Snow Crash “Earth” app

Reading Snow Crash (1992) and keep being surprised at how spot-on Neal Stephenson is sometimes. Like this description of the protagonist looking at not-Google-Earth in the Snow Crash metaverse:

If he were in some normal, stable part of the world like lower Manhattan, this would actually work in 3-D. Instead, he’s got to put up with two-dimensional satellite imagery.

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash (1992)

Sounds very familiar...

I remember seeing a tech demo of something looking like Google Earth when I was a kid, and it completely blew my mind. I haven’t seen it since, but remember it as showing the Earth in space, then the camera zooms in all the way to a three-dimensional view of a Florida beach. Impossible!

It’d be a stretch to say that the Google engineers must have been inspired by Snow Crash when developing Earth, but I wonder: how much of our current technology has been directly inspired by sci-fi? Like, nerds reading awesome novels and going: “By the power of Greyskull, I’m gonna make that happen for real.”

Update: The tech demo must have been Intrinsic Graphics’ prototype from the late 1990s which would later become EarthViewer by Keyhole Inc, and even later: Google Earth. One of the developers, Avi Bar-Zeev, talked about 3D-globes in an interview with Cartographica (PDF) in 2008, and they do mention Snow Crash and other sci-fi:

Some people have mistakenly said that the Metaverse itself was the inspiration, but it wasn’t for any of us as far as I know. John [Hanke] has publicly stated that the panoptic 3D “Earth” application from Snow Crash was the actual inspiration for him. Mark Aubin has said that the Powers of Ten movie and flipbook were an inspiration to him. I’d honestly been toying with the idea of 3D globes before I read Snow Crash around 1994. So I think this is more a case of multiple people converging at the right place and the right time with similar ideas.


Our oldest daughter had a barking cough last night, and her mother (the ICU nurse) immediately recognized it as false croup. Always thought it was weird to call it “false”, so I looked it up (after the coughing stopped).

According to Wikipedia, the early modern English verb to “croup” means “to cry hoarsely”. “Real” croup is caused by a diphtheria infection. False, or viral, croup produces a similar cough, but is not diphtheric, so the French called it “faux-croup” to tell them apart, and then the “false” bit just carried over with translation.


Tried to find out if there is a term for when a word in one language sounds rude in another. Learned that linguists call bilingual homophones and homonyms false friends, but rudeness is not required. A Gizmodo post from 2015 asked the internet to come of with a term, and ended up with sordophone. (A practice wikipedia tells me is called a nonce word or occasionalism.)

Norwegian and English has a weird reciprocal sordophone going on with the words cook and cock vs. kuk and kokk, where the word for a person making food is false friends with a common slang word for penis.

Wonder if there’s a term for that?

Loudest finger snap

The world record for the loudest finger snap was recorded at 108dB. According to this handy chart, that’s about as loud as a live rock concert. (The average human pain threshold is 110dB.)


After discussing them with my 4-year-old, I fell down a rabbit hole about horseshoes. Are there different types? Like, is there a horseshoe version of, say, sneakers? Turns out horses have many types to choose from, but mostly corrective shoes for various (painful-sounding) hoof maladies.

The funnest fact was that the Romans shod their horses in hipposandals, similar to a modern hoof boot.

Ye olde colophon

A common colophon from the days of hand writing or copying manuscripts was “Finished, thank God.”

Geri’s dress

Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress has its own Wikipedia page. (It’s a Gucci minidress with a Union Jack tea towel sown onto it by Geri’s sister.)

Polar bear dinner

A polar bear can eat 50-60 kilograms of meat (usually seal) for dinner. Translated into 4-year-old units, that is my whole daughter and three of her kindergarten friends.

When hunting is good, the considerate bear will just eat the seal’s skin and blubber, leaving the rest of the meat for other animals. When it’s not so good, a carcass, some rodents or human garbage will do.

Weird Old Book Finder

Clive Thompson has made a wonderful little site called Weird Old Book Finder, where you can input a search term and get a random old book in return. I tried searching for “food” and was presented with this mouthful of a title from 1859: “The Curiosities of Food; or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom” (Google Books) The gist of it is: if an animal exists, someone has made good eatin’ out of it. It reads like some explorer has traveled the world and eaten his way through a list of exotic and endangered animals. Elephant’s paw? Yes, please! Here’s a taste:

The armadillo, remarkable for its laminated shell, when baked in its scaly coat is a good treat, the flesh being considered delicate eating, somewhat like a rabbit in taste and colour. The flesh of the large twelve-banded Brazilian one (Dasypus Tatouay) is said to be the best of all. In South America there are several species of armadillo, all of which are used for food when met with.

Pages:  [1] 2  (newest to oldest)