Entries for May 2009 (June 2009 »    July 2009 »    August 2009 »    Archives)

 

Summer of The WireMAY 29

Alan Sepinwall is watching season two of The Wire this summer and posting reviews. Here are his episode one reviews: one for newbies and another for veteran viewers. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, season two is underrated and if you didn't care for it the first time through, I'd give it another shot. (thx, david)

Google's search dominanceMAY 29

After I heard Microsoft's announcement of yet-another-interation of their search engine (named Bing), I went to look at the stats for kottke.org for the past month to see how many visitors each search engine sent to the site. I couldn't believe how dominant Google was.

Google | 262,946 | 93.8%
MS Live | 4,307 | 1.5%
Yahoo | 4,036 | 1.4%
MSN | 2,796 | 1.0%

It's a small sample and doesn't match up with Comscore's numbers (Google: 64.2%, Yahoo: 20.4%, MS: 8.2%), but wow. As a comparison, the numbers for a year ago for kottke.org had Google at 91%, Yahoo at 4.9%, and Live at 0.7%.

Altruism in economicsMAY 29

Altruism in business and behaviorial economics is a topic that comes up quite often on kottke.org, even when it's not explicit. (For instance, the central issue in the Atul Gawande article I pointed to yesterday pits the individual financial desires of doctors vs. the health of their patients.) This article from Ode Magazine takes a look at the research done in this area so far and how the idea of altruism in economics is currently on the rise.

The theory is based on the premise that humans evolved in small groups with strong social contracts and plenty of contact with strangers. Cooperation within the tribe was advantageous so long as free riders were punished. It was also the best gambit on encountering strangers. Cooperation, particularly in times of famine, was the only means of survival, so altruism became a favored evolutionary trait.

One of my favorite books on altruism and economics is Robert Wright's Nonzero.

Huge rooftop farm in BrooklynMAY 29

A pair of farmers are growing a huge garden on the top of a former bagel factory in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn.

But for some New Yorkers, a vegetable-filled rooftop is far more conceivable and practical than moving to the country. Novak agrees. "When these farmers go in and lecture these inner city kids about dairy farming in upstate New York, it's in one ear and out the other. But I can tell them, I have two farms in the city," and they can take the subway and come help on the weekends.

Update: More on urban farming.

Can you copyright a bunch of tweets?MAY 29

Yesterday I linked to a long piece by attorney Brock Shinen discussing whether individual posts to Twitter are copyrightable and asked:

Does this mean that nearly all of Twitter's content is in the public domain? Or can you copyright a collection of tweets...the entire output of one person, for instance?

Brock sent along a short reply to my question, reprinted here with his kind permission:

This is information and not advice: It's possible (and likely) that the majority of individual Tweets are in the public domain. But copyright protection may extend to a compilation of otherwise non-protectable Tweets. The question of whether 'you' can do that as opposed to the author of those Tweets is tricky and would depend on how it's done. If the compilation is authored in such a way as to suggest a false designation of origin (i.e., that the person compiling the Tweets actually authored them), you might run into false designation claims. Also, as a practical matter, you may still get sued and forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend a lawsuit you might otherwise win - if you can afford to get to trial. In the end, if you are a Tweet author and want to protect your Tweets, then you should probably compile them and seek protection with the US Copyright Office. If that works out for you, you're set. If the Copyright Office denies your application for registration, you have your answer.

Ricky Gervais on atheismMAY 29

A quote attributed to Ricky Gervais about his atheism.

It annoys me that the burden of proof is on us. It should be: you came up with the idea. Why do you believe it?

(via cyn-c)

A list of summer reading listsMAY 29

Rebecca Blood kicks off her annual list of summer reading lists for 2009.

Update: Here is Blood's second installment. The entire list (with future updates) is available here.

Ludic suicideMAY 29

A study of several deaths in Kentucky by Russian Roulette, a game played when you're out of your mind and literally ends the same way.

In one situation, a 22-year-old African American man used a 0.22 caliber revolver in a game with a friend. Each participant pulled the trigger on two occasions; the victim discharged the fatal bullet on his third attempt. [...] Four of the victims had pulled the trigger at least 3 times before their fatality.

At least three times! There's a weird interplay of recklessness and determination going on here.

Hulu DesktopMAY 28

Hulu has released desktop apps for Windows and the Mac that work with those platforms' respective standard remote controls. This will be a welcome change from fiddling with it in a web browser.

Indy 500 car trackerMAY 28

The Indianapolis Star did a really nice car tracker for the Indianapolis 500. Just push play and watch the race unfold. I was struck by how few changes in position there were...you'd think people would be passing each other all the time but that's just not the case. (thx, nathan)

On rebooting Star TrekMAY 28

This post by Greg Hatcher contains two equally interesting parts:

1. A detailed examination of the Star Trek franchise which shows that the film by JJ Abrams is merely the latest in a long series of successful reboots.

2. A list of rules to follow to successfully reboot a franchise, whether it's Star Trek or Bond or Batman.

Don't abuse the audience goodwill. Remember, you sell the audience on your story based on certain expectations. Break that unspoken contract and you're in trouble. No one bought a ticket for Spider-Man 3 thinking they were going to get a romance with musical comedy interludes, yet that's what it felt like we got.

If you're doing a new version of a beloved old property, that means you need to figure out what it was people liked and make damn sure it's in there. That doesn't mean you have to do it the same way every time, you just have to do it. James Bond movies have been retooled a number of times, but we never lose the license to kill, the exquisite stunt work, the Bond theme music, or the cool cars and hot girls. There's about a million miles of difference between Moonraker and Casino Royale, but they're both recognizably Bond movies and they were both successful, because they met the baseline audience expectation of what a James Bond movie would give them.

(via rebecca blood)

Mad Men season threeMAY 28

Season three of Mad Men is set to premiere in August. Oh Joannie! Plenty of time to stock up on your rye and Lucky Strikes. (thx, meg)

Update: The season three premiere has an official date/time: August 16 at 10pm. Because of the expense of the show, AMC wanted to add two more minutes of advertising but series creator Matthew Weiner balked at cutting that time out of each show. So season three episodes will run slightly past 11pm to accommodate both parties' desires. (thx, david)

Also, if you've never seen Mad Men and wonder what all the fuss is about, AMC has the entire first episode of the series online for free.

The causes of increased healthcare spending in the USMAY 28

Atul Gawande discovered that McAllen, Texas spends more per person on healthcare than El Paso (which is demographically similar to McAllen) and set out to find out why. Along the way, he encounters a curious relationship between the amount spent on healthcare and the quality of that care: higher spending does not correlate with better care.

When you look across the spectrum from Grand Junction to McAllen -- and the almost threefold difference in the costs of care -- you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue.

There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems.

Obama, you're reading this guy's stuff, yes? Get him on the team.

Update: Dr. Peter Orszag is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget for the White House and is working on some of the problems that Gawande talks about in this article. Here's a 40-minute video of Orszag speaking on "Health Care - Capturing the Opportunity in the Nation's Core Fiscal Challenge". (thx, todd)

I changed the bit in the first paragraph about El Paso and McAllen being "nearby". Funny, I thought 800 miles in Texas *was* nearby. (thx, stephen)

I also changed "lower spending correlates with better care" to "higher spending does not correlate with better care"...those two statements are not the same. I misread the results of one of the studies that Gawande mentions. (thx, patrick)

Errol Morris on art forgeriesMAY 28

Errol Morris posted the first part of a seven-part series of posts about Han van Meegeren, art forger extraordinaire.

To be sure, the Van Meegeren story raises many, many questions. Among them: what makes a work of art great? Is it the signature of (or attribution to) an acknowledged master? Is it just a name? Or is it a name implying a provenance? With a photograph we may be interested in the photographer but also in what the photograph is of. With a painting this is often turned around, we may be interested in what the painting is of, but we are primarily interested in the question: who made it? Who held a brush to canvas and painted it? Whether it is the work of an acclaimed master like Vermeer or a duplicitous forger like Van Meegeren -- we want to know more.

Morris ends the post with a cliffhanger that, if I didn't know any better, was written specifically for me: "The Uncanny Valley."

Update: Part two has been posted.

The Slow Inevitable Death of American MuscleMAY 28

A metaphor for the current state of the American auto industry: two cars in an art gallery crashing into each other over a period of six days.

Slow Car Crash

(via today and tomorrow)

Update: This exhibit is currently on display at The Boiler in Brooklyn. (thx, jeff)

Update: See also Chris Burden's Samson.

A museum installation consisting of a 100-ton jack connected to a gear box and a turnstile. The 100-ton jack pushes two large timbers against the bearing walls of the museum. Each visitor to the museum must pass through the turnstile in order to see the exhibition. Each input on the turnstile ever so slightly expands the jack, and ultimately if enough people visit the exhibition, Samson could theoretically destroy the building.

Here's a video. (via things)

Typekit: real fonts for the webMAY 28

Typekit is an upcoming typeface hosting service which will provide vetted fonts that you can include in your site's stylesheet using the @font-face mechanism.

That's where Typekit comes in. We've been working with foundries to develop a consistent web-only font linking license. We've built a technology platform that lets us to host both free and commercial fonts in a way that is incredibly fast, smoothes out differences in how browsers handle type, and offers the level of protection that type designers need without resorting to annoying and ineffective DRM.

What a great idea. And web entrepreneurs pay attention, this is how to make a compelling online property: take an idea that everyone loves in theory but doesn't use in practice because it's a pain in the ass (in this case, embedding type on the web) and offer a hosting service to solve that problem. YouTube did this with videos, Blogger/Blogspot, TypePad, & Wordpress did this with blogs, Flickr did it with photos, etc. etc.

Can you copyright a tweet?MAY 28

In the opinion of intellectual copyright attorney Brock Shinen, the short answer is "no".

I admit, I think a protectable Tweet exists in theory. I have read hundreds if not thousands of Tweets and have yet to read one I believe would be protectable, but the possibility exists. The question is not: Are Tweets Copyrightable. The question is: Is This Tweet Copyrightable. The copyrightability of Tweets is not dependent on the fact that they are Tweets. Rather, it's dependent on the analysis of the Tweet in question. The all-encompassing response that all Tweets are either protected or not protected is misguided. The real response is that it depends. However, when you analyze most Tweets, they would never individually pass copyright muster.

Does this mean that nearly all of Twitter's content is in the public domain? Or can you copyright a collection of tweets...the entire output of one person, for instance? Let's say I want to publish Tweatise: The Wit and Wisdom of Merlin Mann, an unabridged book of Merlin's Twitter stream...can I do that?

Update: Another opinion: tweetCC.

tweetCC makes it easy for you to offer your tweets under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication or other Creative Commons licenses.

(thx, dan)

Update: Yet another perspective.

Saddam's palacesMAY 27

BLDGBLOG has an interview with photographer Richard Mosse about his new project called Breach. Mosse went to Iraq and photographed several of Saddam's old palaces, many of which are occupied by American soliders living in improvised barracks.

It was extraordinary how some of the palace interiors had been transformed to accommodate the soldiers. Troops scurried beneath vaulted ceilings and glittering faux-crystal chandeliers. Lofty marble columns towered over rat runs between hastily constructed chipboard cubicles. Obama's face beamed out of televisions overlooking the freezers and microwaves of provisional canteen spaces.

Update: Flavorwire has another interview with Mosse about these images.

Better living through fake time travelMAY 27

How to seduce a friend who has a boyfriend and otherwise wouldn't sleep with you.

Step Four: Remove all your clothes and break into your friend's house.

Step Five: Use the knife to cut your body in various places. Avoid the face. If possible, focus on your back. The more blood the better.

This is weird and disturbing and awesome. (via 3qd)

Chairs from The IncrediblesMAY 27

Jim Unwin collects virtual chairs, specifically the ones from the movie The Incredibles.

Chairs from The Incredibles

This is my dedication to the creative team behind Pixar's movie The Incredibles. I loved the depth of the world, the buildings, the gadgets and most of all I loved the chairs.

(via swissmiss)

The rose of urbanityMAY 27

Rice School of Architecture produced a poster showing the relative sizes of ring roads from cities around the globe. Houston's is the largest, followed by Beijing. (via strange maps)

Bach Bach RevolutionMAY 27

Two women play Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor on a giant piano at FAO Schwarz.

If that's too much for you, just start with chopsticks or caper around like an idiot and knock over toddlers. (via cyn-c)

Focus on focusingMAY 27

From The Real Time Web is a Beautiful Distraction:

The ability to pay attention, focus and strategically disconnect will be a winning discipline of the next generation of business leaders.

I'm not leading anyone anywhere, but this has certainly been a winning strategy for me.

The other dramaMAY 27

During the TV coverage of the NBA playoffs, the NBA is running commercials showing great moments in playoff history that have been edited to isolate the players from the crowd. There's Bird stealing the inbound pass, Dr. J's improbable behind-the-backboard reverse layup, and Kobe lobbing the ball to Shaq for a thunderous dunk.

The Kobe/Shaq clip is worth a closer look because although the NBA picked this clip because it represents a dramatic moment in the NBA playoffs involving two of the best players in history on a storied team, what it actually shows is how dysfunctional Shaq and Kobe's relationship was even then, in their first championship season.

Bryant creates 95% of the offense here by crossing Pippen over and throwing a perfect lob to O'Neal. O'Neal throws it down and the camera follows him as he heads down the court yelling in celebration, totally blowing right past Kobe, who has his hand out to high-five Shaq. Kobe half-heartedly grabs at O'Neal's forearm as he passes; Shaq doesn't even notice. From his celebration, you'd think Shaq had made an amazing play, but Kobe made that whole thing happen. And if you look at the box score for the game, it was clearly Bryant's game: he had 25 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 blocks to O'Neal's 18/9/5/1.

The unedited clip of the play1 shows an awkward ending to this awkward moment. After celebrating with the Laker bench, Shaq looks for Kobe and the two finally acknowledge the play together. But it's a brief moment; they slap hands and go their separate ways, foreshadowing Shaq's departure four years later.

[1] What's also striking about the clip is that it shows just how much Kobe has improved the mechanics of his game since then. Even though he makes a great play here, he's still got those jittery feet that characterized his early career, at times looking like a dog skittering around on freshly polished linoleum. Any stuttering footwork is now long gone, replaced by the silkiest and smoothest of movement.

Update: fxguide has a good look at how these commercials were made from a technical standpoint.

Getting the right photoMAY 27

Art Wolfe details the process he went through to get just the right photo of some Chinese fishermen. There were many false starts.

By the time I was ready for the next shot, the darkening evening sky balanced the light somewhat. A 16mm focal length endowed the image with the depth I wanted and, combined with an f16 aperture, ideal depth of field. Waning light necessitated a one to two second exposure. Although blurred moving birds ruined most of the shots, they blocked direct light from the lanterns. I was making progress.

Perhaps even more interesting that Wolfe's process is the fishing method employed by his subjects; they use birds, not nets or poles:

For centuries fishermen on the Li River of Southern China have partnered with cormorants to catch fish. Each fisherman has a complement of half a dozen or so trained birds. The light of a lantern attracts the fish, and the cormorants return to the boat, fish in beak. They can't swallow them because the fisherman fix a band around their necks, but they eventually get their share.

(via penmachine)

So very trailerMAY 26

These photos right here? That's why Dooce makes the big bucks while the rest of us fight over scraps.

25 and life to goMAY 26

When you reach 25, it's finally time to fully grow up and be an adult.

You must, however, stop viewing carelessness, tardiness, helplessness, or any other quality better suited to a child as either charming or somehow beyond your control. A certain grace period for the development of basic consideration and self-sufficiency is assumed, but once you have turned 25, the grace period is over, and starring in a film in your head in which you walk the earth alone is no longer considered a valid lifestyle choice, but rather grounds for exclusion from social occasions.

The best advice: "Be interested so that you can be interesting."

Visually abridged moviesMAY 26

Movies in Frames sums up movies in just four frames. I particularly liked the one for The Darjeeling Limited.

Underground projects in NYCMAY 26

The New York Transit Museum has developed an extensive online version of their The Future Beneath Us exhibit, featuring eight NYC-area underground projects that are currently under development. The exhibit is on display in two Midtown locations until July 5. (thx, michael)

Mapping North KoreaMAY 26

North Korea is in the news. Not much is known about the secretive country, but a group of interested citizens has been mapping North Korea on Google Earth using snippets of news reports here and there.

More than 35,000 people have downloaded Mr. Melvin's file, North Korea Uncovered. It has grown to include thousands of tags in categories such as "nuclear issues" (alleged reactors, missile storage), dams (more than 1,200 countrywide) and restaurants (47). Its Wikipedia approach to spying shows how Soviet-style secrecy is facing a new challenge from the Internet's power to unite a disparate community of busybodies.

"Here is one of the most closed countries in the world and yet, through this effort on the Internet by a bunch of strangers, the country's visible secrets are being published," says Martyn Williams, a Tokyo-based technology journalist who recently sent Mr. Melvin the locations of about 30 North Korean lighthouses.

Update: The map itself is available here. (thx, brian)

Teens texting at terrific rateMAY 26

Crazy statistic of the day:

American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company -- almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

I went over on my 200 messages plan for the first time last month. In other news, I am fucking old and get off my lawn, you damn kids!

Meme sceneryMAY 26

Andy Baio deleted the subjects from famous internet memes, leaving just the backgrounds. The results are hazy, ugly, and beautiful all at once, like last night's hookup after a night of hard drinking.

How introverts travelMAY 26

It might surprise you that introverts travel differently than extroverts, particularly because most travel magazines, guidebooks, and TV shows are produced by and for extroverts.

I don't seek people out, I am terrible at striking up conversations with strangers and I am happy exploring a strange city alone. I don't seek out political discourse with opinionated cab drivers or boozy bonding with locals over beers into the wee hours. By the time the hours get wee, I'm usually in bed in my hotel room, appreciating local color TV. (So sue me, but I contend that television is a valid reflection of a society.)

I almost broke my neck extensively nodding in agreement while reading this article. The author also has some tips for the introverted traveler. And if you haven't read it, Jonathan Rauch's Caring for Your Introvert remains one of my favorite things that I've ever featured on kottke.org.

JNSoftwareMAY 22

Thank ye to JNSoftware, this week's kottke.org RSS sponsor. They make software for the Mac and iPhone. Their main app is Dialectic, a scriptable phone tool that helps you wrangle your various phones, accounts, and address books into one place. It works with landlines, mobiles, Skype, Google Voice, Vonage, and many others and integrates with all sorts of apps like Entourage and Address Book.

Try Dialectic out for free for two weeks or head on over to their store to purchase. From now until May 30, 2009, get a 20% discount on any of JNSoftware's apps using the coupon code KOTTKE20 at the checkout.

Hurley has a blogMAY 22

Sweet Marvin Candle! How come no one told me that Hurley from Lost has a blog?

Hybrid cutleryMAY 22

A Venn diagram showing the relationships between hybrid cutlery like the spork, spife, knork, and the little known splayd. See also forkchops.

Update: See also the history of forks. (thx, jake)

Thomas Keller: Ad Hoc at HomeMAY 22

If you're daunted by The French Laundry Cookbook and Under Pressure, Thomas Keller is coming out with a more accessible cookbook based on his casual Yountville restaurant: Ad Hoc at Home.

Keller showcases dishes that can be made every day (and not just for special occasions). Invaluable lessons, secrets, tips and tricks -- as well as charming personal anecdotes -- accompany recipes for such classics as the best fried chicken, beef Stroganoff, roasted spring leg of lamb, hamburger, the crispiest fried fish, chicken soup with dumplings, potato hash with bacon and melted onions, and superlative grilled cheese sandwiches, apple fritters, buttermilk biscuits, relishes and pickles, cherry pie -- 200 recipes in all.

It's due November 1. Ruhlman, did you have a hand in this one?

Update: Ruhlman says "yes".

The Deck Ad Network Readership SurveyMAY 22

Usually when you belong to some kind of ad network, you're eventually asked to pester your readers with some sort of survey that attempts to gauge what sorts of eyeballs are reading your site. The Deck has never asked me to do this and still hasn't...but I ran across The Deck Ad Network Readership Survey on SimpleBits this morning and if I were you, I completely wouldn't mind taking it. The survey questions include:

7. If you were to become romantically involved with a typeface, which one would it be?
15. Where are you, emotionally speaking?
24. What would you say is your greatest weakness?

Nice posters for the 2012 OlympicsMAY 22

Alan Clarke has designed some lovely proposed posters for the 2012 Olympics in London.

2012 Olympic Posters

The Ministry of Type likens them to Otl Aicher's classic work for the 1972 Munich Games but they also remind me of several of the media packaging mashups, particularly those of Olly Moss.

Federated searchMAY 22

At some event called the Churchill Club Top Tech Trends, VC Steve Jurvetson had an interesting idea about the future direction of search.

He said the aggregate power of distributed human activity will trump centralized control. His main point was that Google, and other search engines that analyze the Web and links, are much less useful than a (theoretical) search engine that knows not what people have linked to (as Google does), but rather what pages are open on people's browsers at the moment that people are searching. "All the problems of search would be solved if search relevance was ranked by what browsers were displaying," he said.

I like that idea a lot, but it got me thinking: how many instances of Firefox can you run on a cheapo LInux box, how many tabs could you have open in each of those browsers, and would that be more or less cost effective than the search term gaming that currently happens? In other words, good luck with that!

Under the waterfrontMAY 22

New York magazine reports on what lies beneath the water of New York Harbor, including $26 million in silver ingots.

The Hudson's main current has, for all of recorded history, clung to lower Manhattan's edge, skimming along the West Side. Battery Park City, built in the seventies, juts out into that flow, and since then, the current has been cutting a new channel, out toward the center of the river. That current is scraping mud off the top of the Lincoln Tunnel where it never did before; the underwater traffic tubes have lost 25 percent of their soil coverage in some spots. If the tubes ever became exposed, they would be at risk for shifting, cracking, and terrorist threats.

(thx, jack)

Infinite SummerMAY 21

Infinite Summer: on online book club which means to read Infinite Jest this summer.

You've been meaning to do it for over a decade. Now join endurance bibliophiles from around the web as we tackle and comment upon David Foster Wallace's masterwork, June 21st to September 22nd. A thousand pages ÷ 93 days = 75 pages a week. No sweat.

Judging a book by its improbable phrasesMAY 21

A clever book quiz: can you guess the book based on the statistically improbably phrases that appear in the text? This one should be pretty easy:

medical attache, annular fusion, entertainment cartridge, improbably deformed, howling fantods, feral hamsters, dawn drills, tough nun, professional conversationalist, new bong, ceiling bulged, metro boston, tennis academy, red leather coat, soupe aux pois, red beanie, addicted man, magnetic video, littler kids, little rotter, technical interview, police lock, oral narcotics, sober time, veiled girl

(thx, sk)

Our soon-to-be outdated beliefsMAY 21

From Reddit, a question that yielded a number of thought provoking answers:

So many of our grandparents were racist, and some of our parents are homophobes. Which of our own closely held beliefs will our own children and grandchildren by appalled by?

Phil Dhingra collected some of his favorite answers.

That drugs were illegal
Eating meat
Monogamy (or anti-polygamy)
Imprisonment vs. rehabilitation

Attitudes about human treatment of animals is something that will likely change in my lifetime. At some point domestication and consumption will move from something that we do because our ancestors did to something that just doesn't fit into modern society. In a cultural sense, humans don't belong to the animal kingdom anymore; we're not normal predators that need to kill animals to survive. Soon we'll have the technology to grow enough meat in factories to satisfy even the most hardcore meat-eaters. Once this happens, it will be difficult to justify the continued imprisionment and slaughter of cows, pigs, chickens, and the like simply so that we can eat what we like rather than what we need to survive.

RunPeeMAY 21

RunPee is quite possibly the GREATEST MOVIE WEB SITE EVER. It tells you the best time to run to the bathroom during a movie and what happened while you were gone. Star Trek has four available times, the first of which starts when Captain Pike leaves the bridge for Nero's ship.

Old folks vs. swine fluMAY 21

Older people may be more immune to the swine flu than everyone else.

The protection theory, Dr. Jernigan explained, is that from 1918 to 1957, all circulating seasonal type-A flus were weakened descendants of the 1918 Spanish flu, which was an H1N1, as the current swine is. [...] Then in 1957, an H2N2, the Asian flu, emerged and displaced it. It was replaced in 1968 by the H3N2, called Hong Kong flu, which has persisted as a seasonal strain. A different and milder H1N1 emerged in 1977. It was isolated in China but is called the Russian flu because of a suspicion it escaped from a Soviet laboratory. That H1N1, the 1968 H3N2 and a B strain have all circulated in humans ever since, and the seasonal flu shot is aimed at them.

I've lost control againMAY 21

Jonah Lehrer, who is seemingly in a race with Michael Lewis these days to see who can write the most books and articles in a 12-month period, writes about self-control in the New Yorker...what it is, how it works, and how it affects things like achievement, happiness, etc. The article focuses on the efforts of Dr. Walter Mischel and the marshmallow test that he developed to measure self-control in young kids. With the marshmallow test, kids are given a mashmallow and they are told that they can eat it right away or, if they hold out, they can eat two marshmallows.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

I must have really underachieved on the SAT because as a four-year-old, I would have likely waited forever...I don't like marshmallows.

Update: Radiolab recently tackled the marshmallow test on their podcast. There is also marshmallow test footage on YouTube. (thx, michael)

Update: Lehrer answers readers' questions over on the New Yorker web site.

Jack Kerouac's fantasy baseball leagueMAY 21

Unbeknownst to his close friends, Jack Kerouac invented a fantasy baseball game and played it for most of his life.

[Kerouac's game charted] the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

He collected their stats, analyzed their performances and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit, complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

Don't miss the slideshow of some of Kerouac's notebooks and publications related to his imaginary sports.

Slow photographyMAY 21

In praise of slow photography.

One advantage of using larger formats is that the process is slower. It takes time to set up the camera. It takes time to visualize what you want.

When doing portraits, it enables the photographer to talk and listen to subjects, to observe their behavior. A camera can trap a photographer sometimes. You can look so intently through a viewfinder that you are unaware of the picture in front of you. When I use an 8-by-10 camera for portraits, I will compose the picture and step back. Using a long cable release, I will look at the subject and wait for the moment. It's very liberating.

The search for a nearby second EarthMAY 20

Using a Chilean telescope, astronomer Debra Fischer is leading a team searching for Earth-like planets around Alpha Centuri, our sun's nearest stellar neighbor.

RV shifts are how the vast majority of extrasolar worlds have been discovered, but only because these planets, called "hot Jupiters," are extremely massive and in hellishly close orbits around their stars. Their stellar wobbles are measurable in meters per second; seeing the much smaller centimeters-per-second wobble of an Earth twin is orders of magnitude more difficult. For the Alpha Centauri system, the feat is akin to detecting a bacterium orbiting a meter from a sand grain-from a distance of 10 kilometers. But by devoting hundreds of nights of telescope time to collecting hundreds of thousands of individual observations of just these two stars, Fischer believes she can eventually distill the faint RV signal of any Earth-like planets. It's simply a matter of statistics and brute force. The planets wouldn't reveal themselves as images in a telescope, but as steadily strengthening probabilistic peaks.

Netflix Prize progressMAY 20

A check of the Netflix Prize leaderboard shows that the team in the lead is very close to the 10% improvement needed to win the $1 million prize with 9.71%. Three members of the top team recently wrote about their experience for IEEE Spectrum.

Dollar Redesign ProjectMAY 20

Richard Smith is hosting the Dollar Redesign Project, which is starting to attract some interesting redesigns of American paper currency.

Washington five dollar bill

Ministry of Type has some further analysis, including a comparison to European bills.

Famous photosMAY 20

A nice selection of "photos that changed the world". Warning: some of them are NSFW and/or disturbing/upsetting. The first photo on the web was new to me.

Back in 1992, after their show at the CERN Hardronic Festival, my colleague Tim Berners-Lee asked me for a few scanned photos of "the CERN girls" to publish them on some sort of information system he had just invented, called the "World Wide Web". I had only a vague idea of what that was, but I scanned some photos on my Mac and FTPed them to Tim's now famous "info.cern.ch". How was I to know that I was passing an historical milestone, as the one above was the first picture ever to be clicked on in a web browser!"

Rules for time travelersMAY 20

Sean Carroll lays out the rules for time travel for movies (but also more generally) based on our current understanding of physics.

1. Traveling into the future is easy. We travel into the future all the time, at a fixed rate: one second per second. Stick around, you'll be in the future soon enough. You can even get there faster than usual, by decreasing the amount of time you experience elapsing with respect to the rest of the world -- either by low-tech ways like freezing yourself, or by taking advantage of the laws of special relativity and zipping around near the speed of light. (Remember we're talking about what is possible according to the laws of physics here, not what is plausible or technologically feasible.) It's coming back that's hard.

Freeway interchange namesMAY 20

Infrastructurist has posted a nice two-part Field Guide to Freeway Interchanges: part one and part two. Meet The Double Trumpet, The Braided Cloverleaf, and The Spaghetti Bowl. This little fellow is The Whirlpool.

The Whirlpool

A missing link?MAY 20

Is the recently revealed 47 million-year-old primate fossil a missing link or an overhyped publicity stunt?

But despite a television teaser campaign with the slogan "This changes everything" and comparisons to the moon landing and the Kennedy assassination, the significance of this discovery may not be known for years. An article to be published on Tuesday in PLoS ONE, a scientific journal, will report more prosaically that the scientists involved said the fossil could be a "stem group" that was a precursor to higher primates, with the caveat, "but we are not advocating this."

From the scientific paper's conclusion/significance section:

Darwinius masillae represents the most complete fossil primate ever found, including both skeleton, soft body outline and contents of the digestive tract. Study of all these features allows a fairly complete reconstruction of life history, locomotion, and diet. Any future study of Eocene-Oligocene primates should benefit from information preserved in the Darwinius holotype. Of particular importance to phylogenetic studies, the absence of a toilet claw and a toothcomb demonstrates that Darwinius masillae is not simply a fossil lemur, but part of a larger group of primates, Adapoidea, representative of the early haplorhine diversification.

Math and the City (and the elephant)MAY 20

This should provide a sufficient amount of "whoa" for the day: mathematically speaking, how are elephants and big cities the same? A: both cities and elephants have developed a similar level of efficiency in the distribution of resources and transportation.

Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute and his colleagues Jim Brown and Brian Enquist have argued that a 3/4-power law is exactly what you'd expect if natural selection has evolved a transport system for conveying energy and nutrients as efficiently and rapidly as possible to all points of a three-dimensional body, using a fractal network built from a series of branching tubes -- precisely the architecture seen in the circulatory system and the airways of the lung, and not too different from the roads and cables and pipes that keep a city alive.

(thx, john)

DFW interviewMAY 20

Amherst Magazine interviewed David Foster Wallace in 1999.

I've hit on an effective way to handle all this schizogenic stuff, which is to keep the whole thing at a very simple level, roughly a level/vocabulary that an average U.S. fifth-grader can understand. I want my work to be good. I want to like it. This is the only part that has anything to do with me. I can't make it have an 'impact' on anybody else. This doesn't mean I can't hope it has one, but I can't do anything to guarantee it, or even to cause it. All I can do is make something as good as I can make it (this is the sort of fact that's both banal and profound), and promise myself that I'll never try to publish anything I myself don't think is good or finished. I used to have far more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking about 'impact,' but they always left me with my forehead against the wall.

(via howling fantods)

Congress considers font readabilityMAY 19

Both houses of Congress have recently passed credit card legislation which will cut down on credit card companies abusing their customers. The NY Times has a guide to what the new legislation could mean for consumers. The bill that passed the House contains some interesting provisions on how card companies can use type.

The House throws in what ought to be called "The Fine Print Rule." Card companies must print their account applications and disclosures in 12-point type or greater. A supervisory board will also probably declare certain hard-on-the-eyes fonts off limits. The Senate is silent on typeface but imposes many other communication requirements.

From the bill itself:

SEC. 14. Readability requirement.

Section 122 of the Truth in Lending Act (U.S.C. 1632) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

"(d) Minimum type-size and font requirement for credit card applications and disclosures. -All written information, provisions, and terms in or on any application, solicitation, contract, or agreement for any credit card account under an open end consumer credit plan, and all written information included in or on any disclosure required under this chapter with respect to any such account, shall appear-

"(1) in not less than 12-point type; and

"(2) in any font other than a font which the Board has designated, in regulations under this section, as a font that inhibits readability.".

I haven't seen a credit card application or bill in years (we're paperless)...what unreadable fonts are these companies using? Do they set their terms and conditions sections in 6-pt Zapf Dingbats a la David Carson?

At the playground (ya know?)MAY 19

Apologies to those of you who descend upon this site for the current and interesting; I'm interrupting for a little personal blogging and parental advice interlude. Something happened to Ollie and me earlier today and I'm still upset about it for reasons that are unclear, so I needed to get this off my chest.

I took off work a little early today to take Ollie to the playground. We'd been there about 15 or 20 minutes and he was happy playing in his favorite plastic car. Another little boy, probably about 2.5 to 3 years old, came up to him in the car and after standing there for a moment, slapped him in the face. Now, I've seen enough accidental toddler flailing to know that this wasn't it. And then he slapped him again...pretty hard. I could see Ollie drawing back, shocked and perhaps getting ready to cry. As I moved over to Ollie to intervene, the kid slapped him again and was rearing back to do it again. I grabbed his hand, said, "hey!" and moved him away from Ollie a bit.

Now, this is normal playground stuff. Usually the hitting isn't so weirdly premeditated, but whatever...they're too small to hurt one another unless there are shovels or sharp sticks involved. Usually you just let the kids figure it out themselves but not when one kid is just slapping the other one just for the hell of it. And in that case, the parents usually move in, settle things down, one kid apologizes to the other, everyone rolls their eyes -- kids! -- and everything's fine. It's not about discipline, it's about teaching kids how to deal with these situations through sheer repetition.

So, I'd moved the kid away from Ollie, just a foot or so...I didn't yank him away or anything. (I wouldn't even have touched him if Ollie hadn't been trapped in his car...I couldn't just get Ollie out of the situation easily.) I repeated "hey..." and started in on the standard toddler anti-violence speech that leads to an apology, blah blah blah. The kid smiles at me like the cat who swallowed the canary and starts to run off. I took hold of his arm again so that I could finish making the peace. (Sort-of side note: We looked at a bunch of preschools for Ollie, which are not so much schools as they are organized social mixers for pre-K kids. Many of the schools stressed conflict resolution for the "twos and threes"...getting the kids playing well together and helping them work though their problems with each other is important. That's pretty much what I was trying to do here.)

Then this kid's mom finally appears. She yanks her kid away from me and says, "hey, what are you doing?"

"Your kid was slapping mine. I was trying to..."

"I know that. I saw."

A bit stunned by that, I tried again. "Ok, I was just trying..."

She goes right to eleven. "How dare you! You were going to hit my child!"

My eyes and mouth are wide as this point. "What?!"

"You were going to hit him! You're an adult, much bigger than him, you shouldn't be hitting little boys!"

We went back and forth like this for a bit and I finally just said, "Ok, whatever. Listen, lady. I didn't hit your kid and I wasn't going to hit your kid. Period." She eyed me suspiciously and moved away with her son. Ollie and I left shortly afterwards; I was pretty upset and just wanted to get the hell out of there.

On the walk home, I felt sick to my stomach. For one, I was shocked by the woman's reaction to her child's misbehavior. And then that she thought that I was going to hit her kid. Had she pressed the point, it could have gotten ugly...she could have called the police to have me arrested. For performing normal playground toddler intervention kiss-and-make-up! Then I started thinking that maybe I had been too rough with her son without realizing it. That really made me feel ill. It occurred to me while talking to my wife after the fact that maybe I should have let the kid walk away after he smiled at me... perhaps I have the right to protect my kid from abuse but I shouldn't attempt to "parent" the other child in any way.

So, I guess my question for the more experienced parents in the crowd is: what's the etiquette here? Am I being naïve in thinking that the playground is a collective parenting situation when it comes to this sort of thing? Or is touching or parenting another person's child, no matter how slightly or what the intent, strictly off limits in this overprotective and litigious society? (Just to anticipate a common question -- If your roles were reversed, would you be comfortable with someone parenting Ollie in that situation? -- I'd say yes, if Ollie was slapping some other kid around, absolutely...break it up, make the peace, and move on.) I know you weren't there and this is just one side of the story, but I'd be grateful to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or via email. Thanks.

Kobe vs. LeBronMAY 19

From a few days ago on TrueHoop, a lengthy debate about who is the better player: LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. LeBron has the statistical dominance but Kobe's game is the prettiest.

[LeBron] just doesn't move like the best basketball player in the world. Put almost any part Kobe Bryant's game in super slow motion, and you'll see beauty. Every little part of his game is refined, perfected, tested and honed ... Put LeBron James clips in super slow motion, and you're liable to find things here and there that he could do a little better. That footwork, that release, that way that he walks a little bit like a duck. There is a cognitive leap. Could the best basketball player in the world have noticeable flaws?

There's also an interesting argument in there that LeBron's game is such that it's very difficult to say why he's so good other than, well, just look at him play! In the same way, LeBron is difficult for kids to imitate on the playground whereas Kobe's catalog of moves are easy to imitate but difficult to get perfect to the extent that Kobe has.

Must the evil lair emanate evil?MAY 19

Jim Rossignol writes about the architecture of evil lairs in video games for BLDGBLOG.

Conveniently, evil already has a visual language. Put another way: I have seen the face of evil, and it is a caricature of gothic construction. There's barely a necromancer in existence whose dark citadel doesn't in some way reflect real-world Romanian landmarks, such as Hunyad or Bran Castle. The visual theme of these games is so heavily dependent on previously pillaged artistic ideas from Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien that evil ambiance is delivered by shorthand. (Of course, World of Warcraft's Lich King gets a Stone UFO to fly around in -- but it's still the same old prefab pseudo-Medieval schtick inside). Where the enemy is extra-terrestrial, HR Giger's influence is probably going to be felt instead.

Design award deadline approaching...MAY 19

The deadline for entering the Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism is nearing. Get your entries in by June 1.

The Writing Award of $10,000 is open to writers, critics, scholars, historians, journalists and designers and given for a body of work. The Education Award of $1,000 is open to students (high school, undergraduate or graduate) whose use of writing in a single essay demonstrates originality and promise.

Rules of styleMAY 19

I don't agree with everything on Scott Sternberg's rules of style list, but a couple of his points are pretty interesting. I'll spot you this one:

Whenever you start a new project or a new job, don't tell anyone what you're working on, because it can change direction a million times and once you start telling the world about it, you get constrained by your own mouth.

but you'll have to find the others on your own. (via andrea inspired)

Update: A recent study has indicated that people who don't share their goals are more successful in achieving them.

Researchers report that when dealing with identity goals -- that is, the aspirations that define who we are -- sharing our intentions doesn't necessarily motivate achievement. On the contrary, a series of experiments shows that when others take notice of our plans, performance is compromised because we gain "a premature sense of completeness" about the goal.

(thx, sam)

Sherlock Holmes trailerMAY 19

The trailer, in HD, of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. (as Holmes) and Jude Law (as Watson).

Michael Lewis' The Big ShortMAY 19

Michael Lewis' book about the ongoing financial collapse has a name: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

A brilliant account -- character-rich and darkly humorous -- of how the U.S. economy was driven over the cliff. Truth really is stranger than fiction. Who better than the author of the signature bestseller Liar's Poker to explain how the event we were told was impossible -- the free fall of the American economy -- finally occurred; how the things that we wanted, like ridiculously easy money and greatly expanded home ownership, were vehicles for that crash; and how shareholder demand for profit forced investment executives to eat the forbidden fruit of toxic derivatives.

It's not out until November 2 but you can pre-order it from Amazon. (thx, brian)

Update: The book is out on March 15 and there's an excerpt in the April issue of Vanity Fair.

Usain Bolt speeds to record in 150 metersMAY 18

Yesterday, Usain Bolt broke the unofficial record at the rarely contested distance of 150 meters, running it in 14.35 seconds on a temporary surface set up in Manchester's city center. This sounds made up, but here's the video.

(via biancolo)

Compartmentalized memoryMAY 18

Dick Cavett has been doing a version of his talk show, on and off, for about 40 years. Sometimes he couldn't remember the guests from a show he'd just taped. Johnny Carson couldn't either.

There is still a Cheever show of mine to be unearthed. I wish I could remember what's on it. A worried Johnny Carson once admitted to me that he frequently couldn't remember what was said on a show he had just finished taping. And, sometimes, who the guests were. It's a strange thing, and one I haven't quite figured out.

Johnny all but wiped his brow when I told him it happened to me too, and that a few days earlier I got home and it took me a good 10 minutes to be able to report with whom I had just done 90 minutes. (It was only Lucille Ball!) It's an oddity peculiar to the live performer's divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you -- and the "you" that performs -- are not identical.

I don't know if this is related to separating one's work life from the rest of it, but this happens to me all the time. If you were to ask me tonight what I'd posted to kottke.org today, I doubt I could tell you more than one or two items (out of the seven to nine items I post during a typical day). When I see friends outside of work, they sometimes remark on stuff I've posted recently and it usually takes me a few moments to remember what it is they're referring to.

Finding out that others have this problem is a major load off of my mind...I really thought my memory was going down the tubes. (thx, mark)

Inexpert expertsMAY 18

In the past few days, I've read two articles on men who are experts in scientific research in an area where they themselves have a deficiency. First there was the article on George Vaillant and the Harvard Study of Adult Development I linked to on Friday. Vaillant is an expert on what makes men happy; his own research shows that close relationships with family and friends is a significant factor in people living long happy lives. But those who know him best say that he has difficulty with relationships.

But Vaillant's closest friends and family tell a very different story, of a man plagued by distance and strife in his relationships. "George is someone who holds things in," says the psychiatrist James Barrett Jr., his oldest friend. "I don't think he has many confidants. I would call George someone who has a problem with intimacy."

He's been married four times to three women and has been estranged, at one time or another, from four out of his five children.

And then I was reading a New Yorker profile of V.S. Ramachandran, the noted behavioral neurologist who has worked on mirror therapy with amputees who experience phantom limb pain, the role of mirror neurons in autism, and synesthesia. Though his work with the brain doesn't focus on memory, it's still ironic that Ramachandran is almost pathologically incapable of remembering where he parked his car or when his wife's birthday is.

"Another time," [Ramachandran's wife Diane] continued, "I got a call from Sears and a woman said, 'There's a man here who says he's your husband and he's trying to purchase something on this credit card.' I said, 'Ye-e-e-s.' And she said, 'We're kind of concerned if it's really your husband, becuase he doesn't know your birth date.' I said, 'Oh, that's my husband!'"

"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Ramachandran boomed. "That is a good story."

I could not resist asking whether Ramachandran has since learned Diane's birthday. They had been married for twenty-two years.

"I know she's a Leo," he said, slowly, eying her from across the table.

"I'm not Leo," Diane said, "You're a Leo."

"No," he corrected himself. "Virgo! Virgo!"

"Yup," she said. "August 18th," he said, with confidence.

"No," Diane said. Then she turned to me. "See, he gets the month, because it's the same as his."

"It's not the eighteenth?" Ramachandran asked.

"No."

"Twenty-second?" he offered.

"No."

At this point, Jaya asked, "Do you know my birthday?"

Ramachandran looked helplessly at his son and shrank into his seat. "It doesn't mean I don't love you," he said.

Beethoven was deaf. Monet had vision problems when he painted some of his most well-known work. I wonder if there's something to this beyond coincidence.

Brand timeline portraitsMAY 18

A brand timeline portrait shows all the different brands a person uses and interacts with during the course of a typical day.

Brand Timeline Portrait

Originated by Jane Sample, dozens of other people have also created portraits. (via rocketboom)

Update: Make your own at Brand My Day.

Danger Mouse's new album: a blank CD-RMAY 18

Due to a dispute with EMI, Danger Mouse will release his next album (a collaboration with Sparklehorse) as a blank CD-R, on which the buyer can then burn the album downloaded from the file-sharing network of their choice.

Please note: Due to an ongoing dispute with EMI, Danger Mouse is unable to include music on the CD without fear of legal entanglement. Therefore, he has included a blank CD-R as an artifact to use however you see fit.

The Guardian has more.

The sixth extinctionMAY 18

This week in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert tells us that up until modern times, there have been five big mass extinctions of life on Earth. Most biologists now agree that we are in the midst of the sixth big mass extinction, one caused by humans.

Currently, a third of all amphibian speicies, nearly a third of all reef-building corals, a quarter of all mammals, and an eighth of all birds are classified as "threatened with extinction." These estimates do not include the species that humans have already wiped out or the species for which there are insignificant data. Nor do the figures take into account the projected effects of global warming or or ocean acidification. Nor, of course, can they anticipate the kinds of sudden, terrible collapses that are becoming almost routine.

See also a related audio clip by Kolbert, the Holocene extinction event, and colony collapse disorder.

WolframAlpha launchesMAY 18

If you're skeptical of WolframAlpha (as I was), you should watch this introduction by Stephen Wolfram. The comparison to Google (usually "is WolframAlpha a Google killer?") is not a good one but the new service could learn a little something from the reigning champion: hide the math. One of the geniuses of Google is that it took simple input and gave simple output with a whole lot of complexity in between that no one saw and few people cared about. Plus the underlying premise of the complex computation was simplified, branded (PageRank!), and became a value proposition for Google: here's what the web itself thinks is important about your query.

You don't have to be a Rockefeller to collect artMAY 18

The trailer for Herb and Dorothy, about a pair of unlikely art collectors. From a 1997 article in the Austin Chronicle:

She was a librarian. Her husband was a postal worker. They lived on his salary and bought art with hers. Both are now retired. They have no children. "We bought art we could afford and that would fit into the apartment," they say. Water from the fish tank once splashed a Warhol they owned. It later had to be restored.

Much of their collection has passed to the National Gallery of Art.

The sleeping man never failsMAY 18

From a new collection of pieces by Mark Twain, a reading by John Lithgow and drawing by Flash Rosenberg of chapter 2.

New NY Times photoblogMAY 18

The NY Times kicks off their new photography blog with a video that shows just how short White House photo ops are.

When a photo-op is scheduled, the photographers, camera operators and reporters gather in the colonnade outside the Oval Office and wait -- sometimes it can be as long as an hour -- shuffling feet and making nervous small talk until the flutter of the fingers of the young staffer who calls, "Pool."

Bill Simmons in conversation with Malcolm GladwellMAY 15

I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's piece on underdogs the other day. It's one of the many subjects that he and Bill Simmons tackle in a three-part email conversation they had recently: part one, part two, part three. Simmons says of LeBron James:

Let's wrap things up by tackling LeBron James. As the 2009 postseason rolls on, the King has become its most compelling story, not just because of his insane numbers, that Jordan-like hunger in his eyes, even the fact that he's still on cruise control to some degree. (Note: I would compare him to Nigel Tufnel's amp. He alternated between "9" and "10" in the regular season, and he's been at 10 in the playoffs, but I can't shake the feeling that he has an "11" in store for Kobe and the Finals. An extra decibel level, if you will. In my lifetime, Jordan could go to 11. So could Bird. Shaq and Kobe could get there together, but not apart. And really, that's it. Even Magic could get to 10 3/4 but never quite 11. It's a whole other ball game: You aren't just beating teams, you're destroying their will. You never know when you'll see another 11. I'm just glad we're here. End of tangent.)

I have a hunch that Kobe may not even make it to the finals. They've got to beat the pesky and superstarless Rockets first and those Nuggets are looking good, although the long layoff could affect their momentum. Gladwell shared one of his ideas for changing the NBA draft: let the best teams pick first.

I think the only way around the problem is to put every team in the lottery. Every team's name gets put in a hat, and you get assigned your draft position by chance. Does that, theoretically, make it harder for weaker teams to improve their chances against stronger teams? I don't think so. First of all, the principal engine of parity in the modern era is the salary cap, not the draft. And in any case, if the reverse-order draft is such a great leveler, then why are the same teams at the bottom of both the NFL and NBA year after year? The current system perpetuates the myth that access to top picks is the primary determinant of competitiveness in pro sports, and that's simply not true. Success is a function of the quality of the organization.

Another more radical idea is that you do a full lottery only every second year, or three out of four years, and in the off year make draft position in order of finish. Best teams pick first. How fun would that be? Every meaningless end-of-season game now becomes instantly meaningful. If you were the Minnesota Timberwolves, you would realize that unless you did something really drastic -- like hire some random sports writer as your GM, or bring in Pitino to design a special-press squad -- you would never climb out of the cellar again. And in a year with a can't-miss No. 1 pick, having the best record in the regular season becomes hugely important.

Simmons and Gladwell did this once before in 2006: part one, part two.

Broadway closing to cars near Times Square on May 24MAY 15

According to the NYC DOT, Broadway will be closed to through traffic on May 24 from 42nd to 47th Streets and from 33rd to 35th Streets to make that pedestrian mall announced back in February.

In addition to greater safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists, the project hopes to improve car traffic flow through the areas.

- Traffic lights with up to 66% more green time
- Significant travel time improvements on Sixth and Seventh Avenues
- Faster bus speeds for 70,000 daily riders

Here's a rendition of how Times Square will look after the work is completed in August.

Times Square with Broadway closed

Hopefully this change will become permanent and the city can plant some trees there as well. Imagine, trees in Times Square! Lots more information is available on the DOT site.

Objectified at IFC CenterMAY 15

Objectified is playing at the IFC Center in NYC through May 21.

The hump of irrelevanceMAY 15

By Meg Pickard, a graph of the lifespan of Twitter trending topics compares "people talking about #topic" and "people talking about talking about #topic". Outside of Twitter, this applies to pretty much any popular newsworthy topic...the news quickly moves from "we're telling you about Topic X" to media coverage of the media coverage of Topic X. See: Twitter's own coverage in the media currently. (thx, @ davidfg )

Economics reporter gets caught in mortgage bubbleMAY 15

Edmund Andrews, an economics reporter for the New York Times, confesses that he got caught up in "catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate" and signed a "reckless mortgage" for more money than he and his new wife could afford.

What about my alimony and child-support obligations? No need to mention them. What would happen when they saw the automatic withholdings in my paycheck? No need to show them. If I wanted to buy a house, Bob figured, it was my job to decide whether I could afford it. His job was to make it happen.

"I am here to enable dreams," he explained to me long afterward. Bob's view was that if I'd been unemployed for seven years and didn't have a dime to my name but I wanted a house, he wouldn't question my prudence. "Who am I to tell you that you shouldn't do what you want to do? I am here to sell money and to help you do what you want to do. At the end of the day, it's your signature on the mortgage - not mine."

Andrews and his family aren't all that bad off, but my mouth got all cottony while reading this as I extrapolated from his story to the millions of people who made similar deals under much more dire circumstances. A chilling first person tip-of-the-iceberg tale. (via the laboritorium, which calls the piece "an instant classic of economic crisis journalism")

Update: According to a nice bit of reporting by Megan McArdle, Andrews failed to mention that his second wife has declared bankruptcy twice, once while married to Andrews.

Moreover, pesky bad luck isn't really the picture painted by either filing. Rather, Ms. Barreiro seems to have spent most of the last two decades living right up to the edge of her income, and beyond, and then massively defaulting. If you structure your finances so that absolutely everything has to go right, it's hard to blame the mortgage company when you don't quite make it.

Andrews has been admirably open about many of the poor decisions and the wishful thinking that led him deep into debt. Nonetheless, he has laid much of the blame onto irresponsible bankers and mortgage brokers. The missing bankruptcies substantially undermine this basic narrative arc of Andrews' story. Particularly in his book, the bankers are the villains, America's current troubles are the inevitable denouement of their maniacal greed, and the Andrews household stands in for an American public led, by their own greed and longing and hopeful trust, into the money pit.

Seen through this lens, it's not so much that Andrews was done in by a overly large mortgage...it was that he married a financial anchor.

Update: Andrews responds to McArdle's claims:

These bankruptcies did occur, but they had nothing to do with our mortgage woes. They were both tied to old debts from before we were married or bought a house. They had nothing to do with my ability to get a mortgage; nor did they have anything to do with our subsequent financial problems.

And McArdle responds to his response. (This is getting complicated!)

Andrews seems to now be arguing that the Chapter 7 filings are not relevant because they didn't affect his ability to get a mortgage. But of course the article and the book is not just about him--rightly, because unless your marriage is pretty dysfunctional, it's a financial partnership. The two bankruptcies seem to reveal that one partner has demonstrated a historic inability to live within their means. So though the bankruptcies don't tell us anything about their ability to get a mortgage on their house, they may tell us quite a bit about their willingness to take on a mortgage. This decision is at least as important as the bank's. I'm sure banks would have given me all kinds of stupid mortgage loans in 2004, but I didn't avail myself of the opportunity.

(thx, pamela)

Flight ControlMAY 15

I've caught the Flight Control bug that's going around. According to the developer, the addictive iPhone game is doing huge business, selling over 700,000 copies (at $0.99 to $2.99 a copy) since its release in early March.

Worldchanging auctionMAY 15

Worldchanging is holding an auction to raise funds for the organization and includes some great stuff (like Edward Burtynsky prints and conference passes) that is currently going for well under the street values. The auction closes at 10am PT so get your bids in.

Squeezing the lemonMAY 15

What Makes Us Happy? asks Joshua Wolf Shenk in the June 2009 issue of The Atlantic. The article is a dual biography of two intertwined entities, a long-running study of 268 Harvard men and the study's long-time principal investigator, George Vaillant. The study was started as a way to determine how people lived successful lives. Valliant's main interpretation from decades of study is that how people respond or adapt to trouble correlates with their healthy aging.

At the bottom of the pile are the unhealthiest, or "psychotic," adaptations -- like paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania -- which, while they can serve to make reality tolerable for the person employing them, seem crazy to anyone else. One level up are the "immature" adaptations, which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. These aren't as isolating as psychotic adaptations, but they impede intimacy. "Neurotic" defenses are common in "normal" people. These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought); dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one's feelings); and repression, which, Vaillant says, can involve "seemingly inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a selected sense organ." The healthiest, or "mature," adaptations include altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship).

Shenk then goes on to evaluate Vaillant on his own terms, with some interesting results.

A dogcow makes a moofMAY 15

Hackers Can Sidejack Cookies, a poem by Heather McHugh.

Designs succumbing
to creeping featuritis
are banana problems.
("I know how to spell banana,
but I don't know when to stop.")

Kobe and LeBron puppetsMAY 14

I love this Nike commercial featuring puppets of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James where Bryant is heckling James about his three championship rings.

The chalk one is pretty good as well.

Low-fi sci-fiMAY 14

Nice black and white covers for science fiction books.

"Sanda created each cover using A4 paper, with all the typography printed and placed on the structure by hand," Jones continues. "We then photographed each paper structure and, upon seeing the original black and white images, we didn't feel that any tweaking or further alterations were needed."

The hole punch one is my favorite. (thx, conor)

TriptropMAY 14

I really like the subway travel time heatmaps on Triptrop NYC.

Triptrop

Put in an address and you get a map of how far away everything is using the subway. 15 minutes, forty minutes, two hours -- all set up with nice little colors. That's pretty easy, I think. Triptrop can help you find a convenient place to live. It's also a nice way to tell your friend to stop inviting you to the purple part of the Bronx, or to prove that the G isn't actually that bad.

(via fake is the new real)

Frank Bruni hanging up his knife and forkMAY 14

After five years, NY Times restaurant reviewer Frank Bruni is moving on to other assignments.

In his spare time, between aerobic eating and the requisite gym time to burn it all off, he has managed to produce a memoir of his lifelong, complicated relationship with food. Recognizing that the book is certain to seriously compromise his ability to be a spy in the land of food, Frank picked this as a natural time to move on. He will be turning in his restaurant-critic credentials when his memoir, "Born Round: the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," is published in late August.

Sad to see him go...I liked Bruni as a reviewer. But how long can the Times continue to expect their critics to remain anonymous? Savvy restaurateurs often knew when Bruni was in the house and it remains unclear whether a known reviewer is a biased reviewer.

How underdogs winMAY 14

You've probably already seen this, but I just finished it so I'm posting: How David Beats Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. The main thesis is that through hard work and unconventional tactics, seemingly overmatched teams/people/armies can prevail against more powerful opponents.

It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It's the other way around. Effort can trump ability -- legs, in Saxe's formulation, can overpower arms -- because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coördination.

A post on Gladwell's blog addresses some of the criticisms people had with the piece.

Incarnations of Burned ChildrenMAY 14

Another of David Foster Wallace's short stories finds its way online: Esquire reprints Incarnations of Burned Children, originally from Oblivion.

Big fat warning: this story is really disturbing (especially if you have small children) and likely a significant part of the reason why Salon said that Wallace "has perfected a particularly subtle form of horror story" in their review of Oblivion. (via unlikely words)

Floating frogs (with video!)MAY 14

If you've got a 16 tesla magnetic field, you can levitate a frog.

The levitation trick works because giant magnetic fields slightly distort the orbits of electrons in the frog's atoms. The resulting electric current generates a magnetic field in the opposite direction to that of the magnet. A field of 16 teslas created an attractive force strong enough to make the frog float until it made its escape.

Best part: it doesn't kill the frog. (via afrooz)

Update: Video of the levitating frog:

See also levitating strawberry, levitating grasshopper, and levitating water droplets. (thx, jesse)

Double your poleMAY 14

Art director Elliott Burford makes amusing illustrations from spam subject lines.

Spam Illustrations

(thx, frank)

Update: See also Spamusement. (thx, everyone on the internet)

Primordial gooMAY 14

Chemist John Sutherland has discovered a process by which ordinary chemicals could spontaneously form RNA molecules, the suspected building blocks of the first life on Earth.

Scientists have long suspected that the first forms of life carried their biological information not in DNA but in RNA, its close chemical cousin. Though DNA is better known because of its storage of genetic information, RNA performs many of the trickiest operations in living cells. RNA seems to have delegated the chore of data storage to the chemically more stable DNA eons ago. If the first forms of life were based on RNA, then the issue is to explain how the first RNA molecules were formed.

Pakistani fetish wearMAY 13

In this video, the NY Times profiles a pair of Pakistani brothers who run a business in Karachi designing and manufacturing bondage and fetish wear. As you'll see in the video, many of the firm's employees are unaware of what they're making. (thx, andrew)

Supertrain!MAY 13

Supertrain was a massively promoted and extremely expensive 1979 NBC adventure drama that lasted only a few episodes before being cancelled. Along with the US boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, the superflop nearly bankrupted the network.

The show featured an "atom powered steam turbine" train that could travel from NYC to LA in 36 hours. Infrastructurist has posted links to the awful and campy pilot episode of the show. Here's part one to get you started. I love that the train's crew is right out of a 1970s disco and the board of directors are bona fide 1890s railroad magnates. This thing is a train wreck. (Layered narrative again! Bam! (Again!))

No downtimeMAY 13

Yesterday's Pictures of the Day at the WSJ were particularly fine, including a US soldier in Afghanistan who didn't have time to put on his uniform and gets caught by the camera taking up a defensive position in pink I [heart] NY boxers and flip flops.

Pink Boxers

Star Trek lens flaresMAY 13

Did you notice all the lens flares in Star Trek? JJ Abrams' rationale for them -- he refers to them as "another actor" in the movie -- is pretty interesting.

I love the idea that the future was so bright it couldn't be contained in the frame. The flares weren't just happening from on-camera light sources, they were happening off camera, and that was really the key to it. I want [to create] the sense that, just off camera, something spectacular is happening. There was always a sense of something, and also there is a really cool organic layer thats a quality of it.

Someone clever took some footage from the old series and added a bunch of lens flaring to make it look like the new film.

The result is supposed to be funny but I thought it also somewhat validated Abrams' remarks above. (via snarkmarket & waxy)

Henry Jenkins and Snarkmarket also address my biggest problem with the movie, that the cadet-to-captain thing happened way too quickly to Kirk and his crew. Jenkins' contention is that the new movie treats the Enterprise as a start-up company; Tim adds this gem of a line:

But it's not academia; it's the NBA. You give these kids the ball.

So, which NBA player is Kirk supposed to be? While not an exact comparison, I'm going to say that Kirk is Tony Parker to Spock's Tim Duncan. And Scotty = Manu Ginobli?

Every tweet is preciousMAY 13

This "small settings update" to Twitter sucks.

We've updated the Notices section of Settings to better reflect how folks are using Twitter regarding replies. Based on usage patterns and feedback, we've learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow -- it's a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don't follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today's update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

The semi-private/semi-public thing that Twitter has going on is one of the most significant features of the service, IMO. It's the magic. There's serendipitous social discovery factor but more to the point: when I follow someone, I want to see *everything* they post. Those @replies to my friends' friends are part of their narrative, part of what I want to hear from them. Arbitrarily cutting out some tweets sucks. Besides, isn't the "problem" solved by this "feature" mostly addressed by locked accounts and private messaging?

It's also odd that Twitter would release this feature, which makes it easier for people to communicate in self-contained groups, when it seems like the company is moving in the opposite direction towards a broadcast model, where the emphasis is on tweeting at large groups of people that you don't know. Two big examples:

1. They inserted a "suggested users" step in the sign-up process which made a small number of people on Twitter into superusers and implied to new users that Twitter is a service for following celebrities instead of chatting with your friends.

2. And then there's all the press they've been doing. You don't go on Oprah to talk about how Twitter is for small groups.

(Would you like to post this link to Twitter?)

Update: Twitter reversed their decision on this. Sort of.

First, we're making a change such that any updates beginning with @username (that are not explicitly created by clicking on the reply icon) will be seen by everyone following that account.

This sentence is also interesting:

The problem with the setting was that it didn't scale and even if we rebuilt it, the feature was blunt. It was confusing and caused a sense of inconsistency.

I'm not sure that makes any sense to anyone who doesn't work at Twitter. Maybe Twitter will wow us with simple and intuitive per-user controls but it seems to me that the service works best when it's simple. Having to think about to what degree you're following someone multiplied the number of people you're following starts to feel like the friendship maintenance crap that everyone loves to hate about other social networking sites.

NYPL budget cuts, you can help!MAY 13

The New York Public Library is facing budget cuts that will close libraries on some days, cut programs for children, and place other services (like job search resources) at risk. The possible cuts come at a time when library visits are up 12% over last year and people out of work are relying on the library more than ever.

If you are a NYPL user and don't want services cut, I urge you to write your City Council Member or the Mayor.

littleBitsMAY 12

littleBits are tiny circuitboards that you can stick together with magnets to make little electronic machines.

Just as Legos allow you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are simple, intuitive, space-sensitive blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together. With a growing number of available modules, littleBits aims to move electronics from late stages of the design process to its earliest ones, and from the hands of experts, to those of artists, makers and designers.

A bit like Siftables.

Baseball cards: not for kids anymoreMAY 12

The Baseball Card Movie is a nice nine-minute film that introduces the viewer to a world where adults pay up to $500 for a pack of cards (aka cardboard crack) and act very superstitiously about opening them.

Thw whole sports memorabilia thing is an odd world. There's a story about major league pitcher Barry Zito buying his own autographed cards on eBay:

He once made it a practice to buy his own autographed baseball cards on eBay; when asked why he bought them at auction for high prices rather than acquiring unsigned cards and signing them himself, Zito replied, "Because they're authenticated."

Possibly apocryphal but Zito would likely have a difficult time selling self-signed cards because they're not authenticated.

Faux Wes Anderson commercialMAY 12

For a student project (a fake Wes Anderson film festival), Alex Cornell and Phil Mills shot a promotional short in the style of The Royal Tenenbaums.

More information on how it was made is here. (thx, alex)

Update: Here are the rest of the materials for the film festival. This is an awesome project.

Catfish noodlingMAY 12

Noodling is the practice of catching catfish by letting them latch onto your arm.

To begin, a noodler goes underwater to depths ranging from only a few feet to up to twenty feet, placing his hand inside a discovered catfish hole. If all goes as planned, the catfish will swim forward and latch onto the fisherman's hand, usually as a defensive maneuver in order to try to escape the hole. If the fish is particularly large, the noodler can hook the head around its gills.

This video captures some noodling fishermen in action.

(via that's how it happened)

Update: There's a documentary on noodling called Okie Noodling. (thx to many)

Fun milk reviewsMAY 12

There have been many funny product reviews posted at Amazon -- perhaps the first was John E. Fracisco's 2000 review of The Story About Ping -- but these reviews of a gallon of whole milk are funn...no, wait, I laughed so hard at the reviews that milk came squirting out my nose. (How's *that* for layered narrative! Bam!)

Milk Review

(thx, jeff)

Update: I totally forgot to mention that the reviews are only part of the magic going on with this milk. For starters, it's only available through two Amazon resellers, both of which are charging $2500 for the gallon (hand delivered). And the "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" listing includes a $220,000 diamond ring, a relaxation capsule ($40K), a book called BIRTH CONTROL IS SINFUL IN THE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGES and also ROBBING GOD OF PRIESTHOOD CHILDREN!! ($135), and uranium ore (only $30?). Many many more unusual Amazon products can be found under the Amazon Oddities tag. (thx, stuart)

Folding picturesMAY 12

Simon Schubert creates 2-D scenes by folding paper slightly. Only slightly...this isn't origami.

Simon Schubert

See also one of my favorite things at the Met, the studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio. (via today and tomorrow)

Update: See also these intricate etchings in aluminum foil by Marco Maggi. (thx, mike)

The economics of the new Yankee StadiumMAY 12

Ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium are so high that if a New Yorker wants to watch a Mariners/Yankees game from the best seats, it would be a lot cheaper to fly to Seattle, stay in a nice hotel, eat fancy dinners, and see two games.

Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just the tickets, $5,000.

Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.

(thx, david)

Rats trading stocksMAY 12

Advice from rats who trade stocks..."the latest advice from our most successful trading rats for individual investors".

We are continuously crossing the best trading rats with each other in order to breed specialists in various markets for our clients. The second generation of top traders usually shows a much better performance compared to their parents.

Right now, the top trading rats are advising long positions on Exxon, UBS, and Caterpillar.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

Robert Wright has a new book out soon called The Evolution of God. Andrew Sullivan has a review.

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Last month's issue of The Atlantic contained an excerpt.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?

I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)

Dan Baum's tour of journalism's sausage factoryMAY 11

Dan Baum was a staff writer for The New Yorker for a time. In 2007, the magazine didn't renew his contract and he's currently explaining why (from his perspective) on Twitter (archived here). It's maddening to read the whole story 140 characters at a time but it's pretty interesting inside-baseball stuff, where baseball = professional writing. Here are some of the highlights so far (he's not quite done yet).

First, a little about the job of New Yorker staff writer. "Staff writer" is a bit of a misnomer, as you're not an employee, but rather a contractor. So there's no health insurance, no 401K, and most of all, no guarantee of a job beyond one year. My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-year. Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet. It's Just the way the New Yorker chooses to behave. It shows no loyalty to its writers, yet expects full fealty in return. It gets away with it, because writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs. Like everybody, I loved it.

Some early advice from his editor on how to structure a story:

"Think about trying a process story," he said, using a term I'd never heard. "It's a New Yorker standard," he went on. "You simply deconstruct a process for the reader. John McPhee was the master. It makes for a simple structure."

More editorial advice:

Great piece of New Yorker advice: "This is the New Yorker, so you can use any narrative structure you like," he said. "Just know that when I get it, I'm going to take it apart and make it all chronological." Telling a story in strict chronological order turned out to be a fabulous discipline. It made the story easy to write, and may be why New Yorker stories are so easy to read. Of course, the magazine does run everything through the deflavorizer, following Samuel Johnson's immortal advice: "Read what you have written, and when you come across a passage you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

On the magazine's legendary fact-checkers:

The editing is as superb as you'd imagine. And it's lovely to have all the time and resources you need. I particularly liked the fact-checkers, who go way beyond getting names spelled right and actually do a lot of reporting. More than once, the fact-checkers uncovered information I hadn't had, found crucial sources I hadn't interviewed. It's like having a team of back-up reporters.

Baum has an unconventional working relationship with his wife:

All the work that goes out under my byline is at least half the work of my wife, Margaret Knox.

More details on that arrangement are available on his/their web site. Margaret edits while Dan writes.

Non-fiction frequently calls for a strong individual voice, and occasionally the use of the first person, so double bylines often aren't practical. Dan most often does the legwork of reporting the story -- the travel and the phone calls -- with Margaret acting as bureau chief: "Ask this." "Don't forget that." "Go back to him tomorrow." Dan then writes the first draft.

On second thought, perhaps it's not that unconventional at all. Since Meg and I started going out nine years ago, we've collaborated on several projects without shared credit; I provided much advice related to Blogger, Kinja, and Megnut and she's always operating behind the scenes here at kottke.org.

But back to the Baum/Knoxes. On their site, they've posted a bunch of proposals they wrote to magazines that resulted in good assignments. Among them is a proposal that New Yorker editor John Bennet called "the best proposal he'd ever read". The Baum/Knoxes have also shared a series of their failed proposals. These proposals and the ongoing Twitter story are a gold mine for young writers...fascinating stuff. (via the awl)

Update: Baum has published the whole story in a more readable format. (thx, richard)

Rwanda, fifteen years after genocideMAY 11

Reading two-week-old 13-page New Yorker articles about Rwanda probably isn't your favorite thing to do, but if you're a subscriber, I'd urge you to check out Philip Gourevitch's fascinating article about what's been happening in Rwanda in the fifteen years since the genocide. It's a complicated situation (boldface mine):

On the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide, Rwanda is one of the safest and most orderly countries in Africa. Since 1994, per-capita gross domestic prduct has nearly tripled, even as the population has increased by nearly twenty-five per cent, to more than ten million. There is national health insurance, and a steadily improving education system. [...] Most of the prisoners accused or convicted of genocide have been released. The death penalty has been abolished. And Rwanda is the only nation where hundred of thousands of people who took part in mass murder live intermingled at every level of society with the families of their victims.

Like I said, complicated. This is the best thing I've read in the New Yorker in a long while.

Update: As We Forgive is a documentary film about the Rwandan reconciliation.

Can survivors truly forgive the killers who destroyed their families? Can the government expect this from its people? And can the church, which failed at moral leadership during the genocide, fit into the process of reconciliation today? In As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and narrator Mia Farrow explore these topics through the lives of four neighbors once caught in opposite tides of a genocidal bloodbath, and their extraordinary journey from death to life through forgiveness.

(thx, misty)

What actually happened in The Usual Suspects?MAY 11

Brian Singer directed and Christopher McQuarrie wrote the screenplay for The Usual Suspects. [Spoilers to follow...1] After they finished the film, they realized that the two of them disagreed significantly on what exactly happened in the movie. Did Kint/Soze tell the truth or was his whole story a lie?

McQuarrie says only after finishing the film and preparing to do press interviews about it did he and Singer realize they both had completely different conceptions about the plot.

"I pulled Bryan aside the night before press began and I said, 'We need to get our stories straight because people are starting to ask what happened and what didn't,' " recalls McQuarrie. "And we got into the biggest argument we've ever had in our lives."

He continues: "One of us believed that the story was all lies, peppered with little bits of the truth. And the other one believed it was all true, peppered with tiny, little lies. ... We each thought we were making a movie that was completely different from what the other one thought."

I always assumed that Verbal was telling the truth the whole time, in the cavalier the-truth-can't-hurt-me manner of the movie master criminal. (thx, dave)

[1] What's the statute of limitations on spoiler warnings? The Usual Suspects is fourteen years old; surely everyone who wanted to see it has seen it by now.

Live Space Shuttle LaunchMAY 11

Live on NASA TV right now: the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, tasked to repair the Hubble telescope. Looks like if the weather holds, lift-off is around 2:01pm. (via @noahkalina)

Punch-Out for WiiMAY 11

Punch-Out is coming to the Wii (@ Amazon)...the teaser commercial features Isiah Whitlock, Jr., who played Clay Davis on The Wire, as Little Mac's trainer. It's worth watching to hear Whitlock's comparison of comebacks and yo-yos. (thx, rob)

99 classical mp3s for $8MAY 11

Whoa, 99 "essential" classical music songs on mp3 for only $7.99 at Amazon. "Album Savings: $80.12 compared to buying all songs." (thx, martin)

Update: Here's another good deal: all 9 of Beethoven's symphonies for $7.99. (thx, egghat)

Update: And another: 48 classical guitar mp3s for $0.99. (thx, mona)

Update: And still more good deals: 99 songs by Mozart for $8, 99 relaxing songs for $8, and 99 Beethoven pieces for $8.

Update: Five Hours of Classical Favorites for $4.

Update: Five Hours of Classical Adagios for $8 and 50 Essential Classical Film Moments for $8. If you bought everything in this post, you'd have more than two days of music for less than $60.

Update: Cripes, 160 Chopin tunes for $5.

Whatever Works trailerMAY 11

Woody Allen + Larry David + the process for making a feature-length film - all but about 2 minutes of the footage = the trailer for Whatever Works.

An eccentric New Yorker played by Larry David abandons his upper class life to lead a more bohemian existence. He meets a young girl from the south and her family and no two people seem to get along in the entanglements that follow. This is a comedy also starring Ed Begley Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Conleth Hill, Michael McKean, Evan Rachel Wood, and a number of other amusing types.

rating: 4.0 stars

Star TrekMAY 11

[Note: spoilers.] Bones did it for me. As soon as he sat down next to Kirk on the shuttle, I was hooked. Loved Star Trek, wanted to go again as soon we got out.

J.J. Abrams did something kinda crazy with the film though. He took the entire Star Trek canon and tossed it out the window. Because of the whole time travel thing, the events that occurred in The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, DS9, and the previous 10 movies will not happen. Which means that in terms of sequels to this film, the slate is pretty much clean for Abrams or whomever he passes it off to.

Well. Almost. Events in this alternate timeline unfold differently but the same. Even though the USS Kelvin was destroyed with Kirk's father aboard, Kirk and the rest of the gang somehow all still end up on the Enterprise. But the destruction of an entire planet and 6 billion people should have a somewhat larger effect going forward.

Also worth noting is how the time travel in Trek compares with that on Lost, a show Abrams co-created and currently executive produces. On Lost (so far), the universe is deterministic: no matter who travels when, not much changes. Time travel can affect little details here and there, but the big events unfold the same way each time and every character remembers events unfolding in the same way, no matter when they are on the timeline. Star Trek's universe is not that way; characters before time travel events remember events unfolding differently. According to the older Spock, the Romulan ship going back in time changed things. Kirk knew his dad, Vulcan wasn't sucked into a black hole, etc.

On the excellent Bad Astronomy blog, Phil Plait doesn't cover the time travel aspect of the film but reviews the rest of the science in the film.

And yeah, we do hear ships whoosh as they go to warp and all that, but that's what we expect to hear, having evolved in an atmosphere which whooshes when things fly past us. I'd prefer that we hear nothing, but I accept that as a filmmaker's prerogative to make the audience comfortable.

But I'll add that for years I have complained about sounds in space, saying that done correctly, making things silent can add drama. That sentiment was proven here; the sudden silence as we leave the ship and fly into space with the doomed crewmember is really eerie and unsettling.

In the NY Times, David Hajdu tackles time travel of a different kind, arguing that the original Star Trek was not about science or the future; it was a nostalgic lens through which to view pop culture.

"Star Trek" was an early manifestation of our contemporary absorption with the pop culture of the past. The show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, was a gifted hack writer for TV Westerns like "Have Gun, Will Travel" and cop shows like "Highway Patrol," and "Star Trek," though set in a nominally stylized future, was essentially a Western cop show. In fact, Roddenberry pitched the series to NBC as "Wagon Train" to the stars; and, as Captain Kirk noted in his log, the ship would venture out on "patrol," cruising the galaxy like a city beat.

Haggling at the dollar storeMAY 08

Another one of those "you can haggle everywhere -- even at Wal-Mart and the dollar store! -- if you can work up the courage to do so" stories. These are like crack for my fraidy-cat non-negotiating ass.

According to Doble, you can haggle pretty much anywhere -- from Macy's to Kmart to your local supermarket -- but, he suggests, your best bets are hotel rooms, bulk purchases, big-ticket items, anything marked down or damaged, floor models, used items or open packages. In those situations, says Doble, "It's almost crazy not to bargain." After all, merely asking for a better price -- on, say, an appliance -- can save you hundreds of dollars.

(via rebecca's pocket)

There's no "we" in "pig"MAY 08

Afghanistan has only one pig.

Twist endings in moviesMAY 08

A list of the best and worst twist endings in movies.

3. The Usual Suspects. Considered the best twist ending by many people, it was hard to put this so far down at #3. I've seen a couple people put this crime thriller starring Kevin Spacey on "Worst Twist Endings" lists, but those people are just idiots wanting to sound smarter and more sophisticated than everyone else.

(via house next door)

History smells like old lentilsMAY 08

It's all fun and games until someone gets their head stuck in a 3,600-year-old Sumerian pot.

I honestly didn't think my head would fit into it. But it did, and now I can't get it out. In addition to my extensive knowledge of the ancient Near East, I am blessed with a near-inexplicable touch-typing ability, so, if you will, picture me sitting at the computer with a pot on my head that dates from roughly the time when the Hittites invented iron-forged weapons. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the pot on my head was about 400 years old when Troy was sacked.

(via clusterflock)

NYC subway ridership trends mappedMAY 08

Mike Frumin took the NYC subway ridership data from all the way back to 1905 (!!) and graphed it on a map, with a sparkline of the ridership data for each stop. Frumin explains the project a little more here.

The result, after much whacking, is, I think, compelling, but you'll have to see for yourself. The general idea it that the history of subway ridership tells a story about the history of a neighborhood that is much richer than the overall trend. An example, below, shows the wild comeback of inner Williamsburg, and how the growth decays at each successive stop away from Manhattan on the L train.

Update: Here's another representation of the same data. In this one, the ridership numbers are represented by the thickness of the subway line.

Waves in slow motionMAY 08

Absolutely gorgeous slow motion HD video of a large wave from under the water...you can clearly see the intricate and powerful architecture of the wave.

Nice surfing shot too...but the wave is mesmerizing.

Pants of steelMAY 08

Spam that involves pants.

Get king-kong in pants
The vigor in your pants will be unbreakable.
A big equipment in your pants brings big fruits for hot chicks to pick up.

The food of Star TrekMAY 08

In celebration of Star Trek opening today, Adam Kuban goes long on a piece about food in Star Trek movies and TV shows.

Science fiction often holds a mirror up to contemporary culture, critiquing its practices, politics, and mores. So, too, with Romulan ale. Because of the United Federation of Planets' standoff with the Romulan Empire, the drink is illegal within the Federation -- much like Cuban cigars are in the U.S. But like the captains of industry of today, captains of starships indulge in this vice.

Oddly, my only complaint is that (somehow) his piece isn't long enough. Adam, you didn't even get in to "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." (thx, alaina)

Frontloading wondermentMAY 07

Rob Weir explains how to give a lecture. Solid advice that applies to conference presentations or even writing.

The most common reason for bad lecturing isn't phobia; it's that professors don't value the craft enough to hone their skills. Use such individuals as negative role models. Think of the most boring lecturer you've ever encountered. Do the opposite!

Where did it all begin?MAY 07

Made of This is a three part series from The Economist's More Intelligent Life magazine in which people are asked about early memories that shaped the rest of their lives. Part one, part two, part three.

I must have been around seven or eight. My mother, a dancer, was -- and is -- very bright. And I very clearly remember her saying: "What you see as red is not necessarily what I see as red." I of course said: "But red is the colour of a cherry and tomatoes." And she said, "Yes, but you don't know what I'm experiencing when I look at a cherry or tomatoes." It immediately fascinated me, that things weren't obvious. It was really exciting.

Gaussian goat!MAY 07

Some days I feel just like a gaussian goat.

Gaussian Goat

This is perhaps what the world would look like if human vision could perceive all of an object's possible quantum mechanical states at the same time. (via today and tomorrow)

Sweating the detailsMAY 07

The Ministry of Type highlights a small but significant feature on the UI of the Xerox Star, a computer with an early GUI: precise positioning of icons on a dithered background in order to avoid rough edges.

It may be subtle, but it's the kind of thing that reduces the overall apparent quality of your work, the stuff that marks out your work as being standard (read: mediocre) or exceptional. If you feel you shouldn't get precious about such things, perhaps graphic design isn't your thing.

Free runningMAY 07

Free running is like parkour except that the former is more expressive than the latter. Whereas parkour is the efficient movement through space, free running adds acrobatic flair for aesthetic purposes. One of the more talented practictioners of free running is Levi Meeuwenberg; here's a demo reel he made of his stunts.

Popular Science recently examined the physics of the jumps involved in both sports.

However, by bending and rolling, the time of impact can be increased to as much as 0.3 or 0.4 seconds. By decreasing his velocity over this extended period of time, the force is substantially reduced. Applying the above calculation with an acceleration time of 0.4 seconds we now get Fground = 2000 N (460 pounds). It's still a significant force but as you can see in the video quite manageable for someone with the proper skill, strength and technique.

I'm behind on my Ninja Warrior, but Meeuwenberg did quite well on a recent appearance, advancing further on the show than any other contestant. (via justin blanton)

Birth year cultural scrapbookMAY 07

Sveinn Birkir has been collecting images from 1976 and putting them on his blog in order to create a visual anthology from the year he was born. Neat idea.

8-Bit FatalitiesMAY 07

The 8-Bit Fatalities project presents the abstract killing in pixelated video games (Pac-Man eating the ghosts, Dig Dug blowing up his enemies) as realistic illustrations.

Dig Dug Dead

The Kirby one is the best...and most graphic. (via clusterflock)

Hellish housingMAY 07

Oobject has collected 15 housing projects from hell.

Despite the title of this list, several of these housing projects were designed by some of the world's most famous architects and lauded at the time. The undeniable squalor of 19th Century slums combined with modernism to produce and attempt to clean things up and create a crystalline utopia. The end result was often an anti-septic vision of hell, a place devoid of organic spaces and evolved social interaction.

Keep your jobMAY 06

Tyler Cowen on how to keep your job. Click through to see which of the following is most effective:

1. Make your boss aware of all your recent accomplishments at work.
2. Butter up your boss with compliments.
3. Tell your boss you'd be willing to accept a pay cut to keep your job.

Hating The WireMAY 06

During a discussion with friends the other day, someone wondered, "Who doesn't like The Wire?" The show is easily one of a handful of shows considered the best ever and even those who feel that The Wire is overrated still don't dislike it. But someone's gotta hate it, right?

In the spirit of Cynical-C's excellent You Can't Please Everyone series, I went to Amazon and looked for bad reviews of The Wire season one DVD. There were six one-star reviews and four two-star reviews (versus 190 five-star reviews). Three of those were customer service complaints and one read like a five-star review that was accidentially mis-rated; here are parts of the remaining reviews:

I have watched 6 episodes of Season 1 and have desperately tried to get into The Wire. Despite the hype, and all the trendies saying what a mahhvellous show it is, actually it is pretty dull. Boring characters, little conflict, confusing scripts, same stuff repeated ad nauseam. Frankly, the lives of petty drug dealers in Baltimore don't do it for me, and not do the cops who are a pretty unattractive bunch with few dramatic qualities. I know that Prison Break was appallingly acted but at least it had a story line. The Wire is like an improvisation at one of those let it all hang out stage schools which never produces particularly great actors.

I had 1000's of hours of viewing movies, television series, and television programming behind me before I sat down to watch this series on DVD, season one, the box in my hand. I was very dissapointed. This series stinks. I watched only episode 1, and have the experience and perception to know that it won't get any better. [...] If watching cheap white trash and cheap black trash destroy themselves and probably each other interests you, this is for you. I have a better way to spend my evenings. I experience enough negativity in the world on a daily basis, that I don't have to put it in my dvd player after dinner for it to "entertain" me.

I really disliked this show, i watched the entire first season in two days, i only did so because i was waiting for it to become interesting. After so many glowing reviews, i could not belive how just plain awful this show turned out to be. I would rather watch reruns of Barney Miller, you get the same effect of watching the Wire except with slightly more enjoyment. I know it's not The Shield and it's not supposed to be but i implore you to purchase that series if you want to enjoy a television experience.

I got the Wire because I thought I was missing the boat on 'the best show on TV'. Well...I must be missing something because after watching 5 episodes I don't get it. I kept thinking it was going to get better..not that it was bad...it just wasn't that interesting. The only reason I kept watching was to see Idris Elba who plays Stringer Bell cause he is a cutie!

Perhaps it is in the office where the show falters the most, sometimes having camera shots zoom in on a person for three seconds at a time while they are thinking about nothing. Then there is the whole thing with the detective using a typewriter. Okay, did I miss something? Is this 2008 or 1978 people?? High Profile crime unit using typewriters, sure I buy it and a bag of that counterfeit money they had in the first episode.

I tried it sober; perhaps I should have tried it drunk. Ham acting, cliched backdrops (pole-dancing was an idea already on its last legs before The Sopranos ran it into the ground) and dialogue which may possibly be realistic but certainly is dull. I labored manfully through the whole first episode. I shall not torment myself with a second.

If Barney Miller is more your speed, season one of that show is also available on Amazon with reviews almost as good as The Wire's.

Update: I had totally forgotten about Andy Baio's Amazon.com Knee-Jerk Contrarian Game.

An ode to B&HMAY 06

Joel Spolsky sings the praises of B&H, the mega photography and electronics store on 34th Street in Manhattan.

No, wait: The most amazing thing is that I have often gone into B&H to purchase a specific product, only to be talked into something cheaper. For example, once I went in to buy a field video monitor to use for some interviews I was conducting. I expected to pay $600 until the salesperson said, "Why don't you just get one of these cheap consumer portable DVD players? They have video inputs, they work just as well, and they're under $100." This was no accident. "The entire premise of our store is based upon your ability to come in, touch, feel, experiment, ask, and discuss your needs without sales pressure," B&H's website says.

Re: Circuit City, I'd wager that many of the businesses that have gone under so far have not done so because of the poor economy but because they were poor or unsustainable businesses. (via @anildash)

District 9MAY 06

The trailer for District 9 looks interesting. I particularly like the way the alien's face is pixelated out in the interview, both for privacy in the world of the film and to not spoil the reveal for movie goers.

Update: This movie is based on a short that director Neill Blomkamp did in 2005. (thx, kenneth)

Update: An uncensored version of the trailer is available here. (thx, lisa)

Update: A full trailer is now available.

Quimby The Mouse, gone fishin'MAY 06

A short video animation of Quimby the Mouse by Chris Ware. (via waxy)

Update: Vimeo has pulled the video offline. (thx, paul)

Update: The video is back online again.

Kindle DX: larger screenMAY 06

Amazon indeed announces a Kindle with a larger screen: the Kindle DX. Available for pre-order now for $490, release date is sometime this summer.

Update: During the press event announcing the new device, Jeff Bezos said that for books that have Kindle editions, the Kindle version accounts for 35% of the sales. 35%!! Also, Merlin Mann would like you to know that if you buy a Kindle through the above link (this link right here, if you're confused), I get a little money from Amazon. Although I'm not even sure how Merlin can tell what's going on way down here from so far up on his horse.

Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There DayMAY 06

Another article about how uptight parents are raising sheltered kids.

The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the '70s and '80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it's been going down. If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were. But it feels so completely different, and we're told that it's completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it's the same, nobody believes me. We're living in really safe times, and it's hard to believe.

I can't remember where I heard this little story recently but the gist is that a family originally from somewhere in Africa but now living in the United States went back home for a visit. In this particular country, the kids all leave the house at 6am and don't return until dinnertime. They get up, pack a lunch, and they're just gone. And the kid from the family living in the US didn't do this...he couldn't really do much without his parents and hung around them the whole time, which the other kids thought was weird.

Eat fast, live largeMAY 06

This chart plots time spent eating per day vs. the national obesity rate for several developed nations. If you'd asked me what the chart might look like before I viewed it, I would not have guessed that higher obesity rates correlate with shorter eating times. The US has the highest national obesity rate on the chart and are the third fastest eaters.

Those are some crazy ideasMAY 06

Allison Arieff shares a few of inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson's fantastic drawings and inventions.

In Johnson's oeuvre, nothing gets to exist if it doesn't have at least two functions: the skylight uses solar energy to cook the dinner, for instance, and the exercise bike operates the washing machine (cleaning clothes and toning the wearer's muscles simultaneously).

Self Shortening Car

Johnson's other inventions include the Nod Office, Toilets for Immodest Times, self-shortening cars, and the Bike Vest.

To the South Pole on footMAY 05

Down 50 pounds, running on 15% lung capacity, and unable to remember coordinates properly, Todd Carmichael works his way toward the South Pole, still attempting to set a speed record.

"I just don't know what to do," Carmichael says to the camera. "No way of communicating with anyone. No way of making water." His voice rises with resentment. "I have no water! That's it. I have no water. If you don't have water, you don't have life."

The two comments following the story are also interesting. One is from a member of a Canadian team who broke the speed record a few days after Carmichael's attempt ended.

Google PowerMeterMAY 05

At the New Yorker Summit, Google's Dan Reicher mentioned the company's PowerMeter, an upcoming product/service that will measure household power use.

Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage. The graph below shows how someone could use this information to figure out how much energy is used by different household activites.

Felix Salmon lays out the rationale:

The behavioral sociology of measuring energy usage is simple: the more you know about how much energy you're using, the less you use. Just getting the information cuts most people's energy usage by somewhere between 5% and 15%, while people with high electricity bills (like me) find it much easier to isolate exactly what is causing those bills and can then work out how best to reduce them through upgrading appliances or replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or any number of other routes to energy efficiency.

New Yorker Summit: Geoffrey CanadaMAY 05

I've been to quite a few conferences and almost without exception, the best speakers and presenters are people who are actually doing things in the trenches...not the folks who write books about them. The engaging and whip smart Geoffrey Canada outlined the four factors he uses to achieve success with his organization in educating kids in Harlem.

1. We have to tackle everything at the same time. Small programs touching unconnected parts of kids lives aren't that effective.

2. They start working with kids from birth and stay with them until they graduate from college. If they don't let them get behind, later superhero-type interventions (which don't often work) are not needed.

3. Scale is important. If you work with lots of kids, their collective action reinforces itself with little further effort.

4. Accountability and evaluation is needed. Canada said that if bad teachers aren't teaching the kids, they should be fired.

Canada also cautioned about complacency in business. He said that businesses, left to their own devices, find comfortable resting places without periodically refreshing their values and goals.

Update: Canada was the subject of a recent segment on This American Life. (thx, andrew)

Update: The Harlem Children's Zone has been hit hard by the financial crisis and had to lay off staff. (thx, elaine)

New Yorker Summit: meta coverageMAY 05

The New Yorker News Desk is liveblogging the New Yorker Summit a lot better than I am. You may also follow #tnysummit on Twitter. Let's see who else is here? @anamariecox, @felixsalmon, @edge, @AriMelber, @magicmolly. More?

Update: The NY Times' Economix blog is on the case as well.

Update: Felix Salmon is also blogging.

New Yorker Summit: financeMAY 05

The big themes of the day so far are confidence and experts: should we and do we have confidence in the experts? Malcolm Gladwell kicked off the morning with a talk about overconfidence. He talked about the three types of failure possible in a situation like the financial crisis:

1. Institutional failure. The regulators and regulations were not sufficient.

2. Cognitive failure. The bankers weren't smart enough and got in over their heads.

3. Psychological failure. The bankers were overconfident and failed to recognize the direness of their situation.

Gladwell argued that the financial crisis was caused largely by overconfidence, which has two key effects. One is that people become miscalibrated. They think that the predictions that they are making are actually a lot better than they are. Secondly, there's an illusion of control problem in which people think they have control over things that are impossible to control. Fixing the situation will be hard because overconfidence is a useful trait to possess and experts are hard to purge from systems (they're the experts!).

[Experts talking about how experts are wrong! My brain is seizing up.]

Next up were Nassim Taleb and Robert Shiller. Shiller believes that confidence drives the economy and that macroeconomics is flawed because there's no humanity in it. Taleb was very quotable and the most full of doom of all the panelists so far. He doesn't like economists. Like wants them gone from the world, or to at least marginalize their effects so that their opinions and decisions don't affect the lives of normal people. In talking about why this crisis is different than similar situations in the past, he argued that globalization, the Internet, and the efficiency of global financial markets has created an environment where very large and very quick collective movements of money are possible in a way that wasn't before. Taleb had the last word: "people who crashed the plane, you don't give them a new plane".

The panel moderated by Suroweicki was a little odd. Two out of the three panelists kept repeating in reference to the solution to the very complex financial crisis: "this isn't that complicated". There has also been a undercurrent to the discussion so far that the goal of any solution to the financial crisis is to get the economy back to where it was. I'm with Taleb on this one: where we were wasn't very good, why do we want to go back.

The New Yorker SummitMAY 05

I'll be at The New Yorker Summit today attempting some sort of live-ish coverage.

With a new President in office, our country is in a period of immense challenges, from unprecedented economic tumult to a worldwide environmental crisis. With more at stake than at any time in recent memory, we are compelled to put forward new solutions and new thinking. In this spirit, The New Yorker Summit: The Next 100 Days will gather economic heavyweights and national-policy voices to look at the formative days of the new Administration, and to explore what lies ahead in the next hundred days.

An update on updatesMAY 04

Unless you're an especially careful reader of kottke.org, you probably don't realize that I update old posts on a regular basis with material (mostly) contributed by readers. Here are several recent examples:

30 Rock
Julie and Julia trailer
Bendy map of Manhattan
Media packaging mashups
Oceans

But they're a pain in the ass to read...and you have to scroll down the front page looking for the boldface "Update:". Updates also don't show up in RSS properly. In order to make these valuable contributions more visible (and to encourage myself to update posts more often), I'll be making a daily post to the site that collects these updates in one place. Expect to see them on the site and in the feed later in the week.

Steampunk GPSMAY 04

Christopher Fahey on the watchclock, a device built to keep track of the movements of night watchmen.

The mechanism itself has barely changed for a century: although some more recent models incorporate GPS and other technologies, the mechanical key-based watchclock system is still in wide usage, with many buildings still employing the same keys and the same clockwork devices they've used since the 1940s. It's a genuine example of an "if it aint broke, don't fix it" kind of technology.

(via df)

Giving 110%, in defense of sports interview clichesMAY 04

Freakonomists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner probably got the ball rolling back in 2006 with their article about how people get really good at something. Malcolm Gladwell threw his hat into the ring with Outliers and the 10,000-Hour Rule. More recently, David Brooks stepped up to the plate and delivered a review of two recent books on how genius is made, not born: Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code and Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated. I even stuck my oar in briefly; the deliberate practice concept fascinates me, tangentially related as it is to relaxed concentration. From Brooks' article:

The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It's not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it's deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

Athletes have long been ridiculed for the cliches they use when talking about how they won, particularly during post-game interviews. You know them by heart:

We just have to keep working hard.
It just comes down to staying focused.
We gave it 110% tonight.
We worked hard in practice all week.
We never gave up.

If the writers above (and the researchers their writings are based on) are correct, maybe the jocks have it right: it all comes down to preparation, working harder, and wanting it more than the other guy. Simple...except for that pesky 10,000 hours thing.

Momofuku cookbookMAY 04

Get yer clickity fingers ready: you can pre-order the Momofuku cookbook on Amazon. Publication date is October 27, 2009. It is likely to include the several recipes that David Chang shared with Gourmet magazine in Oct 2007 like the brussels sprouts and the still-amazing pork buns. (via serious eats)

Update: NY Times food critic Frank Bruni also has a book coming out soon: Born Round (weird title).

Regarding The Jonas BrothersMAY 04

In a nutshell:

Disney is selling sex to kids, pretending they're not, and making a fortune while forcing their audience into cultural bankruptcy.

(via matt)

I have discovered the Fountain of YouthMAY 04

I had this dream last night that someone had developed a way to put people back into the womb. An artificial womb, but which was made with real human tissue and functioned like an actual womb. Women were attached to these artificial wombs with external umbilical cords to provide nutrients to the "fetuses". Full-grown people were inserted into these wombs for terms of three, six, or nine months for the purpose of rejuvenation. To be born again. Natal nutrients somehow turned back the clock. People emerged looking younger, feeling younger, with the agile brains and limber muscles of someone twenty years younger.

Right. No more cheese before bed.

Large screen Kindle?MAY 04

The NY Times says that Amazon will soon release a large screen Kindle. I really didn't like the Kindle's paperback-sized screen so I'm hoping the "people briefed on the online retailer's plans" are correct for once. (via fimoculous)

Milton Glaser: To Inform and DelightMAY 04

There's very little information about this online, but here's what I've scraped together. Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight is a documentary on the legendary designer and it will be released in theaters sometime near the end of May. You know, one of those huge summer blockbusters.

I posted about Glaser's Ten Things I Have Learned several years ago, mostly for point #5's rejoinder to "less is more": "Just enough is more". Rereading it now, I'm much more interested in some of the other points, particularly 1-3.

And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn't matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

30 RockMAY 04

A photo of Rockefeller Center from 1933. The view is more or less looking west...that's St. Patrick's Cathedral in the foreground on the left.

Update: And here's another shot of 30 Rock from 1933.

?MAY 01

!

Update: !!

Jane Jacobs videoMAY 01

The CBC has a clip of Jane Jacobs talking about Toronto and Montreal from 1969. In it, she makes the distinction between the two urban organizational forces at work in Toronto, a sort of "civil schizophrenia": the vernacular spirit ("full of fun") and the official spirit ("stamp out fun"). I also found a video on YouTube about Robert Moses and his difficulties with Ms. Jacobs which concludes with a cheeky update of Arnold Newman's iconic photo of Moses.

Jane Jacobs Robert Moses

Still. Old. Friend.MAY 01

The Morning News polls their (presumably) wired, urban, and young readership: which print magazines and newspapers do you still read? Me: The New Yorker, The NY Times on the weekend, and the occasional copy of Wired from the newsstand. Bound paper is still a wonderful high resolution medium for transmitting information.

Update: The literary crew at The Millions takes up the same question.

Madison Avenue CookwareMAY 01

Madison Avenue Cookware. The only thing that cooks better is a woman.

The site, which seems to be down right now, is actually a promotional site for Mad Men.

Flower and bee clocksMAY 01

On the Zeitgedächtnis, or time-sense, of honeybees.

Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments -- say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees' time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes.

rating: 4.0 stars

Frost/NixonMAY 01

Early in Frost/Nixon, we meet Irving Lazar, who negotiates on behalf of Richard Nixon with David Frost. He didn't get that much screen time, but Lazar struck me as an interesting character1 so I looked him up on Wikipedia after the movie. Michael Korda, himself a publishing bigwig, wrote a profile of Lazar for the New Yorker in 1993. Korda was befriended by Lazar early on in his career and went on to do many deals with the legendary agent.

Early on, Lazar hit upon three rules that have stood him in good stead for over fifty years. The first was that he could always reach anyone, anywhere, any time. His secret weapon is the world's largest address book, full of the private, unlisted numbers of people whom nobody else can reach. Who else can pick up the phone and call Mrs. Norton Simon, Jack Nicholson, Barry Diller, Larry McMurtry, Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Nixon, Cher, Gregory Peck, or Henry Kissinger, and get through immediately? The second rule was always to go directly to the top. Lazar doesn't deal with underlings. The last rule was to insist on a quick answer. Even now, if I tell Irving that I want to think something over or discuss it with someone else he will snap, "Never mind, I can see you're not interested, I'll talk to Phyllis Grann."

[1] My first impression was, this guy seems a bit like Truman Capote to me. Well, duh: the actor playing him, Toby Jones, also portrayed Capote in Infamous.

Bendy map of ManhattanMAY 01

This is a little bit brilliant. Here and There are a pair of maps of Manhattan that start from an on-the-street viewpoint and curl up as you gaze uptown or downtown until you see the rest of the island from a traditional "flat map" view.

As the model bends from sideways to top-down in a smooth join, more distant parts of the city are revealed in plan view. The projection connects the viewer's local environment to remote destinations normally out of sight.

Prints are available. This is like a 3-D version of the spider maps for London buses, in which a local street grid relays information about the immediate vicinity while the surrounding schematic shows connections to the rest of the system.

Update: Jack Schulze explains the influences behind the maps. (via waxy)

Update: Ooh, these science illustrations from NISE use a similar technique to simultaneously show the internal and external structure of their subjects.

These illustrations show familiar objects across ten orders of magnitude-from familiar aspects down to the level of their constituent atoms. Vast scale differences are usually shown through separate images (e.g., the Eames' Powers of Ten). This illustration employs the artistic convention of perspective-typically used by landscape painters-to show multiple scales in one frame.

(thx, matt)

Air Force One and The Statue of Liberty Photoshopped togetherMAY 01

The hamfisted Air Force One NYC photo op cost taxpayers more than $320,000. Photoshop expert Scott Kelby says that using the graphics editing program for two minutes could have saved a lot of money and trouble.

Update: The NY Daily News had the same idea. (thx, @tshane)

Dixie Upright and his friendsMAY 01

The pace of baseball is such that one wonders about all the baseball players whose last names are adjectives.

Woody Rich, Pop Rising. Harry Sage. Several Savages. Mac Scarce. Bill Sharp. Bill, Chris, Dave, and Rick Short. Many Smalls. One Smart guy (JD). Three Starks. Adam Stern. Of course, there's Doug Strange (and Alan and Pat, too). Jamal and Joe Strong. Even a guy named Sturdy, literally: Guy Sturdy. DIck Such. Bill Swift, x2.

Update: See also musicians whose names are sentences. (thx, colter)

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