Category: Announcements

The Voyager Golden Record Experience

Happy Halloween! This has nothing to do with Halloween.

In 1977, in response to a fortuitous alignment of the outer planets of our solar system, NASA launched space probes Voyager 1 and 2 to tour the outer planets and transmit photographs back to Earth. In that capacity the Voyagers were spectacularly successful, sending tens of thousands of images of planets and moons back to Earth via radio. Both probes passed beyond the orbit of Pluto in the late 1980s, and they continue on toward interstellar space traveling at approximately 37,000 mph (almost 60,000 kph). They continue to transmit data back to Earth, and are expected to do so until around 2025, when their radioisotope thermoelectric generators will be exhausted, and unable to power any instruments.

In 40,000 years or so, Voyager 1 will pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445, and at around the same time Voyager 2 will be within 1.7 light-years of the star Ross 248. If either of these systems happen to be home to an advanced alien civilization, there’s a chance they will detect and retrieve one of our plucky nuclear space robots.

In anticipation of the possibility of such proxy contact, NASA mission designers affixed a message from humanity to the side of each probe in the form of a phonograph record. These gold-plated copper records each contain an identical compilation of sounds and music from all over the Earth, as well as analog-encoded images. In the event that one of the probes is ever discovered by an intelligent alien species, the included instructions will hopefully allow them to decode the sounds and sights of our civilization.

We at Damn Interesting have put together an online simulation of what an alien civilization might see and hear upon decoding one of the records, assuming that their seeing and hearing abilities are similar to our own. For the best experience, a laptop or desktop screen size is recommended. We share these sounds and images under the “fair use” exception to copyright law due to the historical significance of the media. You can launch the interactive now, or read on for more background and technical detail.


The First Ten Years

As you may gather from the content, the audio podcast version of this article contains some content not easily translatable to text. We encourage you to listen if you are able. -AB

This piece was intended primarily as an audio experience, there is an audio player embedded in the episode page.

Transcript of audio:

Hello listeners, Alan Bellows here, founder of Damn Interesting. This month, September 2015, we at Damn Interesting are celebrating our 10th birthday.

Because we modern humans use a base ten numbering system, ten and multiples of ten naturally feel like big milestones. But base ten is actually a pretty poor base for a numbering system, having only a few divisors—1, 2, and 5—so when we do mathematical division we very often end up with messy fractions. Probably the only reason use base ten is because we happen to have ten fingers. Twelve would be a much better base, because it has 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 as divisors. Sorry metric system.

Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian mathematicians used a base 60 system, which has ten divisors, and it is therefore very easy to cleanly subdivide. There are lots of stories out there regarding ancient civilizations and their access to superior technology, and most of those stories are nonsense, but at least some of those ancients had a nice counting system. Their base 60 mathematics is why we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a circle.

Anyway, as I was saying, this month is our tenth birthday.

A Special Note to the Writers at The Dollop

Readers, please forgive this departure from our irregularly scheduled programming. Also, please do not antagonize anyone involved, we merely want to bring this problem to light and resolve it. Current Status: The Dollop insists that it is "fair use" to take the content word-for-word from a competing history podcast, without attribution.

Hello, writers from the popular The Dollop podcast. You may or may not remember me, my name is Alan Bellows, the founder of If my name tickles your neurons, it is probably because my name has occupied the bylines of multiple articles that you have plagiarized in the past year or so. You are not the first to republish my work without permission—far from it. But you are the first I am aware of who allows your audience to believe that you wrote the material yourself. Even worse, you cobbled together scripts by copying extensive excerpts verbatim from multiple sources, so you cannot reasonably claim you merely shared a thing you found online and failed to name the author—this is classic, flagrant, abusive plagiarism. Then you go one step further and ask for (and receive) thousands of dollars in recurring monthly donations to support your allegedly “endless research,” which seems to consist of stealing substantial content from competing history podcasts.

Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, I have no idea whether you pay someone to produce your show scripts or whether you do so on your own (ed. note: we have since confirmed that episodes are “written” by Dave Anthony). In either case, your so-called writers have systematically engaged in unethical and illegal behavior, and the offenders ought to be ejected from the profession. Specific examples of offenses follow.

May Have Settled

It was early in the morning on the 1st of May 1832 in New York City. The ordinarily gentle horse-drawn traffic of the up-and-coming metropolis seemed a bit more dense than usual, and as the morning progressed the avenues and boulevards became increasingly crowded. At 9:00am, almost as if on cue, thousands of doors on thousands of buildings burst open to vomit humans, furniture, and other sundries out into the bright morning sun. Within moments the streets of New York were a jangling amorphous pandemonium.

English author Frances Trollope happened to be in New York City to witness this peculiar spectacle:

On the 1st of May the city of New York has the appearance of sending off a population flying from the plague, or of a town which had surrendered on condition of carrying away all their goods and chattels. Rich furniture and ragged furniture, carts, wagons, and drays, ropes, canvas, and straw, packers, porters, and draymen, white, yellow, and black, occupy the streets from east to west, from north to south, on this day.

All over New York, tenants along with their belongings abandoned their abodes to criss-cross the city in mass migration to fresh dwellings. This was Moving Day. Owing to a quirk in New York law, nearly all rental contracts expired every year on May 1st at 9:00 AM, resulting in the simultaneous relocation of a multitude of persons and property. For over a century, from colonial times until shortly after the Second World War, it was the custom for the city to spend every May 1st as a scarcely navigable morass of humans, carts, and livestock.

We here at Damn Interesting headquarters (i.e., my residence) have recently performed our own interpretation of Moving Day, having spent an exhausting morning, noon, and night shuttling furniture, appliances, and corrugated cardboard cubes from one structure to another. The preceding packing and subsequent reorganizing have unavoidably disrupted our normally abnormal posting schedule. Next week, however, our jangling amorphous pandemonium will be over, and we shall be back to posting new articles.

The Damn Interesting Article Accelerator

We here at Damn Interesting don’t manage to post new articles quite as often as we’d like. We relish researching and writing, but until recently there were a few bottlenecks and logjams restricting our flow. The “until recently” in the preceding sentence was foreshadowing, you see. Something has changed. The suspense is almost palpable.

Our recent call for donations has ameliorated our hosting costs most months (although this month is looking a bit bleak), and this has provided us with the wiggle room to wiggle. And wiggle we shall.

We are tickled to install a handful of new humans. First, please give a warm round of implied applause to our new Lead Editor, Melissa Wiley. Her skilled editorial oversight is already streamlining our publication process, thereby reducing the time needed to prepare piping-hot articles. Furthermore we’ve invited an array of new talented writers to join us, thereby upgrading our overall capacity. As each author finishes the process of pitching, writing, and revising his/her first feature—a process startlingly similar to dressing room montage scenes from 1980s cinema—you’ll see their shiny new articles begin to appear and we’ll give each a proper introduction.

With this un-jamming of the logs and un-necking of the bottle, our overall output should accelerate gradually over the coming months. Of course we’re unlikely to ever publish at the quality-compromising rate of certain unnamed borderline-plagiarism content regurgitators, but nor would we want to. Life is too short for such stuff.

On an entirely unrelated note, we are attempting to increase the visibility of our podcast, so if you can be convinced to rate and/or review it on iTunes (or another podcast catalog of your choice) that would be perfectly damned delightful of you.

If this all works out as well as we hope, subsequent pleasant surprises are forthcoming.


Update: Please pay no attention to the remark regarding a bleak outlook for donations this month. The situation has improved owing to our generous, supportive, and shockingly attractive readers. Much gratitude.

Can I Borrow a Feeling?

In 1973, a trio of psychologists convened in a preschool classroom to perform a diabolical experiment upon unsuspecting children. Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett sought to demonstrate that one can take an activity the children naturally enjoyed—namely drawing—and render it hollow and meaningless. More specifically, these scientists hypothesized that if one rewards a human for doing something he or she naturally enjoys, and then remove that external reward, the original intrinsic pleasure will atrophy and perish.

The children were separated into three groups: Group A were promised a handsome certificate of achievement if they would draw during their free-play time. Group B were not informed of the certificate, but they were given one if they opted to draw on their own. The control children of Group C were neither offered nor given any parchment-and-calligraphy tokens of recognition.

The researchers observed, recorded, and rewarded the students. Two weeks later the phychologists reconvened in the observation booth, and found that the children of Group A had lost most of their interest in drawing whereas Groups B and C still illustrated with enthusiasm. This tendency, which has since been supported by additional experimentation, is known as the Overjustification Effect.

We Damn Interesting authors were once like those children. We doodled away with nary a care, writing for writing’s sake. But the publication of our book brought a one-time monetary reward which nullified the joy of our original fancy-free writing spree. The fire hose of dopamine became a trickle, as did our article output.

To combat the Overjustification Effect we have created what we hope will become a persistent external incentive: Damnload. This system allows visitors to purchase our catalog of articles, in whole or in part, as an eBook for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Android, etc. Articles published to the live site will remain free as always, but now our thousands of pages of Damn Interesting articles can accompany readers into airplanes, wilderness, and/or faraday cages. Ten percent of all Damnload payments are donated to BuildOn, an organization which promotes literacy in education-impoverished regions worldwide. Hooray for everything.

Apocalypse on the Set

We are pleased to announce that Damn Interesting contributor Ben Taylor has just published a shiny new book that is sure to be the first in what we hope will become a long and lustrous book-publishing career. Apocalypse on the Set retells nine true stories of film-making enterprises which have endured calamity, ruin, humiliation, or some engrossing combination thereof. It’s filled with fremdschämen, schadenfreude, and other obscure Germanic emotions.

We encourage our readers to buy this book because our readers have outstanding taste.

Writer on the Storm

As you may have noticed, until about a week ago the Damn Interesting web server was about as sturdy as a pair of paper pajamas. A sustained orgy of traffic was exhausting our finite resources, cramming all of our ports with bits. A superior server remains out of our price range, and even the most potent WordPress caching plugins have proven unequal to the influx.

In response, a few weeks ago I set to work tailoring DamnCache, a more robust protection from such sustained pummeling. After a week or so of testing I am happy to announce that the server is now approximately as sturdy as corrugated cardboard pajamas.

Speaking of unusual apparel, our Zazzle-powered logo store is now online and peddling goods such as T-shirts, hoodies, and iPhone cases for all of your holiday shopping needs. To celebrate, each week from now until the end of December we’ll be giving away a $25 gift code that can be redeemed for logoey goods. Watch our Twitter feed and/or Facebook page for details. The first will be given away shortly.

Speaking of shortly, moments from now we’ll be posting our first-of-maybe-many Damn Interesting Shorts. If these fun-size word-wads are well-received they will become a higher-frequency feature to help fill the gaps between the full-lengthier articles. Feedback is welcome.

Speaking of feedback, we have recently acquired a high quality microphone for the purposes of performing another experiment: the much-rumored and long-awaited Damn Interesting podcast. Details are forthcoming, but if the pilot episode is as awesome as we anticipate, it will become a tradition for each featured article to be accompanied by audio.

Thank you for your kind attention.

It’s About Damn Time

(This post’s content expired, but its husk remains here as a historical curiosity).

Sorry to interrupt. It seems you've read at least whole articles now. Yay! This is a reader-supported project, and you can get stuff for donating. Would you like to know more?
Hello! This site is an independent project. We despise ads so we ask for direct support from readers. If you donate you can get stuff. Would you like to know more?