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Entries for January 2016 (February 2016 »    March 2016 »    April 2016 »    Archives)

 

Bill Gates’ tribute to Richard Feynman, “The Best Teacher I Never Had”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2016

As part of a celebration of the legacy of Richard Feynman at Caltech this week, Bill Gates contributed a video about what he learned from Feynman.

In that video, I especially love the way Feynman explains how fire works. He takes such obvious delight in knowledge — you can see his face light up. And he makes it so clear that anyone can understand it.

I love that video as well…just watched it again and it’s so so good.

We Work Remotely

Quantum Chess: Stephen Hawking vs Paul Rudd

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2016

So, this is a time travel movie with Keanu Reeves (narrator) and Alex Winter (director), but it’s not Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3? No, of course not. It’s actually a video about quantum chess featuring Paul Rudd, Stephen Hawking, and music from The Matrix. Like, WHAT?! If The Chickening hadn’t dropped earlier, this would be the oddest thing you’ll watch this week. (And it’s not quite clear, but the video appears to be an advertisement for a quantum chess game that’s launching on Kickstarter next week. Nothing about this makes any sense…) (via @gavinpurcell)

Every Oscar Best Picture winner ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2016

As we gear up for the upcoming Oscars… Ok, let’s stop right there. There are a lot of problems with the Oscars, starting with diversity, but I just love movies. And this review of every Best Picture winner is a fun trip through motion picture history.

Oh, and here’s a look at all of the films nominated for Oscars this year (not just for Best Picture):

There are lots of movies from the past year I haven’t seen yet (The Revenant, Carol, Creed, Anomalisa), but the best 2015 movie I saw was The Big Short. Spotlight and Mad Max were up there as well.

A house with a rooftop infinity pool

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2016

Roof Infinity Pool

I don’t know how practical this is — for one thing, how do you get into it? — but this house with a rooftop infinity pool is stunning. Design by Kois Associated Architects.

On the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2016

Today is the 30th anniversary of the final launch and subsequent catastrophic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Popular Mechanics has an oral history of the launch and aftermath.

Capano: We got the kids quiet, and then I remember that the line that came across the TV was “The vehicle has exploded.” One of the girls in my classroom said, “Ms. Olson [Capano’s maiden name], what do they mean by ‘the vehicle’?” And I looked at her and I said, “I think they mean the shuttle.” And she got very upset with me. She said, “No! No! No! They don’t mean the shuttle! They don’t mean the shuttle!”

Raymond: The principal came over the PA system and said something like, “We respectfully request that the media leave the building now. Now.” Some of the press left, but some of them took off into the school. They started running into the halls to get pictures, to get sound-people were crying, people were running. It was chaos. Some students started chasing after journalists to physically get them out of the school.

I have certainly read about Feynman’s O-ring demonstration during the investigation of the disaster, but I hadn’t heard this bit:

Kutyna: On STS-51C, which flew a year before, it was 53 degrees [at launch, then the coldest temperature recorded during a shuttle launch] and they completely burned through the first O-ring and charred the second one. One day [early in the investigation] Sally Ride and I were walking together. She was on my right side and was looking straight ahead. She opened up her notebook and with her left hand, still looking straight ahead, gave me a piece of paper. Didn’t say a single word. I look at the piece of paper. It’s a NASA document. It’s got two columns on it. The first column is temperature, the second column is resiliency of O-rings as a function of temperature. It shows that they get stiff when it gets cold. Sally and I were really good buddies. She figured she could trust me to give me that piece of paper and not implicate her or the people at NASA who gave it to her, because they could all get fired.

I wondered how I could introduce this information Sally had given me. So I had Feynman at my house for dinner. I have a 1973 Opel GT, a really cute car. We went out to the garage, and I’m bragging about the car, but he could care less about cars. I had taken the carburetor out. And Feynman said, “What’s this?” And I said, “Oh, just a carburetor. I’m cleaning it.” Then I said, “Professor, these carburetors have O-rings in them. And when it gets cold, they leak. Do you suppose that has anything to do with our situation?” He did not say a word. We finished the night, and the next Tuesday, at the first public meeting, is when he did his O-ring demonstration.

We were sitting in three rows, and there was a section of the shuttle joint, about an inch across, that showed the tang and clevis [the two parts of the joint meant to be sealed by the O-ring]. We passed this section around from person to person. It hit our row and I gave it to Feynman, expecting him to pass it on. But he put it down. He pulled out pliers and a screwdriver and pulled out the section of O-ring from this joint. He put a C-clamp on it and put it in his glass of ice water. So now I know what he’s going to do. It sat there for a while, and now the discussion had moved on from technical stuff into financial things. I saw Feynman’s arm going out to press the button on his microphone. I grabbed his arm and said, “Not now.” Pretty soon his arm started going out again, and I said, “Not now!” We got to a point where it was starting to get technical again, and I said, “Now.” He pushed the button and started the demonstration. He took the C-clamp off and showed the thing does not bounce back when it’s cold. And he said the now-famous words, “I believe that has some significance for our problem.” That night it was all over television and the next morning in the Washington Post and New York Times. The experiment was fantastic-the American public had short attention spans and they didn’t understand technology, but they could understand a simple thing like rubber getting hard.

I never talked with Sally about it later. We both knew what had happened and why it had happened, but we never discussed it. I kept it a secret that she had given me that piece of paper until she died [in 2012].

Whoa, dang. Also not well known is that the astronauts survived the initial explosion and were possibly alive and conscious when they hit the water two and a half minutes later.

Over the December holiday, I read 10:04 by Ben Lerner (quickly, recommended). The novel includes a section on the Challenger disaster and how very few people saw it live:

The thing is, almost nobody saw it live: 1986 was early in the history of cable news, and although CNN carried the launch live, not that many of us just happened to be watching CNN in the middle of a workday, a school day. All other major broadcast stations had cut away before the disaster. They all came back quickly with taped replays, of course. Because of the Teacher in Space Project, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the mission into television sets in many schools — and that’s how I remember seeing it, as does my older brother. I remember tears in Mrs. Greiner’s eyes and the students’ initial incomprehension, some awkward laughter. But neither of us did see it: Randolph Elementary School in Topeka wasn’t part of that broadcast. So unless you were watching CNN or were in one of the special classrooms, you didn’t witness it in the present tense.

Oh, the malleability of memory. I remember seeing it live too, at school. My 7th grade English teacher permanently had a TV in her room and because of the schoolteacher angle of the mission, she had arranged for us to watch the launch, right at the end of class. I remember going to my next class and, as I was the first student to arrive, telling the teacher about the accident. She looked at me in disbelief and then with horror as she realized I was not the sort of kid who made terrible stuff like that up. I don’t remember the rest of the day and now I’m doubting if it happened that way at all. Only our classroom and a couple others watched it live — there wasn’t a specially arranged whole-school event — and I doubt my small school had a satellite dish to receive the special broadcast anyway. Nor would we have had cable to get CNN…I’m not even sure cable TV was available in our rural WI town at that point. So…?

But, I do remember the jokes. The really super offensive jokes. The jokes actually happened. Again, from 10:04:

I want to mention another way information circulated through the country in 1986 around the Challenger disaster, and I think those of you who are more or less my age will know what I’m talking about: jokes. My brother, who is three and a half years older than I, would tell me one after another as we walked to and from Randolph Elementary that winter: Did you know that Christa McAuliffe was blue-eyed? One blew left and one blew right; What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words to her husband? You feed the kids — I’ll feed the fish; What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts; How do they know what shampoo Christa McAuliffe used? They found her head and shoulders. And so on: the jokes seemed to come out of nowhere, or to come from everywhere at once; like cicadas emerging from underground, they were ubiquitous for a couple of months, then disappeared. Folklorists who study what they call ‘joke cycles’ track how — particularly in times of collective anxiety — certain humorous templates get recycled, often among children.

At the time, I remember these jokes being hilarious1 but also a little horrifying. Lerner continues:

The anonymous jokes we were told and retold were our way of dealing with the remainder of the trauma that the elegy cycle initiated by Reagan-Noonan-Magee-Hicks-Dunn-C.A.F.B. (and who knows who else) couldn’t fully integrate into our lives.

Reminds me of how children in Nazi ghettos and concentration camps dealt with their situation by playing inappropriate games.

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called “tickling the corpse.” At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played “gas chamber,” a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying.

  1. Also, does anyone remember the dead baby jokes? They were all the rage when I was a kid. There were books of them. “Q: What do you call a dead baby with no arms and no legs laying on a beach? A: Sandy.” And we thought they were funny as hell.

Chinese nicknames for American pop stars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2016

Ethnographer Christina Xu discovered a few of the nicknames that young Chinese fans have devised for American pop stars.

Nicki Minaj - 麻辣鸡 (má là ji): a slant transliteration of “Minaj”. Means spicy chicken (ma la is a spice combo commonly used in Sichuan cooking).

Drake - 公鸭 (gōng yā): Literally “male duck”, as in the definition of a “drake”. I laughed out loud when I finally figured this one out.

Kanye West - 侃爷 (kǎn yé): a transliteration of Kanye. In Beijing dialect, this means someone who brags a lot with no actions to follow it up.

Update: According to @billyroh’s coworker, Rihanna is known to some as “the Pop Queen of Shandong Province”.

17 equations that changed the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2016

17 Equations

In the book In Pursuit of the Unknown, Ian Stewart discusses how equations from the likes of Pythagoras, Euler, Newton, Fourier, Maxwell, and Einstein have been used to build the modern world.

I love how as time progresses, the equations get more complicated and difficult for the layperson to read (much less understand) and then Boltzmann and Einstein are like, boom!, entropy is increasing and energy is proportional to mass, suckas!

Giorgio Moroder and Britney Spears cover Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2016

At first I was like, whhhhhhhy? And then I was all, whhhhyyyy do I like this so much? Britney has always had something but damned if I know what it is.

What Errol Morris thinks about Making a Murderer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2016

Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.

To me, it’s a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent — but it’s a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can’t actually know…it’s a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.

This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery’s and Dassey’s trials, saying that it was too boring, but that’s the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.

If you’re asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don’t know. I really don’t know from watching Making a Murderer, but there’s one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer — that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.

My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.

Anyway, read the whole thing…his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he’s making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!

Interactive timeline: listen to the #1 rap songs from 1989-2015

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2016

Rap Timeline Player

The product of a collaboration between Polygraph and Billboard, this interactive timeline lets you listen to the top rap song in the US from 1989 to 2015 as you see the single jockeying in the top 10.

Obama bans use of solitary confinement for juveniles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.

Here’s Obama’s Op-Ed on the topic.

“It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” That’s a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)

The first feature film shot entirely with a Prius backup camera

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

Watch these inspiring film pioneers in this behind the scenes look at the first movie shot entirely with a Prius backup camera. (via @kevin2kelly)

The importance of composition in cinematic storytelling

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.

The Chickening

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won’t be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Visual effects breakdown for The Martian

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

My main thought in watching these VFX videos for The Martian, Star Wars, and Mad Max is how amazing visual effects are now. The effects folks do their jobs so well now that audiences don’t even notice the effects…it’s almost boring.

Related: see also how much video game graphics have improved from the beginning of Kobe Bryant’s NBA career to now.

Kobe Bryant, Now And Then

Cross-pollinated comics

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

100 Comic Characters

Artist Jaakko Seppälä drew 10 of his favorite comic characters in each other’s distinctive styles, e.g. Lucy van Pelt in the style of Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield in the style of Donald Duck.

Update: See also the Great Comic Switcheroo of 1997, where a bunch of comic authors drew each others’ comics for a day. (via @craigpatik)

Photos of cities folded over onto themselves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Aydin Buyuktas

In the style of the Paris scene in Inception and Berg’s Here & There maps, Aydın Büyüktaş’s Flatland project features photographs of city scenes seemingly folded over onto themselves. According to Design Taxi, Büyüktaş took photos of each scene with a drone and then stitched them together. (via @feltron)

Max Mad: Fury Road sped up 12X is still watchable

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Film editor Vashi Nedomansky took five movies whose ASL (average shot length) is under 2 seconds and sped them up by 12 times. You can judge for yourself, but according to Nedomansky, Mad Max: Fury Road is the only one that’s still comprehensible at that speed. Huge props to director George Miller and editor Margaret Sixel.

Recipe for making McDonald’s Egg McMuffins at home

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Homemade Egg Mcmuffin

At Serious Eats, the Food Lab’s Kenji Lopez-Alt reverse engineers (and improves) the Egg McMuffin for the home cook. Clever use of a Mason jar lid for cooking the egg.

Air Bonsai, a magnetically floating bonsai tree kit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Air Bonsai

A group from Tokyo is selling floating bonsai tree kits on Kickstarter. The starter kit is $200, which includes an electric base and magnetically floating pot…plant not included. (via colossal)

Snowboarding on the streets of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2016

Just as he did a couple of years ago, Casey Neistat busted out his board yesterday and went snowboarding behind a 4WD Jeep in the blizzard covered streets of Manhattan. (thx, david)

The Brownstone by Paula Scher

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2016

The Brownstone by Paula Scher

I had no idea mega-designer Paula Scher wrote a children’s book back in the early 70s. Just recently re-released in a new edition, The Brownstone is the story of the inhabitants of a NYC apartment building all trying to live together and get along.

Living in harmony with your neighbor isn’t always easy, but it’s doubly difficult if you’re a bear living in a New York City brownstone, getting ready to hibernate, and the kangaroos’ tap dancing upstairs and Miss Cat’s piano playing reverberate through the walls and floors.

The original has been long out of print (copies are $275 and up), so this is good news.

A look at the visual effects in Mad Max: Fury Road

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2016

Fury Road was by far the prettiest movie I saw in the past year. Lots of practical effects, but every single frame of the film was also digitally altered (mostly color correction). This piece goes way more into detail.

Absurdly challenging recipes from actual cookbooks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2016

Ben Schott collects some instructions from the cookbooks of noted chefs that will likely never be attempted by the home chef (unless you’re this woman). Like this one from A New Napa Cuisine that calls for phytoplankton:

20 grams marine phytoplankton
100 grams water
4 matsutake mushrooms, peeled and left whole

Or this one from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook to make frankincense hydrosol:

50 grams golden frankincense tears
100 grams water

I’ve owned several cookbooks where one recipe on page 107 calls for the product of a recipe on page 53 which in turn calls for the output of a recipe on page 28. Rube Goldberg cooking. Living in NYC, it’s often easier, faster, cheaper, and tastier to walk to the restaurant in question and just order the damn thing. Or head to Shake Shack instead.

Personalized cancer vaccines

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2016

Neoantigen vaccines use the DNA from a cancer patient’s own tumor to, hopefully, eradicate the cancer.

For some 50 years, cancer biologists have tried to incite the immune system to attack cancer by targeting molecules that commonly stud the surfaces of malignant cells. These “antigens” act as homing beacons that immune cells find and lock onto (much as antigens on viruses attract the immune system, the basis for preventive vaccines such as that for measles).

Trouble is, normal cells sometimes sport the same antigens as tumors, and the immune system is programmed not to attack antigens found on healthy cells. As a result, revving up the immune system to target common tumor antigens hasn’t worked, leading to a number of failed experimental cancer vaccines.

That led biologists to a different approach: siccing the immune system on antigens found only on cancer cells — and only on the cancer cells of a single patient. “It’s highly unlikely that any two patients have the same neoantigens,” said Dr. Catherine Wu of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “That’s why we have an opportunity to make cancer vaccines truly personalized, loaded with patient-specific neoantigens.”

A small 2009 car demolishes a 1959 Chevy in a crash test

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2016

In 2009, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a crash test between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevy Malibu. The video plainly shows how much progress has been made in passenger safety in those 50 years. Even though the Malibu is much lighter, its crumple zone absorbs much of the impact while the Bel Air lets the newer car’s front end slam right into the driver.1

Even though I’ve seen crash test footage before, I was shocked at how quickly the airbag deployed in the newer car…it’s fully inflated before the rest of the car and its occupants even realize that inertia is about to do some bad things.

  1. And LOL to the truthers in the comments insisting that the test was flawed (there was an engine in the Bel Air, BTW) and that good ol’ American cars were built like tanks back in the day and therefore are impervious to harm.

A brief history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

From Vox, a history of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. More here.

What has Obama got in its pocketses?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

Last week, after the State of the Union address, President Obama was interviewed by three prominent YouTube users. Oh, the outcry that arose! (Even though he did the same thing last year.) The President giving valuable country-running time over to mere social media stars, what has this country come to?

Well, it turns out if you get different kinds of people asking different kinds of questions, you’re going to get answers you normally wouldn’t hear. Case in point: Ingrid Nilsen was one of the three YouTubers chosen to interview the President. She asked him to talk about a meaningful item from his house and the President told a wonderful story about what he carries in his pockets every day:

Obama continues to be delightful and Nilsen might be my new favorite person after watching her YT channel for a bit this morning. I mean, just watch the first few minutes of this video where she came out to her viewers.

Horizontal history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

At Wait But Why, Tim Urban turns history on its side by thinking about time-synchronized events around the world, as opposed to events through the progression of time in each part of the world.

Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s — it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.

He does this mainly by charting and graphing the lifetimes of famous people, revealing hidden contemporaries.

Horizontal History Graph

I’ve been slowly making my way through Ken Burns’ remastered The Civil War.1 At a few points in the program, narrator David McCullough reminds the viewer of what was going on around the world at the same time as the war. In the US, 1863 brought the Battle of Gettysburg and The Emancipation Proclamation. But also:

In Paris that year, new paintings by Cezanne, Whistler, and Manet were shown at a special exhibit for outcasts. In Russia, Dostoevsky finished Notes from the Underground. And in London, Karl Marx labored to complete his masterpiece, Das Kapital.

And a year later, while the advantage in the war was turning towards the US:1

In 1864, a rebellion in China that cost 20 million lives finally came to an end. In 1864, the Tsar’s armies conquered Turkistan and Tolstoy finished War and Peace. In 1864, Louis Pasteur pasteurized wine, the Geneva Convention established the neutrality of battlefield hospitals, and Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen’s Association in London and in New York.

Urban explicitly references the war in his post:

People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history’s greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869).

The Civil War. The Origin of Species. Alice in Wonderland. The infancy of Impressionism. Pasteurization. Das Kapital. Gregor Mendel’s laws of inheritance. All in an eight-year span. Dang.

  1. Which is simply excellent. I had forgotten how powerful the storytelling technique Burns devised for his documentaries is. Really really worth your time to watch or re-watch.

  2. In talking about the Civil War, I’ve been trying to use Michael Todd Landis’ new language…so, “labor camps” instead of “plantations” and “United States” instead of “Union”.

Migration map of American birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

Bird migration map

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, an animated map of the yearly migratory patterns of 118 bird species in the Western Hemisphere.

La Sorte says a key finding of the study is that bird species that head out over the Atlantic Ocean during fall migration to spend winter in the Caribbean and South America follow a clockwise loop and take a path farther inland on their return journey in the spring. Species that follow this broad pattern include Bobolinks, Yellow and Black-billed cuckoos, Connecticut and Cape May warblers, Bicknell’s Thrush, and shorebirds, such as the American Golden Plover.

“These looped pathways help the birds take advantage of conditions in the atmosphere,” explains La Sorte. “Weaker headwinds and a push from the northeast trade winds as they move farther south make the fall journey a bit easier. The birds take this shorter, more direct route despite the dangers of flying over open-ocean.”

The map was created with data from eBird, a database of crowdsourced bird sightings. They also created a follow-up map which labels each of the species. Look at how far Baird’s Sandpiper (#5) flies…all the way from central Argentina to Northern Canada and back. (thx, kevin)

The top 10 opening shots in film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2016

I like how Cinefix does these videos. They pick the ten films, but they also mention other films that take similar approaches. In this case, the picks are also more populist than usual, which I appreciate.

That time that Prince ditched Questlove in favor of Finding Nemo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Questlove tells some great stories — I’m partial to the one about Will Smith’s house — and this story about his attempt to DJ for Prince and how a Pixar movie intervened is top notch.

Harry Potter as a teen comedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince reimagined as a wacky teen comedy. Excellent editing and music choice elevate this above similar efforts.

Product companies were told to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.

In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.

The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”

What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?

Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the “if true” in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee’s fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to “exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise” was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.

  1. The article was annoyingly unclear on who was doing the directing, but you have to assume it’s Disney. Who else in the room would have the authority to so direct?

A brief history of The Flatiron Building

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Flatiron Building by Edward Steichen

A photo of NYC’s Flatiron Building, taken in 1904 by Edward Steichen.

Fun fact: the Flatiron Building was not so named because of its resemblance to a clothes iron. It was actually named after the building’s owner, Archibald W. Flatiron.

Ok, not really. But *puts on mansplaining suspenders* the part about the building not being named after its resemblance to an iron is true. It was the piece of land that was so-named, long before the building was even built. A man named Amos Eno owned the property and it became known as “Eno’s flatiron”. The canny Eno, knowing his property was conveniently located right next to Madison Square, erected a screen on top of the small building at the very tip of the triangle and made it available for motion picture advertising in the 1870s. From Alice Alexiou’s The Flatiron:

He set up a canvas screen on top of the Erie ticket office roof, and charged the enterprising owners of stereopticons or “magic lanterns” — these were the first slide projectors, invented about twenty years earlier and now extremely popular — to project advertisements upon the screen. Madison Square, just opposite, provided the perfect place for the spectators. To keep them interested, the operator alternated pictures with the ads, all in rapid succession. “Niagara Falls dissolves into a box of celebrated boot blacking, and the celebrated blacking is superseded by a jungle scene, which fades into an extraordinarily cheap suite of furniture,” wrote a reporter in Scribner’s Magazine in August 1880. Sometimes in the Young Men’s Christian Association paid to add their messages — “The blood of Christ cleanses all from sin,” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved” — to the mix. On balmy evenings, the slide displays lasted until as late as ten o’clock. Even in cold and nasty weather, the free shows drew crowds. The New York Times began using Eno’s screen for their news bulletins. The experiment drew huge crowds. “All the important events of the day were rapidly displayed in large letters… so that the public was at once informed of the news. From 7 o’clock until midnight the bulletins appeared in quick succession… The latest move in Erie, the Tweed trial, the hotel inspections, the doings of Congress… the messages being transmitted by telegraph from the Times office, as soon as received,” the Times reported on January 14, 1873. The New York Tribune now also began buying time on Eno’s screen. On election nights, Eno’s flatiron was now the nerve center of New York, as Democratic and Republican Party bigwigs held court across the street in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers filled Madison Square, where, staring at the screen, the waited eagerly for election returns.

Not to get all Victorian Internet on you, but that sounds a little like Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat.

Eno was not the first to use such a system to disseminate information. Before baseball games were broadcast on the radio, enterprising business and newspaper owners used information from frequent telegraph messages to display scores from the games in increasingly engaging ways. In Georgia, they even cosplayed games from telegraph intel:

“A novel feature of the report was the actual running of the bases by uniformed boys, who obeyed the telegraph instrument in their moves around the diamond. Great interest prevailed and all enjoyed the report,” read the Atlanta Constitution on April 17, 1886. (And as if that wasn’t enough to entice you, the paper also noted that “A great many ladies were present.”)

Which brings us back to that photo of the Flatiron. Just as the telegraph-assisted baseball game wasn’t “the real thing” or in some sense “authentic”, neither is Steichen’s print. For starters, it’s not the only one. Steichen made three prints from that same shot, one in 1904, another in 1905, and the last in 1909, the one shown above. You’ll notice that each of the prints is a slightly different color…he applied a different pigment suspended in gum bichromate over a platinum print for each one. The 1909 print was time-delayed, a duplicate, and painted on…was it even a proper photograph? Perhaps some in that era didn’t think so, but I believe time has proved that “great interest prevailed and all enjoyed” Steichen’s photographs. *snaps suspenders*

Lo and Behold, a film about “the connected world” by Werner Herzog

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Well, holy shit…Werner Herzog has made a film called Lo and Behold about the online world and artificial intelligence.

Lo and Behold traces what Herzog describes as “one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing,” from its most elevating accomplishments to its darkest corners. Featuring original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the film travels through a series of interconnected episodes that reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships.

From the trailer, it looks amazing. Gotta see this asap.

Update: Here’s the official trailer for the film:

Have the monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting.

It’s coming out in theaters and iTunes/Amazon on August 19th. Can’t wait!

A brief history of swearing in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2016

Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word “fuck”. NSFW if you’ve got your fucking sound turned up.

Liquid columns of falling animated people

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

This is a bunch of animated naked people falling into two precise columns. Mesmerizing. Perhaps a little NSFW? And throw some headphones on…the sound, while subtle, is essential.

See also that video — you remember the one — of a bunch of computer-generated people being mowed down by a rotating bar.

The Godfather Epic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

This month, HBO is airing a special edition of The Godfather that presents scenes from the first two movies in chronological order with some deleted scenes mixed in for good measure. It’s more than 7 hours long. It’s not listed anywhere on HBO’s site, but supposedly it’ll run all month on HBO and their online and on-demand services.

What the NYC subway train saw

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

YouTube user DJ Hammers has been uploading videos of start-to-finish trips on NYC subway lines from the perspective of the operator at the front of the train. The realtime videos are interesting to watch, but the 10x time lapses are probably a better use of your attention. Here’s the time lapse of the Queens-bound 7 train (realtime version):

See also Slow TV.

The One with Chicken Bob

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

Twitter user Andy Pandy fed the scripts for all the episodes of Friends into a neural network and had it generate new scenes. Here’s what it came up with.

Neuro Friends

Neuro Friends

(via @buzz)

A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of standing on the escalator

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

The London Underground recently conducted an experiment on one of the escalators leading out of the busy Holborn station. Instead of letting people walk up the left side of the escalator, they asked them to stand on both sides.

The theory, if counterintuitive, is also pretty compelling. Think about it. It’s all very well keeping one side of the escalator clear for people in a rush, but in stations with long, steep walkways, only a small proportion are likely to be willing to climb. In lots of places, with short escalators or minimal congestion, this doesn’t much matter. But a 2002 study of escalator capacity on the Underground found that on machines such as those at Holborn, with a vertical height of 24 metres, only 40% would even contemplate it. By encouraging their preference, TfL effectively halves the capacity of the escalator in question, and creates significantly more crowding below, slowing everyone down. When you allow for the typical demands for a halo of personal space that persist in even the most disinhibited of commuters — a phenomenon described by crowd control guru Dr John J Fruin as “the human ellipse”, which means that they are largely unwilling to stand with someone directly adjacent to them or on the first step in front or behind — the theoretical capacity of the escalator halves again. Surely it was worth trying to haul back a bit of that wasted space.

Leaving aside “the human ellipse” for now,1 how did the theory work in the real life trial? The stand-only escalator moved more than 25% more people than usual:

But the preliminary evidence is clear: however much some people were annoyed, Lau’s hunch was right. It worked. Through their own observations and the data they gathered, Harrison and her team found strong evidence to back their case. An escalator that carried 12,745 customers between 8.30 and 9.30am in a normal week, for example, carried 16,220 when it was designated standing only. That didn’t match Stoneman’s theoretical numbers: it exceeded them.

But not everyone liked being asked to stand for the common good:

“This is a charter for the lame and lazy!” said one. “I know how to use a bloody escalator!” said another. The pilot was “terrible”, “loopy,” “crap”, “ridiculous”, and a “very bad idea”; in a one-hour session, 18 people called it “stupid”. A customer who was asked to stand still replied by giving the member of staff in question the finger. One man, determined to stride to the top come what may, pushed a child to one side. “Can’t you let us walk if we want to?” asked another. “This isn’t Russia!”

There’s a lesson in income inequality here somewhere…1

  1. What a phrase! Check out Fruin’s chapter on Designing for Pedestrians for more.

  2. Ok, explicitly: the people standing are poor, the people walking are rich, and speed is income. When the walkers redistribute some of their speed to the whole group, on average everyone gets to where they’re going faster. But the walkers are unwilling to give up walking because they believe their own individual speed will prevail. “This isn’t Russia!” indeed.

Out-of-control washing machine bounces on trampoline

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

If you’re keeping tabs at home, this is the third video I’ve posted to kottke.org featuring self-destructing washing machines. While not quite as good as this one — “it seems as though the washer is attempting to turn into the Picasso version of itself” — there’s a sublime moment where this chaotic neutral washing machine seemingly defies gravity by hanging in the air like Michael Jordan.

Michael Pollan gets his own Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2016

Food writer Michael Pollan — author of The Botany of Desire (my fave of his) and originator of the world’s best simple diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — is the subject of a four-part Netflix series called Cooked. The series is based on Pollan’s book of the same name and debuts on February 19.

Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the “Fire” episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the “Water” episode, he’ll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled “Air” explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, “Earth,” looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that “surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.”

Announcing this show only a month out and unaccompanied by a trailer? I have no idea what Netflix is thinking sometimes.

Update: Cooked is now available on Netflix. The NY Times has a review. (via @Ilovetoscore)

The invention of farming

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2016

Where Farming Began

A wonderful map by National Geographic of the Fertile Crescent highlighting where the domestication of grains and livestock first took hold.

I’m currently reading an interesting and provocative book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. He calls the Agricultural Revolution “history’s biggest fraud”.

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

Harari also argues that wheat domesticated humans, not the other way around:

Think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a small range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of miles without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 870,000 square miles of the globe’s surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous?

Wheat did it by manipulating Homo sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. It wasn’t easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them. Wheat didn’t like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn’t like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was attacked by rabbits and locust swarms, so the farmers built fences and stood guard over the fields. Wheat was thirsty, so humans dug irrigation canals or lugged heavy buckets from the well to water it. Sapiens even collected animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew.

The body of Homo sapiens had not evolved for such tasks. It was adapted to climbing apple trees and running after gazelles, not to clearing rocks and carrying water buckets. Human spines, knees, necks and arches paid the price. Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture brought about a plethora of ailments, such as slipped discs, arthritis and hernias. Moreover, the new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields. This completely changed their way of life. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word ‘domesticate’ comes from the Latin domus, which means ‘house’. Who’s the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It’s the Sapiens.

The book is full of crackling passages like that…and this one:

History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

I am enjoying reading it a lot. (via @CharlesCMann)

FootGolf

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2016

It took me a few minutes to realize that FootGolf, like chessboxing, is an actual sport and not a Funny or Die skit. As you might have guessed, FootGolf is golf but with soccer balls and feet instead of golf balls and clubs.

Creepy skinless animatronic babies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2016

Has your day been insufficiently creepy? Not anymore! You may not be able to sleep properly after looking at this video of animatronic babies, some of them without their “skin” on. (via @machinepix)

Magical chocolate milk erases concussion effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

This is America in a nutshell. Instead of banning kids from playing football, as the world’s leading expert on the football-related head injuries urges, a school district is having their football players drink a brand of chocolate milk that has been shown in a preliminary study to “improve their cognitive and motor function over the course of a season, even after experiencing concussions”.

Experimental groups drank Fifth Quarter Fresh after each practice and game, sometimes six days a week, while control groups did not consume the chocolate milk. Analysis was performed on two separate groups: athletes who experienced concussions during the season and those who did not. Both non-concussed and concussed groups showed positive effects from the chocolate milk.

Non-concussed athletes who drank Maryland-produced Fifth Quarter Fresh showed better cognitive and motor scores over nine test measures after the season as compared to the control group.

Concussed athletes drinking the milk improved cognitive and motor scores in four measures after the season as compared to those who did not.

Vice Sports has a quick look at what’s wrong with this study.

See also these new helmets designed to “prevent” concussions. The problem is not poorly designed helmets or lack of magic chocolate milk. Those things only make matters worse by implicitly condoning poor behavior, e.g. if helmets prevent concussions, it’ll gradually result in harder hitting, which will result in more injuries.

How to make perfect soft-scrambled eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

I love watching Gordon Ramsay make scrambled eggs. I first saw this video years ago and, possibly because I am an idiot, have yet to attempt these eggs at home. You and me, eggs, next weekend.

P.S. Jean-Georges Vongerichten makes scrambled eggs in a very similar way. Not quite soft-scrambled…Serious Eats calls them fancy French spoonable eggs.

P.P.S. Anyone have a square Japanese omelette pan I can borrow?

P.P.P.S. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi (now on Netflix!), an apprentice talks about making tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) over 200 times before Jiro declared it good enough to serve in his restaurant.

That apprentice, Daisuke Nakazawa, is now the head chef at Sushi Nakazawa, one of the five NYC restaurants that currently has a four-star rating from the NY Times (along with the aforementioned Jean-Georges and not along with Per Se, which recently got dunce capped down to 2 stars by populist hero Pete Wells).

Why The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, explains why the third movie in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best film in the series — spoiler: because Alfonso Cuarón — and why that matters for the young fans of the series: for some, it’s their first exposure to good filmmaking.

Visual effects breakdown for The Force Awakens

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

A look at how some of the most arresting visual effects were done in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The filmmakers used many real sets and models (i.e. practical effects), but there were also 2100 shots in the movie with digital effects.

Update: The original video was removed, but I replaced it with one that’s a bit better.

Update: Here’s how the visual effects on the Millennium Falcon’s escape from Jakku scene were done.

Update: ILM released their official look at the visual effects.

Adele rapping Nicki Minaj’s verses from Monster is everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

James Corden does this thing on the Late Late Show where he drives around with singers doing karaoke in a car. Yesterday, he picked up Adele and they drove around singing a few of her songs and then she did, without dropping a word, Nicki Minaj’s verses from Monster1 (starts at about the 10:15 mark). Soooo good. (via @djacobs)

  1. Which is, for my money, one of the rap performances of all time, album or no.

Alan Rickman, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2016

In this short video (oh just be patient and watch the whole damn thing), Alan Rickman demonstrates how I feel this morning that he has died of cancer at the age of 69. (Same age and affliction as Bowie, you’ll note.)

That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. “Parts win prizes, not actors,” he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.

“Actors are agents of change,” he said. “A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”

I loved Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, but I’ll remember his turn as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films the most. Among several fantastic actors in that series, Rickman’s performance was arguably the best. Many characters in Potter struggled between the good and not-so-good sides of themselves (including Harry and Dumbledore) but none of them carried that battle off as well as Rickman’s Snape.

Bull’s Head by Pablo Picasso

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

Before the holiday break, I took in the Picasso Sculpture show at MoMA. Sculpture typically isn’t my cup of tea art-wise (or Picasso-wise) and much of the exhibition was lost on me, but Bull’s Head stopped me in my tracks.

Picasso, Bull's Head

Picasso once said of the piece:

Guess how I made the bull’s head? One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled up together, I found an old bicycle seat right next to a rusty set of handlebars. In a flash, they joined together in my head. The idea of the Bull’s Head came to me before I had a chance to think. All I did was weld them together… [but] if you were only to see the bull’s head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact.

The piece is, at once, just barely over the line of what can be considered art and also so wonderfully artistic. Love it.

The secret world of casinos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

From Ben Schott, an examination of the inner workings, personnel, and lingo of casinos.

It is curious how irrational even experienced dealers and floor men can be, though inexplicable runs of luck may signal a flaw in security.

Supervisors have been known to perform a range of rituals to cool the action: Shaking salt behind players or under tables, turning the drop-box paddle around in its slot, standing on one leg, swapping out winning dice or cards-sometimes for replacements that have literally been chilled in a fridge. One shift manager places a folded surveillance photograph of a “lucky” player inside his shoe before walking the floor.

Craps is a hotbed of superstition. Pit bosses have been known to place seven ashtrays around a table, to spray paint the number seven on the table when changing the cloth and even to have “hot” tables moved an inch or so. Unscrupulous dealers might throw coins under the table to bring bad luck or find any excuse to touch the dice or brush against a shooter.

I still think it’s hilarious that casinos ban players for counting cards but it’s perfectly ok for the casinos to have the advantage in every single game they offer.

Kubrick in Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

A video exploring Stanley Kubrick’s use of color in his films. See also Kubrick’s use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)

Massive data analysis of NYC Citi Bike data

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

Late last year, Todd Schneider did a big data analysis of taxi and Uber usage in NYC. This morning, he posted the results of a similar analysis for Citi Bike.

But unlike the taxi data, Citi Bike includes demographic information about its riders, namely gender, birth year, and subscriber status. At first glance that might not seem too revealing, but it turns out that it’s enough to uniquely identify many Citi Bike trips. If you know the following information about an individual Citi Bike trip:

1. The rider is an annual subscriber
2. Their gender
3. Their birth year
4. The station where they picked up a Citi Bike
5. The date and time they picked up the bike, rounded to the nearest hour

Then you can uniquely identify that individual trip 84% of the time! That means you can find out where and when the rider dropped off the bike, which might be sensitive information. Because men account for 77% of all subscriber trips, it’s even easier to uniquely identify rides by women: if we restrict to female riders, then 92% of trips can be uniquely identified.

Frozen soap bubbles are beautiful

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

The man who shot the video writes:

An inspiration for this session was a conversation with my 3year old daughter while dressing up to go out:

- Daddy, I don’t want to put this jacket on. - she moaned

- Me too, darling but it is very cold outside. - I explained

- How cold?

and I had to figure out an interesting answer which would satisfy a preschooler’s curiosity, so I told her:

- It is so cold that even soap bubbles freeze and it looks really beautiful, you know?

I saw a sparkle in her eye so I promised to make a film to show her that. She was so excited about this idea that of course she forgot that she didn’t want to put her jacket on. It wasn’t easy to capture those bubbles because only around 5-10% of them didn’t break instantly and as you can imagine it was a challenge to be patient at -15 Celsius ;) but it was worth it because now that my daughter has seen it, winter is magic for her.

(via devour)

Editing as Punctuation in Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

Riffing on Kathryn Schulz’s piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.

Wait for The Wolf, who should be coming directly…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

A company called Studio D recently published their corporate end-of-the-year report for 2015. It is unlike most other companies’ year-end reports. Studio D, which was founded by global citizen Jan Chipchase, “specialises in sensitive research topics requiring a very discreet presence; through to working in higher risk environments”.

This year the studio was joined by two four-legged team members: Ramoosh the camel purchased from the livestock market in Hargeysa; and Neyy a goat bought on the road between Harare and Bindura. As is the local norm in a country with limited electricity and even less refrigeration, Neyy was gifted to an interviewee as a small thank-you — anything larger wouldn’t be possible to eat in one sitting and would spoil after slaughter. Both were expensed.

The company also debuted the 1M Hauly Heist, which is a ultra-durable and discreet travel pack that will carry $1 million in US $100 bills and shield electronics from RF tracking. The 1M Hauly Heist made it onto my 2015 holiday gift list.

The Syrian lodger

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2016

In the Guardian, an English woman named Helen takes in a Syrian refugee as a lodger and shares her story:

What does he make of my bourgeois life? He does not appreciate the middle-class obsession with sanded floorboards, when we could all afford wall-to-wall carpets. He cannot believe I own a cook book holder. Cook books themselves he finds hilarious; the women in Yasser’s life have always cooked for him (he is an excellent washer-upper) and his early forays into gastronomy appalled and amused me in equal measure. One morning he asked me how to turn on the oven. I showed him, asking what he wanted to warm up. “Safari eggs,” he said. No amount of miming or Google Translate could make me understand. It was something he’d bought the previous night, he said, rummaging through the bin for the packaging of what turned out to be “savoury eggs” — scotch eggs. “Two things you need to know about these eggs, Yasser,” I said. “One, we eat them cold. Two, they contain pork and you don’t eat pork.”

And her lodger, Yasser, shares his side:

Soon after I moved in, Helen threw a Halloween party — my first. She dressed up in a fake white beard, with black rings round her eyes. “I’m Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party,” she said. “Then I should be David Cameron,” I replied. I didn’t really mean it, but Helen liked the idea. I borrowed a suit and shaved my beard. She taught me some catchphrases about hard-working families, low tax something and housing benefits. The idea of a Syrian refugee dressed up as David Cameron was very amusing for other people. People drank so much at the party. I couldn’t believe the recycling bin the next day!

I had a good time and things began to be less awkward. Every one of Helen’s friends offered to help me if need be. Some of them offered to help me with my English. You hear things about British people; that although they might smile at you, they never show their true feelings. This hasn’t been true for me. Although I come from a completely different culture, I found something very familiar. People are loving, thoughtful and compassionate, both here in Britain and back in Syria.

RIP David Bowie, 1947-2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

Bowie Hair

David Bowie died Sunday from cancer. Dave Pell at Nextdraft has a nice roundup of links, writing:

In the NYT obituary, Jon Pareles writes: “Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut.” Maybe that’s why there is such an outpouring of emotion at the news of David Bowie’s death at the age of 69. Everyone feels like an outsider and Bowie made being an outsider feel more like being ahead of the curve. Today, there are people who are famous for nothing. David Bowie was famous for everything.

Bowie was also quite keen on the Internet:

Quartz calls him a tech visionary, and there’s this from a 1999 Rolling Stone article: “David Bowie has pulled another cyber-coup by becoming the first major-label artist to sell a complete album online in download form.”

He didn’t get the future exactly right, but authorship and intellectual property has been “in for such a bashing” lately and music sales are down down down:

“Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he added. “So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”

Spotify is the running water and YouTube is the electricity. (Illustration by Helen Green.)

Heliocentrism vs geocentrism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

Helio Vs Geo

With hindsight, it seems bloody obvious the Sun and not the Earth is the center of the solar system. Occam’s razor and all that. (via @somniumprojec)

Filling plot holes in The Force Awakens

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

Some people were bothered over supposed gaps in the plot in The Force Awakens. I wasn’t…save the hand-wringing for more weighty fare. But if you were, the novelization of the movie connects some of the dots left detached. Here are some of the more interesting ones (spoilers, obvs):

The Resistance had no idea Starkiller Base existed. This is extrapolated on quite a bit. Snoke’s decision to destroy the New Republic is about flushing out the Resistance. Utter annihilation of the enemy is a mere side effect. Snoke knew using the weapon would give away the base’s location. The Resistance would then send a reconnaissance team to scout the place and the First Order could follow the scouts back to the Resistance HQ and destroy them once and for all. While this is what happens in the movie, the motivations are a bit murkier.

Kylo Ren knows who Rey is. After failing to call Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber to his hand, Ren turns to Rey — who is now holding the blue lightsaber — and he declares, “It IS you,” and then the fight begins.

Ok, whoa. What does that mean?

Han hadn’t seen Kylo Ren/Ben since he became an adult. When Ben removes the helmet of Kylo Ren, Han Solo is shocked by how grown-up his son looks as he hasn’t seen him since he became an adult. This lends credence to the theory that Snoke seduced a teenaged Ben to the Dark Side. Speaking of which, Leia knew Snoke was trying to get his claws in her son since he was a child and never told Han until right before the Starkiller mission.

[Rey] struggles with the Dark Side almost immediately. Rey might look serene as she finds the Force and battles a badly injured Kylo Ren, but she is fighting with rage. After beating down her opponent, a voice inside her encourages her to kill him. She rejects the notion, but is still struggling with herself when the rift opens up and separates the two of them.

[Ren] also cracked open something in Rey’s mind. One of the advantages of a book is internal narration. When Ren attempts to retrieve the map from Rey’s brain he senses something weird within her mind. Not resistance, but a barrier. Probing at it is what causes Rey to suddenly find herself — with no provocation — inside Ren’s mind. Now this is just speculation, but it certainly sounds like someone had walled off Rey’s Force sensitivity and Kylo Ren accidentally broke down the wall.

The script for the movie clarifies a few things as well.

Luke Skywalker Immediately Knows Who Rey Is and Why She Is Here. The script describes Luke Skywalker as being older now, with white hair and a beard. It says that he looks at Rey with a “kindness in his eyes, but there’s something tortured, too.” Most interestingly, it says that Luke “doesn’t need to ask her who she is, or what she is doing here.” Does this mean that he knows Rey is his child? Or does this mean that he knows because of the Force? The script only adds that “his look says it all.”

Kylo Ren Is Horrified By His Actions. The script gives us some internal insight into Kylo Ren after he just killed his father Han Solo. The screenplay notes that “Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act,” noting that he is “horrified” and his “SHOCK is broken only when” Chewbacca cries out in agony.

Fun fact that I just discovered: the novelizations of all three of the original Star Wars movies were released before the movies came out! Star Wars the book came out 6 months before the movie, Empire a month before, and Jedi a couple of weeks before. I’m amazed you could walk into a bookstore an entire month before The Empire Strikes Back was released and discover that Vader was Luke’s father. Truly a different approach to spoilers.

CNN previews The State of the Union address in the style of Wes Anderson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

They should have roped Mothersbaugh in on the music, but this was actually really informative! And the Bobby Jindal slow-mo was [kiss-fingers emoji].

Streetbeefs, a real-life Fight Club

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

Chris Wilmore was devastated after his close friend was shot to death on Christmas Eve in 2013, in a dispute over a woman.

Mr. Wilmore, known in his Harrisonburg, Va., neighborhood as Scarface, has his own history with weapons and crime, but he began thinking of ways to squash the gun violence plaguing his community.

He started actively recruiting people with “beefs” to put on boxing gloves and take their arguments off the streets and into his backyard fight club, where he films the action and a referee calls a winner.

I did not enjoying watching the actual fighting, but the second half of the video, in which Wilmore attempts to get a pair of men into gloves to solve an argument, is A+. I read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton over the holiday break (spoiler: it was excellent); Streetbeefs is new-school dueling with gloves.

The best rapper alive for every year since 1979

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2016

Bigge Smalls

From Complex, a listing of the best rapper alive for each year since 1979, from Grandmaster Caz to Biggie to Nicki to Drake.

Christopher Wallace was only alive for 67 days in 1997, but with a talent so immense, that’s all it took for him to be the most dominant rapper of the year. In the months after Biggie’s March 9 death, it’s almost as if his stock rose. The untimely loss of someone so young, with so much heft in the language of hip-hop, was like a call to reflection. Infatuation with his wit, wordplay, and delivery soared, and 1997, in spite of tragedy, was Biggie’s biggest year.

Life After Death was released just over two weeks after Biggie passed and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album was an ambitious two-disc set with a tracklist comprised of every type of song imaginable. While the diverse styles and subject matter — his daughter’s college plan, kinky sex, hotel heists, a fully-sung ballad — were an organic product of Biggie’s incomparable range, the strategy of Life After Death’s sequencing has become the de facto approach for rap albums in the years since. It’s an incredibly influential project, before you even press play.

Scratch circles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2016

This is a photo of a scratch circle taken by David Marvin:

Scratch Circle

However, the lack of snow and ice on the beaches has allowed unique features called scratch circles, or Scharrkreise, to form on the sand. Etched by windblown, dried dune grasses, the circles take shape when the wind causes a bent stalk of grass to pivot around on its axis, scratching out an arc or full circle in the sand.

This is delightful, a perfect geometric form made by nature in a seemingly random way. (via @BadAstronomer)

What makes Star Wars Star Wars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2016

A short entertaining look at Star Wars’ secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)

A master of the toy piano

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2016

In the first few seconds of this video, Margaret Leng Tan introduces herself:

I’m the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from Juilliard and now I play the toy piano. Life works in mysterious ways.

You can hear more of Tan’s toy piano music on Spotify. (via @robinsloan)

Obama on Our Shared Responsibility regarding guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2016

From a current Washington DC resident and father, an opinion piece in the NY Times called Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility.

Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.

All of us have a role to play - including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.

The gun industry also needs to do its part. And that starts with manufacturers.

As Americans, we hold consumer goods to high standards to keep our families and communities safe. Cars have to meet safety and emissions requirements. Food has to be clean and safe. We will not end the cycle of gun violence until we demand that the gun industry take simple actions to make its products safer as well. If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can’t pull the trigger of a gun.

I applaud the President for his actions, but I am skeptical of technological solutions to social and political problems about guns. I don’t know about you, but my son has been able to open child-proof medicine bottles since he was about 5 years old. Two-year-olds can unlock iPhones and make in-app purchases. The idea of a “safe gun” is a dangerous oxymoron — there’s always the matter of the metal designed to rip through human flesh.

Rosa Parks on To Tell the Truth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2016

In 1980, civil rights hero Rosa Parks appeared on To Tell the Truth, a long-running game show. Parks appeared alongside two other women claiming to be Parks and a celebrity panel tried to guess the identity of the true Parks. See also the appearance of a Lincoln assassination witness on a 50s game show. (via @ptak)

Footballing without feet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2016

If you ever need a good definition for “differently abled” (as opposed to “disabled”), these two videos should suffice.

The best facts I learned from reading The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2016

Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the now-infamous New Yorker piece about earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest, shared a list of the best facts she learned fron books in 2015. Two stuck out for me. The first is from Sarah Hrdy’s Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and provides some necessary context for the debates over birth control and abortion:

In the era before women had any control over their fertility, child abandonment — a de-facto form of infanticide — “affected not tens of thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of babies,” according to the anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy. In Florence, for instance, the average annual rate of infant abandonment between 1500 and 1843 ranged from twelve per cent to forty-three per cent. In response, societies eventually began establishing foundling hospitals, but the mortality rates at these were equally high. Two-thirds of babies left at a Florence foundling home between 1755 and 1773 died before their first birthday; in 1767, mortality rates in foundling homes in St. Petersburg and Moscow reached ninety-nine per cent. While contemporary readers may find these statistics shocking, many people at the time knew exactly what was going on. In the town of Brescia, in northern Italy, residents proposed carving a motto over the entrance to the foundling home: “Here children are killed at public expense.”

And from Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss comes the realization that London’s poor visibility was not limited to outdoors:

Having read my share of Victorian novels, I was familiar with the phenomenon of London fog, but I was surprised to learn, from Lauren Redniss’s “Thunder & Lightning,” that the combination of atmospheric conditions, factory emissions, and coal fires sometimes made the city’s air so impenetrable that visibility was reduced to just a few feet even indoors. That was bad news for theatregoers, who could not see the stage, but good news for thieves, who could not be seen. Worse, ambulances got lost, trucks accidentally drove into the Thames, and at least one airplane overshot its runway. Conditions began to improve only in 1956, with the passage of England’s Clean Air Act.

Thanks, Kathryn!

White people are pissed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2016

From Dave Pell at Nextdraft, who says that “rage is all the rage these days”, comes the results of an Esquire/NBC News poll about how angry Americans are these days. Americans are more angry, especially white Americans.

Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what — these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef — we found three main factors shaping American rage.

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot recently and I think part of the rage white Americans feel has to do with a perceived relative loss of power and status. I mean, look who’s in the Oval Office right now…a black Muslim man who wasn’t even born here!

Two Saturnian moons, lined up

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2016

Saturn Two Moons

The Cassini spacecraft took a photo of two moons of Saturn, Tethys and Enceladus, beautifully aligned with each other. The cosmic ballet goes on. (via slate)

The face of Crystal Skull Vodka

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2016

Crystal Skull Vodka Face

You know the vodka that comes in the Crystal Skull head?1 A forensic scientist used facial reconstruction techniques to give the skull a face.

  1. Fun fact: immediately before I went onstage at Webstock, I drank at shot of Crystal Skull vodka. Funner fact: I also took some Vicodin (left over from a dental procedure), which typically mellows me out. Neither did a damn thing to calm my nerves. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

NYPL puts 180,000 public domain images online

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2016

NYPL

NYPL

NYPL

NYPL

Really putting the “public” in “public library”, the New York Public Library has placed 180,000 public domain items online.

Did you know that more than 180,000 of the items in our Digital Collections are in the public domain? That means everyone has the freedom to enjoy and reuse these materials in almost limitless ways. The Library now makes it possible to download such items in the highest resolution available directly from the Digital Collections website. No permission required. No restrictions on use.

“No permission required. No restrictions on use.” And they’re doing it specifically so that people will reuse and remix the images.

“We see digitization as a starting point, not end point,” said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. “We don’t just want to put stuff online and say, ‘Here it is,’ but rev the engines and encourage reuse.”

In an introductory blog post, the library shares some of what’s in the new archive:

Berenice Abbott’s iconic documentation of 1930s New York for the Federal Art Project
Farm Security Administration photographs by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and others
Manuscripts of American literary masters like Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Papers and correspondence of founding American political figures like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison

Fantastic stuff. Well done, NYPL.

Drone footage of New Year’s fireworks over Lima, Peru

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2016

Apparently they set off fireworks everywhere in Lima, Peru when the New Year hits. And Jeff Cremer was there with his drone to capture the craziness. Wow. (via colossal)

“What a film director really directs is the audience’s attention.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

From Tony Zhou comes another episode of Every Frame a Painting. In it, he uses Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder to explore ensemble staging, how movies can direct an audience’s onscreen attention when many people are on the screen at the same time, and why a director would want to do that.

The outside edition of Inside Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

Jordan Hanzon made an edit of Inside Out showing only the “outside” parts of the film…so, none of the stuff with Joy, Sadness, Anger, etc. I bet Pixar had an internal cut like this just to make sure the outside stuff hung together independent of the inside. (via devour1)

  1. I love Devour. They find great videos and curate their selection well. But they never credit their sources. More than a dozen times in recent months, I’ll post a video to kottke.org and it’ll show up on Devour within 30 minutes or so. (How do I know they’re taking from me and not the place I originally found them? Because I often don’t post stuff right away because of my scheduling, pacing, etc.) Anyway, it’s not just me…they take stuff from Colossal and other places as well. It sucks. I’ve complained to them on Twitter and nothing changed. For the past few months, I’ve been using a tit-for-tat approach and not crediting Devour for finding a video on their site. Since it’s the new year, I’m giving them another chance. Come on, Devour, stop being a leech and credit your sources!

Cool Ikea hack: make a bicycle out of a FROSTA stool

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

Ikea Bicycle

With just a few modifications, Samuel Bernier and Andreas Bhends made a working bicycle out of a pair of Ikea FROSTA stools.

(via @kellianderson)

The 2015 Year in Photographs from the official White House photographer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

Pete Souza’s job for the past seven years has been to take photographs of the goings-on at the White House, including its inhabitants, staff, and guests. Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs is a selection of more than 100 photographs that Souza and his staff took last year. A few favorites:

2015 White House

That’s the Obamas beginning a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the brutal police attack of peaceful march to Montgomery accompanied by some of the original marchers. I love the looks on the faces of the various marchers: the dignified determination of John Lewis, the appropriate solemnity of the President and First Lady, and the carefree expressions of Sasha and Malia.1

2015 White House

Obama’s like Subzero from Mortal Kombat but with rainbows.

2015 White House

I’m not sure there will ever be another President in my lifetime I love as much as this one.

  1. The progression of generational expressions reminds me of that quote from John Adams: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” (thx @samuelfine)

Radiohead’s James Bond theme

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

Radiohead were commissioned to write the theme song for Spectre, the newest James Bond movie. The movie’s producers decided to go in a different musical direction, so the band recently put the rejected song up on Soundcloud. Enjoy. (via df)

Update: They took the full version down from Soundcloud but it’s up on Spotify.

You guys, the new elements are out!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

IUPAC, the governing body for the official periodic table of elements, has announced the addition of four new elements to the table: ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium. Those are working names…the teams that discovered each element has been invited to name them.

The proposed names and symbols will be checked by the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC for consistency, translatability into other languages, possible prior historic use for other cases, etc. New elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.

Ununoctium is so unstable that its half-life is 0.89 milliseconds and only three or four atoms of the substance have been produced in the past 10 years.

Of Oz the Wizard, an alphabetized version of The Wizard of Oz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

Of Oz the Wizard is the entire Wizard of Oz movie presented in alphabetical order by dialogue. So it starts with all the scenes where Dorothy and the gang say “a”, “aaiee”, “along”, and proceeds through “you’re” and “zipper”. Even the words on each of the title cards are sorted alphabetically.

(I feel like I’ve posted this before — or something like it — but I can’t find it in the archives. Anyone?)

Update: Ah yes, I was thinking of this alphabetized version of Star Wars (which I’ve seen before but somehow never posted):

Another example is Thomson & Craighead’s The Time Machine. Matt Bucy, the creator of Of Oz the Wizard, seems to have pioneered this technique (the Vimeo page indicates it was completed in April 2004) but didn’t post the video online until a few days ago. (via @Mister_Milligan, @sannahahn)

Obama considers executive actions on gun control

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

President Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch today to discuss possible executive actions to curb gun violence.

Recalling the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people — 20 of them children — and left many grimly hopeful it would lead to an overhaul of the nation’s gun laws, the president accused lawmakers of bowing to the gun lobby and blocking necessary changes.

“All across America, survivors of gun violence and those who lost a child, a parent, a spouse to gun violence are forced to mark such awful anniversaries every single day,” Mr. Obama said. “And yet Congress still hasn’t done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families.”

Good.

Update: Obama announced his plans for increased gun control today in an emotional speech. Vox has an explanation of the actions that will be taken.

An appreciation of Tekserve

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

Dwell has a short feature on Tekserve, a beloved Manhattan technology store and Apple service shop.

But think about that: you can walk in, take a ticket (like at the deli counter), and then talk to a live person, someone knowledgeable who will give you diagnostics right on the spot and provide you with options. We have a 30-year history of working with the Apple community, so we really know our stuff. Our community trusts us-that’s why we maintain an 80 percent repeat customer rate.

In November, after many stubborn months of using my Macbook Air as a desk-bound device because the battery was so bad that accidentally kicking out the power cord would shut the whole thing down,1 I took it in to Tekserve. I’d somehow never been there before, even though friends had raved about it. The store immediately reminded me of the computer stores of my youth, when you could actually tinker with the guts of these machines. Today’s technology shops, like the Apple Store, are so antiseptic that you barely even think about how the computers work, which I guess is part of the appeal for both company and patron.

Anyway, I took my laptop in there around midday on a Thursday, they quoted me a lower-than-I-expected price for the battery replacement, and told me it’d probably be read by the end of Friday or possibly, if they were super busy, by first thing Monday. I got an email about 3 hours later saying it was ready. Great service. If you need service on your Apple products — they are an “authorized Apple Premiere Partner” which means they honor warranties, AppleCare, etc. — you should definitely check Tekserve out.

  1. More like Macbook Ground, am I right? … Hello?

Is Han Solo Force-sensitive?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

How can Han Solo talk to and understand any alien he meets? Why is he such a gifted pilot? In this short piece from 2008, Tim Carmody answers those questions and more: Han Solo Has the Force.

Luke and Vader (especially young Anakin) are remarkable, inventive pilots, as is Lando, but Han blows them all away. In one scene after another in Empire, Han is able to perform feats that Artoo or Threepio say are mathematically near-impossible. He does this in a ship that has a remarkable warp-speed computer but which appears singularly unsuited for close-quarters maneuvers. Finally, he gets the drop on Vader in Episode IV, and while Vader may have been distracted by his sensations re: Luke, this is still evidence that we are dealing with a very special pilot.

And there’s further evidence from The Force Awakens (slight spoilers!): he shoots a stormtrooper with a blaster without looking. As I recall, it wasn’t a look-away, like this Cristiano pass or this Jordan assist, it was more like he could actually see the stormtrooper behind him. (Of course, Cristiano and Jordan might also be Force-sensitive, but that’s another post.)

(I don’t know) how to recover from an accident

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

Emma Carmichael and her cousin Molly were hit by a truck this summer. Their bodies and minds are slowly healing.

I talked about it in the weeks following, as friends came to visit. “Want to hear what I remember?” I’d ask. I was prepared, even if my audience was not. For a while, I found comfort in re-telling it, and even in seeing their horror. I couldn’t remember much, but I could tell you about where we’d been standing, and just how it looked when my vision mercifully faded black as I went into shock. Telling it, more than the rods protruding from my body — four down my left leg, one in each hip — was proof that it had happened. It all felt like a dream, so the story mattered.

While not nearly as traumatic as what happened to Carmichael and her cousin, I have been involved in a pair of, uh, happenings over the past two years, a car accident and a very slow-moving non-accident that has completely reshaped my life.1 But I identify completely with her about the weird thing that happens when you tell people news like that. “I was hit by a truck and almost died.” “I was on my bike and got hit by a car and now I have 9 stitches on my thumb.” “You haven’t heard, but _________ and _______ are ________.” It stops the conversation dead and you can see the other person completely reform themselves around your news. One sentence changes them and it happens right in front of you. It’s a powerful ability, to make someone feel so bad so quickly.

But we were so lucky, I’ve said again and again. I know it’s true, and also that it’s a hollow line for a moment of chance I’m unable to make sense of.

My bike accident was not my fault. The driver ran a red light and hit me.1 The thumb on my dominant hand got sliced up, it was difficult to work for a couple weeks, I have thousands of dollars in medical bills, my hand still hurts more than a month and a half later, and the doctor who took my stitches out casually mentioned that it would take “6 to 9 months” before I would know if I’d get full, normal feeling back in my thumb (which means that I might not have a normal-feeling thumb again). I should be super pissed at the driver (it was a fucking Uber, of course) and really frustrated about the whole thing. But I just can’t work up any negative emotion about it at all. The only thing I feel is really really lucky. It could have been so much worse…six inches to the left and maybe I’d be unable to type this.

  1. Yeah, sorry, I’m not going to tell you what this is. It’s not that tough to guess if you’ve been paying attention.

  2. I still blame myself for it. A little. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry and distracted from researching health insurance options for my kids (health insurance “options” for the self-employed in NYC are maddening!), I would have been paying more attention, and it wouldn’t have happened. That’s the deal with biking in NYC: the second you stop paying proper attention to everything around you, you’re at risk.

12 Days of Evolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2016

From It’s OK To Be Smart, a 12-part series explaining evolution.

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