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Young Explorers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

Young Explorers is a wonderful series of short films by Jacob Krupnick that follow toddlers who have recently mastered walking as they explore the wide world on their own. Fair warning: as a parent, the solo NYC street crossing scene gave me a heart attack!

Kids do not want to be contained — they are built for adventure. As a culture, we are wildly protective of our little ones, often to the point of protecting them from happy accidents and mistakes they might learn from. “Young Explorers” is a series of short films about what happens when you allow kids who are very young — who have just learned to walk by themselves — to explore the world completely on their own.

There are ten films in all so far, two of which are available on Vimeo (embedded above). They are on display outside the ICP Museum in NYC until July 23.

There's a new brand called Brandless™ and it's not a brand but totally a brand

Don't Trust What the Fake News Media Says About Cersei Lannister

Courage is Contagious, a book of essays celebrating Michelle Obama

Climate change solutions, pick one: more wind farms, eat less meat, improve air conditioners, more mass transit?

Tyler Cowen talks with Atul Gawande about checklists, CRISPR, Ferrante, healthcare, and Stevie Wonder

A database of 5000 years of solar eclipses (from 2000 BCE to 3000 CE)

Programming note: @kottke recently switched to a new server. You shouldn't have noticed a thing. Thanks, Arcustech!

If you didn't get one via the Kickstarter, The Field Study Handbook is now for sale on Amazon

After her ex-husband died from a secret drug habit, @eilenez investigated drug abuse among lawyers

The 13th incarnation of Doctor Who will be a woman. Jodie Whittaker will star in the title role.

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

Why is the upcoming total solar eclipse such a big deal?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Well, the short answer is that they don’t happen all that often and when they do, they’ve visible from only a small bit of Earth. Joss Fong elaborates in a video for Vox.

The next total solar eclipse to visit the US will be in 2024. If an eclipse happens to come to your town, you’re lucky. Any given location will see a total solar eclipse only once in more than 300 years, on average. The vast majority of us will have to travel to an eclipse path if we want to see a total eclipse in our lifetimes.

I’m off to Nebraska in August to meet up with some friends and see the eclipse. (And that 2024 eclipse Fong mentions? The path of totality goes right over my damn house. Woooo!) But no matter where you are in North America, you can enjoy the eclipse…just make sure you buy some safety glasses (and other supplies) if you want to look directly at the Sun. (via @veganstraightedge)

Your world just keeps expanding (if you want it to)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Moon landing, but it’s also my pal Mike Monteiro’s birthday. He wrote a really moving essay on what turning 50 means to him, and how he’s expanded his personal definition of “us” and “we” along the way, moving from his family, to his immigrant community, to a group of punk art school outcasts, to a wider and wider world full of people who are more similar than different.

When we arrived in the United States in 1970, we settled in Philadelphia because it was the home of a lot of Portuguese immigrants from the small town my parents (and I guess me) came from. And so the we grew from a family unit to a community of immigrants who looked out for each other. We shopped at a Portuguese grocery store because they gave us credit. We rented from a Portuguese landlord because he wasn’t concerned about a rental history. And my parents worked for Portuguese businesses because we didn’t come here to steal jobs, but to create them.

This same community also looked out for each other. When there was trouble, we were there. When someone was laid off a construction job for the winter, we cooked and delivered meals. When someone’s son ended up in jail, we found bail. And when someone’s relative wanted to immigrate, we lined up jobs and moved money to the right bank accounts to prove solvency.

But as anyone who has ever grown up in an immigrant community knows, we also demands a them. They were not us. And they didn’t see us as them either. And at the risk of airing immigrant dirty laundry in public, I can attest that immigrant communities can be racist as fuck. We hated blacks. We hated Puerto Ricans. (It wasn’t too long ago I had to ask my mom to stop talking about “lazy Puerto Ricans” in front of her half-Puerto Rican grandchildren.) We hated Jews. In our eagerness to show Americans we belonged, we adopted their racism. (We also brought some of our own with us.)

I cried about three times reading this. Happy birthday, Mike.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

48 years ago today, the lunar module from the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. Later that same day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the module, set foot on the surface, and went for a walk. And the entire world watched them do it. Live.

For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

This is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done, and it almost didn’t happen this year. I woke up this morning assuming it was just going to work again, just like it had the previous 8 years, but a bit of testing revealed that YouTube had discontinued the API I was using to display and time the videos. I wasn’t sure I had the JavaScript chops to fix it in time for the big show this afternoon. Luckily, I was able to solicit some help on Twitter and as the internet continues to be absolutely amazing, Geoff Stearns fixed the problem. As he said in his tweet, Stearns works for Google and wrote the YouTube API that had been discontinued, which is a bit like Marshall McLuhan popping out from behind a poster in Annie Hall, but instead of saying “you know nothing of my work”, he says “I’m gonna fix this up real quick”. Reader, it took him 14 minutes from saying “I’ll help” to posting the solution, and I’d bet half of that time was spent running to the fridge for a LaCroix and selecting the proper coding playlist on Spotify. So big thanks to Geoff for making this happen today! And thanks also to Brian Seward, who landed a solution in my inbox a bit after Geoff’s.

Oh, and no more Flash! So it’ll work on any modern browser with no plugins. But I tested it on my phone and it still doesn’t seem to work properly there…the video loads but doesn’t autoplay. Something to improve for next year!

Fictional names for British towns generated by a neural net

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Dan Hon recently trained a neural net to generate a list of fictional British placenames. The process is fairly simple…you train a program on a real list of placenames and it “brainstorms” new names based on patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable”…and often hilarious. Here are some of my favorites from his list:

Heaton on Westom
Brumlington
Stoke of Inch
Batchington Crunnerton
Salt, Earth
Wallow Manworth
Crisklethe’s Chorn
Ponkham Bark
Buchlingtomptop
Broad Romble
Fuckley

See also auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds.

Update: Tom Taylor did a similar thing last year using Tensorflow. Here are a few of his fictional names:

Allers Bottom
Hendrelds Hill
St Ninhope
Up Maling
Firley Dinch

There’s also an associated Twitter bot.

Also, Dan Connolly had a look at the etymology of the names on Hon’s list.

Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.

I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!

Mad Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

On the 10th anniversary of the premiere of Mad Men, Caroline Framke wrote about how the the women on the show changed a great deal (in contrast to the men).

When we first meet Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, they’re secretaries who know they’re smart, but are also staring down an endless row of grinning frat-guy superiors and trying to be realistic about their chances of success beyond their assigned desks. Betty Draper is barely a blip on the radar, only appearing in the final minutes of the episode as the twist of Don’s suburban life. And while Peggy’s storyline in season one develops into an obvious parallel to Don’s as she reveals a knack for advertising, Joan was never supposed to become the powerhouse she became down the line. In fact, as per creator Matthew Weiner, Joan’s original purpose was just to be a “courtesan” who taught people the ways of the office. Eventually, all three women reveal rich inner lives their male counterparts never bothered to consider were there, and create the kind of lives they once assumed they never could have.

I rewatched the entire run of Mad Men a few months ago and what moves the show from “really good” territory to “all-time great” territory is the emphasis on the women. As Framke notes, Don Draper pretty much ends up where he starts off while the real hero’s journey in the show is undertaken by Betty, Joan, and especially Peggy. Had they stayed on the sidelines, the show would have been far less interesting.

Beating cancer is a team sport

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The tumor has been removed and McCain is recovering at home with his family. I wish Senator McCain well and hope for a speedy recovery.

In the wake of his diagnosis, many of those expressing support for McCain reference his considerable personal strength in his fight against cancer. President Obama said:

John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.

McCain’s daughter Meghan references his toughness and fearlessness in a statement released yesterday. Vice-President Joe Biden expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:

John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong — and he will beat this.

This is the right thing to say to those going through something like this, and hearing this encouragement and having the will & energy to meet this challenge will undoubtably increase McCain’s chances of survival. But what Biden said next is perhaps more relevant:

Incredible progress in cancer research and treatment in just the last year offers new promise and new hope. You can win this fight, John.

As with polio, smallpox, measles, and countless other diseases before it, beating cancer is not something an individual can do. Being afflicted with cancer is the individual’s burden to bear but society’s responsibility to cure. In his excellent biography of cancer from 2011, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee talks about the progress we’ve made on cancer:

Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes. In 2005, an avalanche of papers cascading through the scientific literature converged on a remarkably consistent message — the national physiognomy of cancer had subtly but fundamentally changed. The mortality for nearly every major form of cancer — lung, breast, colon, and prostate — had continuously dropped for fifteen straight years. There had been no single, drastic turn but rather a steady and powerful attrition: mortality had declined by about 1 percent every year. The rate might sound modest, but its cumulative effect was remarkable: between 1990 and 2005, the cancer-specific death rate had dropped nearly 15 percent, a decline unprecedented in the history of the disease. The empire of cancer was still indubitably vast — more than half a million American men and women died of cancer in 2005 — but it was losing power, fraying at its borders.

What precipitated this steady decline? There was no single answer but rather a multitude. For lung cancer, the driver of decline was primarily prevention — a slow attrition in smoking sparked off by the Doll-Hill and Wynder-Graham studies, fueled by the surgeon general’s report, and brought to its full boil by a combination of political activism (the FTC action on warning labels), inventive litigation (the Banzhaf and Cipollone cases), medical advocacy, and countermarketing (the antitobacco advertisements). For colon and cervical cancer, the declines were almost certainly due to the successes of secondary prevention — cancer screening. Colon cancers were detected at earlier and earlier stages in their evolution, often in the premalignant state, and treated with relatively minor surgeries. Cervical cancer screening using Papanicolaou’s smearing technique was being offered at primary-care centers throughout the nation, and as with colon cancer, premalignant lesions were excised using relatively minor surgeries. For leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer, in contrast, the declining numbers reflected the successes of chemotherapeutic treatment. In childhood ALL, cure rates of 80 percent were routinely being achieved. Hodgkin’s disease was similarly curable, and so, too, were some large-cell aggressive lymphomas. Indeed, for Hodgkin’s disease, testicular cancer, and childhood leukemias, the burning question was not how much chemotherapy was curative, but how little: trials were addressing whether milder and less toxic doses of drugs, scaled back from the original protocols, could achieve equivalent cure rates.

Perhaps most symbolically, the decline in breast cancer mortality epitomized the cumulative and collaborative nature of these victories — and the importance of attacking cancer using multiple independent prongs. Between 1990 and 2005, breast cancer mortality had dwindled an unprecedented 24 percent. Three interventions had potentially driven down the breast cancer death rate-mammography (screening to catch early breast cancer and thereby prevent invasive breast cancer), surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy after surgery to remove remnant cancer cells).

Understanding how to defeat cancer is an instance where America’s fierce insistence on individualism does us a disservice. Individuals with freedom to pursue their own goals are capable of a great deal, but some problems require massive collective coordination and effort. Beating cancer is a team sport; it can only be defeated by a diverse collection of people and institutions working hard toward the same goal. It will take government-funded research, privately funded research, a strong educational system, philanthropy, and government agencies from around the world working together. This effort also requires a system of healthcare that’s available to everybody, not just to those who can afford it. Although cancer is not a contagious disease like measles or smallpox, the diagnosis and treatment of each and every case brings us closer to understanding how to defeat it. We make this effort together, we spend this time, energy, and money, so that 10, 20, or 30 years from now, our children and grandchildren won’t have to suffer like our friends and family do now.

Darkest Hour

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, a historical drama about the legendary Prime Minister’s efforts to lead Great Britain to victory in World War II.

A thrilling and inspiring true story begins at the precipice of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

Before watching John Lithgow playing him in The Crown, I’d thought Churchill was too much of his own character to be played by a well-known actor, but Lithgow was amazing…and it looks as though Gary Oldman, looking every bit his surname, will be similarly outstanding.

Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

A bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

You know when you’re watching a fan or a wheel or something else quickly spinning and it seems to stop spinning and even looks like it’s spinning backwards? And you blink your eyes and remind yourself you’re not on drugs and haven’t been drinking heavily but it’s still somehow simultaneously spinning and not? This optical illusion occurs most commonly with video cameras (but can also occur looking through your normal eyeballs) when the frame rate of the camera matches some multiple of the rate of the thing being filmed, as with this magically levitating helicopter.

Since each frame has to ensure the blade is in the same position as the last it therefore needs to be in sync with the rpm of the rotar blades. Shutter speed then needs to be fast enough to freeze the blade without too much motion blur within each frame.

Here the rotor has five blades, now lets say the rpm of the rotor is 300. That means, per rotation, a blade is in a specific spot on five counts. That gives us an effective rpm of 1500. 1500rpm / 60secs = 25.

Therefore shooting at 25fps will ensure the rotor blades are shot in the same position every frame. Each frame then has to be shot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blade for minimal motion blur.

In the video above, a home security camera catches a bird flying with a wing speed matching the frame rate of the camera, which makes it look like the bird is just magically hanging in the air, like some sort of avian wizard.

Radiohead hid an old school computer program on their new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

As if you already didn’t know that Radiohead are a bunch of big ole nerds, there’s an easter egg on a cassette tape included in the Boxed Edition of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. At the end of the tape recording, there are some blips and bleeps, which Maciej Korsan interpreted correctly as a program for an old computer system.

As a kid I was an owner of the Commodore 64. I remember that all my friends already were the PC users but my parents declined to buy me one for a long time. So I sticked to my old the tape-based computer listening to it’s blips and waiting for the game to load. Over 20 years later I was sitting in front of my MacBook, listening to the digitalised version of the tape my favourite band just released and then I’ve heard a familiar sound… ‘This must be an old computer program, probably C64 one’ I thought.

The program turned out to run on the ZX Spectrum, a computer the lads would likely have encountered as kids.

An alphabet made from classic rock band logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Alphabet Of Rock

Dorothy has designed a pair of posters of alphabets fashioned from rock band logos: one for classic rock and one for alternative rock. How many of the band names do you know? Me? Fewer than I would like.

These reminded me of Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy prints.

Awaken, a documentary full of arresting imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

This might be the most beautiful three minutes of your day. Director Tom Lowe is making a feature-length documentary “exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and the natural world” called Awaken. This trailer is stuffed with some of the most arresting imagery I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps most striking is the moving time lapse footage, which was shot from a helicopter using equipment of Lowe’s own design…I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

Awaken will be out next year and, unsurprisingly, is being executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).

Free diving the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Watch as champion free diver Guillaume Néry dives to the bottom of the world’s deepest indoor pool (131 feet deep!) while holding his breath. The dive was filmed by Julie Gautier, who was also holding her breath while working.1

And about that pool…it’s part of the Hotel Terme Millepini in Italy. From Wikipedia:

Y-40 “The Deep Joy” pool first opened on 5 June 2014 and was designed by architect Emanuele Boaretto. It is 40 metres (131 ft) deep, making it the deepest pool in the world. It contains 4,300 cubic metres (1,136,000 US gal) of thermal water kept at a temperature of 32-34 °C (90-93 °F). The pool features underwater caves and a suspended, transparent, underwater tunnel for guests to walk through. It includes platforms at various depths, ranging from 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) to 12 metres (39 ft), before the walls of the pool narrow into a well-like funnel which plunges straight down to 40 metres (131 ft). The hotel offers tickets to freedive and scuba dive.

That’s pretty cool.

  1. What’s that phrase? Behind every successful man is a woman who is holding her breath even longer while filming a video?