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A biologist explains CRISPR to people at five different levels of knowledge

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

For the second part of an ongoing series, Wired asked biologist Neville Sanjana to explain CRISPR to five people with different levels of knowledge: a 7-year-old, a high school student, a college student, a grad student, and an expert on CRISPR. As I began to watch, I thought he’d gone off the rails right away with the little kid, but as soon as they connected on a personal issue (allergies), you can see the bridge of understanding being constructed.

The first installment in the series featured a neuroscientist explaining connectomes to five people.

We Work Remotely

A moving story of a man who chose when to die. "This was an Irish wake, without grief's frantic edge."

A World Without People, a collection of photos of places humans have abandoned

The 50 most beautiful shots from the Star Wars movies

Ambient sounds from different neighborhoods in NYC

Get your arguing pants on: The 100 Best Burgers in America

Marc Newson's $12,000 hourglass

No, Soylent isn't Healthy. Here's Why.

Ten years of Jezebel: the website that changed women's media forever

The Queens Museum is doing a Kickstarter for an exhibit on urban projects that were never built in NYC

The Killers' Mr. Brightside has appeared on the UK Top 100 singles chart every year since 2004. Why?

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

A cheeky review of the different kinds of Facebook videos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

You may recognize some of these types of videos in Materialisimo’s funny review of Every Facebook Video EVER. (via @JossFong)

Logan: when superhero movies get old

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

Using John Cawelti’s 1977 article “Chinatown” and Generic Transformation in Recent Films as a guide, Evan Puschak examines the genre of superhero movies (and Logan in particular). In the piece, Cawelti offers four possible responses to the conventions of a genre becoming well-known (or, less kindly, stale):

1. Humorous burlesque
2. The cultivation of nostalgia
3. Demythologization
4. The affirmation of myth

Puschak examines each of these in relation to superhero movies and wonders what sort of response Logan represents.

The Art of Slamming Paper Against Metal

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

A short vignette of Bowne & Co. Stationers at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, an old-school letterpress printing shop. I love the description of printing as “dancing with the machine”. My pals at Swayspace — who have printed a couple of jobs for me over the years, including this watercolor map of Paris — taught me how to use one of their presses many years ago and there’s definitely a rhythm to it that takes awhile to master. I’m just glad I still have all my fingers.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library on Flickr

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2017

Biodiversity

Biodiversity

Biodiversity

Biodiversity

The Biodiversity Heritage Library maintains a huge trove of plant and animal drawings that they’ve put up on Flickr for free.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”

Over 110,000 images are available, organized into hundreds of albums. You could easily lose an entire afternoon in there.

P.S. While the Biodiversity Heritage Library doesn’t appear to be an official participant, Flickr’s The Commons project remains one of the under-appreciated gems of the Web.

Amazon’s data-driven bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Amazon Bookstore

Over at Recode, Dan Frommer has a look inside Amazon’s first NYC bookstore, opening Thursday in the mall in the Time Warner Center. I haven’t visited any of Amazon’s stores yet (they’ve got several around the country), but what I find interesting from the photos is how up-front they are about the shopping experience being data driven. There are signs for books rated “4.8 Stars & Above”, a shelf of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less”, a section of “If You Like [this book], You’ll Love [these other books]”, and each book’s shelf label lists the star rating and number of reviews on Amazon.com. Another sign near the checkout reads “Over 7950 Goodreads members like this quote from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: ‘We live and breathe words.’”

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

P.S. So weird that there’s no prices on items…you have to scan them with a store scanner or a phone app. Overall, the store feels less oriented towards its book-buying customers and more towards driving Prime memberships, Amazon app downloads, and Kindle & Echo sales (which might be Amazon’s objective).

Game of Thrones season 7 trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

War, huh, good God, what is good for? Ratings and new HBO Now subscriptions, say it again. Finally, after six seasons of mere skirmishes, Jon Snow says “the Great War is here”. Excited for this, particularly because it appears to lack an aspect that plagued seasons in the past: Parliamentary Procedure with Daenerys Targaryen. (“Your dragon stole my goat! What shall we do about it?”) Anyway, excited for this!

Foursquare: US tourism is down sharply in the age of Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Over the past couple of years, Foursquare has used their location data to accurately predict iPhone sales and Chipotle’s sales figures following an E. coli outbreak. Their latest report suggests that leisure tourism to the United States was way down year-over-year over the past 6 months (relative to tourism to other countries).

Foursquare Tourism

Our findings reveal that America’s ‘market share’ in international tourism started to decline in October 2016, when the U.S. tourism share fell by 6% year-over-year, and continued to decrease through March 2017, when it dropped all the way to -16%. Currently, there is no sign of recovery in the data.

And business travel to the US is suffering as well, relative to other countries:

Business trip activity is up in the U.S. by about 3% (as a share of international traveler global activity), but that trend line is not as high as elsewhere in the world, where YoY trends are closer to 10%. Relative to business travel gains globally, business travel to the U.S. is suffering.

As Foursquare notes, correlation is not causation and there are other factors at play (e.g. a stronger US dollar), but it’s not difficult to imagine that our xenophobic white nationalist administration and its travel & immigration policies have something to do with this decline.

New USPS stamps commemorate sports balls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

USPS Balls

The US Postal Service recently announced a new series of stamps that feature balls from eight different sports.

The U.S. Postal Service will soon release first-of-a-kind stamps with the look — and feel — of actual balls used in eight popular sports. Available nationwide June 14, the Have a Ball! Forever stamps depict balls used in baseball, basketball, football, golf, kickball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

The stamps are round but what’s really cool is that they will have a special coating that lets you feel the unique texture of each kind of ball — the baseball’s laces, the basketball’s nubby surface, the golf ball’s dimples. The ball stamps are available for preorder and will ship in mid-June.

See also their upcoming solar eclipse stamps, which are printed using thermochromic ink — when you touch them, the heat of your finger reveals the hidden Moon passing in front of the Sun. (via print)

Is the Great Barrier Reef dead?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

Due to the unprecedented bleaching events over the past few years, the Great Barrier Reef has been eulogized extensively in the media. But it’s not actually dead. Yet. In this video for Vox, Joss Fong explains how corals form, bleach, and die and how our response to climate change might be the only thing that can save the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s other coral reefs from death.

Here’s how we know the Earth is round

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

Flat-Earthers aside, people have known that the Earth is round since at least the 3rd century BC. This quick video explores a few of the ways we know the world is spherical, some of them quite simple to recreate as experiments. See also Top 10 Ways to Know the Earth is Not Flat.

(5) Seeing Farther from Higher

Standing in a flat plateau, you look ahead of you towards the horizon. You strain your eyes, then take out your favorite binoculars and stare through them, as far as your eyes (with the help of the binocular lenses) can see.

Then, you climb up the closest tree — the higher the better, just be careful not to drop those binoculars and break their lenses. You then look again, strain your eyes, stare through the binoculars out to the horizon.

The higher up you are the farther you will see. Usually, we tend to relate this to Earthly obstacles, like the fact we have houses or other trees obstructing our vision on the ground, and climbing upwards we have a clear view, but that’s not the true reason. Even if you would have a completely clear plateau with no obstacles between you and the horizon, you would see much farther from greater height than you would on the ground.

This phenomena is caused by the curvature of the Earth as well, and would not happen if the Earth was flat.

Update: Carl Sagan explains how Greek astronomer and mathematician Eratosthenes figured out how the Earth was round in ~200 BC.

(via @preshit)

Why the mayor of New Orleans had Confederate statues torn down

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech about why the city chose to remove four Confederate monuments. Here’s a snippet from the transcript…it’s worth reading or watching in full.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

The presence of the monuments became something that was impossible for Landrieu and the city to ignore for any longer:

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

Fashion inspiration boards for Philip & Elizabeth’s 1980s disguises on The Americans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

The FX show The Americans follows a married couple, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who are Soviet spies living in America during the 1980s. In the course of their spying activities, the KBG couple often don disguises to protect their identities. Costume designer Katie Irish is responsible for dressing the couple on the show, and she’s been sharing some of the fashion inspiration boards for those disguises (as well as other costumes) on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

As you can see, Irish and her team pull images from anywhere: TV, movies, catalogs, photojournalism, yearbooks, advertising, etc. The goal is authenticity:

The point is to use clothes to embody the characters and bring them to life in a way that lets audiences believe in and feel invested in them. The show’s leads, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, are characters who live their lives in costume, in a sense. They dress like the upper-middle-class travel agents that they have embodied for years, but there are subtle hints at their internal selves, as ideologically driven Russian spies. “They’re Russian at the core,” Irish explains, “and they don’t want anything that is overtly capitalist.” You won’t see much logo branding on their clothes.

P.S. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a supercut video of all of the Jennings’ disguises, but it hasn’t happened yet. Am I going to have to do it myself?

A Continuous Shape

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2017

Watch stone carver Anna Rubincam as she goes from measuring a live person (essentially creating a geometric model of their face) to a clay model to a finished stone portrait in three weeks.

On a human face, even though there’s a change in pigment, there’s no end. Like, you come to the end of the lips and it just carries on going. And if you try and make it a stark difference, then the face will look strange. The skin is sort of a continuous surface that undulates and has tension in certain places and slack in other places.

I got so anxious watching her carving the stone piece from the clay model. One false move and… *bites nails* More about how the film was made. (via digg)