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.

Everything is a Remix: The Force AwakensMAY 19

When it came out in December, Star Wars: The Force Awakens made a shed-load of cash, garnered positive reviews from critics and fans alike, but also got dinged for borrowing too much from the previous films, particularly the original. In this edition of Everything is a Remix, Kirby Ferguson considers JJ Abrams' remix settings on The Force Awakens and wonders if the essential elements of such an undertaking (copying, transforming, combining) were properly balanced.

Werner Herzog is teaching an online filmmaking classMAY 18

Werner Herzog has made more than 70 films during his career of 50+ years. This summer, Herzog will be teaching an online filmmaking class at Masterclass. The fee for the course is $90 and includes 5 hours of video lessons about documentary and feature filmmaking, a class workbook, and the chance to get your student work critiqued by the man himself. The trailer above offers a little taste of what you'll be getting.

For example, I do not use a storyboard. I think it's an instrument of the cowards.

See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog, including "carry bolt cutters everywhere" and "take revenge if need be".

"Perfect" Donkey Kong score achievedMAY 18

Wes Copeland recently shattered the all-time record high score for Donkey Kong with 1,218,000 points. During the 3 hour and 20 minute game, he didn't die a single time.

It's how he took the title, though that's so staggering. Copeland did not lose a single Mario in the game. He took his first life all the way from the first level all the way to the end, cashing in the extra lives to obliterate all comers.

"This will be my last record score," Copeland wrote on Facebook. "I don't believe I can put up a game any higher than this." Copeland had set 1.2 million as his ultimate goal in Donkey Kong, and said he'd retire from competition if he could reach that.

Copeland's effort was a nearly perfect score; though the theoretical maximum is 1,265,000 points, the randomness of each game limits the number of points available before reaching the kill screen. If you're looking for pointers, you can watch the entire game here:

The unbearable lightness of being yourself on social mediaMAY 18

From the NY Times, the excellent Jenna Wortham on How I Learned to Love Snapchat. This bit caught my eye:

Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter -- as if we're waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn't the place where you go to be pretty. It's the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app's inbuilt ephemerality.

I wonder if Snapchat's intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a "fave-based economy". Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter's users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps. In 2013, Mat Honan wrote of Vine:

It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and -- frankly -- really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there's plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.

Sounds familiar, right? I'm almost positive that when Instagram was first blowing up, similar things were written about it in comparison to Flickr. Now, as Wortham notes, Instagram is largely a place to put your heavily curated best foot forward. But scroll back through time on anyone's Instagram and the photos get more personal and in-the-moment. Even Alice Gao's immaculately crafted feed gets causal if you go back far enough.

Although more than a year older than Vine and fewer than two years younger than Instagram, Snapchat is a relatively young service that the mainstream is still discovering. It'll be interesting to see if it can keep its be-yourself vibe or if users tending toward carefully constructing their output is just something that happens as a platform matures.

Huge archive of hip-hop mixtapesMAY 18

Hip Hop Mixtapes

The Internet Archive is now hosting thousands of hours of hip-hop mixtapes. Jason Scott explains:

The code I had to write to pull in these tapes (which are often distributed via torrents, because the albums generally range between 80-200mb), then to clean up the resulting downloads, and make sure the right cover is the "official" cover in the collection, took me a while. It's "human/machine augmented" stuff, because there's massive variation in how the files come in. Let's not pretend it's real work -- the real work is even keeping track of all this stuff.

I have a list of 17,000 tapes to access at the exact moment, and so something close to that number might end up at the Archive across the next couple months. Keeping track of new releases will have to be automated, I suppose. I'll probably need help.

Brief raptures in deserted placesMAY 18

On Ask MetaFilter, sleepy psychonaut declares their love for spending time in temporarily deserted places that are normally crowded.

Examples include San Francisco during Burning Man weekend, Penn Station at 2pm on Christmas day, almost everywhere in the US on Easter Sunday, the Financial District in Boston on Saturdays and Sundays, many major European cities during August.

Several people offered up suggestions; these were my favorites:

Any big amusement park on a day when it's raining. The heavier the rain, the fewer people. (Cue family flashback to an idyllic day at Disneyland when there was hardly anyone there.)

Unless there's a special event, people don't go to museums in the evening. Here's what the British museum looks like if you go on such an evening.

Any Colorado ski resort town during the summer when there's not a festival going on. The ski paths are alpine meadows full of flowers you can hike on, and the streets are pretty much empty. Also renting condos there is super cheap off-season.

For an area that gets not quite as deserted but is much nicer to visit after the end of the usual season, you have to promise not to tell anyone (because this is a secret) but the beach towns along Lake Michigan are just about empty by a week after Labor Day but the beaches are actually at the nicest they will be all season because the lake has been warming all summer. Mid-September is a really nice time of year to visit the Great Lakes if you like clean, deserted beaches, farm markets full of fresh produce, restaurants with plenty of open tables, and relaxed hospitality staff who are happy to have survived the summer.

I went to the Muse D'orsay deep off season in the days before Christmas. Being alone in a room full of Van Goghs for at least 10 minutes (well but for a security guards & cameras) is still one of the highlights of my life.

(via @mathowie)

The Sweetheart Roller Skating RinkMAY 18

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink

Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink

Photographer Bill Yates spent months documenting the happenings at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Florida in the early 1970s. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Yates is publishing a book of the photos.

20 best films directed by womenMAY 17

Fifty films critics weighed in on their favorite movies directed by women and Fandor tallied the results into a top 20 list.

Wind walking atop Mount WashingtonMAY 17

The top of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, is one of the windiest places on Earth. In 1934, a windspeed of 231 mph was recorded -- a record that stood until a typhoon-powered wind topped 254 mph in Australia -- and the wind chill value on a January day in 2004 was -102.59 °F. So, it's a cold, windy place.

Yesterday, the winds on Mount Washington only got up to 109 mph, but it still created the perfect conditions for people to fly themselves like kites and bad conditions for walking. Here's what living and working up there is like.

Wind on the summit is an experience that you can't just describe to understand. It makes you fully appreciate that air is in fact a fluid and not empty space. It is really impossible to safely face down hundred-mile-per-hour winds almost anywhere else; you'd either be risking your life trying to hike into them (I was exhausted after several minutes of playing in the wind) or risking your life in a hurricane, where flying debris and shrapnel poses a huge threat.

(via @EricHolthaus)

Update: It is also impossible to eat in high winds.

(via @kyleslattery)

The trippy past and scientific future of psychedelicsMAY 17

After The Man freaked out back in the 60s, LSD and other psychedelics were banned and criminalized. But slowly, scientists are experimenting with psychedelics to treat depression, anxiety, and other ailments.

In the 1960s, a psychologist and former Harvard teacher named Timothy Leary coined the phrase 'Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.' The slogan was inspired by advertising jingles, but Leary wasn't pushing a product, he was promoting a drug: LSD.

But today, scientists are studying psychedelics once again, in the latest twist in the long, strange story of LSD.

Even outside of a therapeutic setting, many people extolled the beneficial effects of psychedelics. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs recalled in his biography by Walter Isaacson:

Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there's another side to the coin, and you can't remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important -- creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.

Check out the NY Times companion piece and the archival footage of LSD experiments on cats, spiders, and goats.

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