Master counterfeiterOCT 28

Counterfeit 20s

Wells Tower recently profiled master counterfeiter Frank Bourassa for GQ. Bourassa made $200 million in nearly flawless fake US twenties in a barn in Canada, got caught, and, you get the feeling pretty early on in the piece, didn't really do any time for the crime.

Drawing on cautionary news reports of failed counterfeiters, Frank sketched out a set of best-practice guidelines for his new concern. First, "don't ever try to pass the money yourself. You want to be as far away as possible from where the money's being spent." Second, "don't sell your stuff to anyone who's going to be passing it locally. I knew from the beginning, I needed to sell my bills to Europe or Asia." Third, resist the temptation to print big bills. "Do twenties. It's stupid to try to pass hundred-dollar bills anymore. People look at them all day long, hold it up to the light and everything. Nobody looks twice at a twenty." Fourth, don't cheap out. Most of the people who try their luck at counterfeiting do so by breathtakingly broke-dick means, with stuff you can buy at Office Depot.

"Can you make bills on a $50 ink-jet? Sure, if you want to get busted right away," said Frank. "All the security features in a bill are basically there to stop broke fucking-moron assholes who are trying to do their thing on an ink-jet. I knew if I wanted to succeed, my bills had to be as perfect as possible, as close as possible to the way the bills are actually made."

Don't miss the video of Bourassa examining one of the new bills. He doesn't really come off as someone organized enough to pull something like this off, which was probably advantageous to him in actually (almost) doing so. There's much more information about Bourassa on his web site.

Google Doodle honors Jonas SalkOCT 28

Google Salk

Today's Google Doodle honors Jonas Salk on what would have been his 100th birthday. Salk developed the first successful polio vaccine in 1955 and was hailed as a hero for it.

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., of the University of Michigan, the monitor of the test results, "declared the vaccine to be safe and effective." The announcement was made at the University of Michigan, exactly 10 years to the day after the death of President Roosevelt. Five hundred people, including 150 press, radio, and television reporters, filled the room; 16 television and newsreel cameras stood on a long platform at the back; and 54,000 physicians, sitting in movie theaters across the country, watched the broadcast on closed-circuit television. Eli Lilly and Company paid $250,000 to broadcast the event. Americans turned on their radios to hear the details, department stores set up loudspeakers, and judges suspended trials so that everyone in the courtroom could hear. Europeans listened on the Voice of America. Paul Offit writes about the event:

"The presentation was numbing, but the results were clear: the vaccine worked. Inside the auditorium Americans tearfully and joyfully embraced the results. By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: Thank you, Dr. Salk. 'It was as if a war had ended', one observer recalled."

Because of Salk's vaccine and subsequent vaccines, the US has been polio-free since 1979.

Rocket launch viewable on the East Coast tonightOCT 27

An Antares rocket on its way to the International Space Station is taking off from a launch pad in Virginia tonight at 6:45 ET and the launch should be visible from South Carolina to central Massachusetts. Here's where you should be able to see the launch, if your skies are clear:

Antares Launch 10 2014

Cool!

Update: The launch has been scrubbed for today...some idiot boat was in the "hazard area". Same time tomorrow? (Smaller update: Not quite...launch is scheduled for 6:19 ET tomorrow.)

Old mastersOCT 27

The NY Times interviewed several people in their 80s who are still killing it in their careers and creative pursuits. Says Ruth Bader Ginsberg about surprises about turning 80:

Nothing surprised me. But I've learned two things. One is to seek ever more the joys of being alive, because who knows how much longer I will be living? At my age, one must take things day by day. I have been asked again and again, "How long are you going to stay there?" I make that decision year by year. The minute I sense I am beginning to slip, I will go. There's a sense that time is precious and you should enjoy and thrive in what you're doing to the hilt. I appreciate that I have had as long as I have... It's a sense reminiscent of the poem "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I had some trying times when my husband died. We'd been married for 56 years and knew each other for 60. Now, four years later, I'm doing what I think he would have wanted me to do.

The interviews are accompanied by an essay by Lewis Lapham, himself on the cusp of 80.

John D. Rockefeller in his 80s was known to his business associates as a crazy old man possessed by the stubborn and ferocious will to know why the world wags and what wags it, less interested in money than in the solving of a problem in geography or corporate combination. By sources reliably informed I'm told that Warren Buffett, 84, and Rupert Murdoch, 83, never quit asking questions.

I read a book several years ago which is relevant here called Old Masters and Young Geniuses, in which economist David Galenson divided creative people into two main camps: conceptual and experimental innovators:

1) The conceptual innovators who peak creatively early in life. They have firm ideas about what they want to accomplish and then do so, with certainty. Pablo Picasso is the archetype here; others include T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Orson Wells. Picasso said, "I don't seek, I find."

2) The experimental innovators who peak later in life. They create through the painstaking process of doing, making incremental improvements to their art until they're capable of real masterpiece. Cezanne is Galenson's main example of an experimental innovator; others include Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain, and Jackson Pollock. Cezanne remarked, "I seek in painting."

Airbnb's unfortunate logo charactersOCT 27

When the new Airbnb logo was introduced, the company caught a lot of flack from the internet because the logo resembled an odd combination of almost every sexual body part. I actually liked the logo right away and after a few months with it, the juvenile connotations have faded.

But you know what makes Airbnb's logo really really really look like a cartoonish vagina butt? Putting arms and legs and hats on the logo and animating it.

Airbnb Butt

Airbnb is sponsoring the NYC Marathon this year, and the logo characters were created for the event. Maaaaybe they'd like to rethink this?

Windows 93OCT 27

Windows 93

What if Windows 95 had come out in 1993? I guess? I have no idea what this is1, but it's fun to play around with. If this doesn't make you nostalgic, congratulations, you're young as fuck!

  1. Ok, fine, it's a fictional Windows-like interface built in CSS and JavaScript.

The sounds of NASAOCT 27

NASA has a new Soundcloud account with playlists like Rocket Engine Sounds, Solar System & Beyond Sounds, and Space Shuttle Mission Sounds. Here is the infamous Sputnik beep:

"Ok Houston, we've had a problem here":

And "one small step":

(via @brillhart)

A new world record jump from the edge of spaceOCT 24

Earlier today, with zero fanfare from an energy drink company, 57-year-old Alan Eustace broke Felix Baumgartner's 2-year-old record for the highest free-fall parachute jump.

Mr. Eustace's maximum altitude was initially reported as 135,908 feet. Based on information from two data loggers, the final number being submitted to the World Air Sports Federation is 135,890 feet.

The previous altitude record was set by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from 128,100 feet on Oct. 14, 2012.

Mr. Eustace was carried aloft without the aid of the sophisticated capsule used by Mr. Baumgartner or millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Instead, Mr. Eustace planned his jump in secrecy, working for almost three years with a small group of technologists skilled in spacesuit design, life-support systems, and parachute and balloon technology.

He carried modest GoPro cameras aloft, connected to his ground-control center by an off-the-shelf radio.

Flash? Meet substance.

Miami, the 51st US state?OCT 24

Given what we know now about how anthropogenic climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, Miami will be one of the first major American cities to find itself completely under water in the next century.

Miami Underwater

That inevitability is fueling a fledgling secessionist movement. And it's not some crackpot grassroots effort either...the mayor and city commission of South Miami passed a resolution earlier this month that South Florida should break away and form the nation's 51st state.

Whereas, South Florida's situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now very significant safety issues; and

Whereas, presently, in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69 percent of the state's revenue and contains 67 percent of the state's population; and

Whereas, the creation of the 51st state, South Florida, is a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of the current state of Florida.

Look for more of this type of thing in the years to come. The fight over fossil fuels has already shaped a great deal of the modern global political structure and the coming shifts in climate will almost certainly do the same.

When Sheila E. met PrinceOCT 24

From her recent memoir, Sheila E. recounts the first time she met Prince.

I never did make it down to the studio to meet "the kid," but a few months later, in April 1978, I was at Leopold's record store in Berkeley browsing through records when I looked up to see a new poster. It featured a beautiful young man with brown skin, a perfect Afro, and stunning green eyes. The word Prince was written in bold letters at the top. That was the guy Tom was talking about!

I found his album For You in the rack and immediately looked at the credits: "Produced, arranged, composed, and performed by Prince."

The staff at the store, whom I'd known for years, let me take the poster home. Before I'd even listened to his record, I'd taped the poster above my waterbed. Then I lowered the needle onto the album on my record player, sat on the floor, and listened to it in its entirety. Tom was right. I immediately heard that funky rhythm guitar part he'd been talking about. It wasn't only on one song, but the whole album. I stared up at the poster and told him, "I'm gonna meet you one day."

(via @anildash, probably)

Unlimited free streaming of The SimpsonsOCT 24

The Simpsons

This happened a few days ago, but I just got a chance to check it out: FXX launched Simpsons World, a site where you can stream every Simpsons episode ever aired. You just need a cable login, as with HBO GO. There are apps too: iOS and Android. To get you started, here are the top 10 episodes of all time, from a 2003 Entertainment Weekly list.

1. Last Exit to Springfield
2. Rosebud
3. Cape Feare
4. Marge vs. the Monorail
5. Homer's Phobia
6. Mr. Plow
7. Itchy & Scratchy Land
8. A Fish Called Selma
9. Treehouse of Horror V
10. The Last Temptation of Homer

Update: Got a bunch of complaints that the "free" in the title is misleading because a cable subscription is required, even though I explicitly called that out in the second sentence. Fair enough. But then again, if you're going to nitpick, nothing is free. Even if you didn't need a cable login, Simpsons World would hardly be free. You need access to an expensive computer or mobile device, high-speed internet access, and enough free (there's that word again!) time to watch. And even if you're viewing using a computer at the public library, you're paying with your attention by watching advertising.

But all that is red herring nonsense. I was using "free" in the sense that for cable subscribers, they're getting something they did not have for the same price they were previously paying. You know, free.

EndlingsOCT 24

An endling is an individual that's the last of its species. This is Martha, the world's last passenger pigeon, who died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Martha Passenger Pigeon

The Phone CallOCT 23

Mat Kirkby's short film, The Phone Call, won the Best Narrative Short prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and is rumored to be in the running for an Oscar nomination. It features a young woman who works in helpline call office (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) taking a call from a distraught man (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent). (via slate)

Update: The video has been taken down from Vimeo, so I've removed the embed. I think it was something about film festival eligibility?

The Milgram experiment in real lifeOCT 23

You don't know what you would do unless you're in that situation.

That's Philip Zimbardo's1 introduction to this fascinating and deeply disturbing video, depicting a real-world instance of Stanley Milgram's experiment on obedience to authority figures2. In the video, you see a McDonald's manager take a phone call from a man pretending to be a police officer. The caller orders the manager to strip search an employee. And then much much worse.

The video is NSFW and if you're sensitive to descriptions and depictions of sexual abuse, you may want to skip it. And lest you think this was an isolated incident featuring exceptionally weak-minded people, the same caller was alleged to have made several other calls resulting in similar behavior. (via mr)

  1. Zimbardo conducted the notorious Stanford prison experiment in 1971.

  2. Milgram's experiment focused on a person in authority ordering someone to deliver (fake) electric shocks to a third person. Some participants continued to deliver the shocks as ordered even when the person being shocked yelled in pain and complained of a heart condition.

The family pet lionOCT 23

Actress Tippi Hedren and her family (including her then-teenage daughter Melanie Griffith) lived with a pet lion named Neil for a while back in the 1970s. Here's Neil and Melanie catching a few winks together:

Lion Home

Lion Home

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