Chart of the geek hierarchy. For example, Trekkies who get married in Klingon garb are geekier than Trekkies who speak Klingon who are in turn geekier than normal Trekkies.
Quick update on MIT professor Seymour Papert, who was struck by a motorbike in Hanoi in Dec 2006. "Prof Papert's family said that he had been discharged from the hospital in Boston in the US. He is now still undergoing treatment at home. Luckily enough, he will not have any after-effects after the head trauma and now he can speak."
Update: Here's a more accurate update on Dr. Papert's progress, courtesy of his family: "Seymour continues to make steady progress. He is regaining strength, is becoming more physically active, and is regaining speech. On Friday, January 5, he was able to leave Massachusetts General Hospital for a rehabilitation center in Bangor, Maine, closer to his home. His doctors are expecting a long period of gradual improvement, which could take many months." (thx, artemis)
Three computer scientists from Israel have developed a software program called Beauty Function. The program scans a human face and then produces an image of "a slightly more beautiful you". Here are some of the program's results. (via mr)
Maps drawn from memory FEB 28
The first time I saw a world map drawn from memory was at Christopher Fahey's apartment. I forget how long it took him to draw, but it was remarkably accurate and fairly large (a few feet across). Ever since then, I've kept an eye out for other hand-drawn maps (you know what they say: if you can't do, collect). Via waxy this morning comes the From Memory Flickr group. My favorites from the group are this map of the male human body and a fanciful drawing of the solar system, both by Ellis Nadler:
Mapping.com has links to several maps from memory drawn by grade- and middle-school children; this world map by a 7th grade class is not too shabby. I'm struck by how much some of these world maps from memory resemble world maps drawn in the 16th and 17th centuries, like this Dutch map from 1689. All the parts are (mostly) there...it's just that everything is a little wrong-sized and slightly skewed.
Lori Napoleon collects "personal maps" from various people. This tactical guide for nourishing yukio includes directions to the owner's house, outlines of the two different keys (outside door, inside door), and what to feed the cat and when.
Also slightly related is the Fool's World Map, a deliberately addled world map prompted by a question asked of the map-maker by a Texan: "How many hours does it take to go to Japan by car?"
Update: Despite having featured his work on kottke.org late last year, I completely forgot about Stephen Wiltshire's super-realistic drawings from memory. Here's video of Stephen drawing Tokyo from memory and Rome from memory. (thx, matt)
Update: Christopher Fahey uploaded a photo of his world map drawn from memory.
This is an old one, but this FEB 28
This is an old one, but this cartoon of the various views of a design/software project is pretty good.
Not a joke: James Cameron claims to have discovered the burial cave of Jesus and his family. Includes the obligatory Da Vinci Code reference. "The [burial] boxes bear the names: Yeshua [Jesus] bar Yosef [son of Joseph]; Maria [the Latin version of Miriam, which is the English Mary]; Matia [the Hebrew equivalent of Matthew, a name common in the lineage of both Mary and Joseph]; Yose [the Gospel of Mark refers to Yose as a brother of Jesus]; Yehuda bar Yeshua, or Judah, son of Jesus; and in Greek, Mariamne e mara, meaning 'Mariamne, known as the master.' According to Harvard professor Francois Bovon, interviewed in the film, Mariamne was Mary Magdalene's real name."
The only known copy of the Honus Wagner T206 baseball card in near mint condition was sold recently for $2.35 million. "The T206 Honus Wagner card has long been recognized as the most iconic, highly coveted and valuable object in the field of sports memorabilia."
Here's one for your SXSW calendar: Buzzfeed and Ze Frank are hosting a party on Saturday, March 10 at 10pm with music by Juiceboxxx. Disclosure: I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed and as such, I advise you to check out this party.
Update: If you're planning on attending, make your mark at Upcoming.
"Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn't plan to be isolated for long. He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power. They'll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities. They'll stop worrying about "frankenfoods" and embrace genetic engineering."
The graphic design of the futuristic world depicted in Mike Judge's Idiocracy. I love the signage that doesn't fit on the hospital. (via do)
The top 11 underground transit systems in the world. The London Tube is #1, NYC is #7, Hong Kong is #10. (via rob)
Regarding Susan Orlean's piece on Robert Lang and origami from a couple of weeks ago, the New Yorker has posted a 5-minute audio slideshow of Orlean talking about the piece.
David Denby talks about films with "disordered narratives", with a special focus on the films of Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro González Iñárritu: Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. Many of the films he mentioned are what Alissa Quart, Mark Bernstein, and Roger Ebert refer to as "hyperlink cinema" or "hypertext films"...too bad Denby didn't use that term in his piece.
This video has so much goodness in it: a short Bollywood-esque production featuring Daleks and the Tardis and then Kevin Smith arriving at an event flanked by a bunch of Stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and Anakin Skywalker. "Stormtroopers, keep it tight, we gotta move." I wonder if he always travels that way and if so, does he fly business class while the Stormtroopers are stuck in coach? (I assume Boba Fett has miles and can upgrade most of the time.)
Update: I really like the idea that the Stormtroopers, after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, are this giant unemployed workforce who occasionally find work chauffeuring Kevin Smith about.
Interviewer: Ok, tell me about your past work experience.
Stormtrooper: Most recently, I flanked Kevin Smith.
Good. What else?
Um, I was in the room when Lord Vader choked an Admiral.
Wow! Right next to Vader?
Well, no. He choked him over the video screen and I was in the room with the Admiral. But it was still pretty cool.
The Taste3 conference has put some videos from their 2006 conference up on YouTube. All three talks they posted are worth a look: Dan Barber of Blue Hill, global warming and wine, and Bryant Simon on Starbucks.
Things I Desperately Wish Women Would Say to Me on First Dates. "Is that an XXL Magic: The Gathering shirt? Plus five to Gryffindor!" (via fimoculous)
Clovis theory in doubt FEB 26
Some recent rigorous radiocarbon dating has thrown into doubt the theory that the Americas were first settled 11,000 years ago by the so-called Clovis peoples.
David Remnick speculates on Al Gore, candidate for the 2008 Presidential election. "Gore, more than any other major Democratic Party figure, including the many candidates assembled for next year's Presidential nomination, has demonstrated in opposition precisely the quality of judgment that Bush has lacked in office."
NASA's plan for dealing with a psychotic or suicidal astronaut in space: duct tape and tranquilizers.
A commercial for the iPhone aired during the Oscars last night. Rick Silva noticed that it was a lot like artist Christian Marclay's 1995 piece Telephones (the relevant clip starts at 3:40) and, to a lesser extent, Matthias Mueller's film, Home Stories. Nice detective work!
Update: Here's a list of all the actors in the iPhone commercial (except one).
Update: The missing "French Woman" is Audrey Tautou from Amelie. (thx to several folks who wrote in)
Sorry this is late, but clip and save for next year: how to win your Oscar pool. Short answer: follow the wisdom of the crowds.
How to crap properly. (No, really! It's safe for work and everything.)
Technological interruptions make you stupid: frequent email and phone users' IQs fell more than twice as much as marijuana smokers'.
The Nintendo Wii, and the bowling game in particular, is a big hit at an Illinois retirement community (average age: 77). "'I've never been into video games,' said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach last week as her husband took a twirl with the Nintendo Wii's bowling game. 'But this is addictive.'"
Photographs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, after the atomic bombs were dropped. Some of these are pretty intense, so go easy if you're bothered by that sort of thing.
Update: More photos here.
Why the backlash for Little Miss Sunshine? "The critics have a point, which they sometimes make with noticeable bitterness, that many independent films are stale and mannered. But for some of these films, this critical dismissal is a strange fate: to be faulted for pretense, preciosity, and stylistic calculation when their real achievement is to reintroduce an enjoyable sort of broad humor into American cinema."
Do Japanese pitchers, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new member of the Boston Red Sox, have an extra pitch called the gyroball? "The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight." Nice accompanying infographics as well.
LibraryThing has a feature called UnSuggester...just put in a book you dislike and it'll return suggestions of stuff you might be interested in instead. Here's what to read if you're not a fan of Atlas Shrugged...#3 on the list is Advanced Perl Programming. (via fakeisthenewreal)
Almost a year after starting The Show, Ze Frank is still firing on all cylinders. Yesterday's show was particularly good. Only a handful of episodes to go...Ze is stopping The Show on March 17.
Google Apps FEB 22
On Thursday, Google, the Internet search giant, will unveil a package of communications and productivity software aimed at businesses, which overwhelmingly rely on Microsoft products for those functions.
The package, called Google Apps, combines two sets of previously available software bundles. One included programs for e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and Web page creation; the other, called Docs and Spreadsheets, included programs to read and edit documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel, the mainstays of Microsoft Office, an $11 billion annual franchise.
Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.
When you swing a hammer in the vicinity of so many nails, you're bound to hit one on the head every once in awhile. Well, I got it in the general area of the nail, anyway.
Beatboxing flautist + Super Mario theme song = YouTube gold.
For the first time, Wimbledon will pay this year's female contestants the same amount of prize money as the male contestants. "The WTA Tour lobbied for years to get Wimbledon to drop its 'Victorian-era view' and pay the women the same as the men."
The WSJ reports on economist J.C. Bradbury's new book The Baseball Economist, which sounds Moneyball-ariffic. Contrary to popular belief in "protection", Bradbury found that "a weak on-deck hitter makes a batter more likely to get an extra-base hit". Bradbury is also the author of the Sabernomics blog. (via biourbanist)
Every few months, the blogosphere addresses the matter of gender diversity of speakers at conferences about design, technology, and the web. The latest such incidents revolved around the lack of women speakers at the the Future of Web Apps conference in San Francisco last September1 and the Creativity Now conference put on by Tokion in NYC last October. Each time this issue is raised, you see conference organizers publicly declare that they tried, that diversity is a very important issue, and that they are going to address it the next time around.
With that in mind, I collected some information2 about some of the most visible past and upcoming conferences in the tech/design/web space. I'm reasonably sure that the organizers of these conferences were aware of at least one of the above recent complaints about gender diversity at conferences (they were both linked widely in the blogosphere), so it will be interesting to see if those complaints were taken seriously by them.
Future of Web Apps - San Francisco
September 13-14, 2006
0 women, 13 men. 0% women speakers.
Tokion Magazine's 4th Annual Creativity Now Conference
October 14-15, 2006
6 women, 30 men. 17% women speakers.
October 18-21, 2006
8 women, 30 men. 21% women speakers.
Web Directions North
February 7-10, 2007
5 women, 16 men. 24% women speakers.
February 7-9, 2007
10 women, 33 men. 23% women speakers.
Future of Web Apps - London
February 20-22, 2007
1 woman, 26 men. 4% women speakers.
March 7-10, 2007
12 women, 41 men. 23% women speakers.
SXSW Interactive 2007
March 9-13, 2007
147 women, 378 men. 28% women speakers.
164 women, 373 men. 31% women speakers. (updated 2/22/2007)
165 women, 379 men. 30% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
BlogHer Business '07
March 22-23, 2007
43 women, 0 men. 100% women speakers.
An Event Apart Boston 2007
March 26-27, 2007
1 woman, 8 men. 11% women speakers.
O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference
March 26-29, 2007
9 women, 44 men. 17% women speakers.
12 women, 79 men. 13% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
Web 2.0 Expo 2007
April 15-18, 2007
17 women, 91 men. 16% women speakers.
Future of Web Design
April 18, 2007
2 women, 12 men. 14% women speakers.
4 women, 16 men. 20% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 19-20, 2007
2 women, 11 men. 15% women speakers.
1 woman, 16 men. 6% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 30 - May 2, 2007
0 women, 4 men. 0% women speakers.
8 women, 89 men. 8% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
The New Yorker Conference 2007
May 6-7, 2007
3 women, 21 men. 13% women speakers. (updated 2/28/2007)
6 women, 29 men. 17% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
Dx3 Conference 2007
May 15-18, 2007
5 women, 48 men. 9% women speakers. (updated 3/2/2007)
5 women, 70 men. 7% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
An Event Apart Seattle 2007
June 21-22, 2007
0 women, 9 men. 0% women speakers.
1 women, 9 men. 10% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
From this list, it seems to me that either the above concerns are not getting through to conference organizers or that gender diversity doesn't matter as much to conference organizers as they publicly say it does. The Future of Web Apps folks seem to have a particularly tin ear when it comes to this issue. For their second conference, they doubled the size of the speaker roster and added only one woman to the bill despite the complaints from last time. This List of Women Speakers for Your Conference compiled by Jen Bekman is a little non-web/tech-heavy, but it looks like it didn't get much use in the months since its publication. Perhaps it's time for another look. (If you think this issue is important, Digg this post.)
Update: To the above list, I added An Event Apart Boston 2007 and corrected a mistake in the count for GEL 2007 (they had one more woman and one less man than I initially counted.) Ryan Carson from Carson Systems, the producers of The Future of Web Apps conferences, emailed me this morning and said that my "facts just aren't correct" for the count for their London conference. He stated that the number of speakers they had control over was only 13. Some of the speakers were workshop leaders (the workshops "are very different" in some way) and others were chosen by sponsors of the conference, not by Carson Systems. I'm keeping the current count of 27 total speakers as listed on their speakers page this morning...they're the people they used to promote the conference and they're the people at the conference in the front of the room, giving their views and leading discussions for the assembled audience. (thx, erik, mark, and ryan)
Update: I added the Future of Web Design conference to the above list. (thx, jeff)
Update: Hugh Forrest wrote to update me on the latest speaker numbers for SXSW Interactive 2007 (he keeps close watch on them because the issue is an important and sensitive one to the SXSW folks)...the ones on their site were less than current. In cases where counts are updated (and not inaccurate due to my counting errors), I will append them to the conference in question so that we can see trends. I plan to update the above list periodically, adding new conferences and keeping track of the speaker numbers on upcoming ones.
 Sadly, when I Googled "future of web apps women" while doing some research for this post, Google asked "Did you mean: 'future of web apps when'"? ↩
 All statistics as of 2/22/2007. Consider the gender counts rough approximations...in some cases, I couldn't tell if a certain person was a man or a woman from their name or bio. ↩
 This conference has released only a very incomplete speaker list. ↩
"A sock puppet is an additional username used by a Wikipedian who edits under more than one name."
What's the meaning of life? Wikipedia has the answer.
Virus 2 is really simple but fun game...to win, "infect" all the tiles with the same color.
Update: Then again, maybe every number is interesting. (thx, edmund)
Recent Chris Ware talk FEB 21
A friend of mine who works at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln emailed to let me know that they've posted both audio and video of a talk that Chris Ware gave at the school last week. If you're short on time, the real meat of the video starts around 18:30 when Ware starts a slideshow that delves into his process. In addition to his series of Thanksgiving-themed New Yorker covers from last year, he also talks about some of his other work, including Rusty Brown and the strip he did for the NY Times Magazine.
I missed this somehow, but Nintendo has an extensive series of interviews up on their site between Nintendo's president and the Wii development team. A fascinating look at the Wii's development process. (thx, zacharie)
Quick little article on Bernie Krause, who is compiling a database of animal sounds from habitats around the world. I heard Krause speak at the first Foo Camp and his was one of the most interesting talks I've heard at a conference. "Krause noticed that birds who settled in compromised habitats -- logged-over second-growth forests, for instance -- encountered unexpected vocal competitors from other species and found their mating songs masked. Warblers that failed to find unoccupied [audio] bandwidth failed to breed, Krause observed, eventually convincing him of the validity of his niche hypothesis, the contention that animals evolve to fill vocal niches to best be heard by potential mates." (via tim o'reilly)
Nick Tosches wonders where the desktop photo on his new computer was taken and it takes him a year (and several messages to the likes of Bill Gates, the editor of Vermont Life, and S.I. Newhouse) to find out.
How doctors make their decisions is being studied in the hopes of making medical care better. "Doctors can also make mistakes when their judgments about a patient are unconsciously influenced by the symptoms and illnesses of patients they have just seen. Many common infections tend to occur in epidemics, afflicting large numbers of people in a single community at the same time; after a doctor sees six patients with, say, the flu, it is common to assume that the seventh patient who complains of similar symptoms is suffering from the same disease."
If Strangemaps wasn't such a reliable source, I'd think this was a hoax. A small part of East Germany lives on in the Caribbean. Cuba gave the tiny island to the GDR in 1972 while on a state visit to East Berlin and it wasn't mentioned in the German unification treaties. Commenters on the thread have found satellite images of the island in question, including this one.
Honeybee populations across the US are falling due to a mysterious disease. "Almond crops are immediately vulnerable because they rely on honeybee pollination at this time of year. And the insect decline could potentially affect other crops later in the year, such as apples and blueberries."
Kremlin Inc. is from the New Yorker a few weeks ago, but it's still very worth reading. The article details the current political situation in Russia and how in many ways, the press, business, and the political process are less free and open than under the Soviet regime. "'I don't know of a single case in the past six years when the Duma voted against any Presidential initiative,' Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the last liberal legislators willing to speak critically and publicly, told me. 'I also don't know of any case where the Duma adopted an initiative that came from the regions. One man makes all the rules in Russia now, and the Duma has become like a new Supreme Soviet.'"
A thoughtful article on how to make it as an actor by Jenna Fischer, the actress who plays Pam on The Office. "I have a great acting coach who says that success in Hollywood is based on one thing: opportunity meets readiness. You cannot always control the opportunities, but you can control the readiness. So study your craft, take it seriously. Do every play, every showcase, every short film, every student film you can get. Swallow your pride. Be willing to work for nothing in things you think are stupid. Make work for yourself. Make your own luck. Don't complain. Hopefully, the work will find you if you are ready." Worth reading even if you're not an actor. (thx, dunstan)
New Google Maps features FEB 20
Not sure when these features were added, but Google Maps now displays public transportation stops (NYC subway, the T in Boston, the L in Chicago) and building outlines for metropolitan areas. Here's a shot of the West Village in NYC:
Tiny but useful improvements. (thx, meg)
Laser Tag is a new project from Graffiti Research Lab. The idea is that you use a high-powered laser pointer to trace a pattern on the side of a building, a camera captures that pattern, some software processes the capture, and a projector displays the graffiti-ized pattern back onto the side of the building, more or less in real-time. The effect is pretty cool. The process and source code are available here.
You may be familiar with Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch. This lesser known version of the sketch was made by a couple of Nigerian 419 scammers hoping to win a phony cash prize put up by a guy they tried to scam. (thx, Jeroen)
Thee Homophoner takes sum text and substitutes homophones four any soundalike words it can fined.
A peek into David Fincher's uncompromising filmmaking process on the eve of the release of his new film, Zodiac. Jake Gyllenhaal: "David knows what he wants, and he's very clear about what he wants, and he's very, very, very smart. But sometimes we'd do a lot of takes, and he'd turn, and he would say, because he had a computer there, 'Delete the last 10 takes.' And as an actor that's very hard to hear."
Astronomers are tracking a 250-meter-wide asteroid called Apophis which will come within 30,000 km of earth in 2029. However, it's too soon to tell if that near-miss will pull the asteroid into a collision course with the earth 7 years later. "Lu says the best way to deflect an asteroid is with a 'gravity tractor' -- a spacecraft displacing about 1 metric ton that simply hovers near an asteroid and gently tweaks its orbit."
Mag-lev bed. $1.5 million for a bed that levitates above the floor.
Joel Kotkin argues that the "superstar cities" (New York, LA, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco) are overrated and overpriced and that the real economic and social action in the US is happening in the more affordable cities (Charlotte, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix). This article contains a wealth of buzzwordy phrases...in addition to "superstar cities", Kotkin refers to a "Bloombergian luxury product", "trustafarians", the "Vailization effect", "neocon anti-urbanism", and "Mayor Bloomberg's luxury calculus". (via biourbanist)
Nomination for the most useless new word of 2007: beme. A beme is a meme that spreads via blogs and those that create and spread them are called bemerz.
An interview with Ootje Oxenaar, who designed a whole range of Dutch banknotes in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. "On the 1000 guilder note, it became a 'sport' for me to put things in the notes that nobody wanted there! I was very proud to have my fingerprint in this note - and it's my middle finger!"
Sometimes I think that what Americans are best at is inventing new forms of conspicuous consumption. A man who sells snow guns for personal use (so that the kids can play in the snow even when the weather doesn't oblige) says, "New Jersey is a big area for us. There's no snow, and lots of disposable income."
Ikea Hacker is a site that highlights using Ikea furniture and products in creative ways.
Rule of thumb to avoid photographing people with their eyes closed: divide the number of people by three (or by two if the light is bad). That means that if you're taking a photo of 12 people, you need to take at least 4 photos to have a good chance of getting a photo with everyone's eyes open. (via photojojo)
Update: Jeff writes: "Way back when we only used film I learned you could tell before looking at the photo whether someone blinked by asking them what color was the flash. If it was white or bluish white, then their eyes were open. If it was orange, then their eyes were closed and they had 'seen' the flash through their eyelids."
Walking through the Union Square subway station is like playing the Star Wars arcade game. I go through that station every single day and I never noticed that. For shame!
A list of unboundedly long songs, songs that "continue until the singer decides (or is forced) to stop".
World map of driving orientations. "An estimated 66% of people worldwide live in right-hand side countries, and 72% of all distances are completed while driving on the right side of the road."
An interview with Tamir Goodman, the "Jewish Jordan". Even in the Israeli pro leagues, he is the only Orthodox Jew playing. "Tamir [has] the respect of his coaches and teammates for his religious dedication, as well as for his ability to throw down two handed jams and no look passes."
Blah, got sick yesterday somehow, so things will be a little sparse around here today. Back to the TV. The Wii isn't fun when you're sick...the last thing I want to do this afternoon is stand up.
Some recent covers by Chip Kidd of three books by James Ellroy. The photographs on the covers are of dioramas of pulp fiction covers made by Thomas Allen. (via yda)
The Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique has some neat merit badges, including the "I've been published at the New Yorker" badge, the "my degree inadvertently makes me competent in fixing household appliances" badge, and the "I've done science with no concievable practical application" badge.
Good actors that got paid a lot of money to appear in crappy movies. Buster Keaton was in Beach Blanket Bingo?
How to learn a foreign language: read Harry Potter in translation. "The plots and scenarios are familiar enough that I can pick up the gist of what is going on even if the grammar and vocabulary escape me; but after a few times reading about the impatient lechuza in Harry's room, I can't help but gather that it is not lettuce but an owl."
Neat music video by a band called The Longcut that uses infographics to tell the story of a boy and girl falling for each other.
Susan Orlean has been AWOL from the pages of the New Yorker for some time now, but she's back this week with a piece on origami and Robert Lang, former physicist and an acknowledged master of the craft.
He would have liked to have folded insects, but, in those years, bugs, as well as crustaceans, were still an origami impossibility. This was because no one had yet solved the problem of how to fold paper into figures with fat bodies and skinny appendages, so that most origami figures, even television characters and heads of state, still had the same basic shape as the paper cranes of nineteenth-century Japan. Then a few people around the globe had the idea that paper folding, besides being a pleasant diversion, might also have properties that could be analyzed and codified. Some started to study paper folding mathematically; others, including Lang, began devising mathematical tools to help with designing, all of which enabled the development of increasingly complex folding techniques. In 1970, no one could figure out how to make a credible-looking origami spider, but soon folders could make not just spiders but spiders of any species, with any length of leg, and cicadas with wings, and sawyer beetles with horns. For centuries, origami patterns had at most thirty steps; now they could have hundreds. And as origami became more complex it also became more practical. Scientists began applying these folding techniques to anything -- medical, electrical, optical, or nanotechnical devices, and even to strands of DNA -- that had a fixed size and shape but needed to be packed tightly and in an orderly way.
Lang's creations are truly astounding, almost to the point of being magical, because the comparison of the finished product to a flat, uncut sheet of paper is so dissonant. Here are two views of one of Lang's signature "bugs", a 7" silverfish he folded in 2004. The folding pattern is followed by the completed product:
In 1987, Lang folded a 15" long cuckoo clock out of a single sheet of paper. The clock, which "made Lang a sensation in the origami world", took him three months to design and six hours to fold. These days, he uses a computer program he wrote called TreeMaker to design his creations and a laser cutter borrowed from Squid Labs to gently score the paper for quicker & easier folding.
Squid Labs is responsible for a site called Instructables, which allows people to share step-by-step instructions for how to do just about anything, from broiled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to origami. Lang doesn't seem to have any instructions for his designs up on Instructables, but he shares the site's open source and collaborative spirit...crease patterns for many of his most complex creations are available on his site and TreeMaker and ReferenceFinder are free to download (with the source code released under the GPL).
(Speaking of Instructables, here's an easy way to get started with origami. Just grab that stack of Post-It Notes sitting on your desk (the square ones, not the letterbox ones), peel the top one off, and follow these simple instructions to make a little box out of it. It'll take you 5 minutes...here's mine that I did this morning.)
For more on Robert Lang and origami, check out his web site (don't miss the foldable space telescope he's helping to build at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), an audio recording of Lang's presentation from O'Reilly Media Open Source Conference 2005, an audio interview on The Connection, an interview with Cabinet magazine in 2005, and a more technical article by Lang on the mathematics and geometry of origami.
(As an aside, Lang's physics background and current vocation reminded me of Richard Feynman and his interest in flexagons, which are basically geometric origami shapes that can flexed into different shapes. A colleague of Feynman's invented the flexagon, which led to the formation of the Princeton Flexagon Committee, of which Feynman was a founding member.)
Topless women, NYC FEB 15
This is puzzling: former Gizmodo editor Joel Johnson wrote a terrific, blistering, spot-on rant about how bad the technology coverage of Gizmodo (and by association, many of the other gadget sites) is and how stupid their readers are for lapping it up...and they printed the whole thing on their web site. "And you guys just ate it up. Kept buying shitty phones and broken media devices green and dripping with DRM. You broke the site, clogging up the pipe like retarded salmon, to read the latest announcements of the most trivial jerk-off products, completely ignoring the stories about technology actually making a difference to real human beings, because you wanted a new chromed robot turd to put in your pocket."
Cool Missile Command-like Flash game, but with some physics and gravity.
Interview with Stephen Frears about his film, The Queen. "Do you think, then, that some of the power of the monarchy derives from its privacy and secrecy, and that as it modernizes -- as the people are demanding that it do -- it will actually lose some of that power?"
The effects of blogging FEB 14
Blogging makes us more oriented toward an intellectual bottom line, more interested in the directly empirical, more tolerant of human differences, more analytical in the course of daily life, more interested in people who are interesting, and less patient with Continental philosophy.
Sometimes that fish on your plate isn't what you ordered. "The alleged grouper at 17 of 24 area restaurants sampled by the investigators was actually another, less desirable species, according to a DNA analysis conducted for the state attorney general's office and released earlier this month. Asian catfish. Emperor. Painted sweetlips. And twice, types of fish that could not be identified."
Right now, "Unknown Precipitation" is falling from the sky in NYC:
They must have some idea what this stuff is. Maple syrup? Soylent green? Pepsi Cola?
Update: Alright, this calls for some intrepid investigative reporting. I just stuck my hand out the window of my apartment and can tell you that the mystery liquid is not hydrochloric acid. I repeat, not hydrochloric acid...I still have the full use of my hand.
Update: Feeling emboldened that my hand didn't melt off, I stuck it out the window again and let some of this unknown liquid pool in my palm. The liquid is clear and flavorless, which rules out whiskey, transmission fluid, honey, and pig's blood. It's too soon to tell for sure, but I'm guessing the precipitation is some form of water.
Truehoop, a basketball blog that's one of the best out there on any topic, has been purchased by ESPN. Congrats, Henry.
Steven Johnson has written up some thoughts on the Nintendo Wii. His fifth point is especially interesting and I can't help quoting almost the entire thing:
Wii Sports trades the onscreen complexity of goals and objectives and puzzles for the physical, haptic complexity of bodily movement. Since the days of Pong, games have been simplifying the intricacies of movement into unified codes of button pressing and joystick manipulation. What strikes you immediately playing Wii Sports -- and particularly Tennis -- is this feeling of fluidity, the feeling that subtle, organic shifts in your body's motion will lead to different results onscreen. My wife has a crosscourt slam she hits at the net that for the life of me I haven't been able to figure out; I have a topspin return of soft serves that I've half-perfected that's unhittable. We both got to those techniques through our own athletic experimentation with various gestures, and I'm not sure I could even fully explain what I'm doing with my killer topspin shot. In a traditional game, I'd know exactly what I was doing: hitting the B button, say, while holding down the right trigger. Instead, my expertise with the shot has evolved through the physical trial-and-error of swinging the controller, experimenting with different gestures and timings. And that's ultimately what's so amazing about the device. Games for years have borrowed the structures and rules -- as well as the imagery -- of athletic competition, but the Wii adds something genuinely new to the mix, something we'd ignored so long we stopped noticing that it was missing: athleticism itself.
He's not exactly right -- for example, drifting in Mario Kart is difficult to do until you develop a "touch" for it and is not easy to explain to others -- but the Wii does take it to a new level.
"A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death." Among working men, the risk was reduced by 64%. Naps all around!
Anthony Bourdain critiques Food Network and some its stars on Michael Ruhlman's blog. "SANDRA LEE: Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves." Blogging may well be Bourdain's natural medium...it suits his vitriolic style.
"Love bombing is the deliberate show of affection or friendship by an individual or a group of people toward another individual. Critics have asserted that this action may be motivated in part by the desire to recruit or otherwise influence."
One of my favorite actresses is Cate Blanchett, but I don't know much about her. A profile of Blanchett from last week's New Yorker (not online) filled in the blanks nicely:
What Blanchett hides from her directors and her audience she also hides from herself. "I do like to preserve the mystique of the thing, for myself as much as anyone else," she has said. Over the years, she has repeatedly dodged autobiographical questions by claiming, "I've sort of forgotten my childhood." These ellipses in conversation help Blanchett to trick herself out of self-consciousness. "I'm not interested in the character I am in myself," she told James Lipton on the television series "Inside the Actors Studio." "Any connection I have to my characters will be subliminal and subconscious."
Her approach to acting sounds similar to the idea of relaxed concentration in sports, like the practicing of free throw shooting until you can do it automatically without having to focus on shooting and can instead just focus on being focused while shooting. The author of Blanchett's profile, John Lahr, wrote a piece on stage fright for the magazine a few months ago that deals with the same theme. British actor and comedian Stephen Fry describes how he seized up after reading a review of a performance in the Financial Times:
The impact of the review was, Fry says, "phenomenal." He describes the sense of acute self-consciousness and loss of confidence that followed as "stage dread," a sort of "paradigm shift." He says, "It's not 'Look at me - I'm flying.' It's 'Look at me - I might fall.' It would be like playing a game of chess where you're constantly regretting the moves you've already played rather than looking at the ones you're going to play." Fry could not mobilize his defenses; unable to shore himself up, he took himself away.
To me, the battle with the self is one of the most interesting aspects of watching performance, whether it's sports, ballet, live music, movies, or someone giving a talk at a conference.
Reagrding the 70-hour unabridged War and Peace audiobook I posted about back in December, the Washington Post has a short profile of the audiobook's reader, Neville Jason. "But if the world has ever been ready for nearly three straight days of recorded Tolstoy it's ready now. A few years ago, publishers had to beg retailers to stock audiobooks longer than three CDs. Now, that's considered an ear snack. Unabridged is king. And abridged isn't just on the wane. It's basically stigmatized." (thx, mr. d)
Regarding last week's post about LED lightbulbs, Matt Haughey bought a variety pack of LED bulbs, tried them out, and says "save your money". "The color is definitely blue and the light is dim. There's no way on earth these bulbs are worth running out and spending $30+ per bulb on."
Miami Vice FEB 13
Count me among those that scoffed when I heard a movie was being made of the Miami Vice TV series. The lesson: don't doubt Michael Mann. Not to mention Vice's director of photography, Dion Beebe. The movie was gorgeous and had the most distinct and tight sense of style I've seen in quite some time. Wish I'd seen it on the big screen.
Denis Darzacq's photos of dancers, caught in mid-flight. (thx, david)
Nina Berman won a prize in the 2007 World Press Photo contest for this heartbreaking photo of a badly wounded Iraqi war veteran and his childhood sweetheart on their wedding day. Their story is here. "One arm was a stump and his remaining hand had only two fingers. Later, his big toe was grafted on in place of a thumb. One eye was blind and milky, as if melted, and his ears had been burnt away. The top of his skull had been removed and inserted by doctors into the fatty tissue inside his torso to keep it viable and moist for future use." (thx, ayush)
Tax tips for graphic designers and visual artists. "If seeing the visual art of others is vital to your own creativity, keeps you abreast of current design trends, or clues you in to the latest fashion, then consider the costs [of going to the movies or renting DVDs] a tax deduction." (thx, shane)
Complaints choirs...that is, groups of people who sing their dissatisfaction in front of live audiences. "In Helsinki the most favourite topics were ring tones of mobile phones, people who smell in public transport and the fact that Finland always looses to Sweden in competitions: in Icehockey and in Eurovision." (thx, nancy)
Is California going to split from the United States? CA governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently stated: "We have the economic strength, we have the population and the technological force of a nation-state." Juan Enriquez extensively covers the potential fracture of the US in his book, The Untied States of America (@ Amazon).
Steve Jobs' thoughts on music and DRM. Sounds like he'd rather that music sold via the iTMS didn't have DRM built in.
Finalists for the 2007 version of the annual competition held by Design Within Reach to design the best chair out of a champagne cork. Check out the finalists from 2004 and the winner from 2006. (DWR's site has a bit of a permalink problem, so I can't find contest results from previous years.)
The NY Times covers Mad River Glen, a quirky ski area in Vermont that has the only operating single-seat chair lift in the country, doesn't allow snowboarders, and doesn't groom (that often) or make (that much) snow. "Occasionally, snowboarders will hike to the top from a nearby road and ride down. If they tackle the tough terrain with crisp, accomplished turns, the Mad River Glen regulars will loudly applaud at the bottom. If the boarders aren't very good, the abuse is just as loud. People will come out hooting and hollering from the lodge." I've skiied there a few times; here's some photos of the mountain and some videos I took. (thx, tien)
Teaser trailer for Oceans 13. Looks like #13 is Andy Garcia.
Rosemarie Fiore's awesome time-lapse photos of video games. Reminds me of Averaging Gradius. See also Jason Salavon's work.
Ah, an oldie but a goodie: Mullets Galore. They decode the confusing world of hockey hair and break it down into 99 helpful classifications like "cameromullet" and "Loch Ness mullet".
Margaret Bourke-White FEB 08
I came across this striking photo by Margaret Bourke-White the other day:
In January of 1937, rains began to fall throughout the Ohio River Valley, eventually triggering what is known today as the "Great Flood of 1937". Overall, total precipitation for January was four times its normal amount in the areas surrounding the river. [...] The Weather Bureau reported that total flood damage for the entire state of Kentucky was 250 million dollars, which was an incredible sum in 1937. Another flood of this magnitude would not be seen in the Ohio River Valley until 60 years later.
A diary from Mama Bondurant provides a glimpse into what the flood was like:
January 22---This is another terrible day. The water is still rising and we hear distress cries everywhere. I have tired all day to get West Point, but it is still under water. Jim came home for a little while but went back to Camp Knox to assist in placing flood sufferers from West Point. It is so bad outside. Rain has turned to sleet. Electricity is gone. No lights or radio.
Working as a photographer for Life magazine, Bourke-White also took this iconic photo of Gandhi and his spinning wheel.
Authors who write naked. Literally naked, not literature that could be described as naked.
Manhattan, the greenest of cities? Not so fast says Tyler Cowen: "Praising Manhattan is a bit like looking only at the roof of a car and concluding it doesn't burn much gas. [...] Think of Manhattan as a place which outsources its pollution, simply because land there is so valuable."
A woman recently went to her butcher and asked for some grass-fed beef. His response: "I don't think you can feed grass to cows."
Philippe Chancel's photos of North Korea. "No country, no regime, past or present, has ever conceived such an environment of ubiquitous propaganda, not even those who instigated or experienced the marxist-leninists revolutions of the last century. Not even Nazi Germany." (via conscientious)
Rebecca Mead's new book on the state of weddings in America is available for preorder on Amazon. Mead writes for the New Yorker; the book is out in May. "Mead takes us into a world populated by Bridezillas, ministers-for-hire, videographers, and heirloom manufacturers, exposing the forces behind the consumerist mindset of the American bride and the entrepreneurial zeal of the wedding industry that both serves and exploits her. "
Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib FEB 06
Some information on Errol Morris' newest project, a film about Abu Ghraib:
Morris introduced us to his latest project about the Abu Ghraib, and the iconic images created from the prisoner torture. It's his hypothesis that it's a handful of those photos from that we'll remember a hundred years from now about the Iraq War. He explained that this project began with the mystery of two photos by Roger Fenton described by Susan Sontag in her book, Regarding the Pain of Others. During the Crimean War, Fenton took photos of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Two are of the same road, one with cannonballs littering the road, one with the cannonballs in the ravine. The Mystery being which photo was taken first, which was staged?
This is an interesting topic for Morris considering he pioneered the use of "expressionistic reenactments" in documentary filmmaking with The Thin Blue Line.
Update: The film is called "S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure".
White Castle is once again doing special Valentine's Day dinners this year...you get your own server and candles! Here's what last year's meal looked like (more at Flickr).
Quicktime VR panoramas from the Apollo missions to the moon (with audio). These are fantastic.
A paper on the tradeoff in baseball between home runs and hitting for average that I don't fully understand but seems interesting. "Both models find a significant and negative relationship between home runs per at-bat and contact rate." (thx, aaron)
Update to the whole annoying Flickr/Yahoo login business: Heather Champ is personally giving refunds to people with pro accounts who don't want to switch their login to Yahoo.
Update: Just so this is clear, Heather is refunding people out of her own personal PayPal account and funds. Anyone who takes her up on it gets a punch a nose from me.
Update: I didn't read this carefully enough...it's not Heather's personal money. And no punch in the nose, although I might poke you in the ribs or something. (thx, rich)
Since people are "poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future" (the term of art is miswanting), perhaps careful career planning is a waste of time. "The best strategy for career planning is this: make your best guess, try it out and don't be surprised if you don't like it." I've done 0 minutes of career planning and I'm happy with the results. See also The Chaos Theory of Career Development.
This just in: Conan O'Brien defeats Serena Williams at Wii Tennis.
Reading at a 4th grade level FEB 02
We're leaving tomorrow for a trip of the relaxing sort, so I went to the bookstore this morning to collect some reading material. I had decided not to read anything that felt too much like work or that I had to think about. What I needed was fiction like television: passive but engaging. Having procured a paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code in the B section, I wandered over to the Rs. Robbins. Roth. Rowlandson. Salinger. Hmm. No luck in the Teen section either. Finally I hit paydirt in the Kids section: the 1085 pages of the first three years of Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts.
So, I'll see you in a week. Posting will be light until then, but feel free to enjoy some random posts from the last 9 years of kottke.org, peruse the Best Links of 2006 list again, look at some of my photos from Anguilla in 2004, dream of NYC in the snow (will it ever again?), imagine if Manhattan visited other US cities, or visit the many fine sites in the sidebar of the front page. I'll send you a postcard when I get back.
Pairing San Francisco neighborhoods with New York neighborhoods. For instance, North Beach --> Little Italy, Hayes Valley --> Chelsea, and Mission --> Wiliamsburg.
Photography of Tin Tabernacles and Other Buildings by Alasdair Ogilvie. "Largely unnoticed and ignored, corrugated iron buildings can be discovered scattered across Britain and the Empire. [...] With not existing infrastructures, these newly created communities had an urgent need for churches, chapels and schools. Corrugated iron buildings fulfilled this demand." More photos at Ogilvie's site.
LED lightbulbs are expensive, but they last a long time and use relatively little power. One LED lightbulb costs $35 but lasts 60,000 hours, during which time you'd have to buy 60 incandescent bulbs (at a cost of $40) and the difference in the cost of the electricity over the 60,000 hours is $360 for the incandescent versus $12 for the LED bulb. (via a.whole)
Update: Something to keep in mind...the above comparison is a bit apples and oranges because as the page states, the LED lightbulbs have a "reduced light output" compared to regular bulbs. The featured LED bulb only puts out 31 lumens of brightness while a 60 W incandescent puts out 850 lumens. (thx, kevin)
I wanted to write more about this, but I don't have the throughput right now and the article is 5 days old at this point, so this shorter post will have to do. Michael Pollan, who is doing some of the best food writing out there right now, wrote an article in the most recent NY Times Magazine on how we should be thinking about eating. In it, he blames the rise of nutritionism (the emphasis on the nutrients contained in food rather than the food itself) for our increasingly poor diets. This goes in the must-read pile for sure, if only for the great "silence of the yams" pun. If you absolutely can't handle the length, skip to the "Beyond Nutritionism" section at the end for Pollan's rules of thumb for eating, my favorite of which is #5: "Pay more, eat less."
Update: Meg summarizes Pollan's rules of thumb with some notes of her own.
The latest Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is available for pre-order at Amazon and is currently the #1 seller in books.
Not too many people are paying attention, but the Energy Policy Act of 2005 lengthened daylight saving time by four weeks in the US. Instead of beginning the first Sunday of April and running through the last Sunday in October, daylight saving time will now stretch from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November. The Washington Post has an article today about the change and what impact it might have on automated systems:
The change takes effect this year -- on March 11 -- and it has angered airlines, delighted candy makers and sent thousands of technicians scrambling to make sure countless automated systems switch their clocks at the right moment. Unless changed by one method or another, many systems will remain programmed to read the calendar and start daylight saving time on its old date in April, not its new one in March.
The article mentions that older Microsoft products like Windows XP SP1 and Windows NT4 might require manual updates and Daring Fireball has had a few updates about how the switch effects Mac users, including this piece at TidBITS. But what about everything else? Is the version of Movable Type I'm using going to make the adjustment? What about Wordpress? Perl? Ruby? PHP? Java? Linux? I'm sure the current versions of all these programs and languages address the issue, but are there fixes and patches for those running old versions of Perl on their server?
If you've got any information about programs, applications, and languages affected by the change and how to address the problem, leave a comment on this thread. I'll update the post as information comes in.
Jeffrey Toobin, the New Yorker's legal writer, has penned a piece about Google's book scanning efforts and the legal challenges it faces. Interestingly, both Google and the publishers who are suing them say that the lawsuit is basically a business negotiation tactic. However, according to Larry Lessig, settling the lawsuit might not be the best thing for anyone outside the lawsuit: "Google wants to be able to get this done, and get permission to resume scanning copyrighted material at all the libraries. For the publishers, if Google gives them anything at all, it creates a practical precedent, if not a legal precedent, that no one has the right to scan this material without their consent. That's a win for them. The problem is that even though a settlement would be good for Google and good for the publishers, it would be bad for everyone else."
Jargon watch! Gaysted (adj.): "when heterosexual people get so wasted, they slip into seemingly gay acts".
Update: The two fellows are Al Minns and Leon James...here's the original video. In the final 30 seconds or so of the video, they almost look like they're poppin' and lockin'. (thx, paul)
The first thing ever sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer for $14.00.
British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay had high hopes for his new restaurant in NYC, but it garnered only two stars from the New York Times on Thursday in a review that called the restaurant cautious, polite, predictable, and timid. NYC food site Eater reports that copies of the NY Times distributed at the hotel in which Ramsay's restaurant is located had the Dining section, and therefore the disappointing review, removed from them.