homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

The Drone King, a previously unpublished Kurt Vonnegut short story

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

The Atlantic has just put up a previously unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, The Drone King. It’s about bees.

He examined the card for a long time. “Yes,” he said at last. “Mr. Quick is expecting you. You’ll find him in the small library — second door on the left, by the grandfather clock.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I started past him.

He caught my sleeve. “Sir—”

“Yes?,” I said.

“You aren’t wearing a boutonniere, are you?”

“No,” I said guiltily. “Should I be?”

“If you were,” he said, “I’d have to ask you to check it. No women or flowers allowed past the front desk.”

I paused by the door of the small library. “Say,” I said, “you know this clock has stopped?”

“Mr. Quick stopped it the night Calvin Coolidge died,” he said.

I blushed. “Sorry,” I said.

“We all are,” he said. “But what can anyone do?”

An audio version of the article is available.

The story is one of five that Vonnegut wrote in the early 1950s that were recently discovered in the author’s papers. These five, plus all of Vonnegut’s other short stories, will be out in book form later this month.

New study: natural selection is getting rid of mutations that shorten human life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A massive genetic study led by Hakhamanesh Mostafavi, an evolutionary biologist at Columbia, suggests that evolution is weeding out certain genetic mutations in humans that shorten people’s lives.

Mostafavi and his colleagues tested more than 8 million common mutations, and found two that seemed to become less prevalent with age. A variant of the APOE gene, which is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, was rarely found in women over 70. And a mutation in the CHRNA3 gene associated with heavy smoking in men petered out in the population starting in middle age. People without these mutations have a survival edge and are more likely to live longer, the researchers suggest.

This is not, by itself, evidence of evolution at work. In evolutionary terms, having a long life isn’t as important as having a reproductively fruitful one, with many children who survive into adulthood and birth their own offspring. So harmful mutations that exert their effects after reproductive age could be expected to be ‘neutral’ in the eyes of evolution, and not selected against.

But if that were the case, there would be plenty of such mutations still kicking around in the genome, the authors argue. That such a large study found only two strongly suggests that evolution is “weeding” them out, says Mostafavi, and that others have probably already been purged from the population by natural selection.

Studio Ghibli characters in real world scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

A South Korean video editor named Kojer took characters from Studio Ghibli films and digitally inserted them into real world scenes and background. So you get to see Ponyo running on a lake, Totoro waiting in the rain on an actual train platform, the Catbus running through a real meadow, and Howl’s castle moving through a city.

This is super-cool…the effect is nearly seamless. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how he did the rotoscoping, touch-ups, background replacement, and shadow work on the animated characters:

It’s incredible how much the tools and technology have advanced when one person using off-the-shelf software on a single computer can do what took months to accomplish using traditional cel animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Tycho’s 2017 Burning Man DJ set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

Every year at Burning Man, Tycho does a 2-hour DJ set coinciding with the sunrise. Here’s 2017’s installment. You can also go back and listen to sunrise sets from 2016, 2015, and 2014. There, now your whole day is chill.

Study: watching Fox News has big effect on voting patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

What would happen if you brought a tiny piece of the Sun to Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Kurzgesagt asks and answers the question: what happens if we bring the Sun to the Earth? Since the density and makeup of the Sun varies, they go over scenarios of sampling a house-size chunk from four different spots of the Sun: the chromosphere, the photosphere, the radiative zone, and the core. The answers range from “not much” to “well, that was a terrifically bad idea”.

The life cycle of a t-shirt

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

In a video for TED-Ed, Angel Chang takes us through the life cycle of a typical t-shirt, from cotton to rags, with a focus on the embodied energy of the manufacture and use of a shirt. For instance, because of how it’s produced and shipped around the world, clothing production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

See also Planet Money’s T-shirt Project.

A metaphor for Summer 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

Summer 2017 Fire

Amateur photographer Kristi McCluer took what will probably be one of the most iconic photos of 2017 of the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.

“I don’t golf at all,” Kristi McCluer said over the phone on Thursday morning. Instead, she said, “I have spent a great part of my life in the Columbia River Gorge, hiking.”

So when the Eagle Creek fire began, she decided she needed to see it for herself.

“I was actually going to drive up to the Bridge of the Gods,” McCluer said. But she saw a parking lot and decided to pull in. After being told she couldn’t park there because it was actually a road, she found a real parking lot that was nearly empty.

“Around the corner was this golf course,” she said, “and you could see the fire.”

So she started snapping pictures.

I was amazed to discover that it wasn’t Photoshopped. For a similar metaphorical punch, see also Theunis Wessels mowing his lawn in Alberta, Canada while a tornado spins in the background (photo by Cecilia Wessels).

Man Mowing Lawn Tornado

2017: this is fine. (via @mccanner)

You Were Never Really Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

You Were Never Really Here is a thriller directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix as an enforcer for hire. The film is based on a short novel by Jonathan Ames of the same name.

A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel.

Oh, and Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack. Looking forward to this one. (via @craigmod)

The pattern for color names from around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

If you look at the basic colors from a variety of cultures & languages from around the world, there are differences in the number of colors represented in each language. Some languages only have words for black, white, and red while others have words for more than 10 basic colors. Surprisingly, there’s a pattern behind the development of these color words across many of these languages: the words for colors were often invented in the same order.

See also one of my favorite segments of Radiolab on the color blue.

The intricate wave structure of Saturn’s rings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

Saturn Waves by Cassini

On one of its final passes of Saturn, the Cassini probe captured this image of a wave structure in Saturn’s rings known as the Janus 2:1 spiral density wave. The waves are generated by the motion of Janus, one of Saturn’s smaller moons.

This wave is remarkable because Janus, the moon that generates it, is in a strange orbital configuration. Janus and Epimetheus (see “Cruising Past Janus”) share practically the same orbit and trade places every four years. Every time one of those orbit swaps takes place, the ring at this location responds, spawning a new crest in the wave. The distance between any pair of crests corresponds to four years’ worth of the wave propagating downstream from the resonance, which means the wave seen here encodes many decades’ worth of the orbital history of Janus and Epimetheus. According to this interpretation, the part of the wave at the very upper-left of this image corresponds to the positions of Janus and Epimetheus around the time of the Voyager flybys in 1980 and 1981, which is the time at which Janus and Epimetheus were first proven to be two distinct objects (they were first observed in 1966).

The photograph is also an optical illusion of sorts. The rings appear to be getting farther away in the upper lefthand corner but the plane of the photograph is actually parallel to the plane of the rings…it’s just that the wavelength of the density wave gets shorter from right to left.

Update: Here are those density waves converted into sound waves. The first set sounds like an accelerating F1 car.

Lego New York

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

Lego New York

From J.R. Schmidt, a rendering of New York City in Lego. Prints are available. Be sure to check out his other work as well…cool stuff.

See also Christoph Niemann’s I Lego NY book. (thx alastair)

Graphing the hidden thresholds of everyday life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

Unendurable line is a short film by Daihei Shibata which shows the movement of objects like springs, magnetically attracted objects, spinning tops, and stacked blocks accompanied by a real-time graph of the movement. A bit tough to explain…just watch it. Reminds me of Bret Victor’s live coding. (via colossal)

1000 marathons to spiritual enlightenment

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The monks of Mount Hiei in Japan perform a spiritual practice called Kaihōgyō in the form of a 1000-day pilgrimage that’s spread out over seven years. There’s secrecy around the practice so it’s difficult to know the precise details, but the gist is that each year, a monk undertaking the practice spends 100 days (or more!) walking 25 miles (or more!) in the middle of the night (because monks have their regular duties and chores to do during the day), stopping at more than 250 sites to recite prayers. That’s 25 miles each day, mind you.

And then there’s this, thrown in about 2/3rds of the way through, just for good measure:

After 700 days, the Kaihogyo practitioner faces what Mitsunaga calls an exam. He enters a hall and prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.

“Put simply, you just have to give up everything and pray to the Immovable Wisdom King,” he says. “By doing this, he may recognize you and allow you to live for nine days.”

The practitioner interrupts his prayers every night to come to a small fountain and get an offering of water for Fudo Myo-o. Toward the end of the nine days, the practitioner is so weak, he must be supported by fellow monks.

Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.

You can read more about at Wikipedia, The Guardian, and Nowness.

The death (and possible rebirth?) of the fade-out in pop music

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The fade out used to be ubiquitous in pop music and the technique has some advantages over other ending methods. In one study, participants tapped along to the beat for a couple seconds after songs with fade outs ended, as if the fade out helped the song live on after it had ended. What musician wouldn’t want that? So why has the fade out fallen out of favor in the past few years?

Also, I love the lo-tech origin story of the fade out: composer Gustav Holst had someone close a door on a choir during a performance in 1918.

Composer Gustav Holst understood the power of the fade-out and employed one of the first at a 1918 concert. For the “Neptune” section of The Planets, Holst had the women’s choir sing in a room offstage. Toward the end, he instructed, the door should be closed very slowly: “This bar is to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.” Given the subject matter — Neptune was thought to be the most distant planet in the solar system — Holst’s attempt to conjure the remoteness of the planet and the mysteries of the cosmos makes sense.

The technology for recorded music wasn’t any more evolved…if you wanted to fade a sound out, you had to physically carry the recording device (the phonograph or microphone) away from the audio source.