What I’ve been reading lately

I’ve really enjoyed the following blogs of late:

Tepom.com – amateur personal finance advice from Scott Bliss.  Usually thoughtful and interesting posts for everyday financial issues.

Cake Wrecks – professional cakes gone wrong.  Oddly addictive.  I’m always surprised at the niches blogs can fill (see also Passive Aggressive Notes).

Smashing Magazine – superb site for all aspects of web design, with a bias towards graphic design (which I need a lot of help with.

Futuristic Play – Andrew Chen’s blog which I read for its excellent posts on viral marketing, product design and user experience.

FiveThirtyEight – Nate Silver’s incredibly addictive election predictor site.  Sadly I probably won’t be back for a few more years now…

Random Wikipedia factoid of the day

Beer was prohibited in Iceland until 1989.

This was too crazy a fact for me to just trust Wikipedia on.  Sure enough:

Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989.  Yes, this is not a misprint.  Iceland, like the USA, underwent prohibition in the early part of the 20th century.  Our friends in Spain & Portugal helped resolve this situation in the 1930s when they unilaterally stated that they would accept no more Icelandic salted cod (fish & fish products are Iceland’s largest export) unless Iceland agreed to import red wine.  Iceland’s response was to agree and the door was open.  Iceland also had a history of producing a rough home-spirit called Brennivín (tastes like Aquavit) and the push was also made to legalize hard spirits.  Somehow, beer slipped through the cracks and remained ‘prohibited’, although I am told it wasn’t especially illegal to have it, just illegal to buy or sell it.

Happily they now have a national beer day to celebrate the end of the prohibition – March 1st.

Wikipedia article of the day – Banach-Tarski Paradox

As found from a commenter on Hacker News, the Banach-Tarski Paradox is described as thus:

The Banach–Tarski paradox is a theorem in set theoretic geometry which states that a solid ball in 3-dimensional space can be split into several non-overlapping pieces, which can then be put back together in a different way to yield two identical copies of the original ball. The reassembly process involves only moving the pieces around and rotating them, without changing their shape. However, the pieces themselves are complicated: they are not usual solids but infinite scatterings of points. In a paper published in 1924, Stefan Banach and Alfred Tarski gave a construction of such a “paradoxical decomposition”, based on earlier paradoxical decompositions of a unit interval and of a sphere due to Giuseppe Vitali and Felix Hausdorff, and discussed a number of related questions concerning decompositions of subsets of Euclidean spaces in various dimensions.

Is there anything Wikipedia doesn’t know? The Palace of the Soviets

Palace of SovietsThrough Google Reader, to BoingBoing, to Modern Mechanix, I found the following Wikipedia article detailing the Palace of the Soviets, which I found fascinating. The 30s was a heady time for large scale architecture in Europe. Albert Speer rose through the Nazi ranks after being hired by Hitler to design his large scale projects (his book Inside the Third Reich is an amazing read).

The amazing thing is that construction did actually begin, and was only stopped due to the beginning of World War 2. Plans for its completion remained open until 1958, when it was converted into a swimming pool.