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How to… not do anything the right way

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The contemporary internet is full to the brim with videos shot from above showing how different foods and crafty things are made. Like this one. Everything is orderly, precise, and moves along at a brisk pace. And then, there’s this:

Cutting tomatoes with a dull knife, folding paper not exactly in half, excruciatingly peeling a hard boiled egg…that sort of thing. Probably not good for folks who have any kind of OCD tendency.

See also this video of the most unsatisfying things in the world. Same general idea but more clever. (via deadspin)

We Work Remotely

Recreating the Asteroids arcade game with a laser

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Watch as digital artist Seb Lee-Delisle recreates the old school video game Asteroids with a laser. But why use a laser? There’s actually a good explanation for this. In the olden days of arcade video games, the screens on most games were like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong…a typical CRT refreshed the entire screen line-by-line many times a second to form a pixelized scene. But with vector games like Tempest, Star Wars, and Asteroids, the electron beam was manipulated magnetically to draw the ships and rocks and enemies directly…and you get all these cool effects like phosphor trails and brighter objects where the beam lingers. When you play Asteroids on a contemporary computer or gaming system, all those artifacts are lost. But with a laser, you can emulate the original feel of the game much more closely.

You’re not going to want to because it’s 17 minutes long, but you should watch the whole video…it’s super nerdy and the explanations of how the various technologies work is worth your while (unless you’re already a laser expert). I loved the bit near the end where they slowed down the rate of the laser so you could see it drawing the game and then slowly sped it back up again, passing through the transition from seeing the individual movements of the laser to observing an entire seamless scene that our mind has stitched together. In his recent book Wonderland, Steven Johnson talks about this remarkable trick of the mind:

On some basic level, this property of the human eye is a defect. When we watch movies, our eyes are empirically failing to give an accurate report of what is happening in front of them. They are seeing something that isn’t there. Many technological innovations exploit the strengths that evolution has granted us: tools and utensils harness our manual dexterity and opposable thumbs; graphic interfaces draw on our powerful visual memory to navigate information space. But moving pictures take the opposite approach: they succeed precisely because our eyes fail.

This flaw was not inevitable. Human eyesight might have just as easily evolved to perceive a succession of still images as exactly that: the world’s fastest slide show. Or the eye might have just perceived them as a confusing blur. There is no evolutionary reason why the eye should create the illusion of movement at twelve frames per second; the ancestral environment where our visual systems evolved had no film projectors or LCD screens or thaumatropes. Persistence of vision is what Stephen Jay Gould famously called a spandrel — an accidental property that emerged as a consequence of other more direct adaptations. It is interesting to contemplate how the past two centuries would have played out had the human eye not possessed this strange defect. We might be living in a world with jet airplanes, atomic bombs, radio, satellites, and cell phones — but without television and movies. (Computers and computer networks would likely exist, but without some of the animated subtleties of modern graphical interfaces.) Imagine the twentieth century without propaganda films, Hollywood, sitcoms, the televised Nixon-Kennedy debate, the footage of civil rights protesters being fire-hosed, Citizen Kane, the Macintosh, James Dean, Happy Days, and The Sopranos. All those defining experiences exist, in part, because natural selection didn’t find it necessary to perceive still images accurately at rates above twelve frames a second — and because hundreds of inventors, tinkering with the prototypes of cinema over the centuries, were smart enough to take that imperfection and turn it into art.

“Morning Studio” by Nicole Eisenman

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Nicole Eisenman, Morning Studio

I ran across this painting by Nicole Eisenman this morning on Facebook and it really grabbed my attention. There’s something about the cozy sweatpants vibe of the person with the default Emoji Yellow™ skin in contrast to everything else in the scene that really belongs to the present moment. Looking closer, you’ll notice the surprising realism of the purple milk crate in the foreground, the teeth on the woman’s zipper, the icons on the projected desktop, and the inputs on the back of the projector. But much of the rest of the painting isn’t that detailed — Eisenman is playing with different levels of abstraction in the same painting.

You can take a look at some of Eisenman’s other work here, here, and here. Stylistically, she’s is all over the place, as noted by Roberta Smith in the NY Times:

Few figurative painters are doing what Nicole Eisenman is, jumping back and forth among starkly different styles while inviting us to consider an equally broad range of urgent themes.

Her constant movement may be more familiar in male painters inclined to the abstract. So it’s not surprising that in her interview for the catalog for “Nicole Eisenman: Al-ugh-ories,” her exhibition at the New Museum, she mentions her admiration for two stylistic gadflies, Sigmar Polke and Julian Schnabel.

(thx, laura)

Super cool time lapse video of cell division

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

This is a stunning time lapse video of the cells in a tadpole egg dividing over a period of 33 hours. The filmmaker, Francis Chee, built a custom microscope and lighting system to capture the action.

I can say that it was done with a custom designed microscope based on the “infinity optical design” It is not available by any manufacturer. I built it. I used LEDs and relevant optics to light the egg. They too were custom designed by me. The whole microscope sits on anti-vibration table. I have to say that it doesn’t matter too much what microscope people use to perform this. There are countless other variables involved in performing this tricky shot, such as for example: the ambient temperature during shooting; the time at which the eggs were collected; the handling skills of the operator; the type of water used; lenses; quality of camera etc etc.

Chee says in the comments that he’s perfecting his technique and hopes to capture a complete egg-to-tadpole video in the near future. His other videos are worth a look too, like this mushroom time lapse and this gruesome video of a praying mantis eating a fly alive. (via colossal)

The best movie dialogue of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Cinefix lists the best movie dialogue of all time. This is an unorthodox list…not sure many would rate Aaron Sorkin’s movie about Steve Jobs so highly. I enjoyed the shout out to Primer for its realistic-seeming dialogue of the cofounders of a small startup dealing with terrific success.

The paintings of “Afro Surrealist” Alim Smith

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

I really like these paintings by Alim Smith of black culture in America. (The best way to see them all is in the shop.) They’re slightly Cubist almost, reminiscent of Picasso. But of course Picasso’s Cubism was heavily influenced by African art and sculpture; unpacking the levels of cultural influence and appropriation here is above my pay grade. On Instagram, Smith refers to himself as an “Afro Surrealist”. Prints are available. (via @anildash)

Atheism in the Arab world

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Writing for New Humanist, Brian Whitaker writes about the rise of atheism in the Arab world. The differences between atheism in Christian societies and Arab ones include political considerations, how science is viewed, and how scripture is interpreted.

While there’s little doubt that an Islamic reformation would benefit the Middle East socially and politically, atheists cannot advocate this without sacrificing their principles. Progressive versions of Islam generally view the Qur’an in its historical context, arguing that rules which applied in the time of the Prophet can be reinterpreted today in the light of changing circumstances — but that involves accepting the Qur’an as the supreme scriptural authority.

The status of the Qur’an is a particularly important issue for both followers and opponents of Islam. Whereas Christians usually consider the Bible as divinely inspired but written by humans, the Qur’an is claimed to be the actual words of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic).

An epic desk lunch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Admission: I eat lunch at my desk pretty much every day. So do a lot of people. Some think desk lunches are sad, but many people trade lunch at their desks for family or leisure time at some other point in the day.

A Chinese YouTuber, Little Ye, has taken the desk lunch to a whole new level. In this video, she makes noodles from scratch, scavenges soda cans out of garbage to turn into DIY Bunsen burners & food graters, and cooks a hotpot meal right at her desk.

Little Ye, you are my new hero. In this one, she takes apart her computer so she can use the case to fry a breakfast crepe.

She and the Primitive Technology guy should definitely meet. (thx, claire)

Photos of grand Soviet-era subway stations

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

David Burdeny

David Burdeny

Back in the days before the US bankrupted the Soviet Union with the space race and the nuclear arms race, the Soviets spent lavishly on some public works…like these amazing metro stations built in the Stalin era. Photographer David Burdeny got special middle-of-the-night access to these stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg and came away with these great photographs. Could you imagine an NYC subway station with chandeliers? Or even moderately clean walls? (via petapixel)

“Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Adam Gopnik writes about three books — Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra, A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari — that address the tension between liberalism and conservatism, going back to Voltaire v. Rousseau during the Enlightenment (and even further back, to Plato).

For Mishra, elements in modernity that seem violently opposed, Zionism and Islamism, Hindu nationalism and Theosophical soppiness — not to mention Nazi militarism — share a common wellspring. Their apostles all believe in some kind of blood consciousness, some kind of shared pre-rational identity, and appeal to a population enraged at being reduced to the hamster wheel of meaningless work and material reward. Mishra brings this Walpurgisnacht of romanticized violence to a nihilistic climax with the happy meeting in a Supermax prison of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing: the fanatic, child-murdering right-wing atheist finds “lots in common” with the equally murderous Islamic militant — one of those healing conversations we’re always being urged to pursue. (“I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his,” Yousef gushed of McVeigh.)

Very interesting context and a stimulating argument for the middle way by Gopnik — in his estimation, Betteridge’s law applies to the title. He didn’t care much for Homo Deus, and I have to admit, as a big fan of Sapiens, that I’ve run out of steam with this new one and found myself nodding my head at Gopnik’s objections. I’m gonna get back to it, I’m sure, but with less enthusiasm than before.

Alexander and the V Bad, FML Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

From Mark Remy, a riff on the classic children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, only this time Alexander has access to a smartphone, apps, and the cloud.

At breakfast Anthony watched ESPN on his tablet and Nick watched “Zootopia” on his tablet but on my tablet the video kept freezing.

I think I’ll move to Australia, where hybrid fibre-coaxial cable networks run at up to thirty megabits per second in major metro areas.

(thx, meg)

The economics of airline classes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

How much money does an airline make on a typical flight in the various classes of service? On some flights, revenue from first & business class seats can be up to 5 times that of economy seats. This video explores the economics of airline classes and looks at how we got to the present moment, where the people and companies buying business class and first class tickets are subsidizing those of us who fly economy.

The first trailer for Coco

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

Pixar’s next movie, Coco, is coming out in November and here’s the first trailer.

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events.

Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3) directs and the movie is out on November 22.

How complacent are you?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In his new book, The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen argues that Americans have gotten too comfortable.

In The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, Tyler Cowen argues that more Americans are living comfortably and contently with what life has handed them. By sheltering ourselves from the new and different, it’s hard to see what is lost by standing still. But if you look at the data, we’re seeing a shift in the fabric of American society — from losses in new startups and economic growth to more instances of segregation and inequality. It’s not too late to change course and re-embrace the restlessness that has long defined America.

Cowen built a quiz that you can take to see if you are, in his eyes, too comfortable with your life. The quiz is composed of 27 questions like “In the last 10 years, how many states have you lived in?” and “Have you lived in a neighborhood for at least a year where you were the racial minority?” The quiz has four possible outcomes:

Tier 1: You are a trailblazer — You do not accept the status quo as the best outcome in life. Your ambitions will help America get out of its rut.

Tier 2: You are a striver — You embrace newness, but you need to strive harder to break the mold.

Tier 3: You are comfortable — You are interested in trying new things but not enough to create real change.

Tier 4: You are complacent — You need to get off the couch, step outside, and see what you’re missing.

I took the quiz and got “comfortable”, which seems fair enough, given the questions. I think part of that result is being introverted and part of it is family considerations that take precedence in my life over adventure and risk-taking. I wouldn’t ever call myself a “trailblazer” but I don’t know anyone who runs their own business who would consider that situation “comfortable”. “Terrifying on a daily basis” maybe.

How a bad grade on a college paper resulted in a Constitutional amendment

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

In college, Gregory Watson got a C on a paper in a government class about an ancient proposed amendment to the US Constitution written by James Madison in 1789.

Gregory was intrigued. He decided to write his paper about the amendment and argue that it was still alive and could be ratified. He got to work, being very meticulous about citations and fonts and everything. He turned it in to the teaching assistant for his class — and got it back with a C.

Motivated by what he considered an unfair grade, Watson spent the next 20 years working to get the amendment ratified. In 1992, Watson’s hard work paid off and the proposed amendment became the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

Now his former teacher thinks he deserves an A+. What a heartwarming story.

Or perhaps a terrifying one. If you look at the maps for the past 5 Presidential elections, you’ll notice that the red states outnumber the blue ones. Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures too. The consolidation of liberal voters into fewer and fewer states (and cities) is likely to continue, making the state counts more lopsided. If you can get a proposed amendment out of Congress (or a national convention called for by 2/3 of the states), then 3/4 of the states (currently 38) are needed to ratify the amendment and make it the law of the land. Now, this doesn’t seem very likely, does it? Well, Gregory Watson got it done. Just imagine if he had resuscitated a half-ratified amendment outlawing immigration or something.