The 10,000 Year ClockNOV 20

In 1995, Danny Hillis came up with the idea of building a clock that would last 10,000 years.

I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.

I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.

The Clock of the Long Now is a short video portrait of Hillis and his collaborators as they build this clock in a mountain in western Texas. I like what Hillis had to say about our future:

I'm very optimistic about the future. I'm not optimistic because I think our problems are small. I'm optimistic because I think our capacity to deal with problems is great.

Einstein's first proofNOV 19

Steven Strogatz walks us through the first mathematical proof Albert Einstein did when he was a boy: a proof of the Pythagorean theorem.

Einstein, unfortunately, left no such record of his childhood proof. In his Saturday Review essay, he described it in general terms, mentioning only that it relied on "the similarity of triangles." The consensus among Einstein's biographers is that he probably discovered, on his own, a standard textbook proof in which similar triangles (meaning triangles that are like photographic reductions or enlargements of one another) do indeed play a starring role. Walter Isaacson, Jeremy Bernstein, and Banesh Hoffman all come to this deflating conclusion, and each of them describes the steps that Einstein would have followed as he unwittingly reinvented a well-known proof.

Twenty-four years ago, however, an alternative contender for the lost proof emerged. In his book "Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws," the physicist Manfred Schroeder presented a breathtakingly simple proof of the Pythagorean theorem whose provenance he traced to Einstein.

Of course, that breathtaking simplicity later became a hallmark of Einstein's work in physics. See also this brilliant visualization of the Pythagorean theorem

P.S. I love that two of the top three most popular articles on the New Yorker's web site right now are about Albert Einstein.

Marijuana ThanksgivingNOV 19

If you've ever wanted to see a video about how to cook a pot-infused Thanksgiving turkey shot in the style of a Requiem for a Dream heroin-shooting sequence, you have come to the right place. (via devour)

Gorgeously shot video of a 1600-foot slackline walkNOV 19

OMG OMG OMG! Théo Sanson recently slacklined across a gap spanning nearly a third of a mile in Utah, which might just be a world record. This is gorgeously filmed; you really get a sense of the scale of the gap Sanson crossed and how high in the air he was. My palms are absolutely drenched after watching that. (via colossal)

The space doctor's big ideaNOV 19

Randall Munroe has a new book coming out called Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words in which he uses the 1000 most common English words to explain interesting mostly scientific stuff. In a preview of the book, Munroe has a piece in the New Yorker explaining Einstein's theory of relativity using the same constraint.

The problem was light. A few dozen years before the space doctor's time, someone explained with numbers how waves of light and radio move through space. Everyone checked those numbers every way they could, and they seemed to be right. But there was trouble. The numbers said that the wave moved through space a certain distance every second. (The distance is about seven times around Earth.) They didn't say what was sitting still. They just said a certain distance every second.

It took people a while to realize what a huge problem this was. The numbers said that everyone will see light going that same distance every second, but what happens if you go really fast in the same direction as the light? If someone drove next to a light wave in a really fast car, wouldn't they see the light going past them slowly? The numbers said no-they would see the light going past them just as fast as if they were standing still.

It's a fun read, but as Bill Gates observed in his review of Thing Explainer, sometimes the limited vocabulary gets in the way of true understanding:1

If I have a criticism of Thing Explainer, it's that the clever concept sometimes gets in the way of clarity. Occasionally I found myself wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms -- "Mars" instead of "red world," or "helium" instead of "funny voice air."

See also Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity In Words of Four Letters or Less. You might prefer this explanation instead, in the form of a video by high school senior Ryan Chester:

This video recently won Chester a $250,000 Breakthrough Prize college scholarship.2 Nice work!

  1. Other quibble: I would have called Einstein the time doctor. [cue Tardis noise]

  2. Which reminds me of when I was a high school senior and I showed a clip of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to my physics class for a report on time travel and wormholes. It's been all downhill for me since then.

The Breathing EarthNOV 18

From NASA, an animation of the yearly cycle of the Earth's plant life. The data is taken from satellite measurements (plant density for land and chlorophyll concentration for the ocean) and averaged over several years.

From December to February, during the northern hemisphere winter, plant life in the higher latitudes is minimal and receives little sunlight. However, even in the mid latitudes plants are dormant, shown here with browns and yellows on the land and dark blues in the ocean. By contrast the southern ocean and land masses are at the height of the summer season and plant life is revealed with dark green colors on the land and in the ocean. As the year progresses, the situations reverses, with plant life following the increased sunlight northward, while the southern hemisphere experiences decreased plant activity during its winter.

If you're anything like me, about 2-3 times into the video's cycle, you'll be breathing in tune to the Earth. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Carbon dioxide in, oxygen out. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out... (via @EricHolthaus)

Man records entire Vegas vacation with his GoPro pointed the wrong wayNOV 18

Evan Griffin let his dad use his GoPro camera on his vacation to Las Vegas, but Papa Griffin didn't know which end was which, so he shot the entire trip with the camera pointed at himself. A video selfie tour of Vegas. Hilarious.

Massive data analysis of NYC taxi and Uber dataNOV 18

Todd Schneider used a couple publicly available data sets (NYC taxis, Uber) to explore various aspects of how New Yorkers move about the city. Some of the findings include the rise of Uber:

Let's add Uber into the mix. I live in Brooklyn, and although I sometimes take taxis, an anecdotal review of my credit card statements suggests that I take about four times as many Ubers as I do taxis. It turns out I'm not alone: between June 2014 and June 2015, the number of Uber pickups in Brooklyn grew by 525%! As of June 2015, the most recent data available when I wrote this, Uber accounts for more than twice as many pickups in Brooklyn compared to yellow taxis, and is rapidly approaching the popularity of green taxis.

...the plausibility of Die Hard III's taxi ride to stop a subway bombing:

In Die Hard: With a Vengeance, John McClane (Willis) and Zeus Carver (Jackson) have to make it from 72nd and Broadway to the Wall Street 2/3 subway station during morning rush hour in less than 30 minutes, or else a bomb will go off. They commandeer a taxi, drive it frantically through Central Park, tailgate an ambulance, and just barely make it in time (of course the bomb goes off anyway...). Thanks to the TLC's publicly available data, we can finally address audience concerns about the realism of this sequence.

...where "bridge and tunnel" folks go for fun in Manhattan:

The most popular destinations for B&T trips are in Murray Hill, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Midtown.

...the growth of north Williamsburg nightlife:

Taxi Uber Data

...the privacy implications of releasing taxi data publicly:

For example, I don't know who owns one of theses beautiful oceanfront homes on East Hampton's exclusive Further Lane (exact address redacted to protect the innocent). But I do know the exact Brooklyn Heights location and time from which someone (not necessarily the owner) hailed a cab, rode 106.6 miles, and paid a $400 fare with a credit card, including a $110.50 tip.

as well as average travel times to the city's airports, where investment bankers live, and how many people pay with cash vs. credit cards. Read the whole thing and if you want to play around with the data yourself, Schneider posted all of his scripts and knowhow on Github.

Zoolander 2 trailerNOV 18

Stiller. Wilson. Cruz. Ferrell. Cumberbatch. Wiig. Bieber? If this is even half the goofy fun of the first one, I will be happy.

America's exceptional exclusionismNOV 17

There is much to say about the recent events in Syria, Beirut, and Paris, but, closer to home the news, that more than half of the governors of US states say they would refuse to help Syrian refugees seems like a new low in good old fashioned American xenophobia and stupidity.

By late Monday, states refusing Syrian refugees included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

As @drwave put it, "what a bunch of assholes". In linking to this piece, The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees, Dave Pell from NextDraft notes:

From everything I've read, taking a strong anti-refugee position is closer to collaborating with ISIS than standing up to it.

Having your racist aunt call for closing our doors to innocent people fleeing terrorism and death on her Facebook page is one thing, but to see dozens of elected officials and Presidential candidates calling openly and proudly for it, I just don't know what to say. I was going to say that it's unprecedented, but this sort of thing is deeply embedded into the fabric of America, from slavery to the Jim Crow laws to our treatment of Native Americans to the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Have we learned nothing?

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Great Depression CookingNOV 17

Born in 1915, Clara Cannucciari survived the Great Depression and, when she was in her 90s and with the help of her grandson, made a YouTube series about meals and cooking techniques used in that era. Watch as Clara cooks a 3-course Poorman's Feast, a relatively rare treat in those lean times.

The series aired several years ago and Clara has since passed away, living until the age of 98.

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive todayNOV 17

The two oldest living people in the world, American Susannah Mushatt Jones and Italian Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, were both born in 1899, making them the last living human links to the 1800s. The USA Today profiled both women back in June. Here are the oldest people in the world right now:

Susannah Mushatt Jones; 6 July 1899; 116 years, 134 days
Emma Morano-Martinuzzi; 29 November 1899; 115 years, 353 days
Violet Brown; 10 March 1900; 115 years, 252 days
Nabi Tajima; 4 August 1900; 115 years, 105 days
Kiyoko Ishiguro; 4 March 1901; 114 years, 258 days

Since it includes the entire year of 1900, the 19th century has four total survivors. A couple more years and our living connection to that era will be gone.

A 5-minute history of the war in Syria and the rise of ISISNOV 17

From Vox, a quick video summary of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has claimed responsibility for Friday's terror attacks in Paris, has its origins in Iraq, but the group as we know it today is in many ways a product of Syria's civil war. That war is much bigger than ISIS, but it is crucial for understanding so much that has happened in the past year, from terror attacks to the refugee crisis. And to understand the war, you need to understand how it began and how it unfolded.

See also Syria's civil war: a brief history.

You won't live to see the final Star Wars movieNOV 17

Someone on Twitter said this is the best piece about the upcoming Star Wars movie, and I think he's right. But it's not so much about Star Wars specifically as it is about how Hollywood studios are trying to build infinite series of movies.

These new movies won't just be sequels. That's not the way the transnational entertainment business works anymore. Forget finite sequences; now it's about infinite series. [...] Everywhere, studio suits are recruiting creatives who can weave characters and story lines into decades-spanning tapestries of prequels, side-quels, TV shows, games, toys, and so on. Brand awareness goes through the roof; audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters.

Forget the business implications for a moment, though. The shared universe represents something rare in Hollywood: a new idea. It evolved from the narrative techniques not of auteur or blockbuster films but of comic books and TV, and porting that model over isn't easy. It needs different kinds of writers and directors and a different way of looking at the structure of storytelling itself. Marvel prototyped the process; Lucasfilm is trying to industrialize it.

Harry Potter could be a great infinite series, but it'll be interesting to see if Rowling is interested in heading in that direction. Ditto Middle-earth and Tolkien.

NY to SF in five minutesNOV 16

Tom Harman recently rode an Amtrak train from NYC to San Francisco, taking little videos of the scenery outside all the while. He edited that footage into this 5-minute video.

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