kottke.org's best links of 2009

 

Porsche's financial hack

I'm mentioned the Porsche/VW financial incident briefly in October, but this is an excellent layman's explanation of what happened.

Porsche's move took three years of careful maneuvering. It was darkly brilliant, a wealth transfer ingeniously conceived like few we've ever seen. Betting the right way, Porsche roiled the financial markets and took the hedge funds for a fortune.

(via capn design)

Update: Not so fast there, Porsche. Bloomberg says that the company may not have the money necessary to exercise those options and realize $24.3 billion in profits.

The Earth from above

Another excellent offering from The Big Picture: photos of the Earth from NASA's The Earth Observatory. Even if you don't care for cliches, some of these will literally drop your jaw.

The best flag in the world

Benin Empire

That's the flag of the Benin Empire, a pre-colonial African state situated in modern Nigeria that lasted from 1440 until 1897. (via andre)

By Jason Kottke    Oct 6, 2009    flags

Good design

The 10 design commandments of Dieter Rams.

Good design is innovative. It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

Rams was the influential designer behind many Braun products and described his design approach as "less, but better". (via df)

The deep connection between marshmallows and babies

Is everything connected with everything else? Not everyone thinks so. But that not everyone doesn't include Benjamin Cohen. In I Dream in Malcolm Gladwell, Cohen draws an unlikely parallel between marshmallow melting and the science of pediatric nutrition.

In an age when children are born nearly every day in America, and most of them to parents who have had intercourse sometime during the year prior, physicians have become troubled that once the children are born, they seem to lack the ability to feed themselves. The two researchers have been working for years on a study that may provide insight to the problem. Infants, their studies are showing, aren't very smart. Like melting marshmallows, it appears that breastfeeding is an unusual process difficult to understand. In this case, W- and S- believe, that process may involve both breasts and milk.

It all sounds so obvious when he puts it that way.

Attention deconcentration

It's a bummer that Alec Wilkinson's article on free diving isn't available online (except for NYer subscribers)...it's fascinating and right up the alley of the relaxed concentration/deliberate practice enthusiast. One of the two divers profiled uses a technique called attention deconcentration to govern her body and mind as she dives.

To still the unbidden apprehensions that might interfere with her dive -- what she describes as "the subjective feeling of empty lungs at the deep" -- Molchanova uses a technique that she refers to as "attention deconcentration." ("They get it from the military," Ericson said.) Molchanova told me, "It means distribution of the whole field of attention -- you try to feel everything simultaneously. This condition creates an empty consciousness, so the bad thoughts don't exist."

"Is it difficult to learn?"

"Yes, it's difficult. I teach it in my university. It's a technique from ancient warriors -- it was used by samurai -- but it was developed by a Russian scientist, Oleg Bakhtiyarov, as a psychological-state-management technique for people sho do very monotonous jobs."

I asked if it was like meditation.

"To some degree, except meditation means you're completely free, but if you're in the sea at depth you will have to be focussed, or it will get bad. What you do to start learning is you focus on the edges, not the center of things, as if you were looking at a screen. Basically, all the time I am diving, I have an empty consciousness. I have a kind of melody going through my mind that keeps me going, but otherwise I am completely not in my mind."

I found only one other reference online to attention deconcentration, an article on free diving written by Natalia Molchanova herself. In it, she talks about the three types of attention deconcentration: visual, aural, and tactile.

Rising from the depth, it is important to constantly scan your condition to prevent shallow water black-out, which can occur without any discomfort sensations. Somatic attention deconcentration appears to be extremely useful in this situation. Somatic AD implies attention distribution on the whole volume of the body and allows noticing tiny changes of organism state.

There is one more kind of AD -- aural attention deconcentration. It is not so effective in the water, but it helps preparing to the dive and not to be distracted by judge's countdown.

It's interesting that both the attention deconcentration and flow techniques are designed to get the practitioner to basically the same place (i.e. ready to perform difficult tasks) from opposite directions.

Somewhat related, a reader (thx, martin) recently sent in a link to The Game, a mind game with an unusual objective:

The Game is an ongoing mind game, the objective of which is to avoid thinking about The Game itself. Thinking about The Game constitutes a loss, which, according to the rules of The Game, must then be announced. How to win The Game is not defined in the rules; players can only attempt to avoid losing for as long as possible. The Game has been described alternately as pointless and infuriating, or as a challenging game that is fun to play.

Minna Kottke

Hello everyone. I'd like you to meet Ollie's little sister, Minna Kottke.

Minna's first day

Big yawn! She was born at home (on purpose!) early this morning; mother and baby are resting comfortably. I am weakened by an unrelated sickness but proud and happy. Ollie can't stop talking about her. "Minna! Minna!" He's going to be a great big brother.

So, things are going to be a little slow around here for a bit, especially the rest of this week. Starting next Monday, I'll be joined by a part-time guest editor for a couple weeks. But more on that later. Now: sleep.

Ten world-changing ideas

Time has a list of ten ideas that are changing the world right now. This is not a typical mindless list (e.g. green energy! um...more green energy)...there's some good stuff here. Jobs Are The New Assets asserts now that making money with money (i.e. stocks and property) while you sit on your ass all days doesn't fly, your job is your main source of income and financial stability.

All the while, we blissfully ignored a little concept economists like to call human capital. The cognition you've got up there in your head -- your education and training -- it's worth something. We can extract value not just from our homes and our portfolios but from ourselves as well. The mechanism for extracting that value? A job. "The income you earn from working is like the stream of interest income you might get from owning a bond," says Johns Hopkins University economist Christopher Carroll. "Think of it as a dividend on your human wealth."

Michael Lewis recently said something similar in an interview for Big Think.

When you think of making money, think of what you do for a living, not the financial markets.

Amortality is my favorite entry on the list. It's a more general version of the Grups theory put forth in New York magazine three years ago. An amortal person is someone who lives a similar lifestyle all throughout their life, from their teens to their 80s.

For all the optimism about how science may prolong life, mice and humans keep turning up their toes. No matter how much the government bullies and cajoles, amortals rarely make adequate provision for their final years. Yet even as faltering amortals strain the public purse, so their determination to wring every drop out of life brings benefits to the private sector. They prop up the tottering music industry, are lifelong consumers of gadgets and gizmos, keep gyms busy and colorists in demand. From their youth, when they behave as badly as adults, to their dotage, when they behave as badly as youngsters, amortals hate to be pigeonholed by age.

By Jason Kottke    Mar 16, 2009    ideas   lists   working

Updike's urban bushwhack

In Rockefeller Center Ho!, published in the Talk of the Town section of the Feb 11, 1956 issue of the New Yorker, John Updike described the discovery of a path from the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Center that didn't make use of 5th or 6th Avenues. Instead he cut through building lobbies, parking lots, and underground passages on his way through the thicket of Midtown's tall buildings.

Recently a pair of New Yorker staffers set out to discover if Updike's journey could still be made and brought back photographic evidence.

A stingy parking attendant refused to let us pass through his gate to Fortieth Street. Faced with no other option, we offered to pay the half-hour fee to park a car; his bemused manager finally let us through without charge.

Many who work in Midtown use shortcuts like these on especially cold days (like today) to minimize the time spent outside while walking from the train or bus. I only worked up there for a couple of years, but I still learned a cut-through trick or two.

How to build a long-lived culture of excellence

I loved this deck of slides from an internal presentation at Netflix on their company's culture.

This slide deck is our current best thinking about maximizing our likelihood of continuous success.

There are literally dozens of great ideas on these 128 slides...a must-read for anyone who wants their business to grow and last for more than a few years.

By Jason Kottke    Aug 5, 2009    business   Netflix

No one knows how to make a pencil

I, Pencil is a 1958 ode to mass production, industrial specialization, commodity economics, and the invisible hand using the manufacture of a simple graphite pencil as an example.

Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill's power!

Really great. A nice illustration of embodied energy to boot.

Update: A old Cardigan article by Dean Allen shares a certain kinship with I,Pencil.

First, you need some water. Fuse two hydrogen with one oxygen and repeat until you have enough. While the water is heating, raise some cattle. Pay a man with grim eyes to do the slaughtering, preferably while you are away. Roast the bones, then add to the water.

Update: From Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here's the tree! This particular pine! It Is cut down. Only the trunk is used, stripped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here's the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes.

Thus the entire little drama, from crystallized carbon and felled pine to this humble implement, to this transparent thing, unfolds in a twinkle. Alas, the solid pencil itself as fingered briefly by Hugh Person still somehow eludes us! But he won't, oh no.

(thx, matthew)

2009, the Year of Panic

Bruce Sterling: 2009 Will Be a Year of Panic, a summary of seven factors that we should be concerned about in 2009 and beyond.

Most people in this world have no insurance and ignore building codes. They live in "informal architecture," i.e., slum structures. Barrios. Favelas. Squats. Overcrowded districts of this world that look like a post-Katrina situation all the time. When people are thrown out of their too-expensive, too-coded homes, this is where they will go. Unless they're American, in which case they'll live in their cars. But how can dispossessed Americans pay for their car insurance when they have no fixed address?

(thx, bruce)

Photos of George W. Bush

In his latest post for his NY Times blog, Errol Morris talks with three photographers -- one each from Reuters, AP, and AFP -- and has them select their ten favorite photos of George W. Bush.

He popped out that door, and when the door opened and he came through it, the look on his face was like no look I'd ever seen on George Bush's face in my life. [...] And I said, "If he wasn't just back there behind that door crying, I don't know what that look on his face is." Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency. And it's just really striking. He just looks absolutely devastated.

The interview with the last photographer is the least interesting because he refuses to interpret any of the photographs but his set of photographs includes at least 3 photographs that I had never seen before and that weren't "published extensively in the United States".

Little House books ghostwritten?

As a kid, I read many of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books so I was interested to read that Laura's daughter Rose may have co-authored them.

Wilder scholarship is a flourishing industry, particularly at universities in the Midwest, and much of it seeks to sift fiction from history. The best book among many good, if more pedestrian, ones, "The Ghost in the Little House," by William Holtz, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Missouri, explores a controversy that first arose after Wilder bequeathed her original manuscripts to libraries in Detroit and California. It is the work of a fastidious stylist, and, in its way, a minor masterpiece of insight and research. Holtz's subject, however, isn't Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is her daughter and, he argues, her unacknowledged "ghost," Rose Wilder Lane.

Rose was an interesting character; she escaped the prairie life of her parents and transformed into a "a stylish cosmopolite who acquired several languages, enjoyed smoking and fornication, and dined at La Rotonde when she wasn't motoring around Europe in her Model T".

The history of America is the history of the auto industry

Rich Cohen has a really fantastic article about the American history of the automobile and car salesman in the September issue of The Believer.

The history of America is the history of the automobile industry: it starts in fields and garages and ends in boardrooms and dumps; it starts with daredevils and tinkerers and ends with bureaucrats and congressmen; it starts with a sense of here-goes-let's-hope-it-works and ends with help-help-help. We tend to think of it as an American history that opens, as if summoned by the nature of the age, early in the last century, when the big mills and factories were already spewing smoke above Flint and Detroit, but we tend to be wrong. The history of the car is far older and stranger than you might suppose. Its early life is like the knock-around life one of the stars of the '80s lived in the '70s, Stallone before Rocky, say, picking up odd jobs, working the grift, and, of course, porn. The first automobile turned up outside Paris in 1789, when Detroit was an open field. (The hot rod belonged to the Grand Armee before it belonged to Neal and Jack.) It was another of the great innovations that seemed to appear in that age of revolution.

Cohen references one of my favorite pieces from a few years ago, Confessions of a Car Salesman, in which a journalist goes undercover for three months at a pair of Southern California car dealerships. Required reading before purchasing a car.

Cohen's article also reminded me just how many of the American cars on the road today owe their names to the people who actually started these companies and built these cars back in the early days. Ransom Olds, Louis Chevrolet, Walter Chrysler, Horace and John Dodge, Henry Ford, David Buick...some of these read like a joke from The Simpsons. Here's Louis Chevrolet racing a Buick in 1910:

Louis Chevrolet

Looking overseas, there's Karl Benz, Michio Suzuki (who didn't actually start out building cars), Wilhelm Maybach, Ferdinand Porsche, and many others. In an interesting reversal of that trend, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (which eventually became part of Daimler-Benz) built a custom sports car for Emil Jellinek, who named it Mercedes after his daughter. Jellinek was so fond of the car that he legally changed his last name to Jellinek-Mercedes and thereafter went by E.J. Mercédès.

By Jason Kottke    Sep 30, 2009    cars   Rich Cohen   USA

Kazuki Takamatsu

Like Pieter says, these paintings by Kazuki Takamatsu are stunning.

Kazuki Takamatsu

Instant walls of sand

Magnus Larsson has proposed building an ingenious structure in the Sahara Desert: a 6,000 km-long wall of sandstone made by flushing bacillus pasteurii through loose sand. The bacteria quickly solidifies the sand, thereby providing a wall to stop the advance of the desert or even structures for people to live in.

I researched different types of construction methods involving pile systems and realised that injection piles could probably be used to get the bacteria down into the sand -- a procedure that would be analogous to using an oversized 3D printer, solidifying parts of the dune as needed. The piles would be pushed through the dune surface and a first layer of bacteria spread out, solidifying an initial surface within the dune. They would then be pulled up, creating almost any conceivable (structurally sound) surface along their way, with the loose sand acting as a jig before being excavated to create the necessary voids.

This sounds more like sculpting or baking than architecture.

Khaaan! Agaiiin!

While discussing this morning's post about Khaaan! at the breakfast table with us, Ollie showed his growing dramatic range as an actor by reenacting the scene.

It's no chicken dance, but it's not bad.

Auditorium

Your next 45 minutes are spoken for: Auditorium. I wish this game went on forever but it's only a demo for an eventual larger game.

Folding pictures

Simon Schubert creates 2-D scenes by folding paper slightly. Only slightly...this isn't origami.

Simon Schubert

See also one of my favorite things at the Met, the studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio. (via today and tomorrow)

Update: See also these intricate etchings in aluminum foil by Marco Maggi. (thx, mike)

Vol Libre, an amazing CG film from 1980

In 1980, Boeing employee Loren Carpenter presented a film called Vol Libre at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference. It was the world's first film using fractals to generate the graphics. Even now it's impressive to watch:

That must have been absolutely mindblowing in 1980. The audience went nuts and Carpenter, the Boeing engineer from out of nowhere, was offered a job at Lucasfilm on the spot. He accepted immediately. This account comes from Droidmaker, a fascinating-looking book about George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Pixar:

Fournier gave his talk on fractal math, and Loren gave his talk on all the different algorithms there were for generating fractals, and how some were better than others for making lightning bolts or boundaries. "All pretty technical stuff," recalled Carpenter. "Then I showed the film."

He stood before the thousand engineers crammed into the conference hall, all of whom had seen the image on the cover of the conference proceedings, many of whom had a hunch something cool was going to happen. He introduced his little film that would demonstrate that these algorithms were real. The hall darkened. And the Beatles began.

Vol Libre soared over rocky mountains with snowy peaks, banking and diving like a glider. It was utterly realistic, certainly more so than anything ever before created by a computer. After a minute there was a small interlude demonstrating some surrealistic floating objects, spheres with lightning bolts electrifying their insides. And then it ended with a climatic zooming flight through the landscape, finally coming to rest on a tiny teapot, Martin Newell's infamous creation, sitting on the mountainside.

The audience erupted. The entire hall was on their feet and hollering. They wanted to see it again. "There had never been anything like it," recalled Ed Catmull. Loren was beaming.

"There was strategy in this," said Loren, "because I knew that Ed and Alvy were going to be in the front row of the room when I was giving this talk." Everyone at Siggraph knew about Ed and Alvy and the aggregation at Lucasfilm. They were already rock stars. Ed and Alvy walked up to Loren Carpenter after the film and asked if he could start in October.

Carpenter's fractal technique was used by the computer graphics department at ILM (a subsidiary of Lucasfilm) for their first feature film sequence and the first film sequence to be completely computer generated: the Genesis effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The sequence was intended to act as a commerical of sorts for the computer graphics group, aimed at an audience outside the company and for George Lucas himself. Lucas, it seems, wasn't up to speed on what the ILM CG people were capable of. Again, from Droidmaker:

It was important to Alvy that the effects support the story, and not eclipse it. "No gratuitous 3-D graphics," he told the team in their first production meeting. "This is our chance to tell George Lucas what it is we do."

The commercial worked on Lucas but a few years later, the computer graphics group at ILM was sold by Lucas to Steve Jobs for $5 million and became Pixar. Loren Carpenter is still at Pixar today; he's the company's Chief Scientist. (via binary bonsai)

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of intentionally starting a fire that killed his three children, sentenced to death, and after many failed appeals, executed by lethal injection. Now it appears that the investigators who made determination of arson were acting more like forensic mystics than forensic scientists in making their decision. The state of Texas may have executed an innocent man.

In recent years, though, questions have mounted over whether the system is fail-safe. Since 1976, more than a hundred and thirty people on death row have been exonerated. DNA testing, which was developed in the eighties, saved seventeen of them, but the technique can be used only in rare instances. Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has used DNA testing to exonerate prisoners, estimates that about eighty per cent of felonies do not involve biological evidence.

In 2000, after thirteen people on death row in Illinois were exonerated, George Ryan, who was then governor of the state, suspended the death penalty. Though he had been a longtime advocate of capital punishment, he declared that he could no longer support a system that has "come so close to the ultimate nightmare-the state's taking of innocent life." Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has said that the "execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event."

Update: John Jackson, the prosecutor in the Willingham case, has written an op-ed piece for the Cosicana Daily Sun in which he defends the court's guilty verdict, despite what he calls an "undeniably flawed forensic report".

The Willingham case was charged as a multiple child murder, and not an arson-murder to achieve capital status. I am convinced that in the absence of any arson testimony, the outcome of the trial would have been unchanged, a fact that did not escape the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

David Grann, the author of the New Yorker article referenced above, responds briefly to Jackson's assertions.

But even if he refused to take a polygraph after he was arrested, polygraphs are notoriously unreliable, and are not admissible in a court of law. [...] As a result, defense attorneys routinely do not let their clients take polygraphs. [...] The idea that a lie-detector test (or the refusal to take one) could be considered evidence cuts to the core of the problems in the Willingham case: a reliance on unreliable and unsound scientific techniques.

Jackson's belief that Willingham should have (whether he would have is another story) been convicted even in the absence of evidence of arson borders on parody and would be funny if it weren't so obscene coming, as it does, from a sitting judge. If it's not arson, how do you have a murder? If the fire killed the kids and he didn't set the fire, how is he responsible? It's fucking absurd.

Update: From the Texas Department of Criminal Justice web site, the last statement of Cameron Todd Willingham:

Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby. [Remaining portion of statement omitted due to profanity.]

(thx, rick)

Wes Anderson, annotated

Matt Zoller Seitz has completed his five-part look at Wes Anderson's influences.

Part 1: Bill Melendez, Orson Welles, and Francois Truffaut
Part 2: Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols
Part 3: Hal Ashby
Part 4: J.D. Salinger
Part 5: The Royal Tenenbaums, annotated

Seek out the video links in the right sidebar; they're better than just reading the text. From the Salinger segment:

Detractors say Anderson's dense production design (courtesy of regular collaborator David Wasco) overwhelms his stories and characters. This complaint presumes that in real life our grooming and style choices aren't a kind of uniform -- visual shorthand for who we are or who we want others to think we are. This is a key strength of both Anderson and Salinger's work. Both artists have a knack for what might be called "material synecdoche" -- showcasing objects, locations, or articles of clothing that define whole personalities, relationships, or conflicts.

The fifth part, where Seitz annotates the beginning segment of The Royal Tenenbaums with text, images, and video, is particularly fun to watch.

Rwanda, fifteen years after genocide

Reading two-week-old 13-page New Yorker articles about Rwanda probably isn't your favorite thing to do, but if you're a subscriber, I'd urge you to check out Philip Gourevitch's fascinating article about what's been happening in Rwanda in the fifteen years since the genocide. It's a complicated situation (boldface mine):

On the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide, Rwanda is one of the safest and most orderly countries in Africa. Since 1994, per-capita gross domestic prduct has nearly tripled, even as the population has increased by nearly twenty-five per cent, to more than ten million. There is national health insurance, and a steadily improving education system. [...] Most of the prisoners accused or convicted of genocide have been released. The death penalty has been abolished. And Rwanda is the only nation where hundred of thousands of people who took part in mass murder live intermingled at every level of society with the families of their victims.

Like I said, complicated. This is the best thing I've read in the New Yorker in a long while.

Update: As We Forgive is a documentary film about the Rwandan reconciliation.

Can survivors truly forgive the killers who destroyed their families? Can the government expect this from its people? And can the church, which failed at moral leadership during the genocide, fit into the process of reconciliation today? In As We Forgive, director Laura Waters Hinson and narrator Mia Farrow explore these topics through the lives of four neighbors once caught in opposite tides of a genocidal bloodbath, and their extraordinary journey from death to life through forgiveness.

(thx, misty)

Inexpert experts

In the past few days, I've read two articles on men who are experts in scientific research in an area where they themselves have a deficiency. First there was the article on George Vaillant and the Harvard Study of Adult Development I linked to on Friday. Vaillant is an expert on what makes men happy; his own research shows that close relationships with family and friends is a significant factor in people living long happy lives. But those who know him best say that he has difficulty with relationships.

But Vaillant's closest friends and family tell a very different story, of a man plagued by distance and strife in his relationships. "George is someone who holds things in," says the psychiatrist James Barrett Jr., his oldest friend. "I don't think he has many confidants. I would call George someone who has a problem with intimacy."

He's been married four times to three women and has been estranged, at one time or another, from four out of his five children.

And then I was reading a New Yorker profile of V.S. Ramachandran, the noted behavioral neurologist who has worked on mirror therapy with amputees who experience phantom limb pain, the role of mirror neurons in autism, and synesthesia. Though his work with the brain doesn't focus on memory, it's still ironic that Ramachandran is almost pathologically incapable of remembering where he parked his car or when his wife's birthday is.

"Another time," [Ramachandran's wife Diane] continued, "I got a call from Sears and a woman said, 'There's a man here who says he's your husband and he's trying to purchase something on this credit card.' I said, 'Ye-e-e-s.' And she said, 'We're kind of concerned if it's really your husband, becuase he doesn't know your birth date.' I said, 'Oh, that's my husband!'"

"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Ramachandran boomed. "That is a good story."

I could not resist asking whether Ramachandran has since learned Diane's birthday. They had been married for twenty-two years.

"I know she's a Leo," he said, slowly, eying her from across the table.

"I'm not Leo," Diane said, "You're a Leo."

"No," he corrected himself. "Virgo! Virgo!"

"Yup," she said. "August 18th," he said, with confidence.

"No," Diane said. Then she turned to me. "See, he gets the month, because it's the same as his."

"It's not the eighteenth?" Ramachandran asked.

"No."

"Twenty-second?" he offered.

"No."

At this point, Jaya asked, "Do you know my birthday?"

Ramachandran looked helplessly at his son and shrank into his seat. "It doesn't mean I don't love you," he said.

Beethoven was deaf. Monet had vision problems when he painted some of his most well-known work. I wonder if there's something to this beyond coincidence.

Datamoshing

Two is a trend: Kanye West's video for Welcome to Heartbreak uses the same video compression technique used in Chairlift's Evident Utensil. The videos were done by two different directors at around the same time, which probably means that neither originated it. Does anyone know what the Patient Zero is for this technique? This Radiohead video for Videotape comes close but doesn't use the compression artifacts to cleverly cut between scenes...which is the real artful moment here. (thx, andrew & demetrice)

Update: Here are a few candidates: Takeshi Murata, paperrad, and Mark Brown. (thx, matthew, simon & justin)

Update: Aha, the technique is called datamoshing. (thx, daniel)

Update: There's a bit of datamoshing in this 2005 David O'Reilly clip and even more in a 2005 video made by Kris Moyes (Moyes briefly uses the same technique in this 2008 video for Beck). In 2004, Owi Mahn & Laura Baginski made a video called Pastell Kompressor in which they manipulated the compression keyframes in some timelapse videos. Sven König's two projects, aPpRoPiRaTe! and Download Finished! originate around the same time (2004/2005). The technique itself seems pretty simple...just ignore the compression keyframes during playback. (thx, philip & sven)

YouTube, remixed

Thru You is a site that showcases remixed YouTube videos...the singing from one video combined with the drums from another and the piano from a third and so on. I was skeptical but these are really well done. Do I even need to say that this reminds me of Christian Marclay's Video Quartet? (via sfj)

Fancy Fast Food

Love this: the chefs at Fancy Fast Food take fast food items and reformulate them into more delectable looking dishes. Here is just a portion of the directions for turning a White Castle meal into a tasty looking assortment of tapas.

Next, deconstruct everything and separate them into separate plates: french fries, onion rings, fried clams, beef patties, buns, cheese, bacon, and chicken. Using a paper towel, squeeze and dab each bun dry of its oil and ketchup. Then place all the buns on a baking sheet and bake them for ten minutes in a pre-heated oven at 400° F.

Meanwhile, using a food processor, blend the french fries into a pulp with a little water. Do the same with the beef (no water necessary) until it's ground and moldable. Hand-roll the ground beef into meatballs, then pan-fry them until they start to brown.

(thx, paul)

By Jason Kottke    Jul 6, 2009    food   remix

Amish technology

Kevin Kelly has written a great post called Amish Hackers, which addresses the myth that the Amish don't use technology. As Kelly illustrates, the Amish use electricity, cell phones, cars and even the internet but their adoption of technology is not quick, they rent rather than buy (e.g. taking taxis rather than owning cars), and their default stance with any new gadget is to test first to see if it fits with their views.

One Amish-man told me that the problem with phones, pagers, and PDAs (yes he knew about them) was that "you got messages rather than conversations." That's about as an accurate summation of our times as any. Henry, his long white beard contrasting with his young bright eyes told me, "If I had a TV, I'd watch it." What could be simpler?

(via waxy)

The causes of increased healthcare spending in the US

Atul Gawande discovered that McAllen, Texas spends more per person on healthcare than El Paso (which is demographically similar to McAllen) and set out to find out why. Along the way, he encounters a curious relationship between the amount spent on healthcare and the quality of that care: higher spending does not correlate with better care.

When you look across the spectrum from Grand Junction to McAllen -- and the almost threefold difference in the costs of care -- you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue.

There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems.

Obama, you're reading this guy's stuff, yes? Get him on the team.

Update: Dr. Peter Orszag is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget for the White House and is working on some of the problems that Gawande talks about in this article. Here's a 40-minute video of Orszag speaking on "Health Care - Capturing the Opportunity in the Nation's Core Fiscal Challenge". (thx, todd)

I changed the bit in the first paragraph about El Paso and McAllen being "nearby". Funny, I thought 800 miles in Texas *was* nearby. (thx, stephen)

I also changed "lower spending correlates with better care" to "higher spending does not correlate with better care"...those two statements are not the same. I misread the results of one of the studies that Gawande mentions. (thx, patrick)

In praise of boredom

In an excerpt from a Dartmouth College commencement address, Joseph Brodsky argues that boredom is a "natural condition of modern life" and should be embraced in order to realize your proper place in the world.

The other trouble with originality and inventiveness is that they literally pay off. Provided that you are capable of either, you will become well-off rather fast. Desirable as that may be, most of you know firthand that nobody is as bored as the rich, for money buys time, and time is repetitive. Assuming that you are not heading for poverty, one can expect your being hit by boredom as soon as the first tools of self-gratification become available to you. Thanks to modern technology, those tools are as numerous as boredom's symptoms. In light of their function -- to render you oblivious to the redundancy of time -- their abundance is revealing.

(thx, conley)

The Book Cover Archive

The Book Cover Archive is a new site dedicated to the "appreciation and categorization of excellence in book cover design". They just launched but the site already includes 800 covers.

By Jason Kottke    Jan 8, 2009    books   design

The Known Universe

The Known Universe zooms out from Tibet to the limits of the observable universe. Dim the lights, full-screen it in HD, and you're in for a treat.

Like Powers of Ten, except astronomically accurate. It's not a dramatization, it's a map; the positioning data was pulled from Hayden Planetarium's Digital Universe Atlas, which is available for free download.

Since 1998, the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium have engaged in the three-dimensional mapping of the Universe. This cosmic cartography brings a new perspective to our place in the Universe and will redefine your sense of home. The Digital Universe Atlas is distributed to you via packages that contain our data products, like the Milky Way Atlas and the Extragalactic Atlas, and requires free software allowing you to explore the atlas by flying through it on your computer.

By Jason Kottke    Dec 17, 2009    long zoom   maps   space   video

On donkeys, the "little pistons" of Morocco

Susan Orlean travels to Morocco to find out about donkeys for Smithsonian magazine.

The medina in Fez may well be the largest urbanized area in the world impassable to cars and trucks, where anything that a human being can't carry or push in a handcart is conveyed by a donkey, a horse or a mule. If you need lumber and rebar to add a new room to your house in the medina, a donkey will carry it in for you. If you have a heart attack while building the new room on your house, a donkey might well serve as your ambulance and carry you out. If you realize your new room didn't solve the overcrowding in your house and you decide to move to a bigger house, donkeys will carry your belongings and furniture from your old house to your new one. Your garbage is picked up by donkeys; your food supplies are delivered to the medina's stores and restaurants by mule; when you decide to decamp from the tangle of the medina, donkeys might carry your luggage out or carry it back in when you decide to return. In Fez, it has always been thus, and so it will always be. No car is small enough or nimble enough to squeeze through the medina's byways; most motorbikes cannot make it up the steep, slippery alleys. The medina is now a World Heritage site. Its roads can never be widened, and they will never be changed; the donkeys might carry in computers and flat-screen televisions and satellite dishes and video equipment, but they will never be replaced.

This is probably the most interesting thing you'll ever read about donkeys.

The Places We Live

The Places We Live features panoramic photos of slums, narrated by the people who live there (through translators). Really really engrossing. To access the stories in the restricting Flash interface, skip the intro, click on a city, and then on one of the households in the upper left corner. There's a book too. (via snarkmarket)

Gaussian goat!

Some days I feel just like a gaussian goat.

Gaussian Goat

This is perhaps what the world would look like if human vision could perceive all of an object's possible quantum mechanical states at the same time. (via today and tomorrow)

By Jason Kottke    May 7, 2009    art   photography

The parachute physics of hungry whales

How did whales get so big eating such tiny creatures? And why aren't they bigger? Carl Zimmer explains.

According to the scientists, this pattern occurs when the whales lunge into a cloud of krill and drop open their jaws. Pleats under the lower jaw open up, engulfing huge amounts of water. The whale slows down because of the drag. It behaves, in other words, a lot like a parachute. [...] It's a lot of water, the scientists have found: in one lunge, a fin whale can momentarily double its weight.

The scaling stuff later on in the article is especially interesting. See also The Biology of B-Movie Monsters.

Nightclub hand signals

A Continuous Lean found some great Life magazine photos of Sherman Billingsley, the owner of a famous NYC nightclub called The Stork Club, which club was frequented by celebrities, artists, and the well-to-do from 1929 to 1965. In the photos, Billingsley is pictured at his club giving secret hand signals to his assistant while sitting with guests.

Stork Club Hand Signals

Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley [with his] palm up on table, one of his signals to nearby assistant which means "Bring a bottle of champagne," while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

Billingsley's signals cleverly allowed the club to provide seamless good service to his favored patrons while also letting him be the bad guy with less favorable customers without them knowing it. Billingsley went on to be the third base coach for the Yankees in the late 60s. (Untrue.)

Some answers to the disappearing honeybee problem

In an article for Scientific American, two scientists who are working on the causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD) say that they and other researchers have made some progress in determining what's killing all of those bees.

The growing consensus among researchers is that multiple factors such as poor nutrition and exposure to pesticides can interact to weaken colonies and make them susceptible to a virus-mediated collapse. In the case of our experiments in greenhouses, the stress of being confined to a relatively small space could have been enough to make colonies succumb to IAPV and die with CCD-like symptoms.

It's like AIDS for bees...the lowered immunity doesn't kill directly but makes the bees more susceptible to other illness. One the techniques researchers used in investigating CDD is metagenomics. Instead of singling out an organism for analysis, they essentially mixed together a bunch of genetic material found in the bees (including any bacteria, virii, parasites, etc.) and sliced it up into small pieces that were individually deciphered. They went through those pieces one by one and assigned them to known organisms until they ran across something unusual.

The CSI-style investigation greatly expanded our general knowledge of honeybees. First, it showed that all samples (CCD and healthy) had eight different bacteria that had been described in two previous studies from other parts of the world. These findings strongly suggest that those bacteria may be symbionts, perhaps serving an essential role in bee biology such as aiding in digestion. We also found two nosema species, two other fungi and several bee viruses. But one bee virus stood out, as it had never been identified in the U.S.: the Israeli acute paralysis virus, or IAPV.

Almost freezing to death

What does it feel like to almost freeze to death? Probably something like this.

At 85 degrees, those freezing to death, in a strange, anguished paroxysm, often rip off their clothes. This phenomenon, known as paradoxical undressing, is common enough that urban hypothermia victims are sometimes initially diagnosed as victims of sexual assault. Though researchers are uncertain of the cause, the most logical explanation is that shortly before loss of consciousness, the constricted blood vessels near the body's surface suddenly dilate and produce a sensation of extreme heat against the skin.

But even if you are caught out in the cold long enough to paradoxically undress, not all hope is lost.

The lowest recorded core temperature in a surviving adult is 60.8 degrees. For a child it's lower: In 1994, a two-year-old girl in Saskatchewan wandered out of her house into a minus-40 night. She was found near her doorstep the next morning, limbs frozen solid, her core temperature 57 degrees. She lived.

Update: The frozen two-year-old was Karlee Kosolofski. In 2001, after the article above was written, a one-year-old clad only in a diaper was found frozen in a backyard.

She was clinically dead, and her heart stopped beating for about two hours. But doctors slowly warmed her body and started her heart again. The girl, nicknamed Miracle, made a complete recovery.

(thx, jason)

By Jason Kottke    Jun 4, 2009    science

The McGangBang

The McGangBang has to be one of the more American things I've ever seen. It's a McDonald's Double Cheeseburger with a McChicken sandwich crammed into it.

Let that soak in a bit before you actually view this piece of hideous gorgeousness. The best part is that it only costs $2.16.

By Jason Kottke    Mar 13, 2009    food   McDonalds

Amazing avalanche rescue video

A skier with a video camera on his helmet gets caught in an avalanche and then, four and a half minutes later, gets rescued. The good stuff starts around one minute in.

This was a decent sized avalanche. 1,500 feet the dude fell in a little over 20 seconds. The crown was about 1 - 1.5m. The chute that he got sucked through to the skier's right was flanked on either side by cliff bands that were about 30m tall. He luckily didn't break any bones and obviously didn't hit anything on the run out.

I had always assumed -- and this is likely based almost entirely on an episode of The Simpsons -- that you had options when buried by an avalanche...like digging yourself out or at least being able to move. Not so says the Utah Avalanche Center FAQ:

It doesn't matter which way is up. You can't dig yourself out of avalanche debris. It's like you are buried in concrete. Your friends must dig you out.

The FAQ contains a story by the director of the UAC about surviving an avalanche of his own; he confirms the concrete-like hardness of post-avalanche snow.

But after a long while, after I was about to pass out from lack of air, the avalanche began to slow down and the tumbling finally stopped. I was on the surface and I could breathe again. But as I bobbed along on the soft, moving blanket of snow, which had slowed from about 50 miles per hour to around 30, I discovered that my body was quite a bit denser than avalanche debris and it tended to sink if it wasn't swimming hard. [...] Eventually, the swimming worked, and when the avalanche finally came to a stop I found myself buried only to my waist, breathing hard, very wet and very cold.

I remembered from the avalanche books that debris instantly sets up like concrete as soon as it comes to a stop but its one of those facts that you don't entirely believe. But sure enough, everything below the snow surface was like a body cast. Barehanded, (the first thing an avalanche does is rip off your hat and mittens) I chipped away at the rock-hard snow with my shovel for a good 5 minutes before I could finally work my legs free.

By Jason Kottke    Oct 2, 2009    skiing   sports   video

Dance, Pete Campbell, dance!

Pete Campbell Dance

I could watch Pete Campbell dance all the day long. Pitch perfect acting by Vincent Kartheiser. (via this recording)

Errol Morris series finished up

Over on his NY Times blog, Errol Morris finishes up his excellent seven-part series on Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren. Here are the links to all seven parts: one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.

Oh, Tocqueville, you're the man

Maira Kalman tells a wonderfully illustrated story about democracy (and Salisbury steak).

Solitary social animals

Atul Gawande branches out from his usual excellent writing on medicine and turns his attention to solitary confinement in America's prison system. Gawande likens extended solitary time to torture.

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America's moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement-on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.

This likely will not change until Americans start to believe that rehabilitation and not punishment is the primary goal of prisons. So, probably never.

By Jason Kottke    Mar 24, 2009    Atul Gawande   crime   prison   torture   usa

Photo of Apollo 11's landing site

Speaking of the Moon, the LRO snapped a new picture of Apollo 11 landing site from its orbital perch 50km above the surface.

Apollo 11 LRO

Previously.

By Jason Kottke    Nov 13, 2009    Apollo   Apollo 11   Moon   NASA   space

Tropicana's poor redesign kills sales

In the month and a half after the awful redesign of their packaging, sales of Tropicana's Pure Premium orange juice dropped 20%. !!! Same juice, different package, 20% fewer sales.

Tropicana had certainly sought to create excitement around the Pure Premium rebrand, announcing Jan. 8 a "historic integrated-marketing and advertising campaign ... designed to reinforce the brand and product attributes, rejuvenate the category and help consumers rediscover the health benefits they get from drinking America's iconic orange-juice brand."

Who knows what the proper conclusions are to draw from all this. Did sales drop because glancing shoppers couldn't tell Tropicana from a generic store brand? Does this underscore the importance of good design? Or should we beware of what seems like good design but turns out to be a bunch of metaphorical subterfuge? Did PepsiCo do this on purpose, a la the New Coke conspiracy? Are people stupid because they focus more on orange juice packaging than the actual juice when making buying decisions? (via df)

By Jason Kottke    Apr 2, 2009    design   food   tropicana

How to steal $100 million in diamonds

Wired has a great account of what some have called "the heist of the century", the robbery of an Antwerp diamond vault thought to be impenetrable. The story was pieced together by reporter Joshua Davis from police reports and from talking to the thief who coordinated the whole thing. True or not, this is a fascinating read.

The Genius led them out the rear of the building into a private garden that abutted the back of the Diamond Center. It was one of the few places in the district that wasn't under video surveillance. Using a ladder he had previously hidden there, the Genius climbed up to a small terrace on the second floor. A heat-sensing infrared detector monitored the terrace, but he approached it slowly from behind a large, homemade polyester shield. The low thermal conductivity of the polyester blocked his body heat from reaching the sensor. He placed the shield directly in front of the detector, preventing it from sensing anything.

With the benefit of hindsight and after watching too many heist movies, the vault security is hilariously inadequate. Both the magnetic security system on the door and the main alarm system were both easily defeated by essentially short circuiting them with bits of metal, just as MacGyver might fool a window alarm with an aluminum chewing gum wrapper. (via waxy)

By Jason Kottke    Mar 13, 2009    crime   diamonds

Squeezing the lemon

What Makes Us Happy? asks Joshua Wolf Shenk in the June 2009 issue of The Atlantic. The article is a dual biography of two intertwined entities, a long-running study of 268 Harvard men and the study's long-time principal investigator, George Vaillant. The study was started as a way to determine how people lived successful lives. Valliant's main interpretation from decades of study is that how people respond or adapt to trouble correlates with their healthy aging.

At the bottom of the pile are the unhealthiest, or "psychotic," adaptations -- like paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania -- which, while they can serve to make reality tolerable for the person employing them, seem crazy to anyone else. One level up are the "immature" adaptations, which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. These aren't as isolating as psychotic adaptations, but they impede intimacy. "Neurotic" defenses are common in "normal" people. These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought); dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one's feelings); and repression, which, Vaillant says, can involve "seemingly inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a selected sense organ." The healthiest, or "mature," adaptations include altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship).

Shenk then goes on to evaluate Vaillant on his own terms, with some interesting results.

Alternate futures: the expressways of Manhattan

The architect Robert Stern once remarked, "Can you imagine an elevated expressway at 30th Street just so Long Island guys could get to New Jersey?" Robert Moses could. A pair of Google Maps of Manhattan were redrawn to include the Lower Manhattan Expressway and Mid Manhattan Expressway, two highways masterminded by Moses that would have cut across Manhattan through Soho and at 30th St., respectively.

Lower Manhattan Expressway

This was true for me, at least, while I was making these; Hand erasing buildings through SoHo, TriBeCa, and the LES was an eery experience as I tried to imagine what these places would really look like if my brush was a bulldozer.

More information on the Mid-Manhattan Expressway and the Lower Manhattan Expressway on NYCroads. (via migurski)

By Jason Kottke    Mar 25, 2009    cities   maps   NYC   remix   robertmoses

Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008

Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008 is a newspaper compiled and printed by a pair of fellows from the UK that is just that...a bunch of stuff that they liked reading on the web last year. I *love* this. And hate it (a little bit).

The hate part first. TOFHWOTI is almost precisely the thing I've been wanting to do for years now...take the very best of the best links of the year and bundle them up into a printed artifact of some sort. So seeing it done first and so expertly was a bit of a punch in the nose. Of course, ideas are so cheap and plentiful these days that "I thought of it first" has no value without follow through, something that my schedule for the past few years hasn't allowed for. This year, *for sure*, dammit! (I'm also pissed that I didn't get around to ordering a copy for myself until this morning and found that they're all sold out! Gah! Like I said, no time.)

But damn, is that thing beautiful or what? You don't even need the physical artifact to see that much. The simple but playful design is just right. Getting it printed super-cheap on newsprint fits nicely with the concept and content. All the little details are accounted for; I wouldn't change a thing. More like this, please.

By Jason Kottke    Jan 16, 2009    remix

Ricky Jay

Can you resist reading an article that starts off with an anecdote this interesting? I couldn't.

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher's named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

"Three of clubs," Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, "Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card."

After an interval of silence, Jay said, "That's interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time."

Mosher persisted: "Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card."

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, "This is a distinct change of procedure." A longer pause. "All right-what was the card?"

"Two of spades."

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

That's from a 1993 profile of Ricky Jay, who is probably more well known now for his acting (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Deadwood, The Spanish Prisoner, The Prestige) than his magic scholarship. Check out a couple of Jay's tricks on YouTube: Four Queens and Sword of Vengence. (via df)

By Jason Kottke    Aug 19, 2009    magic   movies   Ricky Jay

Cosmos on Hulu

The entire Cosmos series is available for free on Hulu, in 480p no less (US only). From the Wikipedia:

[Cosmos] covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe. The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, and was the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until 1990's The Civil War. It is still the most widely watched PBS series in the world. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 600 million people, according to the Science Channel.

(thx, sam)

By Jason Kottke    Mar 23, 2009    Carl Sagan   cosmos   Hulu   science   TV

Sand animation of Germany invading Ukraine

Kseniya Simonova won Ukraine's Got Talent 2009 competition with her dramatization of Germany's invasion of Ukraine during WWII, performed with sand on a giant lightbox. Sounds like the cheesiest thing, but this performance is amazing.

Watch until at least 1:06...that's when my mouth dropped open a bit. The entire audience was in tears by the end. (via @jessicadeva)

The short rise and deep fall of Todd Marinovich

Todd Marinovich was supposed to be the best quarterback of all time. Instead, his life got derailed by drugs and alcohol and even more drugs. His dad has to be the all-time worst sports parent in the history of horrible sports parents...it was difficult to get through page 2 without wanting to FedEx Marinovich Sr. a punch in the face.

For the nine months prior to Todd's birth on July 4, 1969, Trudi used no salt, sugar, alcohol, or tobacco. As a baby, Todd was fed only fresh vegetables, fruits, and raw milk; when he was teething, he was given frozen kidneys to gnaw. As a child, he was allowed no junk food; Trudi sent Todd off to birthday parties with carrot sticks and carob muffins. By age three, Marv had the boy throwing with both hands, kicking with both feet, doing sit-ups and pull-ups, and lifting light hand weights. On his fourth birthday, Todd ran four miles along the ocean's edge in thirty-two minutes, an eight-minute-mile pace. Marv was with him every step of the way.

Update: In 1988 Sports Illustrated ran an article about Marinovich while he was still in high school: Bred To Be A Superstar. (via josh)

The death of a block

Jim Griffioen took photos of every house on a block in Detroit where most of the houses are abandoned and stitched them into panoramas.

If you were to compare the current international housing crisis to a black hole sucking the equity out of our homes, this one-way street near the northern border of Detroit might just be the singularity: the point where the density of the problem defies anyone's ability to comprehend it. These homes started emptying in 2006.

(via greg.org)

Why the Phantom Menace sucks

I confess that I only had time this morning to watch the first 10 minutes, but from that viewing I can safely conclude that this is the best 70-minute video critique of The Phantom Menace that exists in the world. If the first 20 seconds don't get you, stick around until "protagonist". Or don't take my word for it; here's Lost's Damon Lindelof's reaction:

Your life is about to change. This is astounding film making. Watch ALL of it.

Part the first:

After watching the last 3-4 minutes of this first segment, I wanted to give Lucas a hug because I feel so bad for the guy for failing in public in such a huge way. (thx, scott)

By Jason Kottke    Dec 18, 2009    movies   Star Wars   video

CycloManiacs

CycloManiacs is Excitebike all grown up...it can drink alcohol and tie cherry stems in knots with its tongue. Warning: this is literally hours of fun. Hours.

Market Street, 1905

Man, lots of good stuff today. This is a film of a trip down Market Street in San Francisco taken in 1905 from the front of a streetcar. The array of driving styles and vehicles on display here is dazzling. (via justin blanton)

Amazing surfing video of Matt Meola

It is difficult to watch this video of Matt Meola surfing and not think of the evolution of skateboarding, particularly the transition between freestyle skating and the invention of vert in the empty swimming pools of southern California. Most of the stuff he does looks impossible. (via matt's a.whole)

Update: Gah, the video has been pulled offline for some reason. Here's another one, not quite as good. You can also try YouTube.

From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome)

Wow. With PhotoSketch, you just draw a sketch, label each item, like so:

Photosketch before

and then the system goes out, finds photos that match the sketched items and their labels, and automatically pastes it all together into one composite image:

Photosketch after

The site is down right now but the paper is available for download and this video gives you a taste of how it works:

Again, wow. (via migurski)

Update: I've seen many references to Photosketch saying that it has to be fake (here's a sampling). But it's pretty obviously real. For one thing, here's the source code; try it out (Windows only). It was presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2009; here's the listing of papers presented. The authors all have web pages on university sites and have published work using similar techniques and technology (Ping Tan and Ariel Shamir for example). And is what it does really that unbelievable? At the most basic level Photosketch is just find me a man that's sorta shaped like this, a dog that looks like this, and paste them together with a background that looks like this. That the results are so impressive (especially for a demo) is a testament to the team's execution and attention to the small details. Even if it turns out to be an elaborate hoax, I have no doubt that someone could actually build a working version of Photosketch...I mean, look at TinEye and Photosynth.

By Jason Kottke    Oct 6, 2009    photography   remix   video

The Trough of No Value

The Trough of No Value is the period in the lifetime of most objects between when they are new (and therefore valuable) and when they are old, rare, and collectable (and therefore valuable).

Who wanted to keep old lunchboxes around? They weren't useful any more. They weren't worth anything. And, since they were almost all used for their intended purpose, many were damaged or worn by use (I vaguely remember owning one that was rusty and had a dent). People naturally threw them away. The "trough of no value" for lunchboxes was long and harsh. That's why they're not so common today as you might guess -- because not that many made it through the trough.

My unsharpened NeXT pencil is still very much stuck in the trough, but I have endless patience. I hope to sell it for 75 cents someday. (thx, danny)

Management theory and The Office

In The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to "The Office" and the followup The Gervais Principle II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk, Venkatesh Rao dissects and analyzes the American version of The Office to a degree I hadn't thought was possible.

After four years, I've finally figured the show out. The Office is not a random series of cynical gags aimed at momentarily alleviating the existential despair of low-level grunts. It is a fully-realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore.

Even if you're only an occasional viewer of the show, this is worth reading through, especially if you work in an office environment. (thx, zach)

Composite NYC street scenes

Photographer Peter Funch spends weeks taking photos on Manhattan street corners and then pastes them together into single photographs.

Peter Funch

I should add this (and Matt Webb's 4D experiment) to my time merge media post. (via capn design)

Rare hour-long Alfred Hitchcock interview

In 1973, Tom Snyder interviewed Alfred Hitchcock for the Tomorrow Show. Thought to be lost, the whole thing is now up on YouTube after being transferred from a VHS tape. Here's part one:

To follow: part two, part three, part four, part five, and part six.

Missed connections, illustrated

I really like Sophie Blackall's illustrations of missed connections ads from Craiglist and other sites. The style reminds me a bit of Maira Kalman.

Sophie Blackall

If this were on Tumblr, she'd already have a book deal.

Update: About that book thing:

Ms. Blackall's whimsical drawings have also caught the attention of publishers: She says she's currently negotiating a deal to create a book of her illustrations, which would likely land on shelves sometime in the next year to 18 months.

The Referendum

Tim Kreider muses on people's changing relationships to each other as they grow older, specifically related to the choices that we've made in comparison to those around us.

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers' differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home.

This article resonated with me to an uncomfortable degree, especially this line from a James Salter novel:

For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox.

The Pale King, David Foster Wallace

Many of the readers of David Foster Wallace have been waiting for The New Yorker to cover the writer's life since his death last September, something more than the quick Talk of the Town piece by the fiction editor published shortly after his death, some of that "sprawling New Yorker shit" that possessed a certain kinship with Wallace's work. The March 9 issue follows through with two articles, one by Wallace and one on Wallace. The piece by Wallace is a chunk of the novel he left unfinished when he died. (More on that below.) The novel, entitled The Pale King, is about the transcendence that comes through boredom. I don't think Lane Dean is quite there yet:

Then he looked up, despite all best prior intentions. In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn't allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he'd have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he'd really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.

The Lane Dean character was featured once before in the New Yorker's pages, a second chunk of the novel published in 2007 as Good People.

The second piece, a profile of Wallace by D.T. Max that focuses on his writing, especially his struggles in pulling the fragments of The Pale King into something finished, is long and difficult to read at times. It's intimate; Max relies on interviews with Wallace's wife, family & editors, private correspondence between Wallace and his friends, and passages from this unfinished novel that, for a long time, Wallace didn't want anyone to read. It seems that anyone with $20 or a library card will get to read at least some of it after all.

From 1997 on, Wallace worked on a third novel, which he never finished -- the "Long Thing," as he referred to it with Michael Pietsch. His drafts, which his wife found in their garage after his death, amount to several hundred thousand words, and tell of a group of employees at an Internal Revenue Service center in Illinois, and how they deal with the tediousness of their work. The partial manuscript -- which Little, Brown plans to publish next year -- expands on the virtues of mindfulness and sustained concentration. Properly handled, boredom can be an antidote to our national dependence on entertainment, the book suggests.

The magazine also has an online feature that includes two scanned pages from The Pale King manuscript and some artwork from Karen Green, Wallace's wife, which is obviously biographical in nature. Hard to Fill, indeed.

Out to sea

I couldn't resist reading the entire story immediately after reading the synopsis:

Swept out to sea by a riptide, a father and his 12-year-old son struggle to stay alive miles from shore. As night falls, with no rescue imminent, the dad comes to a devastating realization: If they remain together, they'll drown together.

That was a really difficult story to read. I love the ocean but it also scares the absolute shit out of me.

By Jason Kottke    Nov 13, 2009   

Caster Semenya, something magnificent

Ariel Levy did a piece on runner Caster Semenya for the New Yorker this week. Semenya's competition eligibility is up in the air because the IAAF (the worldwide governing body for track and field) can't decide whether she is a woman or a man.

She didn't look like an eighteen-year-old girl, or an eighteen-year-old boy. She looked like something else, something magnificent.

Love that quote.

Songsmith, meet David Lee Roth

Songsmith is a piece of software by Microsoft Research that automatically creates a musical accompaniment to a singer's voice. (The intro video is priceless.) A MetaFilter member took David Lee Roth's vocal track from Runnin' With The Devil and put it through Songsmith...the results are pretty great. (thx, shay)

Letters of Note

Letters of Note is a blog that publishes important, unusual, and memorable letters.

Letters of Note is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and even emails. Scans/photos where possible. Fakes will be sneered at. Updated weekdays.

Here's a letter from Winston Churchill to his wife to be delivered in the event of his death in WWI and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping ransom note. Fantastic idea for a blog and well done too. Subscribed. (thx, felicia)

By Jason Kottke    Sep 14, 2009    weblogs

Game Boy bling

I am kind of in love with this photo.

Game Boy Bling

By Jason Kottke    Aug 14, 2009    fashion   Game Boy

The Wire Bible

This is quite a treat. Someone got ahold of some scripts from The Wire and posted them online. [Update: I've mirrored the files for convenience.]

Season 1, episode 1, "The Target"
Season 1, episode 9, "Game Day"
Season 5, episode 10, "-30-"

But the real gem is a document dated September 6, 2000 that appears to be David Simon's pitch to HBO for the show. The document starts with a description of the show.

The Wire Bible

Simon had the show nailed from the beginning. Near the end of the overview, he says:

But more than an exercise is realism for its own sake, the verisimilitude of The Wire exists to serve something larger. In the first story-arc, the episodes begin what would seem to be the straight-forward, albeit protracted, pursuit of a violent drug crew that controls a high-rise housing project. But within a brief span of time, the officers who undertake the pursuit are forced to acknowledge truths about their department, their role, the drug war and the city as a whole. In the end, the cost to all sides begins to suggest not so much the dogged police pursuit of the bad guys, but rather a Greek tragedy. At the end of thirteen episodes, the reward for the viewer -- who has been lured all this way by a well-constructed police show -- is not the simple gratification of hearing handcuffs click. Instead, the conclusion is something that Euripides or O'Neill might recognize: an America, at every level at war with itself.

The list of main characters contains a few surprises. McNulty was originally going to be named McCardle, Aaron Barksdale became Avon Barksdale, and the Stringer Bell character changed quite a bit.

STRINGY BELL - black, early forties, he is BARKSDALE's most trusted lieutenant, supervising virtually every aspect of the organization. He is older than BARKSDALE, and much more direct in his way, but nonetheless he is the No. 2. He has BARKSDALE's brutal sense of the world but not his polish. BELL is bright, but clearly a child of the projects he now controls.

The final section is entitled "BIBLE" and contains draft outlines of a nine-episode season. I didn't read it all, but the main story line is there, as are many plot details that made it into the actual first season. (thx, greg)

By Jason Kottke    Apr 16, 2009    David Simon   The Wire   TV

I Lego N.Y.

Christoph Niemann makes New York things out of Legos. Fresh pepper and Greenpoint are my faves.

Growing into womanhood

For his The Girl Studies project, Charlie White paired photographs of two groups of people becoming women in very different ways: teen girls and adult male-to-female transsexuals.

Charlie White

In the images in White's series, both figures are blossoming into womanhood, though each along a different path. As observers, however, we have been taught to view the subjects in much the same way: with sheer terror.

These are fascinating. (via bygone bureau)

Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculus

Using Michael Vick as a pivot, Malcolm Gladwell compares professional football with dogfighting and asks if the former is just as morally unacceptable as the latter. This is former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley:

I remember, every season, multiple occasions where I'd hit someone so hard that my eyes went cross-eyed, and they wouldn't come uncrossed for a full series of plays. You are just out there, trying to hit the guy in the middle, because there are three of them. You don't remember much. There are the cases where you hit a guy and you'd get into a collision where everything goes off. You're dazed. And there are the others where you are involved in a big, long drive. You start on your own five-yard line, and drive all the way down the field-fifteen, eighteen plays in a row sometimes. Every play: collision, collision, collision. By the time you get to the other end of the field, you're seeing spots. You feel like you are going to black out. Literally, these white explosions-boom, boom, boom-lights getting dimmer and brighter, dimmer and brighter.

Perhaps this is what Gladwell will be talking about at the upcoming New Yorker Festival?

Update: From Stephen Fatsis, a list of improvements for the NFL players union to consider to protect the health of the players.

N.F.L. players often get excellent medical treatment, but the primary goal is to return them to the field as quickly as possible. Players are often complicit in playing down the extent of their injuries. Fearful of losing their jobs -- there are no guaranteed contracts in the N.F.L. -- they return to the huddle still hurt.

And from GQ comes a profile of Bennet Omalu, one of the few doctors investigating the fate of these NFL players.

Let's say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let's say the scientific community -- starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country -- comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Update: Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the NFL's handling of head trauma in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today.

Goodell faced his harshest criticism from Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, who called for Congress to revoke the league's antitrust exemption because of its failure to care adequately for injured former players. "I believe you are an $8 billion organization that has failed in your responsibility to the players," Waters said. "We all know it's a dangerous sport. Players are always going to get injured. The only question is, are you going to pay for it? I know that you dearly want to hold on to your profits. I think it's the responsibility of Congress to look at your antitrust exemption and take it away."

Update: The NFL will soon require players with head injuries to receive advice from independent neurologists.

How an American soldier is made

The Denver Post followed high school graduate Ian Fischer as he enlisted in the Army, went through training, left for Iraq, and returned home; the photos tell quite a story.

Waves in slow motion

Absolutely gorgeous slow motion HD video of a large wave from under the water...you can clearly see the intricate and powerful architecture of the wave.

Nice surfing shot too...but the wave is mesmerizing.

By Jason Kottke    May 8, 2009    sports   surfing   video   water

One pig, 185 different products

PIG 05049 by Christien Meindertsma recently won the 2009 Index Award in the Play category. This book looks amazing.

05049 was an actual pig, raised and slaughtered on a commercial farm in the Netherlands. Rotterdam designer Christien Meindertsma was shocked to discover that she could document 185 products contributed to by the animal.

Meindertsma's design includes the publication of her book, PIG 05049, which charts and pictures each of the products supported by the animal. The surprise is in the fact that elements of production contributed to by pig farming include not only predictable foodstuffs -- pork chops and bacon -- but far less expected non-food items: ammunition, train brakes, automobile paint, soap and washing powder, bone china, cigarettes.

PIG 05049

The caption on the page reads:

Fatty acids derived from pork bone fat are used as a hardening agent in crayons and also gives them their distinctive smell.

Crayons smell like pig bone fat. I don't think I'll use crayons ever again without thinking of that little factoid.

See also I, Pencil. Nobody knows how to make a pencil and nobody knows where all the parts of a pig go either. (via design observer)

The making of The Godfather

A fascinating article from the March 2009 issue of Vanity Fair describes how The Godfather got made, even though the producers, the real-life Mafia, Frank Sinatra, and Paramount executives all fought against it.

The studio executives wanted Laurence Olivier, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, Carlo Ponti, or Danny Thomas to play Don Corleone. Anyone but Brando, who, at 47, was perceived as poison. His recent pictures had been flops, and he was overweight, depressed, and notorious for causing overruns and making outrageous demands. WILL NOT FINANCE BRANDO IN TITLE ROLE, the suits in New York cabled the filmmakers. DO NOT RESPOND. CASE CLOSED.

But Coppola fought hard for him, and finally the executives agreed to consider Brando on three conditions: he would have to work for no money up front (Coppola later got him $50,000); put up a bond for any overruns caused by him; and-most shocking of all-submit to a screen test. Wisely, Coppola didn't call it that when he contacted Brando. Saying that he just wanted to shoot a little footage, he arrived at the actor's home one morning with some props and a camera.

Brando emerged from his bedroom in a kimono, with his long blond hair in a ponytail. As Coppola watched through the camera lens, Brando began a startling transformation, which he had worked out earlier in front of a mirror. In Coppola's words, "You see him roll up his hair in a bun and blacken it with shoe polish, talking all the time about what he's doing. You see him rolling up Kleenex and stuffing it into his mouth. He'd decided that the Godfather had been shot in the throat at one time, so he starts to speak funny. Then he takes a jacket and rolls back the collar the way these Mafia guys do." Brando explained, "It's the face of a bulldog: mean-looking but warm underneath."

Coppola took the test to Bluhdorn. "When he saw it was Brando, he backed away and said, 'No! No!'" But then he watched Brando become another person and said, "That's amazing." Coppola recalls, "Once he was sold on the idea, all of the other executives went along."

Forever young

Known as The Great Zucchini, Eric Knaus makes $100,000 a year with a two-day work week entertaining children in the Washington DC area. He's got a knack with kids.

The Great Zucchini actually does magic tricks, but they are mostly dime-store novelty gags -- false thumbs to hide a handkerchief, magic dust that turns water to gel -- accompanied by sleight of hand so primitive your average 8-year-old would suss it out in an instant. That's one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers' world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can't find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

He's also got a gambling problem and can't keep anything else in his life organized. I know it's long, but this article is fascinating.

First days in New York

New York magazine has a great feature where they asked well-known New Yorkers about their first days in New York City. I could read these all day. Some of my favorite bits follow. Keith Hernandez, after the Mets won the 86 World Series:

It's one thing to become a New Yorker; it's so much weirder to become a New Yorker that all the other New Yorkers know.

Lauren Hutton wasn't going to stay in NYC at all:

I was supposed to meet a friend in New York, and we were going to take a tramp steamer to Tangier. It was going to cost $140. Once I got there, my plan was to take a bus for ten cents to the outskirts of town and see elephants and rhinoceroses and giraffes. I was as ignorant as a telephone pole.

Richie Rich (this one, not that one):

The first night I moved here, I met Madonna. She walked up to me at the opening of Club USA with a lollipop and a beer, and she was like, "Hmmm, you look cute." And I was like, "You're Madonna!" I'm like, This is New York. Wow.

Danny Meyer eventually realized he should be in the food business:

I entertained all the time, hosting lovely brunches where I would go out and source the best cheeses and pates I could find, which was a big deal for a 22-year-old back then.

Nick Denton moved here from San Francisco:

I finally decided to come here after 9/11. The foreign press was full of love letters to New York. Writers like Martin Amis were waking up and thinking, "Oh my God, we almost lost it!" I know it sounds sentimental, but no one would ever write a love letter to San Francisco.

My wife and I decided to move here after a visit in early 2002, which visit was influenced by some of the same writing Nick refers to. All these people writing so passionately about a place, it must be pretty special. We decided to check it out. But more specifically, we moved here so that Meg could start a company with Nick.

While the company didn't work out so well, moving here was one of the best decisions we've ever made. We picked the smallest apartment on the fifth floor of the crappiest building on one of the best blocks in NYC. I sporadically freelanced for Gawker and a few other companies but didn't find a full-time job until about 6 months in. But a pleasant walk home down tree-lined streets, good light into our small bedroom, an apartment layout suited perfectly to our furniture, and the intense immensity of the city made all the difference.

Update: Ricky Van Veen shares his story about moving to NYC. Great story.

Everything was still new and exciting to us. Your first year in New York is great because there's so much you think you and your friends discovered, like "a great little burger place called Corner Bistro" or "the best corn in the world at this place Cafe Habana."

Ha! Meg and I discovered "these great cupcakes at this place called The Magnolia Bakery" shortly after moving here.

I met one of Ricky's partners, Zach Klein, through Nick Denton (him again!); we had brunch together one Satuday morning shortly before their New Yorker piece ran. The meal probably couldn't have gone much worse. I'd just had all four of my wisdom teeth pulled the day before, so I was all bloody and jacked up on Vicodin, trying to eat salad even though I don't care for it very much and wasn't that hungry anyway, and wondering why in the hell Nick wanted me to meet this guy who ran a joke and boobs site for college kids. After recovering my health and senses, I eventually met Ricky, Josh, and Jakob and got to go to a couple of those fantastic parties. The cabinet of crystal was indeed weird. (thx, andy)

By Jason Kottke    Apr 24, 2009    NYC

Planning for a million years

BLDGBLOG has a fascinating interview with geoscientist Abraham Van Luik about how to confine nuclear waste for 1,000,000 years at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. One of the problems is keeping people away from the site in the far future:

We have looked very closely at what WIPP is doing -- the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. They did a study with futurists and other people-sociologists and language specialists. They decided to come up with markers in seven languages, basically like a Rosetta Stone, with the idea that there will always be someone in the world who studies ancient languages, even 10,000 years from now, someone who will be able to resurrect what the meanings of these stelae are. They will basically say, "This is not a place of honor, don't dig here, this is not good material," etc.

Physics doesn't apply to much of the universe

In response to John Brockman's Edge Annual Question for 2009:

What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

Stuart Kauffman says that we'll come to believe that much of the universe cannot be explained by or reduced to the fundamental laws of physics.

Let me point to the Adjacent Possible of the biosphere. Once there were lung fish, swim bladders were in the Adjacent Possible of the biosphere. Before there were multicelled organisms, the swim bladder was not in the Adjacent Possible of the biosphere. Something wonderful is happening right in front of us: When the swim bladder arose it was of selective advantage in its context. It changed what was Actual in the biosphere, which in turn created a new Adjacent Possible of the biosphere. The biosphere self consistently co-constructs itself into its every changing, unstatable Adjacent Possible.

If the becoming of the swim bladder is partially lawless, it certainly is not entailed by the fundamental laws of physics, so cannot be deduced from physics. Then its existence in the non-ergodic universe requires an explanation that cannot be had by that missing entailment. The universe is open.

(via david galbraith)

Balloon animal coitus

This is NSFW if very squeaky balloon animal sex is not safe to view at your workplace. Unsafe perhaps, but hilarious. (via siege, also NSFW)

By Jason Kottke    Jan 15, 2009    NSFW   sex   video

Bird photos

Andrew Zuckerman's photos of birds are flat-out incredible.

African Fish Eagle

That handsome fellow is the African Fish Eagle. The images are collected in a book called Bird.

The Selby

Every few weeks, I visit The Selby, an online collection of "photographs, paintings and videos by Todd Selby of interesting people in creative spaces", and spend way too much time clicking around, even on stuff that I've already seen. There are many magazines and sites -- Dwell, Domino, Apartment Therapy, etc. -- that run photographs of people and the spaces they live in, but those on The Selby feel more intimate and true to life; you get the feeling that Selby knows most of the people he features. Two of my favorite photos are Dustin Yellin and his huge printing machine:

The Selby

and this lovely photo of Celestine Cooney and Harry Malt.

Update: Timely New York magazine interview with Todd Selby about The Selby.

Beep baseball

Beep baseball is the classic American pastime adapted for the blind and visually impaired. In order to appreciate the athleticism of the game, and the fun that most sighted folks are missing, here's a video of beep baseball in action.

The ball used contains a beeping device that is loud enough to aid in sightless location. The six players on the field are helped by a sighted pitcher, who announces "pitch" or "ball" as they toss to a sighted catcher. Batters are allowed four strikes and one pass, but the fourth swing must be a clear, defined miss. The game has six innings, the standard three outs per inning, and two bases, not three. Baseball's traditional tile-like bases are replaced with padded cylinders that stand four feet tall and give off a distinct buzz once activated. The batter doesn't know which base will be activated, but must run to whichever sounds, tackling the base before defense has a chance to field the ball. If the runner makes it in time, a run is scored. Two sighted "spotters" also play the field and call out which direction the ball has headed using a system based on numbers assigned to each outfielder. Spotters can only announce one number, and the outfielders must communicate with each other to locate the ball. Cheering is discouraged because it interferes with play.

Update: A recent article from the Wall Street Journal documented the West Coast Dogs and their quest to win the World Series of beep baseball.

(thx jesse)

By Ainsley Drew    Oct 2, 2009    baseball   sports

An actual long photo

Simon Hoegsberg has taken a photo that's 100 meters long. It's actually several dozen photos stitched together into one big one. A good idea nicely executed. (thx, everyone)

Video mixtape

Somehow Ricardo Autobahn has constructed a coherent mix-video song from all sorts of movie and TV clips. It's just flat-out awesome; watch it:

See also Christian Marclay. (via fimoculous)

By Jason Kottke    Nov 9, 2009    movies   music   remix   Ricardo Autobahn   video

Watching them swim

Get your Wednesday started off on the right foot: load this video up in HD, full-screen, let it buffer, and then just watch for awhile. You'll feel right as the mail.

The main tank [at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan] called the "Kuroshio Sea" holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world's second largest acrylic glass panel, measuring 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters with a thickness of 60 centimeters. Whale sharks and manta rays are kept amongst many other fish species in the main tank.

This tank is the second largest aquarium tank in the world.

Update: From the same aquarium: Jellyfish.

By Jason Kottke    Jul 22, 2009    video

Transparent brilliance

Michael Paterniti penned a lovely eulogy for Bobby Fischer, the former chess champion who died last year.

This was the beauty of Bobby Fischer's mind, even then. The boy made very clean, simple lines out of very complex problems, and when the trap was sprung, his style of chess became so transparent you could instantly recognize its brilliance: efficient, organic, wildly responsive and creative.

Also worth a look is a short 1957 profile of Fischer in the New Yorker, written a few weeks after he won the US title at 14. (via snarkmarket)

Was this review helpful to you?

Jared Spool reveals that a simple yes/no question added to Amazon's site brought in an additional $2.7 billion in revenue.

Amazon had reviews from the very first day. It's always been a feature that customers love. (Many non-customers talk about how they check out the reviews on Amazon first, then buy the product someplace else.) Initially, the review system was purely chronological. The designers didn't account for users entering hundreds or thousands of reviews.

For small numbers, chronology works just fine. However, it quickly becomes unmanageable. (For example, anyone who discovers an established blog may feel they've come in at the middle of a conversation, since only the most recent topics are presented first. It seems as if the writer assumed the readers had read everything from the beginning.)

The reviews of reviews are really helpful when buying. Personally, I always check out four types of reviews on Amazon in roughly this order:

1) most helpful/highest rated, 2) most helpful/lowest rated, 3) least helpful/highest rated, 4) least helpful/lowest rated

Sometimes reading a really negative review which many people think is spectacularly wrong can help make a useful buying decision.

See also the $300 million button and Cynical-C's new series on one-star reviews of classic books, movies, and music: To Kill a Mockingbird and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. (via designnotes)

Update: There is also the Billion Dollar HTML Tag.

This phenomenon is best illustrated by a single design tweak to the Google search results page in 2000 that Mayer calls "The Billion Dollar HTML Tag." Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page asked Mayer to assess the impact of adding a column of text ads in the right-hand column of the results page. Could this design, which at the time required an HTML table, be implemented without the slower page load time often associated with tables?

Mayer consulted the W3C HTML specs and found a tag (the "align=right" table attribute) that would allow the right-hand table to load before the search results, adding a revenue stream that has been critical to Google's financial success.

Patterns in a morass of historical materials

Errol Morris returns to his NY Times blog with a five-part story about a photograph found in the hands of an unknown Union army soldier who died at Gettysburg. Start with part one. A description of the photograph made it into the newspaper and the identity of the man was pretty quickly discovered. But the story hardly ends there. My favorite part so far is the fourth, particularly the conversation between Morris and one of the unknown soldier's descendants, archaeologist David Kelley.

Bendy map of Manhattan

This is a little bit brilliant. Here and There are a pair of maps of Manhattan that start from an on-the-street viewpoint and curl up as you gaze uptown or downtown until you see the rest of the island from a traditional "flat map" view.

As the model bends from sideways to top-down in a smooth join, more distant parts of the city are revealed in plan view. The projection connects the viewer's local environment to remote destinations normally out of sight.

Prints are available. This is like a 3-D version of the spider maps for London buses, in which a local street grid relays information about the immediate vicinity while the surrounding schematic shows connections to the rest of the system.

Update: Jack Schulze explains the influences behind the maps. (via waxy)

Update: Ooh, these science illustrations from NISE use a similar technique to simultaneously show the internal and external structure of their subjects.

These illustrations show familiar objects across ten orders of magnitude-from familiar aspects down to the level of their constituent atoms. Vast scale differences are usually shown through separate images (e.g., the Eames' Powers of Ten). This illustration employs the artistic convention of perspective-typically used by landscape painters-to show multiple scales in one frame.

(thx, matt)

By Jason Kottke    May 1, 2009    jackschulze   London   maps   NYC

The Informant

The Informant (Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon) is out in theaters now. I had no idea it was based on a true story...a genuinely crazy true story of corporate price fixing, FBI informants, and an eager-to-please executive. Kurt Eichenwald wrote a series of article about the case for The New York Times, which he fashioned into a book. This American Life devoted an entire hour to this story back in 2000...it's a fascinating listen.

We hear from Kurt Eichenwald, whose book The Informant is about the price fixing conspiracy at the food company ADM, Archer Daniels Midland, and the executive who cooperated with the FBI in recording over 250 hours of secret video and audio tapes, probably the most remarkable videotapes ever made of an American company in the middle of a criminal act.

Carl Sagan Auto-Tune (feat. Stephen Hawking)

Maybe you're tired of un-pop-music-like things being run through Auto-Tune, but I'm not quite there yet. This Auto-Tuned Carl Sagan mix is very nearly sublime.

Hudson River plane crash

A US Airways plane bound for Charlotte just crashed into the Hudson River after aborting its takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. It's still sitting in the river, slowly sinking with people standing on the wings being rescued by ferries. Photos on Flickr.

Plane Crash

Update: Ferry rescue swarm. Very close-up photo of people standing on the wings waiting for rescue by Janis Krums.

Update: Here's a screenshot from a flight tracker showing the altitude of the flight....1800, 2800, 3200, 2000, 1600, 1200, 1300, 400, 300... The flight tracker has since taken the data offline.

Update: Reports are that everyone is OK. !!! Here's a nautical chart of the area in question showing the dept to be around 50 feet.

Update: Some media coverage at NY Times, CNN, and Gothamist. From the CNN article:

The plane approached the water at a gradual angle and made a big splash, according to a witness watching from an office building. "It wasn't going particularly fast. It was a slow contact with the water that it made," said the witness, Ben Vonklemperer. "It appeared not to have landing gear engaged. This was bigger than a puddle-jumper or sea plane. It was a silver aircraft and it basically just hit the water," Vonklemperer added.

Update: They're saying it's a bird strike...sounds like a bird got sucked into an engine? Here's another photo of people standing on the wings, waiting for rescue.

Update: Looks like they got everyone off and that the plane is sitting quite a bit lower in the water.

Plane Crash

Gothamist reports that the plane is being towed to Chelsea Piers.

Update: The NY Times has this helpful map:

Plane Crash Map

Also, an office mate (from Buzzfeed) just got back from checking out the plane and he said by the time he got to the river, the plane had past Christopher St. and when he left, it was pretty close to Canal St. and "moving amazingly fast". (thx, scott)

Update: Another Flickr set of the plane floating in the river.

Update: Maybe this is what the crash looked like?

Wikipedia notes that water landings where everyone survives aren't all that unusual, although this seems like a larger plane than most of the others noted.

In 1963, an Aeroflot Tupolev 124 ditched into the River Neva after running out of fuel. The aircraft floated and was towed to shore by a tugboat which it had nearly hit as it came down on the water. The tug rushed to the floating aircraft and pulled it with its passengers near to the shore where the passengers disembarked onto the tug; all 52 on board escaped without injuries. Survival rate was 100%

The flight details on FlightAware are back up. (thx, jesse)

Update: Here's a brief video of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 which crashed in the Indian Ocean after being hijacked and running out of fuel.

125 out of 175 passengers died.

Update: On the always-timely MetaFilter, a bird strike researcher has some interesting things to say.

The first recorded birdstrike happened in 1908 to Orville Wright, no more than a few months after the first powered planeflights.

Surely years and not months... (thx, mike)

A live shot on the TV just now (6:00pm) reveals that the plane is now down at the Battery and they look like they're trying to secure it or haul it out of the water (likely the former).

Update: A blogger at i'm not sayin, i'm just sayin mapped the plane's location leading up to the crash using the info from FlightAware. Does anyone want to bang out a quick 3-D version in Google Earth that shows altitude as well?

By Jason Kottke    Jan 15, 2009    flying   NYC

kottke.org

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