Entries for September 2010 (October 2010 »    November 2010 »    December 2010 »    Archives)

 

European map according to AmericansSEP 30

Europe According To USA

Larger version here. Other stereotype maps are available, including Europe According to Bulgaria and Europe According to Gay Men.

Journalism in the age of dataSEP 30

A 50-minute documentary on information visualization and its use in journalism.

Lots of kottke.org regulars in there...Fry, Wattenberg, Koblin, Felton, Stamen, etc. And Amanda Cox sounds like Sarah Vowell!

No more nuclear bombsSEP 30

Richard Rhodes recently gave a Long Now talk called The Twilight of the Bombs about the future obsolescence of nuclear weaponry. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:

How much did the Cold War cost everyone from 1948 to 1991, and how much of that was for nuclear weapons? The total cost has been estimated at $18.5 trillion, with $7.8 trillion for nuclear. At the peak the Soviet Union had 95,000 weapons and the US had 20 to 40,000. America's current seriously degraded infrastructure would cost about $2.2 trillion to fix -- all the gas lines and water lines and schools and bridges. We spent that money on bombs we never intended to use -- all of the Cold War players, major and minor, told Rhodes that everyone knew that the bombs must not and could not be used. Much of the nuclear expansion was for domestic consumption: one must appear "ahead," even though numbers past a couple dozen warheads were functionally meaningless.

Fallon and Timberlake give rap history lessonSEP 30

This is the best thing you'll see all day. Please just watch:

The Beastie Boys and Eminem stuff killed me. Who knew Fallon could sing? (via @hodgman)

Potential Earth-like exoplanet discoveredSEP 30

A team of scientists has discovered a potentially habitable planet located about 20 light years from Earth.

The paper reports the discovery of two new planets around the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581. This brings the total number of known planets around this star to six, the most yet discovered in a planetary system other than our own solar system. Like our solar system, the planets around Gliese 581 have nearly circular orbits.

The most interesting of the two new planets is Gliese 581g, with a mass three to four times that of the Earth and an orbital period of just under 37 days. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface and that it has enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere, according to Vogt.

Gliese 581, located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, has a somewhat checkered history of habitable-planet claims. Two previously detected planets in the system lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and one on the cold side (planet d). While some astronomers still think planet d may be habitable if it has a thick atmosphere with a strong greenhouse effect to warm it up, others are skeptical. The newly discovered planet g, however, lies right in the middle of the habitable zone.

Sam Arbesman's prediction of May 2011 might have been too conservative. And 20 light years...that means we could send a signal there, and if someone of sufficient technological capability is there and listening, we could hear something back within our lifetime. Contact! (thx, jimray)

On talentSEP 29

From a list of rules for young photographers, a definition of talent:

Talent is not when your friends tell you they love your work, but when people who don't like you have to admit it's good.

Using that definition, it's interesting that you can't figure out whether you're any good or not from your 300 friends on Facebook, the 23 people who liked your Tumblr post, the 415 people you follow on Twitter, or the 15 people who faved your Flickr photo.

The Master of Blue JeansSEP 29

Huh. The word "denim" comes from "serge de Nîmes", a fabric made in Nîmes, France, and "blue jeans" comes from "Bleu de Genes", blue pants made in Genoa (aka Genes). Both cities claim to have been manufacturing denim for centuries, but there has never been much proof in the way of artifacts and such. So the recent discovery of several paintings from the mid-1600s depicting people wearing jeans is surprising. Look at this jean jacket:

1600s jean jacket

He's even got his collar popped.

New Apollo 11 footageSEP 29

Due to the Moon's relative position in the sky as Neil Armstrong started his moonwalk, Australia was able to capture the first few minutes of his descent down the ladder before NASA was able to find a signal. But it was lost until recently; the restored footage will be shown next week at an event in Sydney.

Play Asteroids on any web pageSEP 29

This bookmarklet will let you play Asteroids on any web page...the enemies are the images, text, and videos on the page. You can click here to play right now on this very page. (Arrows to move, spacebar to fire, the score is in the lower right corner.) It's pretty satisfying to blow the kottke.org front page to bits. Someone should make a multiplayer version so that everyone currently visiting a page can all play together. (thx, cary)

Obama, the Rolling Stone interviewSEP 29

Long interview with Barack Obama in Rolling Stone. Most of it is politics, but they also discussed music.

My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There's still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I'm not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.

Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.

On opinionsSEP 29

Robin Hanson lists 20 reasons why your opinions "function more to signal loyalty and ability than to estimate truth".

2. You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.
9. You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.
16. Your opinion doesn't much change after talking with smart folks who know more.

(via mr)

Crazy car driving skillsSEP 28

This is Ken Block practicing a sport called gymkhana, which is sort of the Mario Kart version of rodeo barrel racing.

The build-up is way too long...the good stuff starts at about 1:10 and the crazy-ass shit starts at 3:00. The move right at three minutes in is just absolutely fantastic as is the 360 sliding thing he does through a building. (via clusterflock)

There's no "u" in social mediaSEP 28

Dan Catt has written part one of a users guide to websites. It explains why sites with "social" features are so difficult to scale beyond a few hundred users and the necessary compromises made that piss off the sites' vocal power users. Excellent stuff.

That cool "user-who-did-x-also-did-y" feature was calculated whenever you visited your homepage. This worked for the 500 initial users (the site's builders and their friends) but started to take too long when they hit 1,000 users.

The site solved this by caching (storing the results for an amount of time) the calculations. The users complained that they were being shown incorrect data because everyone they knew was doing stuff all the time and it wasn't updating fast enough.

The site solved this by invalidating (removing the stored results so they need to be recalculated) the cache whenever anyone did anything. The site hits 5,000 users and the cache is being invalidated every sodding second ... the homepage takes too long to load.

The site solves this by writing their own custom code for managing off-line tasks and puts everything into a task queue to be processed.

98% of users accept that the section that used to be called "What your friends are doing right now" gets changed to "What your friends have recently been doing". The other 2% of users throw a tantrum and accuse the site of being run by useless gibbering idiots.

Faith and knowledgeSEP 28

The Pew Research Center recently ran a religious knowledge survey in the US and the results show that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than adherents of various Judeo-Christian religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

You can take a sample survey here. Woo, 15/15. (via mr)

True Grit by the Coen brothersSEP 28

Coming this Christmas from the Coen brothers, a remake of the John Wayne classic, True Grit. Here's the trailer:

(via devour)

1997 Royal Navy Field Gun CompetitionSEP 28

This might not sound like much, but you need to watch this video of the 1997 Royal Navy Field Gun Competition. In it, two teams compete to navigate themselves and a cannon through an obstacle course: over walls, across chasms, and through small gaps in walls.

The strength and coordination displayed here is amazing...it's like watching NFL linemen do ballet. (via migurski)

2010 MacArthur fellowsSEP 28

...aka, the genius grant. Among them are type designer Matthew Carter and David Simon, creator of The Wire. The fellows get $500,000, no strings attached.

Kanye West + Tracy JordanSEP 27

One of last week's top tweets made this observation:

Put "Liz Lemon," in front of Kanye's tweets and he becomes Tracy Jordan. "Liz Lemon, I wonder what happened to my antique aquarium."

Tom Armitage knocked up a Kanye Jordan Twitter account so you don't even need to work at imagining. The results are often sublime. (via jimray)

Ikea cookbookSEP 27

Ikea is coming out with a cookbook -- the name translates as "Homemade is Best" -- and the photography looks great.

Ikea Cookbook

On scientific journalismSEP 27

This is a blog post that links to a news website article about a scientific paper. The pullquote explains it so I don't have to bother:

In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".

If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

And then I'll make a little joke about one of the study's possible conclusions. (via someone who actually found the thing and sent it on to this lazy "curator")

Jure Robic, RIPSEP 27

Jure Robic, the world-class ultra-endurance cyclist I wrote about earlier this year, was killed in a traffic accident in his native Slovenia late last week. He died as he lived: on his bike. (thx, @ddewey and several others)

Twenty-nine years aloneSEP 27

Robert King spent 29 years in prison in solitary confinement for a crime for which he was later cleared.

It was a dimly lit box, 9ft by 6ft, with bars at the front facing on to the bare cement walls of a long corridor. Inside was a narrow bed, a toilet, a fixed table and chair, and an air vent set into the back wall.

Some days I would pace up and down and from left to right for hours, counting to myself. I learned to know every inch of the cell. Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice -- I needed to feel in control of my space.

See also Atul Gawande's piece about solitary from the New Yorker last year.

Nick Denton profileSEP 27

Nice profile of Nick Denton in New York magazine this week.

New Yorker iPad appSEP 27

The New Yorker now has an iPad app available for download. Jason Schwartzman explains:

The NYer app is modeled after the Wired app. The app is free but each new issue is $4.99. Current magazine subscribers appear to have no option but to buy a completely separate issue if they wish to read the magazine on the iPad. As a subscriber, what exactly am I paying for if I already have the content in magazine form? Is the $4.99 simply a convenience fee?

Rotting food time lapseSEP 24

A 13-day time lapse video of food rotting.

If you want to lose weight, I'd suggest the time lapse maggots diet where you watch this video everytime you feel hungry. (via devour)

Reddit FTWSEP 24

Look out Digg and 4chan, here comes Reddit! Or more accurately, Reddit has been been here for awhile, why have we been ignoring it?

Both of these sites are being replaced by Reddit, a four-year-old news forum with far more educated, better-behaved users than either, but with a culture that somehow rides the middle between Digg's slavery to the mainstream tastes of America's teen males and 4chan's obsession with inscrutable in-jokes and anti-humor.

Reddit got almost 300 million pageviews in July, compared to the 200 million Digg views in July that Digg founder Kevin Rose reported on his blog. So says an infographic posted on Reddit by Alexis Ohanian, one of the site's founders, who also asks why the media continually call Reddit "tiny" and "dwarfed" by Digg. What's more, traffic at Reddit, according to their Google Analytics, is up 24% in the last two months.

Putting your hand in the Large Hadron ColliderSEP 24

Several physicists weigh in on what would happen if you were to place your hand in the proton stream of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

There's not a definite answer...the responses range from "nothing" to "you'd die for sure, instantly".

Parting the Red Sea, a scientific explanationSEP 24

Using computer modeling of a process called wind setdown, researchers have come up with a plausible scientific explanation of the Biblical parting of the Red Sea.

This animation shows how a strong east wind over the Nile Delta could have pushed water back into ancient waterways after blowing for about nine hours, exposing mud flats and possibly providing an overland escape route similar to the biblical account of the Red Sea parting.

The reluctant fatherSEP 24

Photographer Phillip Toledano didn't particularly want to be a father. But then he and his wife had a daughter.

Loulou seemed like such an alien thing, that the first time I heard her sneeze, I was filled with joy.

It was the first human thing I'd seen her do that made any sense to me.

Imagine listening to someone speaking a foreign language, and then suddenly you hear the word "McDonald's."

I was somewhat of a reluctant father as well. I think it's ok to feel that this stranger in your life maybe isn't the greatest thing ever. Newborns are hard; you do feel like chucking them out the window at times. Your interaction with others, especially with your spouse, becomes weird and one-sided and not at all about your needs and desires. But that's how it is...you fake it 'til you make it. Of course, I love my kids to pieces now and it's difficult to remember when that wasn't the case.

The case against penniesSEP 24

Man, that guy really hates pennies, aka "disgusting bacteria-ridden disks of suck that fail to facilitate commerce".

Five best movie villains of the 2000sSEP 23

Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men is on the list...click through for the rest. (via @tcarmody)

NYC maps exhibitionSEP 23

Starting tomorrow and continuing through November, Pratt Manhattan Gallery has an interesting show about maps and NYC. Among the works displayed will be:

- a three-dimensional map of the lower Manhattan skyline made of a Jell-O-like material by Liz Hickok
- a "Loneliness Map" from Craigslist's Missed Connections by Ingrid Burrington
- personal maps created from a call for submissions by the Hand Drawn Map Association
- Bill Rankin's maps of Not In My Back Yard-isms showcasing various geographies of community and exclusion
- a scratch-and-sniff map of New Yorkers' smell preferences by Nicola Twilley

Opening reception is tonight from 6-8. (via edible geography)

Floating nuclear power stationsSEP 23

Russia is building eight floating nuclear power stations for deployment in the Arctic Ocean to support their efforts to drill for oil near the North Pole.

He says each power station, costing $400m, can supply electricity and heating for communities of up to 45,000 people and can stay on location for 12 years before needing to be serviced back in St Petersburg.

And while initially they will be positioned next to Arctic bases along the North coast, there are plans for floating nuclear power stations to be taken out to sea near large gas rigs.

"We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out," says Mr Zavyalov.

Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? (via @polarben)

Listen to ThisSEP 23

Speaking of Steven Johnson and new books, Alex Ross has a post about how Johnson's long zoom concept has influenced his music writing *and* has a new book of his own out soon called Listen to This (at Amazon). See how deftly I knitted that together in a Johnsonian way? Ahem. Anyway, here's what Listen to This is about:

It offers a panoramic view of the musical scene, from Bach to Björk and beyond. In the Preface, I say that the aim is to "approach music not as a self-sufficient sphere but as a way of knowing the world." I treat pop music as serious art and classical music as part of the wider culture; my hope is that the book will serve as an introduction to crucial figures and ideas in classical music, and also give an alternative perspective on modern pop.

The best part is that Ross' web site contains an extensive collection of audio, video, and images of the works mentioned in the book.

Where Good Ideas Come FromSEP 23

Steven Johnson's new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, comes out in a couple weeks. As in many of Johnson's previous books, place plays a starring role -- Interface Culture was set in cyberspace, Emergence talked extensively about cities, The Ghost Map's epicenter was a water pump on Broad St. in London, and Mind Wide Open mapped out our brain space. In Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson steps back to ask: what is the relationship between place and ideas? What are the attributes common to places in which innovation happens? The trailer for the book explains further.

I've read the book and the last chapter's discussion of market/non-market environments & individual/network approaches in relation to innovation is alone worth the price of purchase, nevermind that the rest of it is interesting as well. Heck, even the appendix is fascinating; it contains a chronology of the key human inventions and innovations from 1400 to the present that is difficult to put down.

Jon Stewart in profileSEP 23

From New York magazine a couple of weeks ago, a profile of serious funnyman Jon Stewart.

Stewart made himself into the leading critic and satirist of the media-political complex, starting with "Indecision 2000," The Daily Show's parody of that year's presidential campaign. His comedy is counterprogramming-postmodern entertainment but with a political purpose. As truth has been overrun by truthiness and facts trampled by lies, he and The Daily Show have become an invaluable corrective-he's Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, although in keeping with the fragmented culture, he's trusted by many fewer people, about 1.8 million viewers each night. Years ago, Stewart lost out to Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel for late-night network jobs, but the shifting media fortunes have made him the long-run winner, with vastly more job security and cultural influence than his conventional talk-show competitors-and most conventional journalists.

How Shazam worksSEP 22

Every time I use Shazam, it feels like magic. Here's how they make the magic happen.

The Shazam algorithm fingerprints a song by generating this 3d graph, and identifying frequencies of "peak intensity." For each of these peak points it keeps track of the frequency and the amount of time from the beginning of the track. Shazam builds their fingerprint catalog out as a hash table, where the key is the frequency. When Shazam receives a fingerprint like the one above, it uses the first key (in this case 823.44), and it searches for all matching songs.

A movie that tells timeSEP 22

Christian Marclay is working on a 24-hour film called The Clock.

"The Clock" is a montage of clips from several thousand films, structured so that the resulting artwork always conveys the correct time, minute by minute, in the time zone in which is it being exhibited. The scenes in which we see clocks or hear chimes tend to be either transitional ones suggesting the passage of time or suspenseful ones building up to dramatic action. "If I asked you to watch a clock tick, you would get bored quickly," explains the artist in remarkably neutral English. "But there is enough action in this film to keep you entertained, so you forget the time, but then you're constantly reminded of it."

Love that Marclay. Back when I was still doing 0sil8 -- man, what a time capsule that is -- one of the projects that I started working on but never got close to finishing was a clock made up of photographs...1440 photographs, one for each minute of the day.

The end of recapsSEP 22

Over at The Awl, Robert Lanham recaps a Three's Company episode from season 7 called Chrissy's Cousin.

Next week, we have a very tough decision to make since two Richard Chamberlain miniseries, "Shogun" and "The Thorn Birds," will be premiering opposite "Three's Company" on the two other channels. Decisions, decisions.

Repeat, on the two other channels. (This just in: get off my lawn!)

Giant centipede catches bat!SEP 22

I'm just gonna go ahead and be crass...this is some crazy-ass shit right here. Watch as a foot-long centipede catches and eats a bat.

Nature wins again! Make sure you have the audio on...the sound of the walking centipede will give you a bad case of the willies.

How popular song factories manufacture a hitSEP 22

Maybe you thought this was going to be about how Dr. Luke has produced some of the catchiest tunes in recent memory (Since U Been Gone, Tik Tok, I Kissed a Girl, Girlfriend, Right Round, California Gurls). But that headline is actually from the NY Times Sunday Magazine a hundred years ago.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn't expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline's wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct -- something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.

Vulcan hoodieSEP 22

Veer's KERN zip-up has some competition for the nerdiest use of a zipper in fashion: the Vulcan hand sign hoodie from Threadless:

Vulcan Hoodie

Thermos to the MoonSEP 21

Have you ever thought about a rocket as a giant flying Thermos bottle? You will now:

Lovely bit of production there as well. (via russell davies)

Sending their love and cigarettes down the wellSEP 21

The continued reports from Chile about those miners trapped in the mine are kind of fascinating. Here's an article about the battle between the miners and the doctors, psychologists, and government officials attempting to manage them from afar.

In an effort to dominate the miners, the team of psychologists led by Mr Iturra has instituted a series of prizes and punishments. When the miners behave well, they are given TV and mood music. Other treats -- like images of the outside world are being held in reserve, as either a carrot or a stick should the miners become unduly feisty.

In a show of strength, the miners have at times refused to listen to the psychologists, insisting that they are well. "When that happens, we have to say, 'OK, you don't want to speak with psychologists? Perfect. That day you get no TV, there is no music -- because we administer these things,'" said Dr Diaz. "And if they want magazines? Well, then they have to speak to us. This is a daily arm wrestle."

(via mr)

And on the sixth day, Lucas created ChewbaccaSEP 21

Ok, so this is about how George Lucas came up with idea of Chewbacca (hint: he basically stole it from someone else) and yes it's a bit inside-baseball but it's also a great illustration of how the creative process works and the difficulty of explaining how the magic happened even after the fact.

And that's what this post it about; the creative process. Cultural touchstones like Star Wars might seem to have sprung fully formed from the minds of their lauded creators, but as in all creative endeavours, movie making, web design or this very post, nothing could be further from the truth. Creation is a process, and strangely, by looking at how everyone's favority plush first-mate sprang into existance, we can learn a lot about any collaborative creative endeavour.

Also, the name of Lucas' dog was Indiana.

Donkey Kong record falls againSEP 21

Steve Wiebe has reclaimed the high score on the planet's collective Donkey Kong arcade machine; he's the third player to hold the top spot this year.

Wiebe last held the Donkey Kong record in spring of 2007, only to be bested by his movie rival Billy Mitchell months later. Mitchell's score fell to New York's Hank Chien in March of this year, but the Florida hot sauce distributor regained the title on July 31 with a score of 1,062,800 points.

You may recall Weibe's battle with Mitchell in King of Kong.

Rough seasSEP 21

This is footage from a camera on board a cruise ship from when some rough weather hit.

On August 1, the Pacific Sun ran into a heavy storm 400 miles north of New Zealand, hitting 25-foot-tall waves and 50-knot winds. Its 1732 passengers weren't prepared to endure the madness that ensued. Absolutely crazy.

(via clusterflock)

CAPTCHA advertisingSEP 21

People need to pay attention to CAPTCHAs to complete all sorts of tasks on the web...so why not make the CAPTCHA an advertisement?

"Ads are just getting bigger and louder as attention online is getting so scarce," said Solve Media CEO and founder, Ari Jacoby. "So we're fishing where the fish are," he said, referring to this untapped space where users are forced to spend time.

That's brilliant. Evil brilliant, but still. (via @sippey)

iPad wine listSEP 20

Restaurants using wine lists on the iPad are reporting increased sales; one restaurant says sales are up 11%.

Mr. Kendall, 43, described himself as a bit of a wine poseur. He has vacationed in Italy and Napa Valley and has a cellar at home, but he cannot remember a label from meal to meal. He knows just enough, or perhaps just little enough, to become suspicious whenever a waiter recommends a vineyard he does not know.

"In the back of your mind," he said, "you're always thinking: 'O.K., is this some kind of used-car special? Did they just get 200 bottles of this?' "

But Mr. Kendall said the ratings he found on the iPad -- by the wine writer Robert M. Parker Jr. -- carried credibility. He decided that the price of the cabernet franc was justified by Mr. Parker's award of 92 points out of 100. "I found a bottle of wine that I never would have tried, and it was wonderful," he said.

Bouncing baby bombsSEP 20

This little guy is a newborn uncontrolled nuclear fisson reaction. You know, an atomic bomb.

Atom bomb born

This is from a NY Times photo slideshow of atomic bomb explosions. Check out the school bus sequence starting at slide #14.

Lennon/McCartney, reconsideredSEP 20

In his new series for Slate about creative partnerships, Joshua Shenk explores one of the most fruitful creative collaborations in history: that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Part three, about the break-up the Beatles, comes to a conclusion that's different than some of the theories you may have heard previously.

Yet, looking for concrete divisions in their labor, though not irrelevant, can certainly seem myopic. It feels, from Davies' account, as though the two men were bound by a thousand invisible strings.

Davies looked on at the partners before Yoko, before The White Album -- "the tension album" Paul said. But tension had always been key to their work. The strings connecting them hardly dissolved, even in the times when the collaboration was adversarial, the kind of exchange that Andre Agassi described when he said that, if he hadn't faced Pete Sampras, he'd have a better record, "but I'd be less." Picking up on that incisive line, Michael Kimmelman wrote in his review of Agassi's book Open that "rivalry ... [is] the heart of sports, and, for athletes, no matter how bitter or fierce, something strangely akin to love: two vulnerable protagonists for a time lifted up not despite their differences but because of them."

And:

This is nasty stuff. But the opposite of intimacy isn't conflict. It's indifference. The relationship between Paul and John had always been a tug of war -- and that hardly stopped when they ceased to collaborate directly. Asked what he thought Paul would make of his first solo album, Lennon said, "I think it'll probably scare him into doing something decent, and then he'll scare me into doing something decent, like that."

I've said it before: love and hate are the same emotion. (via @tcarmody)

Your TV might contain even more John Hodgman soonSEP 20

John Hodgman is filming a pilot for an HBO show called Good Evening, My Name is John Hodgman. Jonathan Coulton and Spike Jonze are involved.

THE THEME OF THIS PARTICULAR PROGRAM is "JOCKS vs. NERDS," the culture war of our time, and a subject that you know I have been thinking about for some time now, and also talking about with the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

IN THIS CASE, the "NERD" shall be played by me, John Hodgman, and the "JOCK" shall be played by the New York Jet, NICK MANGOLD, as I confront all of my deepest fears (humiliation/being punched/Nick Mangold) and attempted to learn from him the virtues of jock culture and the rules of football.

And YOU are invited: September 28th in NYC. Tickets are free and they have an unlimited supply because they are filming it in some sort of massive rocket ship hanger. All you Little Hobos (that's what Hodgman calls all his fans) click through for details on how to get your tickets.

Lady Gaga flank steak, $7.99 lb.SEP 20

Lady Gaga's meat dress at the MTV Video Music Awards inspired my local butcher shop to run a special on flank steak.

Lady Gaga flank steak

iPhone: a revolutionary device for the blindSEP 20

A blind man buys an iPhone and it changes his life.

The other night, however, a very amazing thing happened. I downloaded an app called Color ID. It uses the iPhone's camera, and speaks names of colors. It must use a table, because each color has an identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits. This puts the total at 16777216 colors, and I believe it. Some of them have very surreal names, such as Atomic Orange, Cosmic, Hippie Green, Opium, and Black-White. These names in combination with what feels like a rise in serotonin levels makes for a very psychedelic experience.

I have never experienced this before in my life. I can see some light and color, but just in blurs, and objects don't really have a color, just light sources. When I first tried it at three o'clock in the morning, I couldn't figure out why it just reported black. After realizing that the screen curtain also disables the camera, I turned it off, but it still have very dark colors. Then I remembered that you actually need light to see, and it probably couldn't see much at night. I thought about light sources, and my interview I did for Get Lamp. First, I saw one of my beautiful salt lamps in its various shades of orange, another with its pink and rose colors, and the third kind in glowing pink and red.. I felt stunned.

(thx, david)

When will the first Earth-like planet be discovered?SEP 17

Using the properties of previously discovered exoplanets (that is, planets outside of our solar system) and their dates of discovery, Sam Arbesman and Greg Laughlin predict that the discovery of the first Earth-like exoplanet will likely occur in early May 2011.

Of course, it's a bit more complicated than that, but here's an overview of what we did. Using the properties of previously discovered exoplanets, we developed a simple metric of habitability for each planet that uses its mass and temperature to rate it on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 is Earth-like, and 0 is so very not Earth-like. Plotting these values over time and taking the upper envelope yields a nice march towards habitability.

The authors don't address this directly in their paper, but I wondered what the Moore's Law for planetary discovery might be -- e.g. every X years (or months?), the habitability of the most habitable planet discovered doubles. So I emailed Sam Arbesman and he said that his quick back of the envelope calculation would be "half a month or so"...which is an astounding pace.

How to make the Droid soundSEP 17

If you've got a Mac, the "droid" sound that Android phones make -- yep, the one from the commercials -- can be produced in the following manner:

1. Open Terminal.app
2. Type say -v "Cellos" "droid" at the prompt
3. Experiment: say -v "Cellos" "droid. sucks."
4. Or say -v "Cellos" "droid want to be iphone when droid grow up"
5. And finally, say "i am trying to unlock the mysteries of the universe, like how the big bang happened and where all the lost socks go after being in the dryer that really makes me mad"

(via @mikeysan)

Clock BlocksSEP 17

A little Friday fun: Clock Blocks. It took me a bit to figure out how to play, but basically you clear a grid of clocks by shooting from clock to clock at the angle of each clock's rapidly spinning second hand. Ok, maybe not so basically, but you'll get the gist after playing for a few seconds. There is also an iPhone version.

Vaccines don't cause autismSEP 17

The debate is essentially over and the final word is in: vaccines do not cause autism. The results of a rigorous study conducted over several years were just announced and they confirmed the results of several past studies.

Basically, the final two groups that were studied consisted of 256 children with ASD [autism spectrum disorders] and 752 matched controls. One very interesting aspect that looks as though it were almost certainly placed into the experimental design based on concerns of anti-vaccine advocates like Sallie Bernard is a group of children who underwent regression. Basically, the study examined whether there was a correlation between ASD and TCV [thimerosal-containing vaccines, i.e. mercury-containing vaccines] exposure. It also examined two subsets of ASD, autistic disorder (AD) and ASD with regression, looking for any indication whether TCVs were associated with any of them. Regression was defined as:

"the subset of case-children with ASD who reported loss of previously acquired language skills after acquisition."

Also, when adding up total thimerosal exposure, the investigators also included any thimerosal exposure that might have come prenatally from maternal receipt of flu vaccines during pregnancy, as well as immunoglobulins, tetanus toxoids, and diphtheria-tetanus. In other words, investigators tried to factor in all the various ideas for how TCVs might contribute to autism when designing this study.

So what did the investigators find? I think you probably know the answer to that question. They found nothing. Nada. Zip. There wasn't even a hint of a correlation between TCV exposure and either ASD, AD, or ASD with regression:

"There were no findings of increased risk for any of the 3 ASD outcomes. The adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) for ASD associated with a 2-SD increase in ethylmercury exposure were 1.12 (0.83-1.51) for prenatal exposure, 0.88 (0.62-1.26) for exposure from birth to 1 month, 0.60 (0.36-0.99) for exposure from birth to 7 months, and 0.60 (0.32- 0.97) for exposure from birth to 20 months."

The last result is a bit of an anomaly in that it implies that exposure to TCVs from birth to 1 month and birth to 7 months actually protects against ASD. The authors quite rightly comment on this result thusly:

"In the covariate adjusted models, we found that an increase in ethylmercury exposure in 2 of the 4 exposure time periods evaluated was associated with decreased risk of each of the 3 ASD outcomes. We are not aware of a biological mechanism that would lead to this result."

So get your kids (and yourselves) vaccinated and save them & their playmates from this whooping cough bullshit, which is actually killing actual kids and not, you know, magically infecting them with autism. Vaccination is one of the greatest human discoveries ever -- yes, Kanye, OF ALL TIME -- has saved countless lives, and has made countless more lives significantly better. So: Buck. Up.

Roger Ebert talks with Errol MorrisSEP 17

Roger Ebert recently sat down with Errol Morris to talk about his new movie, Tabloid, and a bunch of other stuff. The interview is presented as a series of eight YouTube videos. In this one, he talks about how he got started writing his blog for The NY Times and how that helped him get over his 30-year struggle with writer's block:

He's working on a seventeen-part article about a murder case for the blog. Seventeen parts!

The Grand DesignSEP 17

Stephen Hawking's new book is out: The Grand Design, sequel to A Brief History of Time written with Leonard Mlodinow.

In The Grand Design we explain why, according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. We question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a "model-dependent" theory of reality. We discuss how the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence, and show why quantum theory predicts the multiverse--the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature. And we assess M-Theory, an explanation of the laws governing the multiverse, and the only viable candidate for a complete "theory of everything."

Time and ABC News have excerpts.

Updates on previous entries for Sep 16, 2010*SEP 17

Time merge media orig. from Feb 05, 2008

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

Worst practices on the webSEP 16

Dark Patterns are UI techniques designed to trick users into doing things they otherwise wouldn't have done.

Normally when you think of "bad design", you think of laziness or mistakes. These are known as design anti-patterns. Dark Patterns are different -- they are not mistakes, they are carefully crafted with a solid understanding of human psychology, and they do not have the user's interests in mind.

For instance, Privacy Zuckering is a dark pattern implemented by Facebook to get users to share more about themselves than they would like to. (thx, @tnorthcutt)

How to: perfect Neapolitan pizza at homeSEP 16

Over at Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt assures us that while you can't make restaurant-quality Neapolitan pizza at home, you can come damn close. Best thing is, his technique doesn't involve lining your oven with bricks and is actually as easy as making regular pizza at home.

After cooking for around a minute and a half, the bottom crust achieved the perfect degree of char-even better than what I was getting on the stone. Interestingly enough, the pan was actually cooler than the stone I was using, maxing out at around 450 degrees. So how does a 450 degree pan brown better and faster than a 550 degree stone? It's a matter of heat capacity and density.

The heat capacity of a material is directly related to the amount of energy that a given mass of material holds at a given temperature. Even though stone has almost twice the heat capacity than steel (.2 kcal/kg C vs. .1 kcal/kg C), it loses in two ways: it is far less dense than steel, and it has a much lower rate of heat conduction than steel. The pizza cooking in a skillet is not just getting energy from the pan-it's getting energy from the burner below the pan as it gets rapidly conducted through the metal.

It's a clear demonstration of how when cooking foods, what matters it the amount of energy transferred, not just the temperature you cook at. The two are often directly related, but not always.

I have said it before but will repeat: I love Kenji's nerdiness about the science combined with the ability to come up with the solution that's easiest for non-nerds to appreciate and implement. It is a rare and wonderful thing to observe.

Morris and Herzog in conversationSEP 16

Errol Morris and Werner Herzog both had films premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. To mark the occasion, they sat down and had a conversation with each other.

That's just part one...Ebert has the rest of it on his blog.

Long exposure photos of video gamesSEP 16

Rosmarie Fiore did this series of long exposure photographs of Atari games a few years ago.

Gyruss compressed

Fiore did a similar project with pinball machines...instead of photos, the ball was covered in paint and left trails on vellum. Reminds me of some of the other time merge media I collected awhile back. (via @brainpicker)

Ebert relaunches At the MoviesSEP 16

The new show will appear on PBS and feature Elvis Mitchell & Christy Lemire as the main hosts.

"I believe that by returning to its public roots, our new show will win better and more consistent time slots in more markets," added Ebert. "American television is swamped by mindless gossip about celebrities, and I'm happy this show will continue to tell viewers honestly if the critics think a new movie is worth seeing."

Stars January 2011.

There's a hole in the MoonSEP 16

From a typically excellent selection of photos taken from space curated by Alan Taylor over at The Big Picture, there's this:

Moon hole

I don't know why, but that freaks me right out. THERE'S A FREAKING HOLE IN THE MOON!!

Jane Austen's manuscripts onlineSEP 15

The Austen Fiction Manuscripts Project is scanning Jane Austen's original manuscripts and putting them online for scholars to study and for us norms to gawk at.

Lost World's FairsSEP 15

Want to see the state of the art in web design using web fonts and Typekit? Check out Lost World's Fairs. It's all good, but Frank Chimero really knocked it out of the park with the 1962 Atlantis World's Fair. With HTML5 and web fonts, experimentation with web design seems open and fun again; reminds me of the 90s a bit.

Werner Herzog saves livesSEP 15

Some years ago, Joaquin Phoenix was in a car accident. Werner Herzog happened to be driving right behind him, stopped, and pulled him from the wreakage. Herzog tells the story:

Funny how you never see Superman and Werner Herzog together. I wonder... (via buzzfeed)

A talk by Khoi Vinh on design and the newsSEP 15

Khoi also has an interesting travel packing tip to share. (via swissmiss)

Michael Lewis on the Greek financial crisisSEP 15

Of all the stories I've heard about the recent financial crisis -- the high-risk mortgage loans, the CDOs, the credit default swaps, the Icelandic crisis -- the story of the collapse of the Greek economy by Michael Lewis in the October issue of Vanity Fair is the craziest. And it's the only one involving monks.

The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 has just now created a new opportunity for travel: financial-disaster tourism. The credit wasn't just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, "The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know." What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way.

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a pinata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms-and that number doesn't take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece's rail passengers into taxicabs: it's still true. "We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension," Manos put it to me. "And yet there isn't a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay." The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland's. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as "arduous" is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average-and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

Read the whole thing...it's insane.

The Pale King gets a coverSEP 15

The Pale King, David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, has got a cover and a release date: April 15, 2011.

The Pale King Cover

Set at an IRS tax-return-processing center in Illinois in the mid-1980s, The Pale King is the story of a crew of entry-level processors and their attempts to do their job in the face of soul-crushing tedium. "The Pale King may be the first novel to make accountants and IRS agents into heroes," says Bonnie Nadell, Wallace's longtime agent and literary executor. Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown's publisher and The Pale King's editor, says, "Wallace takes agonizing daily events like standing in lines, traffic jams, and horrific bus rides -- things we all hate -- and turns them into moments of laughter and understanding. Although David did not finish the novel, it is a surprisingly whole and satisfying reading experience that showcases his extraordinary imaginative talents and his mixing of comedy and deep sadness in scenes from daily life."

The cover was designed by Karen Green, Wallace's widow.

NYC transportation eventSEP 14

This week's Geeking Out, Gelf Magazine's nerdy event series, is all about NYC transportation.

The evening will feature Benjamin Kabak (Gelf interview), author of popular subway blog Second Avenue Sagas discussing the MTA; Sharon Zukin (Gelf interview), author of Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, on gentrification; and Charles Komanoff (Gelf interview), creator of the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, discussing how to optimize the city's transportation network.

Free. Sept 16, 7:30p in Dumbo. Click through for more details.

New outside.in APISEP 14

Hyperlocal news site outside.in has released a new version of their API.

The luckiest bastards aliveSEP 14

This compilation of people dodging out of the way of cars, trains, etc. is a bit American's Funniest Videos1, but my heart is still pounding...I couldn't even watch the whole thing.

(via @dunstan)

[1] Or rather, America's Most Harrowing Videos. Or Unintended Jackass with Johnny Knoxville.

How to shoot 1000 fps video on a Canon 7DSEP 14

The Canon 7D and 5D Mark II can shoot HD video at 60 fps. But with an After Effects plug-in called Twixtor, you can slow the action down to 1000 fps, no expensive camera equipment required. Here's a sample:

Obviously if you're shooting footage of bullets going through playing cards, this isn't going to work for you, but the results look great for slower moving objects like BMX bikes.

Sesame Street on TumblrSEP 14

They're posting classic clips from past shows.

Making a game of getting healthySEP 14

Health Month is a game designed to help you improve your health.

There are about 50 different kinds of rules. Half of them are rules about what to avoid - things like alcohol, white flour, artificial sweeteners, and illegal drugs. And half of them are rules about what you do more of - things like exercise, sleep, greens, and multivitamins. Choose however many you like, and ignore the rest (you can always add more next month, right?). After choosing your rules, you have the option of making a promise to yourself about how to reward yourself if you stay in the game all month, or to build in consequences if you don't make it. It's all about self-accountability, in public. It works.

User centered everythingSEP 14

In an excerpt of his new book, I Live in the Future and Here's How It Works, Nick Bilton argues that the consumer is now the center of the media world.

Now, we are always in the center of the map, and it's a very powerful place to be.

Now you are the starting point. Now the digital world follows you, not the other way around.

In the political world, the rough analog to this digital media future is democracy. But as we've seen, the seeming transfer of control from lawmakers to the people is just that: seeming. To a large degree, the big media and technology companies -- particularly the de facto monopolies like the mobile carriers, cable companies, etc. -- still control the consumer experience. The future will be personalized, but don't think you'll get everything you want when you want it.

How to be aloneSEP 13

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you've not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren't okay with it, then just wait. You'll find it's fine to be alone once you're embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You're not supposed to talk much anyway so it's safe there.

Efficient air conditioningSEP 13

Engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado have devised an air conditioning unit that could use up to 90% less energy than a conventional unit.

The new, patented system abandons the power-hungry compressor-driven refrigeration process used in many domestic (and virtually all commercial) air conditioners in favor of a couple of high-efficiency pumps and fans. But it also uses water for evaporative cooling -- a concept familiar to many people living in the arid West who have roof-mounted "swamp coolers." Swamp coolers work well when the outside air is dry, as evaporating water carries away heat, cooling and moistening the air that is re-circulated into the house.

Soda Pop StopSEP 13

A short documentary about a grocery store in LA that sells only soda...500 different kinds and very little high fructose corn syrup.

And the store's inventory seems to be mostly (or completely) glass bottles. (via @dunstan)

The stranded by volcano magazine is out nowSEP 13

Stranded, a single-issue magazine produced by people who were stranded by the volcanic ash cloud back in April, is now available for sale.

What we've made of it all is an 88-page souvenir of a moment in time when a non-life-threatening crisis hit the world, one for which nobody was to blame, and nobody knew how long it would last. People scrambled to find alternative routes home, any way, any how, or tried to make the best of wherever fate had placed them. It was a moment of unplanned disruption, never to be repeated in quite the same way. The perfect subject for a magazine, in fact.

Over 50 people contributed...it looks really nice.

Zuckerberg and Style Rookie and DysonSEP 13

The New Yorker has a trio of interesting articles in their most recent issue for the discerning web/technology lady or gentlemen. First is a lengthy profile of Mark Zuckerberg, the quite private CEO of Facebook who doesn't believe in privacy.

Zuckerberg may seem like an over-sharer in the age of over-sharing. But that's kind of the point. Zuckerberg's business model depends on our shifting notions of privacy, revelation, and sheer self-display. The more that people are willing to put online, the more money his site can make from advertisers. Happily for him, and the prospects of his eventual fortune, his business interests align perfectly with his personal philosophy. In the bio section of his page, Zuckerberg writes simply, "I'm trying to make the world a more open place."

The second is a profile of Tavi Gevinson (sub. required), who you may know as the youngster behind Style Rookie.

Tavi has an eye for frumpy, "Grey Gardens"-inspired clothes and for arch accessories, and her taste in designers runs toward the cerebral. From the beginning, her blog had an element of mystery: is it for real? And how did a thirteen-year-old suburban kid develop such a singular look? Her readership quickly grew to fifty thousand daily viewers and won the ear of major designers.

And C, John Seabrook has a profile of James Dyson (sub. required), he of the unusual vacuum cleaners, unusual hand dryers, and the unusual air-circulating fan.

In the fall of 2002, the British inventor James Dyson entered the U.S. market with an upright vacuum cleaner, the Dyson DC07. Dyson was the product's designer, engineer, manufacturer, and pitchman. The price was three hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Not only did the Dyson cost much more than most machines sold at retail but it was made almost entirely out of plastic. In the most perverse design decision of all, Dyson let you see the dirt as you collected it, in a clear plastic bin in the machine's midsection.

Interview with the @BPGlobalPR guySEP 13

Remember the @BPGlobalPR Twitter account that sharply lampooned BP's response to their oil disaster in the Gulf? Mat Honan has an interview with the person responsible. (And it's not Mike Monteiro.)

The idea was mine, and all the long form writing, talks, and speeches were me. But a lot of tweets -- a lot of my favorite tweets -- weren't mine. I edited and maybe tweaked some of them, but there's no way I would have been able to come up with the quality or volume of jokes without a good team. We had about 15 people, and those writers deserve a lot of the credit. Some contributed every day. My dad did one, even. I sent him a message and told him about it, and I was like, "fuck, I'm not sure what he'll think." But he responded immediately with a joke.

Dara Torres gunning for 2012 OlympicsSEP 11

I don't know whether she still looks this fit or not, but Dara Torres is going to try to make the US swim team for the 2012 Olympics. At 41 in Beijing, she won three silver medals; she'll be 45 when London rolls around.

Habits of mindSEP 10

Originally written for mathematics students, this list of useful habits of mind is applicable to nearly anyone doing anything.

The case for meat eatingSEP 10

From the Guardian, a review of a book called Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie. In it, Fairlie argues that meat production isn't actually that inefficient when done properly and veganism as an ethical response leaves something to be desired.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands -- food for which humans don't compete -- meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it's a significant net gain.

The metaphysics of Pac-ManSEP 10

This profile of Billy Mitchell and other classic video game record holders starts off as most do, with descriptions of Mitchell's hair, the dizzying scores, the rivalries, and Mitchell's perfect game of Pac-Man:

Another player named Rick Fothergill had almost beaten Billy to the mark, but he fell short by nine dots, or 90 points. Fothergill is Canadian, and his challenge made Billy redouble his efforts, because Billy thinks of his Pac-Man prowess as a patriotic symbol, a matter of national pride not unlike like the space race. Billy was so determined to beat Canada that he forgot to eat for several days. He had set out on his quest July 1 -- Canada Day -- and eventually executed 30,000 precisely calculated turns for a perfect run just in time to celebrate America's own Day of Independence on July 4. "It's like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon," he told reporters afterward. "No matter how many people accomplish the feat, it will always be Armstrong who will be remembered for doing it first. And, best of all, it was an American." To emphasize the point, Billy began using a new set of high-score initials: U S A.

But then, it starts to get deep. This is a great piece and not just for gamers. (thx, @asimone)

LogoramaSEP 10

If you've never seen the excellent Oscar-winning short film Logorama, it's available in its entirety on Vimeo:

The uploading party did the music and sound design for the film, so hopefully it won't get yanked down. (thx, @matthiasrascher)

Off the avenuesSEP 10

Cutting through parking lots, hotels, and department stores, Tad Friend one-ups John Updike by walking all the way from 33rd Street to Central Park without walking on 5th or 6th Avenues.

It was after 5 P.M., so I ducked in for a drink a few doors down at the Whiskey Trader bar, where the weekend was noisily under way. Downstairs, by the rest rooms, was a door with a sign warning "Siren Will Sound." But siren didn't sound. In the adjacent basement were a mop and a bucket, odds and dead ends-and a stairwell, leading up. On the landing I eased open a fire door... into a gleaming lobby off Fifty-sixth. Ha!

Updike only made it to Rockefeller Center. You may remember a similar effort from last year. Who will take up Friend's mantle and stretch this down to 14th Street? And would Broadway be allowed? (I think not.)

YouTube Time MachineSEP 09

You give it a year and YouTube Time Machine will show you videos of events from that year. For instance: 1894, 1943, and 1991. A super idea. (thx, alice)

Fakie-to-fakie 900 on a Mega RampSEP 09

Bob Burnquist pulled a fakie-to-fakie 900 on a Mega Ramp the other day. For those of you who speak only English, I consulted my skateboarding-to-English dictionary and that means he rode into the ramp backwards on his skateboard, rotated two-and-a-half times, rode out backwards, and did it all on one of those massive ramps. Or, you could just watch. As you may recall, 900s on a skateboard ain't easy. (thx, matt)

Castro, Israel, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and dolphinsSEP 09

Jeffrey Goldberg visited with Fidel Castro recently and has two posts on his Atlantic blog about his meetings with the former Cuban head of state: part one and part two.

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro's invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him," she said. "Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn't expect to have. And he's revisiting history, and revisiting his own history."

This is substantial reporting but I'll admit my favorite line was:

I've never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

Because of Goldberg's reportage on Castro's remarks regarding anti-Semitism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (and strong critic of Israel) announced yesterday that he would meet with Venezuela's Jewish leaders. Someone get Errol Morris down to Cuba to make a sequel to his film about Robert McNamara. The Fog of Cold War perhaps? (via @kbanderson)

Helvetica! In! Space!SEP 09

Back in July, Ben Terrett wrote a post about how many instances of the word "helvetica" set in unkerned 100 pt Helvetica it would take to go from the Earth to the Moon:

The distance to the moon is 385,000,000,000 mm. The size of an unkerned piece of normal cut Helvetica at 100pt is 136.23 mm. Therefore it would take 2,826,206,643.42 helveticas to get to the moon.

But let's say you wanted to stretch one "helvetica" over the same distance...at what point size would you need to set it? The answer is 282.6 billion points. At that size, the "h" would be 44,600 miles tall, roughly 5.6 times as tall as the Earth. Here's what that would look like:

Helvetica, from the Earth to the Moon

The Earth is on the left and that little speck on the right side is the Moon. Here's a close-up of the Earth and the "h":

Helvetica and the Earth

And if you wanted to put it yet another way, the Earth is set in 50.2 billion point type -- Helvetically speaking -- while the Moon is set in 13.7 billion point type. (thx, @brainpicker)

Job opening: NYC transit map designerSEP 09

The MTA in NYC is looking for someone to keep their transit maps fresh.

As part of a two-person team, the incumbent of this position is responsible for the design and timely updating of NYCT's printed and online map products, including the extensive service schedule panels on the reverse side of all "pocket" bus maps; researching and responding to map design and information issues; identifying, researching, recommending, and adapting evolving map drawing and production technologies; adapting Transit's map products to the agency website and providing modified products for third party publications; advising on or producing custom maps for major agency initiatives and proposals; advising and assisting on other product design, graphics technology procurements and related staff training for all graphics services in Marketing and Service Information.

This has to be some kottke.org reader's dream job...go get it!

100 great movie momentsSEP 09

A collection by Roger Ebert from 1995. The moments include:

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta discuss what they call Quarter Pounders in France, in "Pulp Fiction."

Jack Nicholson trying to order a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," dialogue by Robert Duvall, in "Apocalypse Now."

Hello, AmoebaSEP 08

From an extensive Flickr collection of microorganism photography and videos, a video of an Amoeba proteus hanging out, digesting some food, etc.

Your pants are lying to youSEP 08

Your pants say that you have a 34-inch waist but the actual measurement might be a few inches off.

However, the temple for waisted male self-esteem is Old Navy, where I easily slid into a size 34 pair of the brand's Dress Pant. Where no other 34s had been hospitable, Old Navy's fit snugly. The final measurement? Five inches larger than the label. You can eat all the slow-churn ice cream and brats you want, and still consider yourself slender in these.

The vanity sizing situation with women's clothes is even more variable. (via @linklog)

New celeb status item: your own servers at TwitterSEP 08

From a tweet by Dustin Curtis quoting a Twitter employee:

At any moment, Justin Bieber uses 3% of our infrastructure. Racks of servers are dedicated to him.

When will references to "all my racks at Twitter" make it into pop/rap songs?

Time slice photosSEP 08

Photographer Adam Magyar uses scanner cameras to take these huge panoramic photos which are a little difficult to explain.

Adam uses the same technologies as the finish line cameras at the Olympic Games, which take thousands of images a second and records through a 1 pixel wide slit. The time and space slices are then placed next to one another to generate an image without perspective. This method is capable of recording movement only, with static objects and buildings appearing as stripes and lines.

Here's just a small slice of one of his photos...you'll notice that it does look an awful lot like the photo-finish photos of sprinters.

Adam Magyar

(via lens culture)

Old cheeseSEP 08

New Yorker Clare Burson has in her possession a 117-year-old piece of cheese that belonged to her great grandfather.

The cheese was a going-away present for Burson's paternal great-grandfather Charles Wainman (nee Yehezkel), upon his emigration from Lithuania, around 1893, to Johannesburg. For reasons lost to history, he never ate the cheese but kept it in a trunk that travelled with him while he worked as a trader among the Zulus, and then when he fought, on the Dutch side, in the Boer Wars.

Meet Sean ParkerSEP 08

Vanity Fair has a profile of hacker-turned-billionaire Sean Parker, who helped found Napster, Plaxo, and Facebook.

He has financed the businesses of numerous cohorts, merely out of affection. "He's one of the most generous people I know," says another associate. "Also one of the flakiest."

1980 Ebert interview with Jodie FosterSEP 07

From 1980, Roger Ebert interviews Jodie Foster, who is on the cusp of entering college. Here's an anecdote about Taxi Driver at Cannes:

The movie had been controversial. The president of the festival jury, Tennessee Williams, already had vowed that it would win a prize only over his dead body (it won the Grand Prix; Williams lived). The key people at the press conference were Martin Scorsese, the film's director, and Paul Schrader, who wrote it. The French critics were lobbing complex philosophical questions at them in French, and then the English-language translators were wading in, and everyone was getting nicely confused.

Someone finally condescended to ask a question of the little girl down at the end of the table - the one, you might assume, who'd been brought along to France as a treat, along with all the ice cream she could eat. The translator grabbed for the microphone, but Jodie Foster waved him off and answered the question herself, in perfect French. There was an astonished round of applause: At last, an American who spoke French! And less than 5 feet tall!

The physics of free kicksSEP 07

Why are long free kicks suprisingly effective in soccer matches? Science explains!

For a well-struck soccer ball, the researchers estimate, one might expect a gentle arc followed by a sharp hook at about 50 meters -- in rough agreement with the distance of Roberto Carlos's free kick. In other words, if a soccer player has the strength to drive a ball halfway down the field with plenty of velocity and spin, he or she can expect to benefit from an unexpected curve late in the ball's trajectory.

But really, this is just an excuse to show you Roberto Carlos' amazing free kick against France in 1997:

Pure awesometown. But it might not be even be better than this one:

Best magazine coversSEP 07

Vote for your favorite magazine cover from the past year. Lots of nice work in there.

A unified theory of New York bikingSEP 07

Felix Salmon's dissection of the awkward and often dangerous pedestrian/bike/car dance on NYC's streets is exactly right. If this was a manifesto, I'd sign it.

Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedestrians. They should ride on the road, not the sidewalk. They should stop at lights, and pedestrians should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And -- of course, duh -- they should ride in the right direction on one-way streets. None of this is a question of being polite; it's the law. But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strictly optional. They're still in the human-powered mindset of pedestrians, who feel pretty much completely unconstrained by rules.

The result is decidedly suboptimal for all concerned, but mostly for the bicyclists themselves. New York needs to make a collective quantum leap, from treating bicyclists like pedestrians to treating bicyclists like motorists. And unless and until it does, bike relations will continue to be marked by hostility and mistrust.

This car/pedestrian duality in the manner in which bicyclists behave is also why the City's Summer Streets initiative is becoming almost unusable by pedestrians. We tried walking on the last Summer Streets weekend, but the cyclists were going way too fast, were routinely weaving in and out of pedestrians, pretty much refused to stay in their lanes, and there were just too many for the width of the street. We bailed out after several blocks. There will likely be even more bikes next year because the word's getting out: it's just too dangerous for walking.

How a watch worksSEP 07

From 1949, a video explanation of how the innards of a mechanical wristwatch function.

Ingenious. It's difficult to take the complexity of technology for granted after watching that. (via paul)

The speed of gravitySEP 07

Newton said the speed of gravity is infinite but according to Einstein (and some nifty interstellar measurements), it most certainly is not.

But in general relativity, things are much more intricate, and incredibly interesting. First off, it isn't mass, per se, that causes gravity. Rather, all forms of energy (including mass) affect the curvature of space. So for the Sun and the Earth, the incredibly large mass of the Sun dominates the curvature of space, and the Earth travels in an orbit along that curved space.

If you simply took the Sun away, space would go back to being flat, but it wouldn't do so right away at every point. In fact, just like the surface of a pond when you drop something into it, it snaps back to being flat, and the disturbances send ripples outward!

The world's highest paid athleteSEP 03

...was a fellow by the name of Gaius Appuleius Diocles. He was a 2nd-century Roman charioteer.

His total take home amounted to five times the earnings of the highest paid provincial governors over a similar period -- enough to provide grain for the entire city of Rome for one year, or to pay all the ordinary soldiers of the Roman Army at the height of its imperial reach for a fifth of a year. By today's standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion.

How to make homemade srirachaSEP 03

Better than the real deal I've heard.

Warning: once you make edamame2003's version, you may never be able to go back to commercial sriracha again. The vibrant color and piquancy of the fresh fresno peppers, combined with plenty of garlic and a boost of vinegar, make for a zippy, versatile condiment that would be great with anything from banh mi to scrambled eggs.

(via dj)

Raising minimalist children in a society of excessSEP 03

How do you simplify your life and possessions when kids are in the mix?

Don't feel guilty. Modern parents are made to feel as if they are depriving their children of "the best" if they don't sign them up for every lesson, take them to every movie, or buy them every brain-enhancing toy. Advertising companies are paying billions of dollars to make you think this. It is not reality... it is a fictional version of reality they are selling. Let it go. Don't "buy" into it. You are not depriving your children; you are enhancing their mental and emotional development by letting the real world around them captivate and interest them. Do you think the Smiths' kids are really better off because they spend all their free time in front of a television or playing with a DSI?

(via @brainpicker)

Think DifferentSEP 03

One of the first things that Steve Jobs did after taking over as Apple's interim CEO in 1997 is to get Apple back on track with their branding. In this short presentation from '97, Jobs talks about branding & Apple's core values and introduces the Think Different campaign.

That might be one of the best five minute explanations of good branding out there. The campaign was very successful in rehabilitating Apple's image with the press and public.

What's interesting is how the iPad and iPhone advertisements focus almost entirely on the product. Apple no longer has to imply that their products are the best by showing you pictures of Albert Einstein and Amelia Earhart...they just show you the products and you know. But I don't see Jobs doing a "fake it 'til you make it" branding presentation anytime soon. :)

Intimate strangersSEP 03

Susan Orlean writes about the lopsided intimacy of big cities and social media.

Life in Manhattan is like living inside a gigantic Twitter stream. What you get to know about people you don't know simply by accidental adjacency is astonishing.

PseudovarietySEP 03

Pseudovariety -- "the illusion of diversity, concealing a lack of real choice" -- is when you go to the store and see an entire aisle filled with hundreds of different kinds of soda but most of those soda varieties are owned by three companies. Click through to see a neat visualization of soft drink brands and their market shares and owners.

Pacifism and first-person shootersSEP 02

Glen McCracken is attempting to complete the first-person shooter game Modern Warfare 2 without killing anyone. Did John Conner tell him not to?

This feat may sound impossible, but for Game Informer reader and hardcore Modern Warfare 2 player Glen McCracken, it's only a matter of time. In two hours of playing, Glen has reached rank 5 without taking a life. Using pacifist means to earn points, Glen estimates it will take him roughly two months to be the first player to reach rank 70 with zero kills.

Web packets in flightSEP 02

Here's what the communication between a web browser and YouTube looks like when the browser requests a video, slowed down 12X so you can actually see what happens.

Usain Bolt wants to play soccerSEP 02

Professionally. From the tail-end of a recent interview with the sprinter:

Ultimately, he says, he'd love to make a go of playing football professionally. He's being deadly serious. One of the perks of being Usain Bolt is that sporting stars love to meet him, so whenever he's travelling and there's time, he tries to train with a top football team. Last year it was Manchester United, a few days ago it was Bayern Munich. He's still carrying a copy of the French sporting newspaper L'Equipe, which features a spread on his football skills and praise from Bayern manager Louis van Gaal. He shows me a photo of himself with his arm wrapped round the dwarfed 6ft German forward Miroslav Klose. "If I keep myself in shape, I can definitely play football at a high level," he says.

"With his physical skills, I reckon he could play in the Premier League," Simms says.

Professional American football would be even more of a no brainer...Randy Moss with Darrell Green speed++.

Woz and Jobs: phone phreaksSEP 02

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs talk about their short career building illegal telephone equipment, aka blue boxes.

Interesting how their two stories differ...the engineer and the marketer.

Esquire phone phreaking article from 1971SEP 02

From the October 1971 issue of Esquire, Secrets of the Little Blue Box, an early mainstream piece on phone phreaking.

About eleven o'clock two nights later Fraser Lucey has a blue box in the palm of his left hand and a phone in the palm of his right. He is standing inside a phone booth next to an isolated shut-down motel off Highway 1. I am standing outside the phone booth.

Fraser likes to show off his blue box for people. Until a few weeks ago when Pacific Telephone made a few arrests in his city, Fraser Lucey liked to bring his blue box to parties. It never failed: a few cheeps from his device and Fraser became the center of attention at the very hippest of gatherings, playing phone tricks and doing request numbers for hours. He began to take orders for his manufacturer in Mexico. He became a dealer.

Fraser is cautious now about where he shows off his blue box. But he never gets tired of playing with it. "It's like the first time every time," he tells me.

Fraser puts a dime in the slot. He listens for a tone and holds the receiver up to my ear. I hear the tone.

Fraser begins describing, with a certain practiced air, what he does while he does it.

"I'm dialing an 800 number now. Any 800 number will do. It's toll free. Tonight I think I'll use the ----- [he names a well-know rent-a-car company] 800 number. Listen, It's ringing. Here, you hear it? Now watch."

He places the blue box over the mouthpiece of the phone so that the one silver and twelve black push buttons are facing up toward me. He presses the silver button - the one at the top - and I hear that high-pitched beep.

"That's 2600 cycles per second to be exact," says Lucey. "Now, quick. listen."

He shoves the earpiece at me. The ringing has vanished. The line gives a slight hiccough, there is a sharp buzz, and then nothing but soft white noise.

"We're home free now," Lucey tells me, taking back the phone and applying the blue box to its mouthpiece once again. "We're up on a tandem, into a long-lines trunk. Once you're up on a tandem, you can send yourself anywhere you want to go." He decides to check out London first. He chooses a certain pay phone located in Waterloo Station. This particular pay phone is popular with the phone-phreaks network because there are usually people walking by at all hours who will pick it up and talk for a while.

He presses the lower left-hand corner button which is marked "KP" on the face of the box.

"That's Key Pulse. It tells the tandem we're ready to give it instructions. First I'll punch out KP 182 START, which will slide us into the overseas sender in White Plains." I hear a neat clunk-cheep. "I think we'll head over to England by satellite. Cable is actually faster and the connection is somewhat better, but I like going by satellite. So I just punch out KP Zero 44. The Zero is supposed to guarantee a satellite connection and 44 is the country code for England. Okay... we're there. In Liverpool actually. Now all I have to do is punch out the London area code which is 1, and dial up the pay phone. Here, listen, I've got a ring now."

I hear the soft quick purr-purr of a London ring. Then someone picks up the phone. "Hello," says the London voice.

"Hello. Who's this?" Fraser asks.

"Hello. There's actually nobody here. I just picked this up while I was passing by. This is a public phone. There's no one here to answer actually."

"Hello. Don't hang up. I'm calling from the United States."

"Oh. What is the purpose of the call? This is a public phone you know."

"Oh. You know. To check out, uh, to find out what's going on in London. How is it there?"

"Its five o'clock in the morning. It's raining now."

"Oh. Who are you?"

The London passerby turns out to be an R.A.F. enlistee on his way back to the base in Lincolnshire, with a terrible hangover after a thirty-six-hour pass. He and Fraser talk about the rain. They agree that it's nicer when it's not raining. They say good-bye and Fraser hangs up. His dime returns with a nice clink.

"Isn't that far out," he says grinning at me. "London. Like that."

Interestingly, a number of the early phone phreaks were blind kids, including Joe Engressia, who could whistle a perfect 2600 hertz tone.

Insider tweetingSEP 02

Commodity traders are following farmers on Twitter, hoping for clues about crop forecasts and such.

Last week Grisafi started receiving tweets from European farmers saying the weather was hotter and drier than weather reports indicated. He'd been short the wheat market on the assumption that prices would fall. After reading the tweets, however, he realized the commodity might be in shorter supply than the market expected and got out of his position, avoiding a loss as prices rose.

The Rapist Says He's SorrySEP 01

In 1996, Tom Junot won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for a story published in GQ called The Rapist Says He's Sorry. It's about a man named Mitchell Gaff:

Who is Mitchell Gaff? Well, he is that which, at this moment in our history, frightens us the most-about ourselves, and about our democracy's ability to contain what is worst in us. Mitch is a sex offender, but not only a sex offender; he is a rapist, but not only a rapist. He is, in the words of a law written in 1990 by the Washington state legislature, "a sexual predator"-that is, someone who "suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes [him] likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility." Now, never mind for the moment that this law created a category of mental illness unrecognized by modern psychiatry, and that it did so for the purpose of enabling the state to achieve in the name of mercy what it couldn't in the name of justice: the removal of men like Mitchell Gaff from the face of the earth. What's important to know right now is that Mitch Gaff is or has been a human being who hurts other human beings for sexual pleasure: not out of need, not to gain the dire exigencies of food, shelter, money, transportation and status, but out of want-because he likes it. It's the wanting that scares us the most, of course, because of what we know about our own wanting-that it rises from someplace deep within us, that it is immune to intention and that it doesn't just go away. We want Mitch to go away. It hardly matters that he has done his time; that he has, in that quaint old phrase, "paid his debt to society"; and that his continued incarceration is probably unconstitutional. We want him to go away for as long as his wanting lasts, and that's why the state of Washington invented something called the Special Commitment Center.

There's a short intro available here as well as a special note by Junot at the end of the main article. And after you read the article, there are two further updates on Mitch Gaff here (complete with inappropriately lusty personal ads running alongside the article) and here.

Roger Ebert's cookbookSEP 01

Roger Ebert's eating career is over, but his career as a food writer is just taking off. His new cookbook, which comes out in three weeks, is about how to prepare just about any meal in a rice cooker.

He both writes and thinks about food in the present tense. Ask about favorite foods and he'll scribble a note: "I love spicy and Indian." An offer to bring some New Jersey peaches to his summer home here on the shore of Lake Michigan brings a sharp defense of Michigan peaches and a menu idea. "Maybe for dessert we could have a salad of local fresh fruits."

"Food for me is in the present tense," he said. "Eating for me is now only in the past tense." He says he has a "voluptuous food memory" that gets stronger all the time.

"I can remember the taste and smell of everything, even though I can no longer taste or smell," he said.

Here are the opening couple of paragraphs from the post that evolved into the cookbook:

First, get the Pot. You need the simplest rice cooker made. It comes with two speeds: Cook, and Warm. Not expensive. Now you're all set to cook meals for the rest of your life on two square feet of counter space, plus a chopping block. No, I am not putting you on the Rice Diet. Eat what you like. I am thinking of you, student in your dorm room. You, solitary writer, artist, musician, potter, plumber, builder, hermit. You, parents with kids. You, night watchman. You, obsessed computer programmer or weary web-worker. You, lovers who like to cook together but don't want to put anything in the oven. You, in the witness protection program. You, nutritional wingnut. You, in a wheelchair.

And you, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. You, person on a small budget who wants healthy food. You, shut-in. You, recovering campaign worker. You, movie critic at Sundance. You, sex worker waiting for the phone to ring. You, factory worker sick of frozen meals. You, people in Werner Herzog's documentary about life at the South Pole. You, early riser skipping breakfast. You, teenager home alone. You, rabbi, pastor, priest,, nun, waitress, community organizer, monk, nurse, starving actor, taxi driver, long-haul driver. Yes, you, reader of the second-best best-written blog on the internet.

There's also a Q&A on the Times site with Ebert.

Napoleon Dynamite opening title sequenceSEP 01

The Art of the Title Sequence interviews Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess about how the film's instant-classic title sequence came about.

We actually had Jon Heder placing all the objects in and out [of frame], and then showed it to Searchlight who really liked it and thought it was great, but some lady over there was like "There are some hangnails, or something -- the hands look kinda gross! It's really bothering me, can we re-shoot some of those? We'll send you guys a hand model." We were like "WHAT?!" This of course was my first interaction with a studio at all, so they flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder. So we reshot, but they're now intermixed, so if you look there are like three different dudes hands (our producer's are in there too.) It all worked our great though and was a lot of fun.

The interview also addresses Pablo Ferro's involvement and the Napoleon Dynamite animated series currently in development.

Dry weather reveals ruinsSEP 01

This summer's dry English weather has been unexpectantly good for archaeology. Aerial surveys over dry cropland has revealed the outlines of several prehistoric and Roman ruins.

The surveys show marks made when crops growing over buried features develop at a different rate from those nearby.

Photos here. (via clusterflock)

A day in the life of Barack ObamaSEP 01

Vanity Fair has a really interesting but depressing look at how The President of the United States spends a typical day navigating the upfuckedness of national American politics and its capital, Washington DC -- which Rahm Emanuel calls Fucknutsville.

We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They've all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency -- Barack Obama's presidency -- has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the "news" by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth -- these forces have made today's Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America's artificial "last one standing" postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington's problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades -- at a rate barely noticeable while it's happening -- produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it's the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat's opinion will keep spinning with the wind.

(via waxy)

The 1000-foot free diveSEP 01

World champion free diver Herbert Nitsch is planning on executing a no limits dive to 1000 feet. That's 300 feet more than the current record set by Nitsch three years ago.

(via @dunstan)

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