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The Flying Martha, a wind-up flying passenger pigeon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

Flying Martha

Design studio Haptic Lab just launched a Kickstarter campaign for The Flying Martha Ornithopter, a rubber-band-powered passenger pigeon that flies by flapping its paper wings.

Made in the likeness of the extinct passenger pigeon, the Flying Martha is symbolic of humanity’s role in a rapidly changing world. The passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird species on the planet, with an estimated population of 3-5 billion birds. No one could have imagined that the entire species would disappear in one human lifetime. Extinctions will become more commonplace in the next century as the climate crisis deepens. But we’re still hopeful that a balance is possible; the passenger pigeon is a symbol of that hope.

The Flying Martha, named after the last known passenger pigeon, has wings made of mulberry paper, a wingspan of 16 inches, and weighs only 12.5 grams. I ordered one, ostensibly for my kids, but who am I kidding here…I’m really looking forward to playing with this.

Foursquare says foot-traffic in Whole Foods stores jumped 25% after Amazon dropped prices

Good profile of Lynn Novick, the co-director with Ken Burns of excellent Vietnam War documentary series on PBS

This book will be a popular holiday gift: A Die Hard Christmas

Hapax: a word that only appears once in a work, an author's body of work, or in an entire language's writing

On loneliness: "you can be lonely in a crowd, a bed can feel emptier with the wrong person in it"

A foot of rain fell in 44 minutes near Caguas, Puerto Rico. A FOOT.

Why Won't My Therapist Just Tell Me What to Do? A good answer to a question I've often wondered about.

Whoa: just by looking at your genome, a machine learning algorithm can guess your height to "within a few cm"

The Crown's Claire Foy will play Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming The Girl in the Spider's Web movie

To build an iPhone X in 1957 would have cost 1000s of trillions of dollars (and it would have been massive)

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

If you blow air through sand, it behaves like a liquid

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

If you take a bin full of sand and blow air up through the bottom of it, the sand behaves like a liquid. The bubbles were freaky enough when I watched this for the first time, but when the guy reached in to submerge the ball and it buoyantly popped right to the surface, my brain broke a little bit. This video from The Royal Institution explains what’s going on:

Note that this is a different effect than non-Newtonian liquids (which are also very cool).

First trailer for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

Here’s the first real look at Wes Anderson’s new stop motion animated movie, Isle of Dogs, out in March 2018.

Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.

Prediction: Anderson is going to get some criticism on the cultural context of this movie. (via trailer town)

Are we living in a simulation?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2017

In the 1990s, futurist and AI researcher Hans Moravec suggested that our Universe might be a simulation.

Assuming the artificial intelligences now have truly overwhelming processing power, they should be able to reconstruct human society in every detail by tracing atomic events backward in time. “It will cost them very little to preserve us this way,” he points out. “They will, in fact, be able to re-create a model of our entire civilization, with everything and everyone in it, down to the atomic level, simulating our atoms with machinery that’s vastly subatomic. Also,” he says with amusement, “they’ll be able to use data compression to remove the redundant stuff that isn’t important.”

But by this logic, our current “reality” could be nothing more than a simulation produced by information entities.

“Of course.” Moravec shrugs and waves his hand as if the idea is too obvious. “In fact, the robots will re-create us any number of times, whereas the original version of our world exists, at most, only once. Therefore, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely we’re living in a vast simulation than in the original version. To me, the whole concept of reality is rather absurd. But while you’re inside the scenario, you can’t help but play by the rules. So we might as well pretend this is real - even though the chance things are as they seem is essentially negligible.”

And so, according to Hans Moravec, the human race is almost certainly extinct, while the world around us is just an advanced version of SimCity.

In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom examined the matter more closely:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.

In the above (as well as in this follow-up video by Vsauce 3), Kurzgesagt explores these ideas and their implications. Here’s the one that always gets me: If simulations are possible, there are probably a lot of them, which means the chances that we’re inside one of them is high. Like, if there’s one real Universe and 17 quadrillion simulated universes, you’re almost certainly in one of the simulations. <neo>Whoa.</neo>

Gorgeous aerial photography by Niaz Uddin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Niaz Uddin

Niaz Uddin

Niaz Uddin

Well cripes, these are just beautiful…click through to Niaz Uddin’s site to see more (some of which are available as prints). Tfw you wish you were a drone.

I also noticed on his Instagram that he beautifully captured the total eclipse in Oregon as well. (via colossal)

Ridley Scott talks about when Rachel and Deckard meet in Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Ridley Scott’s favorite scene in Blade Runner is when Deckard meets Rachel in Tyrell’s office. In this video, he breaks the scene down and highlights some of the most interesting aspects of the production.

In all my films, I’ve been accused of being too visual, too pretty, and I’m going, well, we are dealing in pictures so how can I be too visual?

A digital trove of 1000s of images of early hip hop photos, posters, and ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Cornell University has a hip hop collection with tens of thousands of objects in it: photos, posters, flyers, magazines, etc. Much of the collection is only available on site in Ithaca, NY by appointment, but parts of it have been digitized, like these party and event flyers:

Created entirely by hand, well before widespread use of design software, these flyers preserve raw data from the days when Hip Hop was primarily a live, performance-based culture in the Bronx. They contain information about early Hip Hop groups, individual MCs and DJs, promoters, venues, dress codes, admission prices, shout outs and more. Celebrated designers, such as Buddy Esquire (“The Flyer King”) and Phase 2, made these flyers using magazine cutouts, original photographs, drawings, and dry-transfer letters.

And the archive of Joe Conzo Jr., who photographed groups, parties, events, and the like in the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s (but FYI, the Conzo archive interface is more than a little clunky and there’s lots of non-hip hop stuff to wade through):

In 1978, while attending South Bronx High School, Conzo became friends with members of the Cold Crush Brothers, an important and influential early Hip Hop group which included DJs Charlie Chase and Tony Tone and MCs Grandmaster Caz, JDL, Easy AD, and Almighty KayGee. Conzo became the group’s professional photographer, documenting their live performances at the T-Connection, Disco Fever, Harlem World, the Ecstasy Garage, and the Hoe Avenue Boy’s Club. He also took pictures of other Hip Hop artists and groups, including The Treacherous 3, The Fearless 4, and The Fantastic 5.

These rare images capture Hip Hop when it was still a localized, grassroots culture about to explode into global awareness. Without Joe’s images, the world would have little idea of what the earliest era of hip hop looked like, when fabled DJ, MC, and b-boy/girl battles took place in parks, school gymnasiums and neighborhood discos.

And most recently a portion of the Adler Hip Hop Archive, compiled by journalist and early Def Jam executive Bill Adler:

The Adler archive contains thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, recording industry press releases and artist bios, correspondence, photographs, posters, flyers, advertising, and other documents. These materials offer an unprecedented view into Hip Hop’s history and are made available here for study and research.

Fair warning: don’t click on any of those links if you’ve got pressing things to do…you could lose hours poking around.

The physics of sushi

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Master sushi chefs in Japan spend years honing their skills in making rice, selecting and slicing fish, and other techniques. Expert chefs even form the sushi pieces in a different way than a novice does, resulting in a cohesive bite that doesn’t feel all mushed together. In this short video clip from a longer Japanology episode on sushi, they put pieces of sushi prepared by a novice and a master through a series of tests — a wind tunnel, a pressure test, and an MRI scan — to see just how different their techniques are. It sounds ridiculous and goofy (and it is!) but the results are actually interesting.

Solar system artwork featuring the precise locations of the planets on the day of your birth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

Solar System Birthday Map

Spacetime Coordinates sells prints, metal mementos, and t-shirts that feature the planets of the solar system in the exact locations they were in on the date of your birth (or other significant date). For their new Kickstarter campaign, they’re offering color prints.

While not as pretty as these prints, you can check what the solar system looked like for any date here.

When I was a kid, I spent far too many hours mucking around in Lotus 1-2-3 trying to make a spreadsheet to calculate how often all the planets in the solar system would line up with each other (disregarding their differing planes, particularly Pluto’s).1 I could never get it working. Turns out that a precise alignment has probably never occurred, nor will it ever. But all the planets are “somewhat aligned” every 500 years or so. Neat! (via colossal)

  1. I spent many more hours making a spreadsheet of every single baseball card I owned and how much it was worth, updated by hand from Beckett’s price guide. Time well spent?

Lego Grand Theft Auto

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

This video by Nukazooka of Grand Theft Auto being played by Lego characters is uncommonly well done. It looks more or less like the Lego Movie but made with a fraction of the budget.

Off-topic, but on their Twitter account I also discovered this cool 5-second video illustrating how air moves due to a passing semi truck. I can’t stop watching this!!

Monograph by Chris Ware

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

Monograph Chris Ware

Monograph by Chris Ware is a monograph of Chris Ware’s life and work written and illustrated by Chris Ware. Got that? I liked the official description of the book from the Amazon page:

A flabbergasting experiment in publishing hubris, Monograph charts the art and literary world’s increasing tolerance for the language of the empathetic doodle directly through the work of one of its most esthetically constipated practitioners.

Kirkus liked it and Zadie Smith blurbed “there’s no writer alive whose work I love more than Chris Ware”. Instant preorder.

Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

The Black List, the humble origins of a Hollywood kingmaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

For Vox, Phil Edwards profiled The Black List, an annual listing of the best Hollywood scripts that have yet to be produced.

Phil Edwards has a chat with Franklin Leonard, the creator of The Black List, Hollywoods’ famous anonymous survey of unproduced screenplays. The Black List isn’t a guarantee that a script will be produced, however, it does give overlooked scripts a second shot of getting on the big screen. A handful of academy award- winning-films found their second chance on the Black List. And in an industry brimming with multi-year contracted sequels, and well-established franchises, the Black List survey has become one of the few places in Tinseltown where one-off scripts have a chance to make it to the big screen.

Scripts that have gone on to be made into movies include Spotlight, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, and a Mel Gibson talking beaver movie I’d never even heard of.

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a previously unpublished children’s book by Mark Twain

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

Prince Oleomargarine

To Mark Twain’s posthumously published works, add one more: a book for children called The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. Twain jotted down notes for the book — which was discovered a few years ago in the Twain literary archive — but never finished the story. Doubleday bought the rights and worked with Philip and Erin Stead (an author and illustrator, respectively) to complete the story and turn it into a book.

In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished…until now.

Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work.

The Steads introduced several changes to the story, including making the book’s hero black. This New Yorker piece by Mythili Rao explores how much artistic license should be taken with a story that ultimately has Twain’s name on it.

“I was surprised by that,” Bird told me, when I asked him about the Steads’ interpretation of the character. “I just didn’t see the textual evidence for it. If Mark Twain wanted to make somebody black, he would make them black. He was not shy about dealing with matters of race.” When Twain told his daughters bedtime stories, he often incorporated household objects or magazine illustrations in the narrative. In his journals, he wrote, “The tough part of it was that every detail of the story had to be brand-new — invented on the spot — and it must fit the picture.” (Susy, in particular, was an “alert critic.”) The journals suggest that Johnny, a recurring character in Twain’s bedtime stories, was based on a rather clinical William Page illustration of the male figure that the Clemens daughters spotted in an April, 1879, issue of Scribner’s Monthly magazine. It seems likely that neither Twain nor his daughters imagined Johnny as the Steads do.