omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer.” (8) You can see my concern – I’m already rebelling against Patriot’s and I haven’t even opened it up yet.
Unfortunately, the beginning of Patriot’s doesn’t inspire any more hope in me, but it does help cement my idea of who this book is written for. Patriot’s starts with an interview of its co-author Harry Schweikart by Rush Limbaugh. There’s one of two reasons for doing this. Either they’re trying to further prove who the book is for (hint, hint, it’s conservatives) [clue #1]or they’re trying to sell more books. Neither possibility bodes well for Patriot’s since the authors/publishers either think their targeted audience is too dumb to realize that Patriot’s is written just for them or they don’t trust their book to stand on its own without the help of the big dog himself, Captain Restraint – Rush Limbaugh.
My real problem with the Limbaugh interview, however, is the bold message it sends to any reader who is not an out-and-out right-wing conservative (hey, that’s me!). As I already said, I’m afraid Patriot’s will be nothing more than just one long tome of chest-pumping, flag waving, “real” American patriotism wrapped up in the guise of history. If the Limbaugh praise is foreshadowing this, Patriot’s is going to get old real fast because the only purpose that type of prose serves is to make words like patriot, liberty, and freedom meaningless.
The interview could be picked apart, but it suffers from two problems, both of which are common with Limbaugh. The first is the antagonism inherent in conservatives like Limbaugh. You’re either with them or against them. They are right, so you are wrong. The second problem is the psychopathic desire to protect their beliefs. Do not try to confuse them with facts. There is only one side of the story worth telling and that is the side they believe in (surprise!). This desire is usually manifested by someone like Limbaugh claiming victimhood in order to rally any like-minded listeners to support whatever belief is the topic of the day. If you have any doubts, you are not needed. The white man marches on… without you.
The introduction of Patriot’s brings up another concern I have with this book. Patriot’s is aggressive to the point of insulting. The authors write as if the reader is a blank slate, completely incapable of forming independent thoughts or noticing contradicting statements. In the absence of such readers, the only way this works is when the audience wholeheartedly agrees with the authors before reading even the first sentence.[Clue #2]
In the introduction, Patriot’s authors claim that America and its Founding Fathers are extraordinary because they are full of character. Unfortunately for them, however, praising character in prose also means being selfish and delusional. They say, “No society is free from corruption. The difference is that in America, corruption is viewed as the exception, not the rule.” It makes one wonder why the US isn’t the least corrupt country in the world. I guess that in Chile and Qatar, less corruption than in America is viewed as the rule.
Patriot’s authors also fall into a trap of their own design in two ways. First, they can’t even beat the leftists/Marxists at their own game. The introduction mentions no women, no black men, no Native Americans, and only two Europeans – Andrew Carnegie and Arnold Schwarzenegger (seriously) [clue #3]. They quote Lincoln, but don’t give him credit (“the United States is the ‘last, best hope’ of earth”) and they completely fail to either quote or give credit to Martin Luther King Jr. (“But it was not the color of the skin of the people who came here that made them special, it was the content of their character.”). Come on, Patriot’s! Show them fascist/Marxist/commies whose boss! They are getting history all wrong because they focus on women and black people instead of character, right? So show them that it’s the character of women and black people that made this nation what it is.
But Patriot’s can’t beat any other version of history at its own game. It doesn’t work in their style of argument. Engaging with any other side, in any way except with knee-jerk insults, would lend validity to that other side, which can’t happen in Lambaughland because everything is black or white, right or wrong. History includes what they say and only what they say. For example, the authors write, “Honor counted to founding patriots like Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and then later, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Character counted. Property was also important; no denying that, because with property came liberty.” But they fail to mention that with a 21-year-old, white, property-owning penis came the right to vote. I guess women and black people didn’t count that much to the founding patriots.
Let’s tally the clues to see what kind of reader Patriot’s is intended for:
  1. They’re trying to further prove who the book is for (hint, hint, it’s conservatives)
  2. The only way Patriot’s works is when the audience wholeheartedly agrees with the authors before reading even the first sentence
  3. The introduction mentions no women, no black men, no Native Americans, and only two Europeans
So if you’re a conservative white male who wants a slap on the back, you’re in luck. So far, Patriot’s is for you. And it’s here to further solidify beliefs with cut and pasted facts. You won’t be wrong, you just won’t know the whole story.

I really hope Patriot’s doesn’t turn out this way, but everything before the first chapter leads me to believe it will. The authors are insulting to me and I’m their preferred audience member. I’m a white, American male. I’m their guy (sort of). I can only imagine how my mother or sister would feel reading this.

The Missing Links – February 18, 2011

The Missing Links is just what it sounds like – a collection of links to interesting things I found on the interwebs this week. I hope you enjoy them. This is the fourth in a never-ending series.
Winner! Strange Maps is a blog from Big Think and it’s really cool. The most recent post is a London Underground themed map of the Mississippi river and its tributaries. The other posts have historical maps, linguistic maps, and other great stuff in map form. Look for other blogs from Big Think appearing in Missing Links, as soon as I get around to checking them out.
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A Close Second: The Salty Droid has launched an SEO campaign against boiler room buddy Mark Shurtleff because Mark Shurtleff is a scumbag (and also the Attorney General of Utah). The best part is that everybody can play along! The worst part is that Mark Shurtleff isn’t the only scumbag involved and that children were abused. Bleep bloop indeed, my salty friend.
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Best in Show: The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator is spot on and hilarious. Read my scathing review of Galdwell’s idiocy here.
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And this week’s Crazypants Award goes to… Carole Lieberman, the self-described “media psychiatrist” who believes that video games have led to an increase in rapes. But guess what? She’s full of shit.
Arts and Entertainment:
Gabrielle Diani and Etta Devine are planning to replace every n-word in The Adventures of Huck Finn with “robot” to point out how stupid it is to go changing classics. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be one of those Jane Austen Vampire things. Just Huck and Robot Jim.
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Slinkachu is a London-based street artist who has been “abandoning little people on the street since 2006.” Don’t worry, it’s not what you think. The “little people” are tiny model train set characters and they are set up performing everyday tasks. It’s really interesting. (first link is to his blog, second to the official Slinkachu site.)
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Muppet correspondence! Here’s a few letters to and from the people behind the scenes (and one letter written by the Swedish Chef himself).
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Jonathan Koshi has designed Calaveras, also called sugar skulls and made popular by Dia de los Muertos. He based the designs on Alien, Kermit the Frog, a Lego man, and others. They are really cool and available for purchase.
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Who said geniuses aren’t fashionable? Check out Einstein in some tres chic sandals.
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Lois Lane has died. The story of the creation of Superman – from the first ideas to the sale of the rights to Joe Shuster’s S&M artwork to the court battles – is fascinating.
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Famous tombstone typos or 10 reasons you should go have your tombstone made right now. Unless you’re thinking of living forever, but do you really want to live forever? Forever ever?
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mental_floss’s Miss Cellania’s File has an awesome collection of plush toys. I want to get these for my kids – their future sanity be damned!
Robbin’ and Stealin’ (and cryin’ and killin’):
Wired article about someone who found a way to game the lottery. Why the lottery doesn’t care is anyone’s guess. There’s also an accompanying podcast which delves into the psychology behind code cracking and the disturbing possibilities of this discovery. (Both links from Wired)
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Borders has filed for bankruptcy. Here’s a sortable list of store closings. I love bookstores, but I refuse to pay more than $7 for a book, which is why I’ll be circling my local Borders with a tear in my eye.
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15,000 years ago, Britons ate and drank out of human skulls. How fuckedupbuttotallynails is that?
Language:
Hockey and linguistics! These are a few of my favorite things.
Introducing the father of our future Computer Overlords, Watson!
Here’s an article from mental_floss about Watson, that Jeopardy-playing, human destroying computer. Even though Watson won, humans made him, so don’t we still win? And for those of you worried about the coming of the T-1000, never fear, all the computers in the world = only one human brain.

The Missing Links – February 11, 2011

The Missing Links is just what it sounds like – a collection of links to interesting things I found on the interwebs this week. I hope you enjoy them. This is the third in a never-ending series and there’s a ton of links this time.

Top links of the week:


Winner: The Salty Droid on Julian Assange. (p.s. This is a site you should definitely check out and subscribe to ‘cause it’s awesome.)
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A Close Second: Dan Savage of Savage Love fame is awesome. There’s no two ways around it. Here’s his most recent column, which showcases once again how awesome he is. (via the A.V. Club)
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Best in Show: AT&T vs. Verizon! Guess what? They both lose. And so do you.
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And this week’s Crazypants Award goes to… Christine O’Donnell! Delaware represent!
Interesting Links:
In honor of raising awareness of how much paper is wasted by needless printing, Save as WWF – a file format that you can’t print – is now available for Windows and Macs. (via WWF)
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What do Donald Rumsfeld and Julian Assange have in common? They both annoy the shit out of me! No, I kid. Here’s what they really have in common – Rumsfeld’s hopes to vindicate himself with lots and lots of documents. (via Wired)
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Southeast Pennsylvania holla! The dish on the Wedge. (Thank you, mental_floss) 
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Wanna read about Scientology? Here’s this article is from the not-so-crazies at the New Yorker. And coming soon to a theatre near you (maybe) is Paul Thomas Anderson’s thinly veiled Scientology movie. More dirt on the “church” in the second link. (via the New Yorker and the A.V. Club)
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Separating fact from fiction about the Gipper. Sorry to burst your bubble, conservatives. At least now you can find someone who really exemplifies your values.
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I just downloaded GIMP this week and I’m loving it. Soon I’ll be ready to enter the world of photo manipulation. Politicians beware! Check out this WebUrbanist article on some of the more famous fake photos. (Also, to all the dictators out there, I’m not against doing freelance work for you. Hit me up when you need someone wiped out of a picture.) (Thanks again to mental_floss).
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6 things that influence our bad behavior. See, you’re not just an evil little shit. It’s nature that’s against you. (via Cracked)
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Here’s a very interesting article from mental_floss on the development of a malaria vaccine.
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The Patriot Act has not been extended! Rejoice! Everyone go tweet about the Machiavelli and Marx books you just bought online while talking to your friend Mohammed who lives in Pakistan! Wait, that’s not entirely true. Oops. Ok, comrade, Big Brother would like to have a word with you. (both links from Wired)
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Apparently, WikiLeaks has a few problems airing its own dirty laundry. A high-ranking defector brings the hammer down on Assange and Co. (again, from Wired)
Links about Finland:
Finland is attempting to rebrew a beer found in a ship wreck.
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What do we know about vaccines causing narcolepsy in Finland? That we need more research. There may be a connection, just don’t believe everything that you read.
Links on Language:
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The OLAC Language Resource Catalog makes it easy to search language archives from around the world – over 40 languages are included in more than 100,000 resources. Here’s Steven Bird’s short explanation about it on Language Log.
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Mountweazel is the new term to describe what happens when one company plants false information in their product to catch another company from copying them, as Google apparently did to Microsoft with “Hiybbprqag.” Adjust your spell checkers accordingly. Check the link for a short history on this intriguing academic bait and trap game.
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Whew, that was quite a lot of links. Now, let’s go take a nap.

The Revenant by Michael Punke

revenant

[rev-uh-nuhnt] ˈrɛvənənt/
-noun
1. a person who returns.
2. a person who returns as a spirit after death; ghost.

In Revenant, Hugh Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear, then robbed and left to die by his fellow frontiersmen. He’s beaten, broken, and emaciated. He can’t walk and he can barely eat. Even so, he vows revenge on the men who deserted him. How great does this book sound?

Early on, Glass is mauled by the bear. Want to know how bad? Here’s a description of his scalp post-bear attack:

The skin was so loose that it was almost like replacing a fallen hat on a bald man. Harris pulled the scalp across Glass’s skull, pressing the loose skin against his forehead and tucking it behind his ear. (p. 27)

After that, in true Western spirit, things go from bad to worse for Glass. If being left for dead and robbed of anything that would help him survive wasn’t enough, he also has a hallucination about being bit by a rattlesnake, gets sprayed by a skunk, and has to fight wolves. All this and he still hasn’t regained the ability to walk (OK, so fighting the wolves was a voluntary decision, but that’s just goes to show it’s no coincidence that Hugh Glass rhymes with bad ass).

But regain the ability to walk he will and it is then that the proverbial shit gets real.

Picture credit: Hunting in Yosemite, 1890 by Thomas Hill; frontiersman by Jonathan Blair.

Punke does the reader a great service in this book – he paces it perfectly and he focuses on the character that needs focus at each particular point in the story. For example, Glass is attacked and abandoned very early in the story, but instead of following the two men that abandoned him, or even updating the reader on them, the story stays with Glass. This is just what it should do. The attack, abandonment, and recovery are so intense, that I couldn’t care less about what was going on with the other characters. Fortunately, the focus of the story didn’t let me down.

If you like Western movies, you’ll really enjoy The Revenant. If the story gets too wrapped up in the physical nature of Glass’s quest, his confrontation with the weaker of his abandoners offers a satisfying psychological aspect of Glass’s desire for revenge (a brief foreshadowing of this psychological aspect is what piqued my desire for it). As a bonus, the book leaves sixty pages to catch the more evil of the two men that robbed Glass and left him for dead.

As a second bonus, The Revenant is based on a true story. Nails.

Up Next: Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States vs. Allen and Schweikhart’s A Patriot’s History of the United States. I’m going to look at these books one chapter at a time and compare the differences in their subject matter, presentation, writing, and the overall strength of their arguments (since both make a claim to telling it the right way, so to speak). You can expect an introduction next week and I’ll probably add a page at the top to organize each post.

The Missing Links – February 4, 2011

The Missing Links is just what it sounds like – a collection of links to interesting things I found on the interwebs this week. I hope you enjoy them. This is the second in a never-ending series.

Top links of the week:
Winner! The 7 Greatest (True) Bill Murray Stories Ever Told. There’s no two ways around it, people, Bill Murray is my hero.
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A close second: Kanye West on Twitter validates the existence of Twitter. And now his tweets have been put into song.
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Best in Show: More truth from the Onion. If only this were also true (see my review of Gladwell’s The Outliers here).

Links on Language:
Here’s an interesting language for you – whistling.
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A bit of history on the word groundhog and other words we get from Algonquian (via Dictionary.com’s Hot Word column, which I highly recommend subscribing to).
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The Sordid History of the Oxford English Dictionary in 10 facts. Trust me, there are many more worth looking into. Lexicography rules!
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Anyways, in case you didn’t know, it’s perfectly OK to use anyways.
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The Thomas Beale Cipher – pretty interesting stuff. Feel like cracking an unbreakable code to find a large (and possibly non-existent) treasure this weekend. Go right ahead.
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Language! Backronyms!
The Foosball:
Wanna know how that fancy digital yellow line on football broadcasts works? It’s explained here. Tell your friends in between the commercials this Sunday.
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Have fun watching the game this weekend, but don’t forget it’s being brought to you by Greed, Inc. and they will probably be trying to sue you soon.
Links on other cool stuff:
James Randi takes a bunch of sleeping pills and talks about psychics (TED Talk via mental_floss).
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NPR on Vimeo. The animation about why people can’t walk straight when blindfolded was great. I will mos def be spending a lot of time here watching the other videos.
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Talk about a guy who didn’t know the meaning of foreplay, here’s something to think about over your bowl of Kellog’s
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Wanna know more about eugenics in America? Cause who does eugenics better than the good ol’ U, S, and A?
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The amazing powers of the internet (and our internet overlords): Egypt tweets without internet access.
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What’s the matter, Apple? iPad sales not enough for you? If only you could figure out a way to charge websites for appearing in Safari. Wouldn’t that be great? Anyways, it’s nice to know you’re looking out for number one instead of letting those app developers get all customer friendly.
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On a serious note, here’s a photographed life of drugs and poverty. Scroll to the right to see the pictures.