Entries for March 2010 (April 2010 »    May 2010 »    June 2010 »    Archives)

 

Pyongyang, the restaurantMAR 31

North Korea operates several restaurants outside of the country (in Cambodia, China, and elsewhere in Asia) in order to procure necessary foreign currency and as a front for money laundering operations.

Visitors to the restaurant are ushered into an air-conditioned, flood-lit hall filled with dozens of glass-topped tables. Unlike North Korea proper, which is wracked by economic sanctions and constant famines, the food here is fresh and abundant. The menu features specialties such as Pyongyang "cold noodle" (served encrusted with ice), barbecued cuttlefish, stringy dangogi (dog meat) soup, and countless variations on the kimchi theme, all served with glutinous white rice.

The Design of DesignMAR 31

Now this is interesting...Fred Brooks, author of The Mythical Man-Month (which should be subtitled "If You Make Software As Part of a Team You Should Read This Book Immediately Like Now What Are You Waiting For Dummy?") has a new book out called The Design of Design.

Effective design is at the heart of everything from software development to engineering to architecture. But what do we really know about the design process? What leads to effective, elegant designs? The Design of Design addresses these questions.

These new essays by Fred Brooks contain extraordinary insights for designers in every discipline. Brooks pinpoints constants inherent in all design projects and uncovers processes and patterns likely to lead to excellence. Drawing on conversations with dozens of exceptional designers, as well as his own experiences in several design domains, Brooks observes that bold design decisions lead to better outcomes.

The author tracks the evolution of the design process, treats collaborative and distributed design, and illuminates what makes a truly great designer. He examines the nuts and bolts of design processes, including budget constraints of many kinds, aesthetics, design empiricism, and tools, and grounds this discussion in his own real-world examples-case studies ranging from home costruction to IBM's Operating System/360. Throughout, Brooks reveals keys to success that every designer, design project manager, and design researcher should know.

Globish: a simple global EnglishMAR 31

Globish is a "decaffeinated English" that is increasingly becoming a widely used international language.

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre described how, waiting for a flight from Delhi, he had overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. "The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now," he concluded, "do I realise that they were speaking 'Globish', the newest and most widely spoken language in the world."

More info at Wikipedia and the NY Times...it's soon to be a book as well.

Turntable app for the iPadMAR 31

For all you wannabe DJs out there, a multi-touch turntable app for the iPad.

iPad turntable

This wannabe DJ is pretty excited! (via jimray)

Of mice and lordsMAR 31

From a House of Lords debate transcript, a discussion of the mouse problem in the Lords' part of the Palace of Westminster. In part:

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am well aware that there are still mice around. I saw one in the Bishops' Bar only yesterday evening. I do not know whether it was the same one that I saw the day before or a different one; it is always difficult to tell the difference between the various mice that one sees. We believe that the problem is getting better. Cleaning is one of the measures we are taking, as I outlined in my original Answer. As I speak here this afternoon, the Bishops' Bar and the Guest Room are being hoovered, so we can get rid of the food scraps from lunch. If you were a mouse, you would rather eat the crumbs of a smoked salmon sandwich than the bait. Therefore, we want to remove the crumbs as quickly as possible.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Why should I and noble Lords trust the Executive to deal with mice when they cannot deal with the economy?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not actually deal with the economy. I am glad to say that that would be above my pay grade, whereas trying to deal with the mice is probably just about right for me.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I was in total ignorance that there was anything of the nature of a mouse helpline until this Question Time. Can the Chairman of Committees tell us what helplines there are for Members of the House on other issues that we do not know about?

The Chairman of Committees: I rather hope that we do not have too many other ones. I was not going to advertise the existence of the mouse helpline, although it was advertised some time ago. Indeed, I invited Members of the House to telephone when they saw mice. The trouble is that when the person at the other end of the helpline goes to check this out, very often the mouse has gone elsewhere.

(via @benhammersley)

Pixar's The TerminatorMAR 31

Dharma Initiative food labelsMAR 30

For your Lost party tonight: dozens and dozens of Dharma Initiative food labels that you can print out and affix to bottles and jars.

Dharma chili

Includes steak sauce, cake mix, tuna, sake, and guacamole dip.

A/B testing for the homelessMAR 30

To prove a point about the utility of A/B testing, a marketing blogger helped a homeless man modify his begging approach and increased his earnings by over 100%.

What we did here was quite different than what most homeless people would do. We focused on a different angle. We already have the "I'm homeless, help me" stigma attached to people that are sitting on the side of the street with a cup, so we don't necessary need to make that a prominent part of our banner. The next big difference is that we changed colors and went from cardboard to white to spark the interest of people walking by instead of automatically having negative associations that they have with cardboard and homeless people.

Writer Gay Talese did something similar last year. (via the browser)

Margaret Atwood on TwitterMAR 30

She joined up last year and now she has some thoughts on the service.

Oh yes. A long time ago, back in June of 2009, when we were planning the launch of The Year of the Flood and I was building a Web site for it. Why was I doing this building, rather than the publishers? Well, they had their own sites, and I wanted to do some non-publishing things on mine, such as raise awareness of rare-bird vulnerability and heighten Virtuous Coffee Consumption (Arabica, shade-grown, doesn't kill birds) and blog the seven-country dramatic-and-musical book tour we were about to do. Anyway, the publishers were at that time hiding under rocks, as it was still the Great Financial Meltdown, not to mention the Horrid Tsunami of Electronic Book Transmission. "That sounds wonderful, Margaret," they said, with the queasy encouragement shown by those on the shore waving goodbye to someone who's about to shoot Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Oops! I shouldn't have said that. Which is typical of "social media": you're always saying things you shouldn't have said.

This is probably the first article someone has written about Twitter that references Wordsworth, Hammurabi, and Greek mythology. (via mr)

Nor'easter timelapseMAR 30

This is a radar timelapse of the 22 major storms to hit the Northeastern United States this winter.

From the Accuweather site:

These winter storms have dropped 30-40 inches of rain (and liquid snow) in the I-95 corridor, which would normally only receive 20-25 inches over the winter.

(via infectious greed)

Chatroulette cover of Lady Gaga's TelephoneMAR 30

There are many Telephone video remixes out there; this one is my favorite. (thx, jacob)

Old school arcade games showMAR 30

If you're into old school video games and pinball, the place to be in mid-July is at California Extreme, a classic arcade games show. Tickets are $60 for the weekend but the relevant pullquote here is:

Everything is on free play. You can play from the moment you arrive until we shut off the power at closing -- Play as many games as you want, in whatever order you want to. There are *HUNDREDS* of games, all set to play for free. This is a your chance to try those older games, or the newer games that you'd never put money into in an arcade. There are also many games that never got produced, and are very hard to find.

I went with some friends several years ago and it was a lot of fun.

Beams crossed at LHCMAR 30

CERN finally spun up the Large Hadron Collider and smashed some protons together.

"If you want to discover new particles, you have to produce them; and these new particles are massive. To produce them, you need higher energies. For the first time [on Tuesday], we will be producing particles that have energy 3.5 times higher than the maximum energy achieved so far. [...] At the end of the 7 TeV (3.5 TeV per beam) experimental period, the LHC will be shut down for maintenance for up to a year. When it re-opens, it will attempt to create 14 TeV events.

Tracking reading habits with the KindleMAR 29

A list of interesting book-reading stats that Amazon could provide from data collected from Kindle users.

Trophy Books - books that are most frequently purchased, but never actually read.
Burning the midnight oil - books that keep people up late at night.
Read Speed - which books/authors/genres have the lowest word-per-minute average reading rate? Do readers of Glenn Beck read faster or slower than readers of Jon Stewart?

A universe of informationMAR 29

Perhaps the framework of the Universe is information and that forces like gravity are emergent phenomena.

Verlinde suggested that gravity is merely a manifestation of entropy in the Universe. His idea is based on the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy always increases over time. It suggests that differences in entropy between parts of the Universe generates a force that redistributes matter in a way that maximises entropy. This is the force we call gravity.

I'm a sucker for would-be GUTs; this one seems especially interesting to consider.

Sistine Chapel virtual panoramaMAR 29

This is probably the best way to see the Sistine Chapel aside from getting on a plane to Rome.

My First Toxic AssetMAR 29

The Planet Money podcast bought a toxic asset and is tracking what happens to the 2000+ mortgages that are bundled up into it over time.

We bought one of those things that no one wanted, one of those things that almost brought down the global economy: our very own toxic asset. This one has more than 2,000 mortgages in it. We paid $1,000, with our own money, for our piece. It used to be worth more like $75,000. Click on the timeline and roll over the states to watch a disaster in progress.

Somewhat of a surprise: they've made more than a third of their money back already.

Taberinos one-click gameMAR 29

Oh, I can see where this game would get maddeningly addictive after awhile, especially if you like to shoot pool. (thx, marc)

Tournament of Books, judgment timeMAR 29

The semifinals in The Morning News Tournament of Books begin today with yours truly attempting to decide between The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Consider the book as an object, as a vessel for the novel. Readers are warned against judging books by their appearances before they've read the novels within, but designers, publishing companies, and bookstores conspire against us. They use what economists refer to as signalling to compel people to buy (but not necessarily read) books. The physical size and shape, the page thickness, the fonts and colors used, the choice of title, the back- and front-cover blurbs, the embossed book award and/or Oprah stickers, and the cover -- especially the cover -- are all signals to the potential buyer that (a) this book is worth her time and money, and more importantly, (b) make her feel a certain way about herself: intelligent, hip, involved, safe. When you see a book, you can't not have an immediate reaction to it. Your brain does so without consent.

Twenty minutes into Let the Great World Spin and I knew everyone would expect it to beat The Lacuna. But which did I go with? Read on...

SpongeBob SquarePants and the seven deadly sinsMAR 26

The seven main characters on SpongeBob SquarePants were supposedly based on the seven deadly sins:

Sloth: Patrick
Wrath: Squidward
Greed: Mr. Krabs
Envy: Plankton
Gluttony: Gary
Pride: Sandy
Lust: SpongeBob

That's right, a talking sponge that wears pants represents lust.

The internet in 1969MAR 26

What the wife selects on her console, will be paid for by the husband at his counterpart console.

Babies trailerMAR 26

Babies is a documentary that follows the lives of four newborn babies for the first year of life...in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and San Francisco. (via clusterflock)

Master bladesmith Bob KramerMAR 26

Bob Kramer's handcrafted knives take more than a full day to make and cost $300 per inch (8" chef's knife is $2400). The New Yorker did a interesting piece on Kramer in 2008. (via 37signals)

The man who could steal anythingMAR 26

In the April issue of Wired, there's a story about Gerald Blanchard, a most ingenious thief.

As the bank was being built, Blanchard frequently sneaked inside -- sometimes at night, sometimes in broad daylight, disguised as a delivery person or construction worker. There's less security before the money shows up, and that allowed Blanchard to plant various surveillance devices in the ATM room. He knew when the cash machines were installed and what kind of locks they had. He ordered the same locks online and reverse engineered them at home. Later he returned to the Alberta Treasury to disassemble, disable, and remount the locks.

The take at this bank was a modest 60 grand, but the thrill mattered more than the money anyway. Blanchard's ambition flowered, as did his technique. As Flanagan had observed, Blanchard always wanted to beat the system, and he was getting better at it.

(thx, garrett)

100 different versions of AvatarMAR 26

To cover every possible screen and audio option out there, James Cameron produced over 100 different versions of Avatar for distribution to theaters.

In some cases, a single multiplex required different versions for different auditorium configurations. Creative decisions involving light levels also led to additional versions. 3D projection and glasses cut down the light the viewer sees, so "Avatar" also had separate color grades at different light levels, which are measured in foot lamberts. "If we had just sent out one version of the movie, it would have been very dark (in the larger theaters)," Barnett says. "We had a very big flow chart with all of the different steps, so we could send the right media to the right theater."

Somali pirates business modelMAR 25

Somali pirates run their business pretty much like everyone else does.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this 'contribution', he receives a 'class A' share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

(via df)

DNA poetryMAR 25

Poet Christian Bök wants to compose a poem and encode it into the DNA of the Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria -- "the most radiation-resistant organism known".

He wants to inject the DNA with a string of nucleotides that form a comprehensible poem, and he also wants the protein that the cell produces in response to form a second comprehensible poem.

AGGCGT GCCACC AAT
TCT TACC GATTT CT
CA CTCTAG ACC CTG
AGCCCA CGC GGTTCA

(via mr)

The iPhone blowsMAR 25

Speakers move air to make sound. Some clever developer has used this fact to make a foosball game that uses small puffs of air from the iPhone's speakers to move a tiny real-life Styrofoam ball around. Video (or it didn't happen):

Another app from the same company called the iPhone Blower can blow out birthday candles. (via convo.us)

Shoes that make everyone the same heightMAR 25

Same height shoes

A selection of shoes that makes everyone 2 meters tall. (via dj)

David Mamet's guidelines for screenwritingMAR 25

In a memo to the writers of The Unit, David Mamet (the show's executive producer) provides a short but master class in writing for television.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER "AS YOU KNOW", THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

(thx, mark)

New NFL playoff overtime ruleMAR 25

The NFL has approved a new overtime rule for the playoffs. Each team will now get at least one overtime possession unless the team winning the coin flip scores a touchdown on the opening drive.

In 1994, the spot of the kickoff was moved to the 30-yard line from the 35, allowing for longer returns that put the receiving team into field-goal range with just a few plays or a long penalty. Since then, the team that won the toss won 59.8 percent of the time, because even if it did not win on the first possession, it often controlled field position. The team that lost the toss won just 38.4 percent of the time. And before the kickoff was moved, teams won with a field goal on the opening possession just 17.9 percent of the time. After the kickoff moved, it rose to 26.8 percent of the time.

I'm pretty happy about this. Like I said after the Saints/Vikings game in January:

Congrats to the Saints, but the coin-toss sudden death OT thing has to be the worst rule in sports.

Photoshop 5's magical fill toolMAR 25

This is stunning. A version of this was presented at SIGGRAPH in August 2009. (via jimray)

DIY rally racingMAR 24

A "racing freak" named Bill Caswell bought an old BMW off of Craigslist for $500, fixed it up, and entered it in a rally car race against teams with new $400,000 cars and support crews. He came in third in his class.

Some kids threw boulders in the road on a transit and I punctured my gas tank losing nearly a half tank in 24 km on the next stage. Best part, the officials pointed out our leak and showed a handful of gas to us when we asked how big it was -- I knew we were screwed, but they said we could start the stage so we did. I patched it with just stuff in the trunk -- RTV and balls of duct tape -- twenty feet after the stage finish, on the side of the road, with the officials watching. Didn't have time at service to fix it so five stages tomorrow with RTV patch.

Beautiful softwareMAR 24

For my future reference: Well Placed Pixels, a blog highlighting beautiful software. (via df)

LifeMAR 24

I'd really like to watch Life, the newest multi-part nature documentary from the BBC, but the version showing on Discovery in the US is narrated by Oprah Winfrey and not David Attenborough. Guess I'll wait for the Blu-ray version for the full English experience. Or maybe they'll release a German version narrated by Herzog? Pretty please? In English?

The Dense States of AmericaMAR 24

If the population density of the United States was equal to that of Brooklyn, the entire US population would fit into New Hampshire.

The state would be ruined, though (imagine a Brooklyn-like sprawl of that size), but the rest of the country would be green and pleasantly devoid of people!

If you used Manhattan's population density, Dense US would shrink to more than half that size, roughly the area of Teton County in Wyoming. Manila, the capital of the Philippines, has the highest population density of any city in the world (111,000 people per square mile)...if the US was that dense, the population would fit into any number of tiny Alaskan islands you've never heard of or a square 52 miles on a side.

High-fructose corn syrup linked to obesityMAR 24

Researchers at Princeton have shown that if you keep the number of calories the same, rats eating high-fructose corn syrup "gained significantly more weight" than rats who ate table sugar.

Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.

But not so fast sugar lovers:

The new research complements previous work led by Hoebel and Avena demonstrating that sucrose [i.e. "regular sugar"] can be addictive, having effects on the brain similar to some drugs of abuse.

So you're screwed either way.

Supersizing The Last SupperMAR 24

In paintings of the Last Supper done over the past 1000 years, the portion sizes of the food depicted have increased by 69%.

From the 52 paintings, which date between 1000 and 2000 A.D., the sizes of loaves of bread, main dishes and plates were calculated with the aid of a computer program that could scan the items and rotate them in a way that allowed them to be measured. To account for different proportions in paintings, the sizes of the food were compared to the sizes of the human heads in the paintings.

How to make a nuclear bombMAR 24

NATO's Michael Ruehle lays out how a non-nuclear nation might acquire a bomb or two. It ain't easy.

You will get caught, either by a US spy satellite (as in the case of North Korea), a disgruntled defector (as in the case of Iraq), or even an indigenous human rights group (as in the case of Iran). So what should you do if you get caught? First and foremost, do not overreact. Deny. Should the evidence become too powerful, then, change tack. Create a distraction. Argue that the uranium particles found in your country were purposely scattered by a hostile nation. Challenge the credibility of the information provided to the IAEA. Bring up Israel again.

Spin spin mesmerizingMAR 23

From Cory Arcangel, two dancing display stands that spin at slightly different speeds. I actually watched the whole thing.

These sculptures are made from 2 over the counter 'Dancing Stands' (the tacky kinetic product display stands you can often see in down market stores) which have been modified to spin at slightly different speeds. When my modified stands are placed next to each other they go in and out of phase slowly.

NASA movie postersMAR 23

For a number of their recent missions, NASA has designed movie-like posters. This one was pretty clearly influenced by Star Trek:

NASA Movie Poster

My interview on The PipelineMAR 23

I try not to do too many interviews these days (they tend to get in the way of actually getting stuff done), but I was pleased to be interviewed for an episode of Dan Benjamin's Pipeline podcast.

They discuss blogging for a living, general vs. niche blogs, content longevity, making the transition to full-time blogging, how taking a break (even for a week) can affect traffic, finding links, guest bloggers, the good and bad of comments, and more.

(Christ, is that my voice? I *was* just getting over a cold...)

Werner Herzog as Plastic BagMAR 23

I didn't know it until just now, but I had been waiting all my life to watch a short film featuring Werner Herzog voicing a plastic shopping bag.

Struggling with its immortality, a discarded plastic bag ventures through the environmentally barren remains of America as it searches for its maker.

Fantastic. (via greg)

When programming errors attack!MAR 23

From a bunch of security experts, the top 25 most dangerous programming errors that can lead to serious software vulnerabilities.

Cross-site scripting and SQL injection are the 1-2 punch of security weaknesses in 2010. Even when a software package doesn't primarily run on the web, there's a good chance that it has a web-based management interface or HTML-based output formats that allow cross-site scripting. For data-rich software applications, SQL injection is the means to steal the keys to the kingdom. The classic buffer overflow comes in third, while more complex buffer overflow variants are sprinkled in the rest of the Top 25.

And the record goes to...MAR 23

From The Big Picture, a bunch of photos of record setters. This girl has the world's largest (non-virtual) Pokemon collection.

Pokemon collection

And the contenders for the silliest record are:

The Most Number of Dishes On Display, In a Single Day
The Largest Cycling Class
The Biggest Plate of Hummus
The Most People Running Dressed as Santa
The Largest Meatball

But I have to admit, this is almost poetic in its neat summary of the modern condition:

Sultan Kosen, the world's tallest man, unveils the world's largest gingerbread man at an Ikea store in Oslo.

Updates on previous entries for Mar 22, 2010*MAR 23

99 classical mp3s for $8 orig. from May 11, 2009

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

Viacom vs. YouTubeMAR 22

In defending itself against a copyright lawsuit brought by Viacom, YouTube notes that the media company has been surreptitiously uploading its copyrighted content to YouTube for years.

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt "very strongly" that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

This jibes with what I heard a couple of years ago:

I heard that the staff of the Daily Show and Colbert Report upload the shows to YouTube as soon as they can after the shows air and then the next day, lawyers from Comedy Central hit YouTube with takedown requests for the uploaded shows.

(thx, @peretti)

MoMA acquires the @ symbolMAR 22

The Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA has made a, er, symbolic acquisition of the @ symbol.

The acquisition of @ takes one more step. It relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that "cannot be had" -- because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747's, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @ -- as art objects befitting MoMA's collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA's collection also apply to these entities.

Magnus Carlsen, the chaotic and lazy chess championMAR 22

You never expect too much from the first few questions of an interview, but this interview of chess world #1 Magnus Carlsen is good right out of the gate.

SPIEGEL: Mr Carlsen, what is your IQ?

Carlsen: I have no idea. I wouldn't want to know it anyway. It might turn out to be a nasty surprise.

SPIEGEL: Why? You are 19 years old and ranked the number one chess player in the world. You must be incredibly clever.

Carlsen: And that's precisely what would be terrible. Of course it is important for a chess player to be able to concentrate well, but being too intelligent can also be a burden. It can get in your way. I am convinced that the reason the Englishman John Nunn never became world champion is that he is too clever for that.

SPIEGEL: How that?

Carlsen: At the age of 15, Nunn started studying mathematics in Oxford; he was the youngest student in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in algebraic topology. He has so incredibly much in his head. Simply too much. His enormous powers of understanding and his constant thirst for knowledge distracted him from chess.

SPIEGEL: Things are different in your case?

Carlsen: Right. I am a totally normal guy. My father is considerably more intelligent than I am.

His comparison of his abilities with Garry Kasparov's later in the interview is interesting as well.

Mountain ranges as stock market infographicsMAR 22

Photographer Michael Najjar took some of his photos from the Andes and turned them into stock market infographics. Here's Lehman Brothers stock price from 1980 to 2008.

Lehman Mountain

Boy, their stock price really fell off a cliff there, didn't it? The rest of the series is worth a look as well, although Najjar's site features the worst use of Flash I've seen in many months...it automatically fullscreens and generally wastes a bunch of time with transitions. To find the rest of the photos, wait until the map starts loading and put your mouse at the bottom of the screen. A menu will s.l.o.w.l.y. slide up...High Altitude is what you're looking for. (via info aesthetics)

Ben Saunders off to the North PoleMAR 22

And so adventurer Ben Saunders is off again on one of his little jaunts. This time, he's headed to the North Pole in 30 days, skiing alone and unsupported, attempting to shave six days off the 2005 record set by an entire team that used dog sleds and resupplying. Dangerous? Yep: his equipment page has a "bear safety" section. Watch his journal (and perhaps his Twitter) for updates...he'll be posting entries and photos via satellite phone as soon as he gets underway.

The economics of the mushy middleMAR 22

Companies who target the middle of the market (Sony, Dell, General Motors) are losing customers to companies like Apple & Hermes at the high end and Ikea & H&M at the low end. From James Surowiecki:

The products made by midrange companies are neither exceptional enough to justify premium prices nor cheap enough to win over value-conscious consumers. Furthermore, the squeeze is getting tighter every day. Thanks to economies of scale, products that start out mediocre often get better without getting much more expensive -- the newest Flip, for instance, shoots in high-def and has four times as much memory as the original -- so consumers can trade down without a significant drop in quality. Conversely, economies of scale also allow makers of high-end products to reduce prices without skimping on quality. A top-of-the-line iPod now features video and four times as much storage as it did six years ago, but costs a hundred and fifty dollars less. At the same time, the global market has become so huge that you can occupy a high-end niche and still sell a lot of units. Apple has just 2.2 per cent of the world cell-phone market, but that means it sold twenty-five million iPhones last year.

Virtual choir on YouTubeMAR 22

Almost 200 people singing while sitting at home in front of their own computers are stitched together into one big virtual chorus:

Nice presentation. Here's how it was organized. A bunch of audition videos from the singers are available on YT as well (for example).

(thx, claude)

The Flame drawing toolMAR 19

Flame is an experimental online drawing tool that you can use to make stuff like this:

Flame drawing

Or this dragon, probably a better representative example. Fun to play around with for a few minutes. (thx, sue)

Americans don't like movies with subtitlesMAR 19

Only nine foreign films have grossed more than $20 million in the US:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Life Is Beautiful
Hero
Pan's Labyrinth
Amelie
Jet Li's Fearless
Il Postino
Like Water for Chocolate
La Cage aux Folles

And only 22 have made more than $10 million. There are some great great films on the full list. (via latimes)

Tracking a century of American eatingMAR 19

Lots of information and graphs about the changing eating habits of Americans over the past 100 years. More cheese, fewer eggs, and lots more chicken:

Chicken availability over the past 100 years illustrates the effects of new technologies and product development. Increased chicken availability from 10.4 pounds per person in 1909 to 58.8 pounds in 2008 reflects the industry's development of lower cost, meaty broilers in the 1940s and later, ready-to cook products, such as boneless breasts and chicken nuggets, as well as ready-to-eat products, such as pre-cooked chicken strips to toss in salads or pasta dishes.

History of freestyle aerial skiingMAR 19

From the early 80s, a video history of freestyle aerial acrobatic skiing.

Note the smooth-skiing gent in the first minute and the almost aggressive lack of helmets.

Karl Lagerfeld interviewMAR 19

The interview is a little rough in spots but people -- like Lagerfeld -- who have strong opinions but don't try to push them on others are always interesting to listen to, even if you disagree.

The whole culture of cell phones, texting, and instant messaging is very impersonal and also very distracting.
I'm not working at a switchboard. I have to concentrate on what I'm doing. The few people I have in my telephone are already too much. When I'm on the phone I talk, but I really want to be alone to sketch, to work, and to read. I am reading like a madman because I want to know everything.

I think that you might have Asperger syndrome. Do you know what that is? It's a kind of autism. It's like an idiot savant.
That's exactly what I am. As a child I wanted to be a grown-up. I wanted to know everything-not that I like to talk about it. I hate intellectual conversation with intellectuals because I only care about my opinion, but I like to read very abstract constructions of the mind. It's very strange.

That's quite Asperger's. There's a boy who's 20 years old; you can see him on YouTube. He'd never seen Paris from the air before and they flew him over Paris in a helicopter. Then they took him to a studio and he drew the entire city. Building by building, street by street.
I can do that with the antique Greek world.

(via siege)

Project CybersynMAR 19

Cybersyn

This is the control room for Project Cybersyn, which was actually a real thing and not some Pertwee-era UNIT thing from Doctor Who.

Project Cybersyn was a Chilean attempt at real-time computer-controlled planned economy in the years 1970-1973 (during the government of president Salvador Allende). It was essentially a network of telex machines that linked factories with a single computer centre in Santiago, which controlled them using principles of cybernetics. The principal architect of the system was British operations research scientist Stafford Beer.

More information on Project Cybersyn can be found here. (thx, brandon)

Buzzfeed needs a web designerMAR 19

Buzzfeed is looking for a web designer:

BuzzFeed is a venture-funded startup building an innovative platform for publishing and tracking viral media. We are seeking a talented New York-based designer to join us full-time in our brand new 4000 sq ft SOHO office space. This is an great opportunity to make a huge impact as an integral part of our small team.

I'm an advisor to Buzzfeed...if you get hired, tell them I sent you and I get to eat the office's employee-only granola bars again.

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

I straight-up loved this movie. It's a fascinating look at the creative process of a team with strong leadership operating at a very high level. The trailer is pretty misleading in this respect...the main story in the film has little to do with fashion and should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever worked with a bunch of people on a project. Others have made the comparison of Anna Wintour with Steve Jobs and it seems apt. At several points in the film, my thoughts drifted to Jobs and Apple; Wintour seems like the same sort of creative leader as Jobs.

Quantum mechanics just got REALMAR 18

The opening paragraph of the article says it all:

A team of scientists has succeeded in putting an object large enough to be visible to the naked eye into a mixed quantum state of moving and not moving.

Wait, what? Like, WHAT? Ok, let's start over:

Andrew Cleland at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his team cooled a tiny metal paddle until it reached its quantum mechanical 'ground state' -- the lowest-energy state permitted by quantum mechanics. They then used the weird rules of quantum mechanics to simultaneously set the paddle moving while leaving it standing still.

The fuck? In my day, we were taught, with the help of non-graphing calculators and paper notebooks, that quantum mechanics was a lot of wand-wavey nonsense about wave/particle duality that you never had to worry about because it belonged to some magical tiny land that no one visits with their actual eyes. This...this is straight-up magic. [Cue Final Countdown]

Kindle for OS XMAR 18

Now available for download. For an app from a company that's trying to establish and dominate a new and potentially lucrative industry, the lack of polish on this app is kind of amazing.

On web nerderyMAR 18

Paul Ford is moving along from Harper's to work on some other stuff. This part of his reasoning, especially the part in italics (mine), resonates with me on all of my frequencies:

I had an opportunity to be an editor at Harper's, to edit pieces for the magazine. It was something I expected to really want. I had wonderful editors to learn from. I did a little of it for print and a lot for the web. I wasn't bad at it, even. Not great, but not bad. I could have been a respected editor instead of a huge nerd. But all the editing in the world can't compare to building little websites and mangling text and writing things and messing around in spreadsheets and figuring out what's wrong with comments. I wake up thinking about how all the pieces fit together and I want to do more of it and with lots of people.

Pre-modern blogsMAR 18

From the New York Review of Books blog (on Tumblr no less!), a consideration of some pre-blog and pre-Twitter writing that is bloggy in nature, including documents written of the events in London coffee houses and French cafes.

To appreciate the importance of a pre-modern blog, consult a database such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online and download a newspaper from eighteenth-century London. It will have no headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type, aside from one crucial ingredient: the paragraph. Paragraphs were self-sufficient units of news. They had no connection with one another, because writers and readers had no concept of a news "story" as a narrative that would run for more than a few dozen words. News came in bite-sized bits, often "advices" of a sober nature -- the arrival of a ship, the birth of an heir to a noble title -- until the 1770s, when they became juicy. Pre-modern scandal sheets appeared, exploiting the recent discovery about the magnetic pull of news toward names. As editors of the Morning Post and the Morning Herald, two men of the cloth, the Reverend Henry Bate (known as "the Reverend Bruiser") and the Reverend William Jackson (known as "Dr. Viper") packed their paragraphs with gossip about the great, and this new kind of news sold like hotcakes.

"No headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type"...that sounds damned familiar. (via @bobulate)

Your reality is out of dateMAR 18

There's a category of information that slowly changes throughout the course of a lifetime. Sam Arbesman calls them mesofacts.

These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth's population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it's about 6.8 billion. [...] If, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school!

The blog over at mesofacts.org is a good place to update yourself on this slowly changing information.

Thread poets societyMAR 18

At the newly renovated Bygone Bureau, Darryl Campbell investigates the small but vibrant poetry community that has formed in the comment threads on the NY Times website.

Tiger, Tiger burning bright
In the sex clubs of Orlando
Guess it's time you took a break
And lived life with more candor
Must've been weird, your secret life
Never an unserviced erection
Shouldn't you, though, have taught the wife
Some proper club selection?

Updates on previous entries for Mar 17, 2010*MAR 18

Predicting Olympic medal counts orig. from Jan 21, 2010

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

The hidden meaning of Lady Gaga's Telephone videoMAR 17

Almost more fun than watching Lady Gaga's music videos is watching people try to figure out what it all means. One of the most entertaining analyses of the Telephone video is this Robert Langdon-esque take:

Lady Gaga's 9-minute video featuring Beyonce is steeped in weirdness and shock value. Behind the strange aesthetic, however, lies a deeper meaning, another level of interpretation. The video refers to mind control and, more specifically, Monarch Programming, a covert technique profusely used in the entertainment industry. We'll look at the occult meaning of the video "Telephone".

America's Greatest Living Abstract Painter TournamentMAR 17

Americans take their art and NCAA brackets too seriously, so this is perfect: America's Greatest Living American Abstract Painter Tournament. The top seeds are Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman and Mark Bradford...go and vote for your favorites. (via sippey)

Pre-order Avatar on Blu-rayMAR 17

Avatar is already available for pre-order on Blu-ray (and DVD). Release date is April 22.

Photos of the 2010 Winter ParalympicsMAR 17

The Big Picture has an awesome set of photos from the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver. Handicapped my ass...most of these events look much tougher than their regular Olympic counterparts.

The spy who shagged me and other honey trapsMAR 17

How spies have used sex and romance to get information, from WWI on.

Spies use sex, intelligence, and the thrill of a secret life as bait. Cleverness, training, character, and patriotism are often no defense against a well-set honey trap.

The physics of free throw shootingMAR 17

Attention @THE_REAL_SHAQ: it's all about parabolas and backspin.

Free-throw success is also improved by adding a little backspin, which pushes the ball downward if it hits the back of the rim. The North Carolina State engineers calculated the ideal rate of free-throw backspin at three cycles per second. That is, a shot that takes one second to reach the basket will make three full revolutions counterclockwise as seen from the stands on the player's right side.

(via mr)

Updates on previous entries for Mar 16, 2010*MAR 17

The hockey stick climate change graph orig. from Mar 16, 2010

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

Massive panorama of ParisMAR 16

A 26-gigapixel image of Paris. Fully zoomable and pannable. Sacré-Coeur starts out as a tiny speck and you can zoom in to see a bunch of people sitting on the steps outside.

Bees legalized in NYCMAR 16

NYC's Board of Health has lifted the ban on keeping bees in the city.

The unanimous vote amends the health code to allow residents to keep hives of Apis mellifera, the common, nonaggressive honeybee. Beekeepers will be required to register with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and to adhere to appropriate practices. That means they must be able to control bee swarms and ensure that the hives do not interfere with pedestrians or neighbors.

Ten dollars says my wife utters the following words to me tonight: "we should raise some bees on the roof!"

Health and fitness tips from a trainerMAR 16

A long-time trainer shares what he's learned about health and fitness. A lot of good (and questionable) stuff in this list.

Diet is 85% of where results come from...for muscle and fat loss. Many don't focus here enough.

If you eat whole foods that have been around for 1000s of years, you probably don't have to worry about counting calories

Our dependence on gyms to workout may be keeping people fat...as walking down a street and pushups in your home are free everyday...but people are not seeing it that way.

(via jorn)

The hockey stick climate change graphMAR 16

In a review in Prospect, Matt Ridley, who is no slouch as a science writer himself, calls Andrew Montford's The Hockey Stick Illusion "one of the best science books in years". Pretty high praise for what Ridley also calls "the biography of a graph". Specifically, this graph:

Hockey stick climate graph

You may have seen it in An Inconvenient Truth in this form. The graph shows the dramatic rise in temperature in the northern hemisphere over the past 100 years caused, presumably, by humans. But as Montford details in his book, the graph is incorrect.

[The author] had standardised the data by "short-centering" them -- essentially subtracting them from a 20th century average rather than an average of the whole period. This meant that the principal component analysis "mined" the data for anything with a 20th century uptick, and gave it vastly more weight than data indicating, say, a medieval warm spell.

Talk about an inconvenient truth.

Update: As expected, ye olde inbox is humming on this one. Here are a few places to look for the other other side of the story: Real Climate, Climate Progress (2, 3), New Scientist, and RealClimate. (thx, reed, barath, aaron)

Extreme wildlife photographyMAR 16

Photographer Greg du Toit spent months in the disease-infested water of a Kenyan watering hole to catch intimate images of animals drinking.

Sitting in my hide, I would have to remain motionless for hours as I watched the zebra herd's painfully tentative approach. The sound of my shutter alone, would send them running.

In addition to the photos (larger versions here), du Toit contracted snail fever, malaria (twice), hook worm, and several other parasites.

The new rules for reviewing mediaMAR 16

I've noticed an increasing tendency by reviewers on Amazon (and Apple's iTunes and App Stores) to review things based on the packaging or format of the media with little regard shown to the actual content/plot. Here are two recent examples.

Reviews for the theatrically released versions of The Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray are mostly negative -- the aggregate rating is 1.5 out 5. These are award-winning movies but the reviews are dominated by people complaining about New Line's decision to release the theatrical versions before the extended versions that the True Fans love. A representative review:

If I were reviewing the movie itself it would get a five. This review is for the product, as listed -- in other words, I DO NOT RECOMMEND BUYING THIS PRODUCT/DVD. This product is being created FOR NO OTHER REASON than to dupe people into buying this movie twice...again.

Similarly, the early reviews for Michael Lewis' The Big Short are dominated by one-star reviews from Kindle owners who are angry because the book is not available for the device. (thx, jason)

I have always enjoyed Michael Lewis' books and was looking forward to reading The Big Short. With no availability in the US on Kindle, however, I will pass until the publisher/Amazon issue is cleared up. I actually believe that the availability of an item is relavent when giving it a review.

Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. Packaging is important. We judge books by their covers and even by how much they weigh (heavy books make poor subway/bus reading). Format matters. There's an old adage in photography: the best camera is the one you have with you. Now that our media is available in so many formats, we can say that the best book is the one on your Kindle or the best movie is the one on your iPhone.

Newspaper and magazine reviewers pretty much ignore this stuff. There's little mention of whether a book would be good to read on a Kindle, if you should buy the audiobook version instead of the hardcover because John Hodgman has a delightful voice, if a magazine is good for reading on the toilet, if a movie is watchable on an iPhone or if you need to see it in 1080p on a big TV, if a hardcover is too heavy to read in the bath, whether the trailer is an accurate depiction of what the movie is about, or if the hardcover price is too expensive and you should get the Kindle version or wait for the paperback. Or, as the above reviewers hammer home, if the book is available to read on the Kindle/iPad/Nook or if it's better to wait until the director's cut comes out. In the end, people don't buy content or plots, they buy physical or digital pieces of media for use on specific devices and within certain contexts. That citizen reviewers have keyed into this more quickly than traditional media reviewers is not a surprise.

Baby names for sale, never usedMAR 16

Before Minna was born, we didn't know if she was a boy or a girl, so we had a bunch of names picked out for both genders. Since we are so so (SO!) done having kids, I thought I'd share our list in case someone else finds any of them useful.

Girls:
Beatrix
Greta
Coralie

Boys:
Milton
Emory
Milo
Emmett
Max/Maximilian
Hugo
Nico
Oscar
Finn
Sam
Ford

Of the girls names, Minna was my frontrunner from when we first heard it. Meg favored Beatrix for a long time but I finally convinced her of Minna's intrinsic correctness. Milo was the clear frontrunner had Minna been a boy.

Tree branch falls on power linesMAR 16

Fake or no? (via delicious ghost)

Updates on previous entries for Mar 15, 2010*MAR 16

Best movie scenes orig. from Mar 15, 2010

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

MarwencolMAR 15

Marwencol is the name of fictional town built by Mark Hogancamp in his backyard in an attempt to cope with a near-fatal beating. Jeff Malmberg has made a documentary of the same name about Hogancamp's fantasy world.

After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark built a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populated the town he dubbed "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and created life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helped Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds from the attack. Through his homemade therapy, Mark was able to begin the long journey back into the "real world", both physically and emotionally -- something he continues to struggle with today.

Some bits of the film are available on Vimeo. (thx, greg)

Best movie scenesMAR 15

The Guardian asked several film directors to choose their favorite movie scenes. Ryan Fleck chose the chase scene from The French Connection and discovered that the 80+ mph chase was done through normal traffic with Hackman just driving like a crazy person.

I did a little bit of research about how they shot the scene. Phenomenal. Basically they just did it. There was no security blocking off other traffic, just Hackman in a car with a camera mounted on the front. They went crazy, lost their minds, and went for it. It was the kind of thing that you just would never get away with these days.

I don't know if it's my favorite or not, but the opening scene in The Matrix where the cops walk into a dusty old building to find Trinity working alone at a computer and then she flies up in the air and the camera circles around her as she kicks those cops' asses, well, let's just say I want to be that excited about seeing the rest of every single movie I watch. (via @brainpicker)

Update: The FC chase scene was actually done by stunt driver Bill Hickman. (thx, jason)

The artist is presentMAR 15

Watch a live-stream of performance artist Marina Abramović as she sits in the atrium of the MoMA all day every day until the exhibition ends on May 31. (via @gregorg)

Cormac McCarthy, coveredMAR 15

Some gorgeous covers for a few Cormac McCarthy books by David Pearson.

Cormac Covers

Excerpt from Michael Lewis' new bookMAR 15

Vanity Fair has a lengthy excerpt from Michael Lewis' new book The Big Short (out today).

As often as not, he turned up what he called "ick" investments. In October 2001 he explained the concept in his letter to investors: "Ick investing means taking a special analytical interest in stocks that inspire a first reaction of 'ick.'" A court had accepted a plea from a software company called the Avanti Corporation. Avanti had been accused of stealing from a competitor the software code that was the whole foundation of Avanti's business. The company had $100 million in cash in the bank, was still generating $100 million a year in free cash flow-and had a market value of only $250 million! Michael Burry started digging; by the time he was done, he knew more about the Avanti Corporation than any man on earth. He was able to see that even if the executives went to jail (as five of them did) and the fines were paid (as they were), Avanti would be worth a lot more than the market then assumed. To make money on Avanti's stock, however, he'd probably have to stomach short-term losses, as investors puked up shares in horrified response to negative publicity.

"That was a classic Mike Burry trade," says one of his investors. "It goes up by 10 times, but first it goes down by half." This isn't the sort of ride most investors enjoy, but it was, Burry thought, the essence of value investing. His job was to disagree loudly with popular sentiment. He couldn't do this if he was at the mercy of very short-term market moves, and so he didn't give his investors the ability to remove their money on short notice, as most hedge funds did. If you gave Scion your money to invest, you were stuck for at least a year.

Really fascinating. In a recent review, Felix Salmon called The Big Short "probably the single best piece of financial journalism ever written".

That's What Bea SaidMAR 15

The utterances of Bea Arthur's character on Golden Girls + that's what she said = That's What Bea Said.

The Devil and Sherlock HolmesMAR 15

David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, has a new book out, a collection of his New Yorker pieces called The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

Updates on previous entries for Mar 14, 2010*MAR 15

Michael Lewis' The Big Short orig. from May 19, 2009

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

Flickr seasonsMAR 12

This visualization represents a year in color (summer is at the top, winter at the bottom).

Flickr seasons

The images were taken of the Boston Common, courtesy of Flickr.

Kids ask the darnedest things about fame and productsMAR 12

Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley recently gave a talk at a Brooklyn middle school; the Q&A included the following Qs:

Who's your favorite basketball player?
Have you every met anyone famous?
Can you really see Jupiter's moons with binoculars?
Do you know the guy who made the Sidekick?
Have you met any hip hop stars?

The salmon, a fish apartMAR 12

Over the course of their lives, salmon are known first as alevins and then fry, parr, smolts, grilse, and finally kelt.

'Smolt', 'grilse': as Richard Shelton observes, salmon are spoken of in a 'stained-glass language' of their own, their life stages marked by an ichthyological lexicon unchanged since Chaucer's time. Born in a 'redd', a shallow, gravel-covered depression dug by the female in the days before spawning, newly hatched salmon begin life as 'alevins', tiny, buoyant creatures with their yolk sacs still attached.

Bureaucrats and their officesMAR 12

Jan Banning

From Jan Banning's series entitled Bureaucratics.

Telephone, music video, Lady Gaga, BeyonceMAR 12

This might be the last great music video. Beyonce picks up Gaga from jail in the Pussy Wagon from Kill Bill! But Christ, the product placement. This thing has more brands in it than Logorama.

Miniature NYC, a movieMAR 12

Do yourself a favor: take the next five minutes and watch this tilt-shift video of NYC in fullscreen HD. The construction stuff that starts about a minute in is just great.

Whereas Koyaanisqatsi made NYC look big and busy, The Sandpit turns the city into something you can hold in your hands or put in your pocket. The making of is worth a read...all the tilt-shift effects were done in post. (via quips)

Updates on previous entries for Mar 11, 2010*MAR 12

Secret restaurant menus orig. from Mar 10, 2010

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

Ten Word WikiMAR 11

Like Wikipedia except all entries are ten words long. Or:

Ten Word Wiki is an Encyclopedia for the ADD generation.

(via @ettagirl)

Philip K. Dick on Blade RunnerMAR 11

Philip K. Dick never got to see Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's film adaptation of his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but he did catch a snippet of the film on TV a few months before he died and was over the moon about it.

I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner.

(via hodgman)

Warren Buffett's 2009 annual letter to shareholdersMAR 11

Worth a read as always.

We will never become dependent on the kindness of strangers. Too-big-to-fail is not a fallback position at Berkshire. Instead, we will always arrange our affairs so that any requirements for cash we may conceivably have will be dwarfed by our own liquidity. Moreover, that liquidity will be constantly refreshed by a gusher of earnings from our many and diverse businesses.

When the financial system went into cardiac arrest in September 2008, Berkshire was a supplier of liquidity and capital to the system, not a supplicant. At the very peak of the crisis, we poured $15.5 billion into a business world that could otherwise look only to the federal government for help. Of that, $9 billion went to bolster capital at three highly-regarded and previously-secure American businesses that needed -- without delay -- our tangible vote of confidence. The remaining $6.5 billion satisfied our commitment to help fund the purchase of Wrigley, a deal that was completed without pause while, elsewhere, panic reigned.

We pay a steep price to maintain our premier financial strength. The $20 billion-plus of cash-equivalent assets that we customarily hold is earning a pittance at present. But we sleep well.

Here's to sleeping well.

Ruth BourdainMAR 11

Anthony Bourdain's potty mouth + Ruth Reichl's Twitter account = the luxuriously rude Twitter stylings of Ruth Bourdain.

Have you ever smoked tangerine zest in a bong? Incredible! Me and the cat are sky high

Sous vide steak at homeMAR 11

A nice primer for the home cook on cooking steak with the sous vide technique.

With traditional cookery, when you are exposing your meat to temperatures much hotter than their final desired temperature (say, cooking a steak to 130°F in a 550°F skillet), timing is crucial. The center of your steak is getting hotter and hotter, and it's your job as cook to take it off the flame at precisely the moment that it reaches the desired final temperature. Miss that precise moment, and dinner is ruined.

The beauty of sous-vide cooking is that since you are cooking your steak in a 130°F water bath to begin with, there is absolutely no chance your meat will ever get above that temperature. Guests are an hour late? No problem -- leave the steaks in the water bath, and they'll be exactly the same an hour later.

Maps as metaphorMAR 11

What a great way to start off this morning: a new series of map-based illustrations by Christoph Niemann. Reserve Battery Park is a favorite. So is this omelet recipe:

Niemann Omelet

Secret restaurant menusMAR 10

This list of secret restaurant menus is informative, hilarious, and possibly innaccurate in places. Fatburger will serve you something called the Hypocrite (veggie burger topped with bacon) and at the classy Long John Silvers you can get a Side of Crumbs, a free box of the fried batter parts that have fallen off of the fried seafood items. Mmmmmm!!! (via cyn-c)

Update: Several of my British moles have informed me that it is common practice at some fish and chips shops to ask for a "bag of scraps", which is where LJS got the idea for their Side of Crumbs. More info here.

George Lois on his favorite Esquire coversMAR 10

Legendary art director George Lois shares his memories about his twelve favorite Esquire covers.

He tells how the job came about: "I was a well-known advertising agency guy, and the former editor of Esquire, Harold Hayes, he called me up. We met at The Four Seasons, and he said, 'Could you help me try to do better covers?' I got this Bronx accent, and he had this southern drawl, and it must have been a funny discussion. 'You have to go outside and find a designer, a guy who's talented at graphic design, but understands politics, culture, and movies,' I told him, and he said, 'Do me a favor, could you do me just one cover?' I said, 'Okay, I'll do you one.'"

Here's one I'd never seen before, featuring Chief John Big Tree, the supposed model for the Indian Head nickel.

Esquire March 64

Great algorithms stealMAR 10

An interesting article about how composer and programmer David Cope found a unique solution for making computer-composed classical music sound as though it was composed by humans: he wrote algorithms that based new works on previously created works.

Finally, Cope's program could divine what made Bach sound like Bach and create music in that style. It broke rules just as Bach had broken them, and made the result sound musical. It was as if the software had somehow captured Bach's spirit -- and it performed just as well in producing new Mozart compositions and Shakespeare sonnets. One afternoon, a few years after he'd begun work on Emmy, Cope clicked a button and went out for a sandwich, and she spit out 5,000 beautiful, artificial Bach chorales, work that would've taken him several lifetimes to produce by hand.

Gosh it's going to get interesting when machines can do some real fundamental "human" things 10,000x faster and better than humans can.

America's top hand modelsMAR 10

Headshots of some hand models and the hands that made them famous. The hands of one of the models even replaced Megan Fox's hands -- you know, the toe-thumbed ones -- in a Motorola commercial. (via clusterflock)

Living still lifesMAR 10

Remember the painting or reality post from a couple of weeks ago? Alexa Meade's living still lifes are like that except better.

Alexa Meade

Here's one of her works in progress. (thx, chris)

A to-do list for the last person on EarthMAR 10

Over at Reddit, an epic answer to the simple question "if you became the last person on Earth, what would you do?"

Hone your skills. You're now the worlds only Mechanic, Electrician, Farmer, Hunter, Gatherer and Doctor. Books are a remarkable resource.

As previously noted, I love this kind of thing.

Dave Eggers interviewMAR 09

The Guardian recently interviewed Dave Eggers and found that the Staggering Genius is no more.

Time to break the ice. You hate doing interviews, don't you? I ask, sitting down (there is no desk; he works on an old sofa). "No, not at all," he says. There is a look of mild amazement on his face as he tells me this and it's not disingenuous; as he will explain later, he feels a certain sense of distance from his old self. Perhaps he prefers not to remember exactly how he used to be.

The formula for Hollywood moviesMAR 09

After analyzing dozens of Hollywood films, a team of researchers has found evidence that the visual rhythm of movies at the shot level matches a pattern called the 1/f fluctuation, the same pattern that is found in dozens of natually occurring phenomena, including the length of the human attention span.

These results suggest that Hollywood film has become increasingly clustered in packets of shots of similar length. For example, action sequences are typically a cluster of relatively short shots, whereas dialogue sequences (with alternating shots and reverse-shots focused sequentially on the speakers) are likely to be a cluster of longer shots. In this manner and others, film editors and directors have incrementally increased their control over the visual momentum of their narratives, making the relations among shot lengths more coherent over a 70-year span.

Modern action movies are particularly adept at matching the audience's attention span in this manner. The full paper is available here.

"Fat" is now a tasteMAR 09

In addition to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, Australian scientists have found evidence that humans can also taste fat.

"We found that the people who were sensitive to fat, who could taste very low concentrations, actually consumed less fat than the people who were insensitive," Keast told AFP. "We also found that they had lower BMIs (Body Mass Indexes)."

Tournament of Books beginsMAR 09

The Morning News Tournament of Books is underway with a first round matchup between Nami Mun's Miles From Nowhere and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. As a semifinal judge, I know at least one of the final two books and for your betting purposes, I'll open the bidding on that knowledge at, say, $50K.

Rediscovering the cure for scurvyMAR 09

Maciej Ceglowski tells the story of how the cure for scurvy was discovered, lost, and finally redsicovered, but not before it disrupted Robert Falcon Scott's 1911 expedition to reach the South Pole.

This is a good example of how the very ubiquity of vitamin C made it hard to identify. Though scurvy was always associated with a lack of greens, fresh meat contains adequate amounts of vitamin C, with particularly high concentrations in the organ meats that explorers considered a delicacy. Eat a bear liver every few weeks and scurvy will be the least of your problems.

But unless you already understand and believe in the vitamin model of nutrition, the notion of a trace substance that exists both in fresh limes and bear kidneys, but is absent from a cask of lime juice because you happened to prepare it in a copper vessel, begins to sound pretty contrived.

Tron Legacy trailerMAR 09

Fuck. Yes.

David Foster Wallace's archive acquiredMAR 09

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas has acquired the archives of David Foster Wallace, joining those of Don DeLillio and Norman Mailer.

The archive contains manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books.

Highlights include handwritten notes and drafts of his critically acclaimed "Infinite Jest," the earliest appearance of his signature "David Foster Wallace" on "Viking Poem," written when he was six or seven years old, a copy of his dictionary with words circled throughout and his heavily annotated books by Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and more than 40 other authors.

Materials for Wallace's posthumous novel "The Pale King" are included in the archive but will remain with Little, Brown and Company until the book's publication, scheduled for April 2011.

The web site currently contains some tantalizing examples of what the archive will eventually hold, including the first page of a handwritten draft of Infinite Jest, his annotated dictionary -- circled words included benthos, exergue, hypocorism, mendacious, rebus, and witenagemot -- and some heavily annotated books he owned, including his copy of Players by DeLillo.

David Foster Wallace's annotated DeLillo

This is really exciting and sad all at once. (thx, matt)

Updates on previous entries for Mar 8, 2010*MAR 09

Bill Cunningham, the movie orig. from Feb 25, 2010

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

The Meta AwardsMAR 08

The categories include:

Best Long, Rambling Speech, Which Must Be Forcefully Cut Short by the Orchestra, Given After Receiving This Award

Most Worthy of Winning This Award By Sheer Virtue of the Number of Times She Has Not Previously Won This Award

(via @tcarmody)

Famous movie quotes, graphedMAR 08

Information visualization of some well-known movie quotes. A picture is, how you say, worth a thousand words:

Movie quotes graphed

Honest movie titlesMAR 08

Posters featuring accurate movie titles for some 2010 Oscar nominees.

Up --> Suck It Dreamworks
Inglourious Basterds --> Inaccurate Trailer
Blind Side --> White Lady Saves the Day

Ad blockingMAR 08

Ars Technica argues that ad blocking is harmful to the sites you love.

If you read a site and care about its well being, then you should not block ads (or you subscribe to sites like Ars that offer ads-free versions of the site). If a site has advertising you don't agree with, don't go there. I think it is far better to vote with page views than to show up and consume resources without giving anything in return. I think in some ways the Internet and its vast anonymity feeds into a culture where many people do not think about the people, the families, the careers that go into producing a website. People talk about how annoying advertisments are, but I'll tell you what: it's a lot more annoying and frustrating to have to cut staff and cut benefits because a huge portion of readers block ads. Yet I've seen that happen at dozens of great sites over the last few years, Ars included.

They also ran an interesting little experiment: for those running ad blockers, they also blocked the content.

8-bit map of NYCMAR 08

8-bit NYC

Fully draggable, zoomable, Zelda-like map of NYC...this is awesome. But where are the Octoroks? (via waxy)

What I did on vacationMAR 08

Sand ball

It's not exactly a shiny ball of mud but until it dried out and fell apart the next day, this little fellow was surprisingly round, dense, and rock-like. Ollie started making his own after watching me; after a minute of effort on each, he liked to throw them into the water.

Pink TerrorMAR 08

An ultra slow motion video clip featuring firecrackers, smashed watermelons, and Stephen Hawking.

OffMAR 01

A family vacation in a warmer climate beckons, so no posts this week. I'll be back full-force next week.

Archives    February 2010 »    January 2010 »    December 2009 »

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