How highways wrecked American citiesMAY 24

As part of the Interstate Highway System project, expressways were run right through the heart of many American cities, disrupting neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

The 48,000 miles of interstate highway that would be paved across the country during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s were a godsend for many rural communities. But those highways also gutted many cities, with whole neighborhoods torn down or isolated by huge interchanges and wide ribbons of asphalt. Wealthier residents fled to the suburbs, using the highways to commute back in by car. That drained the cities' tax bases and hastened their decline.

So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.

Here's some homework: think about Uber/Lyft and the coming self-driving cars (Tesla, Apple, Google, Ford, etc.) in the context of the highways' effect on the American city. Who benefits most from these services? (The wealthy? Huge companies?) How will they affect the funding and use of public transportation? What will happen to cities? To urban sprawl? To the economically disadvantaged?

Guns replaced with selfie sticksMAY 23

Guns Replaced

Guns Replaced

The John Wayne one made me LOL. Many more here. See also Matt Haughey's conservatives holding dildos.

Update: Some prior art, also from Matt, who loves to Photoshop guns into other things.

Bill Gates' summer reading listMAY 23

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in addition to attempting to save the world, is also a voracious reader. He recently recommended five books that you should read this summer. On the list is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which I might finally try, having absolutely loved Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon when I read them a few years ago. Gates also recommends Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, which I read earlier this year and think about every few days. I wrote a bit about Sapiens and the invention of farming, which is a topic about which Gates disagreed with Harari.

A robotic rocks sorterMAY 23

Jller is a machine that sorts stones from a specific river according to their geologic age.

The machine works with a computer vision system that processes the images of the stones and maps each of its location on the platform throughout the ordering process. The information extracted from each stone are dominant color, color composition, and histograms of structural features such as lines, layers, patterns, grain, and surface texture. This data is used to assign the stones into predefined categories.

See also the robotic pancake sorter. (via colossal)

The Simpsons couch gag in the style of an Ikea instruction manualMAY 23

The couch gag on last night Simpsons episode was illustrated in the style of an Ikea instruction manual. See also the Ikea instructions for making Dick in the Box.

Drive 2: The Uber YearsMAY 21

In Drive 2, Ryan Gosling trades his robbery getaway driving gig for driving for Uber.

Hyper-RealityMAY 20

Keiichi Matsuda's Hyper-Reality "presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media". This is like a 5-minute episode of Black Mirror. Do not want. See also these previous videos about augmented reality overload, including an earlier video by Matsuda.

Captain America: Hamilton's Federalists vs. the Jeffersonian RepublicansMAY 20

I was just thinking about Hamilton1 and Captain America: Civil War, two of pop culture's current obsessions, and thought, hmm, what if you made a superhero movie about the early years of American democracy? And then I quickly realized that Civil War in some ways echoes the political battle between Hamilton's Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans.

In the film (or at least the first part of it), Tony Stark is a Federalist; he realizes the need for regulation and oversight of the Avengers by the government. Captain America is a Republican; he believes in the rights of the smaller group (states' rights!) and that regulation comes at the cost of essential freedoms. Karen Walsh wrote much more about the parallels between the two.

Captain America: Civil War begins with a focus on the Sokovia Accords. As the Avengers split into two groups, Iron Man and his cronies focus on granting the Accords validity in order to remain a unified front and gain popular trust. Cap and his cohorts determine that sacrificing their freedom to the government allows for errors that overshadow the purpose of their ability to protect the people who most need them.

In essence, Iron Man and his team represent the Federalist belief that a strong central government is essential to aggregating the trust and the will of the people.

Update: Two more takes on the parallels between Hamilton and Captain America: Captain America, Aaron Burr, And The Politics Of Killing Your Friends and Best of Frenemies. (via @Chan_ing)

  1. The play, not the man so much. The play that I'm not going to get a chance to see before [EVENT HAPPENS] without splashing out an impossible amount of cash. Has anyone written a script for entering the Hamilton ticket lottery yet?

In a game of big words, brevity triumphsMAY 20

If you love reading about unusual Moneyball-esque strategies in sports, check out how a player on the Nigerian team won the Scrabble World Championship last year.

So while Scrabblers still fancy bingos, they increasingly hold off on other high-scoring moves, such as six-letter words, or seven-letter terms that only use six tiles from the rack. Instead, by spelling four- or five-letter words, a player can keep their most useful tiles -- like E-D or I-N-G -- for the next round, a strategy called rack management. The Nigerians rehearse it during dayslong scrimmage sessions.

Also, thanks to a design quirk, the board is oddly generous to short words. Most of the bonus squares are just four or five letters apart.

"The geometry of the Scrabble board rewards five-letter words," said Mr. Mackay, who lost to Mr. Jighere in the world championship final, during which the Nigerian nabbed a triple word score with the antiquated adjective KATTI, meaning "spiteful." "It's a smart tactic."

Woman is enraptured with talking Chewbacca maskMAY 20

This woman in the talking Chewbacca mask is really feeling her Friday. FRIDAY!!! She's not making the noise, the mask is! Get your own mask here and have your own fun. (It's been a long week. This was delightful.)

P vs. NP and the Computational Complexity ZooMAY 20

When Grade-A nerds get together and talk about programming and math, a popular topic is P vs NP complexity. There's a lot to P vs NP, but boiled down to its essence, according to the video:

Does being able to quickly recognize correct answers [to problems] mean there's also a quick way to find [correct answers]?

Most people suspect that the answer to that question is "no", but it remains famously unproven.

In fact, one of the outstanding problems in computer science is determining whether questions exist whose answer can be quickly checked, but which require an impossibly long time to solve by any direct procedure. Problems like the one listed above certainly seem to be of this kind, but so far no one has managed to prove that any of them really are so hard as they appear, i.e., that there really is no feasible way to generate an answer with the help of a computer.

The rarified air of the NBA 7-footerMAY 20

Muggsey Yao

According to this 2011 article on Mark Eaton and other 7-footers who have played in the NBA, there are only 70 American men between 20 and 40 who are 7 feet tall...and that more than 1 in 6 of them get to play in the NBA.

The curve shaped by the CDC's available statistics, however, does allow one to estimate the number of American men between the ages of 20 and 40 who are 7 feet or taller: fewer than 70 in all. Which indicates, by further extrapolation, that while the probability of, say, an American between 6'6" and 6'8" being an NBA player today stands at a mere 0.07%, it's a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller.

Being seven feet tall is absurdly tall and comes with a whole host of challenges, from bumping one's head on door frames to difficulty finding clothes to health issues. Some of these difficulties arise out of simple geometry: as height and width increase, volume increases more quickly.1

  1. See also one of my favorite links ever, The Biology of B-Movie Monsters.

Buddhabrot = Buddha + Mandelbrot fractalsMAY 19

If you remember back more than 12 years ago1 to when Jared Tarbell created these beautiful Buddhabrot images using Processing, then you'll enjoy this ultra high-resolution exploration of the Buddhabrot fractal.

This looked crazy cool on my 5K iMac. The render took 10 days! (via digg)

  1. You know, if I keep doing this for 18 more years, then maybe I'll finally have something.

4DX tech turns movies into theme park ridesMAY 19

Not content with mere 3D, some movie theaters are outfitting themselves with what's being called 4DX technology, which makes going to the movies more like a theme park ride. The chairs can move, vibrate, and tickle, and the system can also generate wind, lightning, snow, and even smells1 from the movie.

With only the best technologies, 4DX motion chairs are equipped with three base movements of heave (move up and down), roll (move left and right) and pitch (tilt backward and forward) which can create an endless expanse of possible combinations to mimic such actions as flying and driving. The skilled team of 4DX editors, "i-Studio", are experts in maximizing the feeling of immersion within every movie without overstepping comfort bounds.

Yes, it actually snows in the theater:

There are only three theaters in the US with this system installed, including the Regal in Union Square, where you can currently catch Batman vs. Superman in 4DX. It'll cost you though. A regular screening of BvS at Union Square is $15.60 per ticket, 3D is $20.10, and 4DX is $28.10.

  1. Just think of what Adam Sandler can do with this feature!

The evolution of how rappers construct their rhymesMAY 19

In this video, Vox's Estelle Caswell and Martin Conner break down how rappers construct their rhymes and how it's changed and evolved since rap's early days. As someone who doesn't know a whole lot about music and even less about rapping but appreciates both, this was super entertaining and informative.

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