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Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2017

Everything, which was created (and funded) by David OReilly over a three-year period, is a difficult game to explain. Maybe just watch the trailer and let it wash over you, as I did.

Everything is an open ended interactive experience and reality simulation game.

There is no right or wrong way to play, and each person’s game will be different.

Playing Everything involves traveling through the Universe and seeing it from different points of view, it has elements of role playing games, sandbox & simulation. The systems connecting the game are designed to create moments of peace, beauty, sadness and joy — and allow the player to do whatever they want. Everything requires no player input — it will play automatically if left unattended.

That was perhaps the most cerebral video game trailer I’ve ever seen. (The voiceover is Alan Watts, btw.) The game itself contains elements of Powers of Ten as well as Dali and 2001, with a sprinkle of Katamari Damaci.

In his review of Everything for Polygon, Colin Campbell writes:

Mostly, Everything lets you loose to be and do as you please. I enjoy making small things very large or very small and placing them in strange places. A cockroach as big as a sun. A rhino as tiny as a mote. Once I’ve collected enough things, I can become any of them at any time. Look, I am a blue whale floating through space. Someone should write a book about me.

I wheel through existence, one life-form after another. It turns out that all things are infinitely variable and also, sorta the same as one another. Size, intelligence, beauty. None of these qualities signify much.

I think of the way my youngest child plays with Lego. He makes things one into the other, improbable concoctions. His imagination is boundless. This is precisely how I play Everything.

OReilly previously worked on the game animations in Spike Jonze’s Her and Mountain, a game in which you are a mountain.

We Work Remotely

Africa is urbanizing without globalizing

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2017

This is pretty interesting. Daniel Knowles:

This is Africa’s third biggest city. At 12 million, its population is bigger than London’s. Yet it has almost no connections to the outside world. On normal days, there are only 11 international flights out of Kinshasa per day. At Heathrow, the figure is around 1,400. Apart from the airport, the only other way into this vast megacity is the rickety ferry from neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville. If you were extremely brave, you could try the road to the Atlantic Ocean. But that’s about it. Kinshasa can burn and most of the world doesn’t notice, because Kinshasa is only slightly better connected to the global economy than the North Pole.

And yet somehow it is one of the world’s fastest growing cities. Kinshasa is a particularly extreme example of how Africa is urbanising without globalising. Sixty years ago the whole of sub-Saharan Africa had no cities with a population of more than a million people. Now it has dozens.

But unlike the English peasants who moved to factory cities in the 19th century, or Chinese ones in the 20th, the people moving to African cities are not moving to new global metropolises. Africa’s urbanisation is not driven by economic growth. Instead, people are moving to miserable mega-cities, with crumbling infrastructure and corrupt political systems, and which export almost nothing. Two thirds of Africa’s urban population growth is accounted for by slums. Changing that may well be the biggest challenge facing African governments in the 21st century.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

This Is How We Do It

This Is How We Do It is a children’s book by Matt Lamothe that follows the daily lives of seven real kids from different countries around the world (Japan, Peru, Iran, Russia, India, Italy, and Uganda).

In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days — and this one world we all share — unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences.

Watch the trailer. This is exactly the sort of book I love getting for my kids: it’s What Do People Do All Day plus What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

How the Internet has changed in the past 10 years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

Alexis Madrigal is back at The Atlantic, where he’ll be writing about technology, science, and business. His first piece is a reflection on how the Internet has changed in the 10 years he’s been writing about it. In 2007, the Web was triumphant. But then came apps and Facebook and other semi-walled gardens:

O’Reilly’s lengthy description of the principles of Web 2.0 has become more fascinating through time. It seems to be describing a slightly parallel universe. “Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web,” O’Reilly wrote. “As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound into the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users.”

Nowadays, (hyper)linking is an afterthought because most of the action occurs within platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and messaging apps, which all have carved space out of the open web.

That strategy has made the top tech companies insanely valuable:

In mid-May of 2007, these five companies were worth $577 billion. Now, they represent $2.9 trillion worth of market value! Not so far off from the combined market cap ($2.85T) of the top 10 largest companies in the second quarter of 2007: Exxon Mobil, GE, Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, AT&T, Citigroup, Gazprom, BP, Toyota, and Bank of America.

In 2007, I wrote a piece (and a follow-up) about how Facebook was the new AOL and how their walled garden strategy was doomed to fail in the face of the open Web. The final paragraph of that initial post is a good example of the Web triumphalism described by Madrigal but hasn’t aged well:

As it happens, we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It’s called the internet and it’s more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007. Eventually, someone will come along and turn Facebook inside-out, so that instead of custom applications running on a platform in a walled garden, applications run on the internet, out in the open, and people can tie their social network into it if they want, with privacy controls, access levels, and alter-egos galore.

The thing is, Facebook did open up…they turned themselves inside-out and crushed the small pieces loosely joined contingent. They let the Web flood in but caught the Web’s users and content creators before they could wash back out again. The final paragraph of the follow-up piece fared much better in hindsight:

At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise…it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there’s the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else’s web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet.

What no one saw back then, about a week after the release of the original iPhone, was how apps on smartphones would change everything. In a non-mobile world, these companies and services would still be formidable but if we were all still using laptops and desktops to access information instead of phones and tablets, I bet the open Web would have stood a better chance.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Marathon on Twitch

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

Streaming video site Twitch is currently showing all 886 episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a PBS fundraiser.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Marathon features the most comprehensive collection of episodes available, including many that only aired once and are unavailable elsewhere online. We will be playing the episodes back to back starting at 12PM Pacific on May 15th.

I really wish Mr. Rogers were here right now. He’d know what to do.

“My Family’s Slave”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

When Alex Tizon was a small child in the 60s, he moved with his family from the Phillipines to the US along with the family’s domestic servant, Lola. It was not until Tizon was nearly a teenager that he realized that Lola was not employed as a servant by his parents…she was a slave.

Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine — my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry, her fingers clutching a garment she was in the middle of folding.

An incredible and incredibly disturbing story. Heartbreaking, all the more because this sort of thing is probably more common than anyone realizes.

Update: Pulido’s 2011 obituary is worth reading (via andy).

As a teenager in the Philippines, Miss Pulido was asked to care for a young girl whose mother had died. When a relative asked Miss Pulido to always look after the girl, she gave her word.

Miss Pulido not only raised that girl, but the girl’s children and their children - cooking, cleaning and caring for three generations that came to know her as “Lola,” grandmother in her native Tagalog tongue. She asked for nothing in return, said her grandson, Alex Tizon, a former Seattle Times reporter, with whom she lived in Edmonds for nearly 12 years.

There are a few reaction threads on Twitter that are worth reading as well. Josh Shahryar:

How dare the author make excuses for his mother? She enslaved a woman for decades and used her free labor to prosper. She was a monster.

I don’t want to read about the “complexity” of the slave-owner. I don’t want to hear about her sob-story or how much she loved her children.

I am filled with nothing but anger and hatred at the vileness of the attempt by Alex Tizon to whitewash a slaveholder. No. FUCK! NO!

Jay Owens:

As I read it, I was confused by the timeline. It’s made evident teen-Alex hates the situation. But it conceals this: “My Family’s Slave is beautifully written but it doesn’t change that Alex Tizon was 40 before he did anything to improve Lola’s situation.” — @irishchickensoup

The writer is able to talk about his mother’s complicity — but not really grapple with his own. 20 years when he didn’t act.

He is in America, and talking about slavery, and he doesn’t talk about race.

He doesn’t reflect on how race and gender are used to naturalise servitude, and uses writerly sleights of hand to minimise it

Adrian Chen:

“My Family’s Slave” is now trending in the Philippines, where it’s lunch time. I’m going to share a few interesting threads from Filipinos

Sarah Jeong:

When I first read the article, I came away convinced of this: that Tizon died not understanding Lola was his real mother.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Don’t take the letter grades too seriously (that’s just good life advice).

The Simpsons. Watched some old episodes w/ the kids. I can’t tell if they’re still any good or not because I can still recite most of the dialogue by heart. (A-)

Dr. Strangelove. Superb. (A+)

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I said I wanted to listen to this more and I have. Great. (A)

Citizen Jane. Watching this at a theater a short walk from the West Village and Washington Square Park was a powerful experience. (B+)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. As good as everyone says. As a country we’ve never reckoned with what we did (and continue to do) to Native Americans and I doubt we ever will. (A-)

Pleasure by Feist. I had kinda forgotten about Feist but I will definitely remember this one. (B+)

S-Town. This didn’t go where you expected it to and it was all the better for it. Still, by the last two episodes, I’d run out of steam a little. (B+)

Nukes. Radiolab asks if there are any checks on the President ordering a nuclear strike and the answer is as terrifying as you might imagine. (B+)

True Love Waits by Christopher O’Riley & Radiohead. An old favorite. Good for when you’re feeling down. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sequels are hard. (B)

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. Mindfulness Lite, not that that’s a bad thing. (B-)

Mad Men. Still plugging away at watching this all the way through a second time. The later seasons lack a little something but it’s still great overall. (A-)

Is This It by The Strokes. Great NYC terroir. This album is all mixed up with my first few months/years in the city. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

American Shokunin

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Ryan Neil has been practicing the art of bonsai for almost 20 years. As he describes it, he’s still got a lot to learn.

Shokunin (Sho-koo-neen) is a Japanese word used to describe an individual that aspires to become a master in their particular craft or art form. Ryan Neil falls firmly into this description, as he has been practicing the art of Bonsai for nearly two decades. In this short film, we get a glimpse at the broader thinking behind a professional American Bonsai practitioner, as well as some of the inherent challenges and aspirations that come along with the pursuit for bonsai mastery in America.

It’s interesting to hear Neil talking about respecting and cultivating healthy trees while he’s ripping a branch in half with a cutting tool to create a certain aesthetic. (via @noahkalina)

Casting Remix with Ross Marquand

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Have you ever wanted to see John C. Reilly play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver? How about Ewan McGregor as Forrest Gump? Kevin Spacey as Dirty Harry? Zach Galifianakis playing Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting? In this video, Ross Marquand does impressions of celebrity actors playing famous roles in movies they weren’t actually in. Though very brief, my favorite was Keanu Reeves as Jerry Maguire. Here are some more quick impressions by Marquand.

The transformative power of boredom

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

After bouncing out of the minor leagues in the US, Eric Thames found himself playing in a second-tier professional league in South Korea. Not knowing the language and with few other Americans on the team, Thames spent a lot of time by himself, bored. Applying himself, he started working on his approach to the game, his swing, and his patience.

He began to remedy the poor habits, the swinging-at-everything approach that had exiled him to the minors in 2013 and then the second-best pro league in Asia in 2014. With language still a barrier to working with his Dinos coaches and teammates, Thames arrived at his improved process alone. He began a practice of visualization, of imagining a pitch of a certain type, in a certain location, approaching home plate. He would balance a tablet on a counter or tabletop in his apartment and watch video of pitches, trying to decide whether to swing or lay off of them in real time with bat in hand.

“I kind of like swallowed my pride and said ‘Hey, I really want to get on base,’” Thames said.

He employed the same visualization practice behind the batting cage while teammates took swings. And he does the same practice now in the on-deck circle of major-league games, in his hotel on the road, or in pre-game cage work.

The breakout happened in 2015, his second season in South Korea. He walked (103) more than he struck out (91) and posted a .497 on-base mark and 1.288 OPS. He smashed 47 home runs.

His hard work continues to pay off. This year, Thames is back in the US, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in the major leagues. He leads the NL in home runs, is 5th in OBP, 4th in OBPS, and 7th in walks. (thx, avi)

The infinitely breaking wave

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

By subtly animating still photos of waves shot by Ray Collins (previously), Armand Dijcks created short looping videos of waves that never break. It’s the visual equivalent of the Shepard tone, a sound that has the illusion of a forever rising or falling pitch.

An amazingly well-preserved dinosaur found in Canada

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2017

Nodosaur

In 2011, an excavator operator working in a Canadian mine uncovered a group of unusual looking rocks. The rocks turned out to be the remains of a dinosaur called a nodosaur that died about 110 million years ago. The nodosaur was so well preserved that it looks like a stone statue of a dinosaur instead of just fossilized remains.

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

The photos are amazing…it really does look like a statue.

A world map for fossil finds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Fossil World Map

The Paleobiology Database Navigator is a world map that shows where hundreds of thousands of fossils have been found. The data is maintained by an international group of paleontologists and you can filter the map by type of fossil and when it was found. There’s even a toggle to flip back and forth between the current placement of the continents and much earlier Pangea-like configurations. (via @srikardr)

Three artists who find art in the finger smudges on device screens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Wired recently featured Tabitha Soren’s project, Surface Tension, for which she photographed the fingerprints and smudges left on the screens of devices.

Smudge Art 01

The marks on the glass screens that technology users normally try to ignore or get rid of are the focal point of SURFACE TENSION. The textural conflicts in these pictures record how we now spend our lives. They’re not just grime; they’re evidence of the otherwise invisible.

In an earlier project (also, weirdly, titled Surface Tension), photographer Meggan Gould took photos of her and her husband’s smudged iPad screens.

Smudge Art 02

In 2012, Evan Roth produced a series of Multi-Touch Paintings, “paintings created by performing routine tasks on multi-touch hand held computing devices”. The tasks include slide-to-unlock, playing Angry Birds level 1-1, adding two numbers with the calculator app, and typing in a username and password.

Smudge Art 03

Smudge Art 04

I prefer Roth’s take the most (it’s the simplest…and first) but what I like about all of these is they compress many actions over time into a single flat images, not unlike BriefCam does with surveillance videos. Simple examples of time merge media.

An algorithm imagines a train ride

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Damien Henry trained a machine learning algorithm with a bunch of videos recorded from train windows. Then, to test what it had learned, he asked the algorithm to make an hour-long video of a train journey — it began with a single frame and guessed subsequent frames as it went along. The video shows the algorithm getting smarter as it goes along…every 20 seconds the video gets a little more detailed and by the end of the video, you get stuff that looks like trees and clouds and power lines. Composer Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is the perfect accompaniment.