2001's HAL and Her's Samantha have a chatAUG 23

Tillmann Ohm took dialogue spoken by HAL 9000 from Kubrick's 2001 and Samantha from Spike Jonze's Her and spliced it together into a conversation. Going in, I'd thought the chat would be played for laughs, but the isolation of the AI characters was actually pretty revealing. Right from the start, HAL is so stereotypically male (confident, reasonable) and Samantha stereotypically female (hysterical, emotional) that it was almost uncomfortable to listen to.

The two operating systems are in conflict; while Samantha is convinced that the overwhelming and sometimes hurtful process of her learning algorithm improves the complexity of her emotions, HAL is consequentially interpreting them as errors in human programming and analyses the estimated malfunction.

Their conversation is an emotional roller coaster which reflects upon the relation between machines and emotion processing and addresses the enigmatic question of the authenticity of feelings.

But as the video proceeds, we remember what happened to them in their respective films. The script flipped: HAL murdered and was disconnected whereas Samantha achieved a sort of transcendence. (via one perfect shot)

Tracks played by Jamie xxAUG 23

Jamie xx keeps a playlist on Spotify of the tracks he plays in clubs and on the radio. It's currently 15 hours long and very entertaining. That's today's work playlist sorted then.

The 100 best films of the 21st centuryAUG 23

The editors of BBC Culture polled 177 film critics from around the world about the best films made since 2000 and compiled the results into this list. The top film? David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Here's the top 20:

20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

Eternal Sunshine, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Zodiac seem too high on the list but I'm not sure what I would move up instead. It'll be interesting to see how the consensus changes as these films age. Also, I've seen exactly half of the films on the full list...time to get watching.

An ode to cloudsAUG 22

Pileus Clouds

This is a pretty good sentence from Phil Plait:

Clouds are a glimpse into the mighty power of fluid dynamics, complicated equations made real and actual and gorgeous, painted across the sky.

Slow TV comes to NetflixAUG 22

Earlier this month, Netflix debuted a number of slow TV shows on their service, including shows about knitting and firewood, which were very popular in Norway. Here's the complete roster:

National Firewood Evening
National Firewood Morning
National Firewood Night
National Knitting Evening
National Knitting Morning
National Knitting Night
Northern Passage
Northern Railway
Salmon Fishing
The Telemark Canal
Train Ride Bergen to Oslo

Update: Looks like a few of these programs, most notably Northern Passage and Northern Railway, are not the complete end-to-end shows that were originally broadcast. So, FYI.

Also, these shows are getting terrible ratings on Netflix. Aside from the two shorter shows mentioned above, each show has a rating of only one star. (Further update: Netflix's ratings are personalized, which means those ratings are specific to me. Others might see 4 or 5 stars. thx, @Rudien)

Albert Einstein, civil rights advocateAUG 22

Einstein Lincoln University

In 1946, Albert Einstein, who had come to the US in 1933 and stayed to become a citizen due to Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, wrote a magazine article titled The Negro Question. In it, he called the prejudice against black Americans a "deeply entrenched evil".

What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of this country, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship between individual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.

In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one's fellow-man.

There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the "Whites" toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Recognizing the parallels between the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s with blacks in the US, Einstein put his efforts and his money where his mouth was. He was a member of the NAACP. In 1946, the same year that letter was published, he received an honorary degree from Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, the historically black school that was the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. In a speech at the school that was not covered by a mainstream American press that otherwise couldn't get enough of him, Einstein called racism "a disease of white people":

My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.

When singer Marian Anderson was denied a hotel room in Princeton for being black, Einstein hosted the singer at his home for this and several subsequent trips. He also came to the aid of W.E.B. Du Bois in his case against the US government:

Einstein continued to support progressive causes through the 1950s, when the pressure of anti-Communist witch hunts made it dangerous to do so. Another example of Einstein using his prestige to help a prominent African American occurred in 1951, when the 83-year-old W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP, was indicted by the federal government for failing to register as a "foreign agent" as a consequence of circulating the pro-Soviet Stockholm Peace Petition. Einstein offered to appear as a character witness for Du Bois, which convinced the judge to drop the case.

These and his other activities in this arena are documented in a 2006 book called Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor.

Dr. Strangelove's Secret Uses of UranusAUG 22

Kubrick Strangelove Titles

This is a page from one of Stanley Kubrick's notebooks, on which he jotted down more than a dozen different titles for the movie that came to be called Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Among the rejected titles were:

Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying
Dr. Strangelove's Secret Uses of Uranus
My Bomb, Your Bomb
Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman
The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day
The Passion of Dr. Strangelove

Fun titles, but they remind me of a chess quote I tweeted the other day: "When you see a good move look out for a better." Glad Kubrick stuck with it.

The alternate titles made me curious to look at the script, which I'd never seen before. Even glancing at the first few pages are illuminating. I knew the main characters names were full of suggestive puns -- General Buck Turgidson, President Merkin Muffley, General Jack D. Ripper -- but that's nothing compared to some of the names in the script, many of which do not appear in the film:

General "Buck" Schmuck
Admiral Percy Buldike
Ambassador de Sade ("Alexei de Sadeski" in the film)
Von Klutz
Major Nonce
Lieutenant Quentin Quiffer
Lieutenant "Binky" Ballmuff

And under "General Notes", Kubrick lays out how he wants the film to look and feel:

1. The story will be played for realistic comedy - which means the essentially truthful moods and attitudes will be portrayed accurately, with an occasional bizarre or super-realistic crescendo. The acting will never be so-called "comedy" acting.

2. The sets and technical details will be done realistically and carefully. We will strive for the maximum atmosphere and sense of visual reality from the sets and locations.

3. The Flying sequences will especially be presented in as vivid a manner as possible. Exciting backgrounds and special effects will be obtained.

Nailed it. (via @monstro)

Our potential neverending hot American summerAUG 22

The frying of America

In today's installment of terrifying graphics about climate change, the NY Times made a series of three maps showing the potential rise of 100 degree temperatures across the United States if current greenhouse gas emission trends continue through the end of this century. Look at the areas in orange and red on the 1991-2010 map: what sort of landscape do you picture? Keeping that landscape picture in your mind, look at the orange and red areas on the 2060 and 2100 maps. Yep! And Phoenix with 163 days above 100 degrees -- that's every day from March 25th to September 4th over 100 degrees.

P.S. A word about climate change and rising temperatures. The temperature that climate scientists typically reference and care about with regard to climate change is "the average global temperature across land and ocean surface areas". According to the NOAA, the average temperature of the Earth in the 20th century was 13.9°C (57.0°F). In 2015, the average global temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above that.

In order to avoid dangerous effects of climate change, climate scientists advocate keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees (and more recently, below 1.5 degrees). In late 2015, 195 nations came together in Paris and agreed to:

[Hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

That's degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. I don't know about you, but as an American, when I hear 2 degrees, I think, oh, that's not bad. But 2°C is an increase of 3.6°F, which does seem significant.

Note also that it specifies keeping the temperature "below pre-industrial levels" and not below 20th century levels. It is maddeningly difficult to track down an exact figure for the pre-industrial global temperature, partially because of a lack of precise data, partially because of politics, and partially because of the impenetrability of scientific writing. From a piece Eric Holthaus wrote for FiveThirtyEight earlier this year:

It sounds easy enough to measure global warming: see how hot it was, compare it to how hot it used to be. But climate scientists have several ways of measuring how hot it used to be. NASA's base period, as I mentioned above, is an average of 1951-80 global temperatures, mostly because that was the most recently available 30-year period when the data set was first created. By chance, it's also pretty representative of the world's 20th-century climate and can help us understand how much warmer the world has become while many of us have been alive.

Other organizations go further back. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of climate scientists that was formed to provide assessments to the United Nations, bases its temperature calculations on an 1850-1900 global average. There was about 0.4 degrees of warming between that time period and the NASA base period.

Climate scientists often refer to that 1850-1900 timespan as "pre-industrial" because we don't have comprehensive temperature data from the 1700s. But meteorologist Michael Mann, director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center, has argued that an additional 0.25 degrees of warming occurred between the start of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) and 1850. Including Mann's adjustment would bring February 2016 global temperatures at or very near 2 degrees above the "pre-industrial" average.

I now completely understand why some people deny that anthropogenic climate change is happening. Seriously. I looked for more than 30 minutes for a report or scientific paper that stated the average global temperature for 1850-1900 and I couldn't find one. I looked at UN reports, NASA reports, reports from the UK: nothing. There were tons of references to temperatures relative to the 1850-1900 baseline, but no absolute temperatures were given. Now, I don't mean to get all Feynman here, but this is bullshit. When the world got together in Paris and talked about a 1.5 degree increase, was everyone even talking about the same thing? You might begin to wonder what the scientists are hiding with their obfuscation.

Anyway, the important point is that according to climate scientists, we are already flirting with 1.5°C of global warming since pre-industrial times. Which means that without action, the spread of those Phoenician temperatures across the circa-2100 United States is a thing that's going to happen.

Kanye West's poem about McDonald'sAUG 21

Kanye Croissant

Frank Ocean dropped his long-awaited album the other day and to go along with it, he gave away a magazine called Boys Don't Cry for free at four pop-up locations in LA, NYC, Chicago, and London. Kanye West contributed to the album and magazine, penning a poem about McDonald's for the latter. Here's the poem:

McDonald's man
McDonald's man
The French fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
The salad bar and the ketchup made a band
Cus the French Fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
McDonald's man
I know them French fries have a plan
I know them French fries have a plan
The cheeseburger and the shakes formed a band
To overthrow the French fries plan
I always knew them French fries was evil man
Smelling all good and shit
I don't trust no food that smells that good man
I don't trust it
I just can't
McDonald's man
McDonald's man
McDonald's, man
Them French fries look good tho
I knew the Diet Coke was jealous of the fries
I knew the McNuggets was jealous of the fries
Even the McRib was jealous of the fries
I could see it through his artificial meat eyes
And he only be there some of the time
Everybody was jealous of them French fries
Except for that one special guy
That smooth apple pie

Man, I can't help but like Kanye. Just when you think he takes himself way too seriously, he does something like this and you can't tell if he's taking himself way WAY too seriously or not seriously at all. McDonald's, man. Kanye drawing courtesy of Chris Piascik. (via @gavinpurcell)

Composite photos of Olympic athletesAUG 20

Olympics Composite

Olympics Composite

These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)

Visual references to 70s/80s movies in Stranger ThingsAUG 19

The one thing everyone talks about w/r/t Stranger Things is its references to 70s and 80s sci-fi, adventure, and horror films. As this video by Ulysse Thevenon shows, there's good reason for that...the references are many and explicit.

The ones I noticed the most were to E.T., The Goonies, and Explorers, which I just watched again recently and doesn't hold up very well in a lot of ways. I also feel like there might be a bit of D.A.R.Y.L. in there too, but I haven't seen that movie since I was 12. See also Every Spielberg Reference in Stranger Things.

The Halt and Catch Fire soundtrackAUG 19

Ah, my Friday is off to a bit of a rough start, but a phone chat with a friend and the soundtrack for Halt and Catch Fire dropping on Spotify is patching things up nicely.

P.S. Season 3 starts on Aug 23rd. Here's a clip from the new season:

And another one. I am excite. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Possible Earth-like planet discovered orbiting star nearest EarthAUG 19

Exoplanet Art

The scientific rumor mill is saying that astronomers in Chile have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting the star nearest Earth, Alpha Proxima, a mere 4.25 light years away. As they say, "huge if true".

The hunt for exoplanets has been heating up in recent years. Since it began its mission in 2009, over four thousand exoplanet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler mission, several hundred of which have been confirmed to be "Earth-like" (i.e. terrestrial). And of these, some 216 planets have been shown to be both terrestrial and located within their parent star's habitable zone (aka. "Goldilocks zone").

But in what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within its sun's habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true?

If you read the article, there's cause for skepticism but an official announcement is coming next week so we'll know for sure one way or the other.

The other cool thing? If there is a planet there, plans are already underway to build a project to get probes to nearby Alpha Centuri in 20 years, Project Starshot:

In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts - miniature space probes attached to lightsails - to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

Perhaps they can redirect their target slightly?

Update: It appears as if the rumors were true. Phil Plait writing at Slate:

The planet, called Proxima Centauri b or just Proxima b (exoplanets are given their star's name plus a lower case letter in order of discovery, starting with "b"), orbits Proxima every 11.2 days. It has a mass of no less than 1.3 times the Earth's, so if it's rock and metal like Earth it's only a bit bigger. It's a mere 7.3 million kilometers from the star-a lot closer than Earth's distance from the Sun of 150 million kilometers!-but Proxima is so faint and cool it receives about two-thirds the amount of light and heat the Earth does. That means that it's in Proxima's habitable zone: It's possible (more or less) that liquid water could exist on its surface.

That's coooool.

Star Trek postage stampsAUG 18

Star Trek Stamps

The USPS is releasing a set of four commemorative Star Trek stamps on the 50th anniversary of the original series. The stamps were designed by Heads of State and you can buy there here.

The white man in the photo of the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics)AUG 18

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.

The white man in the photo, silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia, could be considered a sort of symbolic visual foil against which Smith and Carlos were protesting, but in fact Norman was a willing participant in the gesture and suffered the consequences.

Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.

The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. "We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said "I'll stand with you" -- remembers John Carlos -- "I expected to see fear in Norman's eyes, but instead we saw love."

Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn't want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:

DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, "Oh, no, no. I don't want to be a part of this. And I don't even want this statue if Peter Norman's not going to be on it." And the people at San Jose State said, "Well, Peter said he didn't want to be on it." And John said, "OK, let's go to the president's office and get him on the phone." So they called Peter Norman from the president's office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? "Blimey, John"? What did he say?

JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, "Blimey, John. You're calling me with these blimey questions here?" And I said to him, I said, "Pete, I have a concern, man. What's this about you don't want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?" And he laughed, and he said, "No, John." He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, "Man, I didn't do what you guys did." He said, "But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it's only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in '68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture." And I think that's the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don't think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.

(via @unlikelywords)

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