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The Philology of LOLCats
Previously an independent technology consultant, and a new media developer for the Village Voice, Dash was the first employee of Six Apart, the makers of Movable Type, TypePad and Vox, and served as its Vice President and Chief Evangelist until moving on to Expert Labs. In 2003, Dash was one of four bloggers featured on the PBS series Media Matters. He is also in demand as a speaker at such events as Northern Voice and the Web 2.0 Conference.
Dash's current role is directing Expert Labs, a non-profit, independent group with a mandate to help policy makers in the U.S. Federal Government utilize the expertise of their fellow citizens.
Dash was born and grew up near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A long-time resident and vocal fan of New York City, he lived in San Francisco for a time but has now returned to New York City.
Question: What is the point of LOL cats?
Anil Dash: The LOL cats are really interesting for a lot of reasons. I love language, and I love the image that people have of the internet being the place where you go to see cat pictures, and from a bunch of different web communities such as 4Chan and some of the other kind of underground web communities, people were captioning cats with a text about what they thought the cat would be saying. That is kind of a funny little shtick: you have a cat and cats are great fodder for the web because, I have a cat, and they are kind of evil in the inside, but they are also kind of helpless. That combination of “really diabolical” but “not able to do anything about it is” really great fodder.
Then, all of the captions followed a pattern of how people were doing the grammar of the speech of these presumable cats talking. I made an observation this is really consistent: this is how language forms. I’m very fortunate, I have a good number of friends that are linguists or help create dictionaries, and they know a lot about etymology and how language develops. I said, “You know, is this something like a pidgin language?” and they were like, “No, this is more of a Creole.” A Creole is what one group of one language uses to adapt their language to another group that would understand them.
This is the language that cats are speaking in hoping that humans will understand them, and so that idea: taking this cat pictures, LOL cats, seriously, I think really strikes a lot of people’s fancy. It might be the most popular thing I’ve ever written. I’m blogging 10 years and I wrote about LOL cats and I can go anywhere in the country, almost anywhere in the world, and if I’m in a group of people who know me professionally, in the first few minutes somebody will bring up LOL cats. If you got to be known for cat pictures on the web—at least it’s the smart take on cat pictures on the web. You know, I love it. I love the web’s culture. I love how inventive people are in coming up with new stuff; they are having fun with it and keep remixing it and I hope that never ends.
Question: Are you trying to bury your prankster history?
Anil Dash: No. So I’ve had some fun over the years online. Usually taking a little obscure element of web culture, a geek culture and taking it to the outsiders that are having some fun with it. I’m not at all embarrassed about it. I like to have fun. I think you have to have a sense of humor, or you can’t take yourself too seriously.
I fear though, one of the things I did at work. There’s an offensive website on the web called goatse. It’s a picture you literally don’t want to look directly, but somebody made a non-offensive t-shirt about it, it was kind of a joke, and one of the classic things we used to do on the web five or ten years ago was we would send somebody a link to this image, and they would click on it before they realize it, and then they would yell at you for doing it.
It was just a harmless prank, a lot like what Rick Rolling became later, although Rick Astley is nowhere near as offensive. So I had a shirt that had this logo for it on it, and when the New York Times wanted to do a story about presenting your reputation online, I wore the shirt for their photo of me for the story. It was one of those things where I knew everybody in the web would get it, and I knew the Times probably wouldn’t.
Maybe, these days, they would—but back then they didn’t, so it was a lot of fun. What I fear is, people look at Wikipedia and the first couple of Google results to decide who you are, and I think some day 50 years from now I’ll die, and so, “What would we put in on guy’s tombstone?” “Well, he wore an offensive t-shirt, he wrote about LOL cats.” There are more substantive to things I’ve done in my career but they tend to be overshadowed by the really fun ones. I think there are worse things to be thought of than as somebody who likes a good joke.
Recorded on: July 17 2009
Anil Dash explains how LOL Cats teach us about the evolution of language, and confesses about his Internet prankster past.
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- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
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