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Entries for October 2016 (November 2016 »    December 2016 »    Archives)

 

Roger Deakins: Shadows in the Valley

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

A visual tribute to the gorgeous cinematography of Roger Deakins, one of the all-time great cinematographers. Deakins has worked on a number of films with the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, No Country for Old Men) and a bunch of other films as well (Skyfall, Kundun, and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel).

We Work Remotely

AIDS and the myth of Patient Zero

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

Some recent genetic testing of the blood of AIDS patients has determined that the strain of HIV responsible for the majority of the AIDS cases in the US spread from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, from Haiti to NYC around 1971, and from there to San Francisco around 1976 and that Gaétan Dugas (aka Patient Zero) was not responsible for setting the epidemic in motion.

The strain of H.I.V. responsible for almost all AIDS cases in the United States, which was carried from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, spread from there to New York City around 1971, researchers concluded in the journal Nature. From New York, it spread to San Francisco around 1976.

The new analysis shows that Mr. Dugas’s blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York before he began visiting gay bars in the city after being hired by Air Canada in 1974.

The researchers also reported that originally, Mr. Dugas was not even called Patient Zero — in an early epidemiological study of cases, he was designated Patient O, for “outside Southern California,” where the study began. The ambiguous circular symbol on a chart was later read as a zero, stoking the notion that blame for the epidemic could be placed on one man.

Royal Constellations

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

Royal Constellations

The United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and six other European countries still have hereditary royal leaders and they are all related to each other. Royal Constellations is an interactive infographic for exploring the ancestral relationships of Europe’s royalty.

Royal & aristocratic families are known for their fondness of marrying within their own clique. Restraining aggression between two families, creating a stronger front towards a third family, increasing territorial acquisitions, legal claim to a foreign throne through inheritance are some of the most common reasons.

This leads to very interesting & entangled family trees which the visual below tries to convey. It shows how all 10 of the current hereditary royal leaders of Europe can be connected to each other through their ancestors. We don’t have to look very far back. Even the most distant royal relatives have their shared forebears born after the year 1700.

Volcano Bread: geothermally baked bread

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

In Iceland, geothermal vents and hot springs abound and you can use them to bake rye bread in a pot at fairly low temperatures for 24 hours. At a spa outside Reykjavik, they have something called the Rye Bread Experience where they take guests to see how the geothermal ovens work. Filmmaker Alison Grasso went on one of the tours and made a short film about it.

Tales of the Unexpected

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

When I watch Black Mirror, particularly the newest Netflix season, I don’t think it’s primarily classic science fiction or about our relationship to technology.1 What I’m reminded of most strongly is The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, both of which appear on the list of movies, books, and TV shows that influenced Charlie Brooker while making Black Mirror.

I read Tales of the Unexpected when I was a kid, having exhausted all of the other Roald Dahl books in our small town library and one day randomly discovering that he’d written this book of short stories for adults. His use of horror and black comedy are evident in the most celebrated story, Lamb to the Slaughter, in which a woman murders her husband by whacking him in the head with a frozen leg of lamb and then serves the lamb to the police detectives who come round to investigate the death.

Anyway, what I didn’t know was that Tales of the Unexpected was also adapted into a TV show hosted by Dahl himself. I’ve embedded the Lamb to the Slaughter episode above and there are many more of the full episodes available on YouTube.

  1. Or as Mallory Ortberg put it, “next on black mirror: what if phones but too much”.

Best of Luck With the Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

In his film Best of Luck With the Wall, director Josh Begley takes us on a journey across the entire US/Mexico border. It’s a simple premise — a continuous display of 200,000 satellite images of the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico — but one that delivers a powerful feeling of how large the world is and how meaningless borders are from a certain perspective.

The project started from a really simple place. It was about looking. It was about the pure desire to understand the visual landscape that we are talking about when we are talking about the southern border of the United States. What does the southern border of the United States actually look like? And in that sense it was a very simple gesture to try to see the border in aggregate. If you were to compile all 2000 miles and try to see it in a short space — what would that look like? In another sense it grew out of the discourses as you suggested. The way migration is talked about in our contemporary moment and in particular the way migration is talked about in terms of the southern border of the U.S. So part of this piece is a response to the way migrants and borders are talked about in our politics. And it’s also just a way of looking at landscape as a way to think about some of those things.

The online version of the film is 6 minutes long, but Begley states that longer versions might make their way into galleries and such.

The design of these Lego shopping bags is 100% genius

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

Lego Bag Design

These Lego shopping bags are cleverly designed to make people carrying them look like they have Lego minifig arms. Fantastic design. (via @andrewbloch)

Your Black Mirror reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

Black Mirror Reading List

Over at GQ, Lincoln Michel shares 12 Books to Read After Binge-Watching Black Mirror. Among them:

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

Earlier this month, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker shared 105 cultural artifacts that influenced the series, including some surprises like Fawlty Towers — “often in our episodes, someone is trapped at the center of a dilemma they never get out of, and that describes every episode of Fawlty Towers” — Airplane!, and Radiohead’s The National Anthem, as well as more familiar influences like 2001, The X-Files, and The Matrix. Only a handful of books on the list though, including:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.
On Killing by Dave Grossman.

On Twitter recently, Joshua Topolsky called Black Mirror “the show for people who’ve never read any science fiction”. Perhaps that’s because Brooker hasn’t really either?

Gorgeous ultra HD fly-through of the inside of the International Space Station

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

NASA has uploaded a beautiful and relaxing 18-minute fly-through video of the International Space Station filmed in ultra high-definition 4K resolution. They used to a fisheye lens to film it, which means you get plenty of detail and depth of field.

Wes Anderson is doing another animated movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

In an interview with Alexander Olch, founder of the cool new Metrograph theater in NYC, Wes Anderson just casually reveals that he’s doing another stop-motion animated movie that’s currently in production.

I’ve got an animated movie I’m doing that’s happening across the room from me right now. So I can see a long list of e-mails from people on the set whom I now need to address.

We know from about a year ago that dogs are involved, as are Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum. Looking forward to this one…Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson’s most underrated film.

P.S. In the same interview, Anderson and Olch briefly discuss Powers of Ten. :)

The worms that grow their own food

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

A species of worm in the north-east Atlantic has been observed farming. They plant grass seeds in their burrows and feed on the sprouts when they start growing.

Ragworms (Hediste diversicolor) were thought to consume the seeds of cordgrass, an abundant plant in the coastal habitats where they live. But the seeds have a tough husk, so it was a mystery how the worms could access the edible interior.

Zhenchang Zhu at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in Yerseke and his team have now discovered the worms’ surprising trick: they bury the seeds and wait for them to germinate, later feeding on the juicy sprouting shoots.

I, for one, welcome our new farming worm overlords.

Ditch your slow cooker for a pressure cooker

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

On Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt tests out different recipes using slow cookers, Dutch ovens, and pressure cookers and comes to the conclusion that the pressure cooker and Dutch Oven often give better results.

A good traditional chicken stock is made by simmering chicken carcasses and aromatics in water on the stovetop for several hours. A couple of years ago, I ran a few quick tests to determine whether or not stock could successfully be made in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. From my own experience, I was fairly certain that the pressure cooker would produce a superior stock, while the slow cooker would produce a thinner, less flavorful one, but I was surprised by the degree to which this was true. The difference between the stock made in a Dutch oven or pressure cooker and the stock made in a slow cooker was like night and day. This experiment was a good start, but I decided that to really get to the bottom of this, a lot more serious testing was in order.

Neven Mrgan has been preaching the gospel of the pressure cooker for making risotto on what is probably my current favorite Instagram account, Sardine Brunch.

Pea Risotto

Ham and pea risotto: arborio rice, ham stock, parmesan. 6 minutes in the pressure cooker!

(Of course, as with all recipes, this refers to the length of the longest step, really. You still have to chop the onions, fry them with the rice, get the whole thing up to temp/pressure. But that would be the case with a traditional recipe, too, except you’d have to add at least half an hour of stirring!)

Mrgan uses The Instant Pot, which seems to be the internet’s choice for pressure cookers.

Green Day brings fan on stage, fan slays on guitar

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

At a recent concert in Chicago, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong noticed a kid in the audience holding a sign saying “I can play every song on Dookie” and pulled him up on stage to prove it. Aside from a slightly slow tempo, he did pretty well on When I Come Around.

P.S. Was thinking about this the other day: I don’t know that I would have picked Green Day as one of the 90s bands that has stuck around, still touring, still recording, still attracting new fans.

Patton Oswalt: “I’ll Never Be at 100 Percent Again”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

The actor and comic Patton Oswalt lost his wife earlier this year to an unknown cause.

This was, Mr. Oswalt said, the second worst day of his life: “The worst is when I told my daughter the next day.”

He paused his rushing monologue, his voice lowering as he skipped over that awful memory to one from the next day, when Alice mentioned “Inside Out,” the Pixar film peopled with characters representing a girl’s emotional states. “I guess Sadness is doing her job right now,” she said.

Oh man, what a thing. How do you even deal with that? I’ve had some sad, low days over the past three years, but nothing compared to what Oswalt’s going through.

Update: Oswalt has been talking about his wife’s death and the aftermath in appearances and his updated stand-up material.

“If they would call it a numb slog instead of a healing journey, it would make it a lot fucking easier!” Oswalt said. “Because when they call it a healing journey and it’s just a day of you eating Wheat Thins for breakfast in your underwear, it’s like, ‘I guess I’m fucking up my healing journey.’ But if they would say you’re going to have a numb slog, instead you’d go, ‘I’m nailing it!’”

He went on to say that when he would sometimes tell his wife that “everything happens for a reason,” she would tell him, “No it doesn’t.” Ironically, he said, she ended up proving her point to him “in the shittiest way possible.” He added, “She won the argument in the worst way!”

(via @austinkleon)

Update: Oswalt writes about becoming a single parent after the death of his wife.

It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen. Imagine Frances McDormand dying in the first act of Fargo and her dim-bulb patrol partner — the one who can’t recognize dealer plates — has to bring William H. Macy to justice.

I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won’t screw her up the way I know I will. Somebody help me! I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

I could barely get through this piece without losing it. Every single fear and anxiety I have is now channelled through my parenting. If this is what it feels like for me — and I am lucky to have time away from it and an amazing parenting partner — I cannot imagine what this feels like for a truly single parent like Oswalt.

I’m not an asshole, I’m an introvert!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

Ok, maybe this is fair.

Most introverts find small talk cumbersome, but I actually hate all sizes of talk. I especially hate talking on the phone, even with friends. If a friend texts me, “Hey, you’re twenty minutes late! You promised you wouldn’t flake again, are you still coming?” or “emergency i need your help please call me asap,” I just won’t do it. When you think about it, it’s sort of selfish of them to demand that I talk to them on the phone even after I’ve told them multiple times that I’m an introvert.

As an introvert, I hate donating money to charity. I’m just too shy to think about my money going to help some stranger.

See also Sorry I Murdered Everyone, But I’m An Introvert.

A history of pencil lead and how pencils are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

This video is a combination of two things I like very much: long zoom histories and how things are made. The first part of the video follows the story of graphite back to the Big Bang.

[Carl Sagan-eque interlude: “If you want to make a pencil from scratch, first you must invent the universe.”]

The second part shows how pencils are made. Most surprising discovery while watching: Henry David Thoreau (yes, that one) was a talented pencil engineer:

John’s thoughtful son David*, unemployed after graduating from college, started helping out with the family business. He developed new refining techniques that made Thoreau pencils less brittle, less greasy — at the time, they were the finest pencils America had to offer. The Thoreaus were able to offer a variety of pencils, from No. 1 (the softest) to No. 4 (the hardest). That numbering system survives today.

The best artists invent their own tools. (via the kid should see this)

Donald Trump is modeling his life after Charles Foster Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Last year, back when he was only one of more than a dozen GOP candidates, I discovered Citizen Kane was one of Donald Trump’s favorite movies via a video filmed by Errol Morris.

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

Spurred by a recent re-watch of Citizen Kane, Anthony Audi digs deeper into Trump’s misunderstanding of the film and finds that the course of Trump’s life has followed that of Charles Foster Kane.

He understands instinctively that by controlling the press, he can shape opinions on a mass scale — bending the truth as he sees fit. Over time, and through his marketing savvy, he develops a powerful media empire. Because that’s not enough, he then turns his sights to politics, running for New York governor as a stepping-stone to the White House. At campaign rallies, Kane gleefully brags about his poll numbers, and vows to lock up his opponent Jim Gettys, whom he condemns as an establishment tool. “Here’s one promise I’ll make,” he finally thunders. “My first official act as governor of the state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of “Boss” Jim W. Gettys!”

Kane never gets to fulfill that pledge. Instead, he loses the election-his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!”

The piece is entitled Donald Trump Modeled His Life on Cinematic Loser Charles Foster Kane. Consciously or not, Trump does seem to be following Kane’s playbook here, right down to the fascism.

Specifically, Citizen Kane was a vision of what fascism might resemble in America. Both men knew better than to expect Hitler or Mussolini on our shores. They knew that our demagogue would be glossier, more entertaining-more American; and the man they conjured, inspired by real-life plutocrats like William Randolph Hearst, happened to look an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Read the whole thing…this is right up there with the best explainers of why Trump is the way he is. And part 2 is coming soon, an interview with Morris about Trump’s love of Kane.

Update: Audi’s interview with Morris was posted a couple of weeks before the election. Morris says Trump suffers from Irony Deficit Disorder.

Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue — if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say? — it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane — I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!

And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?

Upgrade your life with rechargeable batteries

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Rechargeable Batteries

Are you ready? Because I am about to change your life! (Ok, only a little, but still.) If you’re still using disposable batteries and wastefully throwing them away after they’re spent, I want to you stop what you’re doing and — right now!! — order a charger and enough rechargeable AA batteries & AAA batteries to power all the devices in your life.1 I did this about three years ago and haven’t looked back.

Look around you: your remotes, your wireless mouse & keyboard, and your kid’s remote control car. Close your eyes, what else? Flashlight, portable radio, clocks, smoke detectors, etc. Count all those batteries up, add a few extras so you always have charged batteries on hand, and then order that many rechargeable batteries. Battery problems solved forever.

Why do this? For starters, throwing batteries away is wasteful & harmful to the environment and recycling them is inconvenient (which means you probably won’t do it). In addition to saving the planet, you’ll also save money in the long run. While rechargeables might cost you 2-3X the price of normal AA batteries, you can reuse them hundreds of times. I’ve changed the batteries in my mouse every 2-3 months over the past 3 years and only used 2 rechargeables vs. 24 normal batteries over the same period. Even factoring in the charger cost, you’re saving money. There’s also the convenience factor. I never have to run to the store anymore when the remote batteries die — there’s always a fresh pair of batteries in the drawer or in another device I can use while the spent ones quickly recharge.

Rechargeable batteries used to suck but they don’t anymore. They ship fully charged, last a long time with good power, charge quickly, stay charged while sitting on a shelf, can be reused hundreds and even thousands of times for years, and you can charge AAs and AAAs from different brands with the same charger at the same time. So buy a charger, buy some batteries, and upgrade your life.

  1. The batteries and chargers I’ve linked to here are the Wirecutter’s recommendations. I’ve personally been using the Eneloop charger and batteries with zero complaints.

Stranger Things x Childish Gambino

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Soundcloud user kmlkmljkl took the Stranger Things opening title song and mixed it with Childish Gambino’s Bonfire. [fire emoji] [fire emoji] [fire emoji]

(Will they have Lando sing in the upcoming young Han Solo movie? That would be a brave move.)

We’ve reached the end of white Christian America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

America is no longer a majority white, Christian country.

At 45 percent of the population, white Christians are a shrinking demographic — and the backlash from many members of the group against the increasing diversification of America has been swift and bitter.

The narrator of the video, Robert P. Jones, wrote a book about this new reality called The End of White Christian America.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA) — the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians — set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Nazi helmets remade into pots and pans

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

After World War II, the helmets of German soldiers were refashioned into colanders, pots, and other kitchen utensils. This video from the British Pathé archive shows how the repurposing happened.

A hypnotic display of robots making tiny springs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

A beautifully shot HD video of machines manufacturing springs and other wire gizmos. I love how all the tools take turns and work together to make the widgets. Imagine the chatter amongst the tools:

“Ok, thanks, my turn.”

“Here, hold this while I turn it. Alright, we’re out.”

“Lemme just bend that a little for you.”

“Outta the way, I just gotta twist this for a sec.”

(via @pieratt, who says to substitute Steve Reich for the provided music)

The search for “swing” in rowing

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

When rowing crew, each rower is attempting to achieve a flow-like state called “swing” with the other members of the boat.

Legendary sportswriter Paul Gallico — who rowed in the six-seat of an outstanding 1921 Columbia crew — described the bonding process every squad undergoes when it coheres from a group of individuals to a single crew. “We became one with the boat and our fellow oarsmen and felt ourselves as giants, since one’s own power applied to the shell was multiplied by eight,” he wrote. “Not often, but from time to time, there are moments when a good crew really blends together, bringing an ineffable delight to the rower as he feels his shell surge forward beneath him. Eight oars whip out of the water in unison; eight oars dip again and one feels a great exultation in one’s breast.”

This “great exultation” is known to all oarsmen as “swing.” Swing is ephemeral and almost indescribable. It’s the challenge that keeps oarsmen rowing. It’s the moment when the physical propulsion of a shell evolves into a metaphysical feeling of transcendence. This is the essence of crew.

As with other sporting endeavors like free throw shooting and putting in golf, excelling in rowing requires relaxed concentration.

Rowing is a paradoxical quest. To row effectively, an athlete must be simultaneously graceful and brutal, intense and relaxed, thoughtful and robotic.

(via @jjg)

Kate McKinnon’s Ghostbusters outtake reel: A++++

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

I watched the new Ghostbusters last week and:

1. It was good…better than the trailers indicated it would be.

2. LOL to all the whiny man-babies who boycotted and trashed it because of the all-female main cast. If there was anything wrong with the film, it had nothing to do with the leads.

3. Kate McKinnon was flat-out amazing, a revelation. I could watch 20 more minutes of her outtakes.

4. “Not just Higgs!”

Meet the Perennials

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Gina Pell on the Perennials, the growing group of people who aren’t bound by age in the way most people in society used to be.

We are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded, risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge and know how to hustle. We comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic.

This is an idea that’s been gathering steam for some time. In 2006, Adam Sternbergh wrote Up With Grups for New York Magazine.

Let’s start with a question. A few questions, actually: When did it become normal for your average 35-year-old New Yorker to (a) walk around with an iPod plugged into his ears at all times, listening to the latest from Bloc Party; (b) regularly buy his clothes at Urban Outfitters; (c) take her toddler to a Mommy’s Happy Hour at a Brooklyn bar; (d) stay out till 4 A.M. because he just can’t miss the latest New Pornographers show, because who knows when Neko Case will decide to stop touring with them, and everyone knows she’s the heart of the band; (e) spend $250 on a pair of jeans that are artfully shredded to look like they just fell through a wheat thresher and are designed, eventually, to artfully fall totally apart; (f) decide that Sufjan Stevens is the perfect music to play for her 2-year-old, because, let’s face it, 2-year-olds have lousy taste in music, and we will not listen to the Wiggles in this house; (g) wear sneakers as a fashion statement; (h) wear the same vintage New Balance sneakers that he wore on his first day of school in the seventh grade as a fashion statement; (i) wear said sneakers to the office; (j) quit the office job because-you know what?-screw the office and screw jockeying for that promotion to VP, because isn’t promotion just another word for “slavery”?; (k) and besides, now that she’s a freelancer, working on her own projects, on her own terms, it’s that much easier to kick off in the middle of the week for a quick snowboarding trip to Sugarbush, because she’s got to have some balance, right? And she can write it off, too, because who knows? She might bump into Spike Jonze on the slopes; (l) wear a Misfits T-shirt; (m) make his 2-year-old wear a Misfits T-shirt; (n) never shave; (o) take pride in never shaving; (p) take pride in never shaving while spending $200 on a bedhead haircut and $600 on a messenger bag, because, seriously, only his grandfather or some frat-boy Wall Street flunky still carries a briefcase; or (q) all of the above?

As part of a package of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now, Catherine Mayer wrote about Amortality for Time Magazine.

Amortals live among us. In their teens and 20s, they may seem preternaturally experienced. In later life, they often look young and dress younger. They have kids early or late — sometimes very late — or not at all. Their emotional lives are as chaotic as their financial planning. The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.

Cowell is one of their poster boys; so too is France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, as mercurial as a hormonal teenager. Madonna is relentlessly amortal. It’s easier to diagnose the condition in the middle-aged, but there are baby amortals — think Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, who looks set to comport himself like a student geek to the end of his days. The eldest amortals, born long before the first boomer wave, are still making mischief around the world.

As centers of culture, big cities have always been places where people could go to not act their age. The internet has become another of those places — no one knows you’re a dog or 43 years old or 14 years old — and the sort of reinvention that’s commonplace online has leaked out into the real world.

Mercedes’ solution to the trolley problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

In their solution to the trolley problem, Mercedes self-driving cars will be programmed to save the people riding in the cars at the potential expense of pedestrians, cyclists, or passengers in other cars.

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car,” von Hugo told Car and Driver in an interview. “If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

In other words, their driverless cars will act very much like the stereotypical entitled European luxury car driver. (via @essl)

Clever origami-like measuring spoon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

This folding measuring spoon on Kickstarter is clever as hell. Polygons lays flat in a drawer and, depending on how you pick it up, folds into four different volumes.

Premarked areas on both spoon sizes (tablespoon and teaspoon) let you know where to pick up from to measure the volume required for your recipe. Practicality and simplicity at its finest.

The spoons come in two sizes (the smaller measures teaspoons and the larger one tablespoons), they’re marked with US and metric measurements, you can flatten it to easily scrape every last bit of stuff into the bowl, and it doubles as a knife when flat as well. (via colossal)

Update: Hmm, it looks like Polygons needs a little more work to be a fully functional product. (thx, mac)

The Most Efficient Way to Destroy the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Kurzgesagt shares a speculative bit of physics called vacuum decay that could very efficiently erase the entire Universe.

To understand vacuum decay, you need to consider the Higgs field that permeates our Universe. Like an electric field, the Higgs field varies in strength, based on its potential. Think of the potential as a track on which a ball is rolling. The higher it is on the track, the more energy the ball has.

The Higgs potential determines whether the Universe is in one of two states: a true vacuum, or a false vacuum. A true vacuum is the stable, lowest-energy state, like sitting still on a valley floor. A false vacuum is like being nestled in a divot in the valley wall — a little push could easily send you tumbling. A universe in a false vacuum state is called “metastable”, because it’s not actively decaying (rolling), but it’s not exactly stable either.

There are two problems with living in a metastable universe. One is that if you create a high enough energy event, you can, in theory, push a tiny region of the universe from the false vacuum into the true vacuum, creating a bubble of true vacuum that will then expand in all directions at the speed of light. Such a bubble would be lethal.

Such a process could already be underway, but don’t worry:

But even if one or multiple spheres of death have already started expanding, the Universe is so big they might not reach us for billions of years.

A short history of Beyonce

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

From Genius, a short review of Beyonce Knowles’ life and career, from an appearance on Star Search — I wonder what Skeleton Crew is up to these days? — to Lemonade, one of 2016’s few genuine bright spots. The greatest entertainer of the century so far? A friend recently went to see Beyonce and Kanye concerts about two weeks apart. I asked her who was better and she just rolled her eyes.

Kanye songs slowed down to match the tempo of the original samples

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Here’s a playlist of snippets of five Kanye West songs that contain samples played at the original tempo of those samples. (A couple of the songs are his and some he was featured on or produced.) (thx, brant)

SNL’s Black Jeopardy

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2016

This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.

Update: Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie details why the Black Jeopardy sketch was so good; the title of the piece asks, “The Most Astute Analysis of American Politics in 2016?”

When Thompson reads a second clue for that category — “They out here saying that every vote counts” — Doug answers again, and again correctly: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ‘fore it happens.’” With each correct answer, Doug gets cheers and applause from Thompson, the black contestants, and the black audience. They all seem to understand the world in similar ways. “I really appreciate you saying that,” says Thompson after Doug praises Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, leading to an awkward moment where Hanks’ character recoils in fear as Thompson tries to shake his hand, but then relaxes and accepts the gesture.

By this point, the message is clear. On this episode of “Black Jeopardy!”, the questions are rooted in feelings of disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity-experiences that cut across racial lines. Thompson and the guests are black, but they can appreciate the things they share with Doug, and in turn, Doug grows more and more comfortable in their presence, such that he gets a “pass” from the group after he refers to them as “you people.”

Breakfast

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

A quick short film about how different people in LA approach breakfast, from the woman who nibbles to the professional bodybuilder who eats 30 egg whites and a cup of grits on his off day.

Me? I almost never eat breakfast and have been unwittingly following an intermittent fasting regimen for many years.

The cutthroat world of professional mini golf

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

A short video look at the Master’s golf tournament. You know, the one where you get the green jacket for winning. No, not that onethe mini golf one.

True story: I have won a mini golf tournament. It was an 18-hole affair, a 4th of July tourney at a campground in northwestern Wisconsin. At 16, I was the youngest competitor in the adult competition and had never before (or since) shown any aptitude for the game of golf, mini or otherwise. Somehow I beat the defending champion on his home course by one stroke. I declined to turn pro and promptly retired from competition.

Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog’s latest volcanic documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

Werner Herzog has directed a documentary film for Netflix on volcanoes.

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Into the Inferno, heads just where its title suggests: into the red-hot magma-filled craters of some of the world’s most active and astonishing volcanoes-taking the filmmaker on one of the most extreme tours of his long career. From North Korea to Ethiopia to Iceland to the Vanuatu Archipelago, humans have created narratives to make sense of volcanoes; as stated by Herzog, “volcanoes could not care less what we are doing up here.” Into the Inferno teams Herzog with esteemed volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to offer not only an in-depth exploration of volcanoes across the globe but also an examination of the belief systems that human beings have created around the fiery phenomena.

Into the Inferno debuts on Netflix on October 28.

This happy dog sounds like a TIE Fighter

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Animals make all sorts of crazy noises when they’re happy or when they laugh, like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. This dog, named Geraldine, sounds pretty much like a TIE Fighter from Star Wars when she gets excited. (via @jhgard)

Abnormal heartbeat EKG waves

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Abnormal EKG

This is a lovely infographic from Eleanor Lutz of a bunch of different heartbeat EKG waves, from a normal heartbeat to a flatline to ventricular fibrillation (“must be treated immediately with CPR and defibrillation”.) Prints are available.

Isis Hair Salon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Carrie Banks has owned and operated Isis Hair Salon in LA for more than 20 years. But because of recent events in the Middle East and jokers on social media, the name has become a liability in recent years. Banks has even had difficulty finding someone to replace the sign outside the salon in the event of a name change.

How the Cretaceous coastline of North America affects US presidential elections

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

2012 Election Map

That’s a portion of the 2012 US Presidential election map of the southern states broken down by county: blue ones went Barack Obama’s way and counties in red voted for Mitt Romney.

But let’s go back to the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Back then, the coastline of what is now North America looked like this:

Cretaceous Coast

Along that ancient coastline of a shallow sea, plankton with carbonate skeletons lived and died in massive numbers, accumulating into large chalk formations on the bottom of the sea. When the sea level dropped and the sea drained through the porous chalk, rich bands of soil were left right along the former coastline. When that area was settled and farmed in the 19th century, that rich soil was perfect for growing cotton. And cotton production was particularly profitable, so slaves were heavily used in those areas.

McClain, quoting from Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, points out: “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers.” After the Civil War, a lot of former slaves stayed on this land, and while many migrated North, their families are still there.

The counties in which slave populations were highest before the Civil War are still home to large African American populations, which tend to vote for Democratic presidential candidates, even as the whiter counties around them vote for Republicans. The voting pattern of those counties on the map follows the Cretaceous coastline of 100 million years ago — the plankton fell, the cotton grew, the slaves bled into that rich soil, and their descendants later helped a black man reach the White House.

Harry Potter and the Translator’s Nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Due to its popularity, the Harry Potter series of books has been translated into dozens of different languages from around the world. Given the books’ setting in Britain, heavy use of wordplay & allusions, and all of the invented words, translating the books accurately and faithfully was difficult.

Translators weren’t given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.

Also not mentioned in the video is all of the foreshadowing Rowling uses in the first few books in the series that pays off in later books. Since the translators probably didn’t know the plot details of the later books, some of that foreshadowing might have been edited out, downplayed, or misinterpreted.

DNA evidence: humans are still evolving

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago professor and author of Why Evolution is True, shares the results of a recent paper called Detection of human adaptation during the past 2000 years. In the study, DNA sequencing was used to find human genes that have changed so quickly in the past 2000 years that the authors conclude natural selection must be responsible.

Now, however, we can, by DNA sequencing, look at DNA directly, and with some fancy statistical footwork, get an idea of which genes have changed in frequency so fast that they must have been due to positive natural selection. That’s the subject of a new paper in Science by Yair Field et al. (reference and free download below). The authors conclude that several traits, including lactose tolerance, hair and eye color, and parts of the immune system, as well as height, have evolved within the last 2,000 years.

Other genes that might have changed during that period include those for infant head circumference, insulin levels, birth weight, and female hip size.

Stutterer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary won the 2016 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and is now available to view online for free courtesy of the New Yorker.

It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter.

Great little film…my heart broke three separate times watching it.

A short history of time travel and killing Baby Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.

I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.

Scientists accidentally discover a process to turn CO2 into fuel

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have stumbled upon a process that uses “nanospikes” to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol, a common fuel.

This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.

This sounds like a big deal…is it now possible to limit the effects of climate change by sinking carbon while also placing less dependence on fossil fuels? Here’s the Oak Ridge press release. That this news is almost a week old already and we haven’t heard more about it makes me a bit skeptical as to the true importance of it. (Of course, CRISPR is potentially a massive deal and we don’t hear about it nearly enough so…)

Update: A relevant series of tweets from Eric Hittinger on “why creating ethanol from CO2 cannot solve our energy or climate problems”. Wasn’t fully awake when I posted this apparently because, yeah, duh. (via @leejlh)

Airportraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

Airportrait

Airportrait

Airportrait

Mike Kelley has travelled to airports all over the world, photographing planes taking off and landing and then stitching them together into photos showing each airport’s traffic. (via @feltron whose book features an Airportrait on the cover)

The original Star Wars in 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

A group of hardcore Star Wars fans are restoring the original 1977 theatrical release of the first Star Wars movie in ultra high-def 4K resolution. The video above is a trailer of sorts, but it also shows the restoration of a short scene…the increase in quality and resolution is impressive.

Simply put, we are restoring the original, theatrical version of Star Wars in 4K. Using multiple 35mm prints, scanned at 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at full 4k UHD 4096x1716 resolution. To be clear, this is not simply an upscale of any other source, this is all to be done natively in 4K from 35mm sources. The only exception to this rule is when we don’t have a particular frame available, in that case either an upscale of the Silver Screen Edition, or the official Bluray will be used.

A well-designed reissue of Newton’s Principia

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

Newton Principia

Small Spanish publisher Kronecker Wallis is doing a Kickstarter campaign to print a well-designed version of Isaac Newton’s Principia, one of the most important texts in science.

We have spent several months working on a desire. The desire to have a new edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia in our hands that is on a par with the importance of the text and of modern editorial design. To put it back on our shelves so that we can leaf through it from time to time and feel the pages beneath our fingers.

An opportunity has now arisen. Taking advantage of the fact that the original publication is to celebrate its 330th anniversary in 2017, we wish to republish it with an editorial design that pays attention to every last detail.

I am enjoying this trend of reviving old classics through the lens of modern design and packaging; see also the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual, the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, and the Voyager Golden Record.

The Earth and I

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

Earth And I

From James Lovelock, The Earth and I is a look at our planet and the living things on it…how Earth came to be, what we understand about our planet, and how we live today. Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Edward O. Wilson, and Eric Kandel have contributed writing to the book.

Half a house and other incremental buildings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2016

An architecture firm called Elemental recently completed a disaster relief project in a city in Chile which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Rather than build typical public housing (high-rise apartments), the firm built out neighborhoods with the necessary infrastructure and populated them with half-finished houses.

Half A House

The houses are simple, two-story homes, each with wall that runs down the middle, splitting the house in two. One side of the house is ready to be moved into. The other side is just a frame around empty space, waiting to be built out by the occupant.

That’s from a recent episode of 99% Invisible that covered the trend toward incremental buildings.

These half-built houses are a unique response from urban planners to the housing deficit in cities around the world. The approach has its roots in a building methodology made popular by the 1972 essay, “Housing is a Verb,” by architect John F.C. Turner. Turner made the case that housing ought not be a static unit that is packaged and handed over to people. Rather, housing should be conceived of as an ongoing project wherein residents are co-creators.

Cool idea…they’ve built How Buildings Learn into the process of home ownership.

Finalists in the 2016 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2016

Funny Wildlife

Funny Wildlife

Funny Wildlife

Funny Wildlife

The finalists in the 2016 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been announced.

The Universe has 10 times more galaxies than we thought

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2016

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

A recent paper claims that the Universe has 10 times more galaxies than we previously thought: an estimated 2 trillion galaxies covering every single patch of sky visible from the Earth. But that doesn’t mean the Universe is more massive or that it contains more stars. Phil Plait explains:

Now, let me be clear. This doesn’t meant the Universe is ten times bigger than we thought, or there are ten times as many stars. I’ll explain — I mean, duh, it’s what I do — but to cut to the chase, what they found is that there are lots of teeny, faint galaxies very far away that have gone undetected. So instead of being in a smaller number of big galaxies, stars are divvied up into a bigger number of smaller ones.

So how many stars are there in the Universe? The Milky Way contains about 400 billion stars. Some massive elliptical galaxies house more than 100 trillion stars. Estimates of the total number are rough, but it’s probably around 10^24 stars…that’s a septillion stars, a trillion trillion. It’s absurd that we’d be the only planet in the Universe with life on it.

If you could get everybody to read one book, what would it be?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

Anil Dash recently asked his Twitter followers: “If you could get everybody to read one book, what would it be?” Dash followed up right away with his answer: The Power Broker by Robert Caro.1 Here are some of the other interesting responses:

Letters from A Self-Made Merchant to his Son by George Horace Lorimer.

George Horace Lorimer was an American journalist and author. He is best known as the editor of The Saturday Evening Post. His Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son is a timeless collection of Gilded Age aphorisms from a rich man — a prosperous pork-packer in Chicago to his son, Pierrepont, whom he ‘affectionately’ calls ‘Piggy.’ The writing is subtle and brilliant.

A Simpler Way by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers.

Constructed around five major themes — play, organization, self, emergence, and coherence — A Simpler Way challenges the way we live and work, presenting a profound worldview. In thoughtful, creative prose, the authors help readers connect their own personal experiences to the idea that organizations are evolving systems.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.

In volume one of his America in the King Years, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a masterly account of the American civil rights movement. Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American civil rights movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.

In her comic, scathing essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men-bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People’s History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools — with its emphasis on great men in high places — to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis — that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

Kindred by Octavia Butler.

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

That’s a nice little syllabus for a What Is America? class. I’m not entirely sure what my answer would be. Infinite Jest is my favorite book, but I’m wary of recommending it to people — it was an important book for me but perhaps not for others. Maybe A People’s History of the United States or Isabel Wilkerson’s amazing The Warmth of Other Suns?

  1. I’m still working my way through the audiobook, but it’s a great choice if you want to understand how the political sausage gets made.

Erasing the nipple from Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

Note: if you’re browsing at work, there are photos below that are probably NSFW even though they are artistic and making a political point. The project itself suggests that the idea of NSFW is dumb, which makes me uncomfortable about calling it out like this, but you know, pragmatism…not everyone can afford to have a conversation with their boss about why viewing art during the workday is a good idea.

Posting photos of full frontal nudity on Instagram is against their terms of service.1 No nipples, no pubic hair and certainly no vaginas or penises. Butts are ok though because…I dunno, everyone has one? For a project entitled Busts, model and photographer Sasha Frolova took inspiration from Instagram removing one of her photos and took portraits of women and seamlessly erased their nipples.

Sasha Frolova

Sasha Frolova

The photo taken down from Instagram was the catalyst for this series. It was a black and white self-portrait I took exhausted in the bath after a panic attack at age 16. Releasing it was a coming to terms with the fact that I no longer feel so unstable. Because of that, having it removed was particularly violating. But more than anything though I was offended that all it takes is a pizza emoji over my discreetly revealed nipples to make the image appropriate. Is the implication then that a woman, simply in her own existence, and anatomy is inappropriate, vulgar?

If the goal of Instagram’s policy is to “protect” people from images of sexuality, Frolova’s project shows that they haven’t quite succeeded.2

  1. Meanwhile, you can find porn of every kind on Twitter.

  2. Also OK according to Instagram’s policies are photographs of male nipples, full frontal female nudity with nipples, public hair, and vaginas scratched out, female nipples behind see through clothing, and explicit illustrations of sex (for instance), all of which can be sexual in nature.

Obama: “progress is on the ballot”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

As a chaser to the last post, here’s Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign commercial. This is right up there with the best political ads I’ve seen. Obama’s words are taken from his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last month.

Our work’s not done. But if we are going to advance the cause of justice, and equality, and prosperity, and freedom, then we also have to acknowledge that even if we eliminated every restriction on voters, we would still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. That’s not good, that is on us.

And I am reminded of all those folks who had to count bubbles in a bar of soap, beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi. Risked everything so that they could pull that lever. So, if I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect, read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote.

In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff, and that was a beautiful video, but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset now, get people registered to vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake, on the progress we have made is at stake in this election.

My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.

Trump fact-checked in the style of Ron Howard’s Arrested Development narration

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

I am soooo tired of this election and this stupid, lying, racist, sexist, bullying predator of a candidate and the memes but this Arrested Development-style fact-checking of Donald Trump is really pretty good and right in my wheelhouse. I am terrible at following my own advice.

Putting yourself “10 feet away” from the people in your community

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

Last Saturday, five teenagers from a small Vermont community were killed in their car on their way home from a concert by a driver deliberately driving on the wrong side of the freeway. As you can imagine, the death of five young people in an area with only a few thousand residents is devastating and will take years for the community to recover from.

The day after the accident, Bobby Kelly, a classmate of the victims, wrote a message in remembrance of his friends and in celebration of his community, which a local ski area posted on their Facebook page:

So today after I heard the terrible news, my family went to Mad River Glen to ride the single up and hike down. As I stood at the top I was looking down at the little strip of road you can see from the top of the mountain. I watched a handful of these cars drive by, and they were so small from my perspective. And I thought to myself, how could something smaller than a pebble take 5 beautiful lives from us? The cars looked so small and insignificant from that far away. Then I started thinking how it’s only my perspective, and if you were 10 feet from those cars, they wouldn’t seem so small.

What I’m trying to say is, the closer you are to something, the bigger it is. There are people in our community who were ‘10 feet’ from the 5 kids we lost. Then there were some looking at them from ‘the top of the mountain’. Obviously, the people closer to them will feel the most pain, and the people furthest away from them will feel the least, it’s human nature. But, after seeing all the posts and pictures in memory of them, I realize that you only have a true community when people at the top of the mountain put themselves 10 feet from the car. We are all one, and the love for each other we have at Harwood and the community in general is something incredible. We will always miss Janie, Cyrus, Eli, Mary and Liam, but we will also always love them, because through this terrible tragedy, we will all heal together.

I don’t know about you, but I had to go take a walk after reading that. I moved to this area over the summer but didn’t know any of the victims because I’m new. The Mad River Valley Community Fund has set up a special Five Families Fund to help the families of the victims through this terrible time. If you’re moved to do so, I would appreciate you making a donation.

Really Bad Chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

Really Bad Chess

Really Bad Chess is an iOS game by Zach Gage that randomizes the distribution of pieces when the board is set up, so that you might start a game with 4 queens, 3 knights, and only 2 pawns in the back row. The result is that you get a completely new strategic game each time, but you still play with the familiar tactical rules of chess. What a great idea…I can’t tell if people who really love chess will love or hate this.

Update: See also Knightmare Chess:

Knightmare Chess is played with cards that change the default rules of chess. The cards might change how a piece moves, move opponent’s pieces, create special squares on the board or otherwise alter the game.

and Chess960 invented by Bobby Fischer:

It employs the same board and pieces as standard chess; however, the starting position of the pieces on the players’ home ranks is randomized. The random setup renders the prospect of obtaining an advantage through the memorization of opening lines impracticable, compelling players to rely on their talent and creativity.

(via @JonRelf & @akasian)

If entropy is always increasing, where does complexity come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

Per the second law of thermodynamics, the total entropy of a closed system is always increasing. So how does complexity arise out of that? More colloquially, if everything in the Universe is always falling apart, how do complex organisms like living things come into being? Well, entropy and complexity are actually two different things…

Video games affecting real life sports

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

In the NY Times, Rory Smith writes about how video games like FIFA and Football Manager have changed professional soccer.

As Iwobi suggests, however, they increasingly do more than that: They are not merely representations of the game, but influencers of it. Iwobi is not the only player who believes that what he does on the field has been influenced by what he has seen rendered on a screen.

Ibrahimovic said that he would “often spot solutions in the games that I then parlayed into real life” as a young player. Mats Hummels, the Bayern Munich and Germany defender, has suggested that “maybe some people use what they learn in FIFA when they find themselves on a pitch.”

As a teen, Matt Neil went from a player of Football Manager to researcher for the game to working as a analyst for a League Two club.

I’m now an analyst at Plymouth. We’ve just signed the goalkeeper Marc McCallum, who some FM players will remember was an incredible prospect at Dundee United as a kid. I used to sign him all the time. When he came for a trial this summer, he walked in and it was one of the strangest moments in my life. I’ve never met him in person — I’d only ever seen his face on a computer game — but straight away I knew it was him.

I spoke to him at a pre-season game the next day. We got around to the subject of Football Manager and he’d been in charge of Argyle on the last game, getting them to the Premier League and signing himself. I asked him what he did when he first took over, and he said he got rid of all the staff. So I said: “Did you sack me?” And it turned out he’d actually sacked me as well. It was a strange opening conversation to have with someone.

American football and the Madden franchise have a similar relationship. The game is so realistic that prospective players can learn NFL-style offenses and established players like Drew Brees use the game to prep for the games ahead.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback told Yahoo! Sports in an interview this week that modern football simulation games such as Madden NFL have become so realistic that playing them during downtime can actually have a positive impact on the athlete’s on-field performance.

“Down the road it is going to be even more so,” Brees said. “The games are getting more lifelike every year, and everything in Madden is based on what really happens on the field.

“The plays are the same, it is updated all the time and you can go through a lot of stuff without having to get hit. I can definitely see a time when these things are used a lot more to help players.”

The Spielberg Face

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

If you watch any of Steven Spielberg’s movies, you’ll notice a distinctive element: the Spielberg Face.

If Spielberg deserves to be called a master of audience manipulation, then this is his signature stroke.

You see the onscreen character watching along with you in wonder, awe, apprehension, fear, sadness. It’s the director’s way of hitting pause, to show the audience this is a critical scene, to reinforce how the audience should be feeling in that moment.

WWW: The Way We Were

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

Note: There are some *major* unavoidable spoilers about the finale of season three of Halt and Catch Fire in this post. If you’ve been watching (and you definitely should be), you might want to catch the finale first and then come back.

The final two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire aired last night. The previous eight episodes of the season took place in the mid-1980s with Joe running something like Norton or McAfee in San Francisco, and Cameron, Donna, and Gordon running a dial-up service like Compuserve for playing online video games, chatting, and selling stuff on a nascent Etsy. In the 8th episode, a lot of that changed and the characters headed their separate ways.

For the final two episodes, the show jumps forward to 1990, and in the last episode, Donna brings the four main characters (plus Cameron’s husband Tom, who works for Sega in Japan) back together to talk about a new and potentially revolutionary idea that’s crossed her desk at the VC firm where she’s now a senior partner: the World Wide Web. The five of them meet over two days, trying to figure out if there’s a business to be built on the Web — Joe argues metaphorically that they should build a stadium while Cameron says that no one’s gonna come to the stadium unless you have a kickass band playing (lack of compelling content) and then Gordon retorts that rock n’ roll hasn’t even been invented yet (aka there’s no network for this to run on). The discussion, some anachronisms and having the benefit of hindsight aside, is remarkably high level for a television audience…I doubt I could explain the Web so well.

At the second meeting, Joe, who is a Steve Jobs / Larry Ellison sort of character, has had some time to think about the appeal of the Web and lays out his vision (italics mine):

Joe: Berners-Lee wrote HTML to view and edit the Web and HTTP so that it could talk to itself. The chatter could be cacophonous, it could be deafeningly silent. Big picture: What will the World Wide Web become? Short answer: Who knows?

Donna: Ok, so what’s your point?

Joe: It’s a waste of time to try to figure out what the Web will become, we just don’t know. Because right now, at the end of the day, it’s just an online research catalog running on NeXT computers on a small network in Europe.

Cam: So, you’re saying everything we’ve talked about since we got here has been a waste of time?

Joe: I’m saying let’s take a step back. Literally step back.

Gordon: What is this on the board?

Joe: It’s the code for the Web browser.

Tom: And you wrote it all on the whiteboard.

Donna: The online catalog of research?

Cameron: Full of Norwegian dudes’ physics papers and particle diagrams and stuff?

Gordon: And we care about this because why?

Joe: How did we all get here today? The choices we made? The sheer force of our wills, something like that? Here’s another answer: the winds of fate, random coincidence, some unseen hand pushing us along. Destiny. How did we all get here today? We walked through this door. We don’t have to build a big white box or stadium or invent rock n’ roll. The moment we decide what the Web is, we’ve lost. The moment we try to tell people what to do with it, we’ve lost. All we have to do is build a door and let them inside.

When I was five, my mother took me to the city. And we went through the Holland Tunnel and it was basic, concrete and steel, but it was also my excitement sitting in the backseat, wondering when it was going to be our turn to emerge, it was the explosion of sunlight. And when we exited the tunnel, all of Manhattan was laid out before us. And that was the best part of the trip: the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending.

This is the first Web browser, the one CERN built to view and edit research. I wrote it up here for you to see how simple it is. It takes up one whiteboard — that’s basic concrete and steel — but we can take this and we can build a door and we can be the first ones to do it because right now, everyone else sees this…

Donna: …as an online research catalog…

Gordon: …running on NeXT…

Cameron: …on a network in Europe.

Joe: And with this handful of code, we can build the Holland Tunnel.

It’s Don Draper’s carousel speech from Mad Men…but for the Web. And it hit me right in the feels. Hard. When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I would sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap — “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” — and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.

Which is why this scene wrecked me so hard. The Web that they are talking about on the show, the open Web, is ailing, dying. It was like listening to a eulogy at a funeral, this thing that I love, poured the best of my self into, gone forever. Of course that’s not strictly true, the Web is still a fabulous place where anyone can set up a site to do, say, or sell whatever they want, but instead of the promise of small pieces loosely joined, what we mostly got was large pieces tightly coupled. Today’s Web browsers and apps are Holland Tunnels that open up right into shopping malls instead of open city streets. Facebook makes it absurdly easy to start your own blog that all your friends and family can conveniently read, but you give up the freedom to say anything you want, it’s impossible to move those words elsewhere if you’d like (I’m talking with URLs and social graph intact), and they sell advertising against your words & images and you don’t get a cut.

Now, I’m not advocating a Make The Web Great Again policy because the open Web of the 90s had many problems, the greatest of which was a lack of access for anyone without the free time and skills necessary to set up a web server, install software, etc. etc., not to mention the expense involved. Today’s Web is much more accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels and as a result you see much more participation across the socioeconomic spectrum, especially in developing countries.

But the open Web enthusiasts and advocates missed an opportunity to take what the Web was in the 90s and make that available to everyone. Instead of walled gardens like Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium (which echo the closed online services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve that predated the Web), imagine a bunch of smaller services bound together with open protocols where individuals have both freedom and convenience. At this stage, building an open Twitter or open Facebook is nearly impossible, but it wouldn’t have been 10-12 years ago. I hope I’m wrong, but with all of the entrenched incumbents and money pumping into online services, I’m afraid that time has truly passed. And it’s breaking my heart.

Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

Trials rider Danny MacAskill busts out some more amazing tricks as he takes a mountain bike out for a ride in the area around Edinburgh. This could double as a tourism video for Scotland…the scenery almost steals the show here. (via @mathowie)

A classic film noir trailer for Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

Blade Runner was made by Ridley Scott partly as an homage to classic film noir movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Woman in the Window. This trailer turns the noir factor up to 11; aside from a shot or two here and there, it portrays a film that could have been made in the 40s. (via one perfect shot)

How to make traditional Chinese Suomian noodles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.

The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.

The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.

Calculating Ada

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

From the BBC, an hour-long documentary on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

You might have assumed that the computer age began with some geeks out in California, or perhaps with the codebreakers of World War II. But the pioneer who first saw the true power of the computer lived way back, during the transformative age of the Industrial Revolution.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

Gorgeous photos of NASA’s rockets and robots

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

Redgrove NASA

Redgrove NASA

Wired took an exclusive tour of NASA’s rockets and robots with photographer Benedict Redgrove and the photographic results are — sorry! — out of this world. Best viewed on Redgrove’s site, who must be — still sorry!! — over the moon about how they turned out. But seriously, that DARPA centaur-on-wheels robot…how cool is that?

Also, you may remember Redgrove from his short film on how tennis balls are made. How that for service? (Stop. Just stop it. (You love it. (STOP!)))

Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

I reported back in February that the BBC was doing another season of Planet Earth with David Attenborough (aka the voice of nature). Now there’s a trailer out (with a Sigur Ros soundtrack) and the show is set to debut in the UK on BBC One later this month. In US? Who knows… probably in 8 months with Ellen Degeneres narrating.

Salvador Dali’s surrealist cookbook to be republished

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

Dali Cookbook

More than 40 years ago, food enthusiast and artist Salvador Dali published a cookbook called Les Diners de Gala. The book mixes Dali’s surrealist imagery and with dozens of recipes, including some that originated from the top restaurants in Paris at that time. The original book is quite rare and valuable now, but Taschen is reprinting it; it’s available for pre-order here.

This reprint features all 136 recipes over 12 chapters, specially illustrated by Dal’i, and organized by meal courses, including aphrodisiacs. The illustrations and recipes are accompanied by Dal’i’s extravagant musings on subjects such as dinner conversation: “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.”

See also The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook. (via colossal)

The Central Park Five

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.

The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.

Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.

The Choice: Frontline’s program on the 2016 election

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

Frontline has posted their 2-hour documentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 presidential election to YouTube.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history. Veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk goes beyond the headlines to investigate what has shaped these two candidates, where they came from, how they lead and why they want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

This looks excellent…I might watch this instead of the debate tonight.1

  1. To be clear, there’s no way I’m watching the debate tonight under any circumstances. I’ve already decided on my vote so there’s no need and I have no desire to gawk at a particularly gory traffic accident that’s doing long-term damage to American society.

The NY Times and the truth of profanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

When the story about Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke, the NY Times took the unusual step of publishing exactly what the presidential candidate said.

In the three-minute recording, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump recounts to the television personality Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” how he once pursued a married woman and “moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” expressing regret that they did not have sex. But he brags of a special status with women: Because he was “a star,” he says, he could “grab them by the pussy” whenever he wanted.

“You can do anything,” Mr. Trump says.

He also said he was compulsively drawn to kissing beautiful women “like a magnet” — “I don’t even wait” — and talked about plotting to seduce the married woman by taking her furniture shopping. Mr. Trump, who was 59 at the time he made the remarks, went on to disparage the woman, whom he did not name, saying, “I did try and fuck her. She was married,” and saying, “She’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

It was unusual because of the Times’ policy of not printing profanity, even if the profane words themselves are newsworthy. In this case, the editors felt they had no choice but to print the actual words spoken by Trump.

In piece published earlier the same day the Trump story broke, Blake Eskin, who has been tracking the Times’ non-use of profanity at Fit to Print, highlights the racial and classist implications of the policy.

As I’ve noticed over the years while documenting how the Times writes around profanity, a lot of the expletives the Times avoids come up around race: in stories about hip-hop, professional sports, and police shootings. (I’m getting all the data into a spreadsheet so I can back up this assertion.)

The Times seems compelled both to tell readers that people curse in these contexts and to frown upon it.

It’s as if profanity is like a sack dance or a bat flip, a classless flourish that the archetypal Times reader, who is presumably white, can take vicarious pleasure in without having to perform it himself.

You cannot tell authentic stories about people who are systematically discriminated against in our society without using their actual words and the actual words spoken against them related to that discrimination. Full stop.

Update: Eskin wrote a follow-up about his data analysis of the NY Times profanity avoidance for Quartz.

The “other” category includes faux-folksy formulations such as “a word more pungent than ‘slop,’” and “a stronger version of the phrase ‘gol darn,’” as well as the straightforward, “He swore.” When I began the Fit to Print project, I could enjoy the cleverness of some of these contortions. But after reading through hundreds of examples over several years, expletive avoidance no longer strikes me as an interesting puzzle for a writer to solve. The policy just seems prissy, arbitrary, and delusional.

The more I think about the Times’ policy, the more absurd it becomes. There seems to be a relatively simple solution: if the profanity does work in the service of journalism — particularly if the entire article is about the profanity in question — print it. It is doesn’t, don’t. I mean, are Times editors afraid their reporters will start handing in articles with ledes like “Well, this fucking election is finally winding down, thank Christ.”?

Lovely brand design for a Nashville conference

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

Brand New Conf

Brand New Conf

I love this design work from UnderConsideration for their recent conference in Nashville. It’s got a Western rhinestone + woodtype vibe but it also feels digital — the first thing that popped into my head when I saw that gorgeous F was a circuit board. Wonderful. (via @Colossal)

Obama’s letter to his successor about the economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

In the latest issue of The Economist, President Obama wrote a letter about the “four crucial areas of unfinished business in economic policy” that his successor will have to deal with.

Wherever I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited-perhaps more than any other-from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore — and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?

It’s true that a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation, immigration, technology, even change itself, has taken hold in America. It’s not new, nor is it dissimilar to a discontent spreading throughout the world, often manifested in scepticism towards international institutions, trade agreements and immigration. It can be seen in Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union and the rise of populist parties around the world.

Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic. The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past — the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. We overcame those fears and we will again.

Look at Obama, busting out the Know-Nothings like it ain’t nothing.

Season three of Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

The trailer for the third season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror just dropped. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, I’d recommend catching yourself up. And did I spy Mackenzie Davis and Kelly Macdonald in the trailer? I did, I did. The new season starts October 21 on Netflix.

FIFA in real life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

EA Sports’ FIFA is one of the most popular sports video games in the world. But it’s also a challenging game to master, which can make for some blooper-filled afternoons with your mates. In these two videos, real players get out onto the pitch to imitate the mannerisms and slip-ups of their video game counterparts.

Voice doubles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

Hello! For today’s installment of I Totally Didn’t Know This, we’re going to talk about voice doubles. When you’re making a movie or a TV show and you’re in the editing phase, cutting a trailer, or doing promotional videos, sometimes you need some extra dialogue that you didn’t get during the main filming. So you get the actor to come in to do the new dialogue. But sometimes, if the actor is famous and super busy, they might not be available. So there are voice actors whose job it is to impersonate the real actor’s voice. Saaaaay whaaaaat?

It’s an example of ADR, Automated Dialogue Replacement. Amy Landecker, who plays Sarah Pfefferman on Transparent, has done this job for movies starring Julia Roberts. She sounds amazingly like Julia:

She even did most of Julia’s dialogue in this Duplicity trailer:

Jim Hanks has done voiceover work for his brother Tom in the past:

He does the voice for Woody in all the Toy Story video games…it’s not an exact match, but it’s pretty good. (via vulture)

Update: Nolan North voice doubles for Christopher Walken.

(via @Han_So)

The four types of board games

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

In The Oxford History of Board Games published in 1999, scholar David Parlett wrote that there are four types of classical board game: race, chase, space, and displace. The book is out of print (but is available direct from the author as a PDF), so I found this description of Parlett’s categorization in a book by Stewart Woods called Eurogames.

In categorizing these public domain or “folk” games, Parlett (1999) draws on the work of H.J.R. Murray (1952) and R.C. Bell (1979) in describing four types of game, as identified by the game goals: race games, in which players traverse a track in an attempt to be the first to finish (e.g. Nyout, Pachisi); space games, in which players manipulate the position of pieces to achieve prescribed alignments, make connections, or traverse the board (e.g. Noughts and Crosses, Twixt, and Halma, respectively); chase games, in which asymmetrical starting positions and goals cast players in the role of pursuer and pursued (e.g. Hnefatafl, Fox & Geese); and games of displacement, where symmetrically equipped players attempt to capture and eliminate each other’s pieces (e.g. Chess, Draughts).

You’re probably unfamiliar with some of these games (as I was). For race games, Parcheesi is a modern version of pachisi…other examples would be Sorry, Candyland, or Snakes and Ladders. Noughts and crosses is tic-tac-toe; other space games include Go and Connect 4. A modern example of a chase game might be Clue. And as written above, chess and draughts (checkers) are classic displace games. (via @genmon)

Richard Feynman’s Tiny Machines

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman, who had already done work that would win him the Nobel Prize a few years later, gave a talk at Caltech that didn’t have much to do with his main areas of study. The talk was called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom and it was a scientist at the peak of his formidable powers asking a question of the scientific community: What about nanotechnology?

I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, “What are the strange particles?”) but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.

Even though he made no formal contribution to the field, Feynman’s talk has been credited with jumpstarting interest in the study of nanotechnology. No recording exists of the original talk, but in 1984, Feynman gave a talk he called Tiny Machines, in which he recalled his original talk and spoke of the progress that had been made over the past 25 years. (via @ptak)

The forger who saved 1000s of Jews from the Nazis

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

During the German occupation of France, teenager Adolfo Kaminsky forged thousands of documents for Jews about to be deported to concentration camps. He worked at a shop that dyed clothes and a Jewish resistance cell recruited him because he knew how to remove ink stains, a skill that served him well in altering documents.

If you’re doubting whether you’ve done enough with your life, don’t compare yourself to Mr. Kaminsky. By his 19th birthday, he had helped save the lives of thousands of people by making false documents to get them into hiding or out of the country. He went on to forge papers for people in practically every major conflict of the mid-20th century.

Now 91, Mr. Kaminsky is a small man with a long white beard and tweed jacket, who shuffles around his neighborhood with a cane. He lives in a modest apartment for people with low incomes, not far from his former laboratory.

When I followed him around with a film crew one day, neighbors kept asking me who he was. I told them he was a hero of World War II, though his story goes on long after that.

A remarkable story and a remarkable gentleman. The video above is based on a book Kaminsky’s daughter wrote about him.

The coolest sneakers in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

From Candice Drouet, a quick supercut of some of notable athletic shoes in movies, including Marty’s self-lacing Nikes from Back to the Future II (which you can win in a raffle). Michael Keaton’s Batman wore Nikes?

The short list of nominees for the 2016 Information is Beautiful Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

Five Years Of Drought

Film Dialogue Infoviz

Shipping Map Infoviz

The Information is Beautiful Awards have announced the shortlist of nominees for the best infographics, data visualizations, and data journalism for 2016. Literally hours of exploration here. Some well-deserved shouts out to Polygraph (multiple projects, including their breakdown of film dialogue by gender and age), Nicholas Felton’s Photoviz, climate spirals, FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 election forecast map, and many other projects you might have seen here or elsewhere.

The images above are from Adventures in Mapping, Polygraph, and Shipmap.

Philip Glass: own your work and get paid for it

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

Philip Glass Whitney

From a new Kickstarter publication called The Creative Independent, Philip Glass was interviewed about the importance of artists owning their work and getting paid for it.

My personal position was that I had wonderful parents. Really wonderful people. But my mother was a school teacher. My father had a small record shop in Baltimore. They had no money to support my career. I began working early. You’re too young to know this, but when you get your first Social Security check, you get a list of every place you’ve worked since you began working. It’s fantastic! I discovered that I was working from the time I was 15 and putting money into the Social Security system from that age onward. I thought it was much later. No, I was actually paying money that early.

The point is that I spent most of my life supporting myself. And I own the music. I never gave it away. I am the publisher of everything I’ve written except for a handful of film scores that the big studios paid. I said, “Yeah, you can own it. You can have it, but you have to pay for it.” They did pay for it. They were not gifts.

A lot in this interview resonates, including this:

It’s never been easy for painters, or writers, or poets to make a living. One of the reasons is that we, I mean a big “We,” deny them an income for their work. As a society we do. Yet, these are the same people who supposedly we can’t live without. It’s curious, isn’t it?

And this bit about making work vs performing (italics mine):

What happens, is that the artists are in a position where they can no longer live on their work. They have to worry about that. They need to become performers. That’s another kind of work we do. I go out and play music. The big boom in performances is partly because of streaming, isn’t it? We know, for example, that there are big rock and roll bands that will give their records away free. You just have to buy the ticket to the concert. The cost of the record is rather small compared to the price of the ticket. It’s shifted around a little bit; they’re still paying, but they’re paying at the box office rather than at the record store. The money still will find its way.

Then you have to be the kind of person who goes out and plays, and some people don’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of writing online. Making a comfortable living only by writing is tough and very few independents are able to do it. More successful are those who are able to get away from writing online by speaking at conferences, writing books, starting podcasts, selling merchandise,1 post sponsored tweets and Instagram photos, building apps, consulting for big companies, etc. This stuff is the equivalent of the band that tours, sells merch, composes music for TV commercials, etc. But as Glass said, what about those who just want to write? (And I count myself among that number.) How can we support those people? Anyway, more on this very soon (I hope).

Photo is of a Chuck Close painting of Philip Glass taken by me at The Whitney.

  1. Just this morning, a friend texted me a photo of The Pioneer Woman’s line of products on the shelf at Walmart.

The reason truck commercials don’t have more women in them

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

From a New Zealand sketch comedy show called Funny Girls, a send-up of a typical manly man “built tough” truck commercial. I barely watch any actual TV anymore, but those truck commercials have always been the worst. (thx, sarah)

Solve trolley problem scenarios with MIT’s Moral Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

Moral Machine

A group at MIT built an app called the Moral Machine, “a platform for gathering a human perspective on moral decisions made by machine intelligence, such as self-driving cars”. They want to see how humans solve trolley problem scenarios.

We show you moral dilemmas, where a driverless car must choose the lesser of two evils, such as killing two passengers or five pedestrians. As an outside observer, you judge which outcome you think is more acceptable. You can then see how your responses compare with those of other people.

That was a really uncomfortable exercise…at the end, you’re given a “Most Killed Character” result. Pretty early on, my strategy became mostly to kill the people in the car because they should absorb the risk of the situation. The trolley problem may end up not being such a big deal, but I hope that the makers of these machines take care1 in building them with thoughtfulness.

  1. Uber’s self-driving cars terrify me. The company has shown little thoughtfulness and regard for actual humans in its short history, so why would their self-driving car be any different? Their solution to the trolley problem would likely involve a flash bidding war between personal AIs as to who lives. Sorry, the rich white passenger outbid the four poor kids crossing the street!

The opposite of a muse

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Isabelle Mege

Isabelle Mège does not call herself an artist, but she has nonetheless been working on an interesting project for the last 30 years. Mège contacts photographers she likes and asks them to incorporate her into their work, keeping a copy of each photograph afterwards. She has over 300 photographs and has curated 135 of them into what she calls “the collection”.

After each shoot, Mège would follow up and ask the artist for a print, signed and sometimes numbered by its edition. The print would go into her archive, along with any artifacts related to its making; Elkoury’s letter, for instance, is accompanied in the archive by Mège’s notes about their encounter (he was late to their first meeting, and arrived with his shoelaces untied). Also in her archive are the heels that Witkin attached to her feet during the 1990 shoot, and a news item about Japanese customs having seized incoming copies of the magazine ARTnews to prohibit their circulation; the photograph, in which Mège’s pubic hair is visible, was considered obscene. Her diarizing and collection of correspondence, clippings, image reproductions, and relevant items reveal that the planning around certain images often lasted years. Several times, having worked with an artist to make an image, she was unhappy with the results and excluded it from her collection. When approached by artists who wanted to work with her but for whose work she had no feeling, she refused.

Mège felt strongly that no money should be exchanged in these interactions. (“As soon as there’s a question of payment, it’s dead, you fall asleep,” she told me.) She also asked each artist to sign a contract printed on a three-inch slip of paper, stating that she would have the right to exhibit or publish the image for noncommercial reasons only.

Mège’s project fits neatly into contemporary selfie culture. Her collection reminds me of other creative people who have incorporated themselves into their media of behalf of someone or something else. Call them “selfie auteurs”. Adam Lisagor has starred in many of the videos his company makes for tech clients. Casey Neistat films himself going on adventures for clients like J. Crew and Nike. Noah Kalina was commissioned by VH1 to take photos of himself posing with celebrities in his Everyday stance. I’m sure there are many more examples1 but few have done it as cleanly and purely as Mège.

  1. Maybe kottke.org should be in this list as well. This is my website — my name’s right at the top for crying out loud — and I share my opinion about things here all the time, but in a significant way, the site isn’t actually about me. It’s mainly about other people’s work and ideas. Sure, if you read long enough you learn about who I am as a person in the process, but it’s not the point.

Zoomable tree of all life on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Zooming Tree Of Life

OneZoom is an interactive zoomable map of “the evolutionary relationships between the species on our planet”, aka tree of life. Browsing around is fun, but you’ll want to use the search function to find specific groups and animals, like mammals, humans, and mushrooms. The scale of this is amazing…there are dozens of levels of zoom. (via @pomeranian99)

Designing Your Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Designing Your Life is one of the most popular courses at Stanford. Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the class teaches how you can use design thinking and techniques to shape your life and career. Burnett and Evans just came out with a book based on the class, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

The course itself isn’t available online, but there are a couple of lectures from the class available on YouTube: Reframe Your Passion and Prototypes for Personal Success.

Optimizing the dining experience for couples

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

This is entertaining: Megan McArdle considers four possible economic approaches to how couples should order food in restaurants.

3. Individual property rights, with option trading. Now we’re moving toward a more centrally planned economy. The menu is individually consulted, and then the two parties state their preferences. If these preferences are strong, then matters proceed much as in the above strategy. However, if indecision is expressed, the trading is opened: “If you get the clam chowder, I’ll get the mushroom crostini, and we can split.” Option trading is usually, but not always, confined to the appetizer course. Any offer can be refused, and a substitute offered — “What if I got the clam chowder, and you got the ham timbales?” — or both parties may reluctantly conclude that no trade is possible, and revert to their original choices.

Well done, Team Restaurant! You are now beginning to realize the magnificent benefits of trade. Coordination and cooperation have permitted you to agree on choices that jointly improve utility.

However, I must tell you that you are still probably not at the highest valued use of your food dollar. You are almost certainly investing most of your effort in appetizers or shared desserts, which are the minority of your spending, time and consumption. If you want not merely to improve your utility, but to maximize it, then you are going to have to invest more effort in coordination.

Her conclusion is spot on; it’s the best way to dine out.

Portraits of culinary students in a program for low-income and homeless people

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Chefs SF

Chefs SF

Episcopal Community Services runs a program called CHEFS that provides food industry training for homeless and low-income people in San Francisco. Photographer Wesley Verhoeve visited the program to take portraits of the students and staff. The photos accompany a San Francisco Magazine article that has more information on the program.

The seven-month program culminates in a 240-hour internship at participating eateries like Nopa and Kokkari; Hanks completed her internship at Lotta’s Bakery in Nob Hill, where she was struck by the universal power of food. “We cook when somebody dies, we cook when a child is born,” she says. “I’ve realized cooking is related to everything: to family, to religion, to happiness, to sadness.”

How German physicists reacted to the Hiroshima bomb

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

During World War II, a group of scientists led by Werner Heisenberg worked on designing a nuclear weapon for Nazi Germany. They were, thankfully, unsuccessful. After the war, the Allies detained ten German scientists in England for six months. Hoping to learn about the German bomb program, they secretly taped the scientists’ conversations. In August 1945, the scientists were told about the US dropping a nuclear bomb on Japan. Here’s a transcript of the resulting reaction and conversation.

Shortly before dinner on the 6th August I informed Professor HAHN that an announcement had been made by the B.B.C. that an atomic bomb had been dropped. HAHN was completely shattered by the news and said that he felt personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as it was his original discovery which had made the bomb possible. He told me that he had originally contemplated suicide when he realized the terrible potentialities of his discovery and he felt that now these had been realized and he was to blame. With the help of considerable alcoholic stimulant he was calmed down and we went down to dinner where he announced the news to the assembled guests.

“Professor HAHN” is Otto Hahn, who co-discovered nuclear fission in Germany right before the war and won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for it. The rest of the world may have gotten there eventually, but think of how different the war (and resulting Cold War period) would have been if Germany had sequestered their scientific progress a couple years earlier or if Hahn and Lise Meitner had made the discovery a year or two later.

WEIZSÄCKER: I think it’s dreadful of the Americans to have done it. I think it is madness on their part.

HEISENBERG: One can’t say that. One could equally well say “That’s the quickest way of ending the war.”

HAHN: That’s what consoles me.

HAHN: I was consoled when, I believe it was WEIZSÄCKER said that there was now this uranium - I found that in my institute too, this absorbing body which made the thing impossible consoled me because when they said at one time one could make bombs, I was shattered.

WEIZSÄCKER: I would say that, at the rate we were going, we would not have succeeded during this war.

HAHN: Yes.

WEIZSÄCKER: It is very cold comfort to think that one is personally in a position to do what other people would be able to do one day.

I particularly like Heisenberg’s distinction between between theoretical and applied science:

There is a great difference between discoveries and inventions. With discoveries one can always be skeptical and many surprises can take place. In the case of inventions, surprises can really only occur for people who have not had anything to do with it. It’s a bit odd after we have been working on it for five years.

If this stuff interests you at all, I’d highly recommend reading Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb. (via real future)

Update: The complete transcripts of the secret recordings were collected into a book called Hitler’s Uranium Club. The story of the Allied sabotage of a key element in producing a German bomb is told in Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress. Alex Wellerstein writes that the Nazis didn’t know very much about the Manhattan Project. (via @CarnegieDeputy, @hellbox, @AtomicHeritage)

A timeline of Barack Obama’s presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Obama in 2008 and 2016

In a big feature, New York Magazine chronologically recaps Barack Obama’s presidency with help from dozens of participants, including the President himself.

More than “hope,” Obama’s candidacy promised “one America.” It is the deep irony of his presidency, and for Obama himself probably the tragedy, that the past eight years saw the country fiercely divided against itself. The president still managed to get a ridiculous amount done, advancing an unusually progressive agenda. But however Americans end up remembering the Obama years decades from now, one thing we can say for sure is that it did not feel, at the time, like an unmitigated liberal triumph. It felt like a cold civil war.

Or a never-breaking political fever. There was the tea-party rage and Occupy Wall Street. Every other week, it seemed, a new shooting. Each movement was met by a countermovement, and yet, somehow, both the left and the right were invigorated, watched over by a president marked so deeply by temperamental centrism even his supporters called him Spock. Whether you noticed or not, our culture was shaken to its core. There was a whole new civil-rights era, both for those whose skin color and for those whose love was long met by prejudice. The first iPhone was released during the 2008 campaign. We got our news from Facebook, debated consent, and took down Bill Cosby. Elon Musk built a spaceship to Mars.

The dude got a lot done, despite a Congress that fought him tooth and nail for all eight years. Writing that just reminded me: Obama’s March nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is still pending in the Senate. They’re holding it for a possible Trump-nominated judge.

Film Meets Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Vugar Efendi has made a pair of videos showing scenes from films that have been inspired by famous paintings. The second video is especially good, showing references in There Will Be Blood, Lost In Translation, and a Jacques-Louis David reference from About Schmidt.

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