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Entries for August 2015 (September 2015 »    October 2015 »    November 2015 »    Archives)

 

Oliver Sacks, human treasure, 1933-2015

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks was a champion of one of humankind’s most admirable qualities: Curiosity. The neurologist and writer died on Monday. He wrote beautifully about his impending death in a piece published a couple weeks ago:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life…

Longform has a collection of links to some of Sacks’ most popular essays.

We Work Remotely

Concussion

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Concussion, starring Will Smith, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the link between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and will be out in December.

The movie is based on the 2009 GQ article, Game Brain.

Let’s say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let’s say the scientific community — starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country — comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Saw someone on Twitter saying that maybe this will be football’s The Insider. Let’s hope it moves the needle.

Update: From the NY Times, Sony Altered ‘Concussion’ Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show.

In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.

“Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge,” Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie. “We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

(via @masterofn0ne)

Restaurant menu definitions

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

All the terminology on fancy restaurant menus can be overwhelming. From Judy Wu at Gaper’s Block, a glossary of common menu items and terms.

Gluten-Free: This dish contains a small trace of gluten, but a full dollop of bullshit.

Duck Fat: Duck fat fries, rillette, popcorn, confit, Brussels sprouts — never skip this menu item.

Amish: This chicken was raised without electricity and fear.

The most timeless songs of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Matt Daniels of Polygraph used playcount data from Spotify to identify the most played songs from the past, which he labeled The Most Timeless Songs of All Time. The most timeless song of the 90s, by a wide margin? Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.1

Out of the entire catalog of music from the 90s, these are the tracks on the trajectory to survive. Some of my friends were deeply disturbed by what’s been lost in time (e.g., Pearl Jam). And No Diggity isn’t just anecdotally timeless, it’s the fifth most-played song from the 90s.

Note the tracks that hardly charted on Billboard, in their day. Smells Like Teen Spirit, a track that never reached the Billboard Top 5 when it was released in 1992, is now the most-played song from the 90s.

Daniels makes the point that it is not the generation that made the music that will determine its long-term prospects for being remembered, but subsequent generations, which sounds obvious when it’s put that way, but I’d never really thought about it.1

Biggie has three of the Top 10 hip-hop songs between 1986 and 1999. This is a strong signal that future generations will remember Biggie as the referent artist of 80s and 90s hip-hop. And there’s No Diggity as the top - perhaps it’s that glorious Dr. Dre verse.

Hip hop heads will lament the omission of Rakim, Public Enemy, or Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. It’s a depressing reality that exists for every genre and generation: not every artist will be remembered. The incoming generation will control what’s relevant from the 90s and carried into the future, independent of quality and commercial success. For rock, that might be Blink-182. For electronica, that might be Sandstorm.

I made a playlist on Spotify of the top 30 most timeless songs from the article:

Enjoy!

Update: Mike Harris made a Spotify playlist with all 1001 songs from the article. 66+ hours of timelessness is a lot of timelessness.

  1. Keeping in mind that not all recorded music is on Spotify.

  2. And now I can’t stop thinking about it, particularly in the context of the Internet/Web. Who and what from the 1990s and early 2000s will be remembered in the context of the Web 10 or 20 years from now? Marc Andreessen might because he’s relevant to a whole new generation of startup bros right now whereas David Filo or Pierre Omidyar might not be. Flickr might because of Slack but not Delicious. Jorn Barger and Dave Winer may be lost to the sands of time in favor of John Gruber or Dooce.

The one scientific statement to reboot civilization

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2015

Riffing on a question Richard Feynman once posed to himself, Tom Chivers asked 12 scientists:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

I liked the pragmatic answer by Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm

While Feynman’s sentence is all good and true, it isn’t particularly useful in an immediate pragmatic sense. I wrote a book recently which was intended as a guidebook for rebooting civilisation after an apocalypse, looking at the key technologies and central scientific principles that underpin our lives - the behind-the-scenes fundamentals that we all just take for granted today - and what enabled society to progress through the centuries of history. I argue how the greatest invention of history is the scientific method itself - the knowledge-generation machinery that we have been using for over 350 years now to come to understand how the world works. So if you could preserve only one single sentence, I would push for: ‘The natural world is not governed by whimsical gods, but is essentially mechanical and can therefore be understood and then predicted by people, using careful observation, experimentation, and measurement, and importantly by testing your explanations to try to refute them.’ It’s this reiterative process of refinement that sets science apart from any other system for explaining how the world works.

There are other tips that could help with immediate survival. Diarrhoeal disease kills millions of people every year - all preventable by simple means. One method recommended by the World Health Organisation in developing nations for low-tech treatment of drinking water is called SODIS, or solar disinfection. All you need to do is pour your suspect water into a plastic bottle and leave it in the sun. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight pass straight through and kill any germs. So you can come back to your bottle a day or two later and know that the water you put to your lips isn’t going to kill you.

(via @riondotnu)

The Architecture of American Houses

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2015

From Pop Chart Lab, a beautiful poster showing 121 architectural styles of American houses.

Architecture of American Houses

Architecture of American Houses

Useful if you don’t know your Victorian from your Tudor from your Greek revival.

The art of sound in the movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2015

Skip Lievsay is one of the best sound designers in the business, having won an Oscar for his work on Gravity and worked on such films as Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing, and all of the Coen brothers’ movies. Jordan Kisner recently profiled Lievsay for The Guardian.

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It’s partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear.

Time vs. money when traveling

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2015

Kevin Kelly has travelled in every sort of way, from five-star hotels to penniless hitchhiking. And he says that when traveling, more time is better than more money.

When you have abundant time you can get closer to core of a place. You can hang around and see what really happens. You can meet a wider variety of people. You can slow down until the hour that the secret vault is opened. You have enough time to learn some new words, to understand what the real prices are, to wait out the weather, to get to that place that takes a week in a jeep.

Money is an attempt to buy time, but it rarely is able to buy any of the above. When we don’t have time we use money to try to get us to the secret door on time, or we use it avoid needing to know the real prices, or we use money to have someone explain to us what is really going on. Money can get us close, but not all the way.

(via @craigmod)

What is the meaning of life for an atheist?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2015

BuzzFeed’s Tom Chivers asked several atheists How They Find Meaning In A Purposeless Universe.

The way I find meaning is the way that most people find meaning, even religious ones, which is to get pleasure and significance from your job, from your loved ones, from your avocation, art, literature, music. People like me don’t worry about what it’s all about in a cosmic sense, because we know it isn’t about anything. It’s what we make of this transitory existence that matters.

These kinds of questions always make me think of Richard Feynman on beauty, science, and belief.

Time lapse video of a caterpillar turning into a monarch butterfly

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

(via the kid should see this)

Big brands swap logo colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

Paula Rúpolo took some famous brands’ iconic logos (McDonald’s, Starbucks, eBay) and swapped the colors with logos of their competitors (Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Amazon). Here’s FedEx and UPS:

Logo Color Swap

A neural network tries to identify objects in Star Trek:TNG intro

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

Ville-Matias Heikkilä pointed a neural network at the opening title sequence for Star Trek: The Next Generation to see how many objects it could identify.

But the system hadn’t seen much space imagery before,1 so it didn’t do such a great job. For the red ringed planet, it guessed “HAIR SLIDE, CHOCOLATE SAUCE, WAFFLE IRON” and the Enterprise was initially “COMBINATION LOCK, ODOMETER, MAGNETIC COMPASS” before it finally made a halfway decent guess with “SUBMARINE, AIRCRAFT CARRIER, OCEAN LINER”. (via prosthetic knowledge)

  1. If you’re curious, here is some information on the training set used.

The Citizens Equality Act of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

Larry Lessig is raising funds for running for President in the 2016 election. Lessig would run as a “referendum president”, whose single task would be to pass a package of reforms called the Citizens Equality Act of 2017, and then resign to allow his Vice President to take over.

The Citizens Equality Act of 2017 consists of three parts: make it as easy as possible to vote, end the gerrymandering of political districts, and base campaign funding on all eligible voters, not just corporations or the wealthy.

Four years ago, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks told Netroots Nation, “There is only one issue in this country,” and he was referring to the corrupt funding of public elections.

That corruption is part of a more fundamental inequality that we’ve allowed the politicians to create: we don’t have a Congress that represents us equally.

Every issue - from climate change to gun safety, from Wall Street reform to defense spending - is tied to this “one issue.” Achieving citizens equality in America is our one mission.

Read why he wants to run and watch his pitch:

This is a long shot (and he likely knows it), but I wish him well…it’s a worthy and important goal.

Update: Lessig has dropped the resignation option from his campaign. He is all in on running for President.

Mystery Show podcast by Starlee Kine

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2015

My commute these days doesn’t lend itself to listening to headphones and I can’t listen to anything with words while I work, so I don’t listen to many podcasts. But I’ve been driving more than usual this summer, so I’ve had a chance to dip into some shows, old favorites and newcomers alike.

I’ve only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine’s new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine’s ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.

The second mystery concerns a not-so-popular book seen clutched in Britney Spears’ hand in a paparazzi photo. [Mild spoilers follow…listen to the show if you wish to remain unsullied.] Where did she get it? Did she read it? And if so, did she like it?

The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting — What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? — but the best part of the whole thing was Kine’s conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, “you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness”, which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.

Update: Ok, whoa…the Mystery Show is in jeopardy. Back in April 2016, show runner Starlee Kine was let go from Gimlet Media, the show’s producer.

This came without warning while I was in the midst of working on the second season. I’d been having trouble figuring out the new season — second seasons can be tricky — and so I’d gone away, to work on an episode. I didn’t make as much progress as I had hoped, but the season was starting to take shape. The day I returned, Alex told me the show was unsustainable. I was out. I lost my staff, my salary, my benefits, my budget and my email address. Mystery Show is the only show this has happened to at Gimlet. Just a few months prior, iTunes voted it Best Podcast of the Year.

It sounds like Kine’s got a plan to get the show back on track. I really hope that happens…it was a great show.

Chimpanzees and monkeys have entered the Stone Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2015

Up until very recently, humans were thought to be the only animals who made and used stone tools, an era in human development that began roughly 3.3 million years ago. But according to this piece at the BBC, some chimpanzees and monkeys in various places around the globe have been using primitive stone tools for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Boesch and his colleagues had previously studied modern chimpanzee stone tool culture in the region. This research revealed that the chimpanzees have an idiosyncratic way of choosing and using their tools.

For instance, chimpanzees will often deliberately opt for particularly large and heavy stone hammers, between 1kg and 9kg, while humans prefer to use stones that weigh 1kg or less. Many of the 4300-year-old stone tools weighed more than 1kg, suggesting they were used by chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees also use their stone tools to crack open certain types of nuts that humans don’t eat. Starch residues on some of the ancient tools came from these nuts.

Together, these findings led to an obvious conclusion: chimpanzees have been using stone tools in the rainforests of Ivory Coast for at least 4300 years.

Flyby video from latest photos shows Pluto in all its glory

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2015

Bjorn Jonsson used the photos taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to make an animation of the probe’s flyby of Pluto.

The time covered is 09:35 to 13:35 (closest approach occurred near 11:50). Pluto’s atmosphere is included and should be fairly realistic from about 10 seconds into the animation and to the end. Earlier it is largely just guesswork that can be improved in the future once all data has been downlinked from the spacecraft. Light from Pluto’s satellite Charon illuminates Pluto’s night side but is exaggerated here, in reality it would be only barely visible or not visible at all.

Fantastic…and Pluto’s moons flying about in the background is the cherry on the top. (via @BadAstronomer)

Wilco, The Complete Studio Albums

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2015

Here’s your workday sorted, then: every studio album Wilco has recorded, all in one go.

(Except, for some reason, the tracks from 2011’s The Whole Love are unavailable on the compilation even though that whole album is available elsewhere on Rdio. Music licensing/promotion makes zero sense.)

Dictionary Stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2015

Jez Burrows is writing short stories composed of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary. Here’s a story called Noir; the underlined words are those from which the example sentences are drawn:

The midnight hours. The rain had not stopped for days. A stranger slowly approached from the shadows. The walls threw back the echoes of his footsteps. His voice was low and shaky with emotion. A day’s growth of unshaven stubble on his chin. He took an envelope from his inside pocket. Her alabaster cheeks flushed with warmth, high cheekbones powdered with freckles. “We should talk somewhere less public.” She grabbed him by the shirt collar. “We’re going to settle this here and now.” He drew a deep, shuddering breath. Chest pains. A trickle of blood. She was smiling. “I got all dolled up for a party.”

Inventing the Aerobie and AeroPress

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2015

One man invented both the Aerobie Flying Disc and the AeroPress coffee maker. In this short video documentary by David Friedman, inventor Alan Adler tells the story of how those products came to be.

I still remember the first time I threw an Aerobie. The week-long science camp 1 I attended in northern Wisconsin the summer after middle school had one, and I was astounded at how far it flew compared to a Frisbee. As Adler notes in the video, an Aerobie was once thrown 1333 feet (that’s over a quarter of a mile) and stayed aloft for 30 seconds. (No word on far an AeroPress can be thrown.)

  1. Let me just pre-empt you here: neeeeeeeeeeeerd!

Europa or frying pan?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2015

This image was tweeted out by the NASA Europa Mission account the other day:

Europa or Frying Pan

One of these images is of Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon, and the other eight are frying pans. Can you pick Europa out? Hint: frying pans tend not to have impact craters.

Update: The photos of the frying pans were taken by Christopher Jonassen, whose work I featured back in 2011 (which I had totally forgotten about). At the time, I even joked about the pans looking like a Jovian moon. kottke.org is a flat circle. (thx, tony)

Maybe Daniel is the real bully in The Karate Kid?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2015

Everyone knows that The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel LaRusso, an undersized new-kid-in-school who, with the help of a wise mentor and unconventional training in the martial arts, is able to triumph over a gang of bullies picking on him. What this video presupposes is, maybe Daniel is the real bully?

To no one’s surprise, Johnny advances to the final round and karma catches up with Daniel when his leg is injured by the boy he wantonly attacked on the soccer field. However, just as Johnny is about to be awarded his trophy, Daniel is granted unnatural strength by the demon sorcerer Miyagi, enabling him to defeat Johnny and win the tournament in an upset.

See also more revisionist history of beloved media: Hermione Granger as the real hero of the Harry Potter books and Tim Carmody’s The Iceman List, which is about “classic movie antagonists who were actually pretty much right all along”.

Update: Another one to add to the list: Ross Geller is the hero of Friends, an intellectual and romantic man who is brought low by his so-called friends:

But the characters of the show were pitted against him from the beginning (consider episode 1, when Joey says of Ross: “This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.”) In fact, any time Ross would say anything about his interests, his studies, his ideas, whenever he was mid-sentence, one of his “friends” was sure to groan and say how boring Ross was, how stupid it is to be smart, and that nobody cares. Cue the laughter of the live studio audience. This gag went on, pretty much every episode, for 10 seasons. Can you blame Ross for going crazy?

And like a Greek tragedy, our hero is caught in a prophecy that cannot be avoided. The show’s producers, akin to the immutable voice of the gods, declared that Ross must end up with Rachel, the one who shops. Honestly, I think he could’ve done better.

BLDGBLOG’s end-of-summer reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2015

From the always excellent BLDGBLOG, a list of recommended books for your end-of-summer reading. Included on the list are a novel about drug cartels, a book about crime in the future, a history of Nazi concentration camps, and a book on rust, about which I have personally heard good things.

Beautiful hand-painted globes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2015

Bellerby & Co. Globemakers are one of the world’s last remaining makers of globes by hand. Their Instagram account is chock full of their handiwork.

Globemakers

Globemakers

If I could afford it (£2000!), I’d get The Livingstone globe in Prussian blue. Beautiful and wonderful craftsmanship.

Kingdom of books

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

Amazon has garnered an enormous share of the book market, and their “activities tend to reduce book prices, which is considered good for consumers.” But hundreds of writers (including Philip Roth and V. S. Naipaul) are trying to convince the Department of Justice that — regardless of the lower prices — Amazon’s monopoly is hurting consumers. From The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara: Is Amazon creating a cultural monopoly?

A total clustercuss

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

I hadn’t realized there was so much cussing swearing in Wes Anderson’s movies. Here are some damn examples:

Just realized what the world is missing: the “fuck fuck fuck” scene from the first season of The Wire, but done in the style of (“cuss cuss mothercusser”) and with the characters from Fantastic Mr. Fox.

J.R.P.G. Torkelson’s Lorne of the Rings trilogy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

This is a guide to the famous Lorne of the Rings trilogy of movies. All your favorite characters are here, from Samsclub Gunjeans to Starman to Flowbee the Haddock to Aerosmith, daughter of Lord Efron to Gumball, son of Groin.

This is one of those that goes from “oh how can this predictable thing actually be funny” to “oh my pants are wet because I peed in them because laughing” very quickly. (via waxy)

How to age gracefully

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

After 11 years, the WireTap radio show is coming to an end. As a farewell, they put together a video of people giving advice to their younger counterparts.

Dear 6-year-old,

Training wheels are for babies. Just let go already.

Regards,

A 7-year-old.

Dear 7-year-old,

Stay weird.

Signed,

An 8-year-old.

This video is magical…give it 20 seconds and you can’t help but watch the whole thing. (via a cup of jo)

Pac-Man 256

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

From the developer of Crossy Road (aka Infinite Frogger) comes Pac-Man 256, a Pac-Man game with an infinite board that gets eaten from below by the kill screen glitch from the 256th level of the original game. I love riffs on old school video games like this, and the infinite board is a particularly clever one.1 Here’s what the gameplay looks like:

I’m sure everyone is used to this by now (which is sad) but be warned that Pac-Man 256 is one of those games that encourages you to watch ads to level up more quickly or to continue when you’re out of credits…and then to buy more credits as an IAP when you’re out of ads to watch. There’s an option to buy unlimited credits for $7.99, but still. I understand the economics of the situation and why they do it this way, but it just feels so hostile to the player. I want to wholeheartedly recommend this game because the gameplay is so fun, but it feels like you’re constantly wading through a little bit of raw sewage to play it. Which, apparently I don’t mind doing, wading through sewage. :(

Update: Echoing several similar comments on Twitter, John Gruber writes:

Unlike Kottke, I think the option to buy unlimited “credits” with a one-time $7.99 in-app purchase is a fair deal. Think of it as an $8 game that you can optionally play for free if you’re willing to watch ads. That’s a good price for a great game.

$8 is a more than fair price. But the option to buy unlimited credits is difficult to find in the game (you need to run out of credits first and then click the “Play” button anyway) and it doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re getting for your $8. What I want is never to see an ad ever in the game, but I don’t actually think that’s what it is. Paying full price for a game shouldn’t involve hide n’ seek.

But the bigger issue for me is how the game, and many many others in the App Store, feels: icky. Like used car salesman icky. Drug dealer icky. Depressing casino icky. The way the game presents itself, the developers seemingly want one thing: your money. Do they want me to have a good time playing the game? Eh, maybe? I don’t know, it just seems really cynical to me, like a game built by a bank instead of people that love gaming or Pac-Man.

I really *really* wish the App Store had a trial period option available for apps. 20 minutes into Pac-Man 256 and I would have ponied up $8-10, no problem. I suspect App Store users would love this feature but game developers would hate it because using ads and casino tactics to upsell in your app makes a lot more money than straight sales.

  1. Hey Nintendo, can you make an infinite version of Mario Kart? Pretty please? It would be like Mad Max: Crossy Road or something.

Everything is made from something

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2015

In A Children’s Picture-book Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, Brian Skinner explains quantum field theory — “the deepest and most intimidating set of ideas in graduate-level theoretical physics” — as if you and I are five-year-old children.

The first step in creating a picture of a field is deciding how to imagine what the field is made of. Keep in mind, of course, that the following picture is mostly just an artistic device. The real fundamental fields of nature aren’t really made of physical things (as far as we can tell); physical things are made of them. But, as is common in science, the analogy is surprisingly instructive.

So let’s imagine, to start with, a ball at the end of a spring.

(via @robinsloan)

The lost language of gay English men

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2015

Polari was a secret slang language spoken by gay men in England so that they could converse together in public without fear of arrest. It fell into disuse in the 1960s, but this short film by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston features a conversation conducted entirely in Polari.

This Slate article has more on the film and Polari.

Of all the cultural forms that gay men have created and elaborated since coalescing into a social group around the late 19th century, Polari, a full-fledged gay English dialect with roots among circus folk, sailors, and prostitutes, has to be one of the most fascinating-not least since it has faded along with the need for discretion and secrecy. While some words remain in common use-zhush or zhoosh (to adjust or embellish something to make it more pleasing) and trade (highly masculine or straight-acting sex partners) come to mind — the richness that we know once defined Polari is difficult to capture in 2015.

Food truck name ideas

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2015

From Mark Christian, a selection of deliciously pun-filled food truck name ideas. Some favorites:

Shwarmageddon
Calamari Damacy
Get Quiche Or Die Tryin’
What About Kebab?
Planet of the Crepes
Naan Disclosure Agreement
Entrée the Giant

(via @mathowie)

Real-life first person shooter on Chatroulette

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2015

These folks created a real-life first person shooter game and invited strangers on Chatroulette to control the action.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how they did it. (thx, oren)

Dismaland Bemusement Park by Banksy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2015

Banksy Dismaland

Banksy has opened an apocalyptic theme park called Dismaland in an abandoned resort in an English coastal town, Weston-super-Mare.

Are you looking for an alternative to the sugar-coated tedium of the average family day out? Or just somewhere a lot cheaper? Then this is the place for you. Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus…

The entrance fee is £3 and the park will be open for five weeks. Colossal has the scoop, including a list of artists who contributed art to the park, er, show.

A demented assortment of bizarre and macabre artworks from no less than 50 artists from around the world including Damien Hirst, Bill Barminski, Caitlin Cherry, Polly Morgan, Josh Keyes, Mike Ross, David Shrigley, Bäst, and Espo. In addition, Banksy is showing 10 artworks of his own.

Colossal’s own Christopher Jobson curated the park’s short film program. Congrats! (Also, super jealous!)

Update: For a closer look at the park, check out the trailer:

The Everything Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2015

The newest app from Tinybop (The Human Body, Homes, and The Robot Factory apps) is called The Everything Machine. A small sampling of what you can do with it:

Use a simple programming language to connect, control, and play with all the sensors and tools. Put the camera, microphone, speaker, screen, gyroscope, and light to work for you.

Playing around with the app with Minna for 30 minutes this evening (she loved it) reminded me of my college electronics classes + Scratch + LabVIEW. Super fun.

The Sunshine Hotel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2015

Two weeks ago, 99% Invisible broadcast an audio documentary from 1998 about one of the last remaining flophouses on The Bowery in NYC called The Sunshine Hotel. It is an amazing time capsule from a Manhattan that just doesn’t exist anymore.

The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922. Rooms — or really, cubicles — were 10 cents a night. The Sunshine, like other flop houses, was always a men-only establishment. In 1998, the hotel had raised it’s rates to 10 dollars a night and it was managed by resident Nathan Smith. He sat behind a metal cage at the front desk, answering the phone and doling out toilet paper to residents for 35 cents. Smith had once worked in a bank until he was injured, and then fired. His wife left him and he ended up in the Bowery, and eventually at the Sunshine Hotel.

The interviewees sound like they’re characters in a play, not real people. It’s so good. There is also a documentary film released in 2001 about The Sunshine Hotel which is available on Amazon Instant; here’s a trailer:

NASA’s logo: the worm vs. the meatball

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2015

NASA’s original logo looked something like this:

Nasa Meatball Logo

It was referred to, colloquially, as the meatball. In the 1970s, the meatball was switched out for the worm, a more Modernist take:

NASA Worm Logo

This logo was done by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, and Danne wrote an essay about the experience.

And here is one of the most interesting exchanges I’ve ever witnessed in a design presentation:

Fletcher: “I’m simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing.”
Low: “Well yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Low: “Why?”
Fletcher: (long pause) “I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth!”

Others, not just the designers were stunned by this last comment. Then the discussion moved back to the strong red/rust color we were proposing. We had tried many other colors of course, including the more predictable blue range, but settled on red because it suggested action and animation. It seemed in spirit with the Can Do nature of the Space Agency.

Fletcher: And this color, red, it doesn’t make much sense to me.”
Low: “What would be better?”
Fletcher: “Blue makes more sense… Space is blue.”
Low: “No Dr. Fletcher, Space is black!”

NASA’s Graphics Standards Menu utilizing the worm logo can be seen here.

Nasa Design Manual

The space agency switched back to the original logo in 1992. Michael Bierut compared the two:

The worm is a great-looking word mark and looked fantastic on the spacecraft. By any objective measure, the worm was and is absolutely appropriate, and the meatball was and is an amateurish mess.

(thx, jarrett)

How to live the good life

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2015

Matt Might, who is a professor in computer science at the University of Utah and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, responded to a question on Quora about minimizing the chances of having a disabled child and ended up answering two seemingly unrelated questions as well: How do you get tenure? and How do you live the good life? Long story short: he got tenure and started living the good life because he had a disabled child. But you should read the long story; it’s worth it.

My son forced me to systematically examine what matters in life — what really matters — and in the end, I came to appreciate a quote from his namesake, Bertrand Russell, more than I could have ever imagined:

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”

My first year as a tenure-track professor cannot be described as anything other than an abject failure. I was so desperate to publish and raise funds that I began thin-slicing my research and submitting lots of poor quality papers and grant proposals.

I must have had a dozen rejections in a row that year. It sucked.

I remember huddling on the porch at the end of that year with my wife, telling her, “Well, I’ll at least have a job for six more years.”

I looked at my young son, cuddled in her arms. I saw his very existence hung in the balance between knowledge and ignorance.

Then it hit me: Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn’t become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.

I stopped working on problems for the sole purpose of notching up a publication. I shifted gears to cybersecurity. I found a project on cancer in the med school. I joined a project in chemical engineering using super-computing to fight global warming.

Suddenly, my papers started getting accepted.

You may remember Might and his son from a recent New Yorker article on people with ultra-rare diseases.

The Jefferson Grid

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2015

The Jefferson Grid is an Instagram account which posts satellite photos picturing one square mile of land.

Jefferson Grid

Jefferson Grid

Jefferson Grid

The account takes its name from the grid Thomas Jefferson used to divide up the growing United States.

The Land Ordinance of 1785, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, extended government authority over the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes regions. As a response to what he believed to be a confusing survey system already in use, Jefferson suggested a new grid system based on the rectangle. The grid divided land into plots one mile square, each consisting of 640 acres. The grid also placed a visible design upon a relatively untouched landscape. The ordinance was the first of its kind in America but would continue to affect urban, suburban and farmland planning to present day.

(via @bldgblog)

Supermassive black holes are *really* massive

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2015

How massive are they? The Sun is 1 solar mass and as wide as 109 Earths. Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, weighs 4.3 million solar masses and is as wide as Mercury is far from the Sun. The black hole at the center of the Phoenix Cluster is one of the largest known black holes in the Universe; it’s 73 billion miles across, which is 19 times larger than our entire solar system (from the Sun to Pluto). As for how much it weighs, check this out:

I also like that if you made the Earth into a black hole, it would be the size of a peanut. (thx, reidar)

Project Sunroof

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2015

Google’s latest project is called Project Sunroof. Sunroof utilizes Google Earth data to estimate the solar energy potential of buildings.

Enter Project Sunroof, my recent 20% project. Project Sunroof is a new online tool we’re testing to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar. Available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), and the Boston area for now, the tool uses high-resolution aerial mapping (the same used by Google Earth) to help you calculate your roof’s solar energy potential, without having to climb up any ladders.

If you’re in one of our test regions, simply enter your address and Project Sunroof will crunch the numbers. It first figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop throughout the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns. You can also enter your typical electric bill amount to customize the results. The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers.

Google still has 20% time?

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2015

Neurotribes

Added to the series of things I thought I posted about but never did is Steve Silberman’s new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, out next week.

What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more-and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Jennifer Senior wrote a largely positive review for the NY Times.

“NeuroTribes” is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to “Far From the Tree,” Andrew Solomon’s landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin’s words, “different, not less.” Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.

Update: NeuroTribes has won the prestigious 2015 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The Guardian’s Stephen Moss interviewed Silberman about the prize and book.

Silberman was born in New York, the son of two teachers who were communists and anti-war activists. “I was raised to be sensitive to the plight of the oppressed. One of the things I do is frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil-rights movement being born.”

He says the fact he is gay also conditioned his approach. “My very being was defined as a form of mental illness in the diagnostic manual of disorders until 1974. I am not equating homosexuality and autism — autism is inherently disabling in ways that homosexuality is not — but I think that’s why I was sensitive to the feelings of a group of people who were systematically bullied, tortured and thrown into asylums.”

Han Solo frozen in carbonite beach towel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2015

Han Solo Beach Towel

This beach towel featuring Han Solo frozen in carbonite is the only Star Wars merch I want in my life. (thx, meg)

Update: Ok, I had forgotten about the Han Solo frozen in carbonite ice cube tray, which is slightly more awesome. (via @ajsheets)

Infinite model train vortex

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2015

I can’t decide if this video of an ouroboros model train is soothing, menacing, or just kinda boring.

Wait for the Law & Order-esque twist at the 2:00 mark. chung chung

The Problem We All Live With

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2015

Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones’ series on segregation at ProPublica.

“Pixar is bulletproof, assholes”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2015

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, writing in The Onion: I’ve Got You Dumb Motherfuckers Eating Right Out Of My Hand.

Yes, after the success of our first few movies we had a hunch you’d continue to enjoy the wonderfully designed animation and our smart, lyrical writing, but I didn’t think we’d create a horde of drooling morons ready to drop everything just to watch a fucking rat cook dinner. Time and time again, though, there you chumps are, lined up around the block with your stupid little kids, eager to have your stupid little hearts filled with whimsy.

See also Disney’s Lasseter: Woody will find love in ‘Toy Story 4’.

The thousands of bombs exploded on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2015

From Orbital Mechanics, a visualization of the 2153 nuclear weapons exploded on Earth since 1945.

2153! I had no idea there had been that much testing. According to Wikipedia, the number is 2119 tests, with most of those coming from the US (1032) and the USSR (727). The largest device ever detonated was Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb set off in the atmosphere above an island in the Barents Sea in 1961. Tsar Bomba had more than three times the yield of the largest bomb tested by the US. The result was spectacular.

The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was visible at almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) away from where it ascended. The subsequent mushroom cloud was about 64 kilometres (40 mi) high (over seven times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was above the stratosphere and well inside the mesosphere when it peaked. The cap of the mushroom cloud had a peak width of 95 kilometres (59 mi) and its base was 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide.

All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero wooden houses were destroyed, stone ones lost their roofs, windows and doors; and radio communications were interrupted for almost one hour. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 kilometres (170 mi). The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 km (62 mi) away from ground zero. A shock wave was observed in the air at Dikson settlement 700 kilometres (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi). Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.

The Soviets did not give a fuck, man…what are a few thousand destroyed homes compared to scaring the shit out of the capitalist Amerikanskis with a comically large explosion? Speaking of bonkers Communist dictatorships, the last nuclear test conducted on Earth was in 2013, by North Korea.

What it’s like getting your sense of smell back after five years

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2015

Earlier in the month, I wrote about a man who lost his sense of smell.

Over lunch, he says: “I joke I can’t smell my daughter’s diaper. But I can’t smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o’clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I’ve never experienced that.”

Jason Caplin lost his sense of smell suddenly five years ago, but recently regained that ability. It has not been the fantastic experience you might expect.

And so to tonight. Here it is, then. Smell at full blast. The inside of my head is basically completely uncalibrated. My nose just has no idea what to do with this rediscovered fury of data. Walking to the tube, I tentatively tried breathing in through my nose. Once. I felt alarm bells going off at the back; smells that had no place together (and which I could only vaguely recall in name) set my eyes watering and made me gag. I sneezed, a lot. At the big roundabout I could smell mint, horses, an outdoor pool from a family holiday when I was eight. The supermarket smelt of hair, even though I don’t think I could tell you what hair smells like, and it set me wondering how much of this my brain was reconstructing on the fly. The tube was almost unbearable and I blinked to stop crying.

That happened back in May…I hope things have settled down for him. (via gyford)

Roadtripping man annoys his sister with seven hours of lip syncing

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2015

This is an epic display of top-notch lip syncing and world-class shade throwing. I smiled the whole way through this.

Songs performed include Wannabe by The Spice Girls, The Sign by Ace of Base, Thong Song by Sisqo, and Orinoco Flow by Enya.

Update: A playlist of the songs sung in the video are now available on Rdio and Apple Music.

(via @jemaleddin & @murtaugh)

Slacklining 1000 feet in the air without safety ropes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2015

Are your palms dry? Do you wish they were soaked with sweat right now? Then you should definitely watch Spencer Seabrooke walk on a slack line across a 210-foot gap almost 1000 feet in the air without any ropes or safety harnesses.

I mean, Jesus. (via devour)

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of The National Lampoon

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2015

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a documentary about National Lampoon coming out this fall. Here’s the trailer:

From the 1970s thru the 1990s, there was no hipper, no more outrageous comedy in print than The National Lampoon, the groundbreaking humor magazine that pushed the limits of taste and acceptability — and then pushed them even harder. Parodying everything from politics, religion, entertainment and the whole of American lifestyle, the Lampoon eventually went on to branch into successful radio shows, record albums, live stage revues and movies, including Animal House and National Lampoon’s Vacation. The publication launched the careers of legends like John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest and Gilda Radner, who went on to gigs at Saturday Night Live and stardom.

Director Douglas Tirola’s documentary about the Lampoon, DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON, cleverly chronicles its founding by two former Harvard students, its growth, demise and everything in between. Told thru fresh, candid interviews with its key staff, and illustrated with hundreds of outrageous images from the mag itself (along with never-seen interview footage from the magazine’s prime), the film gives fans of the Lampoon a unique inside look at what made the magazine tick, who were its key players, and why it was so outrageously successful: a magazine that dared to think what no one was thinking, but wished they had.

(via subtraction)

The economic history of one NYC block

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2015

Economist William Easterly and some of his colleagues built a site that focuses on the economic development of a single block in NYC, Greene Street between Houston and Prince. In the past 175 years, use of the block has gone from wealthy residential to sex work to garment manufacturing to artist galleries to luxury retail.

133 Greene Street, for example, has been part of the large Bayard farm, a grand residential home, a brothel, a garment factory, part of a slum, an art gallery, and is today the home of luxury co-op residences and a Dior Homme store.

Many of these shifts took only a decade and could have been very difficult to anticipate.

The site was built to accompany an academic paper on economic development.

By 1870, the Greene Street Block contained 14 brothels, the highest concentration of any block in the City. Just as surprising was the sudden end of prostitution on the block. Brothels still abounded in 1880, but during the next decade entrepreneurs demolished and rebuilt almost the entire block as castiron factories and warehouses, and what was left of the red-light district moved up town.

The site is a little confusing to navigate, but is worth checking out in detail. For instance, check out how quickly the garment manufacturing industry shifted from downtown to the present-day Garment District.

Greene Street

Greene Street

(via wired)

Scenes from an abandoned shopping mall

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2015

Photographer Carlos Gonzalez, aka Theonepointeight, captured these photos of an abandoned LA shopping mall.

Abandoned Mall

PDN has an interview with Gonzalez about the series.

I shot everything in one day. I would say that I spent about five or six hours in there just exploring and shooting. I wasn’t escorted inside but once I snuck into the parking structure, there were a few teens on skateboards that pointed me in the right direction. Without their guidance, there’s no way I would’ve found a way in. The place is simply too massive. In fact, as the daylight was fading I almost got trapped inside since I couldn’t find my way out.

Obama’s summer 2015 reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2015

Obama’s off for a couple of vacation weeks on Martha’s Vineyard and is taking the following books with him on vacation: All That Is by James Salter, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Solid.

My summer reading list so far: Quiet, The Antidote, The Martian, Ready Player One, and the kids and I are slowly working our way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Update: POTUS has also made a Spotify playlist of his favorite summer songs. The Temptations, Dylan, Coldplay, and Aretha. No Jay or Bey?

Update: Ah, he also made a list for a summer night and there’s some Beyonce on there. Thank you, Mr. President.

Jim Henson documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2015

PBS is airing a documentary in September about Muppets creator Jim Henson called In Their Own Words: Jim Henson.

I had never really noticed before that Henson’s natural speaking voice obviously sounds a lot like Kermit. (via @khoi)

Homme Less

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2015

Mark Reay is a former model, actor, and fashion photographer who was homeless in NYC for six years. Homme Less is a documentary on Reay; here’s a trailer:

So began a period of my life sleeping rough. It was pretty tiring, and I didn’t have much luck with the photos, but I stuck it out. I’ve never let the lack of money stop me having a good time, and I still had (dwindling) savings from my modelling. It was a happy time. At night I would always treat myself to a rotisserie chicken, but I always wanted a chilled rosé with it. So, in the afternoon, I would sneak into a minimarket, get the cheapest one from the shelf and hide it under the frozen peas. Then, at night, I would put on a fresh shirt and go to one of the fancy bars with my wine in my bag. Again, maybe because I had a certain look, no one ever checked my bag. I’d just go in, nick a glass off the counter and drink my wine surrounded my millionaires.

You can get away with anything if you’re confident. Oh, and male, white, and good looking.

The long legacy of a short life

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2015

The Rosses were expecting twins but learned that one of the two, Thomas, wouldn’t live much past birth. They decided to donate Thomas’s body to science. And then, they decided to investigate just what it was they had given and how it had helped others. Great piece by Radiolab.

See also this piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The next day, Gray met James Zieske, the institute’s senior scientist, who told her “infant eyes are worth their weight in gold,” because, being so young, they have great regenerative properties. Thomas’ corneas were used in a study that could one day help cure corneal blindness.

Thirteen more studies had cited that study. Gray felt a new emotion: pride.

Google, Alphabet, and the Googlettes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2015

Google announced earlier in the week that they were creating a new company, Alphabet, to house a collection of companies, including Google.

What is Alphabet? Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main Internet products contained in Alphabet instead. What do we mean by far afield? Good examples are our health efforts: Life Sciences (that works on the glucose-sensing contact lens), and Calico (focused on longevity).

Google has been focused on diversifying their business for a long time, even before their IPO. In August of 2003, they posted a job listing on Craigslist looking for a manager to run their collection of Googlettes, which were essentially startups within Google:

What is a Googlette? It’s a new business inside of Google that is just getting started — the start-up within the start-up. We’re looking for an experienced, entrepreneurial manager capable of offering direction to a team of PMs working on a wide array of Googlettes. You will define Google’s innovation engine and grow the leaders of our next generation of businesses.

Georges Harik, who is now an advisor for Google Ventures, was a former director of the Googlettes:

As director of Googlettes, his team was responsible for the product management and strategy efforts surrounding many nascent Google initiatives including Gmail, Google Talk, Google Video, Picasa, Orkut, Google Groups and Google Mobile.

At the time, I riffed on this idea a little and imagined Google spinning out these businesses as a confederation of stand-alone companies:

Instead of generating ideas and people for internal use, what if they’re incubating start-ups to spin off into companies of their own? Fast forward five years and instead of being a big huge company, Google is a big huge company at the center of a network of 10-20 large to medium-sized companies with similar goals, values, and business practices. Most of these spin-offs would be engaged in businesses similar (and probably complementary) to each other and the Google Mother Ship, some of them maybe even directly competing with each other.

In hindsight, Alphabet is a much better name than Google Mother Ship.

The Hateful Eight teaser trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2015

Here’s the teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. (This one was certainly not the trailer.)

Update: A second longer trailer is out:

These cutting boards are forever

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2015

Larch Wood Enterprises is a Nova Scotian company specializing in the manufacture of cutting boards from end grain wood…that is, the top surface of the board shows the rings of the tree. Not only that, but each row on the board is cut from the same stick of wood so you can see how the grain changes through the tree. It’s tough to explain…just watch how they make ‘em.

End Grain is when the individual boards of wood are arranged so that the grain of the wood (the growth rings) runs vertically (up and down). This puts one end of each board up so that the cutting surface is actually the end of many individual pieces of wood. With the grain aligned in this manner (up and down), when the knife strikes the surface during cutting, the grain of the wood actually separates and then closes when the knife is removed. This accounts for the self-healing aspect of the end-grain surface. The wood itself is not cut, but instead you are cutting between the fibers.

A medium sized board costs $220 but if you can pass it on to your grandkids, perhaps it’s worth the price to upgrade yourself. (via devour)

Explore Mars from the comfort of your office

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2015

Mars Sat Photo

What are you doing today Jason? Oh not much just exploring Mars. The hell you say. Like fun I am! NASA has released a pair of web apps: one lets you drive Curiosity around the surface of Mars and the other is a 3D visualization of the planet. Oh cool that’s what I’m doing today now too. And when you’re done with that, follow NASA’s new Tumblr. Far out man.

Dolphins surfing

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2015

As if you needed more proof that dolphins are cool: they enjoy surfing.

overshare: the links.net story

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2015

Justin Hall has been sharing his life online for over 20 years at links.net. Justin’s Links from the Underground was one of the first sites I found and read regularly, back in the mid 90s. Now Hall has made a documentary about his time online, overshare: the links.net story.

Starting in 1994, my personal web site Justin’s Links from the Underground has documented family secrets, romantic relationships, and my experiments with sex and drugs.

overshare: the links.net story is a documentary about fumbling to foster intimacy between strangers online. Through interviews, analysis and graphic animations, I share my motivations, my joys and my sorrows from pioneering personal sharing for the 21st century. In 2004 the New York Times referred to me as “perhaps the founding father of personal weblogging.” I hope this documentary reveals that I was a privileged white male with access to technology who worked to invite as many people as possible to join him in co-creating an internet where we have a chance to honestly share of our humanity.

The movie is available in various formats, including as a digital download with extra footage from VHX for $11.99.

The invention of the era of flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2015

Wright first flight

David McCullough (Truman, John Adams, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award) recently published a new book on The Wright Brothers. James Salter has a nice review in the New York Review of Books.

They knew exactly the importance of what they had accomplished. They knew they had solved the problem of flight and more. They had acquired the knowledge and the skill to fly. They could soar, they could float, they could dive and rise, circle and glide and land, all with assurance.

Now they had only to build a motor.

Update: British Pathe has footage of a flight by the Wright Brothers:

It’s labelled “First Flight” but the footage is actually from much later…that is clearly not Kitty Hawk and the first two-person flights did not occur until 1908. It is also unclear whether Orville and Wilbur were flying together in the video. From Salter’s piece:

He and Wilbur had never flown together so that if there were ever a fatal accident it would not involve both of them, and one of them would live to continue the work. On that one occasion, they took off to fly together, with Orville at the controls, side by side.

If the footage is from the flight Salter describes, that would make it from 1910. (via @SavageReader)

Artisanal cash

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2015

Artisanal Cash

Cities, businesses, and artists are producing small batches of paper currency designed to be spent locally. I love the £20 note from Bristol, England (above)…it’s got Wallace’s head on it!

The local currency, though, is intended not as collectible but to encourage trade at the community businesses where they are accepted, rather than chain stores, where money taken in tends to flow out of town and into the coffers of multinational corporations. (Compare it to the farmers’ market: Homegrown lettuce now has a whole new meaning.)

“If you use a local currency, you keep the money local, and that has a ‘lifts all boats’ vibe to it,” said David Wolman, the author of “The End of Money.”

Solar system exploration update

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2015

Emily Lakdawalla provides an update on all of the exploration that’s going on in our solar system this month. Here’s a quick map view of the 20+ spacecraft exploring our solar system beyond Earth:

Solar System Spacecraft Map

Mars remains the most active spot beyond Earth in the solar system. This week, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reaches its 10th anniversary of service in space, but it’s far from the oldest spacecraft in orbit at Mars; Mars Express and Mars Odyssey are still at work up there. Mars Orbiter Mission has ventured into an extended mission and is still returning photos, though apparently none of the full-disk images in a variety of phases that I had hoped for from its 4-Megapixel color camera. Even Mars’ newest resident, MAVEN, is three-quarters of the way through its one-year primary science mission, which began on November 16, 2014. MAVEN’s mission will undoubtedly be extended long beyond that, as it will be needed to support surface missions if and when Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter eventually fail.

Both Opportunity and Curiosity have been very active lately. Opportunity has finally reached Marathon Valley, a site identified from orbit to have signs of clay chemistry. The team is excited about the science prospects even though the rover’s memory problems persist.

Climate change: we’re past the point of no return

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

In Rolling Stone, Eric Holthaus writes that as far as climate change is concerned, we are already past the point of no return. The things climate scientists have warned against are already beginning to happen…and faster than predicted.

Hansen’s new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, “This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding.”

Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still “unclear” whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.

You might also like to read Adam Sobel’s reaction to this piece. As I wrote in reaction to James Hansen’s recent paper: “That’s the thing about nonlinear systems like the Earth’s climate: things happen gradually, then suddenly.”

Update: A group of climate scientists at Climate Feedback analyzed Holthaus’ piece at his request for accuracy.

While the information within the article is mostly accurate, the main issue for scientists is the article’s framing of the information. More specifically, the article implicitly attributes many weather events to human-induced climate change, while the influence of human activity on these events is not always supported by science, or is at the frontier of scientific knowledge and still debated.

1WTC elevators show NYC time lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

The walls of the elevator to the observatory at the top of 1 World Trade Center are covered with screens and when you ride it to the top, you see a time lapse of NYC’s development, from 1500 to the present.

The observatory is open daily from 9am to 8pm.

Real Windows 3.0 Solitaire deck of cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

Susan Kare Cards

Susan Kare, who famously designed the original icons for the Apple Macintosh, has teamed up with Areaware to offer real decks of cards with her artwork from Windows 3.0’s version of Solitaire. Nice example of defictionalization. They’re currently sold out but I’m hoping they restock so I can order a deck. (via subtraction)

Update: Areaware tells me that the cards aren’t out of stock, they are just not in stock yet. So don’t worry…they haven’t sold out or anything.

Their life without gender

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2015

Tyler Ford

Tyler Ford was born a girl, transitioned to being a man in college, but now identifies as an agender person.

I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now. To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don’t know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn’t. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.

Ford uses the “they”, “them”, and “their” pronouns to refer to themselves. (Is it themselves? Or would it be themself? English is a relatively young and fluid language but even it can’t keep up.)

The privilege of employer-sponsored parental leave

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2015

Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:

Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.

Ice carousel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2015

That time in Latvia when some folks cut a huge circle of ice out of a frozen lake, attached an outboard motor to it, and made an ice carousel.

(via devour)

I’m You, Dickhead

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2015

In the future, when time travel is a totally normal thing to do, people will use it to do stuff like tell their 10-year-old selves to learn the guitar so their adult selves can impress women.

(via @mouser_nerdbot)

Procrastination vs. impatience

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2015

From the abstract of a paper on the relationship between impatience and procrastination, this caught my eye:

We find substantial evidence of time inconsistency. Namely, more that half of the participants who receive their check straight away instead of waiting two weeks for a reasonably larger amount, subsequently take more than two weeks to cash it.

This reminded me of a passage I read recently in Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote1 about the pitfalls of positive visualization.

Yet there are problems with this outlook, aside from just feeling disappointed when things don’t turn out well. These are particularly acute in the case of positive visualisation. Over the last few years, the German-born psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues have constructed a series of experiments designed to unearth the truth about ‘positive fantasies about the future’. The results are striking: spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go, it has emerged, actually reduces most people’s motivation to achieve them. Experimental subjects who were encouraged to think about how they were going to have a particularly high-achieving week at work, for example, ended up achieving less than those who were invited to reflect on the coming week, but given no further guidelines on how to do so.

In one ingenious experiment, Oettingen had some of the participants rendered mildly dehydrated. They were then taken through an exercise that involved visualising drinking a refreshing, icy glass of water, while others took part in a different exercise. The dehydrated water-visualisers — contrary to the self-help doctrine of motivation through visualisation — experienced a significant reduction in their energy levels, as measured by blood pressure. Far from becoming more motivated to hydrate themselves, their bodies relaxed, as if their thirst were already quenched. In experiment after experiment, people responded to positive visualisation by relaxing. They seemed, subconsciously, to have confused visualising success with having already achieved it.

In a similar way, it may be that the people who received their checks right away but didn’t cash them “relaxed” as though they had actually spent the money, not just gotten the check. (via mr)

  1. This book was endlessly fascinating to me, like reading the user’s manual on how my brain works for the first time. Like, wait, I don’t have to be anxious about not setting goals? And it can actually make me happier? Sign me up!

Online library of animal sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2015

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has digitized their vast library of animal sounds, dating back to 1929, and made them available online.

It took archivists a dozen years to complete the monumental task. The collection contains nearly 150,000 digital audio recordings equaling more than 10 terabytes of data with a total run time of 7,513 hours. About 9,000 species are represented. There’s an emphasis on birds, but the collection also includes sounds of whales, elephants, frogs, primates and more.

Even with those thousands of hours of recordings, some contemporary species remain unrecorded. The library maintains a list of their most wanted calls. On the list for North America are the Arctic Loon, Shiny Cowbird, and Surf Scoter. (via @alexismadrigal)

John Hersey’s Hiroshima

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2015

In August of 1946, the New Yorker dedicated an entire issue to a piece called Hiroshima by John Hersey. As an introduction, the editors wrote:

TO OUR READERS. The New Yorker this week devotes its entire editorial space to an article on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb, and what happened to the people of that city. It does so in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use. The Editors.

For the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, the New Yorker has digitized Hersey’s piece. The piece is quite long (30,000 words) so it can also be found in book form if that’s easier to read. Here’s the opening paragraph to get you going:

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition — a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next — that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

The piece made quite an impression upon its release, which you can read about on Wikipedia.

How to spend time alone in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

As something of an expert on the topic, I thought this New York Magazine piece about spending time alone in the Big Apple is pretty good. The opening of the piece gets at why busy, crowded NYC is actually a good place for an introvert to be:

Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift — and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. “Every form of human expressiveness is on display,” Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, “and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish.”

And this tip on the Empire State Building is one for the ol’ bucket list:

A lot of people don’t know this, but the Empire State Building is open until 2 a.m. The last elevator leaves at 1:15. If you go up then, it’s empty, it’s beautiful, and the city sounds like the ocean.

The speed of sci-fi ships, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

From Back to the Future’s DeLorean to Dr. Who’s Tardis, here’s a listing of sci-fi vehicles ranked from slowest to fastest.

Sci-fi spaceships speed

In the ongoing struggle of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Wars is the clear winner in the speed category: the Millennium Falcon is thousands of times faster than the Enterprise. Also, I didn’t know the Death Star was so fast!

The Moon crossing the sunlit face of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

This is just flat-out incredible… NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite captured a series of photos of the Moon as it moved between it and the Earth.

Earth Moon Anim

The image shows the “dark side” of the Moon, which we can’t see from Earth because it’s always pointed away from us.

The lunar far side lacks the large, dark, basaltic plains, or maria, that are so prominent on the Earth-facing side. The largest far side features are Mare Moscoviense in the upper left and Tsiolkovskiy crater in the lower left. A thin sliver of shadowed area of moon is visible on its right side.

“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

I don’t know why, but this image gives me chills up my spine! Is anyone else freaking out about this?

The New Devil’s Dictionary

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

From The Verge, The New Devil’s Dictionary, a new economy take on Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.

lifehack (v.): To embarrass your ancestors by bragging about an “ingenious” solution to a trivial problem.

operating system (n.): A set of instructions designed to make a particular machine incompatible with other machines.

See also Greg Knauss’ The Devil’s Dictionary 2.0 from many years ago.

blogosphere, noun. An poisonous environment of methane, self-satisfaction and other hot gasses.

podcast, verb. The audible form of “blog,” in much the same way that a series of unhappy grunts and splashes is the audible form of “stomach flu.”

How to get rid of clutter

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2015

KonMari, meet Mallory Ortberg. She has some hardcore advice for ridding your life of clutter so you can “live abundantly”. Some tips:

How many of the spices lining your pantry have you ever actually used? “Most of them?” Get rid of them. Every one. If you’re not using a spice right now, it’s not important. Your lymph nodes should be covered in turmeric 100% of the time, but you don’t even know where the lids to your Tupperware containers are, do you? Look at the moon. That’s all of the spice you need.

Thank every item in your refrigerator deeply — kiss each one of them softly and slowly with your mouth — then prepare for each item a small Viking funeral. Set them adrift on a blazing ship into the waters of a very cold lake. In the future, when you are hungry, eat your memories. The only thing that belongs in your refrigerator is mindfulness.

Throw away everything in your dirty laundry hamper. If a piece of clothing really mattered to you, you wouldn’t let it get dirty.

There is no need for a bed in the truly de-cluttered life. You should hover gently several inches above the floor in perfect harmony with your surroundings during your yearly nap, like a seahorse.

Why movie CG sucks (except that it doesn’t)

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2015

Are computer generated special effects ruining movies? Freddie Wong says no; CG is so good these days that we only notice it when it’s bad and in bad movies.

My biggest concern with CG is with unrealistic camera movements, e.g. like when the camera is following Spider-Man swooping all over NYC. I can’t not notice it and it almost always takes me out of the experience, which is the opposite of what I want. (via @tonyszhou)

Living without a sense of smell

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2015

Nick Johnson slammed his head on the ice while playing hockey last year and hasn’t been able to smell anything since then.

At the time of his accident, Nick’s wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Over lunch, he says: “I joke I can’t smell my daughter’s diaper. But I can’t smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o’clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I’ve never experienced that.”

Much of the article focuses on research about how smell can send signals we are not aware of (e.g. body odor can “smell” like stress), but my favorite thing about smell is its connection to memory…which makes the quote above all the more poignant. There are certain scents that when I smell them, they zap me so vividly back to when I was a kid or in college…it’s like time travel.

Highlights from Michael Jordan’s rookie year

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2015

The best way to get me to click on something is to label it “Michael Jordan Rookie Year Highlights”.

What a time capsule. (via devour)

GravityLight

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2015

GravityLight is an electric light that draws its power from gravity. You lift up a weight attached to the light and as it falls, it generates enough power to light the light for 20 minutes.

GravityLight is installed to provide a 6ft/1.8m drop of a 12kg weight. This weight is lifted and on release starts falling very slowly (about 1mm/second).

This movement powers a drive sprocket, which rotates very slowly with high torque (force). A polymer geartrain running through the product turns this input into a high speed, low torque output that drives a DC generator at thousands of rotations per minute.

This generates just under a tenth of a watt, a deciwatt, to power an onboard LED and ancillary devices. Given the ever-increasing efficiency of LEDs, this produces a light over 5 times brighter (lux) than a typical open-wick kerosene lamp.

Once the weighted bag reaches the floor, which depends on how high it was installed, it is simply lifted to repeat the process.

(via @craigmod)

Philip Glass: Words Without Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2015

Philip Glass by Chuck Close

I thought I’d posted about Philip Glass’ new memoir, Words Without Music, when it came out back in April, but I can’t find anything in the archives, so let’s do it right now. I was reminded of it after reading this review by Dan Wang, which pushed Glass’ book to the top of my queue.

These biographical details are manifestations of a quality I admire. Glass never needed much convincing to drop everything in his life to go on a risky venture. I’m not familiar with the many plot twists in his life, and found the book engaging because I had no idea what new adventure he was going to go on next. It’s astonishing how open-minded he is. Consider: His decision to go to India was based entirely on seeing a striking illustration in a random book he grabbed off a friend’s shelf. In addition, he never hesitated to go into personal debt, at times quite steep, because his music couldn’t wait. The book is filled with instances of him saying “sure, when?” to improbable proposals without dwelling on their costs.

He seemed uninterested in stabilizing his position with more regular income. He never took up an honorary conductor position. He never ensconced himself in a plush conservatory professorship. And he didn’t even apply for grants because he didn’t like that they imposed terms.

See also the 2007 documentary Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. (via mr)

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2015

Lucasfilm is coming out with a set of books about the first three Star Wars movies written by authors of acclaimed teen and preteen books. The first is Star Wars: A New Hope. The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy.

Star Wars Kids Books

The other two are called Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. So You Want to Be a Jedi? and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (via dooce)

Around the world in three years

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2015

Walter Chang saved up, quit his job, travelled around the world for three years, and made this video.

I went to South America and trekked through Patagonia. In Zimbabwe, hippos, lions, and elephants roamed through our camping ground. When I got to South Korea, my relatives treated me as one of their own, despite having last seen them 18 years prior.

It was in China, the third country of my trip, when I realized that what I was doing wasn’t totally crazy. I had already met a multitude of other backpackers taking extended trips ranging from several months to four years. Young people from abroad were prioritizing travel over hurrying into careers.

This video makes me happy. And sad…I am clearly not grabbing enough tiger by the tail in life currently. Chang is doing a Kickstarter campaign for a book of photos from the trip.

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