Day: September 20, 2011

Black Hole Jets Gone Wild



‘The innermost parts of a black hole’s active jets have been revealed for the first time. The observation suggests that the energetic spouts are more dynamic than previously suspected, with enormous blasts firing off randomly over timescales as short as 11 seconds.

It is somewhat odd that black holes, which are ultra-dense balls of matter from which no light can escape, can produce energetic flares. But these jets are a byproduct of gas and dust from a companion star that the black hole is consuming. The matter falls in circles toward the black hole, like water down a drain, and forms a gigantic flat disk that accelerates particles within, causing them to discharge energy. As yet scientists have only a vague notion of how the entire process works.’ (via Wired).

Sept. 19, 1982: Can’t You Take a Joke?

‘1982: At precisely 11:44 a.m., Scott Fahlman posts the following electronic message to a computer-science department bulletin board at Carnegie Mellon University:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use:


With that post, Fahlman became the acknowledged originator of the ASCII-based emoticon. From those two simple emoticons (a portmanteau combining the words emotion and icon) have sprung dozens of others that are the joy, or bane, of e-mail, text-message and instant-message correspondence the world over.

Fahlman was not, however, the first person to use typographical symbols to convey emotions. The practice goes back at least to the mid-19th century, when Morse code symbols were occasionally used for the same purpose. Other examples exist as well.

In 1881, the American satirical magazine Puck published what we would now call emoticons, using hand-set type. No less a wordsmith than Ambrose Bierce suggested using what he called a “snigger point” — \__/ — to convey jocularity or irony. Baltimore’s Sunday Sun suggested a tongue-in-cheek sideways character in 1967.

But none of those caught on. The internet emoticon truly traces its lineage directly to Fahlman, who says he came up with the idea after reading “lengthy diatribes” from people on the message board who failed to get the joke or the sarcasm in a particular post — which is probably what “given current trends” refers to in his own, now-famous missive.’ (via Wired)