1995: The Year the Future BeganMAR 27

Netscape 1995

The New Yorker's Louis Menand reviews a new book by W. Joseph Campbell, 1995: The Year the Future Began.

Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky is one of the five things that happened in 1995 that Campbell believes opened the door to the future. The others are the O. J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Dayton negotiations that settled the Bosnian war, and the rise and fall of the Internet browser Netscape Navigator.

The list certainly reflects the inchoate spirit of the age. But that is not Campbell's point. His point is that our contemporary (American) world started with a White House sex scandal; the murder trial of a former football star; a set of agreements hammered out among foreign heads of state on an Air Force base in Ohio; a loner who thought that blowing up a federal office building was justified on political principles; and a computer program that ultimately lost the "browser wars" to Microsoft. You have to admire a historian who proposes to extract reverse-prediction gold from that material.

I graduated from college in 1995 so I'm probably biased, but that year does seem like a cultural turning point in many ways. Interested to read Campbell's book.

The Ballad of Geeshie and ElvieMAR 27

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie is a good old fashioned musical detective story told by John Jeremiah Sullivan.

In the world of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it, who can appear from one angle like a clique of pale and misanthropic scholar-gatherers and from another like a sizable chunk of the human population, there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and '31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, in particular two, Elvie's "Motherless Child Blues" and Geeshie's "Last Kind Words Blues," twin Alps of their tiny oeuvre, inspiring essays and novels and films and cover versions, a classical arrangement.

Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers' efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. The sketchy memories of one or two ancient Mississippians, gathered many decades ago, seemed to point to the southern half of that state, yet none led to anything solid. A few people thought they heard hints of Louisiana or Texas in the guitar playing or in the pronunciation of a lyric. We know that the word "Geechee," with a c, can refer to a person born into the heavily African-inflected Gullah culture centered on the coastal islands off Georgia and the Carolinas. But nothing turned up there either. Or anywhere. No grave site, no photograph. Forget that -- no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the '20s and '30s. Their myth was they didn't have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves -- the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands -- these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie, and even these had come within a second thought of vanishing, within, say, a woman's decision in cleaning her parents' attic to go against some idle advice that she throw out a box of old records and instead to find out what the junk shop gives. When she decides otherwise, when the shop isn't on the way home, there goes the music, there go the souls, ash flakes up the flue, to flutter about with the Edison cylinder of Buddy Bolden's band and the phonautograph of Lincoln's voice.

This piece originally appeared in the NY Times Magazine, but it works much better online, interspersed with videos and musical snippets cleverly embedded in the text. One of my favorite things I've read all month.

Illustrated version of the 1st Harry Potter bookMAR 26

In order to keep the Harry Potter gravy train going, Scholastic and Bloomsbury are releasing a fully illustrated version of each of the seven Harry Potter books over the next seven years. Here's the cover for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:

Potter

The book will contain 100+ full-color illustrations done by Jim Kay. (via buzzfeed)

The "impossible" science of free divingMAR 26

This article on the science of free diving is fascinating. Boyle's Law predicted that the human body couldn't survive depths past 100 feet -- after which, the lungs would rupture -- but millions of years of evolution has equipped the human body with all sorts of tricks to survive at depths of over 900 feet.

Lundgren, among others, demonstrated how these phenomena might counteract Boyle's law. He recruited volunteer firemen from a fire brigade in the Swedish city of Malmo, submerged them up to the neck in water, and used a heart catheter to measure the increase in blood circulation in the chest. Lundgren discovered the body was able to counteract the increased outside water pressure by reinforcing vessels in the walls of the lungs with more blood, in much the same way we increase tire pressure by adding more volume of oxygen to the inside of a tire.

Boyle's Law had not been overturned. Scientists simply hadn't taken into account the effect this counterforce could exert to allow survival underwater. "A lot of blood, much more than was usually thought, can be transferred from the blood circulation out in the tissues into the blood vessels of the lung," Lundgren said, placing that amount at about half a gallon. The extra, densely packed blood can act as a bulwark, exerting a counterforce against the increased pressure pushing inward by the water.

Relationship advice from Al SwearengenMAR 26

Ask Polly, by Heather Havrilesky,1 is surely one of the best advice columns out there. In yesterday's installment, Havrilesky adopted the voice of Deadwood's Al Swearengen to answer a letter about a boyfriend's troublesome relationship with a married woman.

It sounds like you're feeling less than your full fucking self, and for good reason! The hour requires some unvarnished words and since you made mention of your passion for Deadwood, David Milch's brilliant portrait of the Wild West (largely unsung and partially unfinished thanks to some big-city cocksuckers at HBO, who'd sooner brand their own foreheads with a flat iron than allow a man of the pen to complete the masterpiece for which his name will henceforth be praised), I'd like to sally forth in a style befitting the scoundrels, whores, dirt-worshippers, and hoopleheads of that melancholy town. Be forewarned, though, the language herein might lead some to imagine that yours truly has been pillaging Doc's stash of chloroform, more typically reserved for offering animals a merciful exit from this mortal plane. Suffice it to say that skeptical cocksuckers and those with delicate sensibilities might be well-advised to seek respite elsewhere. You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.

  1. Who I still think of as being from Suck and probably always will.

New York City, after darkMAR 26

From New York Magazine, a big feature on NYC after midnight. Several people shared their stories, including Bebe Buell:

In 1974, I was on Hudson and Horatio -- it was still pretty shady over there at the time - and I could not get a cab. This big giant Cadillac pulls up, and a guy and a girl were in it. It was obviously a pimp and his girl. And the guy goes, "My name is Magic. Do you need a ride?" Who in their right mind would get in that car? But I did. His name was Magic, her name was Angel, and it was like a scene out of a Scorsese movie. I just remember the tranny girls yelling, "You go, girl!" They thought I had gotten a trick or something. I don't know what made me think it was going to be okay. Angel let me know, "Don't worry, honey, we're not serial killers." And for some godforsaken reason, I believed them.

And Alec Baldwin, who has always been interested in Saturday Night Live:

I was told that there was a place called Louis's Toy Bar on the Upper East Side. And it was this narrow sliver of a shop that obviously had sold antique clothes or something. And this guy Louis who owned it would put out plates of, like, Velveeta cheese and crackers and very modest kinds of canapes. I was told, back then, that all the cast of the original Saturday Night Live went there after the show; this was their haunt, this was their after-party-after-party Copacabana. And I went there countless times, eating Velveeta cheese, waiting for them, and they never came. They never showed up.

And Lydia Lunch:

I made money by standing on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 8th Street, shaking down women with children, saying I worked for the Cancer Foundation, until I got $10. I could live on that. The rent at my apartment on 12th Street between A and B was $75 a month.

And Dr. Jason D'Amore, formerly a resident at Bellvue:

One night, we got this guy in who was riding his Harley down the FDR at high speed, and he got run over by a semi, and he comes in and is very close to death. [...] So this guy, he was covered head-to-toe in iron crosses and swastikas and white-power tattoos. I'm looking around, and I'm D'Amore, and the ortho guy was Schwarzbaum, and we had to call neurosurgery, and that was Goldberg, and we intubated him and we got him stabilized and into the operating room, and he's totally sedated, and I leaned down and said, "Dude, I just wanted you to know a bunch of Jews just saved your ass."

And Colin Quinn:

It's easier to be nostalgic now. It's easier to look at it now and say, "Oh, I miss Taxi Driver." Suddenly, we're all like French film students who romanticize New York, even though when you lived it, it was bad. There were so many heroin dealers. If you were on, like, Avenue B and C, and somebody goes, "You want heroin?" and you said no, they'd get mad at you, like you were going browsing in a store and not buying anything. "You're wasting our time! Trying to make money here."

And Alexis Swerdloff:

The hand-delivered invite was a velvet-wrapped VHS tape. Five minutes and 42 seconds long, the video had Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Ananda Lewis, Todd Oldham, Veronica Webb, Ben Stiller, Pauly Shore, Derek Jeter, and dozens of other '90s luminaries hyping Puff Daddy's 29th-birthday party on November 4, 1998. Chris Rock said to leave your posse at home, Magic Johnson instructed guests to arrive at 10 p.m. on the dot, and Will Smith directed people to a 212 number in order to RSVP for the secret location. "It's gonna be all that," cooed Tyra Banks.

And there's so much more...go read the whole thing. The photos are great too. Look for the one with Edith Piaf singing at a club; it's just her in 1950 on a tiny stage with no microphone singing to people while they eat dinner. Man, if I had a time machine...

Slow motion CD spinningMAR 26

From the Slow Mo Guys, a video shot at 170,000 frames/sec of a CD shattering after being spun at 23,000 RPM. Worth watching until (or skipping to) the end to see exactly how the disc fractures.

(via digg)

The easy way to care for your jeansMAR 26

Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean made a video for Mr. Porter about how to care for your new pair of jeans.

I remember reading his original post on the topic and boggling at the concept of wearing a new pair of raw selvage jeans for an entire year before washing them. (I still have never done such a thing. I'm just not that fancy.)

A Year in SpaceMAR 26

On Friday, astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will be launched into space, where they will spend an entire year on the International Space Station. Time is doing a documentary series on Kelly's stay in space.

On March 27, the veteran of three previous space flights will take off for the International Space Station (ISS) and, along with cosmonaut Misha Kornienko, remain aloft for a full year. Meantime, Scott's twin brother Mark, a veteran of four space flights, will remain on the ground. The two men with their matching backgrounds, similar health and identical genomes, will serve as the perfect controlled experiment to learn more about how the human body handles weightlessness-and what can be done to minimize the damage during long-term trips to Mars and elsewhere.

The trailer is available here. Kelly and Kornienko will be the fifth and sixth people to spend at least a year in space...cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 straight days in space in 1994-5.

Feminist Ben & Jerry's flavorsMAR 25

From Amanda McCall, a selection of Ben & Jerry's flavors featuring women.

Feminist Ben Jerry

Feminist Ben Jerry

Feminist Ben Jerry

Feminist Ben Jerry

McCall made these because Ben & Jerry's hasn't done such a good job highlighting women with their products:

Over the past three decades, Ben & Jerry's has created over twenty flavors honoring various famous people, and only two of those people have been female: Tiny Fey's character on 30 Rock ("Liz Lemon's Greek Frozen Yogurt", released in 2013 ) and Olympic snowboarder Hannah Teter ("Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie", released briefly in 2009).

There are currently no female flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream (even Tina Fey would agree that, while "Greek frozen yogurt" is certainly a healthy ice cream alternative, it is not the same as ice cream), despite the fact that women consume significantly more ice cream than men do.

The best thing about the Butter Pecancé Knowles flavor is that butter pecan ice cream is actually the singer's favorite flavor.

"I love my butter pecan ice cream," she says, "but I also love to work out. We all have our issues. Mine is arms and legs, keeping them tight and toned. It takes work, believe me."

Ben & Jerry's! Let's make this happen! (via @amateurgourmet)

The 2015 names of the yearMAR 25

Oh my, I had forgotten about the Name of the Year site and how amazing it is. Each year, they collect the most unusual names in the world and pit them against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. Here are some of the names in the running for the 2015 Name of the Year:

Swindly Lint
Dr. Electron Kebebew
Flavious Coffee
Lancelot Supersad Jr.
Jazznique St. Junious

(A reminder...these are actual names of actual people. Somehow.)

Littice Bacon-Blood
Dr. Wallop Promthong
Infinite Grover
Genghis Muskox
Malvina Complainville
Beethoven Bong
Amanda Miranda Panda

Some Hall of Name inductees include Tokyo Sexwale, Nimrod Weiselfish, Doby Chrotchtangle, Tanqueray Beavers, and Vanilla Dong.

Cloud tank special effectsMAR 25

To simulate unusual cloud formations in movies (like Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Independence Day), special effects artists injected paint into tanks containing water with two different densities.

A cloud tank consists of a bottom layer of salt water and a top layer of fresh water and when various forms of liquid are injected into tank, clouds are produced. This was the common technique that Hollywood used for decades to capture supernatural weather.

The developer of the cloud tank effect, Scott Squires, wrote a post detailing how it was accomplished.

Next white liquid tempra paint is injected in the fresh water portion (top), usually just a few inches from the dividing line of the fresh and salt water. Think of a large syringe with an aquarium tube going into the water. When the tempra paint is injected it billows outward like cumulus clouds and will tend to sink a bit. But the salt water prevents it from going lower so the 'cloud' tends to flatten it's base on the salt water line and and billow outward, similar to real clouds based on air pressure levels. Avoid going below into the saltwater since the clouds will just drop to the bottom of tank.

Fashion advice from Fran LebowitzMAR 25

I loved every opinionated moment of this interview with Fran Lebowitz about fashion. Where do I even start? Some choice bits:

Yoga pants are ruining women.

Shirts don't go bad, they're not peaches.

I feel very strongly that almost the entire city has copied my glasses.

Dry...clean. These words don't go together. Wet clean -- that is how you clean. I can't even imagine the things they do at the drycleaner. I don't want to know.

I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I'd just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It's disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they're wearing shorts? It's repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can't take them seriously.

Now people need special costumes to ride bicycles. I mean, a helmet, what, are you an astronaut??

Of course, more people should wear overcoats than those damned down jackets. Please. Are you skiing, or are you walking across the street? If you're not an arctic explorer, dress like a human being.

I, myself, am deeply superficial.

Feeling good about an outfit is the point at which that outfit finally becomes good.

So good.

The opening boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost ArkMAR 25

The Art of the Scene looks at how Raiders of the Lost Ark came to be and how the opening scene is the perfect introduction to the main character and the "look and feel" of the rest of the film.

I love that Lucas got the idea for the boulder from a Scrooge McDuck comic book. (via devour)

Flying through an eclipseMAR 24

A group of astronomy enthusiasts rented a plane and flew through the shadow cast by the recent eclipse of the Sun. One passenger took the following video. Look at that shadow creeping across the cloud cover! So cool.

P.S. Still super excited for the 2017 eclipse! (via slate)

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