Entries for January 2013 (February 2013 »    March 2013 »    April 2013 »    Archives)

 

The world's fastest rugby playerJAN 31

Carlin Isles is one of the world's fastest men at the 100 meters but that wasn't good enough to make the US Olympic team. So he looked for other sports in which to make his mark and settled on rugby sevens. The difference in speed between him and the other players on the field is startling.

I saw this video back in December and didn't think much of it, aside from "wow, that dude is fast". But on Twitter the other day, Robin Sloan suggested it was Kottke-esque. Now that I've watched it again, I think I know what he was getting at.

People in tech talk a lot about innovation and disruption but there's a lot of hand-waving that happens when you attempt to pinpoint what those things mean. One of the reasons I enjoy following sports -- and in particular the sporting world's outliers (Messi, Jordan, Billy Beane, Rodman, Magnus Carlsen, Vonn, Belichick, Federer, knuckleball pitchers, Barry Sanders, Serena, etc.) -- is that you can see innovation and disruption in action, more or less directly. When Carlin Isles takes a pass from one of his teammates and blazes past the other team, it's clear he's playing an entirely different game than the other 13 players on the field and profiting handsomely from it...innovation results in disruption.

(Oh, and it's not that Isles is necessarily any good at rugby...that remains to be seen. But the combination of speed and size that he brings to the game is a disruptive innovation and opposing teams will have to change the way they play when he's on the field.)

Update: Like I said, it remains to be seen whether or not Isles has a big impact on rugby, but Jonah Lomu was a star rugby player who had a long-lasting influence on the game:

Lomu in his prime was not quite as fast as Isles (10.13s vs 10.8s in the 100 meters) but at 6'5" and 276 lbs, he had a brutal combination of pace and size. (via @dan_connolly)

The North Dakota oil boomJAN 31

This weekend's NY Times Magazine has a long piece on the oil boom happening right now in North Dakota.

It's hard to think of what oil hasn't done to life in the small communities of western North Dakota, good and bad. It has minted millionaires, paid off mortgages, created businesses; it has raised rents, stressed roads, vexed planners and overwhelmed schools; it has polluted streams, spoiled fields and boosted crime. It has confounded kids running lemonade stands: 50 cents a cup but your customer has only hundreds in his payday wallet. Oil has financed multimillion-dollar recreation centers and new hospital wings. It has fitted highways with passing lanes and rumble strips. It has forced McDonald's to offer bonuses and brought job seekers from all over the country - truck drivers, frack hands, pipe fitters, teachers, manicurists, strippers.

The Times also sent photographer Alec Soth to photograph and talk to people in the area.

Alex Soth

"Over and over again, almost every single conversation I had, I ended up talking about Walmart," says Soth, the photographer. "It's the center of the culture, in a lot of ways."

The operations there are so extensive that they can be seen in nighttime satellite photos.

Satellite view of the North Dakota oil fields

What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field - nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day -- double the output two years ago -- so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire ... to a disturbing degree. Literally.

(via @youngna)

How to find your stolen carJAN 31

Tyler Cowen gets the best email. Case in point is this advice from a former cab driver on the best way to get your stolen car back:

If your car is ever stolen, your first calls should be to every cab company in the city. You offer a $50 reward to the driver who finds it AND a $50 reward to the dispatcher on duty when the car is found. The latter is to encourage dispatchers on shift to continually remind drivers of your stolen car. Of course you should call the police too but first things first. There are a lot more cabs than cops so cabbies will find it first -- and they're more frequently going in places cops typically don't go, like apartment and motel complex parking lots, back alleys etc. Lastly, once the car is found, a swarm of cabs will descend and surround it because cabbies, like anyone else, love excitement and want to catch bad guys.

Read Bill Gates' annual letterJAN 31

Yesterday, I was part of a small group of journalists and bloggers that got to meet with Bill Gates for a little more than an hour. Gates was there to discuss the publication of his annual letter for 2013, which is a report of how things are going at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here are a few of my observations about the letter, the conversation, and Gates himself.

- First, the letter. It's very optimistic in tone and not without reason. Hearing bad news about the third-world is de rigueur, but Gates is obviously very proud of the progress being made in various places around the world. From the letter:

As 2015 approaches, the world is taking a hard look at how it is doing on the goals. Although we won't achieve them all, we've made amazing progress, and the goals have become a report card for how the world is performing against major problems affecting the poor. The MDG target of reducing extreme poverty by half has been reached ahead of the deadline, as has the goal of halving the proportion of people who lack access to safe drinking water. Living conditions for more than 200 million slum dwellers have also improved -- double the target. Some goals, however, were set at such an ambitious level that they will be missed. For instance, while we have reduced the number of mothers who die during childbirth by almost 50 percent -- which is incredible -- we will, however, fall short of the goal of a 75 percent reduction.

We're also not on track to meet one of the most critical goals -- reducing the number of children who die under the age of five by two-thirds. We've made substantial progress. The number of children who die has declined from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. While that means 14,000 fewer children around the world are dying every day than in 1990, we won't reach the two-thirds target by 2015.

Still, many individual countries are on track to achieve this target. One of them is Ethiopia, which used the MDGs to drive an overhaul of its primary health care system that has led to a dramatic decline in childhood deaths.

If you read the whole thing, you'll likely be surprised, as I was, at how much has been accomplished over the past 10-15 years.

- I asked him if he saw some trends that were not headed in a good direction and he replied that there weren't many. Two that he mentioned were the quality of governance in some areas of the world and the average income of families that kids are born into is falling (basically because the poor are having kids faster than everyone else). Gates indicated the governance issue is difficult to solve with money alone and that the second problem is being addressed through the Foundation's general efforts.

- Gates stated, with no small amount of dissatisfaction, that both education and energy are drastically underinvested in R&D.

- Over and over, in the letter and during the roundtable, Gates talked about the importance of measurement and results. I got the sense that before the Gates Foundation came along, money was pumped into charitable foundations and donors didn't have much sense what result their giving had, beyond that it had "done good". Gates is obviously running his foundation like a business, where instead of profits or number of Windows installs, the metrics are things like lives saved or children vaccinated.

- In person, Gates is very much like you'd expect: intense, passionate, and super smart. He spoke without notes and as an expert in a wide-ranging number of topics. He pulled so many different kinds of statistics off the top of his head that you'd be tempted to think he's making them up, but I don't think so.

- Gates reminds me a bit of NYC Mayor Bloomberg: he's likely fiscally conservative, socially liberal, but pragmatic above all.

Update: Tyler Cowen posted his notes from the meeting.

He is smart enough, and health-savvy enough, not to waste time with handshakes at the beginning of meetings. People as productive as Gates should not be required to shake hands, and the same can be said for people less productive than Gates.

Unbelievable photos of Beijing's toxic skyJAN 31

In Focus has an arresting series of the air pollution in Beijing and other parts of China...including a few photos you can click on to toggle between normal and supersmog.

Beijing Smog

Earlier in January, the air quality was literally off the charts for 18 hours in Beijing.

The Monster at the End of This TweetJAN 31

Sesame Street did a series of tweets the other day in the style of The Monster at the End of This Book, which is a favorite of mine and my kids.

Grover: That tweet, did it say there was a MONSTER at the end of it?

Grover: It did? Well, please do not retweet that tweet!

Grover: YOU RETWEETED THE TWEET!

PapermanJAN 30

Paperman accompanied Wreck-It Ralph in the theaters last year but was released online yesterday. The short film is nominated for an Oscar in part because of its aesthetic: it's a CGI-animated film from Disney that looks like it's hand drawn.

Director John Kahrs told Cartoon Brew that the origin of Paperman "really came out of working so much with Glen [Keane] on Tangled." After looking at the work of Keane -- a classic Disney animator who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin, among many other projects -- Kahrs found himself with a new appreciation for traditional animation and drawing techniques. "I thought, Why do we have to leave these drawings behind? Why can't we bring them back up to the front of the image again? Is there a way that CG can kinda carry along the hand drawn line in a way that we haven't done before?"

The answer was yes. It just required a technology that no one had actually created yet.

Reminds me a bit of what Wes Anderson did with th stop motion animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox...he went back to a more traditional look that made the whole thing look less polished than it might have with newer techniques.

Entire Gangnam Style video drawn by handAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 30

Well, this is amazing (in the way that things requiring a ton of organization, commitment, and time are amazing, not in the way life-saving vaccines are amazing). Artist etoilec1 drew the Gangnam Style video, the entire thing, and presented it as a flipbook. Here's his original Youtube where he says he had to remove the music because of copyright, so the embed below will likely not last long. Visit etoilec1's page for several Dragon Ball Z flipbooks.

(via ★stellar)

Can you fly a plane on Mars?JAN 30

Another fine installment of XKCD's What If? series: What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies?

Unfortunately, [the X-Plane simulator] is not capable of simulating the hellish environment near the surface of Venus. But physics calculations give us an idea of what flight there would be like. The upshot is: Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time, and then it would stop flying, and then stop being a plane.

(via stellar)

Top five truths you won't hear any US official admitJAN 30

Stephen Walt on what truths US foreign policy officials will never admit in public.

#2: "We don't actually care that much about human rights." Presidents, diplomats, and other politicians talk about human rights all the time, and both Congress and the Executive Branch often bully small countries over their human rights performance, especially when we have other differences with them). But when human rights concerns conflict with other interests, our ethical concerns take a back seat nearly every time. Most Americans didn't care when the U.S.-led sanctions program against Iraq caused the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqis (many of them children), and none of the senior officials who authorized torture during the Bush administration has faced indictment or even serious investigation (Just imagine how much we'd be howling if we suspected some foreign government had been waterboarding captive Americans!). The United States has plenty of allies whose human rights performance ranges from questionable to awful, and we continue to trade and invest in China despite its own lax human rights standards. I'm not suggesting that the U.S. government is totally indifferent to such concerns, of course; what I'm saying is that we are rarely willing to do very much or pay significant costs in order to advance human rights, unless our strategic interests run parallel. Like most countries, in short, we talk a better game on human rights than we actually deliver. But you're not going to hear many American politicians admit it.

(via digg)

Amazon is a charity run by the investment communityJAN 30

I love this description of Amazon by Matthew Yglesias:

That's because Amazon, as best I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers. The shareholders put up the equity, and instead of owning a claim on a steady stream of fat profits, they get a claim on a mighty engine of consumer surplus. Amazon sells things to people at prices that seem impossible because it actually is impossible to make money that way. And the competitive pressure of needing to square off against Amazon cuts profit margins at other companies, thus benefiting people who don't even buy anything from Amazon.

That's the beauty of low margins. (via @tcarmody)

Which sport's athletes are the best?JAN 30

Sports fans are always looking for new ways to argue about sports. This, from Jeff Ely, is a pretty fun game: which sport's athletes are better at their sport than other athletes are at their sports?

The thought experiment is to compare players across sports. I.e., are basketball players better at basketball than, say, snooker players are at playing snooker?

Unless you count being tall as one of the things NBA basketball players "do" I would say on the contrary that NBA basketball players must be among the worst at what they do in all of professional sports. The reason is simple: because height is so important in basketball, the NBA is drawing the top talent among a highly selected sub-population: those that are exceptionally tall. The skill distribution of the overall population, focusing on those skills that make a great basketball player like coordination, quickness, agility, accuracy; certainly dominate the distribution of the subpopulation from which the NBA draws its players.

Here's Ely's lists of such sports: table tennis, soccer, tennis, golf, and chess. This question is similar to another I asked awhile back: which athlete is better at their sport than almost anyone else is at anything at some point in the past 5-6 years?

Off the top of my head, possible candidates include Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods, Marta, Shaun White, Jimmie Johnson, and Annika Sörenstam.

There is also Joe Posnanski's question about which athlete you'd choose to play for your soul.

The question Posnanski is essentially asking is: who is the most dominant athlete of all time across any sport? But not quite that question...Babe Ruth was quite the slugger in his day, but he might not fare so well against modern pitching. Same with Wilt, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson, or even Gretzky. The game played is a factor as well. Aside from variants such as speed chess and Chess960, chess is chess and the board is the board...home field, wind, and teammates aren't really a factor. (Is chess a sport though? If so, I might take Kasparov against anyone.)

Love this stuff. (via marginal revolution)

102 Spectacular Nonfiction Stories from 2012JAN 29

Conor Friedersdorf's annual round-up of the best non-fiction journalism is one of the best best-ofs out there...and the 2012 edition is no exception.

There are, of course, worthy pieces of writing and reporting that escaped my attention in 2012, but I can assure you that all of the 102 stories listed below deserve wider attention-as do the authors of these stories. The featured bylines are linked to the authors' Byliner writer pages, which makes it easy to discover and read more of their excellent work. The stories are listed alphabetically by writer.

Gird your loins, Instapaper...so much good stuff to save here.

Downton Abbey game for Super NintendoJAN 29

Help Lord Grantham find his cigars, puff up pillows for Anna, and spy on other staff for Lady Mary in this "tastefully exciting" SNES version of Downton Abbey.

Game of tag has been going for 23 yearsJAN 29

Ten friends started playing tag in high school and just never stopped. Now they fly across the country, hide in the bushes, and sneak into houses to tag the other players.

"You're like a deer or elk in hunting season," says Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who sometimes locks the door of his classroom during off-periods and checks under his car before he gets near it.

One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. "Hey, Joe, you've got to check this out. You wouldn't believe what I just bought," he said, as he led the two out to his car.

What they didn't know was Sean Raftis, who was "It," had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee.

"I still feel bad about it," says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. "But I got Joe."

(via @torrez)

Steven Soderbergh on quitting the movie bizJAN 29

Director Steven Soderbergh is not making any more Hollywood movies and plans to focus on his painting, importing Bolivian liquor, reading more, and doing more theater/TV. This conversation with him is informative and delightful.

On the few occasions where I've talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, "What are the stories you want people to tell about you?" Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then-Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998's] Out of Sight after I'd had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he'd see me was when we screened the movie. If I'm an asshole, then I don't get that job. Character counts. That's a long way of saying, "If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that's a big plus."

(thx, david)

Lotus 1-2-3 is 30 years oldJAN 29

Dan Bricklin, the inventor of spreadsheet software in the form of VisiCalc, writes an appreciation of Lotus 1-2-3, which perfected and popularized spreadsheets, on the occasion of its 30th birthday.

While VisiCalc concentrated on just being able to do spreadsheets at all, Lotus 1-2-3 went to the next level and addressed the final printed output much better, with more number formats, variable column widths, long labels, and that very-hard-to-do-by-hand graphing. And it did all of this with greater speed than anything else. Speed and fluid operations matters, as the Palm Pilot later showed (with its instant page turning in response to taps), and then the Apple iOS products showed after that.

The code itself stood the test of time and for years beat out most other products running on the hardware for which it was designed. It wasn't until a platform switch occurred (GUI) that the torch was passed to the next dominant spreadsheet, Excel.

The team Mitch assembled to get the "full" product (including documentation, sales, etc.) out the door had some of the best positioned and most experienced (with personal computing) people in the world. He also worked with one of the most tied-in to the personal computing business venture capitalist, Ben Rosen. A dream team at the time and in hindsight.

Also, wow, this Lotus 1-2-3 promotional video from 1983 is amazing:

My dad had a copy of the first version of 1-2-3...we both used the hell out of it for a long time. (via @joeljohnson)

Surfer rides monster 100-foot waveJAN 29

There's some weird perspective stuff going on with this photo (do those waves break right on shore?) but holy crap look at the size of that fucking wave!

Garrett McNamara Nazare

The teeny speck speeding down that wall of water is Garrett McNamara, who already holds the world record for the largest wave ever surfed and will likely extend that record with this estimated 100-footer.

There's no video of the ride but in this promotional video, I think you can briefly see McNamara riding the monster wave at 38 seconds and perhaps again at 42 seconds.

Russian family isolated from other people for 40 yearsJAN 29

Crazy article from the Smithsonian about a Russian family that disappeared into the Siberian wilderness in 1936 and had no contact with other people for more than 40 years. In the process, they missed World War II, the Moon landing, and the start of the Cold War.

...beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish-bark, poles, planks. If it hadn't been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it.... Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.

The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. He looked frightened and was very attentive.... We had to say something, so I began: 'Greetings, grandfather! We've come to visit!'

The old man did not reply immediately.... Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: 'Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.'

Super fascinating. This short documentary (in Russian) shows something of how the Lykov's lived. (via @davidchang)

A history of the "epic fail"JAN 28

In a new ebook called Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever published by The Millions, Mark O'Connell traces the history of futile culture-making.

In this original e-book from the online magazine The Millions, Mark O'Connell, one of our funniest and most adroit young literary critics, sets out to answer these questions. He uncovers the historical context for our affinity for terrible art, tracing it back to Shakespeare and discovering the early-20th-century novelist who was dinner-party fodder for C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He tracks the ascendancy of a once esoteric phenomenon into the mainstream, where "what Marshall McLuhan famously referred to as the Global Village now anoints a new Global Village Idiot every other week." He offers in-depth accounts of Rebecca Black, Tommy Wiseau, and the "Monkey Jesus"... and he probes the roots of his own obsession with terrible art. In this charming and insightful investigation into why we laugh, O'Connell not only spins a good tale, but he emerges as our leading analyst of the "so bad it's good" phenomenon. And his discoveries may make you think twice the next time someone passes along a link to the latest, greatest "Epic Fail."

Here's an excerpt.

Social media's 2000-year historyJAN 28

Tom Standage's upcoming book, which we have to unfairly wait until October for, is called Writing on the Wall: Social Media -- The First Two Thousand Years.

Papyrus rolls and Twitter have much in common: They were their generation's signature means of "instant" communication. Indeed, as Tom Standage reveals in his scintillating new book, social media is anything but a new phenomenon. From the papyrus letters that Cicero and other Roman statesmen used to exchange news across the Empire to the rise of hand-printed tracts of the Reformation to the pamphlets that spread propaganda during the American and French revolutions, Standage chronicles the increasingly sophisticated ways people shared information with each other, spontaneously and organically, down the centuries.

I kinda wish he would have called it The Victorian Internet 2: Electric Boogaloo. A couple of excerpts/adaptations from the book have already made it out into the world: social networking in 17th century English coffeehouses and how Martin Luther's message went viral.

17-year-old LL Cool J plays a Maine gymnasium in 1985JAN 28

In June 1985, 17-year-old LL Cool J and his DJ Cut Creator played a gymnasium at Colby College in Waterville, Maine with maybe 120 people in attendance. At this point, his debut album hadn't even come out yet and rapping/scratching was not widely known, so LL and CC give the unenthusiastic audience a little demonstration of what it's all about.

This is amazing. The footage was digitized from VHS by the show's organizer's son and he adds more information about it in the comments:

LL was paid $500 for the show. Since he was the only rap act, he was worried it would a be short performance, so my dad suggested he fill it in with the scratching and beat boxing.

LL was signed to Def Jam. My dad tried to get RUN DMC, but could not afford them, so Def Jam told him he should bring up LL Cool J.

(via @sampotts)

Richard Feynman and the Space Shuttle Challenger investigationJAN 28

The Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff 27 years ago today. Physicist Richard Feynman had a hand in determining the reason for the disaster.

I'm an explorer, ok? I get curious about everything and I want to investigate all kinds of stuff.

Here's Feynman's appendix to The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident in which he dissents with the majority opinion of the commission. His conclusion:

If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).

Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.

In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?

Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Clear thought, clear writing. Feynman was perhaps the most efficient mechanism ever conceived for consuming complexity and pumping out simplicity. (via @ptak)

The Mull of Kintyre testJAN 28

The British Board of Film Classification was said to have an informal rule called the Mull of Kintyre test about the erectness of penises shown in films and videos. If a man's penis was at an angle greater than Scotland's Kintyre peninsula, you couldn't show it.

Mull Of Kintyre Test

The BBFC would not permit the general release of a film or video if it depicted a phallus erect to the point that the angle it made from the vertical (the "angle of the dangle", as it was often known) was larger than that of the Mull of Kintyre, Argyll and Bute, on maps of Scotland.

The BBFC has denied the test was ever applied. Sometimes a Scottish peninsula is just a Scottish peninsula. (via @josueblanco)

Chainsaw-wielding robotJAN 28

This robot with a chainsaw for an arm makes a few cuts into a log and, voila, chairs.

More info here. What's so terrifying about furniture making? Now imagine this robot with tiny chainsaws on its arms leading a army of BigDog-mounted noodle-slicing robots and sleep well tonight, suckers! (via @curiousoctopus)

The drama of Amtrak's Quiet CarJAN 27

Tim Kreider on the how Amtrak's Quiet Car isn't all that quiet sometimes.

Eventually I found myself on the wrong side of the fight. I was sitting in my seat, listening to music at a moderate volume on headphones and writing on my laptop, when the man across the aisle -- the kind you'd peg as an archivist or musicologist -- signaled to me.

"Pardon me, sir," he said. "Maybe you're not aware of it, but your typing is disturbing people around you. This is the Quiet Car, where we come to be free from people's electronic bleeps and blatts." He really said "bleeps and blatts."

"I am a devotee of the Quiet Car," I protested. And yes, I said "devotee." We really talk like this in the Quiet Car; we're readers. "I don't talk on my cellphone or have loud conversations -- "

"I'm not talking about cellphone conversations," he said, "I'm talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive."

How casinos fight cheatersAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 25

The Verge has a long look into casinos which includes an interesting section on the first blackjack computers. It also describes the main strategy employed by casinos to prevent and catch cheating: a shit ton of cameras.

They keep a close eye on the tables, since that's where cheating's most likely to occur. With 1080p high-definition cameras, surveillance operators can read cards and count chips -- a significant improvement over earlier cameras. And though facial recognition doesn't yet work reliably enough to replace human operators, Whiting's excited at the prospects of OCR. It's already proven useful for identifying license plates. The next step, he says, is reading cards and automatically assessing a player's strategy and skill level. In the future, maybe, the cameras will spot card counters and other advantage players without any operator intervention. (Whiting, a former advantage player himself, can often spot such players. Rather than kick them out, as some casinos did in the past, Aria simply limits their bets, making it economically disadvantageous to keep playing.)

With over a thousand cameras operating 24/7, the monitoring room creates tremendous amounts of data every day, most of which goes unseen. Six technicians watch about 40 monitors, but all the feeds are saved for later analysis. One day, as with OCR scanning, it might be possible to search all that data for suspicious activity. Say, a baccarat player who leaves his seat, disappears for a few minutes, and is replaced with another player who hits an impressive winning streak. An alert human might spot the collusion, but even better, video analytics might flag the scene for further review. The valuable trend in surveillance, Whiting says, is toward this data-driven analysis (even when much of the job still involves old-fashioned gumshoe work). "It's the data," he says, "And cameras now are data. So it's all data. It's just learning to understand that data is important."

Ultimately, catching cheaters is a small part of what casino surveillance teams do. There simply aren't that many cheats out there, compared to the number of purse-snatchers and pickpockets, the ordinary criminals that people like Ted Whiting deal with almost every day. When it comes to cheating, Whiting says, "We're never going to be ahead. Remember that people who get paid to catch the bad guys get paid whether they catch them or not. The cheats don't get paid unless they figure it out. So they're motivated, and they've succeeded. But once they do, we go full in."

Horn swarms and Manhattan's noisy historyJAN 25

During a walk with noise historian Hillel Schwartz, Peter Andrey Smith discovers that parts of Manhattan, which many think of now as quite deafening, used to be even noisier.

"There was a constant flotilla of barges taking construction detritus away from the city, toward the Jersey shore," he said. "All of these Irish tugboat captains probably knew the service staff, and they would be signaling to them, 'Hi, I'm coming by!' But they would be signaling with these huge horns! And they would be signaling late at night, also, to their complement of workers, who were now on shore, drinking heavily in a nearby tavern: 'O.K., time to call it quits!' The number of horns recorded over the course of an evening amounted to thousands. I hesitate to call them toots. They were horn swarms."

A bunch of early color photos of ParisJAN 25

In December, I linked to a small collection of color photos of Paris taken in the 1910s and 1920s. Here's a much more extensive collection of Parisian color photography. Some of my favorites:

Paris Color Photos 01

Paris Color Photos 02

Paris Color Photos 03

The middle photo is of the flower market at Les Halles in 1914, which would be quite a thing to have experienced. (thx, julien)

Inside Llewyn DavisJAN 25

Here's the trailer for the new Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis.

The film stars relative newcomer Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman and according to IMDB, will be out in February. (via viewsource)

What can hospitals learn from The Cheesecake Factory?JAN 25

From back in August, Atul Gawande visits a Cheesecake Factory and wonders if the combination of "quality control, cost control, and innovation" achieved by chain restaurants can offer lessons to hospitals and other health care organizations.

The company's target last year was at least 97.5-per-cent efficiency: the managers aimed at throwing away no more than 2.5 per cent of the groceries they bought, without running out. This seemed to me an absurd target. Achieving it would require knowing in advance almost exactly how many customers would be coming in and what they were going to want, then insuring that the cooks didn't spill or toss or waste anything. Yet this is precisely what the organization has learned to do. The chain-restaurant industry has produced a field of computer analytics known as "guest forecasting."

"We have forecasting models based on historical data-the trend of the past six weeks and also the trend of the previous year," Gordon told me. "The predictability of the business has become astounding." The company has even learned how to make adjustments for the weather or for scheduled events like playoff games that keep people at home.

A computer program known as Net Chef showed Luz that for this one restaurant food costs accounted for 28.73 per cent of expenses the previous week. It also showed exactly how many chicken breasts were ordered that week ($1,614 worth), the volume sold, the volume on hand, and how much of last week's order had been wasted (three dollars' worth). Chain production requires control, and they'd figured out how to achieve it on a mass scale.

As a doctor, I found such control alien-possibly from a hostile planet. We don't have patient forecasting in my office, push-button waste monitoring, or such stringent, hour-by-hour oversight of the work we do, and we don't want to. I asked Luz if he had ever thought about the contrast when he went to see a doctor. We were standing amid the bustle of the kitchen, and the look on his face shifted before he answered.

"I have," he said. His mother was seventy-eight. She had early Alzheimer's disease, and required a caretaker at home. Getting her adequate medical care was, he said, a constant battle.

This piece was on several best-of-the-year longreads lists and deservedly so. But the Factory's 3000-calorie plate of pasta will probably not help the state of American health care.

The implications of Amazon's razor-thin marginsJAN 24

An insightful piece by a former Amazon employee about how the company's low margin strategy helps them remain competitive.

Attacking the market with a low margin strategy has other benefits, though, ones often overlooked or undervalued. For one thing, it strongly deters others from entering your market. Study disruption in most businesses and it almost always comes from the low end. Some competitor grabs a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder and pulls itself upstream. But if you're already sitting on that lowest rung as the incumbent, it's tough for a disruptor to cling to anything to gain traction.

An incumbent with high margins, especially in technology, is like a deer that wears a bullseye on its flank. Assuming a company doesn't have a monopoly, its high margin structure screams for a competitor to come in and compete on price, if nothing else, and it also hints at potential complacency. If the company is public, how willing will they be to lower their own margins and take a beating on their public valuation?

Because technology, both hardware and software, tends to operate on an annual update cycle, every year you have to worry about a competitor leapfrogging you in that cycle. One mistake and you can see a huge shift in customers to a competitor.

Not having to sweat a constant onslaught of new competitors is really underrated. You can allocate your best employees to explore new lines of business, you can count on a consistent flow of cash from your more mature product or service lines, and you can focus your management team on offense. In contrast, most technology companies live in constant fear that they'll be disrupted with every product or service refresh. The slightest misstep can turn a stock market darling into a company struggling for its very existence.

The challenges of conversational journalismJAN 24

The most visible journalism these days -- aka the loudest journalism, namely cable news, pop culture blogs, tabloid magazines, TMZ, Buzzfeed, HuffPo, talk radio, etc. -- mostly takes the form of opinionated conversation: professional media people discussing current events much like you and your friends might at a crowded lunch table. A side effect of this way of doing journalism is that you rarely hear from anyone who actually is an expert on the subject of interest at any particular time. That approach doesn't scale; finding and talking to experts is time consuming and experts without axes to grind are boring anyway. So what you get instead are people who are experts at talking about things about which they are inexpert.1

And the challenge for listeners/readers/viewers here is obvious: non-experts can completely miss stuff that's obvious to an expert. Take the two recent stories of our times: Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend and Beyonce's potential inaugural lip-sync.2 Literally hundreds of thousands of hours of the news media's time were taken up over the past week discussing whether or not these things occurred, who knew what and when, and so forth. And that's the appeal, right? Speculation is fun and people want their news to be fun.

But a little expertise is enlightening. Ilana Gershon, an Indiana University assistant professor, spent two and a half years doing fieldwork among Samoan migrants. Manti Te'o is Samoan. In a piece at Culture Digitally, Gershon provides some valuable context to the Te'o hoax.

None of the news stories are commenting on the fact that Manti Te'o is Samoan. The reporters are wondering whether he was truly hoaxed, or whether he was complicit. Why didn't he ever insist on visiting his girlfriend in person? They had been in touch for four years after all -- chatting by Facebook message, texting, calling each other on the phone. How could he not be a bit suspicious? But in wondering all these questions, they never ask what his cultural background might be -- what ideas about truth and verification did he learn growing up in a Samoan migrant community, especially one that was so religious (in his case, Mormon)?

So as an ethnographer of Samoan migrants, I want to say that I heard a number of stories that sound almost exactly like Manti Te'o's story -- naïve Christian golden boys who had been fooled by other Samoans pretending to be dewy-eyed innocents. Leukemia was even a theme, I guess Samoan pranksters keep turning to the same diseases over and over again. But I did this fieldwork before Facebook or cell phones, and even before email became all that widespread outside of college circles. All the stories I heard involved husky voices on telephones, and maybe a letter or two.

Read the whole thing. Interesting, right? Te'o didn't have to be in on it. The whole crazy thing makes sense once you take the cultural context into account.

As for Beyonce, both audio engineer Ian Shepherd and musician Mike Doughty think that, in their expert opinions, she was not lip-syncing the national anthem. Shepherd:

When she starts singing, her voice is hard to hear -- the microphone gain is too low. The sound-man quickly corrects this -- but if we were listening to a recording this wouldn't happen -- in fact back-up recordings are used to solve exactly this kind of problem.

At 1'16'' in the video above, she tilts her head slightly closer to the mic and the sound gets suddenly more bassy. This is because of an acoustic effect known as the "proximity effect".

At 1'52'' she takes out one of her earpieces. Some people are citing this as more evidence she was lip-syncing, but in fact it's what singers do when they're having trouble hearing the pitch of their own voice through the earpiece. By taking it out, she can hear her own voice more clearly and sing in tune more easily. (In fact, if the pre-recorded vocal was going to her earpiece, she may well have been finding it distracting.)

And Doughty:

Most dramatically, sound waves actually blow around in the wind. Sometimes, when I do a big outdoor festival, I sound-check in calm weather, but the wind picks up when the actual show begins, taking my voice and throwing it someplace other than where I'm expecting it. It's easy to get confused. A politician might choke, like, "I'm not speaking right! Or the sound's not right! I better be super loud! Or use the mic differently!" That would be a Howard Dean moment. If you're the sound engineer at the inauguration, a big part of your gig is preventing Howard Dean moments.

Beyoncé, being a samurai, clearly came expecting that possibility. So she compensates: She sings the word "bursting" a little too close to the mic, causing a little bit of discernible distortion -- it's like a subtler version of when you're talking into the mic on your phone, and you suddenly get loud, or too close, and for a moment the voice gets kind of larger and fuzzier.

When she pulls out her left earpiece -- more on that in a moment -- she's adjusting how she sounds to herself, and she subsequently pulls the mic further from her face. Notice how the echo suddenly gets more obvious -- for a split second, the vocal sounds like it's going through a tin can.

Right after that, you can tell that the sound person is scrambling to adjust the sound, because she's adjusted her mic position. It sounds noticeably different until "Oh say does that star-spangled banner still wave," when the sound is dialed in again.

Doughty, because he is a performer himself, manages to be both expert and entertaining:

For me, the most compelling evidence that Beyoncé was doing it for real is the HELL YES smile on Joe Biden's face. Now, that is, clearly, a dude standing two feet from an electrifying lady singing like a motherfucker.

Pretty convincing in both cases, more so than thousands of hours of inexpert opinion anyway. More like this, please...and sooner in the process.

[1] And I should know...look at me prattling away about journalism and expertise (and food and parenting and politics) like I know what I'm talking about. I am an expert on people being inexpert experts.

[2] Both "even if it's fake, it's real" moments at some level, BTW.

The corner store gourmetJAN 24

Speaking of haute fast food, Jessica Saia creates the finest in bodega-to-table cuisine with the likes of Fritos and SPAM.

Bodega To Table

Seared Spam with Tostitos queso-dip mashed potatoes and canned green beans. Topped with a Flamin' Hot Cheetos and Corn Nut salsa verde.

I want that into my mouth. Look at the sear marks on that SPAM! (via @mmpackeatwrite)

Frozen leaky water towerJAN 24

Took this from my office window just now. The water tower on the right has sprung a leak and the water has frozen due to the cold.

Leaky Water Tower

Apple CFO Jerry Seinfeld: "What's the deal with our stock price?"JAN 24

Apple reported their Q4 2012 financial results yesterday and here's what Apple CFO Jerry Seinfeld had to say about it.

OK, I need to wrap this up. But first, raise your hand if you use a computer. That's what I thought. Have you tried doing anything without a computer lately? It's impossible. You want money from the bank? ATM computer. You want gas for your car? Pump computer. You looking for a news story explaining why your shares dropped 5% even though our gross margin was over 40%? Computer computer.

Apple CEO George Costanza, who is also CEO and chairman of Vandelay Industries, added, "George is getting upset!"

Penn Jillette: Let's end religionJAN 24

In response to "Is Atheism a Religion", Penn Jillette answers with a resounding NO.

Religion is faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Belief without evidence cannot be shared. Faith is a feeling. Love is also a feeling, but love makes no universal claims. Love is pure. The lover reports on his or her feelings and needs nothing more. Faith claims knowledge of a world we share but without evidence we can share. Feeling love is beautiful. Feeling the earth is 6,000 years old is stupid.

Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have "God" on its side. We don't need to replace tribalism with anything other than love for all humanity. Let's do that, okay?

(via @dens)

I'm, like, Unprofessional basicallyJAN 23

I write like I talk. Or at least I thought I did. But after listening to the first 10 minutes of this episode of Unprofessional I did with Lex Friedman and Dave Wiskus, that is untrue. Because I, you know, actually talk, like, like this, basically. You know. Yeah. Gonna have to, um, work on that if, basically, you know, I'm gonna keep doing, like, podcasts. Basically. But Lex and Dave sound so silky smooth so you should give it a listen in spite of, you know, me.

The Internet's Jason Kottke joins Lex and Dave to talk digital friendships, the future of keeping in touch, and what life would be like without connectivity.

Junior Seau's family sues NFL over concussionsJAN 23

The deceased former NFL player's family joins more than 6000 people who have sued the NFL over head injuries in the past few years.

"We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE," the family said in a statement released to the AP. "While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.

"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."

Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior's ex-wife; Junior's children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau's estate.

The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits "is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one's health."

It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.

Seau is a pretty boldfaced name...I wonder what effect this will have on public perception, etc.

A tour of NASA's fake lunar surface in ArizonaJAN 23

Cinder Lake NASA

At a training site in Arizona called Cinder Lake, NASA created a "simulated lunar environment" for the purpose of testing lunar rovers and other pieces of equipment.

At the end of a four-day period of controlled explosions, USGS scientists had succeeded in creating a 500 square foot "simulated lunar environment" in Northern Arizona -- forty-seven craters of between five and forty feet in diameter designed to duplicate at a 1:1 scale a specific location (and future Apollo 11 landing site) on the moon, in a region called the Mare Tranquillitatis.

If they faked the Moon landing, this is probably where they did it.

Cheese fire in Norway tunnel burns for 5 daysAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 23

Cheese Fire

A truck carrying 27 tons of brunost, a Norwegian brown cheese, caught fire in a tunnel in Narvik on Thursday and burned with gooey rage until Monday. Closed during the fire, because who likes driving through tunnels of flame, the tunnel will take about a week to repair.

"This high concentration of fat and sugar is almost like petrol if it gets hot enough," said Viggo Berg, a policeman.

Brown cheese is made from whey, contains up to 30 percent fat and has a caramel taste.

"I didn't know that brown cheese burns so well," said Kjell Bjoern Vinje at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

He added that in his 15 years in the administration, this was the first time cheese had caught fire on Norwegian roads.

(via @aaron_foster)

Note: Illustration by Chris Piascik...prints & more are available.

Let's build a massive meta McDonald's in Times SquareJAN 23

Writing for The Awl, Jeb Boniakowski shares his vision for a massive McDonald's complex in Times Square that serves food from McDonald's restaurants from around the world, offers discontinued food items (McLean Deluxe anyone?), and contains a food lab not unlike David Chang's Momofuku test kitchen.

The central attraction of the ground floor level is a huge mega-menu that lists every item from every McDonald's in the world, because this McDonald's serves ALL of them. There would probably have to be touch screen gadgets to help you navigate the menu. There would have to be whole screens just dedicated to the soda possibilities. A concierge would offer suggestions. Celebrities on the iPad menus would have their own "meals" combining favorites from home ("Manu Ginobili says 'Try the medialunas!'") with different stuff for a unique combination ONLY available at McWorld. You could get the India-specific Chicken Mexican Wrap ("A traditional Mexican soft flat bread that envelops crispy golden brown chicken encrusted with a Mexican Cajun coating, and a salad mix of iceberg lettuce, carrot, red cabbage and celery, served with eggless mayonnaise, tangy Mexican Salsa sauce and cheddar cheese." Wherever possible, the menu items' descriptions should reflect local English style). Maybe a bowl of Malaysian McDonald's Chicken Porridge or The McArabia Grilled Kofta, available in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East. You should watch this McArabia ad for the Middle Eastern-flavored remix of the "I'm Lovin' It" song if for nothing else.

And I loved his take on fast food as molecular gastronomy:

How much difference really is there between McDonald's super-processed food and molecular gastronomy? I used to know this guy who was a great chef, like his restaurant was in the Relais & Châteaux association and everything, and he'd always talk about how there were intense flavors in McDonald's food that he didn't know how to make. I've often thought that a lot of what makes crazy restaurant food taste crazy is the solemn appreciation you lend to it. If you put a Cheeto on a big white plate in a formal restaurant and serve it with chopsticks and say something like "It is a cornmeal quenelle, extruded at a high speed, and so the extrusion heats the cornmeal 'polenta' and flash-cooks it, trapping air and giving it a crispy texture with a striking lightness. It is then dusted with an 'umami powder' glutamate and evaporated-dairy-solids blend." People would go just nuts for that. I mean even a Coca-Cola is a pretty crazy taste.

I love both mass-produced processed foods and the cooking of chefs like Grant Achatz & Ferran Adrià. Why is the former so maligned while the latter gets accolades when they're the same thing? (And simultaneously not the same thing at all, but you get my gist.) Cheetos are amazing. Oscar Meyer bologna is amazing. Hot Potato Cold Potato is amazing. Quarter Pounders with Cheese are amazing. Adrià's olives are amazing. Coca-Cola is amazing. (Warhol: " A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.") WD50's Everything Bagel is amazing. Cheerios are amazing. All have unique flavors that don't exist in nature -- you've got to take food apart and put it back together in a different way to find those new tastes.

Some of these fancy chefs even have an appreciation of mass produced processed foods. Eric Ripert of the 4-star Le Berdardin visited McDonald's and Burger King to research a new burger for one of his restaurants. (Ripert also uses processed Swiss cheese as a baseline flavor at Le Bernardin.) David Chang loves instant ramen and named his restaurants after its inventor. Ferran Adrià had his own flavor of Lay's potato chips in Spain. Thomas Keller loves In-N-Out burgers. Grant Achatz eats Little Caesars pizza.

Apollo 16 lunar rover dash camJAN 23

I had no idea there was footage shot on the Moon from the perspective of a lunar rover passenger...basically a lunar rover dash cam. It's the second half of this short video:

Amazing. The first part shows the rover speeding off (at about 6 miles/hr), being put through its paces. From the transcript of the "Grand Prix":

124:58:52 Duke: The suspension system on that thing is fantastic!

124:58:54 England: That sounds good. We sound like we probably got enough of the Grand Prix. We're willing to let you go on from here. Call that a (complete) Grand Prix.

124:59:03 Duke: Okay. (Pause) Man, that was all four wheels off the ground, there. Okay. Max stop.

124:59:12 Young: Okay. I don't want to do that.

124:59:13 Duke: Okay. Excuse me.

124:59:16 Young: They say that's a no-no.

124:59:22 Duke: Okay, DAC off; Mark. Okay, John. DAC's off.

124:59:27 Young: Okay. I have a lot of confidence in the stability of this contraption.

124:59:30 Duke: Me, too.

124:59:32 England: Sounds great.

Also, we took a fucking car to the Moon! Three times!

Account of a trip to North KoreaJAN 23

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current Executive Chairman of Google, recently visited North Korea and took his daughter Sophie along. Upon her return, she wrote up a very interesting account of her trip. Her report contained a surprising number of Twitter-length nuggets of goodness1; here are some of them:

Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.

The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.

Nothing I'd read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

Most of the buildings they visited -- offices, libraries, etc. -- were not heated:

They're proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath

They weren't allowed to have mobile phones, there were no alarm clocks, and they were told their rooms were probably bugged:

One person suggested announcing "I'm awake" to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.

It's like The Truman Show, at country scale.

Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting.

You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts.

There is only revolutionary art. There is only revolutionary music.

I was delighted to learn that [Kim Jong Il] and I shared a taste in laptops: 15" Macbook Pro.

No one was actually doing anything.

They're building products for a market that doesn't exist.

It's a fascinating piece and worth putting up with the weird 2-column layout to read the whole thing.

[1] In fact, almost every sentence is tweet-length. Do young people naturally write in SMS/tweet-length sentences these days?

Worrisome Facebook Graph Search queriesJAN 23

Facebook's new Graph Search can be used to find some very unusual, disturbing, and potentially dangerous things. Like "Married people who like Prostitutes", "Family members of people who live in China and like Falun Gong", and "Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran".

Please don't help my kidsJAN 23

One parent's plea to the other parents at the playground: please don't help my kids.

They're not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can't do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What's more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it.

In the meantime, they can use the stairs. I want them to tire of their own limitations and decide to push past them and put in the effort to make that happen without any help from me.

It is not my job -- and it is certainly not yours -- to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage.

If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it.

It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.

(via @delfuego)

Possible test for CTE in living patientsJAN 22

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that could dramatically change the way pro football is played in the future (if it's played at all), can't be identified in victims until after death. That makes it difficult to prove (or disprove) the connection between pro football, concussions, and death from CTE. But researchers have discovered a possible technique that could diagnose CTE in living patients.

Last year five retired N.F.L. players who were 45 years and older and suffered from mood swings, depression and cognitive problems were given PET, or positron emission tomography, scans. The authors of the study said those scans revealed tau protein deposits in their brains, a signature of C.T.E. While not definitive, the distribution of tau in the retired players was consistent with those found in the autopsies of players who had C.T.E.

If it's actually possible, this could be huge. Many more players, current and former, can be tested and diagnosed and if CTE was found regularly and consistently, you'd think that insurance companies would flee from the NFL like rats leaving a sinking ship and football would have to adapt (to be more like soccer? flag football?) or die.

Why the Moon landing wasn't fakedJAN 22

Filmmaker S.G. Collins argues that in 1969, it was easier to send people to the Moon than to fake the landing in a studio. Technologically speaking, it was impossible to shoot that video anywhere other than the surface of the Moon. Which sounds crazy.

(via devour)

People are awesome 2013AARON COHEN  ·  JAN 22

The People are Awesome videos usually come out in October (2010, 2011), but I'll accept it a couple months late. Four and a half minutes of people doing awesome things.

(via ★acoleman)

How to efficiently sort socksJAN 22

From Stack Overflow, a question about how to efficient sort a pile of socks.

Yesterday I was pairing the socks from the clean laundry, and figured out the way I was doing it is not very efficient. I was doing a naive search -- picking one sock and "iterating" the pile in order to find its pair. This requires iterating over n/2 * n/4 = n^2/8 socks on average.

As a computer scientist I was thinking what I could do? sorting (according to size/color/...) of course came into mind to achieve O(NlogN) solution.

And everyone gets it wrong. The correct answer is actually:

1) Throw all your socks out.

2) Go to Uniqlo and buy 15 identical pairs of black socks.

3) When you want to wear socks, pick any two out of the drawer.

4) When you notice your socks are wearing out, goto step 1.

QED

Legal analysis of Bilbo's contract in The HobbitJAN 22

In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins signs a contract with a company of dwarves to serve as their burglar in their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a dragon. Lawyer James Daily analyzed the contract in detail for Wired.

Even in the book's version we see an issue: the dwarves accept Bilbo's "offer" but then proceed to give terms. This is not actually an acceptance but rather a counter-offer, since they're adding terms. In the end it doesn't matter because Bilbo effectively accepts the counter-offer by showing up and rendering his services as a burglar, but the basic point is that the words of a contract do not always have the legal effect that they claim to have. Sometimes you have to look past the form to the substance.

See also How valid is the implied legal advice in Jay-Z's "99 Problems"?

Crossword author uses puzzle to reveal he's dyingJAN 22

Long-time crossword puzzle builder John Graham (aka Araucaria) is dying of esophageal cancer and used a crossword puzzle in the Guardian to reveal the news.

Above cryptic crossword No 25,842 sat a set of special instructions: "Araucaria," it said, "has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15".

Those who solved the puzzle found the answer to 18 was cancer, to 19 oesophagus, and to 13 15 palliative care. The solutions to some of the other clues were: Macmillan, nurse, stent, endoscopy, and sunset.

Speaking from his home in Cambridgeshire, Araucaria said this particular puzzle had not taken him very long, adding that a crossword had seemed the most fitting way to make the announcement.

"It seemed the natural thing to do somehow," he said. "It just seemed right."

(via @daveg)

Obama's overlooked war and lethal PresidencyJAN 22

Tom Junod has been on the drone beat since writing The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama in July.

Sure, we as a nation have always killed people. A lot of people. But no president has ever waged war by killing enemies one by one, targeting them individually for execution, wherever they are. The Obama administration has taken pains to tell us, over and over again, that they are careful, scrupulous of our laws, and determined to avoid the loss of collateral, innocent lives. They're careful because when it comes to waging war on individuals, the distinction between war and murder becomes a fine one. Especially when, on occasion, the individuals we target are Americans and when, in one instance, the collateral damage was an American boy.

Individual targetting isn't exclusively done by military drones, but they are the favored method. Junod notes that even as Obama said that "a decade of war is now ending" in his inauguration speech, a drone strike killed three suspected Al Qaeda members in Yemen.

President Obama's second inaugural was supposed to sound something like Lincoln's: the speech of a man tired of war, and eager to move the nation beyond its bloody reach. In truth, it was the speech of a man who has perfected a form of war that can be written off as a kind of peace. He was able to put the pain of war in the past because his efforts to expand painless war have come to fruition.

Here's the full report on the recent Yemeni strikes from the AP:

An American drone strike on Monday on a car east of Sana, the capital, killed three people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda, said Yemeni security officials. On Saturday, two American drone strikes killed eight people in Marib Province. Yemen, aided by the United States, has been battling the local branch of Al Qaeda. The United States rarely comments on its military role in Yemen but has acknowledged targeting Qaeda militants in the past.

Dangerous dangerous precedent here. If George W. Bush were doing this sort of thing, we'd be marching in the streets about it. Why does Obama get a free pass? (And on Bradley Manning? And on Guantanamo?) Anyone in the press want to ask the President about the legality & moral stickiness of drone strikes at his next press conference?

The Postal Service to reuniteJAN 22

The musical duo, who only ever released the one album, will play Coachella and some other dates. But no new album. Yet.

After years of inactivity, the group's website now features a graphic that reads, "The Postal Service 2013." As part of the reunion, Sub Pop is prepping a deluxe edition of "Give Up" next month to commemorate the album's 10-year anniversary, Billboard has learned. Since being released on Feb. 19, 2003, the set became Sub Pop's second highest-selling album, next to Nirvana's "Bleach."

(via @matthewbaldwin)

Movie filmed entirely in Disney theme parks premieres at SundanceAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 21

'Escape from Tomorrow' is a film by Randy Moore shot secretly at Disneyland and Disney World. Part of the buzz around the movie is that no one can imagine Disney allowing the movie to be released.

To attempt to describe the plot of "Escape" is to go down a rabbit hole as disorienting as any amusement park ride. Basically, the film is about a down-on-his luck fortysomething father (Roy Abramsohn) on the last day of a Disney World vacation with his henpecking wife and their two angelic children. As he takes his children to various attractions, the father is haunted by disturbing imagery; he is also, in the meantime (and with his children in tow), tailing two young flirtatious French girls around the park. Airy musical compositions you might find in classic Hollywood films play over many of these scenes, giving a light shading to the darker moments.

Moore shot the movie over 25 days and said production was never stopped by anyone inside the park.

To make the movie, Moore wouldn't print out script pages or shot sequences for the 25 days he was filming on Disney turf, instead keeping all the info on iPhones. This way, when actors and crew were looking down between takes, passersby just thought they were glancing at their messages.

Here's a scene from the movie:

(via ★interesting)

Huge chicken egg cracked to reveal AN ENTIRE OTHER EGGJAN 19

One of Sean Wilson's chicken laid a huge egg and when he cracked it open, it contained another egg.

Not even a hoax! As the curator of the egg collection at London's Natural History Museum explains, the double egg is rare but real and results from a fully formed egg being pushed back into the ovary, where another egg forms around it. Here's another double egg and a report of a Texan double egg. (via colossal)

Prop Joe, RIPJAN 18

Robert Chew, who played Proposition Joe on The Wire, died yesterday aged 52.

Prop Joe was one of the few characters to appear regularly in all five seasons of David Simon's urban drama. Chew was a mountain of a man with a world-class deadpan, always underselling the character's juiciest lines. "Gotta say I'm proud of y'all for putting aside petty grievances and putting this thing together," Joe intones during a meeting of the New Day Co-op, a democratic association of drug dealers whose meetings are run via Robert's Rules of Order. "For a cold-assed crew of gangsters, y'all carried it like Republicans and shit."

Hunting the giant squidJAN 18

Now that the giant squid has been observed alive in its natural habitat (the video footage is rather underwhelming IMO):

it's the perfect time to re-read David Grann's 2004 piece about giant squid hunters.

O'Shea is one of the few people in the world who have succeeded in keeping not only coastal but also deep-sea squid alive in captivity. Unlike an octopus, which, as he put it, "you can't kill, no matter how hard you try," a squid is highly sensitive to its environment. Accustomed to living in a borderless realm, a squid reacts poorly when placed in a tank, and will often plunge, kamikaze-style, into the walls, or cannibalize other squid.

In 2001, during a monthlong expedition at sea, O'Shea caught a cluster of paralarval giant squid in his nets, but by the time he reached the docks all of them had died. He was so distraught that he climbed into the tank, in tears, and retrieved the corpses himself. "I had spent every day, every hour, trying to find the paralarvae, and then they died in my grasp," he told me. For two years, he was so stricken by his failure that he refused to mount another expedition. "I knew if I failed again I would be finished," he recalled. "Not just scientifically but physically and emotionally."

He couldn't stop wondering, though, about what had happened in the tank. His wife, Shoba, a computer scientist who was born in India, told me that sometimes in the middle of an unrelated conversation he would suddenly say, "What did I do wrong?" O'Shea became determined to correct what he called "my fatal mistake," and began a series of painstaking experiments on other species of juvenile deep-sea squid. He would subtly alter the conditions of captivity: tank size, intensity of light, oxygen levels, salinity. He discovered that the tank in which he had stored his paralarvae during the expedition had two lethal flaws: it had a rectangular shape, which, for some reason, caused the squid to sink to the bottom and die; and its walls were made of polyethylene, a plastic compound that, it turns out, is toxic to deep-sea squid. "Knowing what I know now, I feel like a fool," he said. "It was like walking them to their execution."

Our Global Kitchen exhibition at AMNHJAN 18

This looks interesting: Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

In the new exhibition Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, the American Museum of Natural History explores the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork. In sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating, the exhibition illuminates the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world. With opportunities to taste seasonal treats in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, see rare artifacts from the Museum's collection, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history, visitors will examine the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history -- and consider some of the most challenging issues of our time.

The exhibition is on from November 17, 2012 to August 11, 2013.

The 20 most influential beers of all timeJAN 18

Martyn Cornell took issue with First We Feast's list of the 20 most influential beers of all time and came up with his own list.

I mean, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye is more influential in the history of beer than Bass Pale Ale or Barclay Perkins porter? Don't make me weep. Allagash White trumps Hoegaarden and Schneider Weisse? (You may not like Hoegaarden or Schneider Weisse, but I hope you won't try to deny their influence.) Gueuze, Saison and Kolsch are such important styles they deserve a representative each in a "most influential beers of all time" list, while IPA and porter are left out? I don't think so. And the same goes for Schneider Aventinus: where are the hordes of Weissebockalikes? Sam Adams Utopias has influenced who, exactly? "Generic lager"? I see where you're coming from, in that much of what has happened over the past 40 years in the beer world is a reaction against generic lager, but still ... And I love London Pride, but it's not even the third most influential beer that Fuller's brews.

I like arguments about beer way more than drinking beer.

The NFL, a theater of painJAN 18

Tom Junod's just-posted piece in Esquire is a good companion to the interview with former NFL star Jason Taylor. In it, Junod talks to several current NFL players about injuries and pain.

"The worst injury I've ever had on the field -- for my wife and kids, at least, and my mom and dad -- was an injury I got against the 49ers," says Matt Hasselbeck. "Patrick Willis hit me as I was diving for the goal line. He hit me, and twenty minutes later I'm in an ambulance on my way to Stanford Medical. I'd broken a rib on the left and I'd broken a rib on the right. The rib on the right was right next to my aorta, and it was really dangerous for my health. I couldn't breathe. It was like there was a weight on top of me. It's a scary thing, because it feels like you're drowning. I couldn't breathe at all, and I got up off the field because it was a two-minute situation - I didn't want the team to have to take a time-out. I tried to run off the field, and when the trainers met me they saw I was, like, purple in the face. And they immediately put me on the ground. Sometimes they'll put you on the ground to evaluate you and sometimes to give the backup quarterback a chance to get loose. They put me on the ground because I was purple."

That instinct - the instinct to run when you can't breathe in order to save your team a time-out - is not one often encountered in civilian life. Indeed, it is one encountered almost exclusively in war, in which people's lives, rather than simply their livelihoods, are at stake. Now, the NFL is replete with military symbolism, not to mention military pretensions. But the reality of injury is what makes it more than fantasy football, more than professional wrestling, more than an action movie, more than a video game played with moving parts who happen to be human. The reality of injury - and the phantasmagoric world of pain - is what makes it, legitimately, a blood sport. And it is what makes Dr. Yates, the Steelers' team doctor, define his job simply and bluntly: "My job is to protect players from themselves."

Junod adds, via Twitter:

Concussion: the global warming of the NFL. We feel bad about it. But what we really worry about is someone taking our football away.

Star Wars taxidermyJAN 18

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, hunters used to kill and mount tauntauns and banthas over their fireplaces.

Star Wars Taxidermy

The world is running out of soilJAN 17

Or rather, the world is running out of topsoil, the nutrient-rich soil in which we grow most of our food.

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded -- the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished. Even the well-maintained farming land in Europe, which may look idyllic, is being lost at unsustainable rates.

Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your MovieJAN 17

I enjoyed every minute of this behind-the-scenes piece by Stephen Rodrick on the making of Paul Schrader's The Canyons.

Lindsay Lohan moves through the Chateau Marmont as if she owns the place, but in a debtor-prison kind of way. She'll soon owe the hotel $46,000. Heads turn subtly as she slinks toward a table to meet a young producer and an old director. The actress's mother, Dina Lohan, sits at the next table. Mom sweeps blond hair behind her ear and tries to eavesdrop. A few tables away, a distinguished-looking middle-aged man patiently waits for the actress. He has a stack of presents for her.

Here's a scene from the movie:

You know who else got profiled in the New Yorker?JAN 17

That's right, Adolf Hitler. Janet Flanner profiled him in three consecutive issues in 1936. Part one begins like so:

Dictator of a nation devoted to splendid sausages, cigars, beer, and babies, Adolf Hitler is a vegetarian, teetotaler, nonsmoker, and celibate. He was a small-boned baby and was tubercular in his teens. He says that as a youth he was already considered an eccentric. In the war, he was wounded twice and almost blinded by mustard gas. Like many partial invalids, he has compensated for his debilities by developing a violent will and exercising strong opinions. Limited by physical temperament, trained in poverty, organically costive, he has become the dietetic survivor of his poor health. He swallows gruel for breakfast, is fond of oatmeal, digests milk and onion soup, declines meat, which even as an undernourished youth he avoided, never touches fish, has given up macaroni as fattening, eats one piece of bread at a meal, favors vegetables, greens, and salads, drinks lemonade, likes tea and cake, and loves a raw apple. Alcohol and nicotine are beyond him, since they heighten the exciting intoxication his faulty assimilation already assures.

Sadly, access is subscriber-only. (You know who else kept information from people!? Etc.)

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap this year...and then almost never againJAN 17

This year, the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving Day. Amazingly, this is the first second time it's happened since President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1863 and it is also the last time it'll happen until the year 79,811. I'll say that again: after this year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving Day won't overlap for another 77,798 years.

The reason is because the Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the solar calendar, at a rate of 4 days per 1000 years (not bad for a many centuries old calendar!) This means that while presently Hanukkah can be as early as 11/28, over the years the calendar will drift forward, such that the earliest Hanukkah can be is 11/29. The last time Hanukkah falls on 11/28 is 2146 (which happens to be a Monday).

(via @hchamp)

Update: As noted above, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped once before, in 1888, because Thanksgiving used to fall on the last Thursday in November and not the fourth Thursday.

The life and death of the American arcadeJAN 17

Writing for The Verge, Laura June has a long piece on the history of arcades in the US, from pinball to Barcade. I had no idea that pinball was banned in NYC until 1976:

The first full-fledged and highly publicized legal attack on pinball came on January 21st, 1942, when New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned pinball in the city, ordering the seizure of thousands of machines. The ban -- which would remain in effect until 1976 -- was the culmination of legal efforts which had started much earlier, and which could be found in municipal pockets all over the country. LaGuardia, however, was the first to get the job done on a large scale. A native New Yorker of half-Italian, half-Jewish ancestry, LaGuardia despised corruption in all forms, and the image of the stereotypical Italian gangster was one he resented. During his long, popular tenure as mayor of New York City, he shut down brothels, rounded up slot machines, arrested gangsters on any charge he could find, and he banned pinball. For the somewhat puritanical LaGuardia, pinball machine pushers were "slimy crews of tinhorns, well dressed and living in luxury on penny thievery" and the game was part of a broader "craze" for gambling. He ordered the city's police to make Prohibition-style pinball raids and seizures its "top priority," and was photographed with a sledgehammer, triumphantly smashing the seized machines. On the first day of the ban, the city police confiscated more than 2,000 pinball machines and issued nearly 1,500 summons. A New York Times article of January 23, 1942 informed readers that the "shiny trimmings of 2,000 machines" had been stripped and sent off to the country's munitions factories to contribute to the war effort.

Vogue's inappropriate Hurricane Sandy photo shootJAN 17

Oh Vogue, who thought a Hurricane Sandy-themed photo shoot with supermodels walking through Far Rockaway dressed in the likes of Rodarte and Marc Jacobs was a good idea?

Vogue Sandy

"...we spent the night on a bridge, then went back in with the National Guard to work on patients." On Iman: Narciso Rodriguez camisole and pencil skirt. On Kloss: Diane von Furstenberg dress. Hair: Julien d'Ys for Julien d'Ys. Makeup: Stéphane Marais.

I guess they were going for inappropriate & provocative but hit inappropriate & idiotic instead? Vogue did raise a bunch of money for storm relief, but still. They should leave the provocative stuff to Vogue Italia and Steven Meisel...they're a lot better at it. (via @alexandrak)

Lawrence Wright's Scientology bookJAN 16

Here's just one of the many odd revelations from Lawrence Wright's book on Scientology that's coming out this week:

John Travolta began taking Scientology courses before his audition for the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, and fellow students pointed in the direction of ABC Studios to telepathically communicate: 'We want John Travolta for the part.' (He got the part.)

Thankfully, Horshack got the part the old-fashioned way. He raised his hand and said, oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh! oooooohhhhh!

Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.

Obama announces plan to reduce gun violenceJAN 16

At a press conference today, Vice President Biden and President Obama introduced their plan to reduce the nation's gun violence. Here are main points:

Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.

Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.

Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.

Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.

Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.

Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

End the freeze on gun violence research.

Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.

Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.

Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

Here's the press conference in its entirety:

The NY Times has an overview of their remarks.

Male-to-female transition time lapse videoJAN 16

By now, you've seen a billion instances of people taking daily pictures of themselves and editing them into time lapse movies set to music. Well, this one is a bit different. It features an unhappy young man who, over the course of three years, transitions into a more confident and happy young woman.

This video makes me happy. And there are dozens of other examples and tutorials on YouTube of people switching sexes. What a boon for those who struggle with their sex/gender to be able to see other people who are going through and have gone through similar situations.

Full trailer for Upstream ColorJAN 16

Shane Carruth's followup to Primer is set to be seen next week at Sundance and a full-length trailer has been released:

And it won't be long before the rest of us will be able to see it as well. Ain't It Cool notes that Carruth will be distributing the film himself.

Carruth isn't waiting around for a big distributor or even a small, boutique distributor. He's putting the film out himself, booking it in New York at the IFC Center on April 5th, then expanding theatrically to LA, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and other big markets.

Around that time he'll also have a digital distribution option, which will lead to Blu-Ray/DVD. You know, the standard Magnolia/IFC style release, but instead of being spearheaded by a distribution company, Carruth is doing it via his own company, erbp.

(via @mylesnyc)

If Dr. Seuss books were titled according to their subtextsJAN 16

If Dr. Seuss books were titled more like academic journal articles, that might look something like this:

Seuss Gets Real

(thx, jeffrey)

Updates on previous entries for Jan 15, 2013*JAN 16

Televised police chase goes by house of guy filming it on TV orig. from Jan 15, 2013

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

Hilarious bad lip reading of NFL playersJAN 15

Take footage of NFL players, coaches, and officials talking, dub it poorly with alternate dialogue, and you get a bit of genius.

Let's not beat around the bush: this is the best thing ever. (via @gavinpurcell)

Your phone is not at Wayne Dobson's houseAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 15

If a cellphone GPS system can't get a specific read on a device, the system will return a general location. For Sprint users in North Las Vegas, the general location returned is the home of Wayne Dobson, and over the last couple years, several people have knocked on his door looking for their phone with the Find My Phone feature. These situations are generally diffused when Dobson calls the police, and he's even invited people in to wait for the police to show up.

It's a more serious issue, though, because 911 dispatchers have also sent police to his house for domestic disputes when an address isn't given and his address shows up via GPS. Chilling to think of what would have happened to Dobson if he had confronted officers with a gun.

About two weeks later he was awakened at 4 a.m. by a person prowling along the side of his house. Dobson followed a flashlight beam to his bathroom window. When he looked out, the person flashed the light in his face.

"I screamed at him, 'Who are you? Get out of my yard!'?" Dobson said. "And he said, 'We're the police, open the door.'?"

North Las Vegas cops had received a 911 call from a woman on a cellphone who was arguing with a man. The argument was escalating, but dispatchers weren't able to get a location from the woman.

They looked at the location of the phone and sent officers, who arrived minutes later at Dobson's house. He was taken outside to his front yard and searched. When officers realized the mistake, they apologized.

Dobson said he is grateful that he didn't confront the officers with a weapon.

"I would have been on the losing end, and it would have been because of that issue," he said.

(via @davidfg)

Televised police chase goes by house of guy filming it on TVAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 15

Some YouTube commenters claim to have found the cameraman in the TV footage, looking out the window at around 13:03. This video is posted with healthy skepticism, but also an unbridled joy in amazing timing. (via digg)

Update: Andy Baio synched the two videos up and it seems legit.

Celebrity make undersJAN 15

Photographer Danny Evans photoshops images of celebrities so that they look like normal people. This one of Kanye and Kim is my favorite:

Normal Kanye and Kim

Man, I could stare at chubby Kanye all day. But the Tom Cruise one is pretty great as well:

Normal Tom Cruise

(via co.design)

Pain is routine in the NFLJAN 15

Former NFL star Jason Taylor was so injured (and yet still playing every week) that for a period of two years, the 6'6" 240-pound linebacker couldn't lift his kids into bed. So how did he play? Shots to kill the pain and then more shots to kill the pain of the first shots. And so on. Until he almost had to have his leg amputated.

The trainer rushed to Taylor's house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor's blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he'd fly out in owner Daniel Snyder's private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he'd have to cut off Taylor's leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn't. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.

Taylor's reaction?

"I was mad because I had to sit out three weeks," he says. "I was hot."

He had seven to nine inches of nerve damage.

"The things we do," he explains. "Players play. It is who we are. We always think we can overcome."

At the New Yorker, Reeves Wiedeman reminds us that the NFL is unlikely to change because so much of what happens with injuries is hidden from view.

As we watch a game that we know is dangerous, we soothe ourselves with the idea that these men must be aware of the risks, too; that they are being well compensated to take on those risks; and that, at least when they're on the field, in front of the cameras, they are living the dream that we all craved as kids, and they're having fun.

But what we can take from this story, and from the fact that, on the surface, this weekend's games were filled with such excitement, is the fact that so much of football's barbarism takes place beyond our vision and behind closed doors.

(thx, meg)

Live action Toy StoryJAN 14

Jonason Pauley and Jesse Perrotta reshot all 80 minutes of Toy Story in live action -- with a Woody doll, a Mr. Potatohead, human actors, and the like.

The pair say that folks at Pixar gave them their approval (sorta kinda) to post it online.

CHARLIE: Have you spoken to Pixar and what have they said? Followup question: Are there unmarked black sedans with dudes in suits outside your house right now?

JESSE: We just got back from visiting Pixar a few days ago. We weren't invited inside, but we were allowed to pass out DVD's of our movie to Pixar employees. We have spoken to one of the lead guys at Pixar on Twitter a little bit, and his attitude was positive towards the whole thing. We never got an official word on if it was okay to put it on Youtube though. And about the sedans... haven't seen them yet, haha!

JONASON: Jesse pretty much covered it. Some of the Pixar employees that we talked to asked if it was online, so I took that as "it should be online" We put it off for a long time because we wanted to make sure it would be alright.

(via @faketv)

White House response to Death Star petitionAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 14

In November, some serious individuals created a petition on the The White House's We the People website requesting the construction of a Death Star in 2016. The petition received the 25K signatures required for a response, and in a Friday night news dump, the White House responded with a memo full of Star Wars puns.

Reasons for rejection include:

*The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
*The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
*Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

The petitions submitted to the We the People site aren't always treated as a joke, here's the response to the people who signed petitions about seceding from the United States.

Fred Armisen hosts This American Life as Ira GlassJAN 14

This week's episode of This American Life is about doppelgangers, so they decided to have SNL's Fred Armisen come on the show and co-host it as Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen worked up an imitation of Ira and put it into a skit on Saturday Night Live a couple years ago. But when they rehearsed it with an audience, there was not a roar of recognition; it seemed like Ira might not be famous enough to be mocked on network TV. So today Armisen finally gets a go as Ira's doppelganger in our studios by co-hosting the entire show.

The first story on the show is about artificial calamari, aka hog rectum.

Ben Calhoun tells a story of physical resemblance -- not of a person, but of food. A while ago, a farmer walked through a pork processing plant in Oklahoma with a friend who managed it. He came across boxes stacked on the floor with labels that said "artificial calamari." So he asked his friend "What's artificial calamari?" "Bung," his friend replied. "Hog rectum." Have you or I eaten bung dressed up as seafood? Ben investigated.

Dubstep cockatielJAN 14

The owner of this cockatiel taught it how to sing dubstep.

Nice try, bird, but this is still the best dubstep video of all time. (via stellar)

NASA's Smart SPHERES, floating robot drones on the ISSJAN 14

NASA is testing something they call SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station...they are spherical robots that can fly around the station and perform simple tasks. They were inspired by the floating droid remote that Luke trains with in Star Wars. The most recent test was in December.

The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station's Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.

In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.

They are outfitting the Smart SPHERES with Android phones for data collection:

Each SPHERE Satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing and navigation equipment. When Miller's team first designed the SPHERES, all of their potential uses couldn't be imagined up front. So, the team built an "expansion port" into each satellite where additional sensors and appendages, such as cameras and wireless power transfer systems, could be added. This is how the Nexus S handset -- the SPHERES' first smartphone upgrade -- is going to be attached.

"Because the SPHERES were originally designed for a different purpose, they need some upgrades to become remotely operated robots," said DW Wheeler, lead engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames. "By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. With the smartphone, the SPHERES will have a built-in camera to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, a powerful computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will use to transfer data in real-time to the space station and mission control."

Here's some video from a past test:

The non-alarmist guide to the fluJAN 14

Flu season is here and it's horrible. Jennifer Cain at Kicker has written a No-Nonsense, Non-Alarmist, Essential Guide to the Flu. The sections on how to tell the flu from other illnesses and what to do to avoid the flu are especially helpful.

There are four big telltale signs that can help you distinguish among a cold, a flu, norovirus and whooping cough:

#1. Fever equals flu. You might get a slight temperature from a cold, but if you're really heating up, it's probably the flu.

#2. Colds are mild and long lasting. Colds usually start with a sore throat, then progress to symptoms like a runny nose and congestion, followed by a cough that won't go away. And they don't usually cause fevers. Sometimes it can take up to 3 weeks to get rid of a cold entirely. The flu, though, tends to come on quickly all at once and be more intense, but it doesn't linger. If you're running a fever and your body aches and you can't get out of bed and don't feel like eating anything, it's flu time.

Draft of US climate assessment report releasedJAN 14

On Friday afternoon, a government advisory committee released a draft of a federal climate assessment report, which pretty much meant that no one saw it, aside from the few journalists who were tasked, at that late hour of the week, with writing something about it. The upshot of the report? Bad news and there's not much anyone is doing about it. From Mother Jones:

Say what you want about the Obama administration's relative ignoring of climate issues: Many of his top scientists are paying rapt attention, and they think we're about to get our butts kicked -- although dumping the news at 4 p.m. on a Friday gives some indication of where it sits in federal priorities.

Anyway, what does the report say? From Nature:

Coming just days after news that the United States experienced its hottest year on record in 2012, the draft report says average US temperatures have increased by more than 0.8° Celsius since 1895, with a sharp spike since 1980. It also provides an update on the litany of impacts being analyzed by scientists. There is "strong evidence" that global warming has roughly doubled the likelihood of extreme heat events, contributing to droughts and wildfires, according to the report. Permafrost is melting in Alaska, while much of the country is experiencing more extreme rainfall and winter snowstorms.

And from Bloomberg:

The 60-member panel approved and released a draft report today that says many coastal areas face "potentially irreversible impacts" as warmer temperatures lead to flooding, storm surges and water shortages.

"The chances of record-breaking, high-temperature extremes will continue to increase as the climate continues to change," the panel said in its report. Temperatures are predicted to increase, on average, by 2 degrees to 4 degrees in the next few decades, according to the report.

The panel of scientists from academia, industry, environmental groups and the government prepared the report, and its findings are the closest to a consensus about global warming in the U.S. Reports in 2000 and 2009 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded carbon-dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have led to a warming of the Earth's temperature, which threatens to cause extreme weather, drought and floods.

The report also highlighted decreasing air quality as a side effect of the changing climate. This weekend, the air quality in Beijing was off the scale for about 18 hours. The scale goes from 0-500:

Good: 0-50
Moderate: 51-100
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: 101-150
Unhealthy: 151-200
Very Unhealthy: 201-300
Hazardous: 301-500

The readings in Beijing topped out at 755. My friend Youngna is there and these two photos she took of the CCTV building two days apart shows how bad the pollution is there:

Beijing Pollution

Maura Magazine launchesJAN 14

Maura Johnston and the folks at 29th Street Publishing have teamed up to launch Maura Magazine, an iOS Newsstand app.

Since then, we've been on a path to create what (after, truth be told, some reticence on my part) is called Maura Magazine, a weekly periodical telling stories about the culture around us -- whether they're about music, food, technology, TV, movies, books, or anything else. I'm leaving its purview deliberately open-ended because I want to see where we-the writers, the readers, and me-can take this deceptively simple concept.

Delighted to see Maura continuing to tackle new frontiers.

Updates on previous entries for Jan 12, 2013*JAN 13

Aaron Swartz, rest in peace orig. from Jan 12, 2013

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

Aaron Swartz, rest in peaceJAN 12

According to his uncle, internet hacker and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday. He was 26 years old.

The accomplished Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, was one of the three co-owners of the popular social news site Reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard's Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. In 2010, he founded DemandProgress.org, a "campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA."

John Gruber has a short remembrance:

He had an enormous intellect -- again, a brilliant mind -- but also an enormous capacity for empathy. He was a great person. I'm dumbfounded and heartbroken.

And Cory Doctorow has a longer tribute to his friend at Boing Boing:

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

I didn't know Aaron very well, but this is just terrible. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

Update: A powerful post from Larry Lessig, blasting the prosecutor for his overzealous pursuit of the US government's case against Swartz.

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor's behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The "property" Aaron had "stolen," we were told, was worth "millions of dollars" - with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

Updates on previous entries for Jan 11, 2013*JAN 12

YouTube gun nut shot dead orig. from Jan 11, 2013

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

YouTube gun nut shot deadJAN 11

Keith Ratliff posted dozens of videos showcasing high-powered guns on his popular YouTube channel, FPSRussia. Last week, he was found dead with a single shot to the head, surrounded by several guns...but not the gun that killed him.

The news, coming amid a national debate about gun control, rippled across the blogs and social networking sites where his videos were popular. Tributes on Facebook and Twitter came from fans stunned that such a well-armed expert had not been able to defend himself.

"For him not to pull out that gun and try to defend himself, he had to feel comfortable around somebody," his wife, Amanda, told a television channel in Lexington, Ky., where he used to live. "Either that or he was ambushed."

Here's a FPSRussia video showing off a fully automatic shotgun that can shoot 300 rounds per minute even after being submerged in water:

And this drone with a machine gun on it is terrifying:

(via the atlantic)

Update: Just to clarify because I'm getting a bunch of mail about it, Ratliff was a gun nut and the owner of that YouTube channel, but he was not the person in all those videos...he was more like the producer/camera operator.

Also, that quadricopter machine gun thing is CGI and a commercial for a video game. Soon enough though.

Here is what happens when Troy Aikman does your NFL broadcastJAN 11

Troy Aikman moves around the field at Cowboys Stadium as if he owns the place, but in a previous-owner kind of way. He'll soon call a game here for Fox. People scream his name from the stands as he moves toward midfield to meet a head coach and a PR man. The sportcaster's partner, Joe Buck, sits up in the booth, preparing. The Cowboys. The Saints. Thanksgiving Day. Here's the behind-the-scenes look at how Fox's broadcast of the game happens.

If Aikman -- and Buck, too -- have any misconceptions about their comedic chops, it's because, for several months out of the year, they are surrounded by people who laugh too hard at their jokes or anything that even seems like a joke. The next day, Aikman makes the slightest quip about the size of the enormous screen that hovers above the field at Cowboys Stadium -- certainly strip-mined ground even a couple of months after the place opened. The reaction he receives would seem improbable even if Louis C.K. had delivered the line.

Pretty interesting. Aikman and Buck are among my favorite football announcers, but they're not as good as Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth or John Madden and Anyone At All.

Our weird weather realityJAN 11

As previously reported, global warming doesn't just mean the Earth is getting warmer...the weather is getting weirder.

Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing -- minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting -- that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

BTW, this story was published the day before the NY Times announced that they are dismantling their environment news desk and dispersing the nine-person staff throughout the newsroom.

It wasn't a decision we made lightly," said Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor for news operations. "To both me and Jill [Abramson, executive editor], coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."

This seems like a step in the wrong direction. Which prominent national publication will be brave and start pushing climate change coverage alongside that of politics, business, and sports? At the very least, the Times should have a weekly Climate Change section, the New Yorker should have a yearly Climate issue, Buzzfeed should have a Climate & Weather vertical, etc. (via @tcarmody)

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?JAN 11

When President Obama did an interview on Reddit in August, one of the questions he got was:

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

Obama declined to answer the question, but Conor Friedersdorf decided to ask a waterfowl expert what he thought and the answer involves an interesting mix of science:

With such a huge body, the problem of surface area to body volume comes into play. The terror-ducktyl would have a problem losing heat. Hence, a possible tactic would be to get it running around chasing me and it might overheat, stroke out, and die. Birds have higher body temperatures than mammals in any case (often very close to the 40 degrees Celsius upper lethal limit) so it might not take too much to push the duck over the metabolic cliff. Merits consideration.

and politics:

After engaging his graduate students in conversation, he came to realize that it would be politically disastrous for Obama to fight the duck-sized horses. Think about it. In America, the duck lobby is composed of duck hunters. The horse lobby is made up of horse lovers who succeeded in stopping Californians from buying horse meat. The young women voters essential to the Democratic coalition are far more sympathetic to veritable ponies than a giant, rape-obsessed mallard. Shooting the duck would be perfectly legal under existing law, or would at worst result in a citation for hunting without a license.

See also The Biology of B-Movie Monsters by Michael LaBarbera, a classic and one of my favorite internet things ever.

When the Incredible Shrinking Man stops shrinking, he is about an inch tall, down by a factor of about 70 in linear dimensions. Thus, the surface area of his body, through which he loses heat, has decreased by a factor of 70 x 70 or about 5,000 times, but the mass of his body, which generates the heat, has decreased by 70 x 70 x 70 or 350,000 times. He's clearly going to have a hard time maintaining his body temperature (even though his clothes are now conveniently shrinking with him) unless his metabolic rate increases drastically.

Luckily, his lung area has only decreased by 5,000-fold, so he can get the relatively larger supply of oxygen he needs, but he's going to have to supply his body with much more fuel; like a shrew, he'll probably have to eat his own weight daily just to stay alive. He'll also have to give up sleeping and eat 24 hours a day or risk starving before he wakes up in the morning (unless he can learn the trick used by hummingbirds of lowering their body temperatures while they sleep).

Portraits of Albanian Sworn VirginsJAN 11

Sworn Virgins of Albania is a project by photographer Jill Peters documenting Albanian women who have chosen to live as men for cultural reasons.

Sworn Virgins

As a tradition dating back hundreds of years, this was necessary in societies that lived within tribal clans, followed the Kanun, an archaic code of law, and maintained an oppressive rule over the female gender.The Kanun states that women are considered to be the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages.

As an alternative, becoming a Sworn Virgin, or 'burnesha" elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a "he".

(thx, tiffany)

Reality is too real until it's not real enoughJAN 10

Kevin Kelly on the realism of the 48 frames/second version of The Hobbit.

What's going on here? I really struggled to figure out what was happening to my own eyes and my perception that something as simple as changing a frame rate would trigger such drastic re-evaluations of cinema?

I researched on the web without much satisfaction, since few people had actually seen 48HFR. I asked a few friends in the advance cinema industry and got unsatisfactory answers. Then I was at a party with a friend from Pixar and asked him my question: why does HFR change the appearance of the lighting? He also could not tell me, but the man next to him could. He was John Knoll, the co-creator of Photoshop and the Oscar-winning Visual Effects Director for a string of technically innovative Hollywood blockbusters as long as my arm. He knew.

I saw The Hobbit at 48fps and it was a unique experience. At times, it was amazing, like you were in the movie, tromping around Middle Earth. At other times, the effect was laughably bad, like having a bunch of cosplaying dwarves in bad makeup standing around in your fluorescently lit living room. Dwalin, son of Fundin, I can see your skin cap.

Best movie posters of 2012JAN 10

From MUBI Notebook's Adrian Curry, a round-up of the best movie posters of 2012.

Ai Weiwei Poster

Junior Seau had brain damageJAN 10

Recent analysis by specialists shows that Junior Seau, the former stand-out NFL linebacker who committed suicide last year, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death. CTE is associated with repeated trauma to the head and has been found in many ex-NFL players, including a few that have committed suicide.

"I think it's important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE," Gina Seau said. "It's important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don't want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes."

She said the family was told that Seau's disease resulted from "a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically."

Experts caution that correlation is not causation, but as these incidents mount, the NFL is going to come under increasing pressure to act, causation or no.

Even if it's fake (medicine), it's realJAN 10

Studies have long shown evidence of placebos doing something to help ill patients. Harvard Medical School's Ted Kaptchuk is studying this effect to determine how and why it works.

Two weeks into Ted Kaptchuk's first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist. In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn't get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients' pain ballooned to nightmarish levels. "The side effects were simply amazing," Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce. But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk's study didn't prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the "acupuncture" needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn't aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes.

Updates on previous entries for Jan 9, 2013*JAN 10

What to do about the swine flu? orig. from Sep 15, 2009
How the H1N1 vaccine is made orig. from Nov 24, 2009

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

Tolkien family not impressed with Peter JacksonAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 09

In a profile this summer from Le Monde, Christopher Tolkien, the 88 year-old son of J.R.R. Tolkien blasted Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit movies. (If you can't speak French, you should see the translation of the profile.) Tolkien, who drew the maps for the Lord of the Rings books, has spent most of his life protecting the legacy of his father's works, and the movies are, apparently, a bridge too far.

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? "They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25," Christopher says regretfully. "And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film."

This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. "Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time," Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away."

(via ★Stellar)

2012: the hottest year on record in USJAN 09

The NOAA says that 2012 was the hottest year on record. BY AN ENTIRE DEGREE.

The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that hasn't occurred since the government began keeping such records in 1895.

Weather-wise, 2012 is Usain Bolt crossing the line in the 100-meter final at the Beijing Olympics, already slowing down, arms out, and still so so much faster than everyone else.

The extraordinary is the new ordinaryJAN 09

Kevin Kelly notes that the internet -- and in particular, YouTube -- is exposing us to massive quantities of things that are impossible and amazing and muses about how that might be affecting our culture.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we'll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online - which is almost all day many days -- we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

That light of super-ness changes us. We no longer want mere presentations, we want the best, greatest, the most extraordinary presenters alive, as in TED. We don't want to watch people playing games, we want to watch the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing moves, catches, runs, shots, and kicks, each one more remarkable and improbable than the other.

We are also exposed to the greatest range of human experience, the heaviest person, shortest midgets, longest mustache -- the entire universe of superlatives! Superlatives were once rare -- by definition -- but now we see multiple videos of superlatives all day long, and they seem normal. Humans have always treasured drawings and photos of the weird extremes of humanity (early National Geographics), but there is an intimacy about watching these extremities on video on our phones while we wait at the dentist. They are now much realer, and they fill our heads.

(thx, andrew)

Bad flu season this yearJAN 09

According to Google's search tracking, this is the worst flu season in more than 6 years.

2013 Flu Trend

Google's trends tend to follow the official CDC data closely and indeed the CDC concurs about the scope of the flu this year but their data is lagging behind Google's by what looks like about 2 weeks. See also my post on how flu vaccines are made. (via @kellan)

A great f*cking tour of a f*cking cruise shipJAN 09

This f*cking guy shows you the f*cking pool, the f*cking ice cream bar, the f*cking ocean, and every other f*cking thing on the ship.

(via @nickkokonas)

The Making of The Blues BrothersJAN 08

Ned Zeman tells the story of how The Blues Brothers came to be made for Vanity Fair.

Aykroyd spends his free time speeding through outskirts and befriending coroners. Belushi, being Chicago's favorite son, does anything he wants. Everything about him -- his lunch-bucket charm, his utter lack of pretense -- makes Belushi a figure of such resounding local popularity that Aykroyd calls him "the unofficial mayor of Chicago."

A trip to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, boggles Landis. "Like being with Mussolini in Rome," he remembers. Belushi, having entered one of the stadium's crowded bathrooms, smiles and shouts, "O.K., stand back!" Everyone retreats from the urinals. Belushi does his business. Then, zipping his fly and beaming, he says, "O.K., back you go!"

"John would literally hail police cars like taxis," Mitch Glazer says. "The cops would say, 'Hey, Belushi!' Then we'd fall into the backseat and the cops would drive us home."

But the drug habit that would claim his life two years later also made Belushi a weight on the production.

One night at three, while filming on a deserted lot in Harvey, Illinois, Belushi disappears. He does this sometimes. On a hunch, Aykroyd follows a grassy path until he spies a house with a light on.

"Uh, we're shooting a film over here," Aykroyd tells the homeowner. "We're looking for one of our actors."

"Oh, you mean Belushi?" the man replies. "He came in here an hour ago and raided my fridge. He's asleep on my couch."

Only Belushi could pull this off. "America's Guest," Aykroyd calls him.

"John," Aykroyd says, awakening Belushi, "we have to go back to work."

Belushi nods and rises. They walk back to the set as if nothing happened.

Extreme temperatures force new color code for weather mapJAN 08

The forecasted temperature in the interior of Australia is so high for next Monday that the country's Bureau of Meteorology has had to add an extra color code at the top end of the temperature scale for REALLY FUCKING HOT.

Aussie Weather Map

The bureau's head of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones said the new scale, which also features a pink code for temperatures from 52 to 54 degrees, reflected the potential for old heat records to be smashed.

"The scale has just been increased today and I would anticipate it is because the forecast coming from the bureau's model is showing temperatures in excess of 50 degrees," Jones told Fairfax newspapers.

Australia's all-time record temperature is 50.7 degrees, set in January 1960 at Oodnadatta in the state of South Australia.

The nation as a whole experienced its hottest day on record on Monday with the average maximum temperature across the country hitting 40.33 degrees, surpassing the previous mark of 40.17 degrees set in 1972.

I feel like climate change needs a Steve Jobs to kick everyone's ass into action on this, iPhone announcement-style. "Unprecedented polar ice cap melt, new colors on Australia's weather map, massive East Coast hurricanes, are you getting it? These are not three separate incidents. This is one global pattern. And we are calling it anthropogenic climate change. [wild applause]" (via @ftrain)

Crooks are stealing Tide to trade it for drugsJAN 08

I had no idea that laundry detergent could be so interesting. Procter & Gamble has done such a good job positioning Tide as a luxury laundry detergent that they can charge a premium for it and people will still buy.

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30 percent of the liquid-detergent market.

Because of this premium status and because laundry detergent is not usually well-guarded in grocery stores, Tide has become a large target for theft and subsequent resale, either for cash or crack on street corners across the nation.

What did thieves want with so much laundry soap? To find out, he and his unit pored over security recordings to identify prolific perpetrators, whom officers then tracked down and detained for questioning. "We never promised to go easy on them, but they were willing to talk about it," Thompson says. "I guess they were bragging." It turned out the detergent wasn't being used as an ingredient in some new recipe for getting high, but instead to buy drugs themselves. Tide bottles have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. On certain corners, the detergent has earned a new nickname: "Liquid gold." The Tide people would never sanction that tag line, of course. But this unlikely black market would not have formed if they weren't so good at pushing their product.

Please don't let this be a hoax, it's almost too good to be true. (via @mulegirl)

My Design Matters interviewJAN 07

Debbie Millman interviewed me for her Design Matters podcast the other day. Spoiler: we did not actually talk much about design.

The DronenetJAN 07

John Robb imagines a drone delivery service that will replace UPS, FedEx, the USPS, bicycle messengers, Kozmo-type services, etc. in the short-hop delivery of small items.

Here's a simplified version of what I'm talking about:

1. I put package onto a landing pad at my home.

2. Drone arrives, takes package and flies away.

3. Drone delivers package to landing pad at delivery location.

There's almost nothing technically in the way of this happening right now. Here's how it would work in practice:

- My brother left his iphone at my house. I want to get it to him, but he lives 30 mi away (as the crow flies, 50 by driving).

- I put it into a delivery container and put it on a small landing pad outside my home.

- I order a drone on my phone and put the ID of the container into the order (I could just as easily use a drone I buy to do it P2P).

- A drone arrives 10 minutes later, picks up the container automatically.

- After a couple of hops, it arrives at my brother's landing pad, where it drops off the container and alerts him with an e-mail/text.

- Costs? Probably less than $0.25 per 10 mi. or so. So, about $0.75 in this instance. Time? An hour or so.

This is a compelling idea but I doubt it'll happen in a decentralized way. More likely that Amazon will buy a fledgling drone delivery company in the next year or two and begin rolling out same-day delivery of items weighing less than 2 pounds in non-urban areas where drone flights are permitted. Unless the FAA or Homeland Security gets in the way, which they might. But if not, Wal-Mart, Target, and everyone else will follow suit, including (likely too late) FedEx and UPS.

Chris Ware on his Newtown-themed New Yorker coverJAN 07

Chris Ware designed the Newtown-themed cover for the New Yorker last week and describes the process that went into it.

On December 14th, I helped chaperone my daughter's second-grade-class field trip to a local production of "The Nutcracker," where I spent most of my time not watching the ballet but marvelling at the calm efforts of the teacher to keep the yelling, excited class quieted down. Teaching was not, I concluded at one point, a profession in which I could survive for even one day. Our buses came back to the school at midafternoon, and I and the other volunteer parents left our children for another hour of wind-down time (for us, not them) before returning for the regular 3-P.M. pickup. I came home, however, not to any wind-down but to the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting. Shaken to the core, I returned to the school, where a grim quiet bound myself and the other parents together, the literally unspeakable news sealing our smiles while, at a lower strata, our happy, screaming children ran out of the building into our arms still frothed up by sparkling visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

HundredsJAN 07

Your addictive iOS game for the week: Hundreds. The concept and gameplay is super-simple...tap to expand circles until you reach a score of 100 without letting an expanding circle touch anything. And then it gets surprisingly difficult. Check out how the gameplay works:

Queen Elizabeth II with twelve US PresidentsJAN 07

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II of England has met 10 sitting US Presidents, every one from Eisenhower to Obama except for Lyndon Johnson. She also met Harry Truman as a princess in 1951 and former President Herbert Hoover in 1957.

Elizabeth II with Truman

Elizabeth II with Reagan

Elizabeth II with Obama

You can see the entire progression here or here. QEII is more definitely a human wormhole.

BTW, Elizabeth is creeping up on Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch, just another two-and-a-half years to catch her. Victoria reigned during the terms of 19 different Presidents but never met any of them and had an unfair advantage...lots of short terms and one-term Presidencies back then. (via mlkshk)

Lady Edith with googly eyesJAN 07

An entire Tumblr full of images of Downton Abbey's Lady Edith Crawley with googly eyes.

Lady Edith Crawley with googly eyes

God, this makes me unbelievably happy.

GoPro camera on a tromboneJAN 06

This is a clever use of a GoPro camera...attached to the slide of a trombone and pointed back at the player.

And thus the motion is timed perfectly to the music...reminds me of Michel Gondry's video for Star Guitar in that way. (via @dens)

How to pick a pocketJAN 06

If you read the piece on pickpockets in the New Yorker last week (and if not, I encourage you to), you've got to check out this video they made of Apollo Robbins taking all sorts of stuff from Adam Green, who plays the bewildered NYer writer part perfectly. Way better than the YT video I embedded last week.

Downton Abbey characters drawn as dogs and catsJAN 05

These are all so perfect but I'm having a hard time deciding which is the most perfect....the Mrs Patmore tabby or the Dowager Countess Sphynx?

Mrs Catmore

Dowager Catess

Prints are $22 a pop on Etsy and likely to go quickly. (via @mathowie)

Brilliant book cover design for Orwell's 1984JAN 05

A new series of George Orwell's books are being published by Penguin and this is the cover for 1984:

Penguin 1984

Cover design by David Pearson...more covers from the same series here. (via @torrez)

US prison population on the declineJAN 04

A wee bit of good news about American prisons for a change: after rising each year since the mid-1970s, the US incarceration rate has declined each of the past three years.

Prison Stats 2012

I hereby submit my nomination for the most underreported public policy story of the past year: The continuing decline in the number of Americans who are behind bars or on probation/parole. Both the change itself and low level of attention it has garnered are worthy of reflection.

At the time of President Obama's inauguration, the incarceration rate in the United States had been rising every single year since the mid 1970s. The relentless growth in the proportion of Americans behind bars had persisted through good economic times and bad, Republican and Democratic Presidents, and countless changes in state and local politics around the country.

If a public policy trend with that much momentum had even slowed significantly, it would have been merited attention, but something far more remarkable occurred: The incarceration rate and the number of people under correctional supervision (i.e., including people on probation/parole) declined for three years in a row. At the end of 2011, the proportion of people under correctional supervision returned to a level not seen since the end of the Clinton Administration.

Commenters over at Marginal Revolution dug into the report a bit more and the decline may have a lot to do with things like state budget cuts and less to do with things like fewer/shorter prison sentences.

Weebles wobble but they don't fall downJAN 04

Cutting hard and deep with George SaundersJAN 04

The Twitter is afire with rave reviews of Joel Lovell's profile of writer George Saunders for the upcoming issue of the NY Times Magazine.

It is true that if there exists a "writer's writer," Saunders is the guy. "There is really no one like him," Lorrie Moore wrote. "He is an original -- but everyone knows that." Tobias Wolff, who taught Saunders when he was in the graduate writing program at Syracuse in the mid-'80s, said, "He's been one of the luminous spots of our literature for the past 20 years," and then added what may be the most elegant compliment I've ever heard paid to another person: "He's such a generous spirit, you'd be embarrassed to behave in a small way around him."

Does lead cause crime?JAN 04

In recent years, we've seen a pretty steady drop in serious crime in many American cities. There are several theories to explain the drop -- better policing strategies, shifting demographics, economic ups and downs -- but none of them seems to provide a full and consistent explanation. In Mojo, Kevin Drum thinks he may have found the villain behind crime (and lower IQs and ADHD): Lead. "When differences of atmospheric lead density between big and small cities largely went away, so did the difference in murder rates." I'm not sure if this is truly the answer, but it's a very interesting read: America's Real Criminal Element.

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The Flogsta screamAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 04

Every evening at 10pm, students living in the Flogsta neighborhood of Uppsala, Sweden stick their heads out the window and scream. No one knows how it started, but most accounts say it began in the 1970s and has been going on every night since.

(thx, alex / reddit)

Commander Riker lorem ipsumJAN 03

This is perfect...Riker Ipsum is lorem ipsum dummy text from Commander Riker's dialogue on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Our neural pathways have become accustomed to your sensory input patterns. Computer, belay that order. The game's not big enough unless it scares you a little. When has justice ever been as simple as a rule book? What's a knock-out like you doing in a computer-generated gin joint like this? Did you come here for something in particular or just general Riker-bashing?

(via ★interesting)

How blind people use InstagramJAN 03

Tommy Edison shows how he uses Instagram on the iPhone.

So we'll just take a picture of the crew. Why I'm holding the thing up to my face like I can look through the thing is beyond me, but here we go.

His Instagram feed is available here. (via ★precipice)

Laser-cut wooden maps of underwater contoursJAN 03

There's not much to say about these gorgeous, wooden, laser-cut bathymetric charts of various bodies of water except that just look at them!

Below The Boat

(thx, mouser)

Updates on previous entries for Jan 2, 2013*JAN 03

Market Street, 1905 orig. from Nov 09, 2009

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

Gun deaths continue in US following NewtownJAN 02

Unsurprisingly, people are continuing to die from guns in the US. Adam Lanza killed 28 people on December 14th, 2012 and since then, 393 more people have died.

Gun violence in America: the view from the doctor's officeJAN 02

In an op-ed piece for the NY Times, Dr. David Newman bears witness to the effects of gun violence he sees at his hospital.

I have sworn an oath to heal and to protect humans. Guns, invented to maim and destroy, are my natural enemy.

(via @ftrain)

100 greatest sports photosJAN 02

From Sports Illustrated, their picks for the 100 greatest photos of sports.

Ali Liston

Rodman rebounds

1920s NYC firefighting video with crazy sidewalk drivingJAN 02

This is a silent film from 1926 that shows a call coming in to a Manhattan fire station, a first-person POV shot from the chief's car as he responds to a call, and then some firemen fighting a blaze consuming a storage warehouse.

The driving through the crowded streets of Manhattan starts at about 2:10 with the BAD TRAFFIC JAMS FORCE USE OF SIDEWALKS title card coming soon after at 2:51. The film is sped up but still, the chief dodges all manner of roadsters, horse-drawn wagons, trolleys, buses, automobiles, and other assorted conveyances.

See also a trip down San Francisco's Market Street in 1906. (via @djacobs)

Wes Anderson on Star Wars, Bill Murray, and his new movieJAN 02

A nice interview with Wes Anderson. He discusses how he got his start in filmmaking, his prospects as the director of the next Star Wars movie, and his new film with Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

DEADLINE: Star Wars was among the films that influenced you early on. What would the world get if Wes Anderson signed on to direct one of these new Star Wars films Disney will make?

ANDERSON: Well I have a feeling I would probably ultimately get replaced on the film because I don't' know if I have all the right action chops. But at least I know the characters from the old films.

DEADLINE: You are not doing a good job of selling yourself as a maker of blockbusters.

ANDERSON: I think you are reading it exactly right. I don't think I would do a terrible job at a Han Solo backstory. I could do that pretty well. But maybe that would be better as a short.

A tour of the International Space StationJAN 02

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who has spent almost a year in space, gives us a 25-minute tour of the International Space Station. AKA the nerdiest episode of MTV Cribs.

(via @durietz)

The neuroscience of pickpocketsJAN 01

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Adam Green profiles Apollo Robbins, by most accounts the world's best pickpocket. How he goes about engaging his prey is fascinating:

One day, over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in a Las Vegas strip mall, Robbins demonstrated his method on me. "When I shake someone's hand, I apply the lightest pressure on their wrist with my index and middle fingers and lead them across my body to my left," he said, showing me. "The cross-body lead is actually a move from salsa dancing. I'm finding out what kind of a partner they're going to be, and I know that if they follow my lead I can do whatever I want with them."

Robbins needs to get close to his victims without setting off alarm bells. "If I come at you head-on, like this," he said, stepping forward, "I'm going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that's going to make you uncomfortable." He took a step back. "So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I'm in your space." He demonstrated, winding up shoulder to shoulder with me, looking up at me sideways, his head cocked, all innocence. "See how I was able to close the gap?" he said. "I flew in under your radar and I have access to all your pockets."

Hard to choose just one passage from this story, so I will also include this bit about attention:

But physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."

Robbins uses various metaphors to describe how he works with attention, talking about "surfing attention," "carving up the attentional pie," and "framing." "I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would," he said. "If I lean my face close in to someone's, like this" -- he demonstrated -- "it's like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, 'You had a wallet in your back pocket -- is it still there?' Now their focus is on their back pocket, or their brain just short-circuits for a second, and I'm free to steal from their jacket."

This routine is a pretty good demonstration of how Robbins diverts attention for the purpose of theft.

An essential guide to dim sumJAN 01

From the latest issue of Lucky Peach, a guide on what and how to order at a dim sum restaurant.

Regular patrons of North American dim sum restaurants will find most, if not all, of the selections pictured here familiar. Newcomers should find the illustrations-which have been grouped by their method of preparation and general type -- helpful in identifying some of the more typical offerings. This arrangement will provide even first-time visitors to dim sum restaurants with access to field identification in a clear and rational array.

The first half of the Field Guide introduces steamed items; the second covers fried, baked, and sweet offerings. These general divisions have then been subdivided according to each dim sum's predominant physical characteristics.

Great photorealistic paintingAARON COHEN  ·  JAN 01

A Path Between Rice Fields is a gorgeous painting by Makoto Aida that caught my eye the other day.

path-between-rice-fields.jpg

(via ls)

Star Trek: The Next Generation blooper reelJAN 01

It's 2013 and I'm hopelessly in love. With this blooper reel from season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Archives    December 2012 »    November 2012 »    October 2012 »

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