Gaming & Culture

Never mind the naysayers: Emoji are a vital part of online communication

<em>The Emoji Movie</em> (2017) anthropomorphized the ubiquitous icons we use to convey emotion in online communications.

Enlarge / The Emoji Movie (2017) anthropomorphized the ubiquitous icons we use to convey emotion in online communications. (credit: YouTube/Sony Pictures)

In 1982, a computer scientist named Scott Fahlman was chatting on an online bulletin board and used a combination of a colon, a hyphen, and a round bracket to indicate that he was joking. This was likely the first emoticon, a kind of emotional shorthand that emerged in online communications to compensate for the loss of in-person tonal clues (facial expressions, gestures, and so forth). Then came emoji, which started spreading rapidly into wider use around 2011. Emoji are now used by roughly 90% of the online population.

That makes them a keen topic of interest to linguists like Philip Seargeant. Seargeant is a senior lecturer in applied linguistics at The Open University in England. His specialty is the study of language and social media, with a particular focus on the politics of online interaction. Given his linguistics expertise, he naturally found himself intrigued by the rise and eventual dominance of emoji in online communication, and that fascination led to his first popular science book: The Emoji Revolution: How Technology is Shaping the Future of Communication.

“I’ve always been interested in a mixture of the visual as a sort of language,” Seargeant told Ars. “Emoji are often seen as very frivolous, a little bit childlike. But at the same time there’s something more serious about the way they’re being used, despite their cartoonish look—both in the way people use them, and in the sophistication they have as language.”

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Never Surrender is a heartfelt tribute to sci-fi action comedy Galaxy Quest

Trailer for Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary.

Galaxy Quest, the glorious 1999 science fiction action comedy starring Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver (among others), will turn 20 on December 25 of this year. And what better way to celebrate this important milestone than with a documentary feature? Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is an entertaining, heartfelt tribute that comes to us (believe it or not) from the same folks behind the wildly popular online Honest Trailers series.

(Spoilers for Galaxy Quest below.)

The premise of the movie is deceptively simple: what if aliens watched transmissions of a popular science fiction TV show from Earth and thought it was real? An alien race called the Thermians model their entire society on the principles of a fictional Galaxy Quest TV show, building real, functional versions of the spaceship and much of the technology from the series. When their very existence is threatened by a reptilian humanoid general from another species named Roth’h’ar Sarris, they travel to Earth to ask their heroes for help—arriving in the middle of a Galaxy Quest fan convention.

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That time Benjamin Franklin tried (and failed) to electrocute a turkey

In December 1750, Benjamin Franklin theorized that electricity could be used to tenderize meat, and tried to electrocute a turkey to prove it.

Enlarge / In December 1750, Benjamin Franklin theorized that electricity could be used to tenderize meat, and tried to electrocute a turkey to prove it. (credit: YouTube/HistoryPod)

In households across the U.S. today, people are busily preparing the traditional turkey for their Thanksgiving feast—usually in an oven, although more adventurous souls might risk personal injury and opt for a deep-frying method. But when it comes to risky cooking methods, Benjamin Franklin has them beat. The Founding Father once infamously electrocuted himself while trying to kill a turkey with electricity.

Franklin’s explorations into electricity began as he was approaching 40, after he’d already had a thriving career as an entrepreneur in the printing business. His scientific interest was piqued in 1743, when he saw a demonstration by scientist/showman Archibald Spencer, known for performing a variety of amusing parlor tricks involving electricity. He soon struck up a correspondence with a British botanist named Peter Collinson, and began reproducing some of Spencer’s impressive parlor tricks in his own home. “I was never before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time,” he confessed to Collinson in one letter.

Guests at Franklin’s home were frequently recruited for his experiments and practical jokes. For instance, he would have guests rub a tube to create static and then had them kiss, producing an electrical shock. He designed a fake spider suspended by two electrified wires, so that it seemed to swing back and forth of its own accord. And he devised a game dubbed “Treason,” whereby he wired up a portrait of King George so that anyone who touched the monarch’s crown would receive a shock. (“If a ring of persons take a shock among them the experiment is called the Conspiracy,” he wrote.)

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“Out poked two antennae”—crafting an insect-based dinner party

This is the same feeling all those Blue Apron customers get, right?

This is the same feeling all those Blue Apron customers get, right? (credit: Jason Plautz)

Update: It’s Thanksgiving in the US, meaning most Ars staffers are working on mashed potatoes and only mashed potatoes today. With folks off for the holiday, we’re resurfacing this culinary classic from the archives—a look at a true evening of entomological entertaining. This story first ran in May 2016, and it appears unchanged below.

The boxes at my door were plastered with red drawings of bugs and the blunt warning: “Live Insects.” I could hear audible scratching and shuffling—and even what I thought was an errant “chirp”—as I placed them on my kitchen counter.

I slowly opened the first lid. Out poked two antennae, followed by the head of a cricket. I lifted the lid higher and saw dozens of them hopping around. Inside the second box, a thousand mealworms wriggled over an egg crate.

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CT scans confirm 17th-century medical mannikins are mostly made of ivory

Ivory figurine carved in the shape of a naked woman.

Enlarge / An ivory manikin after removal of the abdominal and chest wall, ribs, and part of the uterus. Internal organs such as the lungs, intestines, as well as a fetus inside the uterus are visible. (credit: F.R. Schwartz/Duke University/RSNA)

Researchers at Duke University have completed digital scans of small medical manikins and identified the materials used to make them. They will be presenting their findings next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago.

These are not the department-store mannequins familiar to most of us today. Rather, they are tiny, intricately carved anatomical figurines dating back centuries. According to the New York Academy of Medicine, there was an explosion of interest in three-dimensional anatomical models in the mid-16th century, typically made of wax molds or carved from wood or ivory. The manikins likely emerged as a result of this trend. Scholars have pegged their origins to Germany in the late 1600s or early 1700s, possibly created in the Nuremberg workshop of sculptor Stephan Zick, known for his ivory models of human ears and eyeballs.

The figurines measure between 12 to 24 centimeters (4 to 9 inches) and have movable arms. The torso has a lid that can be removed to reveal tiny, intricately carved organs within the cavity. The removable organs include lungs, heart, intestines, bladder, kidneys, stomach, liver, and pancreas. There are some male and female pairs, but most of the manikins are pregnant female figures, with a tiny carved fetus attached to the uterus with a red cord.

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Netflix cancels its Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival

Screenshot from Mystery Science Theater 3000's opening credits in which the show's title is projected an unconvincing moon.

Enlarge / Mystery Science Theater 3000. (credit: Mystery Science Theater 3000)

Netflix will not produce a third season of its Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival, according to a series of tweets from the show’s star, Jonah Ray Rodrigues.

The text of his Twitter thread follows:

So, Netflix decided to not do another season of MST3K. We are off to Get Down in Lilyhammer while the OA helps us take it One Day At A Time. We will be in group therapy with Tuca & Bertie, Jessica Jones, & Lady Dynamite. The sessions will be run by Gypsy (w/ Naomi Watts.) thread

We don’t know what the future holds for the show, it always seemed to figure out how to survive. From Comedy Central to SyFy. Then kept alive by RIFFTRAX & Cinematic Titanic. whatever happens, I want everybody to know that getting a chance to be on this show was a dream come true

Getting to work with old friends while making new ones was a gift I didn’t take lightly. Collaborating with heroes from my childhood is something I’ll never stop beaming about.

So, Thank you Joel & especially all the MSTies who embraced me as a mug in a (yellow) jumpsuit. I know it wasn’t easy accepting a new guy, so I appreciate the warmth.

This is the fourth time in the series’ history that it has been canceled in one way or another. Fans have repeatedly rallied to bring it back on new networks or, in some cases, in totally new formats and spinoffs like RiffTrax. Also on Twitter, MST3K creator Joel Hodgson said, “It’s not the end of MST3K, It’s just the end of the first chapter of bringing back MST3K.”

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Google is offering refunds for players who bought new Stadia freebies

Google had some good news to share with Stadia streaming’s early adopters yesterday: their $10/month Stadia Pro subscription will grant access to two new titles—Farming Simulator 19: Platinum Edition and Tomb Raider: Definitive Editionstarting next month.

That didn’t come as welcome news to all Stadia owners, though, because those games had already been on sale as Stadia launch titles for the week leading up to the announcement. That means a fair number of Stadia Pro subscribers had spent $49.99 (for Farming Simulator) or $9.99 (for Tomb Raider) on games that would be free in less than two weeks’ time.

Google, to its credit, has not ignored these players. “Because of the proximity between the launch of the platform, and the announcement of these titles in Stadia Pro, we’re happy to assist you if you’d like to request a refund if you have purchased either or both of these titles, even if it’s outside of our normal policy,” a Google community manager wrote yesterday afternoon.

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Disney+’s The Mandalorian joins a long list of fake HDR content, analysis finds

Pedro Pascal stars as the Mandalorian.

Enlarge / Pedro Pascal stars as the Mandalorian. (credit: YouTube/Disney Plus)

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the most notable new display technology for rich-media consumption since high definition, but judging from some implementations of it, you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

YouTube channel HDTVTest is known for doing quality analysis of the HDR implementations in popular media like films, games, and TV shows, and it found that Disney+’s The Mandalorian live-action Star Wars series is the latest in a long line of high-profile content that is just SDR wrapped up in an HDR package. The show has none of the actual benefits of HDR and a number of additional downsides, such that viewers might actually prefer to disable HDR on their TVs when viewing.

Most good TVs that support HDR are capable of displaying specular highlights at around 800-1,200 cd/m² in brightness, and that range of brightness from black (or close-enough to it on LCD displays) is what makes HDR possible. By presenting such a wide range of brightness, content has realistic and visually arresting contrast between the brightest and darkest parts of the image—and that range and granularity in brightness has a big impact on color, too.

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