In Focus has a collection of some of the most excellent Red Bull Illume Photo Contest winners. And as you'd expect, they are about as Red Bull as you can get. Great shots.
The world according to @darth orig. from Aug 30, 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.
The world according to @darth TIM CARMODY · AUG 30
"Darth" is a pseudonymous Twitter user with a terrific sense of humor, a loyal and highly interactive following, and a special gift for fast, funny, topical, reference-heavy, and often bespoke Photoshop work.
Here are five of @darth's photos just from the last week.
Reactions to John Lewis at the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:
When the hashtag "#NSAromcom" started floating around, @darth made many many posters to match Twitter users' proposed titles:
This poster, featuring a relatively rare appearance by @darth him/her/itself, was just a response to Reuters' Margarita Noriega tweeting that summer was ending:
I don't even know what happened here, but it's beautiful and funny for reasons I can't explain or understand:
But this one is pretty easy for just about anyone to get:
Update: I challenged @darth to make a poster for the movie "The World According to @Darth," using The World According to Garp as a reference. In less than thirty minutes, the poster was born, complete with tiny, perfect textual details that you have to see at full size to fully appreciate.
And if you don't know, now you know TIM CARMODY · AUG 30
Dan Lewis is the director of new media communications at Sesame Street, which I'm sure is hard work but sounds like the best job in the world.
For years, he's also run a daily email newsletter called "Now I Know," featuring little science and history vignettes. For example, did you know... Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation creating the US Secret Service the day he was fatally shot... in order to investigate counterfeit money schemes. (Which is why the Secret Service was part of the Treasury department before being absorbed into Homeland Security.)
Now Dan has put those stories in a book, also called Now I Know, available for preorder for October 18. It's like a newer, less snarky iteration of Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope. Or, even better, Cliff Clavin's CliffsNotes.
PS: Tell me on Twitter: did Notorious B.I.G. really coin (and not just popularize) "and if you don't know, now you know" with "Juicy"? I swear, as a younger teenager pretty much immersed in hip-hop, I remember that that specific phrase being in the air or even in a song or by a comic or DJ well before 1994. But it's in that weird window of 1990s history where Google gets all tangled and useless. You know, this is the sort of question I should probably be asking Dan Lewis.
Seamus Heaney, RIP TIM CARMODY · AUG 30
Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died at 74. The Guardian has a brief account of his life; The Telegraph grapples more directly with the work There's also his long, insightful interview with The Paris Review, from 1997.
"Heaney's volumes make up two-thirds of the sales of living poets in Britain," the BBC wrote in 2007, calling him "arguably, the English language's greatest living bard."
One of his best-known poems, "Digging," compares his trade to that of his father and grandfather, who were farmers and cattle-raisers. These are its last two stanzas:
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
One of Heaney's great later achievements was his translation of Beowulf, which I bought and read along with his Selected Poems when I was in college.
Previous translators struggled with the first word of Beowulf ("Hwaet!") for decades. "Hark!" "What!", and so on. Heaney's version: "So." <3— Ellie Cumbo (@EllieCumbo) August 30, 2013
Heaney's take on the Anglo-Saxon most reminds me of the first of Ezra Pound's Cantos, a weird mix of old epic and contemporary free-verse imagery and meters, a translation of a translation of Homer that begins "And then" and ends "So that:"
When Swinburne died, W.B. Yeats is said to have told his sister, "Now I am King of the Cats." When Robert Frost died, John Berryman asked, "who's number one?"
I note this not to pose the question "who's number one?" now that Heaney has died, but to observe that just as champion boxers and sprinters often have outsized competitive personalities that seem like caricatures compared to other athletes, even among writers, and even when they resist, as Heaney did, being drawn into literary feuds or political debate, great poets are often magnificent and terrible and troubling and glorious and weird.
Standing between harm and others orig. from Aug 29, 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.
Having it all: Bill Watterson's words grace new cartoon TIM CARMODY · AUG 29
Bill Watterson famously quit cartooning after ten years during which his Calvin and Hobbes was a critical and commercial success you could only compare to Charles Schultz's Peanuts. (Gary Larsen, GB Trudeau, and Berkeley Breathed are great, but come on.)
You could say Watterson retreated from public view after his retirement, but he was rarely available to the public even during the height of his fame. One exception was his 1990 commencement speech to his alma mater Kenyon College.
Thoreau said, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." That's one of those dumb cocktail quotations that will strike fear in your heart as you get older. Actually, I was leading a life of loud desperation.
When it seemed I would be writing about "Midnite Madness Sale-abrations" for the rest of my life, a friend used to console me that cream always rises to the top. I used to think, so do people who throw themselves into the sea.
I tell you all this because it's worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success. You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure. The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along.
Zen Pencils cartoonist Gavin Aung Than took a series of quotes from Watterson's speech and illustrated them, consciously imitating Watterson's style for a new inspirational cartoon titled "Bill Watterson: A Cartoonist's Advice." It features a cartoonist who (like Watterson) gives up a commercial illustration job to embrace his artistic dreams and raise a family as a stay-at-home dad. Although the events and much of the scenery is inspired in part by Watterson's story, first as a young illustrator and later as a popular cartoonist who refused to compromise, Gavin writes:
The comic is basically the story of my life, except I'm a stay-at-home-dad to two dogs. My ex-boss even asked me if I wanted to return to my old job.
My original dream was to become a successful newspaper comic strip artist and create the next Calvin and Hobbes. That job almost doesn't exist anymore as newspapers continue to disappear and the comics section gets smaller and smaller, often getting squeezed out of newspapers entirely. I spent years sending submissions to syndicates in my early 20s and still have the rejection letters somewhere. I eventually realised it was a fool's dream (also, my work was nowhere near good enough) and decided webcomics was the place to be. It's mouth-watering to imagine what Watterson could achieve with webcomics, given the infinite possibilities of the online medium.
See also Robert Krulwich's remarkable commencement speech at Berkeley about horizontal loyalty and refusing to wait, which seems to dovetail well here.
Alyssa Rosenberg writes about Watterson's speech and Gavin's accompanying cartoon's implications for feminism, especially arguments over balancing life and work:
"A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children," Watterson noted," is considered not to be living up to his potential." I'm sure that choice of pronouns is deliberate. ... [The cartoon] is a powerful alternate vision of what it might look like to have it all.
Standing between harm and others TIM CARMODY · AUG 29
I played football in high school, specifically offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. So did my older and younger brothers, and my older brother coaches linemen and defense at a high school in Michigan. I started out first in middle school and high school as a defensive specialist, which makes sense given John Madden's theory of linemen.
Madden used to say that offensive linemen were overwhelmingly big kids who grew up to be big men, who'd always been told not to pick on but to protect kids smaller than them. Defensive linemen, on the other hand, were little kids who grew up fighting with other little kids (and often bigger kids) but who grew up to be big men. That's what I was: a skinny kid who became a fat adolescent who became a big, strong teenager. (Now I'm a strong, fat writer, so that's how that turned out.)
Madden said the problem is that offensive linemen still need to be as tough and aggressive as defensive linemen, but they always hold something back. Some of this is part of the rules of football: offensive linemen literally can't do everything a defensive lineman can do to them. So what Madden would do is take a tackling dummy and let his offensive linemen beat the hell out of it. Punch it, tear it, throw it across the room, it doesn't matter. Help them get to a point where they're no longer worried about being over-aggressive.
College football reporter Spencer Hall writes:
You should know this about offensive line coaches: they are large, demanding men with Falstaffian appetites, jutting jaws, and no governors on their speech engines. They eat titanic portions. They cram their lips full of dip in film study like they are loading a mortar. They drink bottled water like parched camels, and in their leisure time would consider a suitcase of beer to be a personal carry-on item for them, and them alone. They are terrifyingly disciplined in the moment, and nap like large breed dogs when allowed.
Now, even if Madden's amateur psychobiography of linemen were true when he was coaching, it's not true any more. In the 1990s, coaches got really good at taking tall but relatively slender athletes from every position, bulking them up, and sticking them at offensive line.
In high school, we played this guy named Jon Jansen, who ended up becoming a star offensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, then coming home to Detroit and playing one year for the Lions before becoming an announcer. In high school, he weighed almost 100 pounds less than he did as a pro. He was listed then at 6'8", 230 lbs, and played tight end and middle linebacker. He was FAST. They moved him all over the field, catching touchdowns and uprooting people. It was chaos.
He went to Michigan, they redshirted him for his freshman year, and came back weighing 300 lbs and playing offensive line. Jansen told Bob Costas that he thought between 15 to 20 percent of NFL players were using illegal performance enhancing drugs, noting that the NFL didn't then test for human growth hormone. I remember when I was still in high school reading a long profile of the University of Nebraska's offensive linemen that attributed their huge gains in mass and strength to weightlifting and creatine. Draw your own conclusions about what was happening in pro and college football at the time.
This is all to say that what offensive linemen do in football is not well understood. When the NFL finally started to act on widespread concussions and the resultant uptick in chronic traumatic encephalopathy — if you never have, please read about the life and death of Dave Duerson — they focused on open-field helmet-to-helmet hits and defensive players targeting quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers (so-called "skill positions"). They ignored the constant battering that offensive linemen take, how repeated brain injury poses the greatest risk for long-term problems, how linemen are rewarded for staying on the field and playing through pain, and the ways in which they're encouraged to both be more aggressive and prioritize someone else's safety over their own.
Kurt Vonnegut said that his chief objection to life in general was that it was "too easy, when alive, to make horrible mistakes." This is what offensive line coaches live with: the notion that for every five simple circles drawn on a board, there are a nearly infinite number of possible threats looming out in the theoretical white space. Offensive plays give skill players arrows. Those arrows point down the field toward an endzone, a stopping point, a celebration. Those five simple circles stay on the board in the same place, and are on duty forever.
They are rough men in the business of protection.
Today, Hall has one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, human pieces on offensive linemen I've ever read, and which I've been quoting here throughout. It's called "The Business Of Protection," and subtitled "It Is Never, Ever About You." It's a story about Vanderbilt University's offensive line coach Herb Hand, who suffered a sudden and life-threatening brain hemorrhage waiting in line at a hotel breakfast bar on a recruiting trip. But Hand's story manages to become equally about football, fatherhood, the brain, the heart, how we defend ourselves from what's horrible in the things we love, and how we defend the people closest to us from ourselves.
When Hand had to have the impossible conversation — the one where you, with cellphone, stuck in a hospital far away from home, might have to say the last words you ever say to your children — he did what he was trained to do. He told them that he loved them, and that everything would be okay. The second part of that might not have been true at the time. The emergency room doctor certainly didn't think so, and neither did Hand. But standing between harm and others is what linemen do, even if there's little hope to be had in the face of numbers, size, and speed. There is a dot on the board, and a shield held against whatever slings and arrows lurk in the ether. It stands against harm until it cannot any longer.
Update: While I was writing this post, the NFL and 4500 former players (about one-third of the 12000 still living) reached a mediation agreement to settle a number of lawsuits over concussions for $765 million.
This figure includes legal fees, medical exams, the cost of noticing former players, and $10 million for research and education on the long-term effect of brain injuries, leaving $675 million to compensate former players who've suffered cognitive injuries (or, if dead, their families). The settlement applies only to players who've retired by the time court approves its terms. Current players will need a separate agreement to be compensated for existing and future injuries, and the NFL admits no liability.
As Buzzfeed sportswriter Erik Malinowski notes on Twitter: "Holy crap, what a bargain... ESPN pays $1.9 billion *every year* for Monday Night Football. 4,500 ex-players will get 40% of that (once) for decades of head trauma."
Loving pencils TIM CARMODY · AUG 29
Three years ago, I came across a post on the Sharpie blog -- I don't know how or why I was following Sharpie's blog, but such were the mysteries of our universe in those long-ago days -- announcing a new kind of pencil: a mechanical pencil with liquid graphite ink, with leads that could not break, whose writing was initially erasable but over time (about three days) would become semi-permanent.
Seriously: the Sharpie liquid pencil shows that somewhere, engineers are always quietly perfecting something old & great. http://j.mp/aFQHBE— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) August 9, 2010
Sharpie eventually had to back off some of its claims for the liquid pencil -- the original promo material said pencil would become permanent like a Sharpie Marker, which isn't quite true -- but they brought them to market, and sell them for about $3 apiece. (Sadly, the reviews aren't very good.)
People love pencils. They love them. It's partly childhood nostalgia, partly how a craftsman comes to care for her tools, and partly the tactile experience. It's also a blend of appreciation for both their aesthetic and functional qualities, and (especially these days, but not only these days), a soupÃ§on of the disruptive passion that comes from willfully embracing what poses as the technologically obsolete.
Over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen has a story about Pencil Revolution, which she quite rightly calls "The World's Best Website About Pencils." She lists ten representative posts, from which I'll select my favorite five:
A review of artisanal pencil-sharpener David Rees's book, How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants ("a must-read for anyone interested in pencils")
A review of the Staedtler Norica HB pencil:
I found these at Staples (in the US) a few weeks ago and bought a pack. At $10 for three dozen, it was a pretty good deal. Less than $3.50 for some quality pencils is something I'd find it difficult to pass up. But three dozen is...a commitment to make to the Pencil Gods, when the pencil might just be terrible. I mean, they are pencils. One can't just throw them away if they turn out to be awful. Luckily, these pencils are not awful at all. Unluckily, having a Big Box means that I've given most of them away already.
I feel like there's something powerful about pencils that I feel viscerally but don't fully understand. There's the manuscript part: as much as I love to type, there's something super powerful in that alignment of the eye and the hand. But that's pens and chalk and crayons and markers too, and I have completely different feelings about all of these things.
In "Why pencils?" Pencil Revolution's founder Johnny Gamber tries to explain:
The first and best reason to use pencils is because you like them and enjoy writing/drawing with them. Because you feel better connected to the paper you're writing on (or the wall, etc.) and the earth from which the clay, the graphite and the wood all came. Because they smell good. Because sharpening them can be a sort of meditative process. Because you can chew on them. Or for reasons we can't explain.
The point is that it's best to write with what we like best, no? I'll admit to enjoying taking notes and writing papers and poems with pencils better than pens. That's the biggest reason that I use pencils at all.
Maybe it's that sense of work that's best realized in sharpening: the continual, attentive maintenance to a thing that's ultimately, necessarily, and even intentionally disposable. To adapt George Carlin's observation, when you buy a pencil, you know it's going to end badly. You're buying a small tragedy. Caring for a pencil becomes like caring for a pet, or a person, in accelerated miniature, like in time-lapse photography.
Pencils are like love. Pencils are like us. They are free to love, free to squander, and free to give away.
I'm going to do something rare here at Kottke and open up the comments. I'll close them down at the end of the day. Do you love pencils? Do you hate them? Why? What's your favorite pencil? What's your best pencil story? Did a pencil ever break your heart?
Ask a feminist about dating TIM CARMODY · AUG 28
Writer and professor Roxane Gay was recently moved to write a dating FAQ [excerpts follow]:
Why are you still single?
I discontinued settling in 2012.
If you're a feminist, why do you need a man?
I don't need to do anything but stay black and die but I enjoy braiding a man's leg hair while we watch Lifetime movies.
You are confusing and contradictory. I don't understand.
I cannot help you with that.
Are you buckwild?
What the hell are you looking for?
All I want is everything.
And now you have asked one (or strictly speaking, n ? 1) feminist about dating.
Exercises in unnecessary censorship TIM CARMODY · AUG 28
Building on yesterday's "The dirty BLEEP," here are a few more great moments in the artful use of censorship (or its illusion):
- Neven Mrgan and James Moore have an iOS game called "Blackbar" that involves playful use of blacked-out text. (If my last name were missing an expected vowel, I'd be interested in intentional omissions too.) It's described as "serious," "artsy," and "texty," all adjectives I hope I will one day earn.
- Jimmy Kimmel has gotten a lot of mileage out of "Unnecessary Censorship," a recurring sketch that uses bleeps and blurs for comedic effect. A proprietor of a popular internet site named J--n K----e confided in me this week that "Kimmel's... skit always makes me laugh until I pee my pants," a pretty stirring endorsement if I've ever heard one.
Also, besides using the appearance of censorship to remix existing text, audio, and video like "Unnecessary Censorship" does or fully scripting the bleep ahead of time like Arrested Development or South Park do, there's been a real rise in a mode that's in between, something that's deliberate but has the feel of being off-the-cuff. This is probably best exemplified by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Check out Ashton Kutcher's "surprise" experience on Colbert:
Here the tension isn't just between what you've heard and what you know was said, but also between the live experience and that of broadcast. It used to be that if you heard a bleep of an event that was recorded live, someone had gone off the rails, like Madonna on the David Letterman show.
Now, TV mostly just lets anything and everything rip for the people in the room, knowing it will amp up the energy in the crowd, but can be bleeped for broadcast later. Then sometimes (like with The Daily Show or Chappelle's Show on DVD or Netflix), you can catch the uncensored cut at home.
So we get the live, the censored, and the edited-but-encensored experiences, and we're always mentally bouncing between all three. We know it's not really spontaneous, but knowing is part of what lets us in on the joke, even though we can't be in the room.
In living memory TIM CARMODY · AUG 28
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The full title is important because the right words are important.
@Soledad_OBrien Everyone forgets that the "March on Washington" was the "March for Jobs and Freedom."— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) August 23, 2013
It's important because the Great March itself was a compromise, an evolution of the movement A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters had forged decades before during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations to force the government to desegregate the army and provide more economic opportunities to black Americans. Before 1963, each time the March was about to happen, the government made concessions and it would be called off.
Randolph was 74 when the March finally materialized, with him as its titular head. He was the only figure with the credibility to unify northern labor leaders and southern pastors: radical enough for the relative radicals -- the radical radicals saw the March as a distracting sideshow or were actively asked not to participate -- and institutional enough for the wary moderates.
Bayard Rustin was Randolph's lieutenant, and did the bulk of the work organizing the March. Rustin was gay, had been a Communist, and couldn't be the event's public face.
Special trains leaving from Penn Station to bring marchers to DC. Officials say it's the largest early-morning crowd since end of WW2.— Today in 1963 (@todayin1963) August 28, 2013
Everything that happened at the March, from the arrival of more than 100,000 people straight through all the speeches, all the songs, all the signs painted, all of the 80,000 cheese sandwiches made, distributed, and eaten -- each and every one of those moments -- happened in one day. Television stations were able to carry the event live. No one but Bayard Rustin could have pulled it off.
John Lewis was 23 years old and the March's youngest speaker. He is the only one of that day's speakers who is still alive. He had recently been made head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC (pronounced "snick"): a new independent civil rights organization that had proven itself integrating lunch counters in Nashville, on the Freedom Rides with CORE protesting segregated busing and bus stations throughout the south, and working with the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Albany, Georgia.
If you're serious about the civil rights movement, you have to learn a lot of organizations' names and abbreviated titles. You have to learn that the leaders of these organizations rarely agreed with each other about goals, methods, or priorities. You have to know that even within each organization there were equal amounts of discipline and dissent.
They were organized not because they agreed, but because they had to be. They were disciplined because they had to be. They were allied because they had to be. It was all fragile. At any moment, it could all fall apart.
John Lewis had been part of both series of Freedom Rides and badly beaten during the second in Montgomery. The state highway patrol that had promised the riders protection -- at the insistence of the Kennedy administration and with the reluctant assurance of Alabama's governor, George Wallace -- abandoned them to a white mob waiting at the city's station house. Lewis was 21 years old. His friend Jim Zwerg was also 21. Zwerg bravely walked out the door of the bus first to meet the waiting mob, and was nearly beaten to death. He received a particularly savage beating partly because he was first and partly because he was white. Jim Zwerg is still alive. It's amazing any of these people are still alive.
August 28, 1955, Emmett Till is murdered.— Melissa Harris-Perry (@MHarrisPerry) August 28, 2013
Lewis was originally going to give a much more provocative speech at the March, singling out the supposedly liberal Kennedy administration for its lukewarm support of civil rights. (A less polite word than "lukewarm" would be "half-assed.") On behalf of SNCC, Lewis planned to argue that the civil rights legislation proposed by the Kennedy administration was (in Lewis' words) "too little and too late." But each of the March's major figures, including Rustin and Dr. King, urged Lewis to moderate his speech. They had a testy but evolving relationship with the Kennedys that they didn't want to jeopardize or aggravate. It was only A. Philip Randolph who finally swayed Lewis. Rustin went into the crowd to find Randolph, then brought the two men together.
Lewis was 51 years younger than Randolph. Lewis later said of Randolph that "if he had been born in another period, maybe of another color, he probably would have been President." Randolph had been an actor as a young man, and his voice has that deep, archaic, clear-toned, echoing-from-infinity quality that you imagine is the voice of history itself, the voice you imagine reading the Gettysburg Address and Declaration of Independence.
Lewis and the other young leaders of SNCC were quite rightly in awe of him.
He was 75, and here we were, you know, one-third his age and, you know, he was asking us to do this for him. He said, "I waited all my life for this opportunity, please don't ruin it." And we felt that for him, we had to make some concession. [Courtland Cox]
The day's speeches were already underway. This all happened in one day. Lewis was sixth on the program. So Cox and Lewis and James Forman went to the Lincoln Memorial -- no bullshit, they went and sat together at the foot of the Lincoln fucking Memorial -- and rewrote Lewis' speech. It's still pretty fierce.
To those who have said, "Be patient and wait," we must say that "patience" is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence...
The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a "cooling-off" period...
We must say, "Wake up, America. Wake up! For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient."
I was amazed recently to discover that Reverend Doctor Joseph E. Lowery, one of the co-founders of SCLC, is still alive at 91. He has three videos of interviews up at "His Dream, Our Stories," a site devoted to the March. Lowery was a pastor in Mobile and helped lead the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama -- which, people forget, went on for over a year after Rosa Parks' arrest. Lowery later, along with John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and others, led the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery march. Ten years after Emmett Till's murder and the Montgomery bus boycott, two years after the March on Washington, and a year after the Civil Rights Act, the Selma marchers were attacked by Alabama state and local police for asserting their right to vote.
In 2008, Lowery gave the benediction for Barack Obama's first Inauguration. He is still alive. He is 91 years old.
The March all happened in one day; the Movement happened over years and years and years.
Rosa Parks was 42 when the Montgomery bus boycott began. She was 50 at the time of the March (where she was honored along with Little Rock's Daisy Bates, SNCC's Diane Nash Bevel, Gloria Richardson of Cambridge, Maryland, and Mrs. Herbert Lee in a speech by Myrlie Evers-Williams, then listed as Mrs. Medgar Evers). Lowery was 34. King was 26, not much older than Lewis was when he was called to lead SNCC and speak in Washington. Randolph would live to be 90 years old, just a little younger than Lowery is now.
We've lost so much. We've forgotten so much. We've asked so few to stand in for so many. We're doing it still.
Copyright lawyer Josh Schiller recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, "Why you won't see or hear the 'I have a dream' speech," examining how the King estate's vigorous defense of his speech's copyright has prevented its popular reproduction.
One place you can both see and hear King's speech is on PBS's Eyes on the Prize website. Eyes on the Prize is a landmark documentary on the entire modern civil rights movement, from Emmett Till's murder through the 1980s, when it first appeared. Its producers know more than a thing or two about the thorniest issues of copyright: the documentary's rebroadcast and distribution were held up for years while rights were cleared for its music, photographs, and videos. (Eventually, some of the original media was replaced.) I'm pretty sure they've done their work and paid the right licensing fees to get King's speech on the website.
Watch Dr King's speech. It's not the entire thing, and it's a crummy little QuickTime video. But it includes footage of the marchers arriving, A. Philip Randolph's introduction, and footage of President Kennedy meeting with the March's leaders, plus Walter Cronkite's contemporary commentary.
Remember this is history, which means we are still within it, even when those for whom it has been living memory leave us. Remember that it is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Remember how fragile it all was. Remember A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, Joseph E. Lowery and Jim Zwerg.
Remember Martin Luther King, Jr., that thickly-built, still-young man, rooting his feet in our history and turning himself into a column of pure energy, like a beacon through time and space, a light so bright we can't look at him directly, but have to turn away and look only at his half-remembered shape, still impressed on us when we close our eyes. Remember that day, when he all-too-briefly became a single still point with the granted power to bend straight the crooked lines of history.
Remember that fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, A. Philip Randolph was organizing the Shakespearean Society in Harlem. Fifty years after that, he was meeting a President who now owed him more than he probably ever knew. Fifty years is a long time and yet not so very long. If so much can be done in just one day, how much more could we do, now that we know we have another fifty years?
Image colorized by Mads Madsen for NPR.
The dirty BLEEP: things you can't say / things left unsaid TIM CARMODY · AUG 27
Maria Bustillos' "Curses! The birth of the bleep and modern American censorship" has a blacked-out subhed. Mouse over the black virtual ink and you see "Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits," George Carlin's original list of Seven Dirty Words that can't be said on radio or television.
How'd we get here? Supposedly it was because of a nursery rhyme vaguely referencing contraception read live on a Newark radio station by actress Olga Petrova: "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, She had so many children because she didn't know what to do." The rhyme wasn't censored, but engineers later built a switch to turn on music in case anyone recording went blue.
In the US, the government owns the airwaves and regulates their content, and bases its criteria for obscenity in part on past court cases regulating print.
In order to be considered obscenity, the material in question must pass a three-pronged test: first, it has to "appeal to the prurient interest," or be be liable to turn the average person on sexually; secondly, it must describe sexual conduct "in a patently offensive way;" and finally, "the material taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." The last is how both Ulysses and Lolita slide out of being considered "obscene."
But in addition to obscenity, the FCC also has rules governing "indecency" and "profanity"; all three are technically distinct in the same way that a moron is different from an imbecile, which in turn is different from an idiot. And most of the censorship action happens within TV or radio networks' standards and practices departments anyways.
Once the bleep is introduced, however, it takes on its own meaning. It's a kind of zero-sign that artists can use deliberately for effect.
The writers of Arrested Development are masters of this comic technique, repeatedly pushing the envelope. They snuck the word "fucking" past prime time television censors by putting half the word at the beginning of the show, and half at the end.
But it was with the aid of censor bleeping that Arrested Development reached the summit of its satiric genius. The show's creator, Mitch Hurwitz, told Neda Ulaby of NPR, "We realized, you know, it's more fun to not know exactly what it is that we're saying ... It becomes kind of a puzzle for people. And I think it's about, you know, letting your imagination do the work."
The full essay tracks the legal and cultural history of the bleep from its high-analog origins up to its culmination/obsolescence in the digital dump track. Now if a producer really wants to keep you from hearing something that might make someone uncomfortable, they just cut it right out of the audio, and you'd never know it was there.
Disclosure: I worked at The Verge and discussed this feature when it was in development. Also, freelance writer Maria Bustillos is
A short history of child stars TIM CARMODY · AUG 27
There's a history here.
*Billy Ray Cyrus enters the office* *browser windows close throughout building* *6 people crowded around an iPad suddenly scatter*— netw3rk (@netw3rk) August 26, 2013
Nobody seems to remember when Shirley Temple celebrated her 19th birthday by twerking on the Jack Benny Goodtime Radio Hour.— Joel Mathis (@joelmmathis) August 26, 2013
It's not only uncanny when performers we first knew as girls age into women; it's awkward when boys become men, too. Molly Shannon used to have the same agent as Gary Coleman (story starts around 2:40).
(Shannon tells a longer/uncensored version of this story on Marc Maron's WTF podcast.)
Clearly, not everyone gets to have Ron Howard's or Judy Garland's career. (And even Judy Garland's life was the opposite of a success story.)
But what about the alternative? What if child stars never changed their acts, and just aged in place? Wouldn't that be equally unsettling? On Comedy Bang Bang, Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, Seth Rogen, and the great Bob Odenkirk try to answer that question through the life of champion birdcaller Tommy Chalders.
Actually, maybe that would be beautiful. I wish Judy Garland had lived to sing "Over the Rainbow" at an auto show.
But time never stands still for us to paint its portrait. As Marshall McLuhan would, and, what the hell, very well might have said: "we look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We twerk backwards into the future."
Daft Punk's Get Lucky "leaked" orig. from Apr 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.
A tale of two bank robbers, or The Clerk and the Pauper TIM CARMODY · AUG 26
Today is a weird day for human-interest stories about bank robbers.
The New York Times highlights Shon R. Hopwood, a former bank robber who studied law in prison, successfully petitioned on behalf of another prisoner in a Supreme Court case his team won 9-0, and will soon be a clerk for the DC circuit federal appeals court, "generally considered the second most important court in the nation, after the Supreme Court":
The judge Mr. Hopwood worked for last summer said he deserved his 147-month sentence. "He used a weapon in some of those robberies, and that justified a very heavy hit," said Judge John C. Coughenour of Federal District Court in Seattle. "But everybody we sentence has the potential to turn their life around."
Meanwhile, one state south in Oregon:
Authorities in Oregon say a homeless man who held up a bank for $1 was just looking for a way to go to jail so he could receive free health care.
According to Clackamas County sheriff's deputies, 50-year-old Tim Alsip entered a Bank of America in Southeast Portland last Friday morning and handed the teller a note that read, "This is a holdup. Give me a dollar."
I know he's a busy man, but it would be remarkable if Mr. Hopwood could drive from Seattle to Portland and find a way to help Mr. Alsip be relegated to an appropriate facility.
Twelve Monkeys TV adaptation is in YOUR FUTURE TIM CARMODY · AUG 26
Looks like Syfy has ordered a "cast-contingent" hour-long pilot for an adaptation of Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, with an eye to make it into a proper TV series. One of the producers of Gilliam's 1995 film is on board, and Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who both worked on Terra Nova and Nikita, wrote it. The model here is Battlestar Galactica: a movie reboot that could be a mini-series that could be multiple seasons.
Syfy's Mark Stern talked about it with The Hollywood Reporter, back when the pilot was 90 minutes long and still waiting to be approved for production while the network and producers figured out what the whole series would be about:
It's a return to our roots in terms of science fiction: cool, interesting push-the-genre science fiction. Some we're looking at doing straight to series, because you really want to give them the flexibility and do a closed-ended, arced run. Some of them are going to be traditional pilots, and then we'll decide and they may be a bit more episodic.
Given the time-travel theme, the fact that the source material (both Twelve Monkeys and La Jetée) are well-known, and the way TV's changed over the last ten years with jigsaw-puzzle series like LOST and the revived Arrested Development, I'm curious to see if the showrunners might mess around with the timelines a bit, jumping around, giving the audience previews of things the story doesn't explain right away, and generally making Doctor Who look like it's for precocious kids (which, really, it kinda is).
How to make your own slow jams TIM CARMODY · AUG 26
A couple of weeks ago, a slowed-down version of Dolly Parton's classic ballad "Jolene" went viral. A lot of people who heard it loved it, a few people didn't, but everyone seemed to agree that it was like listening to either an entirely new song or the same song again for the first time.
One of the things that's eerie about this is that if you listen closely, everything is just a little bit out of tune. There's conflicting information about exactly how much the track has been slowed. Some people have said that it's simulating a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, which is certainly the most common way people who lived with record players heard popular songs at slower speeds. But that would actually be quite a bit slower and lower than this.
The other figure I've seen (forgive me for not citing everything, I'm typing as fast as I can) is "Jolene" has been slowed by 17 percent, which sounds about right and would explain why all the notes seem just a little bit sharp. Here's the formula for slowing or speeding up a recording to shift the pitch but generally stay in tune:
(2 ^ (semitones change/12) - 1) *100 = Percent Change
So -- as one does when procrastinating from remunerative work -- I made an Excel spreadsheet.
If you want to drop two semitones, you shift the speed down by 12.2462 percent; drop three, you shift by 18.9207 percent, which significantly changes the track. To imitate a 45 RPM record played at 33 1/3, that's about 25.926, but very few records still sound like something a person actually made at this speed. All of these slowdowns are interesting, even the ones that don't work.
You can do all of them in the free/open-source audio processing app Audacity; it's very fast and very easy. (If you want to get freaky, you can also use Audacity to change pitch without changing tempo, or vice versa, or to start out slow and go fast, and all manner of lesser and greater perversity.)
But after messing with Audacity for longer than was strictly necessary, I can tell you that some songs and transformations work out better than others, and they tend to be those that share a lot of the same characteristics as Jolene:
- A mix of quick and slow instrumentation, so there's a lot of information density. It almost has to be fractal; the more you slow it down, the more minute structures you find. The original song itself can actually be slow or fast; many fast songs really don't work, and quite a few slow ones do.
- High-pitched, typically (but not always) female vocals, so the song sounds like a person singing and not a voice-distorted growling dude from To Catch A Predator.
- The song needs to be fairly popular, so you can listen to the slow version and keep the regular-speed version in mind. This kind of continual allusion just makes it a richer experience.
And so, here are some of the results:
I described this Prince track as sounding like the slowest, sultriest, funkiest Sylvester song you've ever heard.
Mazzy Star surprised me. I always thought Hope Sandoval's vocals were gorgeous but a little warbly, which gave them character, but that's almost entirely a production effect. When you slow it down, you can really hear how clean and sustained her notes are.
My Bloody Valentine is the best example of that fractal quality. You can slow it down almost indefinitely and it still sounds like My Bloody Valentine. At this rate, though, it really just turns Bilinda Butcher's vocals into Kevin Shields'.
There's more at my Soundcloud page, including The Breeders' "Cannonball," "House of Jealous Lovers," Hot Chip's "Over and Over," Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" (which I actually sped up), and more. (Finally, if slowing a track down and posting it online somehow breaks copyright, let me know and I'll take them down.)
Update 2: Here's Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." slowed from 127 BPM to 110 BPM, leaving the pitch as-is.
How many people are in space right now? TIM CARMODY · AUG 26
As of August 26, 2013, these six people have emigrated from Earth's atmosphere and not yet returned:
- Pavel Vinogradov, Commander (Russia): 151 DAYS IN SPACE
- Alexander Misurkin, Flight Engineer (Russia): 151 DAYS IN SPACE
- Chris Cassidy, Flight Engineer (USA): 151 DAYS IN SPACE
- Fyodor Yurchikhin, Flight Engineer (Russia): 90 DAYS IN SPACE
- Karen Nyberg, Flight Engineer (USA): 90 DAYS IN SPACE
- Luca Parmitano, Flight Engineer (Italy): 90 DAYS IN SPACE
When I was a kid, I always thought that by the time I was an adult, we would have town-sized colonies in space stations around Earth, even if nowhere else. But getting and keeping human beings in space is hard, and robots have gotten very smart. Still, when I think about the rise of commercial human spaceflight, part of me is like "I don't just want to shoot into space like a soda can and do one lousy orbit!" -- as if that wouldn't be the most magical experience of my life. It doesn't matter. What I really want is to do a semester abroad.
The Apollo Guidance Computer AUG 23
A 30-minute documentary from the 60s on the Apollo Guidance Computer.
Consider the Lobster AUG 23
Speaking of lobster, you could do much worse today than reading David Foster Wallace's classic piece for Gourmet about attending the Maine Lobster Festival. As you might imagine, Wallace quickly veers from the event at hand into something more interesting and unsettling for Gourmet's gourmet readers: do lobsters feel pain and do they suffer for your dinner?
Given this article's venue and my own lack of culinary sophistication, I'm curious about whether the reader can identify with any of these reactions and acknowledgments and discomforts. I am also concerned not to come off as shrill or preachy when what I really am is confused. Given the (possible) moral status and (very possible) physical suffering of the animals involved, what ethical convictions do gourmets evolve that allow them not just to eat but to savor and enjoy flesh-based viands (since of course refined enjoyment, rather than just ingestion, is the whole point of gastronomy)? And for those gourmets who'll have no truck with convictions or rationales and who regard stuff like the previous paragraph as just so much pointless navel-gazing, what makes it feel okay, inside, to dismiss the whole issue out of hand? That is, is their refusal to think about any of this the product of actual thought, or is it just that they don't want to think about it? Do they ever think about their reluctance to think about it? After all, isn't being extra aware and attentive and thoughtful about one's food and its overall context part of what distinguishes a real gourmet? Or is all the gourmet's extra attention and sensibility just supposed to be aesthetic, gustatory?
Ian Silva is a Australian commuter train driver who spends his spare time mapping an invented country called the Koana Islands.
People in the Koana Islands love baseball. The first league play started in 1882, barely six years after the MLB. Between the top-tier, Triple- and Double-A leagues, there are over 180 teams spanning the island nation. Fans are so rabid that there's even talk of expanding to a Single-A league, adding even more teams. If you're a baseball fan, you might be surprised you've never heard of this. You'll be even more surprised when you try to find the Koana Islands. That's because the 32-island chain, with its nine major cities, 11 national parks, 93 million residents and a landmass that is equal to Spain and Sweden combined does not really exist.
Here's a video of the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest winner, Janos Karancz. His motion is so delicate and intricate, it's almost like he's doing needlepoint or something:
Contrast that with the winner of the 2000 World Yo-Yo Contest, Yu Kawada. Much simpler tricks, more showmanship, like it's a dance:
Here's some footage from a 1989 yo-yo contest. Lots of throwing tricks and fewer spinning tricks. Contestants competed in blazers!
And finally, a Duncan yo-yo commercial from 1976. Super simple tricks and more blazers!
Best special effects moments AUG 22
Empire asked a group of visual effects specialists about their favorite special effect movie moments...here's what they had to say. Tim Webber (The Dark Knight, Gravity, Children of Men) picked the warehouse scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark:
I love Davy Jones in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and the T-1000 walking out of the flames in Terminator 2, but my pick is the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It's just a simple matte painting, not a very complicated visual effects shot, but it was done brilliantly. A lot of the visual effects from that period look terrible now -- there are lines around things or you can see the joins on matte paintings, but that one was immaculate. I was pretty young when I watched it, but I was so impressed by the way it slowly revealed the size of the place. It's not your big, crash-bang-wallop modern visual effects shot but it has real dramatic effect.
Alternate brand slogans AUG 22
Food option. You need a fucking car unfortunately. Smell bread. Awesome.
Sex in movies is sexy AUG 22
Josh Gondelman wants to make love to you like in the movies.
Everything that happens will be sexy. There won't be any gross sounds or sights. Just like in the movies, our sex will be tasteless and odorless. I will not kiss your neck and get a mouthful of perfume and then you're like what's wrong and I'll be like nothing and you'll get all distant and I'll be like sorry it's the taste of your perfume, and you'll be sad because you only wore it because I said I liked it one time and then all of a sudden you're not in the mood and I think about sneaking off to the bathroom to furtively masturbate but I don't and I just hold you limply until you fall asleep then I check Twitter for like an hour. That doesn't happen.
Epic profile of Kubrick AUG 21
From August 1999, a long remembrance of Stanley Kubrick from his friend and colleague, Michael Herr, who co-wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket.
Stanley Kubrick was a friend of mine, insofar as people like Stanley have friends, and as if there are any people like Stanley now. Famously reclusive, as I'm sure you've heard, he was in fact a complete failure as a recluse, unless you believe that a recluse is simply someone who seldom leaves his house. Stanley saw a lot of people. Sometimes he even went out to see people, but not often, very rarely, hardly ever. Still, he was one of the most gregarious men I ever knew, and it didn't change anything that most of this conviviality went on over the phone. He viewed the telephone the way Mao viewed warfare, as the instrument of a protracted offensive where control of the ground was critical and timing crucial, while time itself was meaningless, except as something to be kept on your side. An hour was nothing, mere overture, or opening move, or gambit, a small taste of his virtuosity. The writer Gustav Hasford claimed that he and Stanley were once on the phone for seven hours, and I went over three with him many times. I've been hearing about all the people who say they talked to Stanley on the last day of his life, and however many of them there were, I believe them all.
Somebody who knew him 45 years ago, when he was starting out, said, "Stanley always acted like he knew something you didn't know," but honestly, he didn't have to act. Not only that, by the time he was through having what he called, in quite another context, "strenuous intercourse" with you, he knew most of what you knew as well. Hasford called him an earwig; he'd go in one ear and not come out the other until he'd eaten clean through your head.
He had the endearing and certainly seductive habit when he talked to you of slipping your name in every few sentences, particularly in the punch line, and there was always a punch line. He had an especially fraternal temperament anyway, but I know quite a few women who found him extremely charming. A few of them were even actresses.
Some Americans move to London and in three weeks they're talking like Denholm Elliott. Stanley picked up the odd English locution, but it didn't take Henry Higgins to place him as pure, almost stainless Bronx. Stanley's speech was very fluent, melodious even. In spite of the Bronx nasal-caustic, perhaps the shadow of some adenoidal trauma long ago, it was as close to the condition of music as speech can get and still be speech, like a very well-read jazz musician talking, with a pleasing and graceful Groucho-like rushing and ebbing of inflection for emphasis and suggested quotation marks to convey amused disdain, over-enunciating phrases that struck him as fabulously banal, with lots of innuendo, and lots of latent sarcasm, and some not so latent, lively tempi, brilliant timing, eloquent silences, and, always, masterful, seamless segues -- "Lemme change the subject for just a minute," or "What were we into before we got into this?" I never heard him try to do other voices, or dialects, even when he was telling Jewish jokes. Stanley quoted other people all the time, people in the industry whom he'd spoken to that morning (Steven and Mike, Warren and Jack, Tom and Nicole), or people who died a thousand years ago, but it was always Stanley speaking.
Kubrick died a few months before the piece was published and his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, came out right around the publication date. And if you don't want to read all 12,000 words in your browser, there's an expanded version of the essay available as a book.
I took a Greek and Roman literature class in college. Among the texts we studied was Lucretius' On The Nature of Things. Shamefully, about the only thing I remembered from it was that the poem was an early articulation of the concept of atoms (see also Democritus). Impressive, chatting about atoms in 50 BCE. But reading Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve has reminded me what an impressive and prescient document it is, quite apart from its beauty as a poem. In chapter eight of his book, Greenblatt summarizes the main points of Lucretius' poem:
Everything is made of invisible particles.
The elementary particles of matter -- "the seeds of things" -- are eternal.
The elementary particles are infinite in number but limited in shape and size.
All particles are in motion in an infinite void.
The universe has no creator or designer.
Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve.
[Ok, the swerve deserves a bit of explanation. Here's Greenblatt:
If all the individual particles, in their infinite numbers, fell through the void in straight lines, pulled down by their own weight like raindrops, nothing would ever exist. But the particles do no move lockstep in a preordained single direction. Instead, "at absolutely unpredictable time and places they deflect slightly from their straight course, to a degree that could be described as no more than a shift of movement." The position of the elementary particles is thus indeterminate.
I can't help but think of quantum mechanics here. Anyway, back to the list.]
The swerve is the source of free will.
Nature ceaselessly experiments.
The universe was not created for or about humans.
Humans are not unique.
Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquility and plenty, but in a primitive battle for survival.
The soul dies.
There is no afterlife.
Death is nothing to us.
All organized religions are superstitious delusions.
Religions are invariably cruel.
There are no angels, demons, or ghosts.
The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.
Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.
The seeds of atomic theory, quantum mechanics, evolution, agnosticism, atheism...they're all right there, in a poem written by a man who died more than 2000 years ago.
1930s-40s USA in color AUG 21
You've probably seen some of these before, but the 1600+ color photos from the 1930s & 1940s uploaded by the Library of Congress to Flickr are a wonderful look at America around the time of WWII. Here are a few quick favorites:
There are a lot of lobsters in the sea. You could even call it a glut. Over the past few years, the massive lobster harvests have resulted in a significant reduction in what buyers are paying for a lobster off the boat. So why aren't we seeing major price drops at our local restaurants? Here's part of the reason: A luxury good is considered a luxury good in part because it's priced like one. Cheap lobster could throw the rest of your menu into chaos.
Studies have shown that people prefer inexpensive wines in blind taste tests, but that they actually get more pleasure from drinking wine they are told is expensive. If lobster were priced like chicken, we might enjoy it less.
In The New Yorker, James Surowiecki cracks open the surprising complexity of lobster prices.
A ton of vintage type AUG 20
Another one from Quora's excellent weekly newsletter: What's something that is common knowledge at your work place, but will be mind blowing to the rest of us? On fast food in commercials:
Everyone thinks the burgers shown on TV commercials must be highly fabricated works of culinary art, but the fact of the matter is that food advertising is subject to many regulations. I am not sure whether these are company policies or laws, and they're probably a combination of both, but on a typical fast food shoot these rules apply.
The meal must be prepared from actual store stock (from the frozen patty to the bun to the seasonings). On a shoot, stylists would receive tons of product, which they would pore through to find the best-looking raw material.
Other interesting answers reveal the inner workings of political campaign events, the mining industry, investment banking, and orchestras.
Lantern is a search engine for the books, periodicals, and catalogs contained in the Media History Digital Library. If you are a fan or student of pre-1970s American film and broadcasting, this looks like a goldmine. Here are some of the periodical titles and the years available:
Movie Classic 1931-1937
Home Movies and Home Talkies 1932-1934
Talking Machine World 1921-1928
(via candler blog)
Jumpy the amazing super dog AUG 19
Meet Jumpy the dog. This dog can jump higher than you, skateboard better than you, dive better than you, walk on its front paws better than you, surf better than you, catch a Frisbee better than you, do a backflip better than you, and ride a scooter better than you. Jumpy is better than you.
Ok, this dog is a better skateboarder, but Jumpy is still better than him. Jumpy is better than everyone. (thx, dad)
Stack AUG 19
Mugi Yamamoto's inkjet printer, designed for his diploma project, eliminates the paper tray and related components by having the printer sit directly on top of the paper, which it "swallows" as it prints.
A Hong Kong lending company accepts luxury handbags as collateral for loans.
Yes Lady provides a loan within half an hour at 80% of the bag's value -- as long as it is from Gucci, Chanel, Hermès or Louis Vuitton. Occasionally, a Prada purse will do the trick. Secondhand classic purses and special-edition handbags often retain much of their retail prices.
A customer gets her bag back by repaying the loan at 4% monthly interest within four months. Yes Lady says almost all its clients quickly pay off their loans and reclaim their bags.
The company recently lent about US$20,600 in exchange for a Hermès Birkin bag, but Yes Lady's purse-backed loans start at about US$200.
(via marginal revolution)
The Killing Machines AUG 16
When you consider the alternatives -- even, and perhaps especially, if you are deeply concerned with sparing civilians -- you are led, as Obama was, to the logic of the drone.
The Atlantic's Mark Bowden provides his take on how to think about drones: The Killing Machines.
How Play-Doh is made AUG 16
A short video about the ingredients that go into every can of Play-Doh:
Sadly, the composition of the amazing fragrance is not revealed, but Wired asked a perfumer about it a couple of years ago:
Hasbro's patent admits to vanilla, but that's just to throw us off the scent. The real formula for this iconic odor is guarded like the crown jewels. After talking with New York perfumer Christopher Brosius, who offers a Play-Doh fragrance, we suspect that it draws from the aromatic flowers of the heliotrope, aka the cherry pie plant.
Serious Eats Magazine AUG 16
So how do we find content for these magazines? It's a question we wracked our brains on long and hard before deciding that the most valuable service for our readers would be to craft issues around individual subjects -- think barbecue, pizza, or pies -- by combining the most popular recipes and features in our archives into single, elegant collections.
The Human Body AUG 16
My friends at Tinybop have released their first app, The Human Body, in which "curious kids ages 4+ can see what we're made of and how we work, from the beating heart to gurgling guts". Kelli Anderson did the illustrations for the app and they look amazing. Can't wait to try this out with Ollie and Minna.
Video games for all SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
Either you're a video game nerd or you're not. That's generally the perception by most people, nerds and norms alike.
To combat that, merritt kopas created forest ambassador, a blog that showcases short, free, easy to understand games, that you can play either in your browser or download and run without special software.
Cartoon closets SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
Nerd boyfriend, meet geek girlfriend.
BforBel creates outfits inspired by cartoon characters ranging from Ariel to Shrek.
I especially like this Rogue outfit for being so reminiscent of the character while looking fashionable, not costume-y.
Decapitated snake head bites its own body SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
With a child and dog at home, Sam Billiter didn't want to take any chances when he found a large venomous copperhead snake in his woodpile. So he decapitated it. But the body and the head didn't really want to be parted.
Wear your favorite books SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
Each of these shirts offered for sale by Litographs contains the entire text of your favorite public domain book.
You may have seen these designs featured back when they were just available as posters. But what good is a poster when you have to bring someone inside your house to show them how literary you are? Now you can wear it right on your sleeve.
For those worried about allover tshirt printing, they use dye sublimation which embeds the ink in the fibers so it's not heavy paint sitting across the entirety of the shirt waiting to crack and peel. It's a smooth, long lasting process that leaves it feeling like you're wearing a regular, blank tshirt.
And with Litographs' contributions to the International Book Bank for each sale, you can look and feel good while supporting literacy.
The shirt featured above (and below, zoomed in) is the Hamlet shirt.
Snap crackle pop SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
In a great article and video for The New Yorker's Elements blog, Sky Dylan-Robbins and Matt Buchanan take a look at the technology and history behind puffed breakfast cereal.
In 1901, while attempting to determine the moisture content in a granule of starch, a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, Alexander P. Anderson, filled hermetically sealed test tubes with cornstarch and wheat flour, and toasted the contents in a five-hundred-degree oven. Hit with a hammer, the still-hot tubes, which became pressurized as the temperature rose, exploded. The cornstarch, he found, had ballooned into a "porous puffed mass, white as snow" and nearly ten times its original volume, according to one account. Essentially, the water in the starch, unable to boil because of the hermetic seal, immediately vaporizes when the seal is released and the pressure drops; the steam expands outward and puffs the starch.
The KKK, pictured SARAH PAVIS · AUG 15
"Whenever you're granted access into a person's intimate space, you're establishing a relationship based on trust," he said. "In my opinion, trust is trust. That doesn't suggest I become complacent with my situation to the point of exploitation, nor does it mean I'm selectively disregarding certain moments to depict something that is not. I do admit I try to offer a balanced perspective as to my experiences within marginalized organizations. ... [T]o consciously distance myself will in effect (or could) create bias."
The economic and cultural dominance of Filipino sailors SARAH PAVIS · AUG 14
In what might be the oddest article you read today, Ryan Jacobs at The Atlantic makes a compelling case that the practice of penis augmentation by Filipino sailors is part of the culture that keeps them the dominant group in the competitive shipping industry.
Many Filipino sailors make small incisions in their penises and slide tiny plastic or stone balls -- the size of M&M's -- underneath the skin in order to enhance sexual pleasure for prostitutes and other women they encounter in port cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro. "This 'secret weapon of the Filipinos,' as a second mate phrased it, has therefore obviously something to do," Lamvik wrote in his thesis, "'with the fact that 'the Filipinos are so small, and the Brazilian women are so big' as another second mate put it."
According to University of California, Santa Cruz labor sociologist Steve McKay, who traveled extensively on container ships with Filipino crews in 2005 for his research on the masculine identity in the shipping market, raw materials for the bolitas can range from tiles to plastic chopsticks or toothbrushes. A designated crew member boils them in hot water to sterilize them, and then performs the procedure. There are also different preferred locations for insertion. Some have one on top or bottom, and others have both. One shipmate told McKay that others have four, one on top and bottom and on both sides, "like the sign of the cross." Another said: "I have a friend at home, you know what his nickname is?" McKay recalled. "Seven."
Black Mirror SARAH PAVIS · AUG 14
Jason posting the trailer for "Her" (which I love and feels like my life except I'm the one in the phone?) reminded me a lot of this episode of Black Mirror titled "Be Right Back". Black Mirror is a modern, British version of The Twilight Zone. The title refers to the dark, reflective surfaces of our smartphones and TVs and how we're constantly staring into them. There are 6 hour-long standalone episodes of Black Mirror, many of which are available on Vimeo (for now, at least). They're all great but "Be Right Back" is my favorite.
The suits of James Bond SARAH PAVIS · AUG 14
Whether you're into movies, fashion, or history, this site by Matt Spaiser cataloging the outfits worn by James Bond and his contemporaries is a great read.
This outfit from The Man with the Golden Gun may be the one most to blame for Roger Moore's undeserved reputation for always wearing a leisure suit as James Bond. This safari jacket, made of cream-coloured silk or a linen and silk blend, is really the only one that's a 100 percent product of the 1970s. Unlike Moore's traditional safari shirts, this one is a structured jacket. It has natural--but structured--shoulders, set-in sleeves and a tailored waist. It has most of the traditional details of a classic safari jacket: shoulder straps and four flapped patch pockets with inverted box pleats. The sleeves have buttoned straps around the cuffs as well as a vent. The front has a dart that extends to the bottom hem. The front of the jacket has four buttons, and Moore leaves the top button open. It has a long, single rear vent.What takes this jacket, more than any of Moore's other safari jackets, into the 1970s are two things: the collar and the stitching. A safari jacket should have a shirt-type collar, but this jacket has a a long, dog-ear style, leisure-suit collar. The other really fashionable aspect of this jacket is the dark, contrast stitching that's found all over the jacket. It's on the collar, lapels, shoulder straps, cuff straps and pockets. And Moore wears the jacket with medium brown, slightly-flared-leg trousers, so it's not a suit.
July 1852 NYC SARAH PAVIS · AUG 14
Generally a weather report wouldn't merit a mention on Kottke but this epic 1,500 word New York Times article published in July of 1852 titled "The Streets in Midsummer" uses the heatwave as a way to frame a far reaching denouncement of the city's terrible conditions at the time. In an artful turn, the article served more as a barometer for public sentiment than temperature.
You pass by six-storied houses, in which sixty or seventy families harbor, and swelter in the boundless contiguity of life, and ardor, and filth, defying the hygienic law that would seem to demand their immediate surrender to death. Brawling, scolding, half-clad women, breathing out threatenings and spurious Hollands, bar your way with themselves and their infants. You are obliged to tread carefully among the legs of broiling negroes, stretched at full length on cellar-doors and doorsteps, dozing off the effect of the gin, which they paid for with the proceeds of larceny or beggary.
You turn away from the place and the people with a sad heart. You inwardly curse the owners of the soil on which the houses stand for the harbors they erect, and the multitudes they crowd into them, regardless of anything but the heaped-up rent-in-advance. You reflect on the terrible responsibility of those, who so far lose sight of natural benevolence, as to build and pack these dreadful receptacles of living victims. You endeavor to estimate the probable heat, as compared with that you are enjoying at present, of the corner of Hades, to which the owners and lessors of gin-shops will be consigned. You are struck with the fearful amount of guilt resting upon the rich men, the capitalists of the City, the owners of real estate, who, with demoniacal contempt for the life or happiness of their unfortunate fellows, herd them together in their poly-roomed tenements.
The Pioneer Detectives AUG 13
Explore one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time, the Pioneer Anomaly: in the 1980s, NASA scientists detected an unknown force acting on the spacecraft Pioneer 10, the first man-made object to journey through the asteroid belt and study Jupiter, eventually leaving the solar system. No one seemed able to agree on a cause. (Dark matter? Tensor-vector-scalar gravity? Collisions with gravitons?) What did seem clear to those who became obsessed with it was that the Pioneer Anomaly had the potential to upend Einstein and Newton -- to change everything we know about the universe.
How We Got To Now AUG 13
Now this looks interesting: Steven Johnson is doing a six-episode series on PBS about the 500-year histories of several aspects of modern life. Sounds right up my alley...and also quite Connections-ish.
The show builds on many of themes in the innovation history trilogy of The Ghost Map, The Invention Of Air, and Where Good Ideas Come From, but is based on new material with a completely different structure. Each hour-long episode takes one facet of modern life that we mostly take for granted -- artificial cold, clean drinking water, the lenses in your spectacles -- and tells the 500-year story of how that innovation came into being: the hobbyists and amateurs and entrepreneurs and collaborative networks that collectively made the modern world possible. It's also the story of the unintended consequences of these inventions: air conditioning and refrigeration didn't just make it possible to build ski slopes in the desert; they also triggered arguably the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species -- to cities like Dubai or Phoenix that would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable.
Outside of the nature documentaries like Planet Earth, I haven't seen a decent science series on TV in a long while -- most of them are too slow with too much filler and not enough actual, you know, science -- so I'm not getting my hopes up too high, but hoping this one bucks that trend.
Hey there. Sleeping ok? Perhaps not after you watch this microscopic video of a mosquito's mouthparts searching the flesh of its victim for blood vessels.
I've never been shy about killing mosquitos but now I am on a mission.
Vintage vice AUG 13
On Soundcloud, TheMusicalOdyssey put together an hour-long mix of old blues, folk, and jazz tunes that are full of references to sex, drugs, and crime. The track listing is available on the SC page.
Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland's rendition of Shave Em Dry from 1935 is as nasty as anything 2 Live Crew put out. The lyrics are at the bottom of this page; this is the only verse printable in a family publication:
I will turn back my mattress and let you oil my springs,
I want you to grind me daddy till the bells do ring,
Ooh daddy, want you to shave 'em dry.,
Oh pray God daddy, shave 'em baby, won't you try?
(via hero squad)
For the Journal of the American Revolution, Todd Andrlik compiled a list of the ages of the key participants in the Revolutionary War as of July 4, 1776. Many of them were surprisingly young:
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25
This is kind of blowing my mind...because of the compression of history, I'd always assumed all these people were around the same age. But in thinking about it, all startups need young people...Hamilton, Lafayette, and Burr were perhaps the Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg of the War. Some more ages, just for reference:
Thomas Jefferson, 33
John Adams, 40
Paul Revere, 41
George Washington, 44
Samuel Adams, 53
The oldest prominent participant in the Revolution, by a wide margin, was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old on July 4, 1776. Franklin was a full two generations removed from the likes of Madison and Hamilton. But the oldest participant in the war was Samuel Whittemore, who fought in an early skirmish at the age of 80. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here:
Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.
On January 15, 1919 in Boston's North End, a storage container holding around 2.3 million gallons of molasses ruptured, sending a 8-15 ft. wave of molasses shooting out into the streets at 35 mph. Twenty-one people died, many more were injured, and the property damage was severe. In an article in Scientific American, Ferris Jabr explains the science of the molasses flood, including why it was so deadly and destructive.
A wave of molasses does not behave like a wave of water. Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that its viscosity depends on the forces applied to it, as measured by shear rate. Consider non-Newtonian fluids such as toothpaste, ketchup and whipped cream. In a stationary bottle, these fluids are thick and goopy and do not shift much if you tilt the container this way and that. When you squeeze or smack the bottle, however, applying stress and increasing the shear rate, the fluids suddenly flow. Because of this physical property, a wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami. In 1919 the dense wall of syrup surging from its collapsed tank initially moved fast enough to sweep people up and demolish buildings, only to settle into a more gelatinous state that kept people trapped.
This could just be a Boston urban legend, but it's said that on hot days in the North End, the sweet smell of molasses can be detected wafting through the air.
The Andy Warhol museum has recently set up a webcam pointed 24/7 at Andy Warhol's grave in a Pennsylvania cemetary. His gravestone is currently adorned with flowers, mylar balloons, and cans of Campbell's Soup. Peter Schjeldahl wrote about the project for the New Yorker.
I have angled for reasons to snoot the webcam stunt. I can't think of any. Along with more or less everybody else, I find it Warholian to the, well, life: watching the present habitation of a man who liked to watch. Warhol pioneered motion pictures of motionless subjects; and we have him to thank, or not, for prophesying reality television. His strictly beholding bent became, as it remains, a default setting of artistic and popular culture absolutely everywhere.
The live video feed includes sound, so I imagine it won't be too long before some enterprising performance artists show up and do something entertaining.
iPhone 6 Infinity AUG 12
Apple fan fiction is more popular than ever and usually takes the form of mockups of designs for new products and alternate designs for existing products. There's been a recent burst of creative energy unleashed on Dribbble around the idea of an iPhone with a screen that wraps completely around the device (or at least down around the sides). Claudio Guglieri seems to have accidentally started it with this mockup of an RSS reader he's working on:
Fabio Basile dubbed it iPhone 6 Infinity and made a Photoshop template that others could use to make further mockups. More mockups from them and others followed: Side Screen, another Photoshop template, a wrap-around social app, an alternate lock screen, and these subtle side indicators.
Leaving aside for the moment the issue of how a touchscreen device that's all screen would function while being held, the visual effect is pretty cool.
Visitors AUG 12
Here's the trailer for Visitors, a new film from Koyaanisqatsi collaborators Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass. Most of the trailer consists of a single two-minute shot.
Also interesting is that Visitors is comprised of only 74 shots, which with a runtime of 87 minutes means the average shot lasts over a minute. According to a recent investigation by Adam Jameson, an ASL (average shot length) of more than a minute is unusual in contemporary film. Inception, for instance, has a ASL of just 3.1 seconds and even a film like Drive, with many long shots, has an ASL of 7 seconds. But as Jameson notes, Alfonso Cuarón's upcoming Gravity contains only 156 shots, including a 17-minute-long shot that opens the film. But the Hollywood master of long-running shots? Hitchcock, I presume:
1. Rope (1948, Alfred Hitchcock), ASL = 433.9 [seconds]
OK, this isn't a recent recent film, but it has to be noted, as it's most likely the highest ASL in Hollywood. Hitchcock used only 10 shots in making it (the film's Wikipedia page lists them). (As you probably know, Hitchcock designed those shots, then edited them such that the finished film appeared to be a single take.)
A federal judge ruled this morning that NYC's controversial stop-and-frisk practice violated the rights of "tens of thousands" of New Yorkers.
In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.
These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.
To fix the constitutional violations, Judge Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said she intended to designate an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department's compliance with the Constitution.
This is good news. Treating every young black male in the city like a criminal is not a policing strategy and it's embarrassing it has gone on this long. This kind of thing, along with the recent NSA revelations and other issues, make me wonder if "innocent until proven guilty" is still something the US citizenry and its law enforcement agencies still believe in. (via @beep)
Update: Using data from the last half of 2013, the NY Times says 'Stop-and-Frisk' Is All but Gone From New York.
Many who live and work in the neighborhoods say they see scant evidence of change, and some say the police are simply not reporting some or all of their stops. The police did not respond to requests for comment.
But something is clearly different: Misdemeanor drug and weapon charges, the most common arrests to result from a stop, are down considerably. Advocates say misdemeanor marijuana charges, which require that the drug is in plain sight, are a bellwether, because the police ordered thousands to empty pockets, and arrested them.
I'll reserve judgement until the numbers from 2014 are in, particularly those post-Bloomberg.
Walmart's worst nightmare AUG 11
WinCo is an Idaho-based grocery chain that frequently beats Walmart on price while providing health care benefits for any employee working over 24 hours a week as well as an annual pension.
While all of these factors help WinCo compete with Walmart on price, what really might scare the world's largest retailer is how WinCo treats its employees. In sharp contrast to Walmart, which regularly comes under fire for practices like understaffing stores to keep costs down and hiring tons of temporary workers as a means to avoid paying full-time worker benefits, WinCo has a reputation for doing right by employees. It provides health benefits to all staffers who work at least 24 hours per week. The company also has a pension, with employees getting an amount equal to 20% of their annual salary put in a plan that's paid for by WinCo; a company spokesperson told the Idaho Statesman that more than 400 nonexecutive workers (cashiers, produce clerks, and such) currently have pensions worth over $1 million apiece.
Pretty interesting history of how the children's menu came to "grace" restaurant tables around the country.
Children tend to rise to the culinary bar we set for them, and children's menus in America set the bar very low indeed. To look at the standard kids' menu, greasy with prefab items like chicken fingers, tater tots, and mac-and-cheese, you might think that industrial food manufacturers have been responsible for setting it. But the delusion that a child even needs a special menu is a lot older than the chicken nuggets that have come to dominate it. In fact, the children's menu dates back to Prohibition, when, remarkably, it was devised with a child's health in mind.
I hate kid's menus. Our kids would happily order off the main menu but as soon as the promise of hot dogs and chicken fingers arrives with crayons, it's difficult to steer them away.
Rowing across the ocean AUG 09
The team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek's hand.
What happens when four guys try to cross the Atlantic...in a rowboat.
The Send Me to Heaven app is simple: it tracks how high you can throw your phone.
You install the app (on your android, obviously). You then throw your phone as high as you can. Go on, throw it. Catching the phone is entirely optional, of course, but if you're anything like me, your phone is carrying all kinds of incriminating evidence, so if it breaks, you're in the clear.
And that's it. Well, there's more to it than that: what the app actually does is register how high it's been thrown, then it uploads that height to a leaderboard. Effectively, it turns throwing your phone into a sport akin to Russian Roullette; do you want to be the best? Then you should risk your expensive phone to do so.
A bit of evil genius, that.
The trees of Chernobyl AUG 09
This is what the trees look like near Chernobyl when you cut them down. It's a biiiit tricky but see if you can spot when the nuclear plant disaster happened...
Mean growth rate was severely depressed and more variable in 1987-1989 and several other subsequent years, following the nuclear accident in April 1986 compared to the situation before 1986. The higher frequency of years with poor growth after 1986 was not caused by elevated temperature, drought or their interactions with background radiation. Elevated temperatures suppressed individual growth rates in particular years. Finally, the negative effects of radioactive contaminants were particularly pronounced in smaller trees. These findings suggest that radiation has suppressed growth rates of pines in Chernobyl, and that radiation interacts with other environmental factors and phenotypic traits of plants to influence their growth trajectories in complex ways.
Greatest Vine videos of 2013 AUG 09
Vine started from scratch. It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and -- frankly -- really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there's plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now. Many of the most popular Vines appear to be completely off the cuff. They don't have to be great or slick or well produced. In some ways, its better that they're not, because it creates a lower threshold if you just want to, you know, share a video of your cat. They have something that trumps quality, which is authenticity.
That authenticity is driving a distinct emerging culture. One that stars people like Riff Raff and Tyler, the Creator, and an army of kids whose names you've never heard of but who can still generate hundreds of thousands of likes and re-Vines, and even large scale in-person meetups. It's the triumph of the loop, yes, but it's also the triumph of youth.
Take a moment to stroll through Vine's "Popular Now" videos, and you'd have to be willfully ignorant to not notice that those on Vine are distinctly younger, distinctly blacker, and distinctly, well, gayer than society in general. In short, it's cool. It's hip. It's a scene. If Instagram is an art museum, Vine is a block party.
I was going to make a joke about this being what TV is going to look like in five years, but I think you could put 30 minutes of this on MTV2 or whatever, with six-second Vine-style ads placed seamlessly in the mix, and you'd have yourself a hit show. (via ★interesting)
From One Second To The Next AUG 09
Leave it to Werner Herzog to take the driver safety video to new heights. From One Second To The Next is a 35-minute documentary film by Herzog on the dangers of texting while driving.
Powerful stuff. Don't text while you're driving, okay? (via @brillhart)
Her AUG 09
Spike Jonze's new movie features Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with his computer. The trailer:
That looks really good. I didn't care for Where the Wild Things Are but Being John Malkovich is one of my favorite movies.
The prisoner's dilemma, in real life SARAH PAVIS · AUG 08
You might have hear of the prisoner's dilemma, a classic example in game theory showing why individuals might not cooperate. But what you probably don't know is the name comes from a thought experiment. No one had ever actually tested it on real prisoners. Until now. From Max Nisen at Business Insider Australia:
Surprisingly, for the classic version of the game, prisoners were far more cooperative than expected.
Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange put the famous game to the test for the first time ever, putting a group of prisoners in Lower Saxony's primary women's prison, as well as students through both simultaneous and sequential versions of the game.
The payoffs obviously weren't years off sentences, but euros for students, and the equivalent value in coffee or cigarettes for prisoners.
They expected, building off of game theory and behavioural economic research that show humans are more cooperative than the purely rational model that economists traditionally use, that there would be a fair amount of first-mover cooperation, even in the simultaneous simulation where there's no way to react to the other player's decisions.
And even in the sequential game, where you get a higher payoff for betraying a cooperative first mover, a fair amount will still reciprocate.
As for the difference between student and prisoner behaviour, you'd expect that a prison population might be more jaded and distrustful, and therefore more likely to defect.
The results went exactly the other way for the simultaneous game, only 37% of students cooperate. Inmates cooperated 56% of the time.
A great example of the prisoner's dilemma in action can be seen in this clip from the British game show, Golden Balls. If you can get past the ridiculous name of the show, this illustrates the tension between opposing parties very well:
Watch this truck explode 39 times SARAH PAVIS · AUG 08
The ultimate in YouTube rubbernecking. Normally a car or truck exploding is very unusual. To see one blow up repeatedly and spectacularly is jaw dropping. It looks like a truck carrying
oil drums propane/gas canisters but it's hard to tell.
Things seem to be all over at 4:50 and people start to slowly approach the site except at 7:01... (via @malki)
How Robert Galbraith was found to be JK Rowling SARAH PAVIS · AUG 08
Last month it was revealed that JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame recently published the crime novel The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. How'd she get outed? Turns out it was a tip-off from her law firm, but with just an anonymous tip there wasn't much to go on. Time to call in the language experts. Ben Zimmer at the WSJ has a good general report but the real meat of things is in a post that computer science professor Patrick Juola wrote for the Language Log blog.
I was given e-text copies of Cuckoo to compare against Rowling's own The Casual Vacancy, Ruth Rendell's The St. Zita Society, P.D. James' The Private Patient and Val McDermid's The Wire in the Blood. [...]
I actually ran four separate types of analyses focusing on four different linguistic variables. While anything can in theory be an informative variable, my work focuses on variables that are easy to compute and that generate a lot of data from a given passage of language. One variable that I used, for example, is the distribution of word lengths. Each novel has a lot of words, each word has a length, and so one can get a robust vector of
% of the words in this document have exactly letters. Using a distance formula (for the mathematically minded, I used the normalized cosine distance formula instead of the more traditional Euclidean distance you remember from high school), I was able to get a measurement of similarity, with 0.0 being identity and progressively higher numbers being greater dissimilarity.
Of the 11 sections of Cuckoo, six were closest (in distribution of word lengths) to Rowling, five to James. No one else got a mention. [...]
Does this prove that Rowling wrote Cuckoo? Of course not. All it really "proves" -- suggests, rather -- is that out of the four authors studied, the most likely candidate author is probably Rowling.
The longest missed connection SARAH PAVIS · AUG 08
This Craigslist missed connection posting starts out like every other, but it slowly cracks open into something heartbreaking and beautiful.
I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train.
I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do. [...]
Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I'll talk to her before Newkirk; I'll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.
For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I'd get text messages and voicemails ("Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?") until my phone ran out of battery.
The person behind the post is suspected to be Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
Incredible footage from a WWII prison camp SARAH PAVIS · AUG 07
An incredibly brave and cunning group of French prisoners of war were able to construct a camera inside the Nazi prison camp they were being held at and film their conditions.
Their rarely seen footage is called Sous Le Manteau (Clandestinely). So professional is it that on first viewing you would be forgiven for thinking it is a post-war reconstruction.
Prisoners filmed the camp secretly with a camera inside a hollowed-out dictionary. It is in fact a 30-minute documentary, shot in secret by the prisoners themselves. Risking death, they recorded it on a secret camera built from parts that were smuggled into the camp in sausages.
The prisoners had discovered that German soldiers would only check food sent in by cutting it down the middle. The parts were hidden in the ends.
The camera they built was concealed in a hollowed-out dictionary from the camp library. The spine of the book opened like a shutter. The 8mm reels on which the film was stored were then nailed into the heels of their makeshift shoes.
It gives an incredible insight into living conditions within the camp. The scant food they were given, the searches conducted without warning by the German soldiers. They filmed it all, even the searches, right under the noses of their guards.
167 Matryoshka doll theremin orchestra SARAH PAVIS · AUG 07
Watch this orchestra composed of 167 theremins that have been built into Russian nesting dolls play Beethoven's 9th symphony.
Your luxury car's noises may be fake SARAH PAVIS · AUG 07
Tim Maly spoke to a vibration performance engineer with GM and found that the sounds you you think are engine or mechanical noses might not actually be sounds your car is making.
We're made to hear what we expect to hear. If you'd like to learn a little more about this, Roman Mars' 99% Invisible has a great episode on the manufactured sounds that go into sports.
Strangely, to give people the impression that the Impala's engine was working as intended, GM had to partially mask its real sound.
In general, to improve fuel economy in a car, you want to reduce the engine's RPM. Over the past few decades, the auto industry has been doing that. In the 90s, says Gordon, a 4c engine might be cruising at 3,400 RPM. Today, it's below 2,000.
But as you reduce the speed that the drive shaft is rotating, you lower the frequency of the sound it's making. There comes a lower limit where the engine is making what Gordon calls "groan-y and moan-y" noises which people find unpleasant. The car sounds broken.[...]
Some sounds in the car are completely artificial. The telltale clicking of a turn signal was once an artifact of the mechanical process that turned the light on and off. But that mechanism has long since been replaced by an electronic circuit that operates silently. Still, audible feedback is valuable so the car plays an MP3 file of a turn signal over the speakers.
The world's tallest slum SARAH PAVIS · AUG 07
Abandoned halfway through construction, this 45 story tower in Caracas has become the world's tallest slum. RamÃ³n Iriarte of Vocativ visited recently and filmed the conditions.
You may have heard of Kowloon Walled City, the unregulated city block inside of Hong Kong, China. It was torn down and made into a park the '90s. The Tower of David in Caracas, Venezuela is still standing and occupied today. According to the residents of the tower, there's not more crime there than in the rest of the city. And residents actually pool money to keep essential services going in much the same way a condo board does.
McDonald's proves it's impossible to live on minimum wage SARAH PAVIS · AUG 06
The most egregious thing is that McDonald's admits the fact that you need a second job--on top of working full time for them--to earn enough money to hope to survive. But it's even worse than that. Robyn Pennacchia at Death and Taxes breaks it down further:
Also noticeably absent in this budget? Food. And gas. There's a line for a car payment, but not for gas. Which is suspect, because if you're working two jobs it's possible you will pay more for your gas than you'd be paying for your car.
Also... health insurance for $20 a month? There is really no such thing as health insurance for $20 a month if you're buying your health insurance on your own. I think the least amount is going to be about $215 a month- and that only covers hospital emergencies.
Spherical cake tutorial SARAH PAVIS · AUG 06
Each layer is different kind of cake which is baked and then pressed into the batter of the next larger cake, covered, and rebaked. The largest of which you bake in halves in two glass mixing bowls.
It's like a dessert turducken. Mmmm.
Catfishing in the 1800s SARAH PAVIS · AUG 06
Clive Thompson takes a look at a novel written in 1880 called "Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes", the story of a telegraph operator flirting with a man across the country which has all the drama of an episode of Catfish.
Miss Nattie Rogers, telegraph operator, lived, as it were, in two worlds. The one her office, dingy and curtailed as to proportions, but from whence she could wander away through the medium of that slender telegraph wire, on a sort of electric wings, to distant cities and towns; where, although alone all day, she did not lack social intercourse, and where she could amuse herself if she chose, by listening to and speculating upon the many messages of joy or of sorrow, of business and of pleasure, constantly going over the wire. [...]
"It must be very romantic and fascinating to talk with some one so far away, a mysterious stranger too, that one has never seen," Miss Archer said, her black eyes sparkling. "I should get up a nice little sentimental affair immediately, I know I should, there is something so nice about anything with a mystery to it."
"Yes, telegraphy has its romantic side--it would be dreadfully dull if it did not," Nattie answered.
"But--now really," said Quimby, who sat on the extreme edge of the chair, with his feet some two yards apart from each other; "really, you know, now suppose--just suppose, your mysterious invisible shouldn't be--just what you think, you know. You see, I remember one or two young men in telegraph offices, whose collars and cuffs are always soiled, you know!"
"I have great faith in my 'C,'" laughed Nattie.
"It would be dreadfully unromantic to fall in love with a soiled invisible, wouldn't it," said Miss Archer, with an expressive shrug of her shoulders.
Tropes vs Women in Video Games SARAH PAVIS · AUG 06
The third and final part of Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency series on the damsel in distress trope in video games has been released and it deals with the few games that invert the trope and put the dude in distress. She looks at dozens of games and the cultural norms they attempt to subvert but end up reinforcing.
Back in our first episode I mentioned that Princess Peach is the star of exactly one platformer. That game is called Super Princess Peach and it was released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS handheld system. The premise is a simple inversion of the standard franchise formula with Bowser abducting Mario and Luigi, while Peach is tasked with their rescue this time. So finally after being kidnapped in 13 separate Super Mario games, Peach gets to be the hero for once. But don't get too excited because everything else about the game ends up in a train-wreck of gender stereotypes. Nintendo introduced a new gameplay mechanic for Peach where the player can choose from four special powers or vibes as they're called. And you know what those powers are? Her mood swings. That's right. Peach's powers are her out of control frantic female emotions. She can throw a temper tantrum and rage her enemies to death or bawl her eyes out and wash the bad guys away with tears. Essentially Nintendo has turned a PMS joke into a core gameplay mechanic.
The kvetching order SARAH PAVIS · AUG 05
If you have a friend going through something painful that affects you too, can you complain about it and to who? Clinical psychologist Susan Silk has developed a mnemonic to let you know who it's appropriate to dump your worries on.
It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. [...]
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
Comfort IN, dump OUT.
Next time someone says the wrong thing to you, it'll be a lot easier to forward them this than get in a fight about it. (via @kissane)
Children's choir covers electronic music SARAH PAVIS · AUG 05
OK so where's the Kickstarter to get a children's acapella group to cover all my favorite house music?
Free to play vintage handheld games SARAH PAVIS · AUG 05
PicaPic is a digitized collection of vintage handheld games made by Hipopotam studio. They're all free and playable in your browser. It's a really slick implementation. It even has the plasticy clacking sound of the buttons. (via @kump)
George Saunders' graduation address SARAH PAVIS · AUG 05
George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring and it was recently republished in the New York Times. It touches on the nature of success and kindness.
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. [...]
[A]ccomplishment is unreliable. "Succeeding," whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there's the very real danger that "succeeding" will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended. [...]
Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There's a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there's also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf - seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.
In July, Jay Z rapped Picasso Baby at Pace Gallery in NYC for six hours. The fruits of that labor have been condensed by director Mark Romanek into a 10-minute music video that premiered on HBO last night. Here's the film:
The idea of performance art came to mind. I was aware of Marina Abramovic's Artist is Present, even though I was in London shooting 'Never Let Me Go' and didn't get to go. And the idea that Jay-Z regularly performs to 60,000 people at a time, I thought, 'What about performing at one person at a time?' He absolutely loved it. He interrupted me and said, 'Hold on! I've got chills. That idea is perfect.' He thinks, like me, that the music video has had its era. I also wanted to make sure we had Marina's blessing. So she attended the event and took part in the event. She couldn't have been more happy or enthusiastic about us using her concept and pushing it forward.
Also, somehow, I have never heard Jay Z talk before. That's his voice?
Ecstasy of Order AUG 02
Ecstasy of Order is a documentary about Tetris and the quest to find the game's grandmasters.
Tetris. We've all played it, rotating the pieces ("tetrominoes") and dropping them in the perfect place, or despairing as we discover a piece won't fit. You may have even joked about "mastering" the game during a stint of unemployment, or as a child, before you could afford any other Game Boy cartridges. But what about the people who've truly mastered Tetris? Where are the Kasparovs and Fischers, the great champions who've dedicated their minds to solving its deepest puzzles?
One man made it his mission to find them. In an effort to legitimize Tetris as a pro sport, Tetris super-fan Robin Mihara summoned the greatest Tetris players from around the country to compete in Los Angeles at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. Among them are the only players known to have reached the unthinkable perfect 'max-out' score on classic Nintendo Tetris: Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hong. Add in the top players for most lines, Ben Mullen and Jesse Kelkar, as well as newcomer Dana Wilcox and modern-day Tetris Grandmaster Alex Kerr, and a storm of Tetris greatness is brewing.
The film is also on Hulu (US-only) if you don't mind commercials.
Acceleration chess AUG 02
White moves first, but then Black gets to move twice. Then White gets to move three times in a row, then Black four times in a row, then White five times in a row, and so on, with continuing escalation as the game proceeds.
You can see some gameplay here:
Pressure cookers and backpacks orig. from Aug 01, 2013
Pressure cookers and backpacks AARON COHEN · AUG 01
Michele Catalano's house was recently visited by 6
the FBI law enforcement officials who asked about various web searches made by members of the household. So, uh, it seems like your web searches ARE being monitored.
Most of it was innocent enough. I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in "these times" now. And in these times, when things like the Boston bombing happen, you spend a lot of time on the internet reading about it and, if you are my exceedingly curious news junkie of a twenty-ear-old son, you click a lot of links when you read the myriad of stories. You might just read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet and you will in all probability, if you are that kid, click the link provided.
Update: A little bit more to the story.
We found out through the Suffolk Police Department that the searches involved also things my husband looked up at his old job. We were not made aware of this at the time of questioning and were led to believe it was solely from searches from within our house.
[...]If it was misleading, just know that my intention was the truth. And that was what I knew as the truth until about ten minutes ago. That there were other circumstances involved was something we all were unaware of.
GearSketch AUG 01
GearSketch is a cool and simple gear-making game. Click on the "?" for a quick demo. If you spend fewer than 20 minutes on this, you're a better person than I. (thx, nick)
A day at the chess matches AUG 01
Cennydd Bowles spends a day at the World Chess Championship Candidates Tournament. Lovely little piece.
I'm overwhelmed to be in the same room as these men. I played through their games (well, except the younger ones) as a teenager, developing a love or dislike of their styles, and scratching my head at their depth. The skill gap in chess is remarkable: these Grandmasters would demolish someone who would easily beat someone who would wipe me off the board. Amid my admiration, I feel a vertiginous impulse: I could leap out of my seat, scatter the pieces, and make history as the world's first chess streaker. The temptation soon fades.
Each player aligns the pieces, although the boards are already laid out in pristine formation. It's a curious habit I recognise from my own experience. It helps to get your hands on the tools of your trade, to feel they're yours.
I expected more left-handers.
Sabine Heinlein follows several people through a post-prison jobs program to see how ex-convicts prepare for re-entry into the workforce.
In prison Angel thought that it wouldn't be too hard to find a job once he got out. He believed he had come a long way. At eighteen he hadn't been able to read or write. He wet his bed and suffered from uncontrollable outbursts of anger. At forty-seven he had studied at the college level. He told me he had read several thousand books. He earned numerous certificates while incarcerated -- a Vocational Appliance Repair Certificate, a Certificate of Proficiency of Computer Operator, a Certificate in Library Training, an IPA (Inmate Program Assistant) II Training Certificate, and several welding certifications -- but in the outside world these credentials counted for little.
"Irrelevant," Angel said. "They might as well be toilet paper."
This piece is the seventh chapter from Heinlein's book, Among Murderers: Life After Prison.