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Entries for December 2016 (January 2017 »    February 2017 »    March 2017 »    Archives)

 

…of the year

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2016

Here are some things I liked this year: Arrival. Halt and Catch Fire. Hamilton. Swiss Army Man. Kurzgesagt. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. kottke.org. Westworld. The San Junipero episode of Black Mirror. Seveneves. Gravitational waves. Museums with friends. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Hillary Clinton. The Neapolitan Novels. Game of Thrones. My kids. OJ: Made in America. Flat water with ample skipping stones. The Americans. Bruce Conner’s Crossroads at The Whitney. My baby momma. Wait But Why. Mad River Glen. Sunsets. Zero Days. Fleabag. My local (which is not so local anymore). Fall foliage. Transparent. Instagram. Swim holes on hot summer days. Lemonade. the lemons. The Power Broker by Robert Caro. The Obamas. Force Majeure. Snap peas from the farmer’s market. All of the kottke.org members, each and every damn one of you beautiful people. Reading Harry Potter to my kids. Jumping waves in Mexico. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. Steak for two. Dope. A bunch of stuff I’m forgetting. Picasso’s Bull’s Head at MoMA. A Moon Shaped Pool. The Crown. Journalism. Carol. The Auralnauts. Wonderland by Steven Johnson. SNL’s Black Jeopardy. Twitter. Epoch by Tycho. Every Frame a Painting. My friends, old and new, you know who you are.

Here are some things I didn’t like this year: Brexit. Trump. The media. Finishing reading the Harry Potter books to my kids. The 2016 election, every single fucking second of it. Leaving New York. Nino Sarratore. The continued retreat of the American public from reality. The demise of Gawker and sale of Gawker Media. Twitter. The unprecedented warming of both poles. Shutting down Stellar. Too many dinners for one. The continued inaction on gun deaths. Misogyny. Xenophobia. Fascism. Racism. White nationalism. Authoritarianism. Religiously motivated terrorism. Climate change denialism. Here’s to fewer isms in 2017.

A collection of photos of 80s video arcades

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Video Arcade

Video Arcade

From Timeline, a collection of photos of video arcades in the 80s.

The years between 1978 and 1983 are generally considered the golden age of video games. Most recognize Space Invaders as the original, arcade game to reach mass audiences, quickly followed by Asteroids (1979), Centipede (1980), and Pac-Man (1980). Space Invaders was such a hit it was rumored that Japan suffered a shortage of ¥100 coins in its wake. But Pac-Man was the real game changer. Stateside, reception of the ground breaking character-driven game was ravenous, and by the end of the 20th century it was estimated that Pac-Man’s total gross consumer revenue had hit $2.5 billion (or 10 billion quarters).

I have an odd nostalgia for video arcades. They were very present in the media when I was a kid, but growing up in a small town, I never had the opportunity to actually visit a proper arcade in their heyday, aside from the one tucked into a corner of roller skating rink in a slightly larger nearby town. The best we had was a single Ms. Pac-Man machine in the entrance way of our local grocery store and the occasional Donkey Kong or Mr. Do machine we stumbled across in pizza places when we travelled later in the 80s. I was an arcade-era kid who had to wait for the Nintendo and Game Boy.

Amazon Go is AWS for retail

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Some interesting speculation from Evan Puschak on what Amazon is up to with Amazon Go. Basically, Puschak thinks Amazon Go is Amazon Web Services but for retail stores. In the same way that AWS provides hosting for sites like Netflix and Reddit, Amazon Go will provide patent-protected technology infrastructure for “self-shopping” supermarkets and retail stores. But it remains to be seen whether it’s more like their one-click patent, which was licensed by a few others (notably Apple) but everyone else was able to do without it.

The 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

From psychotherapist Amy Morin, who expanded this list into a book of the same name, a list of 13 ways mentally strong people avoid negative behaviors.

1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results

That’s all fine and those are worthy goals — and the book probably gets into more detail about this — but do you become more mentally strong by not doing these things or do you already need mental strength? Some of this seems to come down to personality or temperament, things that are difficult to change under even the best circumstances. And self-help lists like this always make me think of Simpsons pitchman Troy McClure’s introduction to a self-help video he’s hosting:

Oh hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such self-help videos as Smoke Yourself Thin and Get Confident, Stupid!

It’s simple, just get confident! Just draw the rest of the fucking owl!

The UI design of Rogue One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

Rogue One UI

From design firm Blind Ltd, the user interface graphics they did for Rogue One. They had some graphics from the original Star Wars to play off of, but this is still really nice work. Blind also did onscreen interfaces for The Force Awakens, the Batman films, and some recent Bond films. (via @pieratt)

Crossroads by Bruce Conner

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

Crossroads Nuclear Test

One of my favorite art experiences this year was seeing Bruce Conner’s short film Crossroads at The Whitney. (It’s part of the Dreamlands exhibition, on view until Feb 5, 2017.) The film pairs slow-motion clips of the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll with music from composers Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. The result is mesmerizing…the film’s 37 minutes long and I sat through the entire thing and will likely go back once more before the show closes. Riley’s portion of the music was particularly memorable for me…I would love to have a recording of that. Neither the film or the music is available online, save for the short clip at the bottom of this page, so you’ll have to go to The Whitney or SFMOMA, where it also happens to be showing.

Update: It’s not an exact match, but this 51-minute song from Riley called Descending Moonshine Dervishes is quite close to the music he did for Crossroads.

AI Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

In the NY Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus reports on Google’s improving artificial intelligence efforts. The Google Brain team (no, seriously that’s what the team is called) spent almost a year overhauling Google’s translate service, resulting in a startling improvement in the service.

The new incarnation, to the pleasant surprise of Google’s own engineers, had been completed in only nine months. The A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime.

Just after the switchover, Japanese professor Jun Rekimoto noticed the improvement. He took a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, translated it into Japanese, and fed it back into Google Translate to get English back out. Here’s how Hemingway wrote it:

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

And here’s the AI-powered translation:

Kilimanjaro is a mountain of 19,710 feet covered with snow and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. The summit of the west is called “Ngaje Ngai” in Masai, the house of God. Near the top of the west there is a dry and frozen dead body of leopard. No one has ever explained what leopard wanted at that altitude.

Not bad, especially when you compare it to what the old version of Translate would have produced:

Kilimanjaro is 19,710 feet of the mountain covered with snow, and it is said that the highest mountain in Africa. Top of the west, “Ngaje Ngai” in the Maasai language, has been referred to as the house of God. The top close to the west, there is a dry, frozen carcass of a leopard. Whether the leopard had what the demand at that altitude, there is no that nobody explained.

Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

We’ve known for awhile that Wes Anderson is doing another stop-motion animated movie, but in this video, Anderson himself shares the name of the film — Isle of Dogs — and shows a very tiny clip of the character played by Edward Norton.

Also appearing in the film are Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, Scarlett Johansson, and possibly you. Anderson is doing a fundraiser for a favorite charity and if you donate, you’re entered to win a trip to London to meet Wes, get a tour of the production, and record the voice of a character for the movie (“barking, howling & whimpering may be required”).

Update: The poster for the movie is out. WWII?

Isle Of Dogs Poster

The best maps of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

Map Anton Thomas

Map Eleanor Lutz

From National Geographic, a list of the best maps produced (or made publicly available) in 2016, including a few I’ve featured on this little site you’re reading.

The two images included above are from a handdrawn map of North America by Anton Thomas and Eleanor Lutz’s Medieval Map of Mars.

How stamps get designed

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

Art director Antonio Alcalá, one of four ADs employed by the USPS, talks a little bit about the history behind US postage stamps and how they are designed and produced.

The best media corrections of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

The annual list of media errors and corrections by Poynter is always worth a read. Some favorites:

Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.

No wonder people think the NY Times is untrustworthy. Another from the Times:

An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

This one was only slightly wrong:

CORRECTION: Boris Johnson’s award-winning limerick about the Turkish president referred to Erdogan as a wanker who performed a sex act with a goat. A previous version of this article included the prompt for the poetry contest, which included a different sex act, also with a goat.

When in doubt, blame technology:

Correction at 9:58 a.m. on 3/09/2016: Due to an oversight involving a haphazardly-installed Chrome extension during the editing process, the name Donald Trump was erroneously replaced with the phrase “Someone With Tiny Hands” when this story originally published.

Rogue One, engineering ethics, and types of resistance

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

Scifi Policy reviews Rogue One as an engineering ethics case study (spoilers!).

The film also makes its engineering ethics explicit. Before the opening scene, Galen Erso had escaped the Death Star project because of his moral objections, likely against the Empire as well as the concept of making such a terrifying weapon at all. After Krennic captures him, Galen later tells his daughter Jyn that he had a choice: he could have continued abstaining, and let someone else build the Death Star, or he could dive deep into the project, become indispensable to it, and find a way to stop it. He chooses to dive deep, and succeeds in building a subtle flaw in the Death Star design. Then 15 years later, he sends a messenger to the Rebellion informing them of the weapon’s existence, power and most importantly, its fatal flaw.

Part of the point of the review is that resistance can take many forms. Erso resists by working within the system to help bring about a better outcome. The problem, for the outside observer, is that for such resistance to be effective, it needs to be indistinguishable from collaboration. Something to think about in relation to the incoming Trump administration and how best to work against it, particularly in the area of technology. (via mr)

The truth about the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

You may have heard about the dumb old lady who was driving with a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap, spilled it, and then greedily sued McDonald’s, winning millions of dollars and setting off an epidemic of frivolous personal injury lawsuits that’s still alive and well today. Well, that’s not really what happened. Adam Conover explains what actually went down in this entertaining short video.

P.S. If you’re following along, what we have here is a video by CollegeHumor of a comedian debunking misinformation deliberately spread by a large multinational corporation (with publicly available sources!), packaged as a comedy bit but is every bit as informational as a piece in the Times or on Vox. If you’re being disingenuous, you might call this fake news. (See also Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.) (via subtraction)

Update: Hot Coffee is a feature-length documentary about the McDonald’s coffee case and tort reform in America. (via @aabhowell)

Update: Retro Report has a piece on the suit as well. (via @DavidGrann)

“This is what happens to the bodies of the women you know”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2016

My friend Courtney Skott wrote an intense piece about the three miscarriages she’s had, including one just a couple of weeks ago. (Note: you may find the images disturbing, but that might also be a good thing.)

It wasn’t until after that miscarriage that I learned how common they are. But even if you know the statistics — that perhaps 20% of confirmed pregnancies miscarry — they are easy to dismiss. After all, it’s much more likely that you will be in the other 80%, isn’t it? But 1 in 5 is still pretty high, and once you start telling your friends that you had a miscarriage, all the miscarriages around you come out of the woodwork. “My sister had one. My best friend had one. I had two.”

Why didn’t I know that before?

Waaaay more people should know this — I didn’t until, well, you know. Like Courtney says, you don’t realize until you start talking to other people about it and…”out of the woodwork” is right.

The Children’s Holocaust Memorial

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2016

Childrens Holocaust Memorial

The small town of Whitwell, Tennessee is home to The Children’s Holocaust Memorial. The memorial consists of eleven million paperclips, one for each Holocaust victim, housed in a German boxcar that was used to transport victims to camps. The project began when local middle school students studying the Holocaust had trouble imagining the enormity of the number of people who died.

In 1998, Principal Linda Hooper wanted to begin a project that would teach the students of Whitwell Middle School about the importance of tolerating and respecting different cultures. Mrs. Hooper sent David Smith, 8th grade history teacher and assistant principal to a teacher-training course in Chattanooga.

He returned and suggested an after school course that would study the Holocaust. Eighth grade Language Arts teacher Sandra Roberts held the first session in October of 1998. As the study progressed, the sheer number of Jews exterminated by the Nazis overwhelmed the students. Six million was a number that they could not grasp.

The school group decided to start collecting paper clips as a way to help students visualize that number. After the students wrote letters requesting people send them paper clips, donations poured in from around the country. In 2004, a documentary about the memorial was released. At the entrance to the car, there’s a sign that reads:

As you enter this car, we ask that you pause and reflect on the evil of intolerance and hatred.

I’ve never been to the Children’s Holocaust Memorial, but I once had the opportunity to stand in a German boxcar used to transport Holocaust victims and I will never ever forget it. (thx, jim)

Blade Runner 2049

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2016

The words “Blade Runner sequel” have inspired equal parts excitement and dread in my heart. Some things, you just shouldn’t mess with, particularly if you’re Ridley Scott (see the Alien5 franchise). But with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford headlining, Denis Villeneuve directing (he did the pitch-perfect Arrival), and this teaser trailer, the scale has tipped towards excitement.

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

National Geographic’s issue on gender

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2016

Nat Geo Gender

Bravo to National Geographic for putting a transgender girl on the cover of the magazine. Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg explains why:

Today that and other beliefs about gender are shifting rapidly and radically. That’s why we’re exploring the subject this month, looking at it through the lens of science, social systems, and civilizations throughout history.

In a story from our issue, Robin Marantz Henig writes that we are surrounded by “evolving notions about what it means to be a woman or a man and the meanings of transgender, cisgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or any of the more than 50 terms Facebook offers users for their profiles. At the same time, scientists are uncovering new complexities in the biological understanding of sex. Many of us learned in high school biology that sex chromosomes determine a baby’s sex, full stop: XX means it’s a girl; XY means it’s a boy. But on occasion, XX and XY don’t tell the whole story.”

As part of their coverage, the magazine went out, asked kids from around the world their thoughts about being boys and girls, and came back with this video.

Freezing soap bubbles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2016

Watching these soap bubbles freeze in 5 °F weather is pretty much the coolest. What’s that? You want me to acknowledge that pun back there in a playfully knowing way? Ok, fine. (via @choitotheworld)

The Future of Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2016

Collaborating with a number of different people from all over the place, filmmaker Oscar Boyson went out into the world and came back with this excellent 18-minute video on the future of cities. Among the cities profiles are Shenzhen, Detroit, Singapore, NYC, Copenhagen, Seoul, Lagos, and Mumbai.

What does “the future of cities” mean? To much of the developing world, it might be as simple as aspiring to having your own toilet, rather than sharing one with over 100 people. To a family in Detroit, it could mean having non-toxic drinking water. For planners and mayors, it’s about a lot of things — sustainability, economy, inclusivity, and resilience. Most of us can hope we can spend a little less time on our commutes to work and a little more time with our families. For a rich white dude up in a 50th floor penthouse, “the future of cities” might mean zipping around in a flying car while a robot jerks you off and a drone delivers your pizza. For many companies, the future of cities is simply about business and money, presented to us as buzzwords like “smart city” and “the city of tomorrow.”

A few tidbits from the video to whet your appetite:

And boy, listening to Janette Sadik-Khan talk about cities being for people and the importance of public transportation and then, directly after, having to listen to some dipshit from Uber was tough. (via @mathowie)

Lil Buck dances with icons of modern art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2016

Watch as dancer Lil Buck gracefully moves through an exhibit at Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Icons Of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, which includes work from Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, and Monet, is on view there through Feb 20, 2017. Lil Buck is on view at YouTube indefinitely.

Discovery of a pre-Columbian “Stonehenge” in Brazil

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

Research on an arrangement of massive granite blocks in the Brazilian Amazon has indicated that they were used as an astronomical observatory about 1000 years ago.

After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago, or five centuries before the European conquest of the Americas began.

Their findings, along with other archaeological discoveries in Brazil in recent years — including giant land carvings, remains of fortified settlements and even complex road networks — are upending earlier views of archaeologists who argued that the Amazon had been relatively untouched by humans except for small, nomadic tribes.

I still remember reading Charles Mann’s piece in 2002 about the mounting evidence against the idea of a largely wild and pristine pair of continents civilized and tamed by Europeans.

Erickson and Balée belong to a cohort of scholars that has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained mostly wilderness. My son picked up the same ideas at his schools. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that in their opinion this picture of Indian life is wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind.

That article turned into 1491, which remains one of my favorite books.

See also Ars Technica’s recent piece Finding North America’s lost medieval city.

Online version of Lode Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

Lode Runner Html5

Lode Runner was probably the first video game I was ever obsessed with. I finished all 150 levels and designed countless custom levels to stump my younger sister with. That level editor was my first taste of design and I loved it. Simon Hung has built a version of the game in HTML5 that includes the 150 levels of the original game as well as almost 300 levels of subsequent versions and and! AND!! the custom level editor!!! (I actually squealed when I discovered this in the options.) I’ll see you in a few days, I guess. (via @pomeranian99)

The Great American Word Mapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

US Map Language

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas or Hanukkah. As the year winds down, it’s an opportunity for Americans to investigate how differently they use words in different parts of the country. In December 2013, for example, people lost their damn minds over the NY Times’ dialect quiz. This year, you can play around with The Great American Word Mapper which uses Twitter data from 2014 to plot geographic usage patterns.

For instance, you can see where people use “supper” vs. “dinner” (see above). The map indicates mixed usage where I grew up, which checks out…we mostly said “supper” but “dinner” was not uncommon, particularly as I got older. Other results are less useful…the Twitter-based “soda” vs. “coke” vs. “pop” doesn’t tell you as much as directly asking people what they call soft drinks.

US Map Language

The swearing maps are always fun (see also the United States of Swearing)…I wonder why “shit” is so relatively popular in the South?

Some other interesting searches: “moma” (alternate spelling of “momma” in the South with a small pocket of usage around NYC for MoMA), “city” doesn’t give the result you might expect, the distribution of “nigger” vs “nigga” suggests they are two different words with two different meanings, and in trying to find a search that would isolate just urban areas, the best I could come up with was “kanye” (or maybe “cocktails” or “traffic”). And harsh, map! Geez. (via @fromedome)

How cars went from boxy to curvy

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

In the US, cars went from curvy in the 30s & 40s to boxy in the 60s and then back to curvy in the 90s. The price of oil, design imported from Europe, and fuel economy regulations all played a factor in the changes.

Update: A strong rebuttal from Jalopnik:
This Vox Video About The Evolution Of Cars Is A Complete Mess
. (via @nick__vance)

Timeline maps of the most popular baby names in each state, 1910-2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

This is cool and a little mesmerizing: animated US maps showing the most popular baby name in each state from 1910 to 2014 for boys and girls. There are three separate visualizations. The first just shows the most popular baby name in each state. Watch as one dominant name takes over for another in just a couple of years…the Mary to Lisa to Jennifer transition in the 60s and 70s is like watching an epidemic spread. Celebrity names pop up and disappear, like Betty (after Betty Boop and Betty Grable?) and Shirley (after Shirley Temple) in the 30s. The boy’s names change a lot less until you start getting into the Brandons, Austins, and Tylers of the 90s.

The next visualization shows the most particularly popular name for each state, e.g. Brandy was the most Louisianan name for female newborns in 1975. And the third visualization shows each name plotted in the averaged geographical location of births — so you can see, for example, the northward migration of Amanda during the 80s.

P.S. Guess what the most popular boy’s name in the state of my birth was the year I was born? And the most particularly popular boy’s name in the state I moved to just a year later? Jason. I am basic af.

Update: From Flowing Data, some graphs of the most unisex names in US history. (thx, paul)

Skiing the ice caves of the Mer de Glace glacier

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

Ice Call is a clip from a freeskiing movie called Backyards Project that features Sam Favret using the gullies, ridges, and caves of Chamonix’s Mer de Glace glacier like a natural terrain park to do some super-cool tricks and jumps. If you like skiing at all, this might make you want to head to France tout de suite.

The year in photos 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Photos of the Year 2016

Brexit, climate change, Trump, Syria, white nationalism, Turkey, racism and police violence, the Flint water crisis, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, drowned migrants. I was tempted to just post a photo of a burning dumpster or the this is fine dog and leave it at that. But professional photographers and the agencies & publications that employ them are essential in bearing witness to the atrocities and injustices and triumphs and breakthroughs of the world and helping us understand what’s happening out there. It’s worth seeking out what they saw this year.

Several sites, publications, and agencies have published lists of the best and most newsworthy photos of the year. Among them are In Focus’ Top 25 News Photos of 2016 as well as their three-part 2016: The Year in Photos (part 1, part 2, part 3), National Geographic’s The 52 Best Photographs of 2016, Time’s Top 100 Photos of the Year 2016, AFP’s Pictures of the Year (part 1, part 2, part 3), 2016: The Year in Photos from CNN, Pictures of the Year 2016 from Reuters, the AP’s Top Photos of 2016, some of the top images from the World Press Photo exhibition, which “highlights the best photojournalism of the year”, The Top Photos of 2016 from Maclean’s, and The Best Weird and Wonderful Photos of 2016 from totallycoolpix.com.

I’ve selected five of my favorite photos from these lists and included them above. From top to bottom, the photographers are Jonathan Bachman, Brent Stirton, Kai Pfaffenbach, Anuar Patjane Floriuk, and Mahmoud Raslan. The top photo, by Bachman, pictures the arrest of Ieshia Evans while protesting the death of Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge police and is just flat-out amazing. In a piece for The Guardian, Evans wrote:

When the armored officers rushed at me, I had no fear. I wasn’t afraid. I was just wondering: “How do these people sleep at night?” Then they put me in a van and drove me away. Only hours later did someone explain that I was arrested for obstructing a highway.

There’s so much fear in that photo — institutional fear, racial fear, societal fear — but none of it is coming from Evans. Total hero.

Update: Buzzfeed shares The 46 Most Powerful Photos of 2016 and the BBC has the 15 finalists in the 2016 Art of Building architectural photography competition.

Update: The NY Times offers up The Year in Pictures 2016.

Update: From Artsy, The Most Powerful Moments of Photojournalism in 2016.

Update: World Press Photo announced the winners of their 2017 Photo Contest (of photos taken in 2016).

A powerful memorial to racial terror lynchings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Lynching Soil

The Equal Justice Initiative is filling jars with soil from the sites of lynchings to honor the victims and to create a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — several hundred of these victims were lynched in Alabama.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West in the first half of the 20th century. Lynching created a fearful environment in which racial subordination and segregation were maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.

Rob Holmes recently visited and took some photos of the jars…just row after row of them. “Stunning,” he said.

Update: See also this map of lynchings in the US.

Things you notice when you quit the news

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

David Cain quit following the news many years ago — “I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here” — and noticed several benefits.

A common symptom of quitting the news is an improvement in mood. News junkies will say it’s because you’ve stuck your head in the sand.

But that assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air. They don’t realize that what you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world.

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports-not an incidental side-effect-to agitate and dismay the viewer.

What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns”. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.

Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources, who took more than a half-day to put it together.

I watch and read plenty about current events, but the last time I “followed the news” was probably in high school. 95% of it is gossip & soap opera and the 5% that isn’t, you can get elsewhere, better.

How to be brave: some stories about courage

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Laura Olin runs the Everything Changes mailing list for The Awl and she asked her readers “about a time they’d been brave” (or perhaps when they’d wished they had been). Here are some of their answers.

I was raised in a pretty abusive household. When I was 14, I found a boarding school three thousand miles away, applied in secret, got a full scholarship, and left home. I haven’t lived at home since and have made it ten years later fully supporting myself in a city I love, a job I love, friends/community that I love. I sometimes think about that now, packing up everything and moving across the country without any support and building a new life for myself through a lot of luck and other people’s help, and know I probably couldn’t do it again. I left the worse place for paradise, both handed-out and self-made, and there’s nothing I’m prouder of.

Some regretted not having courage at times:

A few months ago, some coworkers made some antisemitic jokes in a team chat channel. I quit the channel and started looking for (and since found) a new job, but I didn’t say anything. I’ve thought about that time I didn’t say anything literally every day since. I wish I had been a better person.

Bill Gates starts new $1 billion clean energy fund

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2016

Bill Gates and a number of other investors are starting a billion venture fund focused on “cheap, clean, reliable energy”.

Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation.

The Microsoft co-founder and his all-star line-up of fellow investors plan to announce tomorrow the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which will begin making investments next year. The BEV fund, which has a 20-year duration, aims to invest in the commercialization of new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in areas including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial processes, agriculture, and energy-system efficiency.

The company’s tagline is “Investing in a Carbonless Future” and their investment criteria are:

  1. CLIMATE IMPACT. We will invest in technologies that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a gigaton.
  2. OTHER INVESTMENTS. We will invest in companies with real potential to attract capital from sources outside of BEV and the broader Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
  3. SCIENTIFIC POSSIBILITY. We will invest in technologies with an existing scientific proof of concept that can be meaningfully advanced.
  4. FILLING THE GAPS. We will invest in companies that need the unique attributes of BEV capital, including patience, judgment by scientific milestones, flexible investment capabilities, and a significant global network.

Jeff Bezos, Mike Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, and Jack Ma are also participating in the fund.

In related-yet-unrelated news, a recent report says investment funds controlling more than $5 trillion in assets have dropped some or even all of their fossil fuel stocks.

The report, released Monday, said the new total was twice the amount measured 15 months ago — a remarkable rise for a movement that began on American college campuses in 2011. Since then, divestment has expanded to the business world and institutional world, and includes large pension funds, insurers, financial institutions and religious organizations. It has also spread around the world, with 688 institutions and nearly 60,000 individuals in 76 countries divesting themselves of shares in at least some kinds of oil, gas and coal companies, according to the report.

“It’s a stunning number,” said Ellen Dorsey, the executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, which has promoted fossil fuel divestment and clean energy investment as part of its philanthropy.

Like it or not, economics has to be a significant driver for combatting climate change. Driving public opinion against fossil fuel companies, falling prices for solar and battery energy, and clean energy investment funds: it all helps support the decisions made by the world’s forward-thinking leaders. And maybe, just maybe, if you can get the world’s leaders, the public, and the economy all pointed in the right direction, we’ve got a chance.

LIGO’s gravitational wave data may contradict relativity

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2016

Earlier this year, the LIGO experiment detected evidence of gravitational waves. Now the evidence shows that those waves may have echoes, which would contradict one of the tentpoles of modern physics, the general theory of relativity.

It was hailed as an elegant confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity — but ironically the discovery of gravitational waves earlier this year could herald the first evidence that the theory breaks down at the edge of black holes. Physicists have analysed the publicly released data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and claim to have found “echoes” of the waves that seem to contradict general relativity’s predictions.

The echoes could yet disappear with more data. If they persist, the finding would be extraordinary. Physicists have predicted that Einstein’s hugely successful theory could break down in extreme scenarios, such as at the centre of black holes. The echoes would indicate the even more dramatic possibility that relativity fails at the black hole’s edge, far from its core.

If the echoes go away, then general relativity will have withstood a test of its power — previously, it wasn’t clear that physicists would be able to test their non-standard predictions.

Don’t tell me what I already know

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2016

Director Steven Soderbergh is constantly looking for new ways to give his audience information about the story and the characters. It’s what makes his work seem fresher than that of some other directors, but sometimes the risk doesn’t pay off.

FWIW, I love the Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts bit in Ocean’s 12. It’s a lookie loo with a bundle of joy, what more do you need?! (via film school rejects)

The best scenes from Planet Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2016

The original Planet Earth series was released 10 years ago. In celebration, BBC asked some YouTube creators to share their favorite scenes from the show. My pick would be the shark jumping out of the water, not least because of the technique the filmmakers invented to capture the scene.

The Brilliant Life of Ada Lovelace

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

From Feminist Frequency, a quick video biography of Ada Lovelace, which talks about the importance of her contribution to computing.

A mathematical genius and pioneer of computer science, Ada Lovelace was not only the created the very first computer program in the mid-1800s but also foresaw the digital future more than a hundred years to come.

This is part of Feminist Frequency’s Ordinary Women series, which also covered women like Ida B. Wells and Emma Goldman.

A documentary on the 808 drum machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

808 is a feature-length documentary film on perhaps the most important musical instrument of the past 30 years, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The soundtrack includes songs by Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Jamie xx. The film will be available exclusively on Apple Music sometime in the next week but will likely be available elsewhere at some point after that.

See also a browser-based emulation of the 808.

Relaxing time lapse videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

Michael Shainblum makes time lapse videos of nature, landscapes, and cities, and some of them are very relaxing to watch. The resolution on these is great, so make ‘em big, sit back, and enjoy. (via bb)

Interesting facts about every country in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

If you were a religious reader of the encyclopedia and peruser of atlases like I was as a kid, you’ll love this video of interesting facts about almost 100 countries. There’s another video coming next week that’ll highlight the rest of the world’s countries…I’ll feature it here when they post it.

Update: I’ve embedded part 2 below the first video.

Feathered dinosaur tail trapped in amber

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

Dino Amber

Paleontologist Lida Xing found the feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur trapped in a piece of amber for sale at a market in Myanmar.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn’t a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

“I have studied paleontology for more than 10 years and have been interested in dinosaurs for more than 30 years. But I never expected we could find a dinosaur in amber. This may be the coolest find in my life,” says Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences in Beijing. “The feathers on the tail are so dense and regular, this is really wonderful.”

A long oral history of Prince

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

GQ talked to a bunch of people about Prince and came back with many stories — “ordinary and out there” — about the entertainer. Picked this excerpt pretty much at random:

Ian Boxill (engineer at Paisley Park, 2004-09): Even when he was dressed down, he’d dress like Prince: three-inch-tall flip-flops, or these heels with lights — they’d light up when he walked. That was his comfortable clothing. He had no pockets. You know, if you got people around that can carry phones and money for you, you can get away with that. No pockets and no watch. If he needed to use a phone he’d use my phone or a driver’s phone.

Hayes: We have a thing called Caribou Coffee in Minnesota, which is like Starbucks. He’d go over there, and he didn’t have any pockets. He didn’t have a wallet or any credit cards. He just had cash he’d carry in his hand-like, a $100 bill. And whoever took his order, they’d have a good day, ‘cause he’d buy his coffee drink and then just leave the whole hundred. He doesn’t wait for any change because he doesn’t have anywhere to put it.

Van Jones: He was very interested in the world. He wanted me to explain how the White House worked. He asked very detailed kind of foreign-policy questions. And then he’d ask, “Why doesn’t Obama just outlaw birthdays?” [laughs] I’m, like, “What?” He said, “I was hoping that Obama, as soon as he was elected, would get up and announce there’d be no more Christmas presents and no more birthdays — we’ve got too much to do.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know if that would go over too well.”

(via who else?)

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

As part of Time magazine’s recent selection of the 100 most influential photos of all time, art historian Christine Roussel talks about the story behind the iconic Lunch Atop a Skyscraper photograph of a group of construction workers on their lunch break. Interestingly, no one knows for sure who the workers were and who actually took the photograph.

A tribute to post-apocalyptic cinema

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

The World of Tomorrow is Bora Barroso’s tribute to some of the best post-apocalyptic movies, including Children of Men, 12 Monkeys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Road. Wall-E wasn’t dark enough I guess?

The Secret World of Stuff

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2016

Sean Charmatz makes these cute little video vignettes about the secret lives of everyday things like French fries, leaves, paper, ice, mops, Post-it Notes, and the like. Think Christoph Niemann but even simpler. Basically: these videos will start making you happy in less than 10 seconds or your money back.1 (via @arainert)

  1. Offer not valid in the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Botswana, Thailand, and all the rest of the world’s countries. Also not valid in international waters, or in any sub- or supra-national territories. If you can feel the pull of gravity, you’re out of luck. Oh, and outer space.

This ping pong volley sounds like Super Mario Bros

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

This volley played during a game of ping pong sounds a lot like the first few bars of the music from Super Mario Bros. (thx, david)

LightMasonry

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

Lightmasonry

LightMasonry is a light installation by Jason Bruges Studio in York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. The Creators Project profiled the installation recently.

LightMasonry by Jason Bruges Studio recently paid homage to the work of the highly skilled masons and carvers using beams of choreographed light.

The beams seek out and outline the vaults of the huge space using a custom system of 48 computer-controlled lights. Designer Adam Heslop, who helped visualize the performance, said it required the studio to develop a whole range of new techniques.

This would be something to see and/or rave to in person. (thx, peter)

The top 25 films of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

I look forward to David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his favorite films of the year and 2016’s installment does not disappoint. Nice to see Beyonce’s Lemonade, the weirdo Swiss Army Man (which I loved, Daniel Radcliffe 4eva!), and the excellent OJ: Made in America on there. Still puzzled by Hail Caesar…I love the Coen brothers but was bored by this one. No Arrival though…this was the only movie I saw in the theater twice this year. For those looking for upcoming or recently released films to watch, Ehrlich includes Jackie, La La Land, and Scorsese’s Silence on his list.

Richard Feynman’s sweet letter to his late wife Arline

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

At an event called Letters Live, actor Oscar Isaac read a letter that noted physicist Richard Feynman wrote to his wife Arline after her death at age 25 of tuberculosis. The letter remained unopened for more than 40 years until Feynman’s own death in 1988.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead - but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you.

(via @DavidGrann)

Trailer for The Circle

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2016

The film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is moving right along. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson (as well as John Boyega from The Force Awakens) and the first trailer was released yesterday. Looks Black Mirror-ish…I think we’ll be getting a lot of that over the next four years.

The evolution of Disney animation, from Snow White to Zootopia

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

This video quickly sums up almost 80 years of Disney animated movies, from Snow White and Pinocchio to Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. It’s astonishing how good the animation was in the early days and then got less so until fairly recently.

The 2016 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. 2016 has been a rough year for some of us, so getting in a festive mood might be asking too much. But my determination to give is off the charts this year, and if you’re feeling similarly, maybe this will help you. Let’s dig in.

Charity is going to be a big part of people’s giving this year. If you have the means, please find a worthy place to spread the wealth at GiveWell or Charity Navigator. A kottke.org reader recently pointed me toward GiveDirectly as well. Find volunteer opportunities in your area, give to your local food shelf, and look for holiday toy drives. On the way to lunch today, the kids and I noticed a Toys for Tots donation box outside a store. I gave each of them some money to spend on toys to put in the box…we’re working hard to make giving back part of our family routine.

The Kid Should See This is a true gem of the web and their gift guide is always top-notch. This year, I sat down with my kids and they each picked out two things from the list. Ollie chose The LEGO Architect book and this wind-powered Strandbeest. (As a fan of Strandbeests and their inventor Theo Jansen from way back, I was tickled by that choice.) Minna picked out these colorful playing cards (which we have and use often) and the littleBits Gizmos & Gadget kit. She got one of the littleBits kits from Santa1 last year and really liked it — it’s seen a resurgence in use over the past couple weeks as well. Perhaps another installment from St. Nick is in order.

Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads has compiled a list of Great, Affordable Gifts for Travelers, including portable chopsticks, Appetites (a new cookbook from Anthony Bourdain), and Speakeasy Travel Scarves that have hidden pockets big enough to carry a phone, passport, and some cash. Sneaky! And the Altas Obscura book, duh.

Last year, Quartz did my favorite holiday gift guide: they asked a bunch of notable folks about the best gift they’d ever received. Unexpectedly poignant. This year, they’re publishing a story every day until Dec 25th (Advent-style) on different aspects of holiday gift-giving.

If you haven’t bought your partner an Instant Pot pressure cooker yet, now’s your chance. Goes from zero to risotto in just a few minutes.

Every year, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome bring it with the holiday recommendations…my entire house is basically a Wirecutter/Sweethome showroom. Among their extensive recs are littleBits Rule Your Room Kit, the Electric Objects EO2 Digital Art Display, Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske, and this Bosch cordless drill (yo, Santa, I need one of these). Also, you can buy bulk movie tickets? Huh.

Stop reading, this is the best gift: Die Hard: The Authorized Coloring and Activity Book. Yippie ki-yay, motherfestivusers!

Boing Boing has three separate gift lists this year — for gadgets, books, and toys. Among the picks are the NES Classic Edition (hahaha good luck finding one of these before next year), a disposable hand-crank lantern, the Womanizer sex toy, blank playing cards, and What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There by Ariel Waldman.

The Kindle Paperwhite remains my favorite gadget recommendation. I love mine…my entire library slips into a pocket now.

Did you know that Muji and Uniqlo both have online stores now? From Muji I recommend the ultrasonic aroma diffuser (and some essential oils to use with it) and these amazing sock/slipper things I bought there last year but now they don’t have them anymore, sorry! And point Grandma toward Uniqlo so she can get you some socks and underwear you’ll actually wear.

Find the readers in your life some books on the best books of 2016 lists.

Food52 and Serious Eats have your food picks covered. Fancy cheese knives! Olive oil fresh from a small Italian grove! The Food Lab Cookbook! Eco Planter Herb Kit! Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman! The Uuni wood-fired oven (“cooks a pizza in 60 seconds”)!

Speaking of food, did you know you can order Katz’s famous pastrami and they’ll ship it anywhere in the country? Get a loaf of rye bread and some mustard while you’re at it.

Friends of kottke.org who make cool products include Tattly, Tinybop, Stowaway Cosmetics, Kingston Stockade FC merch, Hoefler & Co, Wait But Why merch, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, Electric Objects, 20x200, Dead Bookstore, and Field Notes.

For years, I recommended this Tovolo King Cube tray for making big ice cubes for cocktails…until mine got the freezer stank on it and my old fashioneds started tasting like freezer stank. Yuck. No one seems to make non-silicon big cube trays though. Business opportunity? (See update below…)

I helped 20x200 out with their gift guide this year, editing the Geek Chic section. Selections across all their sections include the AWB OneSky Telescope, Craig Kanarick’s Animals prints, and Steve Lambert’s Drawings for 3 Rooms in Your Home: #1.

For the serious nerds in your life, check out the 2016 Engineering Gift Guide from the engineering department at Purdue University. Their picks include Thames & Kosmos Electronics Learning Circuits and Simple Machines from Learning Resources.

More gift guides and curated shops: Canopy, The Colossal Shop, The Cup of Jo Holiday Gift Guide, Photojojo’s holiday gift guide, The Digg Holiday Gift Shop, The Tools & Toys 2016 Christmas Catalog, Slate Picks, #holiday on Kit, the NY Times 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, and the Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide.

You can also check out past kottke.org gift guides: 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Update: Several people recommended dealing with freezer stank by putting the silicon cube tray into a 350° oven for an hour. Bibulous recommends highjacking these OXO frozen baby food containers for the production of stank-free cocktail cubes.

Update: One Perfect Shot offers their list of 41 Perfect Gifts for the Movie Lover in Your Life. The Gannet’s gift guide offers guidance on objects, food & drink, and books. StoryWorth is offering a unique gift: a bound book of stories from a loved one. New site The Outline published A Gift Guide for Picky Nerds (including this Czech non-smartphone). Wink has a listing of good book gifts. Cool Tools has a selection of good gift ideas. The Stripe has a gift guide for the person who hated 2016. And from The Fox is Black, a gift guide featuring only products that are black.

  1. Both kids still believe in Santa, although the 7-year-old is more skeptical than the 9-year-old. Is that normal? A 9-year-old (almost 9 and a half!) still believing in Santa? And he is ALL IN. He explained his reasoning to me the other day. Since Santa has to build all kinds of toys in his workshop, LEGO, Nintendo, and Disney must license their products and trademarks for Santa to use. And since these big companies are all in on it, Santa must be real. It was all I could do not to laugh. Santa is definitely a manifestation of the machinations of large multinational corporations, but not in that way, kid!

Carl Sagan explains the fourth dimension

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2016

From his seminal TV program Cosmos, Carl Sagan attempts to explain the fourth dimension of spacetime. The story starts with Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, but Sagan being Sagan, his explanation is especially lucid.

The Dead Bookstore

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Dead Bookstore

Dead Bookstore

Ben Pieratt, who you may recall as the cofounder of Svpply (and many other diverse projects), has a new project called Dead Bookstore, wherein full-sheet pages of old books become art prints for sale. But there’s a DIY component as well…Pieratt helps you track down the original texts and has posted instructions so you can make your own prints.

Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out” shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.

Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.

(via @stiegjon)

The bell tolls at Britain’s oldest manufacturing company

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Liberty Bell

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the oldest manufacturing company in Britain. It was officially founded in 1570, but there’s an unbroken line of master bellfounders dating back to 1420. The company cast the bell for Big Ben…you may have heard of it. They also made the Liberty Bell…you may have heard of that one too.

The Whitechapel Foundry’s connection with the Liberty Bell was reestablished in 1976, the year of the US Bicentennial. First, there was a group of about thirty or so ‘demonstrators’ from the Procrastinators Society of America who mounted a mock protest over the bell’s defects and who marched up and down outside the Foundry with placards proclaiming WE GOT A LEMON and WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY?. We told them we would be happy to replace the bell — as long as it was returned to us in its original packaging.

Alan Hughes, the current master bellfounder, is retiring soon and the business shall have to move — it’s been in the current location for 250 years — but hopes are that the company will be sold and the new owners will carry on with the business of making bells. Spitalfields Life recently sat down with Hughes for an interview and tour.

“Our business runs counter to the national economy,” he continued, “If the economy goes down and unemployment rises, we start to get busy. Last year was our busiest in thirty years, an increase of 27% on the previous year. Similarly, the nineteen twenties were very busy.” I was mystified by this equation, but Alan has a plausible theory.

“Bell projects take a long time, so churches commit to new bells when the economy is strong and then there is no turning back. We are just commencing work on a new peal of bells for St Albans after forty-three years of negotiation. That’s an example of the time scale we are working on — at least ten years between order and delivery is normal. My great-grandfather visited the church in Langley in the eighteen nineties and told them the bells needed rehanging in a new frame. They patched them. My grandfather said the same thing in the nineteen twenties. They patched them. My father told them again in the nineteen fifties and I quoted for the job in the nineteen seventies. We completed the order in 1998.”

The Telegraph did a piece on the foundry as well. (via @richardwestenra)

The future of football

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

This conversation between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell about the current state of football and the NFL is quite good, even if you maybe don’t care about sports or aren’t currently watching football. Yes, it’s a sports bro and a nerd bro coming to terms with the fact that their favorite sport is a dumpster fire, but some of their points along the way are more widely applicable. Like Gladwell’s idea about second conversations:

There is now a second conversation about baseball — the Moneyball conversation — that is interesting even to people who don’t follow the first conversation, the one that takes place on the field. Same thing for basketball. There’s an obsessive first conversation about a beautiful game, and a great second conversation about how basketball has become a mixed-up culture of personality and celebrity. Boxing had a wonderful second conversation in its glory years: It was a metaphor of social mobility. Jack Dempsey, one of the most popular boxers of all time, dropped out of school before he even got to high school; Joe Louis’s family got chased out of Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan. That underlying narrative made what happened in the ring matter. When the second conversation about boxing became about people like Don King and the financial and physical exploitation of athletes, the sport became a circus.

So what’s the second conversation about football? It’s concussions. There’s the game on the field and then there’s a conversation off the field about why nobody wants their kids to play the game on the field. How does a sport survive in the long run when the second conversation contradicts the first?

And his assertion that the clarity and size of HD televisions have made the action on the screen too real:

In terms of how we watch football, high-definition television has clearly been a two-edged sword for the NFL, hasn’t it? It makes the drama of the game come alive, because we can now see the action in so much more detail. But it also means that when Luke Kuechly is writhing in pain on the ground, we can see every emotion on his face. That’s not a trivial matter. There’s a particular emotional expression that the psychologist Paul Ekman has labeled “Action Unit 1,” which is when your inner eyebrows rise up suddenly, like a drawbridge. It’s almost impossible to do that deliberately. (Try it sometime.) But virtually all human beings do Action Unit 1 involuntarily in the presence of emotional distress. Watch babies cry: Their inner eyebrows shoot up like they are on hydraulics. And when you see that expression appear on someone else’s face, that’s what triggers your own empathy.

The point is, in an age when this kind of intimate information about other people’s emotions is available to us when we’re watching TV in our living rooms, a game as violent and painful as football becomes really hard to watch. The first time I realized this was after a hit on Wes Welker in a Broncos playoff game, in the season when he had multiple concussions (2013). I had just bought a new big-screen TV, with an incredible picture, and when the camera zoomed in on Welker, I was so shaken that I had to turn off the game. I wonder how many other people did the same thing. So, yes, we really watch football differently now.

Interesting throughout, as they say. BTW, here’s Gladwell’s 2002 piece on Paul Ekman from the New Yorker.

52 things learned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Consultant Tom Whitwell shared 52 things he learned in 2016. Here are three:

Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]

Twitter has enough money in the bank to run for 412 years with current losses. [Matt Krantz]

Intervision, the 70s Soviet answer to the Eurovision Song Contest, was judge by electricity grid voting: “those watching at home had to turn their lights on when they liked a song and off when they didn’t, with data from the electricity network then being used to allocate points.” [Nick Heady]

It was hard to whittle the list down to just three, so a bonus one:

Instead of batteries, the ARES project in Nevada uses a network of train tracks, a hillside and electric trains loaded with rocks to store wind and solar power. When there is a surplus of energy, the trains drive up the tracks. When output falls, the cars roll back down the hill, their electric motors acting as generators. [Robson Fletcher]

The Economist did a piece — “Sisyphus’s train set” — on ARES this summer.

Lovely illustrations drawn on vintage sheet music

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Russian illustrators Alexei Lyapunov and Lena Ehrlich use the notes, staffs, and other musical notation marks on vintage sheet music as a framework to create these inventive illustrations of everyday life and nature. Prints are available. (via colossal)

The best books of 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Best Books 2016

It’s just the beginning of December and the lists of the best books of the year are already starting to stack up like so many clichés about nightstand book piles. Here’s what book editors, voracious readers, and retailers have to say about the year’s top books.

Tyler Cowen almost never steers me wrong, so I’ll lead with his best fiction of 2016 and best non-fiction books of 2016 lists. Cowen seems more enthusiastic about the year’s non-fiction than fiction, recommending The Age of Em by Robin Hanson and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History. He also recommends Atlas Obscura, which arrived in my book pile and was immediately commandeered by my 9-year-old who has read it straight through three or four times now.1

The NY Times somehow narrowed down the entire year’s output to The 10 Best Books of 2016. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad made this list and many others for good reason: it was an excellent and essential read. Also on the list is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.

From Buzzfeed, The 24 Best Fiction Books Of 2016. Includes The Vegetarian by Han Kang and The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.

Amazon’s editors selected their top 100 picks for the year. Included are The Girls by Emma Cline, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a book that came out very early in the year and was well-regarded but got lost in the shuffle a little as the year went on.

For their list of the best books of 2016 (part two), The Guardian asked writers what they had enjoyed reading during the year. Yuval Noah Harari (whose Sapiens I’ve been yapping about all year) recommends Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie picked Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, and Taiye Selasi “adored” Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Oh and my fave Hilary Mantel (where’s that next Cromwell book?!) recommends Ian McGuire’s The North Water.

The Telegraph’s top 50 books of the year is a wider-ranging list than most, with picks ranging from the Man Booker prize-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty to several books about sports, including an autobiography by FC Barcelona’s star midfielder Andrés Iniesta called The Artist.

On its list of the Top 20 Fiction Books of 2016 The What recommends Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie.

See also 2015’s best books. Ferrante and Ta-Nehisi Coates were the clear favorites last year. I haven’t read Between the World and Me yet, but the Neapolitan Novels were fantastic.

Update: Shane Parrish of Farnam Street offers 5 Noteable Nonfiction Books of 2016, including Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.

Update: At the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada shares his picks for the most surprising, hopeful, and overrated books of 2016. Among them are Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

Update: Bill Gates just released his annual list of some of his favorite 2016 books. The first book on the list is David Foster Wallace’s String Theory, a collection of his writing about tennis — here’s his full review.

When it comes to books, it’s pretty rare that I get intimidated. I read all kinds of books, including ones that only the harshest college professors would assign. And yet I must admit that for many years I steered clear of anything by David Foster Wallace. I often heard super literate friends talking in glowing terms about his books and essays. I even put a copy of his tour de force Infinite Jest on my nightstand at one point, but I just never got around to reading it.

If you’re a long-time reader, I’m not sure if there’s anything more I can say to convince you to read Wallace’s tennis writing, but just give his piece on Roger Federer a try.

Update: They just keep coming! For their Year in Reading 2016, The Millions surveyed a number of contributors for their favorite books of the year — Annie Proulx highlights Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. The Globe 100 Best Books of the Year list includes Nicholson Baker’s Substitute. NPR built a Book Concierge to help you find the perfect 2016 book — I found White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg by applying the Seriously Great Writing filter.

Update: From Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, The Greatest Science Books of 2016. On the list are Time Travel by James Gleick and Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game.

Update: The NY Times book critics selected their top books of 2016, including Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich.

A bunch of New Yorker writers selected books they loved in 2016. Among the picks were Liz Moore’s The Unseen World and Works and Days by Bernadette Mayer.

Update: The WSJ asked some notable people what their favorite books of 2016 were. Stephen Curry read Dan Brown — calling him “a master at intertwining history and fantasy” — but also Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers — but failed to call him “a master at intertwining history and fantasy”.

The readers of Goodreads chose their favorite books of 2016, including Hamilton: The Revolution and Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen.

Every year, the New York Public Library picks the Best Books for Kids and Teens. Their 2016 lists include Fiona Robinson’s Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer and Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings.

Update: The NY Times also asked many notable people what they read in 2016. Bryan Cranston read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Update: From Buzzfeed, The 18 Best Nonfiction Books Of 2016 including Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography.

  1. The other day he said to me, “Daddy, you should read this book. I think you’d really like it. There might be some interesting stuff in there for your website.”

The Map of Physics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

In this video, physicist Dominic Walliman explains how all of the various disciplines of physics are related to each other by arranging them on a giant map. He starts with the three main areas — classical physics, quantum mechanics, and relativity — and then gets into the more specific subjects like optics, electromagnetism, and particle physics before venturing across The Chasm of Ignorance (dun dun DUN!) where things like string theory and dark matter dwell.

Posters of The Map of Physics are available.

Political Moneyball: America’s unfair elections and the Republicans’ art of winning them

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Why does the US have only two main political parties? Is it because that’s what people want? Nope! It’s just an artifact of our system of voting. From C.G.P. Grey, a video explaining the problems with first-past-the-post voting systems (like the one used in US elections). Great simple explanation…well worth watching. Check out the rest of Grey’s videos in this series, particularly the one on gerrymandering.

Nothing in politics gets my blood boiling faster than gerrymandering…it is so grossly and obviously unfair. I bet you don’t even need to guess which of the two US political parties has pushed unfair redistricting in recent years.

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws. They’ve limited potential conservative third party candidates (like Trump!) by incorporating them and their views into the main party. I would not be surprised if Republican donors strategically support left-of-center third-party candidates as spoilers — it’s a good tactic, underhanded but effective. They increasingly ignore political norms and practices to stymie Democratic efforts, like the general inaction of the Republican-led Congress over the past few years and the Senate’s refusal to consider Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

None of this is an accident. They are a small but (and this is important) unified team that works for the benefit of the group above all else. In football terms, the Democrats are the stronger team: they gain more yards (look at Clinton’s ever-growing lead in the popular vote), they earn more first downs, and they might even score more points over the course of the season. But the Republicans won the Super Bowl by sticking together and deftly pressing their advantages to change the rules of the game in their favor. It’s a Moneyball strategy, but for politics.1 By almost any measure, the US is more liberal than it was 20 years ago and yet we have an incoming administration which is potentially authoritarian, influenced and advised by extremist white nationalists, and unapologetically corruptible. Somehow, we need to make the game more fair again. Fairness and justice should not be partisan. Americans — all Americans, liberal, centrist, and conservative — deserve a fair political process that reflects as closely as possible the collective needs and desires of the citizenry. Anything less should be unacceptable.

Update: Ross Lincoln makes some similar points about the election and liberal majority in America in a series of tweets about the importance of talking about Clinton’s popular vote totals.

14) Meanwhile, the great lie told by GOPs is that they’re ‘real’ America and that they’re a true majority, not liberals.

15) So when they win, regardless of circumstances, press & even many ostensible liberals fall in line w/demands liberals stop being liberal.

16) That’s happening now bigly. Even the LA Weekly published a horrid little illiterate screed about how liberals suck. LA Weekly!

17) but here’s the thing: Hill’s campaign seriously erred in ignoring key swing states. But she still is getting a historic pop vote margin

18) pushing 3 million more votes than Trump got. Possibly going to have gotten more votes than Obama got in 2012.

19) by any reasonable standard of judgment, clear majority of voters did not want Trump in office and most of those voters wanted Hillary.

20) Trump literally won only thanks to a technicality. And yet everyone is trying to push this idea that liberal votes don’t really count.

21) we’re told *we* live in a bubble. But as other ppl have noted, Los Angeles looks a hell of a lot more like America than Sapulpa, OK.

22) before anyone accuses me of being a snooty coastal elite, I am from Sapulpa, OK.

23) if Dems reacted to winning E.C. but not pop vote by saying OK isn’t a real place and doesn’t count, there’d be riots and impeachment.

24) That’s literally what is happening to liberals. But we didn’t just win the pop vote b/c of a quirk. We won it BIG. There are more of us.

25) if anything, we’re the ignored majority. Not conservatives, who literally cannot win fair and square.

See also Steven Johnson’s piece about how the wealthiest, most liberal, and most urban states pay the most taxes and have the least representation.

  1. I mean, the fake news on Facebook…that is a genius Moneyball tactic. Instead of blowing a lot of cash on expensive national TV ads, they bought a ton of cheap propaganda that Facebook and conservative voters spread around for free (or very cheap).

    And do you recall the subtitle of Michael Lewis’s book? I didn’t until I just looked it up. It’s “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. I can’t think of a better description of our political system and what the Republicans have achieved over the past decade.

Google Earth Timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Google has updated their Timelapse feature on Google Earth, allowing you to scrub satellite imagery from all over the globe back in forth in time.

This interactive experience enabled people to explore these changes like never before — to watch the sprouting of Dubai’s artificial Palm Islands, the retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and the impressive urban expansion of Las Vegas, Nevada. Today, we’re making our largest update to Timelapse yet, with four additional years of imagery, petabytes of new data, and a sharper view of the Earth from 1984 to 2016.

A good way to experience some of the most compelling locations is through the YouTube playlist embedded above…just let it run for a few minutes. Some favorite videos are the circular farmland in Al Jowf, Saudi Arabia, the disappearing Aral Sea, the erosion of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the urban growth of Chongqing, China, the alarmingly quick retreat of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and this meandering river in Tibet.

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