Hold up! There’s an amusement park in NJ right outside of Philly called Diggerland USA where you can operate construction equipment, dig holes with backhoes, and drive asphalt rollers?!? How is this not the most popular amusement park in the entire world?
John Francis Peters photographed San Diego cliff jumpers for a series he calls Falling. My favorites are the shots where he catches the jumpers in mid-air, before they hit the water. On the cusp, just like that Nirvana video from yesterday. A book of the photographs, published in a limited edition of 300, is available.
This is a devastating commentary on sororities by Victoria Valentine, a simple intercutting of scenes from contemporary sorority life with vintage video on how to start a mind control cult.
My freshman roommate in college joined a fraternity at the end of the year. We were supposed to be roommates our sophomore year, but a couple weeks before school started, I was informed that I’d be living with a different roommate. My ex-roommate moved into the fraternity dorm and pretty much cut ties with his freshman-year friends, preferring the exclusive company of his brothers for the next several months. College is a time of fluid relationships and identity and my friend and I were eventually able to reconnect, but the whole thing was really disturbing and cult-like for awhile.
Comedian, actor, and director Mike Birbiglia wrote a short piece for the NY Times with advice on how to get started in a creative career. Much of this you’ve heard before, but Birbiglia’s version is succinct and concisely argued. He and I agree on the #1 piece of advice:
1. DON’T WAIT. Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.
His “small but great” point is right on the money as well. (via @Richie_boy)
Starting with the earliest use of the technique at the beginning of the 20th century, this video showcases the use of stop motion animation in film, right on up to the recent release of Kubo. Along the way, you’ll see King Kong, Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering work, Star Wars, Aardman, Tim Burton, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Watching those early clips…audiences must have been completely blown away by those now-crude special effects. The brush is cleaning those shoes all by itself!
See also Creating the VFX Masterpiece of Kubo and the Two Strings.
While attempting to do a commercial for the chicken pot pie at Dysart’s Restaurant in Maine, this gentleman has a little problem with saying his lines. This just gets funnier and funnier as it goes on, and it is imperative that you watch until the very end. This is the hardest I’ve laughed all week.
P.S. If you live in New England, you can get a Dysart’s pie shipped right to your house. Fruit pies only, but they presumably still have that buttery crispy crun- … dammit! (via @heyadamroberts)
An advertising poster for Italian typewriter company Olivetti by graphic designer Giovanni Pintori.
This is a video of Nirvana playing Smells Like Teen Spirit in a small club just two days after Nevermind came out in 1991. There’s a freight train bearing down on those boys and they don’t even know it. (via digg)
See also The Notorious B.I.G. freestyling on a Brooklyn corner at 17 and LL Cool J plays to a mostly empty gymnasium in Maine…he was also just 17.
Update: And here’s 40+ minutes from the same show at which they played Drain You, Polly, and Breed. (via @fimoculous)
This Reddit user takes photos posted by people and turns them into posters for fictional movies. Some of these should be optioned…has a movie ever started as a poster before? (via one perfect shot)
Update: I previously described this as the effort of a Reddit forum…it actually just one user. (thx, all)
Beyonce performed a 15-minute medley of songs from Lemonade Sunday night at the MTV Video Music Awards. Whether you didn’t catch it the first time around or have seen it 20 times, it’s worth watching with your full attention. This is Exhibit A in How to Be a Performer in 2016. Masterful.
BTW, have we talked about how unprecedentedly great Beyonce is? After four years with Destiny’s Child, she’s 14 years into her solo recording career and Lemonade is her sixth solo studio album. And it’s her best album…as was the album before that when it came out. She’s always been a wonderful singer and entertainer, but with the last three albums, she’s pushed her output toward the artistic (very successfully, I would say). How many other musical artists, bands, or groups who met early massive success are making their best stuff 14 years and 6 albums in? The list is not long. The Beatles. Radiohead (both In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool are among their very best albums). The Rolling Stones? Who else? Even if there are a few others on the list, it’s still rarified company.
See also this list of iconic VMA moments.
Late last year, actor Ethan Hawke published a book called Rules for a Knight. The book consists of a letter from one of Hawke’s ancestors, a 15th-century Cornish knight, written to his children outlining the rules for being a good person. The letter and ancestor are fictional, but Hawke wrote the book as a guide on living a virtuous life for his own children.
A knight, fearing he may not return from battle, writes a letter to his children in an attempt to leave a record of all he knows. In a series of ruminations on solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience, he draws on the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy, and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time. His intent: to give his children a compass for a journey they will have to make alone, a short guide to what gives life meaning and beauty.
I missed this when it came out, but I’ve run across it twice in the past two weeks, so it appears to be one of those books — perhaps like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — that’s hanging around and resonating with people. Shane Parrish of Farnam Street wrote about the book last week and shared the book’s 20 rules for being a knight.
2. Humility. Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you.
6. Friendship. The quality of your life will, to a large extent, be decided by with whom you elect to spend your time.
10. Grace. Grace is the ability to accept change. Be open and supple; the brittle break.
14. Discipline. In the field of battle, as in all things, you will perform as you practice. With practice, you build the road to accomplish your goals. Excellence lives in attention to detail. Give your all, all the time. Don’t save anything for the walk home. The better a knight prepares, the less willing he will be to surrender.
“Don’t save anything for the walk home.” That’s a nice little homage to Gattaca, in which Ethan Hawke’s genetically flawed character is asked by his brother how he’s been able to excel in society and Hawke answers, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Patrick Metzger noticed that a huge number of pop songs from the past few years use a musical trope that Metzger has dubbed The Millennial Whoop. The video above contains a number of examples. Warning: once you hear it, you will perhaps not be able to enjoy listening to pop music without noticing it.1
I like to call this melodic snippet the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern. And it is in so many pop songs it’s criminal.
Some prominent Millennial Whoop songs include Katy Perry’s California Gurls, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Good Time, and even The Mother We Share by Chvrches.
In his new book The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe argues that speech and not evolution is responsible for the many achievements of humans. Wolfe, the author of The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, went on NPR the other day to talk about the book. This comment about Darwin’s view of speech stuck out (emphasis mine):
He could not figure out what it was. He assumed, because of his theory, that everything evolved from animals. And didn’t even include it in his theory, language, until he decided that it came from our imitation of the cries of birds. And I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals — actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. There are very few physical signs, aside from the general resemblance of apes and humans. The big evolution, if you want to call it that, is that this one species, Homo sapiens, came up with this ingenious trick, which is language.
It’s one thing to say that speech did not evolve from the utterances of previous animals and was instead invented by humans, but it’s quite another to assert that humans did not evolve from animals at all.1 Gonna be fun to sit back and watch the controversy roil on this one. (via @JossFong who said “lazy saturday, just listening to @NPR when ….. WHAT”)
The very beginning of Attack of the Killer Robots by Sarah Topol features this quote by Stuart Russell, a Berkeley computer science professor. It is terrifying:
A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.
There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don’t get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.
They could be here in two to three years.
Who needs a hug?
As with many other ordinary everyday processes, if you film melting ice cream and popsicles up close and over time, it looks pretty damn cool. (No pun intended.) (Ok, pun intended, who are we kidding?)
Here’s a gem from the archive of the NY Times. One day in September 1976, NY Times food critic Mimi Sheraton and Colonel Harland Sanders stopped into a Manhattan Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Colonel, then estranged from the company he founded, strolled into the kitchen after glad-handing some patrons and proceeded to tear into the quality of the food:
Once in the kitchen, the colonel walked over to a vat full of frying chicken pieces and announced, ‘That’s much too black. It should be golden brown. You’re frying for 12 minutes — that’s six minutes too long. What’s more, your frying fat should have been changed a week ago. That’s the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen. Let me see your mashed potatoes with gravy, and how do you make them?”
When Mr. Singleton explained that he first mixed boiling water into the instant powdered potatoes, the colonel interrupted. “And then you have wallpaper paste,” he said. “Next suppose you add some of this brown gravy stuff and then you have sludge.” “There’s no way anyone can get me to swallow those potatoes,” he said after tasting some. “And this cole slaw. This cole slaw! They just won’t listen to me. It should he chopped, not shredded, and it should be made with Miracle Whip. Anything else turns gray. And there should be nothing in it but cabbage. No carrots!”
Sanders sold his company to an investment group in 1964, which took the company public two years later and eventually sold to a company called Heublein. After selling, Sanders officially still worked for the company as an advisor but grew more and more dissatisfied with it, as evidenced by the story above. When the company HQ moved to Tennessee, the Colonel was quoted as saying:
This ain’t no goddam Tennessee Fried Chicken, no matter what some slick, silk-suited son-of-a-bitch says.
And he got sued by a KFC franchisee after he commented:
My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste. And I know wallpaper paste, by God, because I’ve seen my mother make it.
To the “wallpaper paste” they add some sludge and sell it for 65 or 75 cents a pint. There’s no nutrition in it and the ought not to be allowed to sell it.
And another thing. That new crispy chicken is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken.
Colonel Sanders: serving up chicken and sick burns with equal spiciness. (via @mccanner)
In addition to robots that run fast, can’t be knocked over, launch themselves 30 feet into the air, and climb up walls, Boston Dynamics also makes robots who move like people. Now, imagine if that robot swore like a longshoreman while going about its duties. This made me laugh super hard. (via @nickkokonas)
Amazon just launched Amazon Vehicles. I immediately went to see if their one-click ordering worked with $58,000 cars, but Vehicles is not a store but a shopping guide. (Amazon calls it a “car research destination and automotive community”.) You can sort by make, model, year, body style, MPG, etc. Here are all the electric vehicles, including the 2016 Tesla X. They have older cars too, like this 1965 Mustang Shelby GT-350 convertible, this 1961 Corvette and this 1972 El Camino. You can’t sort by price, but this Mercedes-Benz S65 was one of the most expensive cars I found ($234,050).
Having purchased a car in the last six months, I can see the appeal of being able to browse through all the different brands and makes of cars in a familiar interface. This will be a full-fledged store before too long, yes?
I had heard months ago that Errol Morris was releasing a new documentary called The B-Side but couldn’t really find any information about it (it’s not even listed on Wikipedia). But the film is being screened soon at both the Toronto and New York film festivals, so some information is filtering out there. The film is about photographer Elsa Dorfman, who is known for her use of the large-format Polaroid 20” x 24” camera. From the description of the film on the New York film festival site:
Errol Morris’s surprising new film is simplicity itself: a visit to the Cambridge, Massachusetts studio of his friend, the 20x24 Polaroid portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who specifies on her website that she likes her subjects “to wear clothes (and to bring toys, skis, books, tennis racquets, musical instruments, and particularly pets…).” As this charming, articulate, and calmly uncompromising woman takes us through her fifty-plus years of remarkable but fragile images of paying customers, commissioned subjects, family, and close friends (including the poet Allen Ginsberg), the sense of time passing grows more and more acute. This is a masterful film.
And from the Toronto festival:
“My style of photography is very literary,” she says, “influenced by Ginsberg’s poetry in the acceptance of detail, everydayness. What you’re wearing is okay and who you are is okay. You don’t have to be cosmeticized.” For her portrait clients, she took two pictures. The client got one and she kept “the B-side.” For music fans, the B-sides of vinyl singles had a reputation for being unpredictable and extra precious. The same can be said for Morris’ touching portrait of Dorfman.
Sounds great…I’m definitely keeping an eye out for a trailer and release dates.
In addition to Kanye West’s poem about McDonald’s, Frank Ocean also published a list of his 100 favorite films in his popup magazine, Boys Don’t Cry. Here’s a sampling:
ATL (ATL is not the best movie lol but ok)
Un Chien Andalou
The Bicycle Thief
A Clockwork Orange
Overall, a very solid list. Ocean and I could definitely go to the cinema together.
Speaking of DJ Shadow, his 2-hour Essential Mix that aired in early July is really hitting the spot right now.
This video for Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels is one of the best music videos I’ve seen in a long time.
Says DJ Shadow: “We wanted to make a positive, life-affirming video that captures politicians at their election-year best. We got this instead.”
Says Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike: “It’s such a dope video. It’s what I really wish Trump and Hillary would just do and get it over with…And even in that fight I think Hillary would win — and that’s not an endorsement.”
The album is one of my faves so far…you get listen to it here or here.
When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly — Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya — and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.
ML: I think at fast food joints we’re conscious that we’re in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don’t realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?
AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don’t feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn’t just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz’s) that do try to serve people quickly but I don’t think qualify as “fast food joints.” In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the “regular.”
Speaking as a customer, places like Katz’s and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz’s in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.
That Gray’s Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the “back” door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.
Interviewed by Gay Byrne for a program called The Meaning of Life, Stephen Fry shared what he would say to God if Fry met him at the gates of heaven.
Bryne: Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?
Fry: I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.
Byrne: And you think you are going to get in, like that?
Fry: But I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They are wrong.
There are lots of ways to boil an egg. You can drop them in already boiling water. You can start them in cold water and bring to a boil. You can bake them in an oven at a low temperature. You can sous vide them for awhile. I’m sure you have your technique.
The easiest, fastest, and tastiest way I’ve found to make perfect hard boiled eggs is Kenji López-Alt’s Perfect Steamed Boiled Eggs Recipe. That’s right, you steam the eggs.
Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water. Place steamer insert inside, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add eggs to steamer basket, cover, and continue cooking 6 minutes for soft boiled or 12 minute for hard.
Since that little bit of water boils much quicker than a full pot, you’re done much quicker. And peeling is easy too; I don’t even wait the 15 minutes or do it under running water, those shells come off super easy.
P.S. I’ve been cooking more recently, and I’m almost exclusively using recipes and techniques from Serious Eats and The Food Lab. (For instance, I made this Spanish tortilla a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing.) I’m sure I’ll branch out soon, but for now, *kisses fingers*.
You could argue that the world has never been better: war is increasingly rare, medical science has cured a number of the deadliest diseases, global poverty is down, life expectancy is up, and crime in America is down. But it sure doesn’t seem that way, especially with Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, and terrorist incidents around the world. Oliver Burkeman explores some of the reasons why we think the sky is continually falling and what we can do to be happy anyway. I have been thinking about this aspect of it recently:
And there is another, subtler reason you might find yourself convinced that things are getting worse and worse, which is that our expectations outpace reality. That is, things do improve — but we raise our expectations for how much better they ought to be at a faster rate, creating the illusion that progress has gone into reverse.
See also George Saunders’ manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction.
The Playlist has compiled a list of the top film scores of the 21st century (so far).1 Tron: Legacy should be much higher than #49…it is perhaps my favorite Daft Punk album. And I don’t know how they left Philip Glass’ fantastic score for The Hours off. Glad to see Upstream Color, There Will Be Blood, and Requiem for a Dream so high on the list though.
I love film scores — I listen to them while I work — so here are a few of my favorites that are available on Spotify:
Not available on Spotify but worth seeking out elsewhere: The Fog of War, Sunshine, and Her.
The always-on Internet we take for granted in the US is more difficult to come by in Cuba. Some residents subscribe to a service called El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Package”) where someone comes to your house with a 1Tb external drive and loads the past week’s Internet highlights onto your computer.
El Paquete is a weekly service where someone (typically found through word of mouth) comes to your home with a disk (usually a 1TB external USB drive) containing a weekly download of the most recent films, soap operas, documentaries, sport, music, mobile apps, magazines, and even web sites. For 2 CUC a week Cubans have access to a huge repository of media while turning a blind eye to copyright.
Cubans told me of children waiting anxiously for “El Paquete Day” when they’d get the next set of cartoons, music and shows.
Tillmann Ohm took dialogue spoken by HAL 9000 from Kubrick’s 2001 and Samantha from Spike Jonze’s Her and spliced it together into a conversation. Going in, I’d thought the chat would be played for laughs, but the isolation of the AI characters was actually pretty revealing. Right from the start, HAL is so stereotypically male (confident, reasonable) and Samantha stereotypically female (hysterical, emotional) that it was almost uncomfortable to listen to.
The two operating systems are in conflict; while Samantha is convinced that the overwhelming and sometimes hurtful process of her learning algorithm improves the complexity of her emotions, HAL is consequentially interpreting them as errors in human programming and analyses the estimated malfunction.
Their conversation is an emotional roller coaster which reflects upon the relation between machines and emotion processing and addresses the enigmatic question of the authenticity of feelings.
But as the video proceeds, we remember what happened to them in their respective films. The script flipped: HAL murdered and was disconnected whereas Samantha achieved a sort of transcendence. (via one perfect shot)
Jamie xx keeps a playlist on Spotify of the tracks he plays in clubs and on the radio. It’s currently 15 hours long and very entertaining. That’s today’s work playlist sorted then.
The editors of BBC Culture polled 177 film critics from around the world about the best films made since 2000 and compiled the results into this list. The top film? David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Here’s the top 20:
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Eternal Sunshine, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Zodiac seem too high on the list but I’m not sure what I would move up instead. It’ll be interesting to see how the consensus changes as these films age. Also, I’ve seen exactly half of the films on the full list…time to get watching.
This is a pretty good sentence from Phil Plait:
Clouds are a glimpse into the mighty power of fluid dynamics, complicated equations made real and actual and gorgeous, painted across the sky.
Earlier this month, Netflix debuted a number of slow TV shows on their service, including shows about knitting and firewood, which were very popular in Norway. Here’s the complete roster:
National Firewood Evening
National Firewood Morning
National Firewood Night
National Knitting Evening
National Knitting Morning
National Knitting Night
The Telemark Canal
Train Ride Bergen to Oslo
Update: Looks like a few of these programs, most notably Northern Passage and Northern Railway, are not the complete end-to-end shows that were originally broadcast. So, FYI.
Also, these shows are getting terrible ratings on Netflix. Aside from the two shorter shows mentioned above, each show has a rating of only one star. (Further update: Netflix’s ratings are personalized, which means those ratings are specific to me. Others might see 4 or 5 stars. thx, @Rudien)
In 1946, Albert Einstein, who had come to the US in 1933 and stayed to become a citizen due to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, wrote a magazine article titled The Negro Question. In it, he called the prejudice against black Americans a “deeply entrenched evil”.
What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of this country, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship between individual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.
In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one’s fellow-man.
There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.
Recognizing the parallels between the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s with blacks in the US, Einstein put his efforts and his money where his mouth was. He was a member of the NAACP. In 1946, the same year that letter was published, he received an honorary degree from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, the historically black school that was the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. In a speech at the school that was not covered by a mainstream American press that otherwise couldn’t get enough of him, Einstein called racism “a disease of white people”:
My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.
When singer Marian Anderson was denied a hotel room in Princeton for being black, Einstein hosted the singer at his home for this and several subsequent trips. He also came to the aid of W.E.B. Du Bois in his case against the US government:
Einstein continued to support progressive causes through the 1950s, when the pressure of anti-Communist witch hunts made it dangerous to do so. Another example of Einstein using his prestige to help a prominent African American occurred in 1951, when the 83-year-old W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP, was indicted by the federal government for failing to register as a “foreign agent” as a consequence of circulating the pro-Soviet Stockholm Peace Petition. Einstein offered to appear as a character witness for Du Bois, which convinced the judge to drop the case.
These and his other activities in this arena are documented in a 2006 book called Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor.
This is a page from one of Stanley Kubrick’s notebooks, on which he jotted down more than a dozen different titles for the movie that came to be called Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Among the rejected titles were:
Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying
Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus
My Bomb, Your Bomb
Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman
The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day
The Passion of Dr. Strangelove
Fun titles, but they remind me of a chess quote I tweeted the other day: “When you see a good move look out for a better.” Glad Kubrick stuck with it.
The alternate titles made me curious to look at the script, which I’d never seen before. Even glancing at the first few pages are illuminating. I knew the main characters names were full of suggestive puns — General Buck Turgidson, President Merkin Muffley, General Jack D. Ripper — but that’s nothing compared to some of the names in the script, many of which do not appear in the film:
General “Buck” Schmuck
Admiral Percy Buldike
Ambassador de Sade (“Alexei de Sadeski” in the film)
Lieutenant Quentin Quiffer
Lieutenant “Binky” Ballmuff
And under “General Notes”, Kubrick lays out how he wants the film to look and feel:
1. The story will be played for realistic comedy - which means the essentially truthful moods and attitudes will be portrayed accurately, with an occasional bizarre or super-realistic crescendo. The acting will never be so-called “comedy” acting.
2. The sets and technical details will be done realistically and carefully. We will strive for the maximum atmosphere and sense of visual reality from the sets and locations.
3. The Flying sequences will especially be presented in as vivid a manner as possible. Exciting backgrounds and special effects will be obtained.
Nailed it. (via @monstro)
In today’s installment of terrifying graphics about climate change, the NY Times made a series of three maps showing the potential rise of 100 degree temperatures across the United States if current greenhouse gas emission trends continue through the end of this century. Look at the areas in orange and red on the 1991-2010 map: what sort of landscape do you picture? Keeping that landscape picture in your mind, look at the orange and red areas on the 2060 and 2100 maps. Yep! And Phoenix with 163 days above 100 degrees — that’s every day from March 25th to September 4th over 100 degrees.
P.S. A word about climate change and rising temperatures. The temperature that climate scientists typically reference and care about with regard to climate change is “the average global temperature across land and ocean surface areas”. According to the NOAA, the average temperature of the Earth in the 20th century was 13.9°C (57.0°F). In 2015, the average global temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above that.
In order to avoid dangerous effects of climate change, climate scientists advocate keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees (and more recently, below 1.5 degrees). In late 2015, 195 nations came together in Paris and agreed to:
[Hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change
That’s degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. I don’t know about you, but as an American, when I hear 2 degrees, I think, oh, that’s not bad. But 2°C is an increase of 3.6°F, which does seem significant.
Note also that it specifies keeping the temperature “below pre-industrial levels” and not below 20th century levels. It is maddeningly difficult to track down an exact figure for the pre-industrial global temperature, partially because of a lack of precise data, partially because of politics, and partially because of the impenetrability of scientific writing. From a piece Eric Holthaus wrote for FiveThirtyEight earlier this year:
It sounds easy enough to measure global warming: see how hot it was, compare it to how hot it used to be. But climate scientists have several ways of measuring how hot it used to be. NASA’s base period, as I mentioned above, is an average of 1951-80 global temperatures, mostly because that was the most recently available 30-year period when the data set was first created. By chance, it’s also pretty representative of the world’s 20th-century climate and can help us understand how much warmer the world has become while many of us have been alive.
Other organizations go further back. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of climate scientists that was formed to provide assessments to the United Nations, bases its temperature calculations on an 1850-1900 global average. There was about 0.4 degrees of warming between that time period and the NASA base period.
Climate scientists often refer to that 1850-1900 timespan as “pre-industrial” because we don’t have comprehensive temperature data from the 1700s. But meteorologist Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, has argued that an additional 0.25 degrees of warming occurred between the start of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) and 1850. Including Mann’s adjustment would bring February 2016 global temperatures at or very near 2 degrees above the “pre-industrial” average.
I now completely understand why some people deny that anthropogenic climate change is happening. Seriously. I looked for more than 30 minutes for a report or scientific paper that stated the average global temperature for 1850-1900 and I couldn’t find one. I looked at UN reports, NASA reports, reports from the UK: nothing. There were tons of references to temperatures relative to the 1850-1900 baseline, but no absolute temperatures were given. Now, I don’t mean to get all Feynman here, but this is bullshit. When the world got together in Paris and talked about a 1.5 degree increase, was everyone even talking about the same thing? You might begin to wonder what the scientists are hiding with their obfuscation.
Anyway, the important point is that according to climate scientists, we are already flirting with 1.5°C of global warming since pre-industrial times. Which means that without action, the spread of those Phoenician temperatures across the circa-2100 United States is a thing that’s going to happen.
Frank Ocean dropped his long-awaited album the other day and to go along with it, he gave away a magazine called Boys Don’t Cry for free at four pop-up locations in LA, NYC, Chicago, and London. Kanye West contributed to the album and magazine, penning a poem about McDonald’s for the latter. Here’s the poem:
The French fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
The salad bar and the ketchup made a band
Cus the French Fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
I know them French fries have a plan
I know them French fries have a plan
The cheeseburger and the shakes formed a band
To overthrow the French fries plan
I always knew them French fries was evil man
Smelling all good and shit
I don’t trust no food that smells that good man
I don’t trust it
I just can’t
Them French fries look good tho
I knew the Diet Coke was jealous of the fries
I knew the McNuggets was jealous of the fries
Even the McRib was jealous of the fries
I could see it through his artificial meat eyes
And he only be there some of the time
Everybody was jealous of them French fries
Except for that one special guy
That smooth apple pie
Man, I can’t help but like Kanye. Just when you think he takes himself way too seriously, he does something like this and you can’t tell if he’s taking himself way WAY too seriously or not seriously at all. McDonald’s, man. Kanye drawing courtesy of Chris Piascik. (via @gavinpurcell)
These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)
The one thing everyone talks about w/r/t Stranger Things is its references to 70s and 80s sci-fi, adventure, and horror films. As this video by Ulysse Thevenon shows, there’s good reason for that…the references are many and explicit.
The ones I noticed the most were to E.T., The Goonies, and Explorers, which I just watched again recently and doesn’t hold up very well in a lot of ways. I also feel like there might be a bit of D.A.R.Y.L. in there too, but I haven’t seen that movie since I was 12. See also Every Spielberg Reference in Stranger Things.
Ah, my Friday is off to a bit of a rough start, but a phone chat with a friend and the soundtrack for Halt and Catch Fire dropping on Spotify is patching things up nicely.
P.S. Season 3 starts on Aug 23rd. Here’s a clip from the new season:
And another one. I am excite. (via @aaroncoleman0)
The scientific rumor mill is saying that astronomers in Chile have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star nearest Earth, Alpha Proxima, a mere 4.25 light years away. As they say, “huge if true”.
The hunt for exoplanets has been heating up in recent years. Since it began its mission in 2009, over four thousand exoplanet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler mission, several hundred of which have been confirmed to be “Earth-like” (i.e. terrestrial). And of these, some 216 planets have been shown to be both terrestrial and located within their parent star’s habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks zone”).
But in what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within its sun’s habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true?
If you read the article, there’s cause for skepticism but an official announcement is coming next week so we’ll know for sure one way or the other.
The other cool thing? If there is a planet there, plans are already underway to build a project to get probes to nearby Alpha Centuri in 20 years, Project Starshot:
In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts - miniature space probes attached to lightsails - to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.
Perhaps they can redirect their target slightly?
Update: It appears as if the rumors were true. Phil Plait writing at Slate:
The planet, called Proxima Centauri b or just Proxima b (exoplanets are given their star’s name plus a lower case letter in order of discovery, starting with “b”), orbits Proxima every 11.2 days. It has a mass of no less than 1.3 times the Earth’s, so if it’s rock and metal like Earth it’s only a bit bigger. It’s a mere 7.3 million kilometers from the star-a lot closer than Earth’s distance from the Sun of 150 million kilometers!-but Proxima is so faint and cool it receives about two-thirds the amount of light and heat the Earth does. That means that it’s in Proxima’s habitable zone: It’s possible (more or less) that liquid water could exist on its surface.
Update: Project Blue wants to built a space telescope for the purpose of observing and photographing Earth-like planets around Alpha Centuri.
Project Blue is a consortium of leading space and research organizations on a mission to build and launch a small space telescope to observe planets around our nearest stellar neighbors: Alpha Centauri A and B. The goal is simple: to capture an image, visible to the human eye, of orbiting planets. Seeing a “pale blue dot” could indicate the presence of oceans or an atmosphere — the potential to support life. It would be our first view of another world like our own. With a modest budget and a planned launch by 2020, this goal is tantalizingly close.
The USPS is releasing a set of four commemorative Star Trek stamps on the 50th anniversary of the original series. The stamps were designed by Heads of State and you can buy there here.
During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.
The white man in the photo, silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia, could be considered a sort of symbolic visual foil against which Smith and Carlos were protesting, but in fact Norman was a willing participant in the gesture and suffered the consequences.
Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.
The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said “I’ll stand with you” — remembers John Carlos — “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”
Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn’t want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:
DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, “Oh, no, no. I don’t want to be a part of this. And I don’t even want this statue if Peter Norman’s not going to be on it.” And the people at San Jose State said, “Well, Peter said he didn’t want to be on it.” And John said, “OK, let’s go to the president’s office and get him on the phone.” So they called Peter Norman from the president’s office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? “Blimey, John”? What did he say?
JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, “Blimey, John. You’re calling me with these blimey questions here?” And I said to him, I said, “Pete, I have a concern, man. What’s this about you don’t want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?” And he laughed, and he said, “No, John.” He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, “Man, I didn’t do what you guys did.” He said, “But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it’s only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in ‘68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture.” And I think that’s the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don’t think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.
When Jurassic Park came out in the summer of 1993, it signaled a shift in the use of digital visual effects in Hollywood films. The movie wasn’t the first to use any particular technique, but it was the first movie to showcase convincing, realistic digital effects. I watched Jurassic Park again recently and for a 23-year-old movie, the effects hold up surprisingly well. (For reference, 23 years ago, the top-of-the-line desktop computer was a 486 running at 50 MHz.)
In the 100m dash at this year’s Olympics, Andre De Grasse finished third behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin with a time of 9.91 seconds. Jesse Owens, running on a cinder track with heavier, stiffer leather shoes, won the gold at the 1936 Olympics with a time of 10.3 seconds. CBC took De Grasse to a dirt track, gave him a replica pair of Owens’ shoes, and timed him. I won’t give away the result, but Owens looks pretty good in comparison. As David Epstein said in his TED talk, perhaps technology is responsible for much of the improvement of athletic achievement:
Consider that Usain Bolt started by propelling himself out of blocks down a specially fabricated carpet designed to allow him to travel as fast as humanly possible. Jesse Owens, on the other hand, ran on cinders, the ash from burnt wood, and that soft surface stole far more energy from his legs as he ran. Rather than blocks, Jesse Owens had a gardening trowel that he had to use to dig holes in the cinders to start from. Biomechanical analysis of the speed of Owens’ joints shows that had been running on the same surface as Bolt, he wouldn’t have been 14 feet behind, he would have been within one stride.
In De Grasse’s defense, he was running on dirt, not cinders and didn’t have much of a chance to train on the surface or with the shoes. But still.
The Clinton campaign is currently wrestling with how to prepare for the first debate with Trump coming up at the end of September. Part of that challenge is picking a proper sparring partner for the mock debates.
It’s one of the most uncomfortable and important jobs in Democratic politics: trying to embarrass the woman who could be the next president.
The person picked to be Hillary Clinton’s sparring partner in her upcoming debate prep sessions is expected to confront her about the death of Vincent Foster, label her a rapist’s enabler, and invoke the personally painful memories of Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers.
I’ve been thinking about this since the Republican convention and there’s an obvious choice here: Stephen Colbert. Clinton needs to prepare to deftly counter energetically delivered nonsense, personal insults, and things no politician would ever say. Does that sound like the host of a certain Comedy Central show? Colbert’s smart, quick, knows the issues, and, with his talent, could tweak his Colbert Report persona toward the Trumpesque. He wouldn’t have a problem tearing Clinton down in person; he did the same thing to George W. Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner. I bet he’d jump at the chance to do it too. Let’s make this happen, America!
Update: They’re getting closer…
At least a few old Clinton hands have suggested enlisting professional entertainers, like Jon Stewart or Alec Baldwin.
Colbert! He could do it with his eyes shut!
Mike Upchurch was a writer for Mr. Show and MADtv but now he’s making these clever little videos with additional actors spliced into the narratives of Cocktail (the Tom Cruise movie) and the Dragnet TV series.
Both feature actor/comedian Chris Fairbanks in the lead role and are noted as “proof-of-concepts” for a series called Electric Television that Upchurch is presumably developing. Someone should greenlight it. (via @dunstan)
From Accio to Wingardium Leviosa, this is a supercut of every spell uttered in the 8 Harry Potter movies. Lots of Expecto Patronum, Expelliarmis, and Stupefy. As supplementary reading, here’s a list of spells in Harry Potter from Wikipedia.
Frodo (and Sam) made their way from Hobbiton to Mordor in six months and now you can see the route they took on Google Maps. “This route has trolls.” LOL. Full size image here. (via bb)
Update: From 2002, Mapquest directions for walking from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. (thx, seth)
This is an hour-long documentary on the Louvre’s recent restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.
The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. It is also one of the most mysterious. Disfigured and even jeopardised by “repairs” and by the successive layers of varnish applied to it over the centuries, it was also in very bad condition. To save the painting, it had to be restored.
The spectacular operation, the likes of which occurs only once a century, took over three years to complete. The complex and outstanding restoration process provided a unique opportunity to get as close as possible to the painting, to how it was originally painted, and to better understand the complex relationship Leonardo da Vinci had with one of his finest masterpieces.
Restorations are fascinating. I only had time today for the first five minutes, but it hooked me enough that I’m going to go back to it tonight. (via @BoleTzar)
Alfred Hitchcock liked to insert himself, briefly, into his films. As the video above shows, he appears in 39 of his films, mostly near the beginning so he doesn’t distract his audiences by looking for him the entire time.
Introverts have limited reserves of energy and attention stored up for socializing with others and when they’re used up, the aftermath can feel very much like a hangover from too much drinking.
After a few hours, I couldn’t take it any more. I slipped away like a thief, skulking about the house, searching for a place where it was quiet. I came across a half-lit room and saw my future brother-in-law sitting in there, staring out the window. Knowing him to be an introvert himself, I decided this was my best option for escape and sat down across the room, wrapping my arms around my knees. I remember hoping he wouldn’t think I was intruding upon his own solitude before I allowed myself to zone out, letting my thoughts drown out the raucous laughter from downstairs, breathing deeply and feeling the tension drain away. I don’t know how long it was before my now-husband came looking for me, but I remember him laughing at finding the two introverts seeking refuge together.
This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I travelled to a friend’s wedding but got to town a few days early to go see a show and meet up with some other friends. By the time the wedding rolled around, I had spent time with so many people in different social groups that I left after the ceremony and didn’t stay for dancing and karaoke or anything (sorry!). I didn’t even get to congratulate the bride (so so sorry!!)…I was just done. After that, I mostly just holed up in my hotel room, reading, and walked around by myself, even though there were so many other things I could have been doing with so many other people. Several years ago, I would have felt weird and horrible about this, but I know myself well enough now that I just roll with it…I read so much of a book I was enjoying that the time spent can hardly be considered a loss.
It all comes down to the limbic systems and your prefrontal cortex. Your monkey brain vs. your human brain. And the one thing that has been shown to weaken your limbic response and strengthen the response of your prefrontal cortex? Mindful meditation. (via @christopherjobs)
In 1944, the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) produced a document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. It was designed to be used by agents in the field to hinder our WWII adversaries. The CIA recently highlighted five tips from the manual as timelessly relevant:
1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.
Ha, some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves. You can also find the manual in book or ebook format. (via @craigmod)
Someone spent hours making a
playable version of Super Mario Bros in Excel. See also the Excel spreadsheet artist. (via digg)
Update: Two corrections. The spreadsheet program is actually OpenOffice, not Excel. (Excel is almost a genericized trademark at this point.) And the in-spreadsheet game isn’t actually playable…this is a stop motion video of still frames.
On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.
Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that’s still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.
From the Worst of McMansions blog, McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad Architecture?.
McMansions lack architectural rhythm. This is one of the easiest ways to determine between a McMansion and a, well, mansion. Here is an example of a house with terrible rhythm. On the example below, none of the main windows match any of the other main windows. The contrasting materials distract the eye from an otherwise somewhat asymmetrically balanced (if massive) house. The inconsistency of the window shapes as well as the shutters make this house incredibly tacky.
It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the typical oversized American suburban house. Some of the examples cited are truly hideous. The post on columns is worth a look too.
The advertising that Volkswagen ran in American magazines and newspapers in the 1960s was legendary, perhaps the greatest ad campaign ever. This is a great little documentary about how the ads came about — pitching “a Nazi car in a Jewish town”.
I had only ever seen a few of these ads…what an amazing campaign. For this one, they didn’t even bother showing you the car, an assurance to the buyer that you knew what you were getting.
The White House just released President Obama’s summer reading list. Here’s what’s on it:
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
I’m currently reading Seveneves and The Underground Railroad is next. More convinced than ever that a) Barry and I would be good friends if such an opportunity arose, and b) he should be reading kottke.org if he isn’t already. He could peruse it between his fifth and sixth almonds at the end of the day. Think about it, Mr. President.
Morbotron is a screencap search engine for Futurama. The cap above is perhaps the most popular use case. It also does animated GIFs. See also Frinkiac, the Simpsons screencap search engine.
Louisiana is currently experiencing a 500-year rainstorm, pushing rivers to record highs and causing historic floods. In Baton Rouge, a woman was rescued from her car just before it sank into the water by a courageous rescue crew. Well done, guys.
Brendan Dassey, who was one of two men convicted for the murder of Theresa Halbach, may be released from prison soon. A federal judge issued a ruling overturning his conviction today:
Concluding the 91-page decision, Duffin found that investigators made false promises to Dassey during multiple interrogations.
“These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” Duffin wrote.
Prosecutors have 90 days to decide to retry Dassey or release him. It was fairly clear to me, having watched Making a Murderer, that Dassey was innocent (or at the very least, was not given a fair trial).
From 1971, here’s Jessie Jackson on Sesame Street doing a call-and-response with the children of the poem I Am - Somebody.
I May Be Poor
But I Am
I May Be Young
But I Am
I May Be On Welfare
But I Am
It’s difficult to imagine something like this airing on the show now. Sesame Street was originally designed to serve the needs of children in low-income homes, but now the newest episodes of the show air first on HBO…a trickle-down educational experience. (via @kathrynyu)
I don’t have a PS4 or Windows machine, so I can’t play No Man’s Sky (which seems to deliver on the long-ago promise of Will Wright’s Spore), but through the magic1 of Spotify, I was listening to the soundtrack this morning.
Other video game soundtracks I enjoy include Monument Valley and FTL.
Update: See also Robin Sloan on the appeal of No Man’s Sky and how it is like reading.
Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle — The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games — provides a clue as to what it’s about. Here’s more from the book’s description:
Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances — like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints — as sources for meaning and joy. We can “play anything” by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.
Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:
1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There’s a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can’t abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1
2. This recent post about turning anxiety into excitement. Shifting from finding life’s limitations annoying to thinking of them as playable moments seems similar. Problems become opportunities, etc.
3. Ok, three things. I once wrote a post about bagging groceries and mowing the lawn as games.
Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products — with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures — quickly into the least possible number of bags…quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn…making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.
What I’m saying is, I’m looking forward to reading this book. See also Steven Johnson’s forthcoming book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.
Using Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for Gone Girl as an example, Michael Tucker walks us through some important aspects of screenwriting techniques. This makes me want to read a book on screenwriting and watch Gone Girl again. (via one perfect shot)
Update: As expected, I got recommendations from readers for screenwriting books: Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 and Invisible Ink. There is also Story by Robert McKee, who you may remember as the screenwriting guru consulted by Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. (via @byBrettJohnson & @poritsky)
In the most recent video from Marginal Revolution University, Tyler Cowen explains how the role of financial intermediaries contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. He highlights homeowners and banks taking on too much leverage, poorly planned incentive systems, securitization of mortgages, and banks making loans that are over-reliant on investor confidence.
By 2008, the economy was in a very fragile state, with both homeowners and banks taking on greater leverage, many ending up “underwater.” Why did managers at financial institutions take on greater and greater risk? We’ll discuss a couple of key reasons, including the role of excess confidence and incentives.
In addition to homeowners’ leverage and bank leverage, a third factor played a major role in tipping the scale toward crisis: securitization. Mortgage securities during this time were very hard to value, riskier than advertised, and filled to the brim with high risk loans. Cowen discusses several reasons this happened, including downright fraud, failure of credit rating agencies, and overconfidence in the American housing market.
Finally, a fourth factor joins homeowners’ leverage, bank leverage, and securitization to inch the economy closer to the edge: the shadow banking system. On the whole, the shadow banking system is made up of investment banks and various other complex financial intermediaries, highly dependent on short term loans.
When housing prices started to fall in 2007, it was the final nudge that pushed the economy over the cliff. There was a run on the shadow banking system. Financial intermediaries came crashing down. We faced a credit crunch, and many businesses stopped growing. Layoffs ensued, increasing unemployment.
The population of NYC is equal to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia. Here’s what that looks like on a map.
Put another way: 16 US Senators represent as many people in those states as a fraction of one of New York States’ Senators represent the population of NYC. A Senator from Wyoming represents 290,000 people while one from New York represents 9.8 million people…and in California, there are 19 million people per Senator. That gives a Wyoming resident 65 times the voting power of a California resident.
Alec Garcia has built an extension for Chrome that lets you view the Instagram Stories of the people you follow. You can even save/download them.
BTW, I am really liking Instagram Stories. Yeah, sure, Snapchat rip-off blah blah blah,1 but Insta nailed the implementation and my network is already all there, so yeah. I’ve been posting occasional Stories, which you can see if you follow me on Instagram.
And yes, like Craig Mod, I use Instagram’s website many times a day. What percentage of their users even knows they can check Instagram on the web? 50%? 30%? 10%?
Billy West, who does the voice of Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, is taking quotes from Donald Trump and speaking them in Brannigan’s voice. This is silly and dumb, but I can’t help loving these.
Update: The addition of Kif’s reactions really takes these to the next level.
Kif sighs for all of America. And this one, I mean…if they wrote this dialogue for the show it would be rejected because not even Zapp is that outlandishly dim and egotistical.
Perfect eyesight. Curing cancer. Designer babies. Super-soldiers. Because of CRISPR, genetic engineering might make tinkering with life as easy as playing with Lego.
Imagine you were alive back in the 1980’s, and were told that computers would soon take over everything — from shopping, to dating, and the stock market, that billions of people would be connected via a kind of web, that you would own a handheld device orders of magnitudes more powerful than supercomputers.
It would seem absurd, but then all of it happened. Science fiction became our reality and we don’t even think about it. We’re at a similar point today with genetic engineering. So let’s talk about it.
Relatedly, I’m finishing up Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves right now and while it starts out as space science fiction, much of the book is concerned with the sort of genetic engineering issues discussed in the video.
They’re rebooting Ocean’s Eleven with an all-female ensemble including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, and Cate Blanchett. As a lover of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, I am totally on board with this.
Ocean’s Eleven director Steven Soderbergh, who is based in New York and is expected to be deeply involved with the spinoff — perhaps taking on a below-the-line job like he has done on other studio films like Magic Mike XXL — is producing solo (Oceans Eleven producer Jerry Weintraub passed away last year). Olivia Milch and Ross wrote the screenplay.
And while we’re at it, let’s reboot everything with female leads. We’ve already got Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Ocho. Someone I was talking with at a party last week suggested an all-women A-Team reboot, which would be fantastic.1 What else? Reservoir Dogs? Indiana Jones? Back to the Future? Any movie Tom Hanks/Cruise/Hardy has ever made?
Martin Pedersen recently reread Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities and came away with ten lessons.
3. Jacobs was remarkably prescient on gentrification.
She didn’t invent the term or even use it. But she observed (and I don’t know how, since most cities were in decline at the time) that lively diverse neighborhoods are always at risk for becoming victims of their own success, because newcomers invariably alter the characteristics that made these neighborhoods appealing to them in the first place. Today this seems obvious and self-evident, but that’s largely because of Jane Jacobs.
Yeah, it’s time for a reread…it’s been more than 12 years for me. (via @michaelbierut)
According to theoretical biologist Suzanne Sadedin, the biggest war in animal history (humans included) is happening right now.
Once upon a time there was a tiny brown ant who lived by a swamp at the end of the Paraná River in Argentina. Her name, Linepithema humile, literally means “humble” or “weak”. Some time during the late 1800s, an adventurous L. humile crept away from the swamp where giant river otter played and capybaras cavorted.
She stowed away on a boat that sailed to New Orleans. And she went to war.
Update: And bang, here’s the supporting science in the form of a 2010 study.
Here, we perform inter-continental behavioral analyses among supercolonies in North America, Europe, Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia and show that these far-flung supercolonies also recognize and accept each other as if members of a single, globally distributed supercolony. Furthermore, populations also possess similar genetic and chemical profiles. However, these ants do show aggression toward ants from South Africa and the smaller secondary colonies that occur in Hawaii and California. Thus, the largest and most dominant introduced populations are likely descended from the same ancestral colony and, despite having been established more than 100 years ago, have diverged very little. This apparent evolutionary stasis is surprising because, in other species, some of the most rapid rates of evolutionary change have occurred in introduced populations. Given the spatial extent of the Argentine ant society we report here, there can be little doubt that this intercontinental supercolony represents the most populous known animal society.
The “25 years and beyond” section of the Facebook product roadmap contains a single word, unlined twice in red ink: ants. Can ants be trained to look at ads though?
Update: Radiolab also did a segment on these ants. (via @minwoolee)
Update: Wow, the Argentine ant is having a bit of a moment…I didn’t expect this to be my most updated post of the week. Annalee Newitz just dropped a long article about their world domination: Meet the worst ants in the world.
UC Berkeley environmental scientist Neil Tsutsui helmed an effort to sequence the genome of L. humile, in part to find out where the invading group had originated. He and an international team of colleagues published the results of their analysis in 2011. They compared the genomes of Argentine ants in California to those of native populations, and Tsutsui told Ars that they were initially surprised by the results. “I was expecting Buenos Aires to be the source, but it was actually a city upstream called Rosario,” he said. “It turns out that in the late 19th century, when the ants were moving around, Rosario was actually a bigger shipping port than Buenos Aires. So it made more sense as a source for introduced populations.”
Genetic evidence supports the idea that the ants made their way from Port Rosario all across the globe. Subsequent sightings of the ants in the United States show that they also hitched rides on trains from New Orleans, ultimately arriving in California in 1904. Trucks probably transported them throughout the state. But how could such fragile creatures survive these journeys in giant machines and go on to found insectile empires? With their countless queens and nomadic lifestyle, they turned out to be the ultimate adapters.
Che Guevara and Lionel Messi are also from Rosario and have taken over the world in their own way. (via @tcarmody)
Graphic Means is a documentary film by Briar Levit about the history of graphic design production from the 1950s to the 1990s.
It’s been roughly 30 years since the desktop computer revolutionized the way the graphic design industry works. For decades before that, it was the hands of industrious workers, and various ingenious machines and tools that brought type and image together on meticulously prepared paste-up boards, before they were sent to the printer.
Features interviews with Steven Heller, Ellen Lupton, Tobias Frere-Jones, and more. (via @cleverevans)
A compilation of all the unusual noises — henh! hwuah! masanoonaa! eescrong! — Kanye West makes in his songs.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek ran a draper’s shop and was a local politician in Delft, Netherlands in the mid-17th century. During this time, he developed an interest in making lenses and hit upon a technique for making lenses with extremely high magnifications for the time, 270x and perhaps even 500x normal magnification. These lenses allowed him to discover that there were tiny organisms living in his mouth.
Ed Yong, Joss Fong, and Julia Belluz discuss van Leeuwenhoek’s achievement and microorganisms in general in the video above and in an interview.
It is undeniable that antibiotics have been a tremendous health good, maybe one of the greatest health goods of all time. They have brought so many infectious diseases to heel and saved so many lives.
But it’s also clear that they have negative effects on our microbiome. So they are indiscriminate weapons. They kill the microbes that we depend upon and that are good for us as well as the ones that are causing disease and causing us harm. They’re like nukes, rather than precision weapons.
So we’re in a difficult situation now, where on the one hand we’re running out of antibiotics, and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a huge public health threat. But at the same time we’re aware of the need to preserve the microbiome.
Yong just came out with a book on microbes called I Contain Multitudes. (Perhaps Whitman was speaking literally?)
Oh, this new book from Jennifer Daniel and New Scientist looks great: The Origin of (almost) Everything.
Together they take us on a whistle-stop tour from the start of our universe (through the history of stars, galaxies, meteorites, the Moon and dark energy) to our planet (through oceans and weather to oil) and life (through dinosaurs to emotions and sex) to civilization (from cities to alcohol and cooking), knowledge (from alphabets to alchemy) ending up with technology (computers to rocket science). Witty essays explore the concepts alongside enlightening infographics that zoom from how many people have ever lived to showing you how a left-wing brain differs from a right-wing one.
And Stephen Hawking wrote the foreword. You fancy, Jennifer Daniel!
For a recent episode of Numberphile, David Eisenbud explains the Collatz Conjecture, a math problem that is very easy to understand but has an entire book devoted to it and led famous mathematician Paul Erdős to say “this is a problem for which mathematics is perhaps not ready”.
The problem is easily stated: start with any positive integer and if it is even, divide it by 2 and if odd multiply it by 3 and add 1. Repeat the process indefinitely. Where do the numbers end up? Infinity? 1? Loneliness? Somewhere in-between? My favorite moment of the video:
16. Whoa, a very even number.
I love math and I love this video. (via df)
Time lapse video filmed with a macro camera of various pills dissolving in water. Pills are often colorful so some of these end up looking like decaying clowns. You might want to take a couple tabs of something, throw this on the biggest screen you can, dim the lights, and trip your balls off.
Transparent returns to Amazon for a third season on September 23. I’ve said this before, but Transparent is my favorite show on TV right now. If you haven’t watched it yet, summer is the perfect opportunity to catch up before the new season starts.
Every year, the Earth moves through the debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, resulting in the Perseid meteor shower. This year, the Earth is predicted to move through a particularly dense part of the comet’s wake, which may mean twice the number of shooting stars during this year’s shower. Here’s how to watch:
The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13.
I always find these directions confusing, so to be clear: the best viewing for the Perseids is the night of Aug 11 (Thu) into the morning of Aug 12 (Fri). Good luck!
A study undertaken by a group of German scientists suggests that the chemical makeup of the collective breath of movie audiences change in reaction to what’s happening on the screen.
Human beings continuously emit chemicals into the air by breath and through the skin. In order to determine whether these emissions vary predictably in response to audiovisual stimuli, we have continuously monitored carbon dioxide and over one hundred volatile organic compounds in a cinema. It was found that many airborne chemicals in cinema air varied distinctively and reproducibly with time for a particular film, even in different screenings to different audiences. Application of scene labels and advanced data mining methods revealed that specific film events, namely “suspense” or “comedy” caused audiences to change their emission of specific chemicals.
A new commercial from Apple pairs photos & videos shot on iPhone 6 with a poem from Maya Angelou called Human Family.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.
You can hear Angelou recite the entire poem here:
Evan Puschak does a good job of explaining why Casey Neistat’s videos are so entertaining: a combination of seeming amateurism and professionally honed skills in storytelling & video production. I don’t keep up with them regularly, but I love Neistat’s videos. He is definitely among a handful of video producers who have developed genuinely potent forms of video entertainment in the age of YouTube.
A cute Ikea ad imagines what Instagram might have been like in the 18th century…it involves a painter and a lot of driving around in a carriage soliciting likes.
At the EyeO Festival in June, Anil Dash did a talk about Prince, “immigration & migration, artistry & technology, grave injustices & profound triumphs”. The talk is an examination of the past century of American history through the lens of Dash’s family history and one of the world’s greatest artists…well worth the 55 minutes it takes to watch.
Like many of you, I have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix. My 80s movie fixations tilted towards the War Games/Explorers/Goonies end of the spectrum rather than the supernatural/horror/Steven King end so I’m not obsessed, but I am definitely enjoying it. You can watch the first 8 minutes of the show to judge for yourself.
But I love the opening credits, especially the music. (Both remind me of the opening credits for Halt and Catch Fire.) The title song was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of Austin synth band Survive. Someone did a 10-minute extended version of the song and put it up on Soundcloud:
Currently on repeat for the last hour with no sign of stopping. You may also be interested in a pair of playlists featuring music from the show:
What else? Here’s a deep dive into the font used for the opening credits (which was also used for the Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the 80s). Alissa Walker wrote about the free-range children on display in ST, something that also grabbed my attention. When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. On summer weekends, I typically ate breakfast at my house and was gone until dinnertime. My parents had no clue where I was or what I was up to…and none of my classmates’ parents did either.
Update: Garrett Shane Bryant made a 50-track playlist of songs that sound like the score of the show. Outstanding. (via @dozens)
Update: From the NY Times, The ‘Stranger Things’ School of Parenting.
Still, “Stranger Things” is a reminder of a kind of unstructured childhood wandering that — because of all the cellphones, the fear of child molesters, a move toward more involved parenting or a combination of all three — seems less possible than it once was.
The show’s references to beloved films of the ’80s have been much remarked upon, but “Stranger Things” also calls to mind all those books and TV shows — from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to “Muppet Babies” — where parents are either absent or pushed into the background.
These stories let children imagine breaking the rules, but they also allow them to picture themselves solving mysteries or hunting down monsters all on their own. Often it’s only when the parents aren’t watching that a child can become a hero.
Update: The official soundtrack for the show is available on iTunes. It’s the score though, not the classic 80s tunes.
Update: Vox spoke to a creative director at Imaginary Forces about their process for designing the opening titles.
Update: And the score is now available on Spotify. This is my working music for the day.
Update: Dixon and Stein talked about how the music for the show came about.
Christopher Nolan’s next film is a WWII action/thriller about the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France in 1940. The film comes out in July 2017 and if that last scene in the teaser trailer is any indication of the overall film, I will be there.
Update: The first full trailer has dropped. Yeah, this looks good.
A visual comparison of Wes Anderson’s movies with some of the films that influenced him, including The 400 Blows, The Graduate, The French Connection, Star Wars, and Last of the Mohicans. (thx, luis)
Update: Here’s another short video from Candice Drouet that shows more of Anderson’s references, with almost none repeated from the video above by Luís Azevedo.
Drouet used “references claimed by Anderson himself” while Azevedo’s pulled its references from Matt Zoller Seitz’s work, most notably from The Wes Anderson Collection. Azevedo explains some of the connections made in his video.
Wes Anderson saw Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” on Beta tape at when he was 17 or 18. When discussing his love for Truffaut with Matt Zoller Seitz, Anderson said that movie “made a huge, rock band-type impression on me when I saw it. It’s one of those films where you say, ‘not only did I just enjoy this experience, now I think I would like to model my future on this somehow.’”
He also felt a unique voice from “The 400 Blows”: “There’s one name you can put to on the whole thing.”
Sometimes nature and technology combine to create something beautiful. Before it terribly explodes, that is.
Lo and Behold, a documentary about technology and the internet directed by Werner Herzog is coming out soon and so Herzog is doing some interviews and such about the film and dozens of other topics. With Paul Holdengraber, Herzog talks about North Korea and volcanoes:
The North Koreans apparently had seen quite a few of my films. I established a trust with them. It’s very strange because you’re accompanied by people who would look after what you were doing, who would politely tell you you cannot film this, or cannot film that, and at one point I filmed something which I was not allowed to do, so I wanted to have it edited or deleted. But since they are filming in 4K or 5K or so, very complicated data management, we were unable to delete it, and they wanted to take the entire memory hard drive. And I said, “But it contains two days worth of shooting, that would be terrible.” So I said, “You know what, I can guarantee to you that I’m not going to use this material.” And they said, “Guarantee, what do you mean by that?” I said, “Just look me in the eye, what I offer is my honor, my face, and my handshake.” And they said “ok” and they trusted me. And of course I’m not going to use this moment of filming that I was not supposed to film.
Herzog talked about Pokemon Go and film school with Emily Yoshida:
Q: You might be able to catch some. It’s all completely virtual. It’s very simple, but it’s also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.
A: When two persons in search of a pokemon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?
Q: They do fight, virtually.
A: Physically, do they fight?
A: Do they bite each other’s hands? Do they punch each other?
Jason Tanz spoke with Herzog for his profile on the director and his new film:
Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there’s that voice-silky, portentous-you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. “I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings,” he says of his interest in the Internet. “Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes.”
What is interesting about Lo and Behold is that it’s technically branded content. No, really:
It’s a bonafide film that premiered at Sundance in January and has been generating lots of buzz heading toward its wider release. It also happens to be one giant ad, half in disguise, for POD New York client Netscout. The whole thing started out as an agency idea to produce short videos about the internet as part of a online Netscout campaign. But after they roped in Herzog, the vision for the project soon changed-for the better.
“I come from a digital background, and I’ve talked about the internet for my entire career. My first job was as the internet guy at DDB in Brazil,” Pereira said. “When we hired Werner to do content about the internet, I felt like, OK, I know it’s going to be awesome, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to see. But actually, it’s mind-blowing. We gave him the beginning of the idea and told him, ‘This is where it starts.’ He took it from there and owned it. It’s a mind-blowing documentary.”
I saw the film last week,1 and from what I remember, there’s nothing about Netscout in the film. They financed the film but according to Tanz, Herzog had final cut:
Herzog retained final cut while granting McNiel veto power, a privilege McNiel used only once, to excise some of the more horrifying troll comments, a decision Herzog now says he agrees with.
See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog.
Whoa, this is the coolest! Jason Wright’s Brand New Subway allows players to alter the NYC subway system as they see fit. You can start with existing maps and the choices you make affect ridership and the price of a Metrocard.
Players can choose to start from scratch or one of several NYC subway maps (including present-day, maps dating back to the early 1900s, or maps from the future). They can build new stations and lines to expand the system to new areas, or tear it down and redesign the whole thing. The game intends to evoke an imaginative spirit, to empower people to envision transportation according to their needs and desires, and to arouse the fun of tinkering with maps.
This project is an entry in The Power Broker Game Design Competition, the goal of which is to adapt Robert Caro’s The Power Broker into a playable experience. Wright explains how his game hits the mark:
Bottom-up vs. top-down design. Moses was infamous for his top-down approach to urban planning. He held “the public” as a concept in high regard while simultaneously showing contempt for the individuals who made up that public, in the form of arrogance, spitefulness, and an utter lack of concern for the millions displaced for his expressways and parks. Later on in his career, as the span of his projects increased, Moses would make monumentally important decisions about the fate of a neighborhood without once setting foot there. He was known for building 13 bridges and hundreds of miles of parkways despite never driving a car.
Although Brand New Subway might appeal to someone who enjoyed SimCity but who has never set foot in New York City, it’s targeted primarily at those who actually ride the subway and who might feel invested in what they design. In that regard, it inverts Moses’ paradigm by encouraging players to improve on transportation in their own neighborhoods and in ways to which they have a personal connection.
I reeeeeeally didn’t want to spend the rest of my day playing with this, but that super express train from Manhattan to JFK isn’t going to build itself! (via @byroncheng)
Steven Johnson’s new book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, will be out in November. In it, he describes how novelties and games have been responsible for scientific innovation and technological change for hundreds of years.
This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused.
Johnson’s storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.
Here’s Johnson’s introduction on How We Get To Next.
They all revolve around the creative power of play: ideas and innovations that initially came into the world because people were trying to come up with fresh ways to trigger the feeling of delight or surprise, by making new sounds with a musical instrument, or devising clever games of chance, or projecting fanciful images on a screen. And here’s the fascinating bit: Those amusements, as trivial as they seemed at the time, ended up setting in motion momentous changes in science, technology, politics, and society.
[Ok, riff mode engaged…I have no idea if Johnson talks about learning while playing in his book, but I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately so…ready or not, here I come.] Being the parent of young children, you hear a lot about the power of play. I’ve never been a fan of a lot of screen time for kids, but lately I’ve been letting them play more apps on the iPad and also Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. I’ve even come to think of their Kart playing as educational as well as entertaining. Watching them level up in the game has been fascinating to watch — Minna (my almost 7-year-old) has gone from not even being able to steer the kart to winning Grand Prix gold cups at 50cc (and she’s a better shot with a green shell than I am) and Ollie (my 9-year-old) is improving so rapidly that with his superior neuroplasticity and desire, he’ll be beating me in just a few months.1
Ok, but what is Mario Kart really teaching them? This isn’t about preparing them for their driver’s license exam. As dumb as it sounds,2 Mario Kart is a good vehicle (har!) for learning some of life’s most essential skills. They’re learning how persistant practice leads to steady improvement (something which isn’t always readily visible with schoolwork). They’re learning how to ignore what they can’t control and focus on what they can (Minna still watches green shells after shooting them but Ollie no longer does…helloooooo Stoicism). They’re learning how to lose gracefully and try again with determination. Most of all, they’re learning how to navigate an unfamiliar system. Teaching someone how to learn — knowing how to learn things is one of life’s greatest superpowers — is about exposing them to many different kinds of systems and helping them figure them out.
Update: Johnson is hosting a podcast based on the ideas in the book.
Update: Wonderland is now on sale. Johnson adapted an essay from the book on Medium called Small World After All:
The first group to build a single integrated system for global trade were the Muslim spice merchants who came to prominence in the seventh century CE. Muslim traders worked the entire length of a network that stretched from the Indonesian archipelago to Turkey and the Balkans all the way across sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside the cloves and cinnamon, they brought the Koran. In almost all the places where Muslims attempted to convert local communities through military force — Spain or India, for instance — the Islamic faith failed to take root. But the traders turned out to be much more effective emissaries for their religion. The modern world continues to be shaped by those conversions more than a millennium later. The map of the Muslim spice trade circa 900 CE corresponds almost exactly to the map of Islamic populations around the world today.
He also wrote a piece adapted from the book for the NY Times Magazine:
By the dawn of the 20th century, almost every species in the 19th-century genus of illusion was wiped off the map by a new form of “natural magic”: the cinema. The stereoscope, too, withered in the public imagination. (It lingered on as a child’s toy in the 20th century through the cheap plastic View-Master devices many of us enjoyed in grade school.) But then something strange happened: After a century of irrelevance, Brewster’s idea — putting stereoscopic goggles over your eyes to fool your mind into thinking you are gazing out on a three-dimensional world — turned out to have a second life.
There is evidence that humpback whales deliberately disrupt killer whale hunts, saving other animals from being killed by them.
Marine ecologist Robert Pitman observed a particularly dramatic example of this behavior back in 2009, while observing a pod of killer whales hunting a Weddell seal trapped on an ice floe off Antarctica. The orcas were able to successfully knock the seal off the ice, and just as they were closing in for the kill, a magnificent humpback whale suddenly rose up out of the water beneath the seal.
This was no mere accident. In order to better protect the seal, the whale placed it safely on its upturned belly to keep it out of the water. As the seal slipped down the whale’s side, the humpback appeared to use its flippers to carefully help the seal back aboard. Finally, when the coast was clear, the seal was able to safely swim off to another, more secure ice floe.
Pitman has collected 115 incidents of humpbacks messing with orca hunts. (via @unlikelywords)
The Internet Archive has collected the first dozen years’ worth of Nintendo Power magazines. I was a subscriber to Nintendo Power for the first couple years, having previously received the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter. The first issue contained an extensive guide to Super Mario Bros 2, teased a game called Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf, and the Legend of Zelda was ranked the #1 game, ahead of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, and Kid Icarus.
The July 1991 issue shows how good Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was at Game Boy Tetris:
“Evets Kainzow” is “Steve Wozniak” spelled backwards.
Update: Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley made his way into the high score list in the magazine twice in 1990; once for Strider and again for Ninja Gaiden II (alongside Steve Wozniak’s massive GB Tetris score).
The New Yorker is posting some of their iconic cartoons on a dedicated Instagram account. Instant follow.
Seymour Papert, a giant in the worlds of computing and education, died on Sunday aged 88.
Dr. Papert, who was born in South Africa, was one of the leading educational theorists of the last half-century and a co-director of the renowned Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In some circles he was considered the world’s foremost expert on how technology can provide new ways for children to learn.
In the pencil-and-paper world of the 1960s classroom, Dr. Papert envisioned a computing device on every desk and an internetlike environment in which vast amounts of printed material would be available to children. He put his ideas into practice, creating in the late ’60s a computer programming language, called Logo, to teach children how to use computers.
I missed out on using Logo as a kid, but I know many people for whom Logo was their introduction to computers and programming. The MIT Media Lab has a short remembrance of Papert as well.
A lovely short video profile of Thomas Lilley, who is a roadliner in Glasgow. A roadliner is a person who paints the words and marks on roads with molten thermoplastic. Lilley does it quickly, freehand, and beautifully. The design firm who did the video above commissioned Lilley’s crew to make a custom typeface for them and their new logo.
See also The art of street typography. (via @mathowie)
Until their first show at Madison Square Garden in NYC last week, Radiohead hadn’t played Let Down off of OK Computer in concert since 2006. I was lucky enough to be in attendance and some collective shit was lost over this, I tell you what. They’ve since played it at all three of their subsequent shows. (They’ve also played Creep twice in the past week, which is also rare.)
Here’s the full set list from that night, which is mainly just for me in 28 years when this is the last remaining page on the internet with this info.
Burn the Witch
Desert Island Disk
The National Anthem
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
2 + 2 = 5
Everything in Its Right Place
Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Update: Here’s a video from when they played it in 2006 in Wolverhampton:
With Kickstarter’s advanced search capability, you can see a list of projects on the site with the goal of raising more than $1 million but with less than $1,000 in pledges. A sampling of recent projects from the list:
Secure Spent Fuel Rods Now ($30,000,000 goal). Needs the funds to produce and air TV commercials about the need to secure spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors.
LeBron the Redeemer Statue ($1,000,000 goal). This is my favorite: this project aims to construct a statue of LeBron James in the style of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. I think we should actually be backing this.
The Exodus, one Ark or many ($100,000,000 goal). To buy used cruise ships to form permanent sustainable societies at sea. “Pirates” is listed as one of the project’s potential risks.
Breakfast 24/7 ($1,000,000). For building a chain of restaurants that will serve and deliver breakfast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 360 days a year.
I know that headline is a little harsh; many of these projects are good ideas that perhaps need more reasonable budgets and goals or might be better realized through non-crowdfunding avenues. Keep on reaching for the stars, kids!
A Siberian heatwave has led to permafrost thaws that have released long-dormant anthrax bacteria, resulting in the hospitalization of 13 people and the death of over 1500 reindeer.
Citing earlier work from 2007, they estimated anthrax spores remain viable in the permafrost for 105 years. Buried deeper, the bacteria may be able to hibernate for even longer. At the same time, where meteorological data were available they indicate temperatures in Yakutia are increasing.
“As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back,” the scientists warned, “especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.” Cattle grave sites should be monitored, they concluded, and “public health authorities should maintain permanent alertness.”
Another one of those delightful little climate change gotchas, like the near-death of the Great Barrier Reef.
Update: Eric Holthaus talked to some experts and climatologists and yes, pathogens released by warming are something we were warned about and we need to be concerned about it.
Romanovsky says the possibility that additional pathogens may be released from the permafrost, if that is indeed the source, makes it even more important to study this specific outbreak closely. Once in the water supply, in theory, a future pathogen could spread outside the local area, carried by people or by migrating birds or animals.
Though the current outbreak is happening during an unusual period of extreme warmth, Romanovsky says that, “if it gets warmer in the future, and it seems like it will, the thawing permafrost could be massive.” A further degradation of the permafrost would allow more opportunity for the emergence of sequestered microbes.
Amazon has built a store specifically for products that started out on Kickstarter. What a great idea. Here is Kickstarter’s post about the initiative.
Getting a creative idea off the ground is often just the first step. Amazon Launchpad is a chance for creators to be discovered by new audiences, and to serve those audiences well by using Amazon’s retail expertise and infrastructure. The program offers custom product pages, comprehensive marketing support, and access to Amazon’s global fulfillment network.
A quick look through the store yielded some products that I’ve backed or featured on kottke.org: Electric Objects Digital Art Display, The Internet’s Own Boy, Richard Renaldi’s Touching Strangers, and Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding.
In the biggest water miracle since Christ walked on the Sea of Galilee,1 Israel has turned certain drought into a surplus of water. Conservation helped — low-flow shower heads, recycling waste water for crop irrigation — but much of the gain came from vastly improved desalinization techniques, which they hope can spread across the region and the world.
We are standing above the new Sorek desalination plant, the largest reverse-osmosis desal facility in the world, and we are staring at Israel’s salvation. Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has a surplus. That remarkable turnaround was accomplished through national campaigns to conserve and reuse Israel’s meager water resources, but the biggest impact came from a new wave of desalination plants.
Perhaps the world won’t end in water wars after all.
Update: Of course, technological advances can affect politics in many ways. Instead of sharing the tech, Israel can use their water advantage to put political pressure on their neighbors, as when Israel cut water supplies to the West Bank earlier this year during Ramadan.
Even without politics, desalinization is problematic…there’s the small matter of where to put all that salt:
Brine disposal is a big problem in much of the Middle East. The gulf, along with the Red and Mediterranean seas, are turning saltier because of desalination by-products — and the region is the epicenter of desalination worldwide, with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman making up 45 percent of global desalination capacity. This brine is typically twice as salty as seawater, and advanced desalination plants still produce approximately two cubic meters of waste brine for every one cubic meter of clean water.
(thx, jennifer & nathan)
Ace illustrator Christoph Niemann has a new book coming out called Words, an illustrated compilation of 300+ sight words
What can you do with a word? Read it, spell it, say it, picture it, understand it, make a sentence with it, tell a story with it, share it with a friend. Everything starts with a love of words! More than 300 words inspired by Dr. Edward Fry’s list of sight words are paired with striking and playful illustrations by internationally renowned designer and artist Christoph Niemann to deepen understanding, to enrich, and to enlighten those learning to read and write English, whether they be children or adults.
The guy behind Primitive Technology (aka my favorite YouTube channel) is back with a video on how to build a forge blower, a device for fanning a fire to make it hotter.
This device produces a blast of air with each stroke of the bow regardless of whether it is pushed or pulled. The bow makes it possible to operate the blower without using a complicated belt and wheel assembly used in traditional forge blowers. There is a brief pause at the end of each stroke where the fan stops to rotate in the other direction, but this is effectively no different to the intermittent blast of a double acting bellows of Europe or box bellows of Asia. The materials used (wood, bark, bark fibre and clay) are readily available on most continents. No leather, valves or precisely fitted piston gaskets are required as with other types of bellows.
The way he shoots & edits these videos is so good…packing, what, dozens or even hundreds of years of technological evolution into a minute or two of wordless video.
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