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Bill Hayes adored Oliver Sacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The Guardian has an entertaining and touching excerpt of Bill Hayes’ memoir Insomniac City about his moving to New York and his relationship with Oliver Sacks. Even though Sacks had little interest or knowledge about popular culture — “‘What is Michael Jackson?’ he asked me the day after the news [of Jackson’s death]” — he became part of it, and so he and Hayes travel to Iceland to dine with Björk and run into the actress and model Lauren Hutton at a concert.

[Hutton] overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

“Hey doc, you ever done belladonna?” she asked. “Now there’s a drug!”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have,” and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasn’t his first book.

“Are you — are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks?” Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

“Well, it is very good to meet you, sir.” She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasn’t an act. “I’ve been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks - imagine that!”

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea…

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad - the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

See also My Own Life, a piece about the cancer diagnosis that would eventually take Sacks’ life.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Sacks dictated the piece to Hayes “nearly verbatim” and is very much worth a re-read. (via @tedgioia)

We Work Remotely

A timeline map of the global median age from 1960-2060

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From Aron Strandberg,1 this is a timeline visualization of the age of the world’s population from 1960-2060. The world’s human population has increased rapidly in the last couple centuries, most recently doubling since 1970:

A tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).

But watching that video, you’ll realize that the world’s population will not reach 20 or 30 billion in 2050 — human civilization is getting old.

  1. Strandberg was also recently in charge of Sweden’s Twitter account, which they hand over to a random Swedish person each week. That’s where I found his chart.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From director Martin McDonagh, who is also responsible for In Bruges, comes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Frances McDormand stars and even in the trailer, she is a force of nature. (No offense to Meryl Streep, but McDormand is a very strong candidate for the best actor or actress working today.) The red band trailer above is entertaining in its use of many of George Carlin’s seven dirty words but I prefer the more conventional trailer I saw in the theater the other day — which I cannot locate online for some reason — because, among other reasons, it contains more Peter Dinklage.

How Vladimir Putin rose to power and Made Russia Great Again

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

This video from Vox explains how Vladimir Putin took advantage of the post-Soviet political and economic chaos in Russia to become its leader in a very short period of time and what’s he done with that leadership since then.

Vladimir Putin has been ruling Russia since 1999. In that time he has shaped the country into an authoritarian and militaristic society. The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 new countries, including the new Russian Federation. In Putin’s eyes, Russia had just lost 2 million square miles of territory. But Putin’s regime has also developed and fostered the most effect cyber hacker army in the world and he’s used it to wreak havoc in the West. But the election of Donald Trump brings new hope for the Putin vision. Trump’s rhetoric has been notably soft on Russia. He could lift sanctions and weaken NATO, potentially freeing up space for Putin’s Russia to become a dominant power once again.

Watching this, it’s easy to see how Putin’s progress in Making Russia Great Again, not to mention the authoritarian methods he employs, would be appealing to Trump.

See also Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways.

Skateboarding on frozen sand

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

In this beautifully shot video, four skateboarders discover the joys of skating on the frozen sand of a Norwegian beach.

Ice, driftwood, foamy waves and … skateboards? Four skaters head north to the cold Norwegian coast, applying their urban skills to a wild canvas of beach flotsam, frozen sand and pastel skies. The result is a beautiful mashup — biting winds and short days, ollies and a frozen miniramp.

The result is a lot more contemplative than a lot of other skateboarding videos. The emphasis is not on cool tricks (which were difficult to do in the cold weather) but on the vibe of skating on a frozen Norwegian shoreline with only a few hours of sunlight a day. A longer version is available to rent or buy on Vimeo (and more info here).

Delicately detailed illustrations of small Korean convenience stores

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Me Kyeoung Lee

Me Kyeoung Lee

Me Kyeoung Lee

Oh, I really like these. The detail, the delicate realism, the muted but also somehow vibrant colors. Me Kyeoung Lee has been drawing South Korean convenience stores for the past two decades. There appears to be a recent book of her work, but I don’t know if or where it’s available (Google Translate isn’t working on that page). Doesn’t look like prints are available either. Yo 20x200, get on this! (via colossal)

Citizen Jane, a documentary film about Jane Jacobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City is a documentary films about Jane Jacobs and her legendary battle against Robert Moses for the soul of New York City.

People have to insist on government trying things their way.

The film will be available in theaters and on-demand on April 21.

I’m a bit more than halfway through the audiobook of The Power Broker and Robert Moses is approaching the height of his influence. The power that Moses possessed in NYC almost cannot be overstated — I can’t think of any other single person who affected the “look and feel” of the city more than he did. I have heard the story many times, but I can’t wait to get the part with Jacobs, to hear in Caro’s words how this infinitely powerful man lost his grip on the city because of this remarkable woman and a group of concerned citizens. (via @daveg)

Update: Astoundingly, Jacobs is not in The Power Broker. Her chapter was cut for length. (thx, alec)

The importance of social capital in public life

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

In 1993, Robert Putnam, who later went on to write Bowling Alone (which inspired Meetup), wrote a piece for The American Prospect called The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life about social capital and its contribution to political and economic well-being of a society. Much has changed since then, but Putnam’s piece is solidly relevant to the political situation in America today.

How does social capital undergird good government and economic progress? First, networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity: I’ll do this for you now, in the expectation that down the road you or someone else will return the favor. “Social capital is akin to what Tom Wolfe called the ‘favor bank’ in his novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities,” notes economist Robert Frank. A society that relies on generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. Trust lubricates social life.

Networks of civic engagement also facilitate coordination and communication and amplify information about the trustworthiness of other individuals. Students of prisoners’ dilemmas and related games report that cooperation is most easily sustained through repeat play. When economic and political dealing is embedded in dense networks of social interaction, incentives for opportunism and malfeasance are reduced. This is why the diamond trade, with its extreme possibilities for fraud, is concentrated within close-knit ethnic enclaves. Dense social ties facilitate gossip and other valuable ways of cultivating reputation—an essential foundation for trust in a complex society.

This quote by 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume that leads off the piece succinctly sums up the challenges involved and the potential consequences in not addressing them properly:

Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.

(via @timoreilly)

Fran Lebowitz on books and reading

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review recently interviewed Fran Lebowitz for their By the Book series. She mentions Memoirs of Hadrian as the last great book she read and doesn’t like literary dinner parties.

Q: You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

a: None. I would never do it. My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book. That’s my idea of a literary dinner party. When I eat alone, I spend a lot of time, before I sit down to my meager meal, choosing what to read. And I’m a lot better choosing a book than preparing a meal. And I never eat anything without reading. Ever. If I’m eating an apple, I have to get a book.

Her answer to the very last question made me laugh out loud. Buuuuuuurn.

The state-fueled slavery of the Alabama coal mining industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Alabama Coal Slavery

From Ariel Aberg-Riger, a visual story for CityLab’s series on power about how, for decades, Alabama purposely imprisoned young black men on trumped-up charges in order to rent them out as de facto slaves to the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, which grew fat on the cheap, coerced labor.

TCI, as it was known — was wildly profitable. Period accounts attribute the company’s booming success to the “sage” “energetic” “accomplished” entrepreneurial white developers of “intrepidity and public spirit” who capitalized upon the “admirable richness of the coal flora of Alabama.” But the true key to TCI’s “profits” lay in a deadly contract the company managed to negotiate with the state of Alabama in 1888.

(thx, david)

Andre Agassi and what the scoreboard doesn’t say

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way first…this is a photo of Andre Agassi playing tennis at age 7:

Agassi at 7yo

OMG, that face! That photo is from a recent profile/interview of Agassi, who, after some struggles on and off the court early in his career, seems to have figured out how to live his life with purpose. Through his foundation and other efforts, Agassi has helped build almost 80 schools around the country for underprivileged children.

Did Agassi also wish he could be on court playing Federer or Nadal? “No. You can’t believe you once were at that level — and, even if I could do it, I think of my life now and ask: ‘Why do they do it?’ Steffi said: ‘Can you believe what these guys are still willing to put themselves through?’ It’s remarkable but if I went back in time I would probably retire sooner.”

Surely he misses the intensity? “I miss that the least. That was always the tough part for me. I enjoyed the work that went into making yourself the best you can be but I hated what the scoreboard doesn’t say. It just tells you if you won or lost. But the biggest issue for most athletes is you spend a third of your life not preparing for the next two-thirds. One day your entire way of life comes to an end. It’s a kind of death. You just have to go through it and figure it out. In her own quiet way Steffi feels stronger than me. She’s pretty linear in how she lives. I probably do a little more reminiscing than she does — which says a lot.”

As a kid, I always loved watching Agassi play, especially during the second half of his career. He’d been through some shit, dealt with it, and was playing with a different kind of verve. His game was more knowing, purposeful. I still remember Pete Sampras, overflowing with talent, pounding that amazing serve of his at Agassi, a serve that no one else on the tour could return properly. Some of these wicked serves would confound him, but every few points, Agassi would take a Sampras serve, this perfect booming thing, and absolutely paste it right down the line or cross-court for an easy winner. He took everything that was good about that serve and molded it into his return — the better Sampras hit the serve, the better Agassi’s return would be. (via mr)

A fire ant colony moves into a giant new space

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

This is perhaps the most interesting and engaging 14-minute video about an indoor fire ant colony that you’ll ever see. (The narration merits special mention; it’s somewhere between that of a nature documentary and a trailer for a Michael Bay movie.) This colony has been very successful and is bursting at the seams with worker ants, so a massive new space full of organic soil has been arranged for them.

What happens when you introduce a massive, ravenous fire ant colony to a bin full of soil? Pure awesomeness! In this video, we watch as our favourite Fire Ant colony “The Fire Nation” moves into a bin full of soil called “The Fire Palace”. We observe the amazing tunnel work and constructions they make and witness what makes ants the best architects and designs Mother Nature has to offer.

It’s amazing how quickly and completely the ants transform their habitat into something that suits their needs…they moved almost the entire colony into the new space in only 2 days. I…I kinda want to build my own ant colony now? Looks like I need to start by reading this.

The end of Rogue One + the beginning of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The ending of Rogue One — spoilers! — shows an unconvincing CG clone of Princess Leia receiving the plans for the Death Star just before her ship jumps into hyperspace. The beginning of Star Wars takes place just a few minutes (or hours?) after the final scene in Rogue One. Vader’s ship has caught the Rebel ship. He boards it and captures Leia, but not before she hands off the plans to R2-D2, who escapes to Tatooine with C-3PO. Watching them cut together like this, the whole narrative makes a lot more sense. BTW, on March 24, you’ll be able to watch both movies back-to-back in the comfort of your home when Rogue One is available for digital download.

Heinz is actually running ketchup ads created by Mad Men’s Don Draper

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Heinz Ads Mad Men

In the second episode of the 6th season of Mad Men, ad man Don Draper of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce pitches Heinz on a campaign where you never actually see the product. The ads show French fries, steak, and a hamburger with the tagline “Pass the Heinz” and your mind fills in the missing ketchup bit. Here’s the pitch (which doesn’t exactly land w/ the Heinz folks):

Now, in the real universe, the actual Heinz is running Draper’s ads.

Partly a PR stunt, partly just solid on-brand communications, the campaign is sure to delight fans of the AMC show, which in July will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere. And in a nice touch, the ads are officially being credited to Heinz’s current agency, David Miami, and to Don’s fictional 1960s firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Draper and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who approved the idea, are both listed in the credits.)

Heinz tells AdFreak that each one will get its own billboard in NYC. All three ads will also run in the New York Post, and the fries execution will run in Variety too. The ads will get support across Heinz’s social media channels as well.

See also Malcolm Gladwell on The Ketchup Conundrum.

A recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

2001 Bedroom Replica

Artist Simon Birch and architect Paul Kember have recreated the famous bedroom from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of a larger art project called The 14th Factory in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Weirdly, when Birch approached Kember about doing the project, Kember revealed that his uncles had worked on the actual set for Kubrick:

Birch showed the project’s architect, a guy named Paul Kember, a series of stills from the film hoping he’d be able to recreate it. Then Paul goes, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Oh, Si, didn’t I tell you? My uncle and great-uncle — you know, Tony and John? — were draughtsman on that movie, and they literally — literally! — worked on that exact room! Isn’t that bonkers?!”

From the Instagram evidence, it looks as though you can walk around the bedroom, sit on the furniture, lay on the bed, etc. This might almost be worth making a special trip to LA.