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

 

Whistleblower Edward Scissorhands

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2015

HLN (which used to be CNN Headline News) needed someone to talk about Edward Snowden, US government whistleblower. They meant to invite a gentleman named John Hendren, a journalist for Al Jazeera, onto the show but instead invited funnyman Jon Hendren, who goes by the username of @fart on Twitter. Hendren, Jon used the opportunity to defend both Edward Snowden, briefly, and then sexy-but-misunderstood barber Edward Scissorhands.

Well, you know, to say he couldn’t harm someone, well, absolutely he could. But I think to cast him out, to make him invalid in society, simply because he has scissors for hands, I mean, that’s strange. People didn’t get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.

The best part is that anchor Yasmin Vossoughian just keeps on plowing right through her script like they’re not talking suddenly about a man with scissors for hands, deftly demonstrating what a farce these TV news “conversations” are. (via nymag)

We Work Remotely

Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2015

Vargic Maps

Vargic Maps

Vargic Maps

In his upcoming book, Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps, Martin Vargic builds maps of imaginary worlds like the Map of the Internet, the Map of Literature, the Map of Stereotypes, The Music Map, The Map of YouTube, and The Corporate World Map. (via @tcarmody)

Hitchcock/Truffaut

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2015

Kent Jones has directed a documentary on the 1962 meeting where a young François Truffaut interviewed a seasoned Alfred Hitchcock about his films (the output of which was a beloved book). As the narration from the trailer says, “[Truffaut] wanted to free Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer”, to which Peter Bogdanovich adds, “it conclusively changed people’s opinions about Hitchcock”.

In 1962 Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets behind the mise-en-scène in cinema. Based on the original recordings of this meeting — used to produce the mythical book Hitchcock/Truffaut — this film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plummets us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo. Hitchcock’s incredibly modern art is elucidated and explained by today’s leading filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

Truffaut’s recontextualization of Hitchcock and his work reminds me of the point Matt Daniels recently made about younger generations deciding how work from older artists is remembered in his post about timeless music:

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 at 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.

Take Star Wars as another example. I’ve had conversations recently with other parents whose young kids are really into the series. The way they experience Star Wars is different than my generation. We saw Episodes IV-VI in the theater, on VHS, and on DVD and then saw Episodes I-III in the theater accompanied by various degrees of disappointment and disregard. Elementary school-aged kids today might have watched the prequels first. They read the comics, play the video games, and watch the Clone Wars animated series. To many of them, the hero of the series is Anakin, not Luke.1 And Generation X, as much as we may hate that, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.2 Unless… there is… another… (via subtraction)

  1. Thanks to Anil or David for this insight…I can’t remember which one of you said it.

  2. You know, the Anakin-as-the-true-hero view has its merits, despite how it was presented in the prequels. Anakin was a good kid who fell because he couldn’t handle the power given him but, in the end, was redeemed by the actions of his children. That’s a solid heroic narrative arc. And, glad you noticed, it ties neatly into what I’m trying to say about younger generations rehabbing older ones.

The Epic of Gilgamesh grows by 20 lines

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2015

Gilgamesh Stone Tablet

The Epic of Gilgamesh just got more epic. A recent find of a stone tablet dating back to the neo-Babylonian period (2000-1500 BCE) has added 20 new lines to the ancient Mesopotamian poem.

The tablet adds new verses to the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew the forest demigod Humbaba. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, gets the idea to kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, home of the gods, in Tablet II. He thinks accomplishing such a feat of strength will gain him eternal fame. His wise companion (and former wild man) Enkidu tries to talk him out of it — Humbaba was set to his task by the god Enlil — but stubborn Gilgamesh won’t budge, so Enkidu agrees to go with him on this quest. Together they overpower the giant. When the defeated Humbaba begs for mercy, offering to serve Gilgamesh forever and give him every sacred tree in the forest, Gilgamesh is moved to pity, but Enkidu’s blood is up now and he exhorts his friend to go through with the original plan to kill the giant and get that eternal renown he craves. Gilgamesh cuts Humbaba’s head off and then cuts down the sacred forest. The companions return to Uruk with the trophy head and lots of aromatic timber.

How the tablet was discovered is notable as well. Since 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was been paying smugglers to intercept artifacts leaving the country, no questions asked. The tablet was likely illegally excavated from the southern part of Iraq, and the museum paid the seller of this particular tablet $800 to keep it in the country.

These 11 actors play 119 characters on The Simpsons

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2015

70s cocaine paraphernalia advertising

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2015

Before the Reagans cranked up the War on Drugs in the early 80s due to the massive influx of cocaine from Latin America, advertisements offering all kinds of coke paraphernalia could be found in magazines. The World’s Best Ever collected a bunch of ads offering spoons, mirrors, straws, knives, and the like for America’s coke sniffers.

Cocaine ads

Cocaine ads

I am an episode and a half into Narcos on Netflix. Pretty good (but not great) so far.1 (via adfreak)

  1. They should have found a way to do it without the voiceover. Too much telling and not enough showing. (I have a thing about voiceovers. My first exposure to Blade Runner was Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut, which omitted Deckard’s voiceover, and when I started watching the original version on TV a few months ago, I nearly threw the remote through the screen…so grating and entirely unnecessary.)

Making mama’s meatballs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2015

Mario Carbone is a chef and restaurateur who, with his partners, runs a number of NYC restaurants like Dirty French, Parm, Carbone, and Santina. Carbone borrowed and modified his mother’s recipe for meatballs and put it on the menu at one of his restaurants. In this video, a clash of home cooking and fine dining, Mario and his mother Maria get together to cook and fight over the provenance of these meatballs.

I love the brief exchange at ~4:00 where Mario admits to using a French technique to make his mother’s Italian meatballs and Maria responds “Ah. See?” with a healthy helping of side-eye. (via @CharlesCMann, whose description of the video — “A ferocious Oedipal power struggle over meatballs” — I cannot improve upon)

A linear Lake Michigan

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2015

Linear Lake Michigan

Cartographer Daniel Huffman made a map that imagines the shoreline of Lake Michigan as a straight line. Click through to see the entire map and to read about houw Huffman did it. (thx, mark)

2015 status symbols

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2015

I wasn’t expecting much, but this list of status items from The Cut is pretty interesting reading. Status is often equated with money, but this list goes beyond that with picks like Japanese chalk for lecturing professors, the proper throat balm for theater people, watches for bankers1, weed for High Times editors, and the best canned tomatoes.

  1. You might think that the watches get more expensive as you climb the corporate ladder, but that’s not how status symbols work sometimes. For instance, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein wears a Swatch that can’t have cost him more than a couple hundred bucks.

Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

In the NYT, Sherry Turkle provides the backup data to confirm what you already know about the digital age: Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel … Even a silent phone disconnects us.

Meow the Jewels

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

Hip-hop group Run the Jewels have released a remix album called Meow the Jewels of their second album that features various meows, purrs, yowls, and other cat noises. Congratulations Internet, we have achieved Peak Cat.

Carl Sagan on the evolution of humans

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

From the landmark science series Cosmos, Carl Sagan narrates the evolution of humans from the first cells billions of years ago.

Weird Simpsons VHS

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

That’s Yoann Hervo’s tribute to The Simpsons in the form of a glitchy opening scene. I watched this last week and wasn’t going to post it but found myself thinking about it over the weekend so heeeeeere you go.

NASA: there’s liquid water on the surface of Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

Mars

NASA’s press conference doesn’t start for a few minutes yet, but the NY Times has the scoop: NASA has found “definitive signs” of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Like, right now on Mars, not millions of years ago.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, Dr. McEwen and other scientists identified waterlogged molecules — salts of a type known as perchlorates - in readings from orbit.

“That’s a direct detection of water in the form of hydration of salts,” Dr. McEwen said. “There pretty much has to have been liquid water recently present to produce the hydrated salt.”

By “recently,” Dr. McEwen said he meant “days, something of that order.”

This is fantastic timing for the release of The Martian movie, which comes out this weekend.

Update: And here’s the official press release from NASA.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

Scenes from Fukushima, four years later

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

Podniesinski Fukushima

Photographer Arkadiusz Podniesiński recently took a trip to Japan to the area affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. He toured towns closed due to high radiation levels, talked to former residents, and observed clean-up efforts in some of the less affected areas.

When entering the zone, the first thing that one notices is the huge scale of decontamination work. Twenty thousand workers are painstakingly cleaning every piece of soil. They are removing the top, most contaminated layer of soil and putting it into sacks, to be taken to one of several thousand dump sites. The sacks are everywhere. They are becoming a permanent part of the Fukushima landscape.

The contamination work does not stop at removal of contaminated soil. Towns and villages are being cleaned as well, methodically, street by street and house by house. The walls and roofs of all the buildings are sprayed and scrubbed. The scale of the undertaking and the speed of work have to be admired. One can see that the workers are keen for the cleaning of the houses to be completed and the residents to return as soon as possible.

Podniesinski Fukushima

Podniesinski Fukushima

(thx, james)

The History of Cartography

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2015

History Of Cartography

Published in 1987, copies of Volume 1 of The History of Cartography are expensive and difficult to find.1 The subsequent two volumes aren’t much less expensive. So the publisher of the series, The University of Chicago Press, has made PDFs of the books available online for scholars and map enthusiasts to use.

  1. Copies are $250 on Amazon.

101 Easy Asian Recipes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2015

101 Easy Asian Recipes

Lucky Peach is coming out with a cookbook called 101 Easy Asian Recipes. I’ve always been a little intimidated by Asian cooking.1 Other types of cuisine seem easy: French is butter & salt, Italian is olive oil & garlic, American is roast chicken & burgers. Plus, Asian cuisine is a huge umbrella of wonderful foods from all sorts of different cultures that it’s difficult to know where to start. I’ve been wanting to cook less Western at home, and I’m hoping this cookbook will give me some good ideas on how to proceed.

  1. Truthfully, I’ve always been a little intimidated by cooking in general, but as I’ve been doing it more often over the past couple of years, some of that trepidation has fallen away.

The retail churches of the cult of Apple

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2015

Apple Store Church

Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura took cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson to the Soho Apple store. Robles-Anderson recently studied the use of technology in churches and Laskow wanted to know: are Apple stores the new temples?

“People have used technology for a long time to speak to the gods,” she says — to create collective experiences of the sublime.

These days, technology is more often talked about as a way to create personalized, individual experiences, but Robles-Anderson thinks that’s only part of the story. Communal ritual is always a part of technology: Early computers came into group spaces, like families and offices. (Mad Men understood this dynamic: the computer as an event weathered together.) Powerpoint presentations gather people to look at giant screens. Even using an iPhone to tune out the human beings around you requires being part of a larger group.

And Apple, more than any other technology company, has been able to access both these experiences, the individual and the collective. “They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal,” says Robles-Anderson. “And yet it’s a cult. Right? It’s so obviously a cult.”

The architecture of the stores contributes to the sacred feeling of cult membership.

“The oversized doors are fantastic,” says Robles-Anderson. “There’s no reason for them.” They’re there only to communicate that this place is important. Also, they’re heavy, like church doors, to give purpose and portent to the entry into the space.

We walk inside. It’s light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor.

This is an old, old trick. “It’s used in ziggurats, even,” Robles-Anderson says. “It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you’re entering somewhere sacred or holy.”

Netflix is making more Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2015

Black Mirror

Netflix and Charlie Brooker have agreed to make 12 more episodes of the fantastic Black Mirror.

Netflix has commissioned House of Tomorrow to produce the twelve new episodes as a Netflix original series. House of Tomorrow’s Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who executive produced the first seven episodes of the series, will continue to serve as executive producers and showrunners for the new episodes. Brooker has commenced writing the new episodes, which are scheduled to begin production in late 2015 from the series’ production base in the UK.

“It’s all very exciting — a whole new bunch of Black Mirror episodes on the most fitting platform imaginable. Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, whilst maintaining that ‘Black Mirror’ feel. I just hope none of these new story ideas come true,” said Brooker.

My three favorite TV shows from the past 5 years: Mad Men, Transparent, and Black Mirror. Second tier: Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, and Boardwalk Empire. (via @mccanner)

Reinventing yourself on the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2015

Julia Nunes is a musician who 1) first developed a following for her music on YouTube, and 2) is putting out her latest album, which drops tomorrow. This summer, Nunes took down a bunch of the videos that started her on this path and explained why.

I took down a bunch of videos bc I don’t want what I’m doing now to be lost amongst what I’ve done for the past 8 years. I don’t want the best thing I’ve ever done to be 10% of what you can find if you’re looking. I want anyone who is just finding me now to see who I really am. Later, they can dig deep into the internet and find my nose ring but until then I wanna greet the world as I am now.

Nunes had changed and she wanted her online persona to reflect the shift.

There will always be resistance to change and the first roadblock is usually yourself. I think I was putting myself in a box there for a little bit, too beholden to the image I started with.

One of my favorite posts, which I think about often, is this one about social media and self-reinvention. In it, I quote a post1 from Scott Schuman’s The Sartorialist about a woman named Kara who significantly remade her image after moving to NYC.

Actually the line that I think was the most telling but that she said like a throw-away qualifier was “I didn’t know anyone in New York when I moved here…”

I think that is such a huge factor. To move to a city where you are not afraid to try something new because all the people that labeled who THEY think you are (parents, childhood friends) are not their to say “that’s not you” or “you’ve changed”. Well, maybe that person didn’t change but finally became who they really are. I totally relate to this as a fellow Midwesterner even though my changes were not as quick or as dramatic.

I bet if you ask most people what keeps them from being who they really want to be (at least stylistically or maybe even more), the answer would not be money but the fear of peer pressure — fear of embarrassing themselves in front of a group of people that they might not actually even like anyway.

Taking down those videos is Nunes’ way of trying for a fresh online start. Makes me think about whether having more than 17 years of archives on kottke.org still hanging around is such a good idea.

  1. Somewhat fittingly, that post now appears to be missing from Schuman’s site. Perhaps he (or Kara) needed to do a little online self-reinvention. Luckily, the Wayback Machine has us covered.

Superstorm Francis descends on the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2015

It’s the Pope’s first time in America and we sent him straight to Congress. That doesn’t exactly seem like we’re putting our best foot forward. In his historic speech to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis addressed climate change, capitalism, the death penalty and immigration. MoJo pulled out the ten most important lines from the speech.

“This Pope often operates through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could.” The New Yorker on Pope Francis and his little Fiat.

Human, the film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2015

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand is known for his aerial photography of the Earth’s landscapes, but in his film Human, he blends his trademark overview style with simply shot interviews with people from all over the world.

Humans made its debut earlier this month and is available in its entirety on YouTube in three 90-minute parts; start here with part one. (via in focus, which is featuring several photos from the film)

2015 fall foliage map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2015

2015 Foliage Map

SmokyMountains.com has the best fall foliage map I’ve ever seen. It’s very simply designed and has a slider that lets you check the leaf peeping forecast across the entire US.

P.S. It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

Hand-drawn animation of 43 years of the Sun’s weather

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2015

Artist and programmer Jeff Thompson has compiled 15,000 hand-drawn maps of the Sun made by astronomers into a single video, creating a mesmerizing and delightfully makeshift stop-motion animation of the Sun’s activity over the last 43 years. Astronomers have been drawing these “solar synoptic maps” since 1956 in order to keep track of the Sun’s “weather”…sunspots, flares, and the like. (via slate)

Mother Nature invented the gear

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2015

Nature Gears

Scientists have discovered that an insect has evolved something like a gearbox to coordinate its leg movements while jumping. That’s right, nature invented mechanical gears before man got around to it.

The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box.

Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears — essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.

The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement — the legs always move within 30 ‘microseconds’ of each other, with one microsecond equal to a millionth of a second.

This is critical for the powerful jumps that are this insect’s primary mode of transport, as even minuscule discrepancies in synchronisation between the velocities of its legs at the point of propulsion would result in “yaw rotation” — causing the Issus to spin hopelessly out of control.

“This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required,” said lead author Professor Malcolm Burrows, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent B&W film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2015

In an interview with Slashfilm, Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller stated that “the best version of this movie is black and white” and that the purest version of the film would also be silent (which it very nearly is anyway). Miller wanted to include the B&W version on the Blu-ray, but the studio decided to delay the release of that until a Super Special Ultra Gimme All Your Money Blu-ray Edition can be arranged at some later date. Until then (or, more probably, until Warner’s lawyers get around to taking it down), we have this fan-made edit of the film in B&W without dialogue. (via @SebastianNebel)

Update: Well, that was fun while it lasted. Good thing I totally didn’t grab a copy to watch later using a Chrome extension. (And before you ask, no I won’t.)

How to make a $1500 sandwich

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2015

Making a sandwich completely from scratch took this guy six months and cost $1500. He grew his own vegetables, made his own butter & cheese, made sea salt from salt water, and harvested wheat for bread flour. And that’s with a few shortcuts…he didn’t raise the cow & chicken from a calf & chick or the bees from a starter hive.

See also I, Pencil, how a can of Coca-Cola is made, and How to Cook Soup.

The Wire theme, Simpsonsized

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2015

The opening credits sequence of The Wire done using clips from The Simpsons. The theme song and clips are from the third seasons of the respective shows.

This Much Will Kill You

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2015

Turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. Like water for instance…drink six liters of water and it can kill you. So can 85 chocolate bars. Or being almost 9 feet tall. Or listening to music at 185 db.

The Food Lab cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2015

The Food Lab Cookbook

Kenji Lopez-Alt, whose work you and I have followed at Serious Eats for several years now, has come out with a cookbook called The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.

Ever wondered how to pan-fry a steak with a charred crust and an interior that’s perfectly medium-rare from edge to edge when you cut into it? How to make homemade mac ‘n’ cheese that is as satisfyingly gooey and velvety-smooth as the blue box stuff, but far tastier? How to roast a succulent, moist turkey (forget about brining!) — and use a foolproof method that works every time?

Instant purchase for me. You take a peek inside the book at Kenji’s site.

Leadership merit badges

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

Michael Lopp, Head of Engineering at Pinterest, recently gave a talk at the Cultivate conference in which he talks about different merit badges that a leader might earn if there were such a thing. Check the video for the whole list, but here are a few of them:

Influence without management authority
Delegate something you care about
Ship a thing
Ask for help from an enemy
Fail spectacularly

Part of the list made me think of parenting, which reminded me of Stella Bugbee’s recommendation of the book Siblings Without Rivalry on Cup of Jo.

I have a VERY, VERY unlikely book that I often reference as a boss: Siblings Without Rivalry. It’s not about money or business per se, but I’ve found since reading it that I put so many of its lessons into practice managing my team at work. I love the way it teaches you to listen, repeat the issues without taking sides, empathize and then teach the parties involved to solve their own disputes. It also helps at home. (Duh.)

A Burglar’s Guide to the City

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

A Burglar's Guide to the City

An upcoming book from BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City examines architecture through Ocean’s Eleven-tinted glasses.

At the core of A Burglar’s Guide to the City is an unexpected and thrilling insight: how any building transforms when seen through the eyes of someone hoping to break into it. Studying architecture the way a burglar would, Geoff Manaugh takes readers through walls, down elevator shafts, into panic rooms, up to the buried vaults of banks, and out across the rooftops of an unsuspecting city.

Update: The book is now out, accompanied by a spiffy new website.

Vancouver Never Plays Itself

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

In the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou talks about the different techniques filmmakers use to make shoot locations like Vancouver (Zhou’s hometown) look like New York, India, Chicago, Shanghai, and San Francisco in the finished films.

Edward Snowden’s Fermi Paradox solution

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

Edward Snowden has come up with a solution to the Fermi Paradox that I hadn’t heard of before. Maybe we haven’t discovered intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, says Snowden, because their communications encryption is indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation.

“If you look at encrypted communication, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted,” Snowden said. “You can’t distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour.”

Therefore, Snowden continued, as human and alien societies get more sophisticated and move from “open communications” to encrypted communication, the signals being broadcast will quickly stop looking like recognisable signals.

“So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations,” he said, “or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there’s only one small period in the development of their society when all their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means.”

After that, Snowden said, alien messages would be so encrypted that it would render them unrecognisable, “indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation”. In that case, humanity would not even realise it had received such communications.

Snowden shared his hypothesis with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Tyson’s podcast, StarTalk.

What if the world’s best goalkeeper…was a cat?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

(via @dens)

Edward Burtynsky, Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2015

With California in the midst of a particularly intense multi-year drought and 2015 looking to be the warmest year on record by a wide margin,1 Edward Burtynsky’s “Water” series of photographs is especially relevant.

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Burtynsky Water

Many of photos in the series are on display in Berkeley through February and are also available in book form.

Update: Burtynsky also collaborated on a documentary about water called Watermark. Here’s a trailer:

The film is available to watch on Amazon Instant and iTunes. (via @steveportigal)

  1. I mean, look at this chart from the NOAA of the warmest years since 1880…2015 is a Lionel Messi-esque outlier. And Eric Holthaus says that with the strong El Niño, 2016 is forecast to be even hotter.

A short history of the British Royal Family

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2015

The succession of English/British kings and queens explained, from William the Conquerer in 1066 to little Prince George, perhaps, in 2067-ish. For a list of English monarchs organized into their houses (Plantagenet, Tudor, etc.), Wikipedia is the place to go.

Noodle World 2013

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2015

Noodle World 2013

I love this poster by Korean designer Chae Byung-rok. His web site is currently down, but you can see more of his work on It’s Nice That. (via @djacobs)

Taking off and landing a plane with just 44 feet of runway

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2015

Pilot Bobby Breeden recently set the official world record for shortest combined distance for takeoff and landing. Flying a single-engine taildragger plane (a Super Cub?), Breeden took off using only 24 feet of runway and landed in just 20 feet.

I’ve covered STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft on the site before…they are amazing. This Super Cub even landed on the side of a snowy mountain. I mean, fuuuuuuu… (via @gak_pdx)

Time lapse video of a scale model of the solar system

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

A pair of filmmakers, Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, built a scale model of the solar system in the Nevada desert and made a time lapse of the result. For orbits, they drove their car in circles around “the Sun”. The Earth they used was the size of a marble, which made Neptune’s orbit seven miles across. (via the kid should see this)

Alice in a Neural Networks Wonderland

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

Gene Kogan used some neural network software written by Justin Johnson to transfer the style of paintings by 17 artists to a scene from Disney’s 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland. The artists include Sol Lewitt, Picasso, Munch, Georgia O’Keeffe, and van Gogh.

Neural Wonderland

The effect works amazingly well, like if you took Alice in Wonderland and a MoMA catalog and put them in a blender. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Sunset on Pluto

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

The backlit photos of Pluto just posted by NASA are breathtaking. Look at this:

Pluto backlit

Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.

As they say, best viewed large. Some of those features don’t look like mountains at all, but like reptile scales or huge shards of ice pushed up into the sky. Fantastic.

Film footage of a person born in the 1700s

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

I have previously explored the question of the earliest born person ever to be photographed, which is probably cobbler John Adams, born in 1745. Motion pictures were invented sometime after photography, so the people filmed don’t stretch quite so far back.

Ben Beck lists the earliest born person to be filmed as Rebecca Clark, who was born in 1804. She was filmed in 1912 when she was 108. But there may have been an older person caught on the very first film shot in the Balkans. The Manakis brothers bought a Bioscope camera in London in 1905 and after bringing it back home to what is now Greece, they filmed their 114-year-old grandmother Despina weaving:

Being 114 in 1905 would place Despina’s year of birth at around 1791, only a few years after the formation of the United States. There’s no independent confirmation of her age outside of the film’s original title and Milton Manaki’s memoirs (published in Romanian), but even if she were only 102 at the time, she would best Clark’s 1804 birth year. (via @KyleOrl)

Hidden connections in Tarantino films

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

The worlds in many of Quentin Tarantino’s movies are connected; here are ten of the biggest connections, including the Vega brothers, Red Apple cigarettes, and Big Kahuna Burger. Tarantino has even said that some of his movies are watchable within others…e.g. the characters in Pulp Fiction could have watched From Dusk Till Dawn in the theater.

Anthony Bourdain is eating the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2015

Who would have guessed 15 years ago that this self-styled rebel, who wrote about waitress blow jobs and shooting heroin in his best-selling 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, would become America’s contemporary answer to, say, Mark Twain — our most enthusiastic chronicler of life outside our borders?

Josh Eells tags along to get a firsthand look at Anthony Bourdain’s world domination.

Film of Claude Monet painting water lilies in his garden

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2015

From 1915, a short film of Claude Monet painting one of his series of Water Lilies paintings. Monet created about 250 oil paintings depicting the lilies and other flowers in his flower garden at Giverny.

Open Culture has posted a few other videos of old masters at work and at leisure, including Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, and Auguste Rodin.

The mathematical secrets of Pascal’s triangle

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2015

Pascal’s triangle1 is a simple arrangement of numbers in a triangle…rows are formed by the successive addition of numbers in previous rows. But out of those simple rows comes deep and useful mathematical relationships related to probability, fractals, squares, and binomial expansions. (via digg)

  1. As the video says, Pascal was nowhere near the discoverer of this particular mathematical tool. By the time he came along in 1653, the triangle had already been described in India (possibly as early as the 2nd century B.C.) and later in Persia and China.

A supercut of all Wes Anderson supercuts

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2015

Posted here purely for the sake of completeness, here is a supercut of every1 supercut, parody, analysis, and compilation of Wes Anderson and his movies, the whole twee ball of wax.

  1. I don’t know if every single one is in there, but there are a lot. I’ve probably linked to at least half of them.

The effect of choosing and changing aspect ratios in film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2015

The aspect ratio of a movie can have a significant effect on how the scenes in the movie are perceived by the viewer. Changing the ratio during a movie (as in Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.) can be an effective way to signal a thematic change.

Children of Men: Don’t Ignore the Background

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2015

The Nerdwriter takes on Children of Men, specifically what’s going in the background of Alfonso Cuarón’s film, both in terms of references to other works of art & culture and to things that push the plot along and contribute to the tone and message of the film.

The Collective Quarterly: Mad River Valley

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2015

Mad River Collective

The issue of The Collective Quarterly on Vermont’s Mad River Valley is wonderful and gorgeous.

When we visited the Mad River Valley — which includes the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury — we found grown men who loiter outside the local general store like furtive minors, sheepishly asking inbound customers if they’d be willing to help them circumvent the three-bottle limit on the impossible-to-find Sip of Sunshine double IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids. We shared drinks with backwoods boys, each with a quirky approach to extreme sports: kayaking raging rivers, big-air huck fests in sleds, and cliff-jumping at near-suicidal heights. We met a man who builds houses in the trees for the disabled youth of the Mad River Valley. We found a woman who forges artful kitchen knives out of old horse-hoof rasps from her father’s blacksmith operation. We ran into a socialist German refugee whose politically charged puppet shows in the fields of the Northeast Kingdom draw thousands.

And of course there were the architects. By some estimates, there are more architects per capita in Warren, Vermont, than anywhere else in the United States. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, these freewheeling designers hacked together zany, experimental constructions on Prickly Mountain, heralding the arrival of the design/build movement.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time there, and I can tell you that the magazine definitely captured it. From just this summer, here’s Ollie doing a 360 off a cliff at the swim hole and views of another more peaceful swim hole as well as from a hike I took:

Mad River swim hole

Mad River hike

Camera Restricta

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2015

Camera Restricta is a speculative camera design by Philipp Schmitt that won’t allow you to take photos if too many have already been taken by others at that location.

On the other hand, I sometimes have the chance, and then the responsibility of course, to take the last photo of a place before the shutter retracts permanently. Or maybe even the first photo of a place, where no photos have been taken yet. This is then guaranteed to be a truly unique capture.

It would be cool to pair this with a service that automatically deposits not-taken photos of heavily photographed places you visit into your account, i.e. when Camera Restricta won’t let you take a picture of the Eiffel Tower, a photo of it found online and taken from your exact location would be placed in your Dropbox photos folder. (via @bdeskin)

The Earth’s nuclear scars

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2015

Last month I shared a video showing the thousands of nuclear weapons that humans have detonated on Earth. I hadn’t really thought about it too much apart from the two dropped in Japan in WWII, but those weapons created some permanent physical changes in the landscape of the Earth. For instance, dozens of circular scars are visible at this testing range in Nevada near Area 51.

Nuke Blast Holes

Also located in the same area is the Sedan Crater, the largest man-made crater in the United States. The crater is 320 feet deep, 1280 feet across, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was made by a thermonuclear device with a 104 kiloton yield detonated in 1962.

Sedan Crater

Now, I haven’t read a whole lot about nuclear tests, but this one seems particularly idiotic. The purpose of the Sedan shot was not to test a new kind of weapon or to determine the effects of the bomb, but to move earth. Yeah, no big deal, we’re just gonna use a fusion bomb like a big stick of dynamite. Sedan was part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear devices for peaceful purposes like mining and moving earth. From Wikipedia:

Proposed uses for nuclear explosives under Project Plowshare included widening the Panama Canal, constructing a new sea-level waterway through Nicaragua nicknamed the Pan-Atomic Canal, cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways, and connecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting underground caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage. Serious consideration was also given to using these explosives for various mining operations. One proposal suggested using nuclear blasts to connect underground aquifers in Arizona. Another plan involved surface blasting on the western slope of California’s Sacramento Valley for a water transport project.

The Pan-Atomic Canal! This quaint US government video has more on Sedan:

In my post the other day, I said that the Soviets didn’t care about their citizenry when testing nuclear devices. Apparently the US didn’t either: the Sedan shot — the purpose of which, as a reminder, was to move a bunch of dirt — resulted in a significant amount of nuclear fallout, about 7% of the total radioactive fallout generated by all the nuclear tests in Nevada. Fallout from the test reached as far as West Virginia and was particularly high in counties in Iowa and Illinois. Buy hey, they moved 12 million tons of soil! (via @kyledenlinger)

The end of the NASA window

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

In retrospect, it was an unlikely set of conditions that came together to produce the Space Age. Not just the postwar blend of prosperity and paranoia, but a series of scientific breakthroughs, both pure and applied, that happened in such close succession that we nearly had a surplus, one that had to be invested in something.

We had to know our world well enough to be able to escape it, but not so well that we couldn’t ignore the price we were paying. And now that window may be closing.

Here are two stories that have me in an elegiac mood. “This Used To Be the Future” is a photoessay by Rachel Sussman that looks at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Most stories about Ames focus on the cutting edge stuff, the public/private partnerships; Sussman focuses on the old stuff, the military leftovers, the junk.

Next is a piece in Scientific American on plutonium-238. NASA uses the slow-burning plutonium to power its long-range probes and interplanetary craft.

Over the past half-century, NASA has used a total of 140 kilograms of Pu-238 to push the frontiers of exploration. Coupled to one of the agency’s “thermoelectric” generators that convert heat into electricity, four kilograms of the stuff can power a spacecraft for decades. Pu-238 was used in Apollo-era science experiments on the Moon, in the Galileo mission to Jupiter and in the Pioneer and Voyager space probes now exiting our solar system. Hefty hunks of Pu-238 power the Mars Curiosity rover, the Cassini orbiter at Saturn and the New Horizons spacecraft now roaming beyond Pluto. In the future, Pu-238 could power robotic probes to burrow beneath the ice of ocean-bearing moons, planes to fly in the alien atmospheres of other worlds, ships to sail the liquid ethane seas of Saturn’s moon Titan and much, much more.

Those future missions can only occur if there’s enough plutonium to go around. Practically all of NASA’s Pu-238 stockpile was made as a byproduct of building nuclear weapons during the Cold War. As the Cold War wound down, so too did the Department of Energy’s Pu-238 production; it made its last batch in 1988, shutting off NASA’s supply save for occasional deliveries of small, lower-quality batches from Russia that ceased in 2010. At present, only about 35 kilograms of Pu-238 are left for the space agency, and radioactive decay has rendered all but 17 kilograms too weak to be readily used in NASA’s thermoelectric generators. NASA and DOE officials estimate there is only enough for four more generators, one of which is already committed to NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover.

The plutonium shortfall makes it impossible for NASA to plan future missions that would require it, but in the absence of specific mission needs, nobody wants to make any more. Solar-powered craft could eventually fill in the gap, but the technology’s not there yet.

So the stars get further and further away.

Jonathan Hickman is currently writing Secret Wars for Marvel, but the roots of that story go back to his earlier run on Fantastic Four. There’s a great scene where Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic, resigns from the Singularity Conference (think TED/O’Reilly/Davos on steroids), a group of scientists he founded, as they argue for increasingly limited approaches to exploration.

The other scientists are basically correct. It is irresponsible to fund manned space missions in a global recession. Our global population may be impossible to sustain on our planet going forward. But Mister Fantastic, being a superhero, rejects the premise. “The future of man is not one billion of us fighting over limited resources on a soon-to-be-dead planet, but one trillion human beings spanning an entire galaxy,” he says. “The future of man is not here. It is out there. Because it’s our new horizon. Because it’s what’s next.”

It’s a corny, Sorkin-esque speech…. but I love it. It thrills me. And it makes me afraid.

Reed- discovery.jpg

I would like to think that that time isn’t over yet, that there is a way to reconcile what we know now with what we were willing to risk for the sake of knowledge then — that if not in outer space, then in medicine or genetics or some other field. But part of me wonders if the time for us to come together to do big things — that space age, that Marvel Age, that time of the Fantastic Four — is over. And all that’s left is how we manage our decline.

An anatomy of food trends

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

Using the cronut as the point of departure, Helen Rosner urges chefs and writers and everyone to look beyond hybrid wordplay and dig deeper into the conditions for the latest “it” dish:

From a trademarked pastry to the entire concept of “street food,” a trend follows a predictable path, one that’s consistent whether applied to technology (the hype cycle identified by tech research company Gartner), youth culture (Fuse Marketing’s five-point map), or gastronomy (the eleven-stage process broken down in the food-culture-skewering book Comfort Me With Offal). However detailed your drilldown, the story is the same: Something bubbles up for one reason or another, feeling right to a small group of people who are open to new ideas and who speak with loud, influential voices. More people pick up on that right-ness, and then more people pick up on the fact that people are picking up on something, ultimately reaching a critical mass of interest and awareness.

At this point, most of the early adopters tend to fall away: trends are driven at different points in their life cycles by a desire to fit in and a desire to stand out; if someone’s engine is the latter, she’ll cut and run when adherence to the gospel of locavorism becomes more about the former. Once Starbucks puts a flat white on their menu, cortado devotees start eyeing matcha. Once your mom buys bacon-scented hand soap for the guest bathroom, there’s an unshakeable pall cast over your Benton’s-washed bourbon. When something makes that leap into ultra-mass culture, showing up on t-shirts at Target and as a punchline on the Tonight Show, it’s a sign that its original engine — novelty, exclusivity, difference — has worn out.

It’s that “why do things bubble up in the first place” question that’s harder to answer. These things are always time-dependent, sometimes place-dependent, and usually driven by more than just food. (Ditto trends in tech or whatever. There are games beyond the game.)

“The thing that truly jumpstarts a trend is that it solves a problem we perhaps didn’t consciously realize needed solving,” writes Rosner.

Trends are driven by broader forces: Kale and quinoa are driven by an obsession with healthfulness and nutritional density, artisanal-everything is a backlash to the sterility of mass production, toast with fancy things on it looks incredibly pretty on Instagram. And not all these forces are consumer-side: The sudden glut of hip chicken sandwich restaurants isn’t the result of some shady collusion of culinary illuminati; rather, it nails the intersection of comfort food, Southern food, and fast-casual’s potential for extraordinary (and extraordinarily scalable) profits.

Also, it should be delicious.

Thirty years of Super Mario

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

Super Mario Brothers was released for Famicom in Japan on September 13, 1985.

When was the game released in the United States? Nobody knows.

Here’s Nintendo’s official anniversary video.

Legendary designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka broke down the first level of the game for Eurogamer. (My favorite part? The subtle way that Mario is designed to have “weight,” and how this affects the player’s identification with and affection for the character.)

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica has thirty little-known facts about the game:

The original instruction booklet for Super Mario Bros. details how “the quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants.” That means every brick you break in the game is killing an innocent mushroom person that would have been saved once Princess Toadstool “return[ed] them to their normal selves.”

Digg has a video on the character’s evolution (including cameo appearances in other Nintendo games):

Samir al-Mutfi’s “Syrian Super Mario” reimagines the game with obstacles faced by Syrian refugees. (Grimly, the player has 22,500,000 lives to lose.)

And of course, Super Mario Maker, the game that lets players make their own Super Mario Bros. levels, was released for Wii U. Users’ levels are already being repurposed for social commentary, from the existential dread of “Waluigi’s Unbearable Existence” to the more lighthearted “Call Your Mother, You’ve Got Time.”

Computer graphics circa 1968

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

“The Incredible Machine” (not to be confused with the 1975 film) is a 1968 documentary about experiments at Bell Labs focusing on graphics, voice, and other art and media applications. Technicians draw circuits using an electric stylus, animate titles for a movie presentation, and look at sound waveforms of different words trying to replicate speech.

It’s a treat to see the state-of-the-art the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially when one of the Bell Labs computers sings “Daisy Bell”/”A Bicycle Built For Two”.

Also, mind the rabbit hole: the related links bar on YouTube leads to dozens of similar vintage computing videos.

(Via @katecrawford)

The earliest use of “fuck”

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

Get ready to update the OED. There’s a new attestation of English’s most colorful and versatile word, from the year 1310.

Dr Paul Booth of Keele University spotted the name in ‘Roger Fuckebythenavele’ in the [Cheshire] county court plea rolls beginning on December 8, 1310. The man was being named three times part of a process to be outlawed, with the final mention coming on September 28, 1311.

Dr Booth believes that “this surname is presumably a nickname. I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word ‘dimwit’ i.e. a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it.”

We’ve doubtlessly been using the word “fuck” in English for a lot longer; this is just an unusual set of conditions that’s led it to be preserved in the written record. Like an animal falling into a tar pit.

(Via @kirstinbutler)

Rosie Perez on Soul Train

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

At 19 (so, around 1983 or 1984) Rosie Perez moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to help a cousin with her children and go to college for biochemistry. Then she was recruited to be a dancer on Soul Train.

In her line dance solos, you can see early versions of many of the moves that would be immortalized in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing.

You also see a lot of what Perez calls “face dancing.” “Face dance means you don’t know what the hell the rest of your body was doing but your face is fierce. That’s face dancing.”

According to this Esquire article, Don Cornelius was dead set on packaging Perez as part of a girl group of hip-hop/R&B dancer-singers. Perez was uncertain and wouldn’t sign the contract. This led to a confrontation where Cornelius grabbed Perez, and in response, she threw a box of chicken at him.

That fight ended Perez’s time on Soul Train, but she soon had jobs choreographing Bobby Brown, The Fly Girls on In Living Color, and more. Arguably nobody did more to bring hip-hop dance to mainstream attention than Rosie Perez.

(Via @eugenewei)

Radiohead + D’Angelo = OK LADY

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 11, 2015

A brand-new, free-to-listen/download covers/mashup medley EP from Roman GianArthur, featuring labelmate Janelle Monae on the beautiful duet “NO SURPR:SES.”

D’Angelo and Radiohead: it’s two great late-90s/early-00s/still-pretty-damn-good-in-10s tastes that taste great together!

(via Wired and elsewhere)

A walk down 14th Street after the Age of Bloomberg

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 11, 2015

Brendan O’Connor has sketched a short, poignant, four-dimensional map* of one of Manhattan’s most iconic streets, from the Hudson to the East River, and from 2001 to the present.

There is an idea of New York, and especially of Manhattan, as a place where the wealthy and the less wealthy (and even the not-at-all wealthy!) live in close proximity, even adjacent, to each other, and that this arrangement produces ambition in the latter to attain what the former has, and some amount of respect for the humanity of the latter in the former. This is not just incidental to life here, the thinking goes, but integral to it: Everyone, or almost everyone, suffers the city together.

The story of 14th Street both encapsulates this high-low fantasy and shows how it has been and continues to be erased in favor of something much more lucrative.

[The] High Line is a magnet for more than tourists’ money: According to a study conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, before the park’s construction in 2003, the surrounding West Chelsea neighborhood—a mix of residential properties and light industrial businesses—were valued at eight percent below Manhattan’s overall median. In 2005, the city rezoned West Chelsea for luxury development, and, by 2011, residential property values appreciated beyond borough-wide values. “The park, which will eventually snake through more than twenty blocks, is destroying neighborhoods as it grows,” Jeremiah Moss wrote in the New York Times in 2012. “And it’s doing so by design. While the park began as a grass-roots endeavor—albeit a well-heeled one—it quickly became a tool for the Bloomberg administration’s creation of a new, upscale, corporatized stretch along the West Side.”

*Most street maps lie in at least two ways in order to fit two-dimensional constraints.

  1. They omit pitch and elevation. This is admittedly a bigger problem in cities like San Francisco than it is in most places, but the experience of walking along any street is shaped by its sloping uphill or downhill, its seat above or below.
  2. They eliminate the axis of time, which is relegated to real estate transaction documents and local folklore.

Related: The New York Times’ terrific “Reshaping New York” interactive map from 2013.

The life and death of languages

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 11, 2015

John McWhorter looks at Aramaic, once the lingua franca of the near east, now reduced to about half a million speakers (who separately call it Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian, Mandaic, etc.).

Aramaic, then, is in a splintered and tenuous state. Yet it was the English of its time—a language that united a large number of distinct peoples across a vast region, a key to accessing life beyond one’s village, and a mark of sophistication to many. The Aramaeans—according to Biblical lore named for Noah’s grandson Aram—started as a little-known nomadic group. But they were seekers, and by the 11th century B.C.E. they ruled large swaths of territory in Mesopotamia, encompassing parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, including, for a spell, the city of Babylon itself. On the basis of this expansion alone, however, theirs would likely have become just one of various languages of the area that briefly enjoyed fame and then vanished in the endless game of musical chairs that was ancient Middle Eastern politics. The Aramaeans themselves were in Babylon only temporarily: In 911 B.C.E., the Assyrians, who spoke a language called Akkadian, ousted them. But the Assyrians unwittingly helped the Aramaeans’ language extinguish their own.

Namely, the Assyrians deported Aramaic-speakers far and wide, to Egypt and elsewhere. The Assyrians may have thought they were clearing their new territory, but this was like blowing on a fluffy milkweed and thinking of it as destruction rather than dissemination: The little seeds take root elsewhere.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic — English is supposedly simple and easy to learn, while Aramaic is manifestly not — but that actually had little effect on English’s emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic’s rise and decline. But one set of differences between the two languages, McWhorter argues, really is material:

At this point, I am supposed to write that English’s preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic’s. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even—arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.

The High Times softball dynasty

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 11, 2015

High Times, the magazine for marijuana enthusiasts, has a really, really good softball team. They are called “the Bonghitters,” and are defending their championship in the New York Media Softball League.

The mainstreaming of marijuana has helped High Times thrive despite the downturn in print media… This success translates to stability for the team. Media softball rosters are flexible, a mix of current and former staffers, friends, and friends of friends. There’s occasional grumbling about “ringers,” but usually the only credential you need is an invitation. Still, every team needs a few regular employees. Typically, there’s an employee who schedules games, recruits players, sets lineups, and makes sure somebody brings a bat. Each team also needs a keeper of the park permit; the best fields and time slots are almost impossible to get if it lapses. So staff cuts or overhauls can be catastrophic.

Perhaps we can add this to the shortlist of nonstandard economic indicators. Is your media organization healthy? ? How good is your softball team?

The intellectual at war

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

Bernard-Henri Levy (known as BHL) is a French philosopher and public intellectual who seems to have come from central casting. Sixty-six, handsome, he wears gorgeous tailored shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest, weighs in on any public dispute that catches his fancy (like when he argued that his good friend, the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, could not have assaulted a hotel employee since, as everyone knows, the finest hotels always send in cleaning brigades of two people).

He is, in short, ridiculous, all the more so because he takes himself so seriously, and is taken seriously by others.

All this is background to explain what is absurd, charming, and inexplicably funny about this slideshow of photographs of BHL in various combat zones over the years.

BHL 1.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2007.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2.jpg

BHL poolside.jpg

The end of Key and Peele

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

Wesley Morris expertly examines the show’s achievements:

American television has always been fundamentally white. Its points of view emanate from the vantages of those who control the industry and create its content. If it deals with race as a problem, it typically can do so only if it believes there’s a solution. But as a black viewer, I’m never looking for contrition, simply an acknowledgement of a condition; I don’t need television — or American culture — to provide a remedy. Black America has tended to see the discrepancy between the cultural importance to diagnose and the delusion to attempt to cure. Merely giving a nonwhite person a speaking role is not absolution. That contradiction is visible to a black audience almost anytime it sees itself chauffeuring, housekeeping, mammying, best-friending, sidekicking, saying everything about white characters while saying nothing about itself. That was the biracial brilliance of Key and Peele. It understood race as real and racism as inevitable, and never lost sight of the way in which individual white people can be agents of change but also of offense, wittingly or not supporting a system of demoralization.

Kwame Opam discusses how the show lived and grew across the world wide web:

Key & Peele’s greatest strength and weakness was its format; as a sketch show, it’s best remembered for its bite-sized bits — most of which wound up online. “Substitute Teacher,” which first aired in 2012, is one of the show’s earliest highlights. It quickly went viral, and right it now boasts more than 80 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year, Paramount even announced it plans on turning it into a feature-length film. But the episode it premiered on only pulled in 1.16 million viewers at the time, a drop in the bucket compared to its online views. And it makes sense, especially for a huge swath of the population that doesn’t have cable. Why wait for the show when you can watch the best clips on the internet?

This is a complex but not unique irony: how a slice of pop culture in 2015 can be popular enough for the President himself to take notice (and embrace it), and to seem to have zeitgeist-defining properties, but not be quite popular enough to sustain a half hour in basic cable.

Maybe that’s tied to something Morris and Opam touch on but don’t quite name. More than any show on television, to my mind, Key and Peele felt young. Not young in the shallow way that all media, maybe especially television, seem to exploit young talent; not young in the same reckless, juvenile way Chappelle’s Show or vintage Saturday Night Live was; young in the open, searching, insouciant, absurdist key that’s so important to sketch comedy.

That’s what’s in the mix of what Morris rightly identifies as the show’s blend of sadness and acceptance. It’s youth knowing that this is not forever, that it would be wrong to linger, that the future (and everything good, bad, and unchanging that comes with it) is inevitable.

Interviewing Kermit’s new partner

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

No, not his new girlfriend Denise (although I hope for Kermit nothing but happiness), but Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who became the man behind the frog (and Ernie, and several other beloved characters) after Jim Henson’s death. It’s also a sweet, mournful look into the mystery of puppeteering:

Until Being Elmo, the documentary about long-time Elmo performer Kevin Clash, nobody knew who Clash was. Elmo was just Elmo. Consider the secondary performer, the underling to the already-invisible: They don’t play a fictional character; they gesture a single limb. That dark empty sleeve is the foxhole of puppeteers—you dig in, protecting your neighbor and hope you come back alive. Survive and your own identity awaits. Jerry Nelson began as a right hand for the Muppets in 1965—eventually he would perform one of the most recognizable Sesame Street citizens, Count von Count. If anyone knows the value of digits, it’s a 4-year-old learning their numbers by extending one finger at a time until, finally, their hand is open, the better to grab on.

The Muppets premieres on September 22, and a Jim Henson documentary will air on September 15.

Bill Murray owns a baseball team

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

Bill Murray is a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a Class A minor league team in the South Atlantic League. His official title is “Director of Fun.” In 2012, Amy Nelson and an SBNation video team went down to interview Murray for his induction into that league’s hall of fame.

(“But wait, Tim, this was three years ago.” Well, I missed it until today, when it was revealed that Murray has actually seen the little video. And now I have seen it, and like all things Bill Murray touches, it is a goddamn delight. Enjoy.)

A new species of the genus Homo

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 10, 2015

There’s a new (extinct) hominin on the block (in a cave system in Africa): Homo naledi.

skull comparison.jpg

Basically, Homo naledi had humanlike hands, legs, and feet, but tiny little australopithecine skulls, i.e., brains.

And, there are a lot of them, fossil-wise: “Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa.”

But we don’t yet know exactly how long ago they lived: maybe two million years ago, when the Homo genus emerged, or as late as a hundred thousand years ago, when it contracted to, well, us. In an accompanying article, Chris Stringer gets a little testy about it.

Frustratingly, the rich and informative H. naledi material remains undated. Given that this hominin material could conceivably even date within the last 100,000 years, I am puzzled by the apparent lack of attempts to estimate its age. This could have been achieved directly via radiocarbon dating (even if only to test whether the material lies beyond the effective range of that method) or indirectly based on ancient DNA samples. For example, after ancient DNA was successfully recovered from the Sima de los Huesos fossils, it was used to date them to about 400,000 years old (Meyer et al., 2014). Moreover, tests on even small fragments of bone and tooth enamel could have narrowed down the possible age range and at least ruled out either a very ancient or very young age (Grün, 2006).

As Dan Cohen points out, this discovery is also unusual in that it didn’t make its splash at Science or Nature, but eLife, a free, open-access journal. Study leader Lee Berger tells Buzzfeed the article was rejected by Nature because the authors couldn’t meet the mag’s demands to squeeze the whole thing into 2500 words. Well, whatever the reason for going open-access, we of the science-following-but-not-institutional-password-having-audience approve.

Update: Ed Yong has a terrific account of the discovery, with a ripping narrative about the caving team’s expedition and an intelligent analysis of the new species and its implications. Well worth reading.

The manifest glory of JJ Watt

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

I’m increasingly ambivalent about football (see here, here, here), but HBO’s Hard Knocks, the recurring documentary miniseries inside an NFL training camp, is still the best TV show I’ve seen all year.

The show’s stars included coaches, families, undrafted rookies and journeyman free agents, all in orbit around the Houston Texans. A huge part of the draw, though, is all-pro defensive lineman JJ Watt, maybe the NFL’s best player at any position. Watt does freakish things, like flipping half-ton tires end over end, or box-jumping sixty-one inches (kind of like jumping onto the roof of a car from a standstill).

Earlier this summer, Grantland’s Shea Serrano got to run through drills with Watt:

Watt is the best defensive football player on the planet — probably the best football player full stop. His body looks like what Superman would draw if someone asked him to draw what he wanted to look like. My body looks like if someone asked Superman to draw a pile of mashed potatoes wearing shorts.

Sports business may be evil, its fundamental practices barbaric, its media representations distorted and misleading, and its role in American life exaggerated beyond all reason. But god, it’s compelling to watch human beings who are better at what they do than anyone else on the planet, who do things that don’t completely seem possible.

Reviewing jail on Yelp

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

An emerging genre:

“When I would shower, I would take my clothes and wash them, people thought it was funny, but it was really a way for me not to get my own clothes robbed being there was no jump suits,” [Jason A.] wrote in a 1-star review of Rikers. “Food tasted like wet noodles and grill gristle…. I later learned to get a muslim halal card, and a jewish card, and know the kitchen staff to see which card would get me a better meal for the day.”…

In reviewing the Wayne County Jail, Athena Kolbe, a Detroit social worker, says her aim was twofold: first, she wanted potential visitors to “be prepared for it mentally when you go into it.” Second, “when you come out of it, know that all that disrespect you experienced, everybody else is also experiencing that. It’s not just you.”

This is what you need to know might be the best feature of any good review, and is arguably most essential when you don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Not just jails, but hospitals, homeless shelters, emergency psychiatric services — there is a fair amount of official information, and there has always been informal word-of-mouth, but not many opportunities to get frank advice or to tell your story. Not much to make the experience anything but lonely and terrifying.

The New Yorker Minute

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

The New Yorker Minute” is a reader-service email newsletter that triages articles in The New Yorker (the magazine) to let you know whether or not they’re worth reading. (Or, alternatively, how excited you should be to read them or not read them). Each issue is sorted into “Read This,” “Window-Shop These,” and “Skip Without Guilt.” Even the poetry, fiction, and cartoons get short notes from editors dedicated to those sections. Fun, surprisingly useful, nearly essential.

College football is rigged

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 09, 2015

Sports and education are the two parts of American life where our meritocratic fantasies crash hardest into exploitative reality.

In “BROKE,” SBNation’s Spencer Hall has a powerful argument for paying student-athletes, specifically college football players.

When and if [student-athletes] do receive their degree, it might mean even less in terms of real future dollars than those received by their peers. The networking they might have done with others on campus is restricted by their class schedules and practice; the networking with wealthy alumni that might benefit them in business is explicitly forbidden in many instances, something Princeton’s own Michael Lewis points out in The Blind Side. The athlete receives no dividend or funds kept in trust for their well-above-average financial contributions to the university on graduation.

By rule they are separated from the income they make, and by system they are separated from the university education they were promised. They are neither amateurs nor professionals, and effectively moved as undeclared contraband through the United States tax system.

Hall’s argument is intercut with a personal essay about growing up with his own family precariously in and out of poverty. The two halves don’t quite join up, but it helps break some of the abstractions around the amateur ideal and gives the whole thing an added urgency.

Pop economics and the rebirth of the cover song

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

Why are there so many cover versions of hit songs on Spotify, YouTube, and other streaming music services? It’s not just because of searches and the artistic equivalent of SEO, but because there is an economic engine to support them:

Every time one of Scofield’s songs is downloaded on iTunes, she makes around 60 cents, after paying a processing fee and, when it’s a cover song, royalties to the original artist. But if one of her songs is streamed on Spotify, she’ll make just a fraction of a cent. Both Scofield and Young have done the math: “You would have to play one of my songs on Spotify 150 to 400 times in order to equal what I would make from one iTunes download,” Young says. Scofield agreed that to balance revenue on the platforms, she needed at least several hundred times more Spotify streams than iTunes downloads…

Spotify’s microeconomy of cover artists gave rise to a cottage industry of easy-to-use online licensing services. Over the past several years, dozens of these services have emerged, like SongFile and Easy Song Licensing, an amateurish-looking website that promises it can clear a cover song for you in one to two days. Jonathan Young uses Loudr, a licensing and digital distribution startup that operates in the same way most of these companies do. For $15 per song, plus royalty fees (calculated by the number of times a song is streamed), Loudr will do the work of securing a license and putting the song up online. All Young has to do is pay and wait.

This is essentially an updated throwback to pop music in the 1940s and 1950s (and to a lesser extent the 1960s), where publishers would push hit songs on as many artists as possible to get maximum exposure/run it into the ground. It’s fun to look at the recording history of a standard like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”:

The following versions were recorded in 1949:
  • The song in its original form was released on the soundtrack for Neptune’s Daughter sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams.
  • The recording by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark was recorded on March 17 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 38463. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on May 6, 1949, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four.[8]
  • The recording by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer was recorded on March 18 and released by Capitol Records as catalog number 567. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on May 6, 1949, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four.[8]
  • The recording by Don Cornell and Laura Leslie with the Sammy Kaye orchestra was recorded on April 12 and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-3448. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on June 24, 1949, and lasted 10 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 13.[8]
  • The recording by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan was recorded on April 28 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24644. It first reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on June 17, 1949 and lasted seven weeks on the chart, peaking at number 17.[8]
  • A parody recording was made by Homer and Jethro with June Carter; it went to number 9 on the country charts and number 22 on the pop charts.
Non-charting recordings were made:
  • By Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban on April 7, 1949 released by MGM Records as catalog number 30197.
  • By Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page on June 23, 1949 released by Harmony Records as catalog number 1049.
  • By Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.

I mean, look at the cluster of dates! March 17, March 18, April 7, April 12, June 23. Some of the cover versions beat “the original” to market.

Then as now, the money isn’t in the performance, especially on the record; it’s in the song.

Today, the [star] artist retains more power than in the 1940s, and there’s a stigma against artists who don’t write their own material. But I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, we start to see more established artists get into the game of covering new (and old) hit songs, not just young artists looking for a little exposure. The economics of the thing line up the same way for everybody.

The new arcades

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

There seem to be two dominant business models for game arcades in 2015:

And even then, it’s tricky.

“Don’t do quarters,” Wilson says. “Local and state licensing and taxes are geared from the 1980s which makes it impossible to make a buck that way.” The laws aren’t up to date, and owners still have to pay the same amount to register arcade machines, even if revenue is much smaller than it was in the ’80s. Wilson adds that customers often think a quarter should hold the same 25-cent value in 2015 that it did in 1983.

And:

[A]fter all the work that goes into finding these machines, they are then introduced to a world very different from the arcade homes they once knew. It’s akin to taking fragile dinosaur fossils from a museum collection and throwing them into the middle of a party.

“We have 20-30-plus-year-old video games in a very high-traffic, kind of high-energy environment,” Horne says. “The games tend to get pretty beat up.”

It’s surprising how much of a premium is placed on using vintage machines, given the problems with keeping them in repair.

A motherboard fried on KFS’s Off Road cabinet, and Horne has never been able to find a replacement. Some of the early Nintendo titles, such as Super Mario Bros., have systems that won’t work with newer monitors.

A museum is one thing, but you can imagine a working arcade using modular, replicated equipment. Modern computer guts running emulated software in rebuilt or reused cabinets. Call it physical emulation.

Maybe the market’s just not big enough to make it worthwhile. Or it would lack authenticity. It just doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to do (and could make new kinds of games and business models a lot more feasible).

(Related: see Laura June’s 2013 history of arcades.)

Bagel pluralism

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

Murray’s Bagels in New York will now toast customers’ bagels on request, doubtlessly reviving a debate about the appropriateness thereof that rivals the oxford comma, shorts on men, and the pronunciation of GIF in its ferocity over the smallest things.

To this I say, let a million flowers bloom, à chacun son goût, de gustibus non est disputandum, whatever blows your hair back. Judge not your fellow citizens’ bagel choices, whether in flavor, condiment, or the preparation thereof. But customers, you too should not judge your bagelry too harshly if they are not able to toast your bagel to your specifications. Your indignation is as unwelcome as the prejudice against you.

After all, those machines take up a lot of counter space. And you’re holding up the line.

The history of technology is the history of pockets

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

Pocket Calculator.jpg

Diana Kimball writes on the complex symbiosis of devices, clothing, and the body:

In a very real way, what people tuck into their pockets signals what they care about. Ötzi the Iceman carried fungus to make fire. Japanese men in the Edo period carried medicine and seals. Queen Elizabeth I carried a miniature jewel-encrusted devotional book. European women in the 18th century carried money, jewelry, personal grooming implements, and even food. Here in 2015, we carry cellphones?—?never letting them out of our sight.

If what we put in our pockets is important, to advertise a product as pocketable is to imply that it’s indispensable: something you’ll always want by your side. Pocket watch manufacturers adopted this approach early; purveyors of pocket knives, pocket handkerchiefs, and pocket books (also known as paperbacks) followed suit. Technologies all, these tools still seem primitive relative to slim electronic bricks we haul around today. To find a direct ancestor of the cellphone, we need only look back as far as 1970: the year the pocket calculator was born.

It’s a short essay, but still manages to cover multiple historical periods, eastern and western traditions, different problems faced by men and women — remarkable range. A beginning.

(photo via Matthew Rutledge at Flickr)

Greening the text

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

John McPhee, maybe our greatest living nonfiction writer (depending on how you feel about Joan Didion), has a lovely essay on omission in this week’s The New Yorker. Along with a tidy analysis of Hemingway’s iceberg metaphor and some great shaggy-dog stories about citrus fruits, General Eisenhower, and more, he includes an exercise he learned writing for Time that he’s adapted for his students at Princeton.

After four days of preparation and writing—after routinely staying up almost all night on the fourth night—and after tailoring your stories past the requests, demands, fine tips, and incomprehensible suggestions of the M.E. and your senior editor, you came in on Day 5 and were greeted by galleys from Makeup with notes on them that said “Green 5” or “Green 8” or “Green 15” or some such, telling you to condense the text by that number of lines or the piece would not fit in the magazine. You were supposed to use a green pencil so Makeup would know what could be put back, if it came to that. I can’t remember it coming to that…

The idea is to remove words in such a manner that no one would notice that anything has been removed. Easier with some writers than with others. It’s as if you were removing freight cars here and there in order to shorten a train—or pruning bits and pieces of a plant for reasons of aesthetics or plant pathology, not to mention size. Do not do violence to the author’s tone, manner, nature, style, thumbprint. Measure cumulatively the fragments you remove and see how many lines would be gone if the prose were reformatted. If you kill a widow, you pick up a whole line.

Greening seems like such a material thing, wholly specific to print — not just to the fact of magazine layout, but a specific kind of workflow. One’s tempted to say with digital writing, we’ve overcome those space limitations, but I’m less sure. Twitter’s the obvious example, but doing web layout, I’ve killed more than my share of lines to preserve symmetry or squeeze everything into a smaller space.

Where did the summer go?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2015

Tim Kreider on The Summer That Never Was.

I never went to Iceland. I suppose I should say I didn’t go to Iceland this summer — never sounds a little melodramatic, possibly terminal. It’s not as if I’ve died and all hope of ever having gone to Iceland is obviated. But for some reason this missed opportunity is causing me more than the usual, near-toxic level of regret. I’ve had a free apartment in Reykjavik on offer for several years, and somehow I’ve never made it there. The owner of the apartment sends me photos of the aurora borealis that break my heart.

This was going to be the summer I finally went. Airfares were cheap. I’d just finished writing a book in May, and for the first time in three years the awful obligation to Work on My Book was not weighing on my soul. The summer looked as wide open and shimmering with possibility as the summers of childhood.

But events conspired against me. I just couldn’t afford the flight until some checks I was waiting on arrived, and though all other transactions in the 21st century are conducted electronically and instantaneously, the process of paying writers is apparently still carried out by scriveners and counting-houses and small boys dispatched with shillings in their hands, so by the time I got the money I’d run out of summer.

Summer is almost over, and I feel like I missed it this year. I don’t normally feel this way, but I mostly didn’t get to spend it in the place or with the people I wanted to. But my kids got a much better summer out of it, so in the end it was well worth it. No regrets. Today, I’m going to the beach with a book, to hopefully recover a little of that summer feeling before fall arrives. I hope you all had happy summers, and I will see you all in a week — you’re in good hands with Tim Carmody until then.

The Civil War, remastered

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2015

Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.

Donald Trump on Citizen Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2015

Many years ago, Errol Morris interviewed Donald Trump about Citizen Kane as part of a project called The Movie Movie.

The table getting larger and larger and larger with he and his wife getting further and further apart as he got wealthier and wealthier, perhaps I can understand that.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.

The Movie Movie, according to Morris’ web site, was based on the idea of putting modern day figures like Trump and Mikhail Gorbachev into the movies that they most admire. So Trump would star as Kane in Citizen Kane and Gorby would be in Dr. Strangelove as who, Strangelove himself? Man, what a fantastic idea. Joshua Oppenheimer used a variant of this idea to powerful effect in The Act of Killing, a film executive produced by Morris.

Morris himself turned a bit of the original The Movie Movie idea into a 4-minute clip for the 2002 Oscars of people — some of them famous: Trump, Gorbachev, Tom Brady, Christie Turlington, Keith Richards, Philip Glass, Al Sharpton — talking about their favorite movies.

1969 Bell System logo redesign pitch video by Saul Bass

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2015

From 1969, this is the video that Saul Bass made to pitch AT&T on a new corporate identity. What a time capsule. Here’s the logo, which remained in use until 1983, when Bass designed the “Death Star” logo to replace it.

Att Logo 1969

Star Wars Episode IV: Laser Moon Awakens

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2015

The Auralnauts provide an alternate soundtrack and dialogue for Star Wars.

(via @waxpancake)

“This job is so cool because it’s about imagination, then destruction.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2015

Chris Wondolowski is a striker for the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS. Here’s how he goes about his job of putting the ball in the net. Unsurprisingly, 99% of being a striker involves not kicking a football.

A major part of my job is to lie (sorry, Mom). I have to use deception to manipulate two, sometimes three, defenders guarding me. It’s a 90-minute game of chess. If I know we don’t have the ball in a threatening spot, I’ll often sacrifice my positioning for a little while so I can soften up the defenders for later. I want to build up their confidence and make them think they’re all over me. For example, I always know the exact spot I want to end up when a play is building in the middle of the field. And if I see that my teammate is running down the wing with the ball, I know he’s maybe eight seconds away from crossing the ball into the box. I can’t simply run to my spot right away. I need to use about 7.5 seconds before the potential pass comes to confuse the defenders. I need to make them believe that I’m going anywhere else but that spot.

Wondo is also one of a number of athletes who uses visualization before games to prepare himself for success.

Long before the game starts, whether I’m at home at Avaya Stadium or on the road, I’m already on the field starting my work. But I’m not warming up or kicking a ball around; I’m imagining how the whole game will play out in my head. I walk the entire field listening to music, from one goal area to the other. I’m visualizing where the other 21 men could be, how the ball might come to me, and how I can get it past the defenders and the goalie. I might also picture the ball arcing through the air from a corner kick, then me jumping up, making contact with my head and the ball going into the top corner, splashing against the netting before settling in the grass. (It’s the little details that make it real.) No matter what, in my head, I’m envisioning myself scoring. Every time, the ball lands perfectly in the back of the net.

The varying wavelengths of colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2015

Rain Bros

Rain-Bros by Daniel Savage is a fun visualization of the different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, from the loping walk of red to blue’s energetic bounce.

Hanging in the Woods

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2015

[This is NSFW.] Artist Hilde Krohn Huse needed a minute or two of film of herself hanging naked upside down from a tree branch for a project she was working on. But when the rope tightened around her ankle too much, things went a little wrong.

My first thought was, “OK, you’ve fucked up, Hilde, but let’s try to get you out of this so nobody needs to know.” I hauled myself up, hand over hand, until I was swinging horizontally, just below the branch, and tried to yank my foot free.

It was hopeless. Righting myself, I put my free foot back on the ground to rest for a moment, then tried again, pulling myself up and fighting, puppet-like, against my bonds. My left foot, taking my weight in the lowest noose, started to spasm and I knew my strength wouldn’t hold out. But my pride was still uppermost — the idea of having to draw the attention of others to my humiliating plight still seemed unthinkable. I was losing strength, but full of adrenaline, my face dragging along the woodland floor, leaving me spitting twigs.

As any good artist would, Huse turned her ordeal into an art piece in the form of the 11 minutes of video shot before her camera shut off:

Making Nemo

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2015

From 2003, a 25-minute documentary (plus a few extras) on how Pixar made Finding Nemo.

How far does Pixar go to get a movie made correctly? Far. For instance, everyone on the Nemo team got certified in scuba diving. (via @drwave)

How a volcanic eruption changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2015

The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. According to Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, the eruption affected the world’s weather for at least three years, inspired artists & writers, triggered famine, contributed to the world’s cholera epidemic, and altered economic systems all over the world.

Here, Gillen D’Arcy Wood traces Tambora’s global and historical reach: how the volcano’s three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Bringing the history of this planetary emergency to life, Tambora sheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.

William Broad reviewed the book recently for the NY Times.

The particles high in the atmosphere also produced spectacular sunsets, as detailed in the famous paintings of J.M.W. Turner, the English landscape pioneer. His vivid red skies, Dr. Wood remarked, “seem like an advertisement for the future of art.”

The story also comes alive in local dramas, none more important for literary history than the birth of Frankenstein’s monster and the human vampire. That happened on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where some of the most famous names of English poetry had gone on a summer holiday.

The Tambora eruption must have also unleashed quite a racket, perhaps louder than Krakatoa’s loudest sound in the world.

The Danish Girl

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2015

The Danish Girl is an upcoming film starring Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. It’s based on a novel of the same name which presents a fictionalized account of Elbe’s life.

The film may well net Redmayne another Oscar nomination, but I don’t know how the transgender community will react. From a quick look on Twitter and the past reception of Oscar-hopeful films dealing with similar issues (see The Imitation Game’s portrayal of Alan Turing’s sexuality), I’m guessing it may not be so well-received.

Why America Needs a Slavery Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2015

The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is the only US museum and memorial to slavery. The Atlantic has a video about the museum and its founder, John Cummings, who spent 16 years and $8 million of his own money on it.

The Wolfpack, the lost tribe of the Lower East Side

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2015

The Wolfpack is a documentary that follows the six Angulo brothers, whose father kept them sequestered (along with their sister and mother) inside a four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for fourteen years because he thought the city unsafe, allowing only annual or semi-annual trips outside. The boys’ only access to the outside world was through movies, which they recreated in their tiny apartment. The trailer:

With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood.

They did not mess around when it came to their filmmaking…this is a surprisingly realistic Batman costume made out of cereal boxes and yoga mats:

Wolfpack Batman

The Wolfpack won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, and the brothers made a few videos to thank the festival for their prize. Here are the Clerks and The Usual Suspects thank yous:

They also filmed a scene from one of their favorite movies of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel:

The Wolfpack was out in US theaters earlier this summer and is now on Amazon Instant…I think I’m going to watch this tonight. (via @quinto_quarto)

Serious Seinfeld

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2015

If you recut the scenes from seasons seven & eight of Seinfeld to emphasize certain aspects of Susan’s death-by-envelope, you get a feel-good TV movie about George Costanza, a man who finds triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Her death takes place in the shadow of new life; she’s not really dead if we find a way to remember her.

The bicycle gymnast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2015

Nicole Frýbortová can do things on a bicycle that will make your eyes pop out of your head, including a no-hands, one-foot, backwards wheelie.

(via @atenni)

Google has a new logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2015

Google Logo 2015

….and it still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo.

So why are we doing this now? Once upon a time, Google was one destination that you reached from one device: a desktop PC. These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices-sometimes all in a single day. You expect Google to help you whenever and wherever you need it, whether it’s on your mobile phone, TV, watch, the dashboard in your car, and yes, even a desktop!

Today we’re introducing a new logo and identity family that reflects this reality and shows you when the Google magic is working for you, even on the tiniest screens. As you’ll see, we’ve taken the Google logo and branding, which were originally built for a single desktop browser page, and updated them for a world of seamless computing across an endless number of devices and different kinds of inputs (such as tap, type and talk).

Update: The design team shares how they came up with the new logo.

Update: When I said that Google’s new logo “still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo”, this is pretty much what I meant.

Gymboree Google

Gymboree’s identity (1993-2000) vs. Google’s new identity (Sep 01, 2015)

(via @buzz)

Mad Max: Fury Road as an ancient Egyptian painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2015

From illustrator @takumitoxin, a wonderful rendering of the events of Mad Max: Fury Road in the style of an ancient Egyptian painting.

Mad Max Fury Egypt

Fury Road is out on Blu-ray today (and streaming). This movie was the perfect summer entertainment.

Reissue of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2015

NASA Standards Manual

When I posted about NASA’s logo battle, I included a link to some photographs of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual. At the time, I mused to myself that someone should reprint the manual…hey, maybe the guys who did the standards manual for the NYC subway. Well, lo and behold, that is exactly what’s happening. Jesse Reed & Hamish Smyth just launched a Kickstarter campaign to reissue the 1975 NASA Graphics Standards Manual.

Our Kickstarter will support the printing of a reissue of the manual. It will be printed and bound as a hardcover book, using high quality scans of [the original designer’s] personal copy, who is in full support of the campaign.

Instant order.

Update: It’s not a printed copy, but possibly (?) in response to the Kickstarter, or other renewed attention, NASA has released the standards manual as a free downloadable PDF.

Nerds don’t get politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2015

At Vox, David Roberts argues that tech nerds are too dismissive and ignorant of politics, particularly if they are as interested as they say they are in changing the world. The piece includes this fascinating one-paragraph take on the state of contemporary American politics:

So that’s where American politics stands today: on one side, a radicalized, highly ideological demographic threatened with losing its place of privilege in society, politically activated and locked into the House; on the other side, a demographically and ideologically heterogeneous coalition of interest groups big enough to reliably win the presidency and occasionally the Senate. For now, it’s gridlock.

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