Erowid notes that Merck patented MDMA on December 24, 1912.
A screenshot of how Taylor Hodge data labels his sleep.
The other day I posted about the trend away from five-star reviews to emoji reviews, and on Twitter reader Taylor Hodge shared his unique method of using emoji to data label his sleeping patterns: “Recently I’ve been using emoji as data labels in @sleepcycle,” he tweeted. Interested in learning more, I interviewed Taylor via email about how he tracks his personal data with emoji.
How old are you, what do you do for a living, and where do you live?
My name is Taylor Hodge, I’m 25 years old, and currently I live in Myrtle Beach, SC (although my plan is to change that in 2016). I’ve spent the past ~5 years working in restaurants and serving tables to support myself, but I harbor a deep, wholehearted fascination with data science and machine learning that I am in the process of pursuing.
What’s Sleep Cycle and why do you use it?
Sleep Cycle is an alarm clock for iOS and Android that tracks your sleep cycles during rest by monitoring your movement and behavior during sleep via sound analysis. This information is then used to optimize your waking time, ensuring that you wake up in your desired time window between the light and REM sleep cycles.
I use Sleep Cycle because it wakes me up more effectively than any other alarm I’ve ever used. (Admittedly, I’ve never tried any “sunrise” alarms like this one, but I’m very interested in doing so.) In my experience, its combination of sleep tracking and alarm windows (with steadily increasing alarm volumes) leaves me energized and rejuvenated after being gently woken, as opposed to being groggy and sleep drunk when being woken up by harsh, shrill, traditional alarm clocks. Sleep Cycle also allows you to use “sleep notes” to label activities and learn how they effect the quality of your sleep. This feedback is incredibly useful and has allowed for actionable changes in my behavior that have drastically improved the quality of my sleep.
Where did you come up with the idea of using emoji for data labeling?
The idea for using emoji for data labeling arose out of my own laziness. After training myself and practicing to become a morning person over the past ~6 months, I wanted a clean slate with Sleep Cycle, so I erased all of my past data, not realizing that all of my previous data labels would be erased as well. When I realized this was the case, I decided that I didn’t want to take the time to type the meticulous labels I was using before, so I thought it’d be neat and efficient to label them using the smallest number of characters possible, so I decided to try emoji.
Can you explain what a couple of the labels in your screen grab mean?
Of course! In the screenshot I tweeted, a few of the labels are as follows:
emoji —> meaning
beer —> Did I drink alcohol today?
coffee/tea —> Did I consume caffeine today?
rosary + 20 —> Did I meditate for ~20 minutes?
valley + 30 —> Did I spend ~30 minutes outside today?
OFF + 60 —> Did I turn off/avoid electronic screens ~60 minutes before bed?
book + 60 —> Did I read for ~60 minutes before bed?
Do you think emoji are a more effective way of labeling data?
Subjectively, for personal data or pet projects, I think emoji for data labeling can be very effective. In this way, you’re able to use a minimal amount of characters in a robust fashion that allows for an unambiguous meaning. However, I think it would be difficult to pass this data on to someone else and have them objectively understand it without explicit explanations of the emoji’s meaning in the label.
What do you think of the trend away from five-star reviews to emoji reviews?
I think using emoji in place of five-star reviews could be effective, depending on the context, constraints, and clarity of how they are used.
For example, a “sick” emoji next to a restaurant review tells about that person’s specific experience in a clear way, one that is arguably more effective than “1 star” with an accompanying paragraph, and definitely more effective than just a lone “1 star” review. But, on the other hand, if I see a review for a dentist that’s labeled with an “Easter Island head” emoji, then I’m even more lost than when I started.
Amazing! Redditor eudicotyledon and family win the holiday season with this exquisite gingerbread rendition of the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining,” complete with scary gingerbread twins and edible wallpaper, Danny lost in a hedge maze made of green Rice Krispies, a quinoa-and-powdered-sugar snow covered roof, Jack and Wendy fighting, the dreaded room 237 and its decomposing woman in the bathtub, and an elevator spilling a hallway of Jolly Rancher blood. Unbelievable. (via Neatorama)
What does it sound like when a woman in red high heels walks across a dining room table? What does it sound like when a big guy gets slapped on the nape? What does it sound like when a forest watches itself? “Unnecessary Sounds” reveals all.
You want the Force. But how do you get it? You buy it in a bottle for $16. It’s The Force in a Jar.
Arkady Bronnikov is an expert when it comes to translating the tattoos of criminals in Russia. To date, he’s collected over 20,000 tattoos, and he’s compiled a “jail slang” dictionary with over 10,000 terms.
The Siberian Times reports:
“Some general rules: crosses often depict the thief’s level of authority. Thiefs are the ones ruling in jails, not murderers.
“Tattoos with knives mean those jailed for hooliganism. Tattoos with beasts - lions, wolves, tigers - mean those jailed for violent robberies. Spiders and syringes indicate drug users.
“The church is another frequent symbol, the number of domes means the number of jail terms, just like rings. Often they have to add extra domes, even though they do not look right for the design.
“There is a lot of text in tattoos. For example, ‘Damn those who decided to improve a man with the help of jail’ or ‘Jail is not a school and prosecutor is not a teacher.’”
One of the world’s most famous madams, Madame Claude (real name: Fernande Grudet), has died at 92, leaving behind a colorful obituary in which it’s hard to discern what the real story was behind the mere maquerelle to the world’s most powerful men.
In 1975, the French tax authorities, who had begun taking an interest in Ms. Grudet’s business, estimated that she was taking in 100,000 to 140,000 francs a month. Her clients, whom she called “friends,” were a catalog of the rich and famous.
The soul of discretion in her heyday, Ms. Grudet became a heavy name-dropper when the time came to tell her life story, which she did in two memoirs: “Allo Oui, or the Memoirs of Madame Claude” (1975), written with Jacques Quoirez, the brother of her good friend Francoise Sagan and one of her testers; and “Madam,” published in 1994 under the name Claude Grudet.
By her account, the “friends” included John F. Kennedy, the shah of Iran, Muammar el-Qaddafi, Gianni Agnelli, Moshe Dayan, Marc Chagall, Rex Harrison and King Hussein of Jordan, who, she said, once told a Claude girl: “You and I are in the same business. We have to smile even when we don’t feel like it.”
Winter solstice offering at an ancestral hall for the Huang clan, #taiwan, 22 Dec. Wonderful to see such a detailed, traditional ceremony honouring 108 ancestors from the family, with young and old male members of the clan participating — traditions long lost in other Chinese societies. Where such ceremonies in the past always had a sheep sacrificed as well, this village which is no longer as agricultural used bread made in the shape of sheep instead. (With apologies to vegetarians)
(Photo credit: Sim Chi Yin)
Boston Dynamics wins the holidays with this trio of robot reindeer drawn sleigh.
(Reminder: This is Susannah Breslin guest-blogging.)
I’m a freelance writer, but I didn’t do a lot of freelance writing this year, mostly because I’ve been working on a book. Recently, I’ve been reading various best-writing-of-the-year listicles floating around, and I wondered to myself, of the things I’d published this year, which I thought was the best of it. I thought of a piece I wrote for The Billfold back in May: “Blood Sacrifice.” It’s about having a very expensive dinner and having had cancer, and what the two have in common.
Check it out, if you’re interested.
Then a month ago, I got a note from a friend, who had a ticket to Next, and what he wanted to know was: Did I want to go? As far as restaurants go, Next is kind of a unicorn. It’s co-owned by Grant Achatz, who is a pioneer in the strange world of molecular gastronomy and the owner of Alinea, which is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, and Nick Kokonas, and it is so exclusive that you have to buy a ticket in advance to get into it. The date of the reservation was one week after my birthday. I fantasized that if I went, on the night that I was there, by some strange coincidence, Achatz would be there. Achatz, I knew, had had cancer, too, and, in my daydream, Achatz would come by the table, and I would motion to him, and he would bend down low, and I would tell him, in a murmuring voice, that I had had cancer, and I knew that he had had cancer, too. He would smile knowingly at me, and I would smile knowingly at him, and then he would disappear into the kitchen, and he would emerge with a plate of something that looked like a tumor splattered across porcelain, and I would eat it, and whatever it was made of (rhubarb? venison? something else entirely?), it would be delicious, and I would have eaten the tumor that had tried to eat me, metaphorically, of course, and the cycle of life would close upon itself, completing itself, like Ouroboros with his tail in his mouth rolling down a street like a wheel.
Also, this is a nice homage to The Billfold and its “certain sense of humanity.”
(Photo credit: Radio-Canada/Claude Brunet)
Captain America: Sam Wilson #4—written by Nick Spencer with art by Paul Renaud, Romulo Fjardo, and Joe Caramagna—finds its lead character looking a lot different than he usually does. This is the second issue where Sam has been trapped in a werewolf form, the results of a run-in with old Cap villain Karl Malus. Malus’ experiments with splicing human and animal DNA weren’t just garden-variety mad scientist shenanigans; they were R&D for the newest iteration of an old supervillain cadre called the Serpent Society. They’re calling themselves Serpent Solutions now and they’re serving as a metaphor for all the horrible things that happen in the name of turning a profit. Kidnapping people and turning them into giant iguanas? Just another regrettable but necessary fact-of-life decision in today’s business landscape, according to exec leader Viper.”
Drones have spawned the architectural tourist who can fly over buildings, dive through doorways, and sail down hallways without ever leaving his or her home. Curbed has a nice collection of architectural-tourism-by-drone videos. The subjects include Tesla’s Gigafactory, Apple Campus 2, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, which isn’t far from Wright’s Ennis House, which served as Deckard’s apartment in “Blade Runner.”
Charlie Kaufman, who wrote “Being John Malkovitch” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and wrote and directed “Synecdoche, New York,” talks about his latest writing/now co-directing project, “Anomalisa,” which is “a stop-motion animated dark comedy about a depressed customer-service expert who falls in love on a business trip”:
Is it weird for me to say that Anomalisa contains the most realistic sex scene I’ve ever seen in a movie? Given that it’s happening between puppets?
It’s not weird. Almost everybody we speak to feels that way. We worked really hard on that scene. It took six months to shoot. We were very aware of people coming into it thinking it was going to be like Team America, that it was going to be a joke, and we didn’t want it to be [like that]. We knew there would probably be some laughing at first because it’s puppet sex. We weren’t opposed to that, but what we found is that there is the occasional laugh at that point out of nervousness, but then people get really quiet.
There’s also an interview with co-director Duke Johnson that starts, “‘There were a lot of penises,’ says Duke Johnson. ‘They break very easily because they’re tiny.’”
Quartz has a vision of the future of food, and the meatballs don’t lie: “What Your Food Will Look Like in 2035, Told Through Meatballs.”
I’m having a hard time choosing between the Artificial Meat Ball and the Crispy Bug Ball. Or there’s the Wonderful Waste Ball.
There are a lot of ideas about how to solve the world’s food waste problem—an estimated third of all food gets trashed. Turning would-be-waste into a meatball is actually one of the simpler solutions.
The New York Times Magazine has published its annual death roundup: “The Lives They Lived.”
With Andre, Piper asks if it’s true that Big John Studd body-slammed him. No, Andre says, it isn’t. Piper, neck veins pulsing, suggests that even he could body-slam him. Interview over. Andre grabs Piper’s shirt, uses it to fling him across the room and walks off the set. Piper, red-hot with rage, screams, “You think you’re tough?” He stares into the camera and does an Incredible Hulk pose that shows off his terrifying trapezius muscles. “You ain’t nothing!’” You have never seen a man so committed to seeming to have lost all control.
Little Rascal Jean Darling:
Still, she said, her childhood wasn’t unhappy, just different. “A lot of people say their childhood was stolen,” she wrote in a 2014 interview on Reddit. “Mine was never stolen, I just worked a lot! I might have had more fun if my mother hadn’t spent all my money, but that’s it!”
From then on, Ford lived in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, in a concrete cell the size of a bathroom. Three hours a week, he was allowed outside to exercise, but even there he was alone and in a cage offering less freedom than a dog run. For his last seven years in prison, Ford refused to even go outside. He called the exercise pen “ridiculous.” Being in a solitary cage outdoors was more like a taunt than a respite.
“Madeline the Robot Tamer” is a really lovely video about Madeline Gannon, a woman who dances, so to speak, with robots. As a resident at Pier 9, she developed Quipt, “a gesture-based control software that gives industrial robots basic spatial behaviors for interacting closely with people.” It’s a wonderful demonstration of robots and humans learning to work together.
(via Laughing Squid)
Artist and illustrator Chris Bishop is working on a terrific new project: The Declaration of Independence Project. His goal is to draw all 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. What’s the twist?
“I’m working on a series of educational posters that will give the delegates from the Thirteen Colonies the fun and cool treatment I give X-Men, Star Wars and other pop culture fan art. I had this idea at 4am one night.”
I spent some time in Rensselaerville, New York, this fall, where Andy Rooney used to pass his summers. Not far from his home, he had a five-sided shed in which he did his writing. It had an AC unit stuck to the side of it and triangle-shaped windows on its roof. He called it the Pentagon. The day I took this photo, it was quiet, and the door was padlocked.
Did Marreese Speights of the Golden State Warriors really previously own this “1975 Oldsmobile Donk on 28s forgiatos”? I have no idea, but it can be yours for $20,000.
There’s no point in sticking with the old school system of reviewing restaurants and rides with stars when emoji can offer other users more nuanced and specific feedback. Facebook and Uber are trying to figure how to make emoji reviews work.
Kristen V. Brown and Cara Rose DeFabio share their take on how and how not to enable emoji reviews.
According to Jacq the Stripper’s Twitter bio, “I dance. Naked. For large (and occasionally insultingly modest) sums of money. I wrote a book about it.” Her book is The Beaver Show, and you can buy it in paperback or Kindle.
It’s a memoir of her life on the gentlemen’s club stage.
On Twitter, she also posts her art, featuring absurd things male customers say.
A surprisingly moving micro-oral history of “How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol”:
When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight.
What’s a ghost street? The shadow scape of a real street that no longer exists.
“The buildings that fill it look more like scar tissue, bubbling up to cover a void left behind by something else’s absence.”
A really intriguing personal essay from Broadly by Gwen Kansen, a woman diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder who reveals what it’s like when she goes out to a nightclub.
The first thing I do is get a drink—she wants to buy. Then we start dancing.
I dance exuberantly, and not always on rhythm, either. At gay clubs they thought this was hip. My friends took me to some great ones in college; I made friends with a lot of gay guys because they thought I was outrageous. I didn’t realize at the time that wearing a bright green leather pencil skirt was inappropriate for class in rural Pennsylvania, but they loved me for it.
This isn’t the place for that. Some guy with the obligatory striped button-down shirt comes up and chest-butts me. I rub up on him for a minute until I realize he’s mocking my dancing.
Defeated, I go back to our table.
“People don’t dance here,” I tell Felicity.
“I really like you,” she says. “You just are who you are, you know?”
You may have seen “The Year in Pictures 2015,” but you should also check out how New York Times editors pick the best of the 150,000 photographs that come across their desks over the course of a year.
Q. The Times wants to publish Pictures of the Year, but for you individually, why do this?
Jeffrey: For me, it’s to look at the great work that’s been produced over the year. Because I work in Opinion I don’t look at as much of the news photography as Meaghan does as a front-page editor. But seeing the breadth of the work, like the migrant coverage, is very exciting, very rewarding. But at the same time, it can be a somewhat distressing task to go over the things that happened over the year. Because there are a lot of very brutal images that you don’t always want to be reminded of.
Meaghan: It’s a mixed bag in that way, because it’s really meant to be a celebration of skillfully made photography and enterprising and talented photographers. So on the one hand there is a joy to it. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of difficult material. We do try to look for a balance in the imagery that we’re selecting. But on the whole. …
Jeffrey: It’s a dark world.
(Photo credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times)
Whether or not you’re a writer or even care about words, this video starring George Saunders talking about how to tell a story that matters is phenomenal. It was created by Redglass Pictures. (P.S. There’s swearing in it.)
(via Harry Allen)
(via This Isn’t Happiness)
Love these. African textiles. Studio 360: “But I had no idea that some of the trendiest of these prints are actually designed and produced in the Netherlands by a company called Vlisco.”
Khrista Rypl writes:
Inge Oosterhoff wrote a wonderful deep dive into the history behind the Vlisco textile house, and explained how their designs have remained hugely popular in Africa since the late 1800s. But Vlisco doesn’t just make fabric; they’re known for their printed designs. And unlike many fashion companies, Vlisco doesn’t name their patterns: each is given a number and then distributed to different areas in Africa. Some patterns are designed with different countries in mind, while others are distributed widely around the continent. As the patterns catch on among shopkeepers and consumers, many of them get colorful names like “Love Bomb,” “Tree of Obama,” and “Mirror in the Sun.” But the names aren’t even the best part: many popular patterns have developed specific cultural meanings and subtexts.
Katherine Waterston has been cast to star in “Alien: Covenant,” the sequel to “Prometheus” to be directed by Ridley Scott. Waterston starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” and is the daughter of actor Sam Waterston.
So what’s the storyline?
Specific plot details are being closely guarded, but it is believed to follow the crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet, who discover what they believe is an uncharted paradise. But in fact it’s a dark, dangerous world whose the only inhabitant is David (Michael Fassbender), the “synthetic” and survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.
Mental Floss has an interesting article disclosing the secrets of TSA agents. Among them: Your cat is like a terrorist, if they refer to you as “very nice,” you are not, and they handle their professional status like the mob.
TSOs undergo regular training and performance reviews where they’re expected to simulate a screening in a private room for supervisors. After two years, the probationary period is over, and employees are generally set. “They’d call it being a ‘made’ man or woman,” Harrington says, referring to the mafia term for acceptance. “It’s really hard to get fired at that point. The only way to lose your job would be to commit a crime.”
Image via Evan Roth’s TSA Communication project.
F. Scott Fitzgerald died on December 21, 1940. According to his New York Times obituary, he was felled at 44 by a heart attack that he’d suffered three weeks earlier.
Mr. Fitzgerald in his life and writings epitomized “all the sad young men” of the post-war generation. With the skill of a reporter and ability of an artist he captured the essence of a period when flappers and gin and “the beautiful and the damned” were the symbols of the carefree madness of an age.
An excerpt from The Great Gatsby:
About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and, when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute, and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.
(via Riley Dog)
Recently, I was doing some research on food in prison, specifically prison spread. According to Urban Dictionary: “Typically spread is a Top Ramen base that can be augmented to a specific flavor by using chips, canned meat, or other foods that are also available in the prison store.” According to Prison Culture, it’s also a social ritual: “Spread provides inmates with an opportunity to ‘create community’ within the jail as they share their food with others.”
In this video, which features NSFW language, Chef Lemundo teaches viewers how to make his Five Animal Spread.
In related news, the State of New York will no longer be serving prisoners Nutraloaf, aka Disciplinary Loaf, as punishment.
“I would taste it and just throw it away,” said George Eng, 67, who served 36 years for murder and several stints in Special Housing Units, as solitary confinement is formally known. “You’d rather be without food than eat that.”
Ms. Murtagh called the loaf “a disgusting, torturous form of punishment that should have been banned a century ago.”
“Most people are appalled at using food as punishment,” she said, adding that many people believe “such behavior went out with the stocks, whips and shackling to the wall.”
Just in time for the holidays, Kim Kardashian, queen of the selfie, is releasing her own line of emoji. They are called Kimoji. The emoji include a butt, a doughnut, Kim’s censored boobs, Kim ugly crying, a word cloud featuring Kim calling someone “basic,” a solo cup, Kim taking a selfie, and a hairdryer.
Clayton Cubitt has a new installment of his “Hysterical Literature” series, and this one’s in French. As Jason described previously, in each video, “a female participant is filmed from the waist up reading a story of her choosing while she is stimulated to orgasm with a vibrator by Cubitt’s partner, Katie James.” (There’s no nudity in the video, but you may find the audio NSFW.)
This time, the woman is Fette, the reading is in French with English subtitles, and the text is Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser.
If you’re interested in strange stories involving brain tumors, fecal bacterium, and Institutional Review Boards, Emily Eakin’s “Bacteria on the Brain” for the New Yorker should be right up your alley.
Dr. Paul Muizelaar, then chair of the neurosurgery department at U.C. Davis, undertook a daring approach to treating brain tumors. It might work, but would it help?
The previous month, he had operated on Patrick Egan, a fifty-six-year-old real-estate broker, who also suffered from glioblastoma. Egan was a friend of Muizelaar’s, and, like Terri Bradley, he had exhausted the standard therapies for the disease. The tumor had spread to his brain stem and was shortly expected to kill him. Muizelaar cut out as much of the tumor as possible. But before he replaced the “bone flap” — the section of skull that is removed to allow access to the brain — he soaked it for an hour in a solution teeming with Enterobacter aerogenes, a common fecal bacterium. Then he reattached it to Egan’s skull, using tiny metal plates and screws. Muizelaar hoped that inside Egan’s brain an infection was brewing.
Marisa Kakoulas at Needles and Sins has a cool post on “Star Wars” tribute tattoos.
The one you see here is by A.D. Pancho.
Hi there. My name is Jason, the host of this here thing. How was your 2015? Mine was…not good and not bad. Challenging? Interesting? Uneven? Unparalleled? (You don’t want to know. And I’m not going to tell you anyway.) This is my last post to kottke.org this year. I’m leaving on the first proper capital-V vacation I’ve had in years. I am unplugging. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, very little Instagram. This week, the site will be in the good hands of Susannah Breslin, who guest edited back in March. And next week, the site will be on vacation until January 4. (At least I think it will. A bunch of past editors still have working logins so who know what will happen.) Thanks, and I’ll see you in Jan. And now, Susannah…
1. There are SPOILERS in this post. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. I’ve only read one other review of the movie, so much of this may be stated elsewhere (and better) by others.
2. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. But thinking back to The Phantom Menace, I also enjoyed that quite a bit in the same spine-tingling way. But this movie is way better than the prequels were.
3. The cast was excellent and the casting progressive. I love that the two new protagonists are a black man and a woman. “Why are you grabbing my hand?”
4. Carrie Fisher’s voice has changed a lot. It suited her character.
5. By far the best part of the movie at the showing I went to didn’t appear on screen. I went to a matinee at 11am and the audience was mostly adults…probably 98% over the age of 30. When Rey uses the Force to persuade the Stormtrooper to release her, a little kid’s voice from the front row echoed out loudly across the entire theater: “Jedi mind trick”. The place exploded in laughter. A perfect comedic moment.
6. How many times are they going to keep making the same movie though? The plots of A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens are more or less the same: a small band of resistance fighters going up against an evil superpower headed by two practitioners in the Dark Side discover a weakness in the enemy’s planet-sized superweapon and destroy it with some X-wing fighters in the nick of time. Also: stolen plans in a droid, a young orphan discovering the ways of the Force, a trench run by a gifted young pilot to blow up the superweapon, a bailing-out of the X-wing fighters by the crew of the Millennium Falcon, sons/students striking down their fathers/masters, and so on. Is this part of the reason that Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the series, because it’s different?
7. When Lucas made the first trilogy (and when he and Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark), he constructed it from a bunch of different sources from when he was a kid and in film school. With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams did the same thing, but instead of pulling from Flash Gordon and Kurosawa like Lucas did, he pulled from what he grew up with as a kid and in film school…Star Wars and Spielberg. In a way, The Force Awakens is a reboot of the original 1977 Star Wars, similar plot and all. And even if it isn’t a true reboot, it sure does rhyme.
8. Aside: when is the Empire/First Order going to learn not to put all of their eggs in one basket? Their superweapon strategy has failed three times now. They always seem to know where the rebels are hiding, they possess overwhelming force…why don’t they just defeat them through conventional means?
9. More synchronicity. When I watched the original Star Wars as an adult, one of the things I noticed is what a relatively minor character Vader is in the Empire when compared to his importance to the story and his increased power & responsibility in Empire and Jedi. He’s not in command, he’s not really part of the military at all, and the military leaders aren’t all that impressed with The Force. It’s almost almost like he’s the Emperor’s personal assistant. Kylo Ren’s role in The Force Awakens is similar…he’s not in charge (General Hux is), he’s not really part of the military (although he commands troops), and according to Snoke, Ren hasn’t even completed his training. (What was Vader’s excuse, then? He presumably completed his training long before the events of A New Hope…what was taking him so long to gain power?)
10. The scene at the very end bugged me. Having discovered the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi, the Resistance sends Ren, Chewy, and R2 to see what’s up? I get the symbolism and all, but wouldn’t Leia be interested in seeing her brother again? Or more persuasive in getting him to come out of retirement?
11. We’re going to hear more about Rey’s parentage, right? She’s Luke’s daughter or something? (I’m guessing not. Waaay too obvious, even for Star Wars.)
12. Speaking of parentage, why is Snoke so big? So we’re not wondering if Rey is Snoke’s granddaughter or something? Or is it that Snoke’s hologram is big and he’s normal sized? (Wookiepedia says Snoke is 7 feet tall but doesn’t cite a source.)
13. If you liked this movie, you have to give the proper credit to George Lucas for allowing it to exist. He could have sat on this series until after his death and beyond. But he didn’t. He sold the whole shebang to Disney and trusted Kathleen Kennedy to make more movies.
14. Ok, Kennedy. Now I want to see Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars. Wes Anderson’s Star Wars. Miranda July’s Star Wars. Seriously, do this. (I do not want to see Kevin Smith’s Star Wars. That one you can keep.)
15. All theaters should have assigned seating. I got the exact two seats I wanted (two months ahead of time) and showed up to the theater about 10 minutes before showtime, sat down, and the lights went down soon after. So much less stress than getting there 45 minutes (or 2 hours) beforehand and playing Are These Seats Taken? with strangers.
Update: 16. Does Han’s death scene reference the cantina scene w/ Greedo in Episode IV? He and Ren are both holding the lightsaber. Ren tells Han he needs to do something but doesn’t know if he can go through with it. Ren asks Han to help. The lightsaber activates and Han dies. Does Han activate the lightsaber, thereby causing his death? In other words, does Han shoot first? (Bonus update: I just saw the movie again and I don’t think Han activates the lightsaber. He looks too surprised and Ren definitely thrusts the saber into him.)
Update: 17. In his belated review, Chris Blattman notes the remarkable agreement on the lack of spoilers on social media:
Humanity’s tacit agreement to abide by a no-spoilers-on-social-media rule was one of the greatest acts of social cooperation I have witnessed. And we used it up to keep you from learning Han Solo is killed.
Surfer Kelly Slater has built what I can only guess is the world’s largest wave pool that pumps out perfectly surfable waves. It looks a bit boring actually, faultless waves every time. Like playing against the computer in NHL ‘94. (via @mathowie)
I have really been digging this Burning Man sunrise DJ set from Tycho. (via @arainert)
Jewish delicatessens may now be known for knishes, latkes and pastrami sandwiches, but back in their heyday, during the 1920s and 1930s in the theatre district in New York, they also served beluga caviar, pâté de foie gras and Chateaubriand steak. Jewish classics were gussied up and defiled: chopped chicken liver was served with truffles. Treyf, like oysters and pork chops, was eaten with abandon alongside kosher delicacies.
That reminds me…a trip to Katz’s is looooooong overdue.
The “hidden” mathematics and order behind everyday objects & phenomenon like spinning tops, dice, magnifying glasses, and airplanes. (via @stevenstrogatz)
YouTube user darman212 used iOS coding app Hopscotch and Final Cut Pro X to make a version of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer entirely out of emoji. BB-8 is a soccer ball with a bowl of ramen on his head!
Because I hate fun, cute and funny animal photos are something I don’t usually get excited about. But I will make an exception just this once for the inaugural Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. (via colossal)
One of the most persistent “facts” used by 9/11 truthers is that burning jet fuel can’t generate the temperatures necessary to melt steel beams, therefore something other than airplanes crashing into the WTC towers brought them down, therefore the US government or the Jews or, I don’t know, the buildings’ owners did it to collect the insurance payment.
In his workshop, blacksmith Trenton Tye easily demonstrates that although it’s true jet fuel can’t burn hot enough to melt steel beams, it can definitely soften the steel past the ability to bear any sort of load.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out today, at least in NYC theaters.1 To celebrate, I watched the classic clip of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog interviewing people standing in line for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
You look like some kind of super-nerd. It looks like you were built in a laboratory out of parts from lesser nerds.
It is all sorts of inappropriate, but also one of my favorite comedy bits of all time. (via @fromedome)
Update: One of the people from the video wrote an article about the experience last month.
Another thing that’s lost on some people is that everyone there was in on it. After all, we were nerds camping on a sidewalk to see a Star Wars movie. We were very much aware of who Conan O’Brien was, and what Triumph was all about. Everyone there was a fan and if you watch the video, people are hunched over laughing in the background in basically every shot. We were glad to let him mock us. In fact, we helped.
So, did they add these Thursday showings after the initial announcement of tickets going on sale back in October? When I bought my tickets that day, I got them for the first available showing (11am on Fri), or so I remember. Did Disney add these earlier shows at a later point to sucker fans into having to buy tickets twice in order to see it as soon as possible? (I did not do this. But I definitely thought about doing it.) ↩
Star Wars Minus Star Wars is a video essay on the original film that doesn’t use a single shot, sound, or snippet of music from the original movie. Instead, it strings together scenes and sounds from movies that influenced George Lucas in making the film and also from movies that have been influenced by Star Wars.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Star Wars. Its arrival in theaters on May 25th 1977 marked the end of one chapter in film history and the beginning of another. It’s a hinge on which film history swings. Upon its release, critic Pauline Kael derided the film as “an assemblage of spare parts-it has no emotional grip… an epic without a dream” Twenty years after its release critic Roger Ebert remarked that the film “colonized our imaginations, and it is hard to stand back and see it simply as a motion picture, because it has so completely become part of our memories.”
They’re both right. Star Wars succeeded because of its roots in film history and mythology, and its influence over generations of filmmakers can be felt in countless works that came after it. For better or worse, Star Wars engulfs the past and future of moviemaking.
Update: This might be even more impressive. John D’Amico made a full-length shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars using material that influenced (or may have influenced) Lucas in making the film. Very cool.
The Free Universal Construction Kit is a collection of almost 80 adapters between various construction toys like Lego, Lincoln Logs, Duplo, and K’nex (10 toys in all). The kit is available as freely downloadable designs for your 3D printer. The MoMA announced the acquisition of the Construction Kit for their permanent collection earlier this year.
The Marshall Project has published An Unbelievable Story of Rape, a story of two rape investigations in different parts of the country.
An 18-year-old said she was attacked at knifepoint. Then she said she made it up. That’s where our story begins.
Read this. It’s a powerful story.
Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show deftly skewers that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” nonsense.
Kurzgesagt makes some of the most entertaining science explainers around. Check out their most recent video on black holes.
The forecast high temperature for Christmas Eve in New York City is 66°F. What the hell is going on? Climate change? Yes, but mostly the balmy East Coast temps are due to a super-strong El Niño.1 In the video above, Vox explains what El Niño is and how the Pacific weather pattern affects weather around the globe (including the East Coast of the US).
El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of atmospheric impacts.
El Niños can be strong or weak. Strong events can temporarily disrupt weather patterns around the world, typically making certain regions wetter (Peru or California, say) and others drier (Southeast Asia). Some countries suffer major damage as a result.
Apparently if you wrote the BBC asking how to make Tom Baker’s Doctor Who scarf, they would send you the knitting instructions on BBC letterhead. According to the Whovians in that forum, the Fourth Doctor wore this particular scarf in a pair of episodes early in season 12. (via laughing squid)
The most teasing of teaser trailers is out for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Harry Potter prequel that everyone insists isn’t a prequel. Out November 2016. (via trailer town)
Update: Toooootally a prequel…Dumbledore gets name-dropped in this one:
Update: The full trailer has been released:
For the past few years, Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky has been working on a film called Dau about Soviet physicist Lev Landau. Well, sort of. Khrzhanovsky had a huge set built in Ukraine containing a version of a mid-20th century Soviet research institute. For two years, he filmed hundreds of volunteers living on the set as though they were Soviet scientists.
Participants were required to live in period costume (the on-set tailor updated the fashions of the moment as required), to eat period food in period packaging, paid for in Soviet roubles, and to renounce all anachronisms, physical and verbal. No mobile phones, no internet, no laptops; no mention of the state of Israel before the on-set calendar reached 1948. News was supposed to be provided exclusively by the fully staffed on-set newspaper and the on-set radio station. Women were forbidden to wear modern tampons: Soviet-model cloth versions were made available.
ROSENBERG: That’s when Khrzhanovsky appeared. Wearing strangely outdated clothing and spectacles, the director looked sort of like a young Albert Einstein. He would be giving Michael a personal tour of the set, but first Michael would have to be processed.
IDOV: Because you were not supposed to admit that the film shoot was in fact a film shoot. Instead, everyone was operating under the notion that it’s the ’50s. That day it was 1952. So I needed to be made into a 1952 version of myself. They took away my clothes. They gave me a new haircut with, like, temples shaved off and gave me an incredibly itchy period suit - including the underwear.
The one thing I was allowed to keep was my watch. I had a vintage watch from 1959 and after a pretty intense discussion they decided it was OK to let me keep this watch from the future.
ROSENBERG: Then Khrzhanovsky instructed Michael to give his freshly minted Soviet passport to a man guarding an otherwise nondescript hallway.
I’ve read a lot of explanations about blockchains and Bitcoin but What Satoshi Did is among the best of them.
This invention works in two parts. Constructing a shared ledger amongst all participants was the first step. By sharing the entire ledger of transactions, all participants could convince themselves that their own transactions were validly entered, that all value derived from an authentic source, and that the entire ledger balanced.
The second part was to agree on the ledger. Using induction, and agreeing on all prior ledger states, Satoshi reduced the problem to agreeing what each new appending block is. The first batch, or genesis block, was created by Satoshi. The next block, and each successive block, included a consensus signature over this block and the previous block, creating a chain of blocks, or the blockchain.
The winner of the 2015 Small World in Motion competition is Wim van Egmond’s video of a single-celled organism consuming a smaller single-celled organism. The winners of the photomicrography contest are worth a look as well.
As of last month, 685 multi-planet solar systems (with 1705 planets) have been discovered outside our own. This video shows the relative sizes of those systems compared to ours. Please note:
The size of the orbits are all to scale, but the size of the planets are not. For example, Jupiter is actually 11x larger than Earth, but that scale makes Earth-size planets almost invisible (or Jupiters annoyingly large).
Steven Avery spent 12 years in prison for rape before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After his release, he was charged with murder. Making a Murderer, a new 10-show Netflix series premiering on December 18, will examine Avery’s crimes, a la Serial and The Jinx.
One of my video game triumphs as a kid was playing all the way through The Legend of Zelda using only the wooden sword.1 It was difficult. The person in the video above beat Zelda with only three hearts and without using a sword (until right at the end…you need a sword to kill Gannon). Hardcore. Makes me want to fire up the Wii and see what I can do.
A close runner-up was beating Zelda without dying.↩
Over the years, there’s been a growing consensus that suggests being happy is correlated with living a long life. Well, you can wipe that smile off your face because a massive study published in The Lancent makes it clear that no such correlation exists. So what about all those studies suggesting that stress and joylessness hastened death’s arrival? According the new study’s co-author:
In our view, the previous studies haven’t been well done. All that’s going on is ill health actually was causing unhappiness and stress.
In other words, your unhappiness is going to last longer than you thought.
If you measure the contours of a river valley with Lidar (like radar with lasers), you get a beautiful map of all the historical river channels. The image above was taken from a poster of the historical channels of the Willamette River…click through to see the whole thing. See also Harold Fisk’s meander maps of the Mississippi River.
Am I crazy or does this 70s crime comedy starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling actually look good? I mean, it likely won’t be that good, but entertaining this pleasant fiction will make us happy until next May, when we’ll know for sure. FYI: this is a “red band” trailer, so NSFW and all that.
When people drive cars, collisions often happen so quickly that they are entirely accidental. When self-driving cars eliminate driver error in these cases, decisions on how to crash can become pre-meditated. The car can think quickly, “Shall I crash to the right? To the left? Straight ahead?” and do a cost/benefit analysis for each option before acting. This is the trolley problem.
How will we program our driverless cars to react in situations where there is no choice to avoid harming someone? Would we want the car to run over a small child instead of a group of five adults? How about choosing between a woman pushing a stroller and three elderly men? Do you want your car to kill you (by hitting a tree at 65mph) instead of hitting and killing someone else? No? How many people would it take before you’d want your car to sacrifice you instead? Two? Six? Twenty?
The video above introduces a wrinkle I had never considered before: what if the consumer could choose the sort of safety they want? If you had to choose between buying a car that would save as many lives as possible and a car that would save you above all other concerns, which would you select? You can imagine that answer would be different for different people and that car companies would build & market cars to appeal to each of them. Perhaps Apple would make a car that places the security of the owner above all else, Google would be a car that would prioritize saving the most lives, and Uber would build a car that keeps the largest Uber spenders alive.1
Ethical concerns like the trolley problem will seem quaint when the full power of manufacturing, marketing, and advertising is applied to self-driving cars. Imagine trying to choose one of the 20 different types of ketchup at the supermarket except that if you choose the wrong one, you and your family die and, surprise, it’s not actually your choice, it’s the potential Trump voter down the street who buys into Car Company X’s advertising urging him to “protect himself” because he feels marginalized in a society that increasingly values diversity over “traditional American values”. I mean, we already see this with huge, unsafe gas-guzzlers driving on the same roads as small, safer, energy-efficient cars, but the addition of software will turbo-charge this process. But overall cars will be much safer so it’ll all be ok?
The bit about Uber is a joke but just barely. You could easily imagine a scenario in which a Samsung car might choose to hit an Apple car over another Samsung car in an accident, all other things being equal.↩
Fractal Gears is fun to play around with…just keep hitting that randomize button for Sierpinski triangle-esque gear mechanisms.
A collection of old film footage of NYC, taken between 1896 and 1905, along with maps and descriptions of the locations.
Update: The full trailer has dropped.
I was about to say something about how Spielberg rarely directs animated films but BFG isn’t actually animated. Or is it? CG has gotten so good and blockbusters so reliant on special effects that it’s hard to tell what’s real. I mean, superhero movies are so laden with special effects that they might as well be considered animated. They’re all basically Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but done so seamlessly that you can’t tell Toontown from the real world.
This video is 20 minutes of the best YouTube footage from 2015 of extreme sports, marriage proposals, cute kids, funny animals, fast cars, groovy dancing, dronies, and more slow-motion GoPro footage than you could ever want to see in one lifetime. I’ve linked to a few of these videos, but generally my list of cool videos of the year would be a bit less X-TREEM. If you want to watch all 506 videos in the compilation, check out this playlist.
For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. Let’s get right to it.
As usual, my #1 gift guide suggestion is: make like Zuck and give to charity this holiday season. Volunteer in your area, find a worthy charity via GiveWell or Charity Navigator, or help people around the world help themselves with Kiva micro-lending. (You don’t have to worry about structuring your giving as an LLC though because you’re not rich. Just pony up regular-like.) Nicholas Kristof also shared some Gifts With Meaning recently.
Whenever I need something for my home, my first stops are always The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. The Wirecutter’s holiday guides are the best place to find the best technology buys. This food smoker, a 2Tb wireless backup drive, and a Weber grill are among this year’s picks. I am also trying to justify spending $400 on headphones because these Oppo PM-3s sound amazing.
Every household will be getting at least one of the following this year: a hoverboard self-balancing scooter, a drone, a selfie stick, an adult coloring book, or Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
My favorite gift guide this year is from Quartz. They asked a number of notable people, including Junot Diaz and Melinda Gates: what’s the best gift you’ve ever received? The result is not so much a list of products for purchase as it is a way of thinking about how to give people you love what they need and want. Unexpectedly moving. [Runner-up: Motherboard’s Best Black Friday Deals accompanied by the full text of the Communist Manifesto. Which BTW is available for purchase… ;) ]
If you’ve got kids, The Kid Should See This Gift Guide should be your gifting spirit animal. I leaned heavily on this guide in the past year for Xmas and two birthdays. Choice picks this year include LittleBits’ Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, The Roald Dahl Audio Collection, the Sprout Pencil (a pencil that grows real plants when it’s spent), and this Maps book.
I’m so sorry. You’ve missed out on the season’s best holiday gift: Edmund Halley’s personal copy of Isaac Newton’s Opticks, given to him by Newton himself. It was recently sold at auction for $1.33 million. Instead, perhaps a copy of Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe?
Cookbooks are always good gifts: Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest Nopi: The Cookbook (he’s the author of the outstanding Plenty), Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes, and Kenji Lopez-Alt’s magnum opus The Food Lab. Cooking is the main thing I feel like I should be doing more of in 2016.
Some old favorites that I recommend almost every year: the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray, Tattly temporary tattoos, the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer, Palomino Blackwing pencils, the Kindle Paperwhite, and a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. (If you’re getting that last one for that special someone, you’d best get a massive bow for it.)
If you have too much stuff already or if you’re shopping for the person who has everything, perhaps Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would be appropriate?
From Eater’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide, Maker’s Mark X Woodzee Sunglasses (made from old whiskey barrels), Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged (award winning cheese from Wisconsin!!), and a young readers edition of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Speaking of whiskey barrels, I did not find these “white oak tools that turn drinking whiskey into top-shelf occasion whiskey” on Eater’s list but am intrigued. Do they work? Or would a small barrel for aging work better?
From the gang at Boing Boing comes their 2015 gift guide. On it, I spotted Mark Frauenfelder’s own Trick Decks: How to Hack Playing Cards for Extraordinary Magic, Haflinger wool moccasins, the Sphero BB-8 Droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things.
And a few miscellaneous things I’ve noted recently: a 200-year-old bonsai tree (for $28,000…how do they ship this thing?), the 1M Hauly Heist (for the “discreet, comfortable carry of up to US$1 Million in used bank notes while minimising the risk of radio frequency tracking”), the Google Cardboard VR viewer (for the DIYers, you can even make your own), the complete set of Minecraft handbooks (my 8-year-old has read the whole set from cover-to-cover about 12 times), and Ken Burns’ restored 25th anniversary version of The Civil War on Blu-ray.
Moar liszts und zhoppin sourzus!! (Sorry, I’m getting a little punchy…) Slate Picks, Canopy, Digg Store, The Colossal Shop, Tools & Toys 2015 Christmas Catalog, Kit, Tinybop’s Loves, The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide, and the Food52 Holiday Gift Guide. You can also look back at past guides from this site: 2012, 2013, 2014.
Update: As a public service, here are some things you shouldn’t buy your loved ones for the holidays. Deadspin presents The 2015 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog, which includes a $1000 bar cart. But the worst holiday gift idea I’ve seen,1 hilariously demonstrated by Alton Brown at the end of this video of Amazon’s dumbest kitchen gadgets, is the Rollie Hands-Free Automatic Electric Vertical Nonstick Easy Quick Egg Cooker. You crack some eggs into the device’s hole and many minutes later, a phallic cooked egg tube comes rising out of it. I mean…
Update: A couple of additional sources of bad gifts for the holidays. Megan Amram imagined a Goop gift guide from Gwyneth Paltrow including a $4000 pair of floor-length jean shorts, a $100 bill (price: $1000), and a yoga mat made out of a Picasso painting ($106M). There’s also The Worst Things for Sale blog which features things like fart-filtering underwear, the hot dog bucket hat, and George Takei’s Eau My cologne.
Update: Phil Plait of Bad Astronomer wrote up A Holiday Telescope Buying Guide. For the casual beginner, he recommends the OneSky scope from Astronomers Without Borders. For the more advanced star hustler, Plait himself uses the Celestron C8 S-GT Advanced Computerized Telescope.
What began as an inside joke over email for bloop, a version of “Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop were written exclusively by and for black women”, is now available for all. Aminatou Sow and Jenna Wortham present the 2015 Bloop Holiday Gift Guide. Among the picks are Lenny Kravitz’s ridiculously huge scarf and the Carry-On Cocktail Kit.
This is not the worst gift ever though. A former co-worker of mine and her husband received a turtle as a wedding present. Like as a pet. Like, here’s a bunch of responsibility for a living thing you didn’t ask for. They cared for it for several months before deciding they didn’t really want a turtle (TOTALLY understandable) and released it in Central Park, which was also probably not a great decision. ↩
Joshua Foer, winner of the 2006 USA Memory Championship and author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, shows us how to memorize anything using a “memory palace” technique with the first 100 digits of pi as an example.
When you see photos of Jupiter, they’re almost always the of same view: the north pole at the top, the gaseous bands perfectly horizontal, and the Red Spot somewhere in the mix. But @robdubbin reminds us that there are other ways of looking at Jupiter. Here’s a view of the planet’s southern hemisphere:
And the northern hemisphere:
If you take photos of the whole of Jupiter’s surface and stretch it out flat, you get something like this:
Transport for London recently released a document called the London Underground Station Design Idiom, a guide to the design aesthetic of Tube stations. After an introductory chapter called “A manifesto for good design”, the document offers nine main guidelines for how Underground stations should be designed:
1. Achieve balance across the network. Good design is achieved through balance. For us, this means balance between heritage and the future, between a station’s commercial activity and its customer information, and between the network as a whole and the station as a local place.
2. Look beyond the Bostwick gates. Stations are more than portals to the Underground; they are also places to meet, eat, shop and, most importantly, they are centres of community. Many people’s mental map of London is organised by Underground stations. A neighbourhood’s identity can be enriched by truly ‘embedding’ its station in the local area.
3. Consider wholeness. Good design starts by considering the whole: the whole station (from platform to pavement); the whole of the project from engineering to surface finishing; the whole team. It’s about making sure the right people are engaged from the outset. Considering ‘wholeness’ means creating entire spaces with clear forms, which are clutter-free and legible for all users and requirements.
4. Prioritise comfort for staff and customers. Well-designed stations support staff in their varied roles so they can provide world class customer service. It is this interaction between staff, customers and the built environment that makes London Underground stations so special and distinguishes us from other metros.
5. Delight and surprise. Every Underground station should include at least one moment of delight and surprise, to improve customers’ journeys and the working environment for staff. Such moments help put the network on the map, as a world-class leader of design.
6. Use materials to create atmosphere. The quality of materials has a huge impact on the way a station is perceived by both customers and staff. High quality materials that are robust and easy to maintain make better environments. Use materials to make atmospheric spaces that are dramatic and rich in texture. Make stations more memorable to customers and better places to travel to or through.
7. Create ambience with lighting. Lighting on the Underground is used to make safe and functional environments, with maintenance and costs often dictating the choice and application of fittings with no consideration on how this impacts overall perception of space. Although lighting must be functional to improve safety and increase feelings of comfort, it can also be transformational - improving spaces, drawing attention to heritage or special features and helping customers flow intuitively through a station.
8. Integrate products and services. Good design is not just about choosing the right materials and lighting, it also involves integrating the other products and services which make up the station. All network furniture, fixtures and equipment - such as customer information, safety equipment, ticketing, poster frames, advertising, CCTV and signage - must be fully integrated into the station so there is clarity and coherence from platform to pavement and across the network.
9. Prepare for the future. By embracing new technologies and understanding their benefits we can create better-designed stations that enhance the user experience. This also means considering the life cycle of existing and new materials and products. Designing in flexibility allows our stations to better respond to new challenges, opportunities and change programmes.
Aside from some of the specifics, that’s not a bad list of guidelines on how to think about designing anything. (via mefi)
Ok, this is a little freaky. If you take a bunch of photos of a person and create a 3D simulation of their face (which is already weird but totally possible) and then use video of someone else speaking to control the 3D face simulation, you can recognize the speaker’s facial expressions and gestures in the 3D face. That sounds a little complicated but just watch the short video clip above. You can clearly see George W. Bush’s facial expressions on the faces of Obama, Tom Hanks, and Hillary Clinton…especially when he says “the legislative process can be ugly”. And the reverse is true as well: even with Bush’s facial expressions and voice, the 3D model of Obama looks like Obama. This is a whole new kind of uncanny valley.
See also real-time facial expression reenactment.
Retro Report looks back on the story of the boy in the plastic bubble.
The epitaph on David Phillip Vetter’s gravestone observes correctly that “he never touched the world.” How could he have? From a few seconds after his birth until two weeks before his death at age 12, David lived life entirely in one plastic bubble or another. Touching the world would have killed him in fairly short order. Even his two weeks outside a plastic cocoon were spent in a hospital trying, futilely, to stave off the inevitable.
There was never a child quite like David Vetter. Americans above the age of, say, 45 may remember him not so much by name as by a phenomenon of the 1970s and early ’80s: “the boy in the bubble.” The Retro Report series of video documentaries, exploring major news developments of the past, returns to that era through interviews with, among others, David’s mother and one of his doctors. More than just a look backward, the report examines medical strides that now give hope to the once-hopeless, coupled with ethical questions long part of the “bubble boy” story.
I remember very clearly watching the news reports about “the boy in the bubble” when I was a kid. Now, as an adult and a parent, the ethical concerns hit me somewhat harder. (via @DavidGrann)
Alan Taylor at In Focus has shared his list of the Top 25 News Photos of 2015.
Update: The AP shares their Top 100 News Images of 2015. Very few of these photographs show anything good, so fair warning.
Update: One more from In Focus: Hopeful Images from 2015. A reminder that the good in the world vastly outweighs the bad…even if it doesn’t often make the news.
Prince covered Radiohead’s Creep at the Coachella music festival in 2008. The video got yanked due to copyright infringement but it’s back up. For the moment anyway and perhaps forever…Prince’s Twitter account linked to it. (via @anildash (who else??))
One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is David Ehrlich’s video compilation of his favorite films of the year. 2015’s installment does not disappoint.
If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002.
Depending on the severity of the condition, the child now has a risk of manifesting symptoms of C.T.E. like major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life. C.T.E. has also been linked to drug and alcohol abuse as the child enters his 20s, 30s and 40s.
The story of Omalu, his research, and its suppression by the NFL is the subject of Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith that comes out on Christmas Day, as well as a book version written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Update: Dr. James Hamblin shares the findings of a new paper on how repeated head trauma can affect the brains of kids as young as 8.
In the journal Radiology today, an imaging study shows that players ages 8 to 13 who have had no concussion symptoms still show changes associated with traumatic brain injury.
Christopher Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, wanted to see how head impact affects developing brains. His team studied male football players between ages 8 and 13 over the course of a season, recording “head impact data” using a Head Impact Telemetry System to measure force, which was correlated with video of games and practices.
If you take two circular magnets and slap them on the ends of a AA battery, the resulting axel will drive on a road of aluminum foil. This is called a homopolar motor and it’s one of the simplest machines you can build. How does it work? Well, it’s been awhile since my last electromagnetism class, but the homopolar motor works because the combination of the flow of the electric current (from the battery) and the flow of the magnetic current produces a torque via the Lorenz force. This short video explanation should give you a good idea of the principles involved. (via digg)
NASA’s New Horizons probe has sent back the first of the sharpest images of Pluto it took during its July flyby of the planet.1
These latest images form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide on a world 3 billion miles away. The pictures trend from Pluto’s jagged horizon about 500 miles (800 kilometers) northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, over the shoreline of Sputnik, and across its icy plains.
View the new image at high resolution here or watch a video scroll of the imagery:
Oh yes, I went there. Bring it, NDT.↩
But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.
It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of terrorism.
I don’t really want to get into it on a sunny Saturday morning, but 1) this doesn’t go far enough for me…I’m one of those people who does want guns taken away from everyone; and 2) the media also needs to make tough choices about how and how much they cover shootings like this. CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin can’t write an essay about how she’s sick and tired of reporting on gun violence and then her network gives their viewers a guided tour of the apartment where the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting lived (which Baldwin tweeted out to her followers advising them to TURN ON #CNN).
Chris Donovan loved designing women’s shoes, so he quit his job as a telephone repairman and followed his fashion design dreams all the way to Florence. What a great video from AARP, filmed by David Friedman. You can see more of Donovan’s work on his Instagram account. (via @mathowie)
Volvo took a real dump truck, hooked it up to a remote control, handed it to a 4-year-old girl, and she proceeds to DEMOLISH a closed course with it. Man, I really needed this video today. Wonderful. (via @joeljohnson)
“DVD extras” is a phrase that’s rapidly receding in the pop cultural rearview mirror, but YouTube is chock full1 of them for many popular movies and shows. Here are a few behind-the-scenes looks at Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Bonus video: how to make a Courtesan au Chocolat from Mendl’s:
“Chock full” is another antique phrase, although I bet people will still be using “chock full” long after “DVD extras”.↩
This account of serving on a jury during a murder trial is fascinating, from the racial issues of the jury selection to the social dynamics in the jury room during deliberations.
There’s a handwritten confession that the defendant claims he didn’t write. He says he signed a blank page that appeared later containing a confession. In the months since the arrest, changes have been made to local precincts that now allow them to record all interrogations on video. In this case, no video was taken.
The suggestion of a police conspiracy is laughable to the prosecutor, and, I will learn, to many of my fellow jurors. I suppose this is why every black man was eliminated from the jury pool. If it’s biased to presuppose police officers are corrupt, it should be considered equally biased to presuppose that they always act lawfully. Instead, it’s considered ridiculous. The presumption of innocence is dangerously misplaced.
I keep thinking of Walter Scott, whose uniformed murderer is seen on camera shooting him while he runs away, and who plants a weapon on his freshly killed corpse. While doing all this, the officer reports over police radio that Scott attacked him.
Jonathan Merritt writes about Fred Rogers, ordained Presbyterian minister and beloved children’s TV show host who used his faith and TV to help millions of children.
Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, but he was no televangelist, and he never tried to impose his beliefs on anyone. Behind the cardigans, though, was a man of deep faith. Using puppets rather than a pulpit, he preached a message of inherent worth and unconditional lovability to young viewers, encouraging them to express their emotions with honesty. The effects were darn near supernatural.
I watched Mr. Rogers religiously growing up, pun intended. Actual church, with its focus on rites, belief in the supernatural, and my pastor’s insistence that the Earth was only 6000 years old, was never appealing to me, but Mr. Rogers’ unconditional, graceful, and humanistic brand of religion was just perfect. I heard him say this line at the end of his show hundreds of times:
You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.
It’s easy to roll your eyes, but when you’re six or eight years old, such a simple message from someone who obviously loves you can mean everything.
From Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style, here are some of the most common words and phrases that trip people up.
Bemused means bewildered and does not mean amused.
Correct: The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused. / The silly comedy amused me.
Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: “Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabra and agenda long ago ceased to be plurals,” Pinker writes. “But I still like it.”]
Correct: “This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it.”
Enormity means extreme evil and does not mean enormousness. [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.]
Correct: The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears. / The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work.
A deplorable enormousness!
With the new Star Wars movie only a couple weeks away, fans and Star Wars scholars have gone into hyperdrive1 spinning alternate theories about what the series of movies are all about. The most popular such theory attempts to rehabilitate the worst character in the prequels, Jar Jar Binks. Because maybe he’s the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy? Who uses drunken fighting like Jackie Chan?
Another theorist asserts that the prequels were secretly brilliant because of a little-discussed over-arching theme related to the Jedi Code and the corruption of the Jedi.
But my personal favorite theory suggests that the past and future Star Wars movies are about ridding the galaxy of a bacterial plague carried by the Jedi.
I don’t know what Midi-chlorians actually are. They might be something like symbiotic/parasitic bacteria or archaea, they might be organelles that live inside a cell, they might even be coherent chunks of molecular code…machines living inside the very DNA of their hosts.
What I do know is what they can do. They manipulate their hosts, they control them and eventually take them over. Eventually, they force them to fight while releasing as much dark energy as they can possibly manage, because that’s how they continue their life cycle.
Being force sensitive just means you’re more heavily infested and more easily manipulated.
Update: The Radicalization of Luke Skywalker suggests that the first three Star Wars films about Luke Skywalker becoming a terrorist.
A more focused study, however, is needed to truly understand that the Star Wars films are actually the story of the radicalization of Luke Skywalker. From introducing him to us in A New Hope (as a simple farm boy gazing into the Tatooine sunset), to his eventual transformation into the radicalized insurgent of Return of the Jedi (as one who sets his own father’s corpse on fire and celebrates the successful bombing of the Death Star), each film in the original trilogy is another step in Luke’s descent into terrorism. By carefully looking for the same signs governments and scholars use to detect radicalization, we can witness Luke’s dark journey into religious fundamentalism and extremism happen before our very eyes.
Yes, yes, it is fascinating. At least when Bill Hammack, aka Engineer Guy, explains how it all works. Don’t miss the bit at the end for how quietly ingenious Lego’s injection molding process is. (via digg)
In this video about the making of The Hobbit movies, members of the film crew, including director Peter Jackson, admit that they didn’t really have a good idea of what was going to happen in the movies until they were on the set filming and that they made a lot of it up as they went along.
The above clip is from a behind-the-scenes video on the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray, and it features Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and other production personnel confessing that due to the director changeover — del Toro left the project after nearly two years of pre-production — Jackson hit the ground running but was never able to hit the reset button to get time to establish his own vision. In comparison, he spent years prepping the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and on the Hobbit things got so bad that when they started shooting the titular Battle of Five Armies itself they were essentially just shooting B-roll: footage of people in costumes waving around swords, without any cohesive plan for how the sequence would actually play out. (A choice Jackson quote: “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.”)
No idea why they would release a video like this which pretty much admits that the movies weren’t as good as they should have been. I mean, they still made a crap-ton of money at the box office (a combined $3 billion worldwide), so happy ending for them anyway I guess?
Using a tilt-shift effect, St. Tesla created miniature versions of galaxies, nebula, and supernovas. So cute!