Journalist/developer. Storytelling developer @ USA Today Network. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @frontlinepbs @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
1830 stories
·
45 followers

Let websites framebust out of native apps

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Back in 1996, the website TotalNews.com had a brilliantly evil idea. Why not make a single website that itself contained all the top American news websites, directly embedded within?

After all, why should people go to the trouble of visiting the Washington Post or New York Times websites directly? On TotalNews.com, the websites would available in one place, with easy navigation.

Using a new technology called the HTML <frame> element, TotalNews embedded the top American news sites — content, design and everything! — in such a way that the news was always fresh. (Because, well, it was literally those other websites.)

Naturally, TotalNews added advertising around the news as well. It was only fair for them to be compensated with ad revenue for providing this incredible convenience.


Yeah, it was the early, wild west days of the web — but you have to admire their chutzpah. My own web browsing at the time was spent on Pearl Jam fan sites, so I never saw TotalNews firsthand, but this Archive.org snapshot from December 1996 provides a vague picture.

Somehow news sites didn’t appreciate TotalNews misappropriating and profiting from their content. So in February 1997, a group of them sued.

The case, The Washington Post, et als. v. TotalNews, Inc., et als., was settled out of court, and TotalNews was prohibited from embedding the sites going forward. This established a precedent, if not legally then at least culturally: Framing without permission was not OK.

But the shady practice continued. So much, in fact, that “framebuster” scripts became popular. This is the technique of putting some JavaScript in your site to check whether it’s currently being framed — and “breaking out of” the frame as needed. (See this excellent 2010 review of framebusting techniques and its accompanying slide deck for a technical overview.) This is essentially website self-defense.

Over time, web developers and security researchers realized there’s a more serious reason a website would want to protect against framing: clickjacking. That’s when, for example, a website frames your site, then hijacks user input such that users are fooled into thinking they’re interacting with your site while they’re actually providing data to the (evil) containing site. Imagine typing your bank credentials into (what you think is) your bank website, whereas it’s in fact an evil site logging everything you’ve typed.

These days, framebuster scripts are no longer necessary, because websites can use a special HTTP header, X-Frame-Options, to block framing in an elegant and effective way. And lovely web frameworks such as Django provide protection, via that header, out of the box. Framebusting is more or less a solved problem.

Except in one major case.


If you click a web link in the native Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or Twitter apps on your smartphone, you won’t be taken to your phone’s web browser. Instead, the app embeds the web page directly, so you don’t leave their environment.

For example, here’s what I got in the Twitter iOS app when I clicked the link in one of Simon Willison’s recent tweets:

Screenshot of in-app browser

To the untrained eye, this appears to be my phone’s web browser. It doesn’t identify itself as Twitter anywhere, and it looks, well, pretty plain.

But in fact, this is something entirely different — a more ephemeral thing called a “webview” or “in-app browser.” This is a way for a native app to embed a mini web browser, while asserting control over the user experience and attaching UI, functionality and other cruft. It looks like a separate browser, but in fact it’s still the Twitter app in disguise.

Seem familiar? This is framing, merely in app form. But this time, the framed website has no way to framebust.

It’s TotalNews — but for the 2020s, and much worse. These native apps aren’t (for the most part) putting advertising around websites — but they’re maintaining control over the user’s browsing experience, sometimes spying on users, and providing various problems for the framed websites, with zero recourse available for the users or website owners.

Somewhere along the way, despite a reasonably strong anti-framing culture, framing moved from being a huge no-no to a huge shrug. In a web context, it’s maligned; in a native app context, it’s totally ignored.

Why, precisely, is this bad? Here are four reasons. Each has a specific example, and in almost each case I have direct experience in my work running Soundslice.

Misappropriation

A native app can make misleading claims about the websites that it frames. And due to the seamless way webviews are implemented, a nontechnical user would have no way of knowing that they’re actually viewing a completely unaffiliated website in context of the native app.

For example, a few years ago we got word that an Android app was embedding Soundslice’s free MusicXML file viewer. The app was offering this as a “feature” to their users.

We didn’t find out about it until they had the nerve to contact us to report a bug regarding file upload within webviews.

We were doing everything right — our website already sends out the X-Frame-Options: Deny header, meaning we don’t allow framing. Yet native apps (and their mobile operating systems) ignore this header, which is a gaping loophole.

Poor user experience

If a native app opens a third-party website in a webview, that third-party site will begin a new session, without existing cookies. It’s effectively like using a web browser’s private (aka “incognito”) mode.

This means: If you’re logged into a website in your phone’s browser, but you click a link to that site from a native app’s webview, your logged-in state will not be honored. You’ll need to log in all over again.

At best, this is irritating. At worst, it gives people the false impression that the website is broken or logged them out.

A specific example is Soundslice’s Instagram account, where we highlight stuff people have created on our platform. If you see something on our Instagram and want to add it to a practice list in your Soundslice account, you quickly run into friction when opening the link within the Instagram app. Even if you’re logged into Soundslice in your phone’s browser, the Instagram app doesn’t honor your Soundslice login.

[Instagram is a particularly heinous example, because it doesn’t even let you add a link to a post. If you enter a URL in an Instagram post, it will not turn into a clickable link. Only one link, the one in your channel bio, is clickable. An entire cottage industry has formed around this “link in bio” madness.]

Yes, you can copy-and-paste the URL (if the webview displays it), or you can choose an “Open in web browser” option (if the webview provides it). But either case requires nontrivial technical sophistication. Most users would just say “Aw, man, I’ve somehow been logged out of Soundslice” and assign the blame to us.

Proponents of native apps would likely argue “But it’s a better user experience from the perspective of the native app! Because the user doesn’t have to context-switch into a different environment, aka the web browser.” There was indeed a time when this argument made sense: the years before 2015, which is when iOS 9 introduced a global Back button conveniently solving the problem. And of course Android has its global Back button. These days this argument holds no water.

Proponents of native apps would also likely say: “If you had your own native app, this problem would be solved, because you can register a link handler that will automatically open all soundslice.com URLs in your native app.” iOS calls this Universal Links; Android calls it App Links. This is true. It‘s also an unreasonable, disproportionate demand. I shouldn’t have to develop a native app simply to wrangle control over how my website’s links are treated.

Weird, non-standard browsers

Popular apps such as Instagram and Facebook don’t just use vanilla webviews. They use customized ones, with their own quirks.

This means: If you click a link in the Facebook app and it opens in Facebook’s webview, the website might be slightly broken. In my experience, page dimensions/layout can be affected, and the website is provided incorrect information about its environment.

I highly recommend reading Alex Russell’s piece Hobson’s Browser, full of technical details on the deficiencies of in-app browsers.

A specific example is yet again Soundslice. Our main content type — the thing we usually link to — is a piece of interactive sheet music, which is dynamically sized to your screen. We’ve specifically had problems with the Instagram webview not properly communicating its screen size — leading our site to apply incorrect dimensions to the sheet music. Again, it’s a situation where we look bad due to an obscure technical detail outside our control.

Hilariously, a few years ago a Facebook employee announced they added a way to debug your website when it’s viewed in context of the Facebook in-app browser. After I replied it’d be easier if Facebook just opened links in the default browser in the first place, the employee rationalized the webview by saying it helps protect people. Which brings us to:

Security

This is the most important problem, though fortunately it’s the only one I haven’t directly experienced in my own work.

When a native app embeds a website via a webview, the native app has control over that page. Yes, even if it’s on a domain that the native app doesn’t control (!). This means the native app can inject whatever JavaScript it likes into any website that’s viewed in the webview.

Today I read an astounding exposé by Felix Krause, in which he discovered the Facebook and Instagram iOS apps inject JavaScript into all web pages that are viewed in their webviews. You should read and process this.

Facebook has a sterling reputation to uphold, so I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything horrible here. But more nefarious apps could steal passwords or perform other types of attacks.

The more I think about it, the more I cannot believe webviews with unfettered JavaScript access to third-party websites ever became a legitimate, accepted technology. It’s bad for users, and it’s bad for websites.

But fortunately, I think something can be done about all this.

A proposed solution

Fundamentally this is about power. It’s a struggle between four participants:

  • The user wants to click a link to a website, retaining any useful state, with the ability to freely jump between apps/sites.
  • The website wants the user to have a smooth experience.
  • The native app wants to keep the user within its app (aka lock-in). In some cases, such as Facebook, the app wants to collect detailed information about the user’s browsing behavior.
  • The mobile operating system (iOS and Android) wants developers to build native apps on its platform. The web is a bit of an afterthought, a lower priority.

At the moment, the power is squarely in the hands of the last two. I believe it should be more balanced, giving website owners a way to opt out of this behavior — in old-school terms, a way to framebust.

So my proposal is this: Apple and Google should honor the existing X-Frame-Options HTTP header in webviews. If a website is loaded into a webview, and the website includes the appropriate X-Frame-Options header, the mobile OS should immediately stop loading the webview and open the URL in the user’s preferred web browser.

This elegantly uses an existing technology and gives websites a much-needed opt out.

Unfortunately, the only way for this to happen would be to convince Apple and Google to do it. I can’t imagine a general opt-out solution that doesn’t involve iOS and Android providing hooks at the OS level. And, as Co-Monopolists Of The World Of Native Phone Apps, Apple and Google have zero incentive to make such a change.

It could in theory be implemented by individual apps, but I wouldn’t trust Facebook to do this because of conflict of interest. And the sad precedent of the Do Not Track header is instructive.

Our best bet is regulatory intervention, along the lines of what Open Web Advocacy is doing. In collecting my thoughts here, I hope to start this conversation. The modern version of TotalNews must be reined in.

Read the whole story
acdha
1 day ago
reply
I don't think we can do this with XFO without too many false-positives but it'd be a way better use of a header / meta tag than the “Are you sure you don't want to use our app?” banners.
Washington, DC
chrisamico
1 day ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete

Vin Scully, longtime Dodgers broadcaster, dies at 94

1 Share

Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, the radio voice of the Dodgers for nearly seven decades, has died. He was 94.

Scully’s velvety voice and smooth story-telling style made him one of the most beloved figures in the history of the Dodgers’ franchise. After earning a degree from Fordham University, where he also helped found student radio station WFUV, he began work on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ broadcasts in 1950. He accompanied the team west when it moved to Los Angeles following the 1957 season.

"He was the voice of the Dodgers, and so much more. He was their conscience, their laureate, capturing their beauty and chronicling their glory from Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax, Kirk Gibson to Clayton Kershaw," the Dodgers said in a statement. "Vin Scully was the heartbeat of the Dodgers — and in so many ways, the heartbeat of all of Los Angeles."

His many notable moments behind the microphone included Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965. His ninth-inning call of that game has been described as pure baseball literature. “There are 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies,” Scully said.

His voice became more nationally known as he worked for CBS from 1975-82 calling baseball, as well as NFL football and golf. He then moved to NBC, where he was the network’s lead baseball play-by-play announcer from 1983-89.

Remembering those we lost: Celebrity Deaths 2022

It was during this stint that he made some of his most memorable calls. The one most fans likely think of first followed Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-hit homer for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A's.

“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” Scully exclaimed after letting the pictures speak for themselves for more than a minute.

'A CITY OF ANGELS ICON':Sports world reacts to the death of Vin Scully

Though he didn’t travel as much in the latter stages of his career, Scully continued to call most Dodgers home games until his retirement following the 2016 season.

"Today we mourn the loss of a legend in our game." MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Vin was an extraordinary man whose gift for broadcasting brought joy to generations of Dodger fans. In addition, his voice played a memorable role in some of the greatest moments in the history of our sport.  I am proud that Vin was synonymous with Baseball because he embodied the very best of our National Pastime.  As great as he was as a broadcaster, he was equally great as a person."

His countless awards and honors include the Ford Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982; a lifetime achievement Emmy presented in 1995; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated in 2001, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. The Dodger Stadium press box is also named in Scully’s honor.

“We have lost an icon,” said Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten. “The Dodgers’ Vin Scully was one of the greatest voices in all of sports. He was a giant of a man, not only as a broadcaster, but as a humanitarian. He loved people. He loved life. He loved baseball and the Dodgers. And he loved his family. His voice will always be heard and etched in all of our minds forever.

"I know he was looking forward to joining the love of his life, Sandi. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this very difficult time. Vin will be truly missed.”

Read the whole story
chrisamico
9 days ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete

Most notable person, everywhere in the world

1 Share

Who is the most famous person born in the place you live? This interactive map by Topi Tjukanov lets you answer that question for anywhere in the world. The pool of possible people comes from a cross-verified database of 2.29 million people, based on Wikipedia entries and Wikidata. You can also see the most notable person per category: culture, science, leadership, and sports.

See also The Pudding’s U.S. map from 2019 that showed the most notable person who lived in each city.

Tags: ,

Read the whole story
chrisamico
10 days ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete

The MCU’s Multiverse Saga is still missing one major thing

1 Comment and 3 Shares

OneOne of the longstanding complaints about the post-Avengers: Endgame era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that, three years in, it seems to lack direction. To a certain extent, this is a problem fans can only have with the benefit of hindsight: When Iron Man premiered in 2008, the only big promise made was that the Avengers would eventually show up in the franchise. Once they did, in 2012’s The Avengers, that film’s post-credits scene introduced a new apparent focus for the MCU: the arrival of Thanos, who was eventually revealed to be after the Infinity Stones. While the road to Infinity War and Endgame was long and circuitous, there was always some kind of destination clearly signaled to the audience.

Current MCU projects don’t have these visible goal posts. For years now, the franchise has focused on Endgame cleanup, telling stories around and after what’s already happened, and mostly looking backward: What happened to Wanda Maximoff after she was forced to kill her husband? What’s Hawkeye been up to? What did the late Black Widow feel so guilty about all this time?

When recent projects like Eternals and Shang-Chi have introduced new characters, those projects have largely been unconcerned with the big picture, the question of how the new arrivals will factor into the comic book world we’ve been getting to know. Instead, audiences have just been teased with the idea that these characters will matter. The origins of Shang-Chi’s 10 rings are kept a mystery, but still teased as important. Or Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman in Eternals is set up for a larger role in a future film, thanks to a post-credits scene where he’s about to claim a magic sword.

From a charitable point of view, this aimlessness is just part of the buildup process. Unlike in comic books, where characters can stick around in perpetuity and show up for cosmic traffic jams ad infinitum, actors cannot commit to an endless stream of films. The end of Marvel Studios’ 11-year Infinity Saga is the kind of soft reset the studio needs until it decides to risk a bigger one. Currently — and this is something the studio’s Comic-Con presentation made clear — it’s focused on introducing new characters to fill the void left by those who’ve moved on in one way or another. By this rationale, Phase 4 has been about introductions, both to new people and also new places and new ideas.

The bet is that this will all establish the foundation for something a little less aimless. But slightly more plot focus isn’t enough to carry the MCU forward, not when it’s built around a concept as diffuse and inherently unfocused as the idea of infinite multiverses. What the MCU needs right now is more of a human touch — and it’s the most bafflingly absent part of the Marvel Studios equation.

The Multiverse Saga

If any one overriding purpose drove Marvel’s bevy of San Diego Comic-Con announcements, it was the need to address the MCU’s lack of direction. The studio’s Hall H presentation was largely about the MCU’s future structure, recasting a formless void of upcoming movies and shows as Phases and organizing those three Phases into a new Saga. Hence, The Multiverse Saga, and its Endgame equivalent: Avengers: Secret Wars, currently scheduled for Nov. 7, 2025.

Those two bits of info are enough to let informed comics fans grasp the shape of what’s in store over the next three years. The multiversal ideas being probed in What If…?, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will only grow in significance as the films and TV shows continue to roll out over the next few years. Conveniently, the ultimate stakes of this saga were already plainly laid out by the version of Reed Richards (John Krasinski) who appeared in Multiverse of Madness. As Reed explains, universes are collapsing into each other, wiping out entire alternate worlds. Eventually, the film implies, that cosmic disaster will come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’ve already come to know.

This is a messy premise to build the next three years of movies around, only partly because audiences haven’t yet spent that much meaningful time in these alternate universes. Thus far, they have been more suggestions than actual places, often seen so briefly that few audiences would be invested in rooting for them to survive, if any of them has to square off against the primary MCU.

And those are the kinds of ultimate stakes implied in Marvel Studios’ new lineup. Avengers: Secret Wars is a title directly lifted from one of the best Marvel Comics stories in recent memory, an epic that pits the primary Marvel Universe against the newer Ultimate Universe, where a few fan-favorite characters like Miles Morales originated.

As exciting as the idea of a multiverse is, there’s nothing multiversal in these movies to get excited about — nothing lasting or endearing or important. Most of the new things brought about via a romp through the multiverse in the MCU are either wiped away by the time the credits roll (like the Illuminati in Multiverse of Madness), raised and then dropped as comic relief (like President Loki and his group in Loki) or offered as inconsequential thought experiments (like the entirety of What If…?). But enthusiasm can quickly give way to indifference if there is no clear way for all this potential to be realized.

The X-factor

Given the dizzying cadence of its many movies and TV shows, it’s hard to remember how slowly the Marvel Cinematic Universe actually moves. Back to the goal posts of the first Phases: It took Marvel Studios four years to assemble the Avengers, and it took another seven to gather all the Infinity Stones in one place for a big climactic battle. In spite of the immense coordination and careful wrangling of individual movie plots to make sure these big events were properly set up, the overarching mega-story of the MCU circa Infinity Saga is fairly simple. Good guys meet each other and learn to work together, bad guy gathers magic rocks and challenges that unity. That’s the secret to a dozen years of box office success!

The MCU’s current sprawling state of affairs invites a lot of speculation as to how that success will continue. Most of the announced slate of movies are installments in established sub-franchises. Two of the stand-alone films (Blade and Fantastic Four) are MCU remakes of characters adapted by other studios, while the third (Thunderbolts) is the payoff of a slowly gestating plot thread following Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as she slowly recruits violent characters for her own mysterious purposes.

There is not a lot of new there, and a multiverse suggests the opposite — something Multiverse of Madness feints at when briefly depicting its characters in a world where everyone is formless globs of paint, for example. For fans that love the guessing game of how Marvel will weave its many disparate threads together, this potential for forthcoming films to operate outside, or even break, the MCU’s established rules is the most compelling part of the next two MCU phases. There are, after all, a lot of open slots in that Phase 6 calendar, and one big puzzle piece still missing: the X-Men, the last major Marvel property to not yet have a place under the MCU banner.

Clever fans could imagine several ways these characters could enter the MCU, based on what has happened in Phase 4 thus far. A subtle hint on Ms. Marvel suggests a slow and gradual plan. The multiversal escapades of Loki, Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: No Way Home open up the possibility for something more sudden and dramatic, a yet-unseen universe where new versions of beloved characters have been waiting for audiences to meet them. Expectations for the X-Men’s arrival are high, but time still feels short, if Marvel does in fact plan to introduce them sometime in their newly announced Phases 5 or 6.

This makes what Marvel isn’t interested in talking about all the more troubling — namely, who’s going to be making all this stuff.

Secret identities

One of the reasons Comic-Con endures as an institution is that, for all its modern emphasis on corporate communication, it’s still a place where audiences can see and even interact with the people who make their favorite things. Like a lot of studios, Marvel is aware of this; it weighs its desire for publicity against its secretive rollout plans, and dangles what tidbits it deems appropriate. Tenoch Huerta is introduced as Namor, Chukwudi Iwuji makes a dramatic appearance as the High Evolutionary. This is good, fun showbiz.

Yet for the umpteenth time, Marvel has once more asked the world to get excited over what’s primarily just a list of film titles, sight unseen. And this comes at what’s probably Marvel Studios’ most unsteady moment. Again, the Phase 4 films feel aimless. Even if the filmic Secret Wars brings a smart reset to the films the way the comic book version did, that’s still several years out, with many more shows and films accruing atop the already-overwhelming pile. Movie and show titles alone shouldn’t be enough to get fans excited anymore. Comic book references ought not be the end of Marvel’s pitch to its audiences. The pitch should be in who’s putting these stories on screen, and how they want to make them new and engaging.

Consider Thor: Love and Thunder. While its critical reception isn’t as glowing as Thor: Ragnarok’s, there was still a palpable hope that returning director Taika Waititi would deliver another film that blended his idiosyncratic comedy with Marvel spectacle. Waititi and the cast and crew assembled for Ragnarok and Love and Thunder helped reinvigorate audience enthusiasm for Thor, a character who wasn’t necessarily disliked, but certainly wasn’t the MCU cornerstone he became in Waititi’s hands.

Fourteen years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment, audiences are well aware of what they’re getting when they see the Marvel Studios logo. This is the strength and weakness of any established brand — regular customers feel they won’t be disappointed, and non-fans, having sampled the MCU’s wares, can feel confident that they aren’t missing anything important. It is therefore difficult to tell someone why they should care about “The Kang Dynasty” or the Fantastic Four when the studio won’t (or in many cases can’t yet) introduce the filmmakers on the same stage that introduces the titles they’re tackling.

Increasingly, a personal touch is the most exciting thing about a Marvel project. Enthusiasm for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness largely focused around the sensibilities of director Sam Raimi. The trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, unlike most Marvel trailers this side of Guardians of the Galaxy, stops to note the film is “from director Ryan Coogler,” because his name carries weight. But somehow, Marvel doesn’t seem eager to promote what its filmmakers will bring to its burgeoning multiverse.

That’s all the more noticeable when the studio quietly announces, mere days after Comic-Con, that Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton will also tackle Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. While the titles got all the Comic-Con hoopla, Marvel relegated the writer-director pairings to a side confirmation to The Hollywood Reporter. Shang-Chi proves Cretton is a director who strives for visual splendor and achieves it, particularly in the film’s folktale-esque prologue and magical third act. But as far as the public can tell, none of that matters to Marvel. He’s just the guy they hired to do the job. There’s plenty of time to reverse course on this, but so far, in this phase of the MCU, people don’t seem that important.

This is beginning to become apparent in increasingly public ways. Anonymous reports, allegedly from the visual effects artists on Marvel projects, keep decrying the studio’s penny-pinching and rush jobs. At the same time, Marvel films have come under scrutiny for the effects work that looks cheap and rushed. At the same time, the MCU’s most high-profile alumni, the Russo brothers, are beginning to show us what Marvel bombast is worth without beloved, recognizable IP, and the results are tepid.

Marvel built its empire on the idiosyncrasies of filmmakers and talent that could work within the boundaries set by overlord Kevin Feige, but still shine through: the scrappy improvisation of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., the dark oddball sensibilities of James Gunn, and the warmth and care of Ryan Coogler. It’s a frustratingly narrow palette, but it’s one that built a universe.

A multiplicity of universes should widen that field to include even more voices. In some ways, it has them: Bisha K. Ali’s work on Ms. Marvel expands the texture of the MCU in wonderful ways, and as the director of The Marvels, Nia DaCosta has the potential to do the same. But it’s hard to know how much more of that expansion of voice, ambition, or individual flavor we have to look forward to. Marvel seems loath to create another Taika Waititi or another Russo brothers team, creators who can leave the studio behind and still be powerhouse creators (mediocre or otherwise). Until Marvel can find its way back to letting its creators do the talking, it’s just giving us a set of familiar titles and empty promises: a multiversal map to nowhere in particular.

Read the whole story
chrisamico
13 days ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
crhill1979
15 days ago
reply
An interesting take on the "what's wrong with Marvel's Phase 4?" question, although ultimately the answer may very well turn out to have been "COVID".

Pizza Exchange Rate | FlowingData

1 Share

This is a story about pizza and geometry. Roy Chandan ordered a 9-inch pizza, and the waiter brought him two 5-inch pizzas instead. Chandan was getting an inch for free, the waiter said, to which he replied:

The seller mistakenly assumed a linear increase in area with diameter. This is not the case.

Going by area, which is the measurement you care about when eating pizza, two 5-inch pizzas would be like getting a 9-inch pizza with 38% of it removed. After showing the math, Chandan received four small pizzas, and the world rejoiced.

Honestly, I’m more surprised that a sit-down pizza place with a waiter would run out of a certain size of pizza.

But what if the same thing, with different pizza sizes, happens to you? What would be the fair exchange? You could punch the numbers into your calculator for areas, but time is essential to get your point across to a busy, skeptical waiter who has other pies to serve.

I got you covered. Enter the pizza sizes below for the proper exchange.


May you always get the pizza that you paid for and more.

In visualization, sizing linearly instead of by area is a common mistake, except the linear sizing increases area too quickly.

For example, if you increase the radius of a circle by 10 percent, you increase the circle’s area by 21 percent (1.1 * 1.1 = 1.21). You get the same issue if you increase the side of a square instead of its area. It’s how you end up with bubbles or two-dimensional symbols that are more giant than they should be. It pays to know your encodings.

What I’m trying to say is that if you order two 5-inch pizzas, and the pizza place wants to make you a single 10-inch pizza instead, you should take the deal.

Read the whole story
chrisamico
17 days ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete

Opinion | What's in the James Webb space telescope photos? We can explain.

1 Share
Graphics columnist |

July 12, 2022 at 6:38 p.m. EDT

Comment

This is a nebula — a giant cloud of gas and place where stars are born. It’s called Carina Nebula.

Astronomers don't know the full story of how these features formed.

These are stars that just formed in our galaxy from the dust in the nebula.

Astronomers don't know the full story of how these features formed.

These are stars that just formed in our galaxy from the dust in the nebula.

It would take about 8 years traveling

at the speed of light to cross this area.

These are stars that just formed in our galaxy from the dust in the nebula.

Astronomers don't know the full story of how these features formed.

It would take about 12 years traveling at the speed of light to cross this area.

These are stars that just formed in our galaxy from the dust in the nebula.

Astronomers don't know the full story of how these features formed.

Carina is one of the largest star-forming regions in the Milky Way. It is about 7,600 light-years away.

This means that it would take 7,600 years traveling at the speed of light to go from Earth to Carina’s region. So this is not Carina Nebula as it looks today but as it did 7,600 years ago, when the light recorded by the new James Webb telescope left its source.

5,600 B.C.

The time shown in

the picture above.

Jesus Christ

is born.

4 B.C.

U.S. signs

Declaration

of Independence.

1776 A.D.

Egyptians build

pyramids at Giza.

Around 2,500 B.C.

5,600 B.C.

The time shown in

the picture above.

Jesus Christ

is born.

4 B.C.

U.S. signs

Declaration of

Independence.

1776 A.D.

Egyptians build

pyramids at Giza.

Around 2,500 B.C.

5,600 B.C.

The time shown in

the picture above.

Jesus Christ is born.

4 B.C.

U.S. signs

Declaration of

Independence.

1776 A.D.

Egyptians build

pyramids at Giza.

Around 2,500 B.C.

Story continues below advertisement

Everything about the Webb telescope is mind-boggling. Ponder this: Humans sent a telescope the size of a tennis court into space and parked it four times farther away than the moon.

There it orbits the sun along with us, just so we can get some pictures.

The very first Webb image made public showed thousands of galaxies as they appeared about 13 billion years ago — that’s almost as far back in time as the Big Bang itself:

Brighter points such as this one are stars in our own galaxy.

The orange distorted galaxies are farther, some 13 billion light years from us.

Whiter blurs are galaxies that are closer to us.

Brighter points such as this one are stars in our own galaxy.

The orange distorted galaxies are farther, some 13 billion light years from us.

Whiter blurs are galaxies that are closer to us.

The orange distorted galaxies are farther, some 13 billion light years from us.

Brighter points such as this one are stars in our own galaxy.

Whiter blurs are galaxies that are closer to us.

The orange distorted galaxies are farther, some 13 billion light years from us.

Brighter points such as this one are stars in our own galaxy.

Whiter blurs are galaxies that are closer to us.

Remember, most of the colored circles and smudges in this image are galaxies — not stars. Galaxies can contain billions of stars and planets. And the square above represents just a tiny speck of space — NASA compared it to the patch of sky that would be covered by a grain of sand held at arm’s length on the surface of the Earth.

About 13 billion years

The oldest point in the

image above.

Dinosaurs

extinct

65 million

years ago

The Sun and

the Earth

are formed

4.5 billion years

Big Bang

13.8 billion

years

About 13 billion years

The oldest point in the

image above.

Dinosaurs

extinct

65 million

years ago

The Sun and

the Earth

are formed

4.5 billion years

Big Bang

13.8 billion

years

About 13 billion years

The oldest point in the

image above.

Dinosaurs

extinct

65 million

years ago

The Sun and

the Earth are formed

4.5 billion years

Big Bang

13.8 billion

years

The Big Bang itself is not something we’ll be able to see with the Webb telescope. But the images the telescope produces will help us learn when and how the first celestial objects were formed as the universe cooled.

Follow Sergio Peçanha's opinionsFollow

To give you an idea of what the Webb can do, this is what we could see in the same region of sky before and after the Webb telescope.

Before: An image from the

Hubble telescope

After: The same region photographed

by the Webb

Images from NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Before: An image from the Hubble telescope

After: The same region photographed by the Webb

Images from NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Before: An image from the

Hubble telescope

After: The same region

photographed by the Webb

Images from NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Before: An image from the Hubble telescope

After: The same region photographed by the Webb

Images from NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Story continues below advertisement

The Webb will help us better understand much more than how galaxies form. The photo below shows how a star similar to our sun looks as it is dying:

The reddish core of

a dying star in our galaxy.

A second, normal star, here.

This is a cloud of gas made of chemical components ejected by the dying star.

NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The reddish core of

a dying star in our galaxy.

A second, normal star, here.

This is a cloud of gas made of chemical components ejected by the dying star.

NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The reddish core of

a dying star in our galaxy.

Scientists got their first clear peek at a second, normal star, here.

This is a cloud of gas made of chemical components ejected by the dying star.

NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The reddish core of

a dying star in our galaxy.

Scientists got their first clear peek at a second, normal star, here.

This is a cloud of gas made of chemical components ejected by the dying star.

NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

As the star loses strength, it sheds its outer layers, creating a cloud of gas — the colorful ring surrounding the core. Such images will help us understand how dying stars spread atoms and molecules into space, and how that changes the chemistry of the universe.

With the Webb, we’ll also be able to see how stars are born. This image shows a group of five galaxies. Some of the galaxies are so close that they crash into each other, forming new stars. Younger stars are blue, older ones are red.

The five galaxies labeled form the first group of galaxies ever discovered, in 1877.

The galaxies are clashing here.

Orange dots are galaxies much farther away.

The five galaxies labeled form the first group of galaxies ever discovered, in 1877.

The galaxies are clashing here.

Orange dots are galaxies much farther away.

The five galaxies labeled form the first group of galaxies ever discovered, in 1877.

A star in our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The galaxies are clashing here.

This is the closest galaxy in this photo,

40 million light-years away from us.

The other four are about

290 million light-years away.

Orange dots are galaxies much farther away.

The five galaxies labeled form the first group of galaxies ever discovered, in 1877.

Scientists believe that these clouds are a sign of a black hole in the middle of this galaxy.

A star in our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The galaxies are clashing here.

This is the closest galaxy in this photo,

40 million light-years away from us.

The other four are about

290 million light-years away.

Orange dots are galaxies much farther away.

Finally, the Webb telescope allows scientists to collect data of the chemical composition of stars and planets outside our solar system. This kind of detailed information will ultimately help us look for signs of life elsewhere in our galaxy.

These stunning images are a major achievement for us Earthlings. And given everything absurd we’ve witnessed on Earth of late, they are more than that. If nothing else, the humongousness of the universe ought to put our problems into perspective. A little insignificance isn’t such a bad thing.

Story continues below advertisement

Sources: Yvette Cendes, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, helped to label the images on this page. Mercedes López-Morales, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Nikolay Nikolov, from the Space Telescope Science Institute, were also consulted for this piece.


Read the whole story
chrisamico
30 days ago
reply
Boston, MA
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories