Entries for December 2010 (January 2011 »    February 2011 »    March 2011 »    Archives)

 

The Joy of StatsDEC 30

An hour-long documentary on statistics and infoviz produced by the BBC.

Documentary which takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the wonderful world of statistics to explore the remarkable power thay have to change our understanding of the world, presented by superstar boffin Professor Hans Rosling, whose eye-opening, mind-expanding and funny online lectures have made him an international internet legend.

(via waxy)

The French Laundry magazineDEC 30

It's called Finesse and it's available at any of Thomas Keller's restaurants.

The theme of the 64-page first issue is history, so Keller and co. have collected stories -- and the expected gorgeous photography -- all about the Laundry and every aspect of the restaurant: longtime staffers, former cooks, journalists.

Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman pen articles. Chefs of all kinds make cameos. But it's more than that -- the magazine also highlights lesser known, yet essential parts of the French Laundry machine, like the wine producer who partners with the restaurant to create the Cuvee French Laundry.

The Artist is Present, in book formDEC 30

The photographs taken of everyone who sat with Marina Abramovic at her The Artist is Present show at MoMA are being compiled into a book called Portraits in the Presence of Marina Abramovic.

Just as Abramovic's piece concerned duration, the photographs give the viewer a chance to experience the performance from Abramovic's perspective. They reveal both dramatic and mundane moments, and speak to the humanity of such interactions, just as the performance itself did. The resultant photographs are mesmerizing and intense, putting a face to the world of art lovers while capturing what they shared during their contact with the artist.

The best of 2010DEC 29

The mega list of best of 2010 lists is up and running at Fimoculous. Prepare to lose yourself in this for several hours.

The beauty of PixarDEC 29

A nice video tribute to Pixar that weaves together footage from all their films.

(thx, asdhsa)

Medieval warfareDEC 29

A mass grave of soldiers discovered in England is shedding new light on how medieval battles were fought. It's not a pretty picture.

In a letter sent nine days after the battle George Neville, the then chancellor of England, wrote that 28,000 men died that day, a figure in accord with a letter sent by Edward to his mother. England's total population at the time is thought not to have exceeded 3m people. George Goodwin, who has written a book on Towton to coincide with the battle's 550th anniversary in 2011, reckons as many as 75,000 men, perhaps 10% of the country's fighting-age population, took the field that day.

North American English dialect mapDEC 28

Massive and detailed dialect map of North America. (via @brainpicker)

Sword-tip video cameraDEC 28

What does it look like when you put a video camera on the tip of a sword and swing it around? Pretty cool, is what.

(thx, matt)

Cedar Rapids, the movieDEC 27

Hey everyone I went to college with, they made a movie about the town we went to college in! I don't remember it being this much fun.

This is Cedar Rapids' biggest movie break since Titanic!

Vivian Maier documentaryDEC 27

Last year I posted about the discovery of an extensive body of photographic work by the previously unknown Vivian Maier. Now, a documentary film is in the planning stages and the producers are asking for funds on Kickstarter.

Vivian Maier's photographs were seemingly destined for obscurity, lost among the clutter of the countless objects she'd collected throughout her life. Instead these images have shocked the world of street photography and irrevocably changed the life of the man who brought them to the public eye. This film brings to life the improbable saga of John Maloof's discovery of Vivian Maier. Along with her documentary films, photographs, odd collections, and accounts from people who knew her, we take you on the journey of 'Finding Vivian Maier'.

Backed it!

Blizzard timelapseDEC 27

A 20-hour span of blizzard in about 40 seconds. There are several points at which it seems the snow should stop accumulating on the table, but it never does.

A tour of the abandoned Paris MetroDEC 23

sleepycity has tons of photos of some old trains and abandoned Paris Metro stations and tunnels.

Old Paris Metro sign

(via @bldgblog)

The carless streets of ManhattanDEC 22

Bruce McCall imagines the Manhattan street with no room for cars...but there's a baby stroller lane, a Segway/skateboarding lane, and a runner/jogger lane. (via @bldgblog)

Death spiral and the other top astronomy photos of the yearDEC 22

Bad Astronomy lists its top fourteen astronomy photos of the year, including this nearly unbelievable spiral pattern caused by a binary star.

Death Spiral

The object, called AFGL 3068, is a binary star, two stars in an 800-year orbit around one another. One of them is a red giant, a star near the end of its life. It's blowing off massive amounts of dark dust, which is enveloping the pair and hiding them from view. But the system's spin is spraying the material out like a water sprinkler head, causing this giant and delicate spiral pattern on the sky. And by giant, I mean giant: the entire structure is about 3 trillion kilometers (about 2 trillion miles) across.

Saddam's blood KoranDEC 21

I always thought Kim Jong-il was the clear winner in the Craziest-Ass Dictator Competition, but this move from Saddam Hussein is bold indeed.

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an.

(thx, darren)

99 Christmas songs for $1.99DEC 21

Just in time for that family Christmas party: 99 Christmas songs for $1.99 at Amazon's MP3 store.

Liquid sculptureDEC 21

Shinchi Maruyama throws water from his hands or from glasses and catches the temporary sculptures they make with his camera.

The Morning News has an interview with Maruyama and a photo gallery of his work; this one is really cool.

The secret to a successful lifeDEC 21

Kevin Smith on how to do what you love and make money doing it.

The secret to a successful life is hardly a secret; it requires you to be self-centered as all fuck, is all. So long as it's not at the expense of others, make yourself the center of your universe. You only get to do this ONCE, so try to take as much stress out of the process as you can.

Japanese treadmill gameDEC 20

Oh, this is hilarious:

On weekend web appsDEC 20

Andre Torrez offers some advice for those who think that they can clone a popular web app over the weekend. The best part -- or the worst, if you're the aspiring weekend programmer -- is that each item on the list is a little Pandora's box of Alice's rabbit holes. Like this:

Lost password flow. You'll want to generate a key and store it someplace for when someone requests to reset their password. So that's another email that has to go out.

If you actually want your email to arrive at its destination, you're gonna have to worry about all this. Or go through a third-party service, which is another interface (and bill (and moving part)) that you need to worry about. You get the point...making a web app work for more than just one person is hard, way harder than it looks unless you've done it.

Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze getting the band back togetherDEC 20

Well, maybe. According to the LA Times, the pair are pitching a film around that Kaufman will write and Jonze will direct.

The pair are pitching a new movie. While the plot is being kept under tight wraps -- it's a pitch, so a script has yet to be written, and Kaufman movies are famously hard to describe in a few sentences anyway -- two people familiar with the project said it has been making the rounds to independent financiers in recent weeks.

If it moves forward, the film would reunite the pair in the roles that vaulted them to fame for the first time since "Adaptation" in 2002.

Randy Quaid has gone nutsDEC 20

Randy Quaid and his wife Evi are on the run and living out of their Prius in Canada because they fear the "Hollywood Star Whackers", a group they blame for the deaths of Heath Ledger, David Carradine, and maybe even Michael Jackson. No, really!

People started noticing there was something seriously amiss with the Quaids about three years ago, when Randy left the Broadway-bound musical Lone Star Love and was then banned for life from the Actors' Equity Association, the stage union, for physically and verbally abusing his fellow performers. Then came the arrests and the couple's bizarre appearances at various court dates: They wore pink handcuffs. Evi carried Randy's Golden Globe and had a "valid credit card" affixed to her forehead.

By the time they arrived in Canada, calling themselves "refugees" and claiming they were targets of an assassination plot, the Quaids had gone viral.

I asked them when they believed their troubles began. They said it was in Marfa, Texas, the rural artists' community where Giant was shot. They said they had traveled there in the summer of 2009 to "look at ranches and stuff" and erect a "Randy Quaid museum." (They'd been fixing up a building in the middle of town-reportedly without the proper permits.)

Already, Evi said, "something really weird had started happening with Randy's mail. His royalty and residual checks weren't coming. We were really, truly panicked." Adding to their unrest was the recent demise of the actor David Carradine, a friend of Randy's whose death from apparent auto-erotic asphyxiation in Thailand the Quaids believed to be suspicious.

"They" -- the aforementioned Hollywood Star Whackers -- "decide, O.K., if we knock off David, then what we can do is simply collect the insurance covering his participation in the television show he was working on overseas," Evi said. "It's almost moronic, it's so simple."

She said she also suspected Jeremy Piven's falling ill from mercury poisoning was another sign of a dastardly plot by the Broadway producers of Speed-the-Plow to collect insurance money. "It was an orchestrated hit," she said. "They could have put mescaline in his water bottle." Jeffrey Richards, one of the producers of the play, declined to comment.

Isle of TuneDEC 17

Isle of Tune is a musical sequencer with a twist...you build little roads with houses, trees, streetlights, etc. that cars can then drive past, making music as they go. This is currently the top-rated island:

Isle Of Tune

And here's Michael Jackson's Beat It. Neat! (via prosthetic knowledge)

Best science of 2010DEC 17

Science magazine has named their top scientific breakthroughs of 2010 and the insights of the decade. The quantum paddle deservedly took the top spot:

"This year's Breakthrough of the Year represents the first time that scientists have demonstrated quantum effects in the motion of a human-made object," said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. "On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm. On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality."

In the beginning, there was doughDEC 17

In another of a series of wonderfully fanciful posts for the NY Times, Christoph Niemann has some fun with creation and cookie dough.

Niemann Dough

Carine Roitfeld resigns from French VogueDEC 17

After ten years, she's stepping down as editor-in-chief.

"I had so much freedom to do everything I wanted. I think I did a good job." But she added, "When everything is good, maybe I think it's the time to do something else." She expects to complete issues through March. She said she was not sure what she would do after that. "I have no plan at all," she said.

Word LensDEC 17

This is just flat out magical...you hold your iPhone running Word Lens up to some text in, say, Spanish, and you'll automatically see it translated into English.

!!! No, like !!!!!

The year in photos, 2010DEC 16

The Big Picture has chosen its best photos of the year for 2010. Part one, part two, part three. What a world we live in.

iPhone app corrects for color blindnessDEC 16

Dan Kaminsky's iPhone/Android app corrects for color blindness (in anomalous trichromats anyway)...just point your phone at what you want to see in color and make a few adjustments.

The vast majority of color blind people are in fact what are known as anomalous trichromats. They still have three photoreceptors, but the 'green' receptor is shifted a bit towards red. The effect is subtle: Certain reds might look like they were green, and certain greens might look like they were red.

Thus the question: Was it possible to convert all reds to a one true red, and all greens to a one true green?

The answer: Yes, given an appropriate colorspace.

Andy Baio, who is colorblind, says emphatically: "it works". (thx, derek)

How to give design feedbackDEC 16

Mule Design's Mike Monteiro wrote a cracking guide on how clients can give better feedback to designers.

Let the design team be the design experts. Your job is to be the business expert. Ask them how their design solutions meet your business goals. If you trust your design team, and they can explain how their recommendations map to those goals, you're fine. If you neither trust them, nor can they defend their choices it's time to get a new design team.

This should be printed out and nailed into the forehead of every designer and their clients a la Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, you know, for easy reference.

Why foie gras is not unethicalDEC 16

Over at Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt has a long piece about a visit he took to a foie gras producer in New York's Hudson Valley and what he learned about the ethics of foie gras production.

Even if you haven't eaten foie, pretty much everyone is familiar with the abhorrent images of mistreated ducks peddled by PETA and sites like nofoiegras.org, and indeed they are truly disturbing. Ducks crammed into wire cages just big enough to stand in with their filth-encrusted heads sticking out a hole in the front. Their feathers are scraggly and wiry (if present at all), there's often blood coming out of their nostrils, and their faces and feathers are caked with vomit and corn meal. A duck drinks scummy water out of a communal trough running in front of it while just upstream one of its less fortuitous bunkmates sits dead with its head lolling sideways, half submerged in the cloudy green water.

I've no doubt that farms like this exist in the world, and it is a terrible, atrocious tragedy. If this is how all foie-or even all meat-is produced, I'd become a vegetarian today. But video or photographic footage of one badly managed farm or even a thousand badly managed farms does not prove that the production of foie gras, as a practice, is necessarily harmful to the health or mental well-being of a duck. Foie gras production should be judged not by the worst farms, but by the best, because those are the ones that I'm going to choose to buy my foie from if at all.

So the real question is: is the production of foie gras torturous under even the best of conditions?

Those on one side would answer yes. How could force feeding an animal ever be considered anything but torture? On the other hand are those who claim that American foie farms are positively idyllic with ducks waddling around spacious pens, even queuing up for their gavage, that for a duck, none of the things we consider uncomfortable stress them out in the least. But who's right?

Old photos of New York CityDEC 16

The Museum of the City of New York has put a sizable chunk of their photography collection up on their web site. The interface is a little hinky, but it's worth wading through. This is 220 Spring St from 1932, from right near Sixth Avenue:

Spring 1932

Photo credit: 220 Spring Street by Charles Von Urban. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. (thx, @bamstutz)

The Year in Ideas, 2010DEC 15

The annual NY Times feature is out: the Year in Ideas for 2010. A particular favorite is the ten-year retrospective by Tyler Cowen:

The editors asked Tyler Cowen, the economist who helps run the blog Marginal Revolution, to read the previous nine Ideas issues and send us his thoughts on which entries, with the benefit of hindsight, struck him as noteworthy. Do any ideas from this year's issue look promising? "I recall reading the 2001 issue when it came out," he says. "And I was hardly bowled over with excitement by thoughts of 'Populist Editing.' Now I use Wikipedia almost every day. The 2001 issue noted that, in its selection of items, 'frivolous ideas are given the same prominence as weighty ones'; that is easiest to do when we still don't know which are which."

The Tree of Life trailerDEC 15

Finally, a trailer for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life:

Sex in outer spaceDEC 15

From a paper published in the Journal of Cosmology entitled Sex On Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex In Outer Space:

Humans are sexual beings and it can be predicted that male and female astronauts will engage in sexual relations during a mission to Mars, leading to conflicts and pregnancies and the first baby born on the Red Planet. Non-human primate and astronaut sexual behavior is reviewed including romantic conflicts involving astronauts who flew aboard the Space Shuttle and in simulated missions to Mars, and men and women team members in the Antarctic. The possibilities of pregnancy and the effects of gravity and radiation on the testes, ovaries, menstruation, and developing fetus, including a child born on Mars, are discussed. What may lead to and how to prevent sexual conflicts, sexual violence, sexual competition, and pregnancy are detailed. Recommendations include the possibility that male and female astronauts on a mission to Mars, should fly in separate space craft.

A world of black rectanglesDEC 15

For an exhibition in Rome, Konstantin Grcic has collected a bunch of products that are basically black rectangles.

Among the items he included are a gravestone, a wallet, soap, a table, a perfume bottle, a cooking pot, a television set, a cart, an accordion, a Sudoko cube, a fireplace, a laptop, a Chanel handbag, a gas tank, a bible and Prince's "Black Album," from 1987. "How is it that so many different things made in so many different ways end being black rectangles?" Mr. Grcic asked. "They can be extremely elegant and sophisticated, or very basic, but they are such strong and powerful parts of our lives that it is impossible to imagine a world without them."

It's funny...in the column of photos accompanying the Times article, Grcic looks a bit like a black rectangle himself.

Multiuser iPadDEC 15

Nice little sketch by BERG's Matt Jones for a multiuser iPad UI.

multiuser iPad

James Burke's Connections onlineDEC 15

Every episode of the classic science/history series Connections (as well as Connections 2 and 3) is available online at YouTube.

Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 (UK) and 1979 (USA). It took an interdisciplinary approach to the history of science and invention and demonstrated how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events were built from one another successively in an interconnected way to bring about particular aspects of modern technology.

Connections explores an "Alternative View of Change" (the subtitle of the series) that rejects the conventional linear and teleological view of historical progress. Burke contends that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation. Rather, the entire gestalt of the modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own motivations (e.g. profit, curiosity, religious) with no concept of the final, modern result of what either their or their contemporaries' actions finally led to. The interplay of the results of these isolated events is what drives history and innovation, and is also the main focus of the series and its sequels.

Here's the first episode to get you started.

Warning: you may not be able to stop. If you'd like to watch the series in a less irritating format, you can always purchase it on DVD.

Socializing may improve mental functionDEC 14

But only if it's friendly chat...competitive conversations don't result in the same improvement. (I don't think Words With Friends counts either...)

They found that engaging in brief (10 minute) conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement.

"We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others' minds and take their perspectives on things," Ybarra said. "And we also find that when we structure even competitive interactions to have an element of taking the other person's perspective, or trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result."

I've noticed this effect with myself but I always thought it was the result of my introversion, i.e. competitive conversations are more stressful and sap energy and mental function more quickly than normal conversations. I know a couple of people who enjoy competitive conversation and I've largely steered clear of those interactions since realizing I always felt so blah afterwards.

Getting stuff doneDEC 14

Robert Hodgin is continuing his experiments in manipulating Kinect data in realtime with increasingly hilarious results. Here he multiplies himself to get more work done:

The lost Radiohead albumDEC 14

It's called 01 and 10...ok, it's not really a lost album. But apparently if you take the first five songs from OK Computer (from 1997) and the first five songs from In Rainbows (from 2007) and alternate them, the songs fit together musically and lyrically to form a coherent album.

Consider that In Rainbows was meant to complement OK Computer, musically, lyrically, and in structure. We found that the two albums can be knit together beautifully. By combining the tracks to form one playlist, 01 and 10, we have a remarkable listening experience. The transitions between the songs are astounding, and it appears that this was done purposefully.

The lyrics also seem to complement each other. There appears to be a concept flowing through the 01 and 10 playlist. Ideas in one song is picked up by the next, such as "Pull me out of the aircrash," and "When I'm at the pearly gates, this will be my videotape."

(via prosthetic knowledge)

The year in film, 2010DEC 14

Some gloriously crazy person took clips from 270 films that were out in 2010 and mixed them together into a coherent narrative:

This year's movies have legitimately transformed my idea of what is creatively possible. To commemorate, I've remixed 270 of them into one giant ass video.

Wonderful. Here's a list of all the films used. (thx, aaron)

One man cured of HIVDEC 14

According to his doctors, a Berlin man has been cured of HIV because of a stem cell transplant.

Doctors who carried out a stem cell transplant on an HIV-infected man with leukaemia in 2007 say they now believe the man to have been cured of HIV infection as a result of the treatment, which introduced stem cells which happened to be resistant to HIV infection.

The man received bone marrow from a donor who had natural resistance to HIV infection; this was due to a genetic profile which led to the CCR5 co-receptor being absent from his cells. The most common variety of HIV uses CCR5 as its 'docking station', attaching to it in order to enter and infect CD4 cells, and people with this mutation are almost completely protected against infection.

Evidence of other universesDEC 13

Cosmologists have discovered evidence that our universe has been "bruised" by collisions with other universes.

Today, another group says they've found something else in the echo of the Big Bang. These guys start with a different model of the universe called eternal inflation. In this way of thinking, the universe we see is merely a bubble in a much larger cosmos. This cosmos is filled with other bubbles, all of which are other universes where the laws of physics may be dramatically different to ours.

The findings are currently difficult to reproduce, but with better data on the way, scientists are hoping to get to the bottom of the matter in the next few years.

Liberty scatteredDEC 13

Love the cover of the most recent issue of The New Republic.

Liberty scattered

Songs of the years playlistDEC 13

Patrick Filler took Ben Greenman's New Yorker holiday party playlist (one song for each year from 1925 to 2010) and made a Rdio playlist out of it so that you can listen to the whole shebang online.

Shigeru Miyamoto profiled in the New YorkerDEC 13

The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten goes long on Nintendo's resident genius, Shigeru Miyamoto, designer of many of Nintendo's top games.

In his games, Miyamoto has always tried to re-create his childhood wonderment, if not always the actual experiences that gave rise to it, since the experiences themselves may be harder to come by in a paved and partitioned world. "I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish," he told me one day. "That's something that I just can't express in words. It's such an unusual situation. I wish that children nowadays could have similar experiences, but it's not very easy."

A reshuffled lifeDEC 13

In his book Sum, David Eagleman imagines a life where like activities are grouped into chunks and then never experienced again.

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.

You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it's agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.

But that doesn't mean it's always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line.

This is crying out to be put on a poster or tshirt. (via bobulate)

Metrodome roof collapses because of too much snowDEC 12

And they caught it on film. Crazy:

Pimp business planDEC 10

Items on this pimp's handwritten business plan -- aka "Keep It Pimpin'" -- include:

- my word is my bond
- take my game to the next level (from the concrete streets to executive suites)
- take care my bitches more better
- minimize my budget (cash cars, houses, etc.)
- keep a good photographer

You know what they call a Quarter Pounder in the Czech Republic?DEC 10

McDonald's in the Czech Republic has introduced a line of NYC-themed hamburgers, including the Wall Street Beef and SoHo Grande:

Grilled beef, spicy salami pepperoni, cheese, crisp, with cheese sauce and salsa mexico-tion in the bun, cheese.

Mmmm?

Songs of the yearsDEC 10

For the New Yorker holiday party, Ben Greenman whipped up a music playlist containing one hit song from each year of the New Yorker's history, from 1925 to 2010.

At the party, the mix worked like a charm. Jazz and blues greeted the early arrivals, and as the party picked up, the mood became romantic (thanks to the big-band and vocal recordings of the late thirties and forties), energetic (thanks to early rock and roll like Fats Domino and Jackie Brenston in the early fifties), funky (James Brown in 1973, Stevie Wonder in 1974), and kitschy (the eighties), after which it erupted into a bright riot of contemporary pop and hip-hop (Rihanna! Kanye! M.I.A.! Lil Jon!). It was rumored, though never proven, that party guests were leaving right around the songs that marked their birth years.

Where the hell is Hey Ya!? Oh, right. Crazy in Love.

1912 bike shopDEC 10

1912 Bike Shop

The photo is of a Detroit bike shop circa 1912. View it large. Looks like there's a few motorcycles in there and some records and record players.

Cybersanta is making a listDEC 10

The cybersanta Twitter account searches for tweets containing the phrase "I want a ______" and replies. Like so:

Cybersanta

(via clusterflock)

Layer Tennis tomorrowDEC 09

I'm going to be commentating a semifinal Layer Tennis match between Mark Weaver and Mig Reyes tomorrow at noon Eastern time. The twist: there's a secret ingredient:

Today's competitors have cooked up a little something different for you today; they have suggested that we go Iron Chef style for this match. So, I have chosen a "secret ingredient" for today's match in the form of a design element that will need to be used in each volley.

If either of the competitors wants to know the ingredient before match-time tomorrow, it'll cost you $500...or $1200 for exclusive knowledge. Personal checks accepted.

The sweaty glass of the Tokyo subwayDEC 09

From photographer Michael Wolf -- you might remember his Architecture of Density or 100x100 projects -- a collection of photos of people pressed against fogged-up Tokyo subway windows.

Michael Wolf Tokyo

(via coudal)

Do-it-yourself bungee jumpingDEC 09

That's just flat-out crazy. (via @dunstan)

Realistic mask used to rob bankDEC 09

I told you that someone was gonna use one of these to rob a bank someday.

A white bank robber in Ohio recently used a "hyper-realistic" mask manufactured by a small Van Nuys company to disguise himself as a black man, prompting police there to mistakenly arrest an African American man for the crimes.

In October, a 20-year-old Chinese man who wanted asylum in Canada used one of the same company's masks to transform himself into an elderly white man and slip past airport security in Hong Kong.

News reports of similar exploits have increased the demand for the masks.

Abbey sidewalkDEC 09

Just before the famous Abbey Road photo was taken, The Beatles were photographed on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street.

Abbey Sidewalk

(via matt)

Inception iPhone appDEC 09

The Inception iPhone app takes the music from the movie and remixes it with the sounds around you (office chatter, street noise, etc.).

Inception The App transports Inception The Movie straight into your life. New dreams can be unlocked in many ways, for example by walking, being in a quiet room, while traveling or when the sun shines. You will get realtime musical experiences, featuring new and exclusive music from the Inception soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer.

Bad: I can hear the people in the office talking, which is the precise thing I'm attempting to prevent by wearing headphones.

Marlo Stanfield is chaotic evilDEC 09

Here are a few characters from The Wire categorized by their Dungeons and Dragons alignment (good/neutral/evil and lawful/neutral/chaotic).

The Wire Dungeons and Dragons

There are a few more alignment charts from the same source, including a Mad Men chart with Betty Draper as chaotic evil (justification). (via @juliandibbell)

A Year in Reading for 2010DEC 08

The Millions annual Year in Reading mega-feature is back for 2010 and features contributions from Al Jaffee, Margaret Atwood, and Stephen Elliott.

For a seventh year, The Millions has reached out to some of our favorite writers, thinkers, and readers to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era. We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2011 a fruitful one.

The world's fastest crossword puzzle solverDEC 08

Dan Feyer can solve a NY Times crossword puzzle in as little as a minute and twenty-two seconds.

His brain is jammed with factoids: the names of songs and rock bands that lived and died before he was born, far-flung rivers and capitals, foreign sports equipment, dead astronomers, fallen monarchs, extinct cars, old movies, heroes of mythology, dusty novelists and the myriad other bevoweled wraiths that haunt the twisted minds of crossword constructors. He has learned their wily tricks and traps, like using "number" in a clue that most people would take to mean "numeral" but that really meant "more numb."

The article includes a sped-up video of Feyer solving the notoriously difficult Saturday NY Times puzzle in under six minutes.

Fake Criterion filmsDEC 08

Favorite Tumblr of the week: Fake Criterions, featuring mockups of Criterion films that would never get made. For example:

Criterion Toyko Drift

Note: a surprising non-fake Criterion is Michael Bay's Armageddon. Well, it does feature Steve Buscemi and Oscar winners Billy Bob Thornton and Ben Affleck. (thx, george)

Autocomplete map of the United StatesDEC 08

Dorothy Gambrell looked up all of the state names on Google and made a map of what the autocomplete suggestions were. Here's part of it:

Autocomplete map

Lots of sports and schools.

Arrested Development entire series: $28DEC 08

Amazon has the entire three-disc set of Arrested Development on sale for $28 (69% off). Here's a little taste of the magic:

Hand supermodelDEC 08

Ellen Sirot is one of the world's top hand models. CBS News interviewed her a couple of years ago:

Everything I do is to protect [my hands] from being in any jeopardy or any danger in any way. So for me, that means no cooking, no cleaning, no taking out the garbage, no opening cans, no opening windows, no opening doors, no gardening, no sports...

This is a really strange and fascinating video...Sirot is constantly performing with her hands but it's also like she hasn't got any hands, not functional ones anyway. She holds them like atrophied T. Rex arms! (via @zagata)

Mathematical doodlingDEC 07

This is a wonderfully whimsical introduction to doodling by way of graph theory, snakes, Oroborous and mobius strips. Oh, and the Mobiaboros.

(via vulture)

Threaten customers for SEO? Go directly to jail.DEC 07

The dickwad who threatened his customers as an SEO tactic (detailed here in the NY Times) was arrested on Monday by federal agents.

The merchant, Vitaly Borker, 34, who operates a Web site called decormyeyes.com, was charged with one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking. The mail fraud and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The stalking and interstate threats charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

He was arrested early Monday by agents of the United States Postal Inspection Service. In an arraignment in the late afternoon in United States District Court in Lower Manhattan, Judge Michael H. Dolinger denied Mr. Borker's request for bail, stating that the defendant was either "verging on psychotic" or had "an explosive personality." Mr. Borker will be detained until a preliminary hearing, scheduled for Dec. 20.

Tron Legacy soundtrack by Daft PunkDEC 07

I have enjoyed nothing (nothing!) more over the past week or so than Daft Punk's Tron Legacy soundtrack. Amazon's got the mp3 album today for only $3.99.

NASA study of arsenic-based life flawed?DEC 07

Carl Zimmer in Slate:

Redfield blogged a scathing attack on Saturday. Over the weekend, a few other scientists took to the Internet as well. Was this merely a case of a few isolated cranks? To find out, I reached out to a dozen experts on Monday. Almost unanimously, they think the NASA scientists have failed to make their case. "It would be really cool if such a bug existed," said San Diego State University's Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, "none of the arguments are very convincing on their own." That was about as positive as the critics could get. "This paper should not have been published," said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado.

(thx, anil)

Twenty Minutes in ManhattanDEC 07

Michael Sorkin's Twenty Minutes in Manhattan is an account of the author's daily walk to work from his Greenwich Village home to a Tribeca studio. From reaktionbooks:

Over the course of more than fifteen years, architect and critic Michael Sorkin has taken an almost daily twenty-minute walk from his apartment near Washington Square in New York's Greenwich Village to his architecture studio further downtown in Tribeca. This walk has afforded abundant opportunities for Sorkin to reflect on the ongoing transformation of the neighbourhoods through which he passes. Inspired by events both mundane and monumental, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan unearths a network of relationships between the physical and the social city.

Here's a chapter listing:

The Stairs
The Stoop
The Block
Washington Square
LaGuardia Place
Soho
Canal Street
Tribeca
145 Hudson Street
Alternative Routes
Espri d'Escalier

Robert Campbell, the architecture critic for the Boston Globe, says of the book:

Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere.

Sounds great!

On editingDEC 07

From a long-time editor, some thoughts on editing.

Perhaps the most important attribute of an editor is obsessive organization, processing work unrelentingly until it is done.

The focus is on the author's experience editing economics journals, but the paper applies more broadly as well, especially the first few pages.

Albino redwoodsDEC 06

There may only be a few dozen albino redwoods in the world; they're difficult to find so no one knows the real number. The albinos lack chlorophyll, making them unable to produce their own food, so they freeload off of a parent tree.

Albino redwood

KQED has a short video segment about the albino redwoods as well.

The Antarctic dictionaryDEC 06

The world's most isolated continent has spawned some of the most unusual words in the English language. In the space of a mere century, a remarkable vocabulary has evolved to deal with the extraordinary environment and living organisms of the Antarctic and subantarctic.

The first entry in the dictionary is "aaaa, aaaaah, aaahh See ahhh". The entry for "ahhh" reads:

'Halt', a sledge dog command, usually softly called

The book is listed on Amazon but "temporarily out of stock".

Spinal Tap's IMDB rating goes to elevenDEC 06

This might be the coolest Easter egg of all time:

IMDB Spinal Tap

(via prosthetic knowledge)

The Twitter HulksDEC 06

There are an increasing number of Twitter accounts written as if The Incredible Hulk were passionate about topics other than anger and smashing. Here's a sampling of the Twitter Hulks and their tweets.

FEMINIST HULK: "TRICK TO SMASHING GENDER BINARY: MAKE SURE IT NOT SIMPLY BREAK INTO TWO NORMATIVE PIECES. HULK CREATE GENDERQUEER DEBRIS!"

DRUNK HULK: "CAREFUL HOW NAME YOU CHILD! MONTANA LAST NAME GET HER DISNEY SHOW! MONTANA FIRST NAME GET HER PORN CAREER! MORE YOU KNOW!"

BUDDHIST HULK: "HULK SPEND DAY SMASHING BARRIERS TO AWAKENING. HULK HEART OVERFLOW WITH JOY."

Cross-dressing Hulk: "HULK WEIGH OVER 1 TONNE. HULK KISS ANYONE HULK WANTS TO. HULK WORRIES ABOUT EDITORIAL OVERSIGHT AT MARIE CLAIRE."

Film Crit HULK: "HULK WATCH LAURA(1944) FOR UMPTEENTH TIME THIS WEEKEND. HULK REALIZE HULK SEE LOTS OF OTTO PERMINGER IN SCORSESE."

BARTENDER HULK: "WHY YOU THINK HULK TAKING YOUR ORDER?? IS IT CUZ HULK NOT FACING YOU? OR CUZ HULK TALKING TO SOMEONE ELSE? OR CUZ HULK MAKING OTHER DRINK??"

Lit-Crit Hulk: "HULK SMASH TREND OF HIP NOVELISTS WRITE 'LINKED' SHORT STORIES AND CALL IT NOVEL. YOU WANT WRITE SHORT STORIES, FINE. IT NOT A FUCKING NOVEL"

Editor Hulk: "HULK LIKE OXFORD COMMA VERY MUCH. HULK WANT TO DATE, BUT OXFORD COMMA ONLY GO OUT IN GROUPS OF THREE OR MORE."

GRAMMAR HULK: "HULK GET INVITATION THAT SAY 'PLEASE RSVP BY RESPONDING.' HULK'S RAGE MITIGATED BY OPPORTUNITY TO WEAR TINY PURPLE TUXEDO PANTS!"

Oregon's speed-freak footballDEC 06

Nice piece in the NY Times about the University of Oregon's innovative football offense, which turns the game into something that's paced a bit more like soccer or basketball.

In the city of the distance-running legend Steve Prefontaine -- Eugene is known as Tracktown, U.S.A., and is also where the sporting-goods company Nike was started -- Kelly has transformed football into an aerobic sport. This style is particularly of the moment because it is apparent that football, at least in the short term, will become less violent. Kelly's teams have found a new way to intimidate, one that does not involve high-speed collisions and head injuries. "Some people call it a no-huddle offense, but I call it a no-breathing offense," Mark Asper, an Oregon offensive lineman, told me. "It's still football. We hit people. But after a while, the guys on the other side of the line are so gassed that you don't have to hit them very hard to make them fall over."

...

In Kelly's offense, the point of a play sometimes seems to be just to get it over with, line up and run another. The play that preceded the last touchdown was a one-yard loss -- a setback in traditional offensive schemes in which down and distance are paramount. But "third and long" is not as difficult a proposition for the offense when the opposing defense can barely stand up. "Obviously, all of our plays are designed to gain yards," Gary Campbell, Oregon's running-backs coach, explained. "But our guys understand the cumulative effect of running them really fast."

How to fold a fitted sheetDEC 06

One of the biggest challenges you're going to face in your life is how to fold a fitted sheet.

That's a pretty strong statement, but that domestic sorceress does know how to fold the hell out of a fitted sheet. Magical! (thx, neven)

"Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless"DEC 03

From the New Yorker a week or two ago, John Cassidy has an article about the social value of what Wall Street and investment banking. It's not a pretty picture.

Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of Britain's top financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, has described much of what happens on Wall Street and in other financial centers as "socially useless activity" -- a comment that suggests it could be eliminated without doing any damage to the economy. In a recent article titled "What Do Banks Do?," which appeared in a collection of essays devoted to the future of finance, Turner pointed out that although certain financial activities were genuinely valuable, others generated revenues and profits without delivering anything of real worth -- payments that economists refer to as rents. "It is possible for financial activity to extract rents from the real economy rather than to deliver economic value," Turner wrote. "Financial innovation...may in some ways and under some circumstances foster economic value creation, but that needs to be illustrated at the level of specific effects: it cannot be asserted a priori."

Turner's viewpoint caused consternation in the City of London, the world's largest financial market. A clear implication of his argument is that many people in the City and on Wall Street are the financial equivalent of slumlords or toll collectors in pin-striped suits. If they retired to their beach houses en masse, the rest of the economy would be fine, or perhaps even healthier.

I particularly enjoyed the characterization of banking as a utility:

Most people on Wall Street, not surprisingly, believe that they earn their keep, but at least one influential financier vehemently disagrees: Paul Woolley, a seventy-one-year-old Englishman who has set up an institute at the London School of Economics called the Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. "Why on earth should finance be the biggest and most highly paid industry when it's just a utility, like sewage or gas?" Woolley said to me when I met with him in London. "It is like a cancer that is growing to infinite size, until it takes over the entire body."

p.s. Thanks to Typekit, the New Yorker's web site now uses the same familiar typefaces that you find in the magazine. Looks great.

Crazy bad 80s reunion videosDEC 03

Somehow a Norwegian television station got a bunch of 80s celebrities -- people like Norm from Cheers, Tiffany, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Ricki Lake, Eddie the Eagle, Tanya Harding, Dolph Lundgren, Bananarama, Manuel from Fawlty Towers, etc. etc. -- to do promotional music videos for an 80s nostalgia show and the results are nothing less than a supertrainwreck. First they did "We Are the World":

And followed that up with "Let It Be":

Unbelievable. (via @sportsguy33)

The readability of online maps: it's the detailsDEC 03

A really nice analysis of the readability of maps from the three big online mapping companies: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. As you might expect, Google is the clear winner; they pay more attention to the little details than the other two services.

It turns out that Google uses a variety of techniques and visual tricks to help make its city labels much more readable than those of its competitors. From the use of different shadings to decluttering areas outside of major metro areas, it sure seems like Google has put a lot of thought into how it displays the labels appearing on its maps. I have no doubt that little touches like these are among the many reasons why Google remains the web's most popular mapping site.

The physical toll of fancy cocktailsDEC 03

With the current popularity of the craft cocktail bar, massive ice cubes, and vigorous cocktail shaking techniques, comes the risk of injury.

"When they're shaking a drink, it's very similar to the motion of a pitcher, or a tennis serve or throwing a football," said Lisa Raymond-Tolan, an occupational therapist in New York. "It's the same motion, back and forth, back and forth, rotating up high. You have a heavy weight at the end of the arm, out in the air. It's not just the shoulder. It's the wrist as well."

One of the bartenders at Varnish, Chris Bostick, shook his cocktails so vigorously that he ripped out the screws that had been inserted in his clavicle after a snowboarding injury. He was sidelined for weeks.

Maybe instead of Tommy John surgery, they'll start calling it Johnny Walker surgery.

Planetary sci-fiDEC 03

Matt Webb of BERG shares some of his favorite sci-fi about each of the planets. And the Sun (sort of)...no solar system sci-fi list would be complete without a mention of Sunshine.

In 2057, the Sun is dying, and the Earth is freezing. So the ship Icarus 2 goes on a mission to reignite it with a massive bomb. This is the movie Sunshine, and if you get a chance to see it, watch it on a big screen. The crew themselves watch the Sun close-up, awestruck, from a view-port the exact dimensions of a movie screen, so the Sun fills your picture too and you spend half the film bathing in powerful yellow light. Like some kind of church.

Although I didn't, Matt, appreciate the diss of Pluto. Never forget, my friend.

Zero to ten years timelapseDEC 02

Like Noah Kalina's Everyday but with a newborn baby girl aging 10 years.

(thx, matt)

Childhood isn't a raceDEC 02

Parents these days go crazy worrying about their kids' progress: Should she be reading? Should he be writing? She can't catch a ball! The kid down the street can say her numbers up to 100 but mine only knows 1 through 14. Magical Parenthood posted an article about what a four-year-old should know and it doesn't have anything to do with how well your kid can spell.

1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.

2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn't feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.

3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.

This advice for parents is gold:

That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children "advantages" that we're giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.

Discovered: a new form of lifeDEC 02

NASA's astrobiology announcement is that they've found a new kind of life that incorporates the normally toxic arsenic into its DNA.

Life like us uses a handful of basic elements in the majority of its biochemistry: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen for the most part. But phosphorus is also a critical element in two major ways: it's used as the backbone of the long, spiral-shaped DNA and RNA molecules (think of it as the winding support structure for a spiral staircase and you'll get the picture), and it's part of the energy transport mechanism for cells in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Without it, our cells would literally not be able to reproduce, and we'd be dead anyway if it were gone. There are many other ways phosphorus is used as well, including in cell membranes, bones, and so on. It's a key element for all forms of life.

[...]

Amazingly, using radioisotope-tagged molecules containing arsenic, they were able to find that the microbes incorporated the arsenic into their very DNA! It's hard to stress how shocking this is; as I understand it, saying something like that to a microbiologist without evidence would've had them slowly backing away from you and looking for weapons or an escape route.

I guessed wrong about what NASA was set to announce today, but the actual announcement is much more interesting than the mere discovery of extraterrestrial life. Aliens are inevitable -- we're going to find them sooner or later -- but a new kind of DNA, that's not something that happens every day. Exciting! (thx, jon)

Minimalist Doctor WhoDEC 02

Minimal Doctor Who

Only for Doctors one through six.

Chris Burden's latest project "a portrait of LA"DEC 02

For a piece called Metropolis II, artist Chris Burden is building a huge track and put 1200 Hot Wheels cars on it...the noise is deafening when they're all circulating.

It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In "Metropolis II," by his calculation, "every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city," Mr. Burden said. "It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It's quite intense."

(thx, aaron)

Law and orderDEC 02

A jury foreman in a criminal case describes his experience and what the jury ultimately decided (or actually, didn't decide).

These are the facts we were given as a jury, facts upon which we were to decide if a boy was guilty of a crime that would put him in prison for 10 years. We were admonished to consider all of the facts but nothing outside of them. Don't consider the sentence, or the age, or the race, or anything unrelated to what we heard while sitting in the juror box. Just focus on the facts that are presented. Yet, we were also told, time and again, that our Constitution is absolutely unwavering in its mission to protect the innocent, that no matter how clear-cut the evidence may seem, the burden of proof in criminal cases always, always, always falls on the prosecution. The boy sitting in that chair next to a pair of public defenders, possibly wearing borrowed clothes to look presentable in court, is innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Behind the scenes of The SimpsonsDEC 01

Here's Bill Oakley, a former writer and showrunner for The Simpsons, on how the show got made back in the show's golden years (seasons 4-8).

Twice a year, from at least season three 'til season eight, there'd be these story retreats where everybody would come and present their ideas for episodes. We'd get a big conference room in a hotel about a hundred yards from the office, and we'd go around and everybody would tell their ideas, one by one. It was sort of like opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning; we'd go around in a circle and everybody would have a turn or two.

It was always a huge treat to see. You had no idea what George Meyer (for instance) was going to say, and suddenly it was like this fantastic Simpsons episode pouring out of his mouth that you never dreamed of. And it was like, wow, this is where this stuff comes from.

Oakley also provided an example of a script as it went through all of its revisions on its way to the airwaves; it's the one where Principal Skinner gets fired and Bart tries to get him his job back.

Stopping the worldDEC 01

Oh, this is lovely. Someone took a high-speed camera and instead of pointing it at something fast, they put it on a fast-moving train and shot footage of the platform moving by.

Wonderful illustration of the concept of frames of reference. (via capn design)

To read laterDEC 01

Give Me Something to Read selects the best long form essays and articles from 2010. I've read a few of these, but not as many as I would have guessed. (via waxy)

Kim Jong-il looks at thingsDEC 01

A collection of photos of Dear Leader looking at things: corn, your desktop, wheat.

Kim Jong Il looking

Actually, I can't recall seeing a photo of Kim doing anything but looking at stuff. (thx, steve)

SpacelogDEC 01

Spacelog is taking the original NASA transcripts from early space missions and snazzing them up with a more compelling presentation. Here's the famous moment in the Apollo 13 mission:

Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a MAIN B BUS UNDERVOLT.

Wonderful stuff. The site is looking for help with getting more missions transcripts up...go here and scroll down to "Getting involved without technical knowledge". Although I think they'd get more people involved if they didn't just dump people into GitHub. (thx, the 50 people who sent this to me this morning)

Updates on previous entries for Nov 30, 2010*DEC 01

Has NASA discovered extraterrestrial life? orig. from Nov 29, 2010

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

Archives    November 2010 »    October 2010 »    September 2010 »

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