This is a guide to the famous Lorne of the Rings trilogy of movies. All your favorite characters are here, from Samsclub Gunjeans to Starman to Flowbee the Haddock to Aerosmith, daughter of Lord Efron to Gumball, son of Groin.
This is one of those that goes from "oh how can this predictable thing actually be funny" to "oh my pants are wet because I peed in them because laughing" very quickly. (via waxy)
How massive are they? The Sun is 1 solar mass and as wide as 109 Earths. Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, weighs 4.3 million solar masses and is as wide as Mercury is far from the Sun. The black hole at the center of the Phoenix Cluster is one of the largest known black holes in the Universe; it's 73 billion miles across, which is 19 times larger than our entire solar system (from the Sun to Pluto). As for how much it weighs, check this out:
I also like that if you made the Earth into a black hole, it would be the size of a peanut. (thx, reidar)
Are your palms dry? Do you wish they were soaked with sweat right now? Then you should definitely watch Spencer Seabrooke walk on a slack line across a 210-foot gap almost 1000 feet in the air without any ropes or safety harnesses.
I mean, Jesus. (via devour)
Polari was a secret slang language spoken by gay men in England so that they could converse together in public without fear of arrest. It fell into disuse in the 1960s, but this short film by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston features a conversation conducted entirely in Polari.
This Slate article has more on the film and Polari.
Of all the cultural forms that gay men have created and elaborated since coalescing into a social group around the late 19th century, Polari, a full-fledged gay English dialect with roots among circus folk, sailors, and prostitutes, has to be one of the most fascinating-not least since it has faded along with the need for discretion and secrecy. While some words remain in common use-zhush or zhoosh (to adjust or embellish something to make it more pleasing) and trade (highly masculine or straight-acting sex partners) come to mind -- the richness that we know once defined Polari is difficult to capture in 2015.
Bellerby & Co. Globemakers are one of the world's last remaining makers of globes by hand. Their Instagram account is chock full of their handiwork.
If I could afford it (£2000!), I'd get The Livingstone globe in Prussian blue. Beautiful and wonderful craftsmanship.
From the developer of Crossy Road (aka Infinite Frogger) comes Pac-Man 256, a Pac-Man game with an infinite board that gets eaten from below by the kill screen glitch from the 256th level of the original game. I love riffs on old school video games like this, and the infinite board is a particularly clever one.1 Here's what the gameplay looks like:
I'm sure everyone is used to this by now (which is sad) but be warned that Pac-Man 256 is one of those games that encourages you to watch ads to level up more quickly or to continue when you're out of credits...and then to buy more credits as an IAP when you're out of ads to watch. There's an option to buy unlimited credits for $7.99, but still. I understand the economics of the situation and why they do it this way, but it just feels so hostile to the player. I want to wholeheartedly recommend this game because the gameplay is so fun, but it feels like you're constantly wading through a little bit of raw sewage to play it. Which, apparently I don't mind doing, wading through sewage. :(
Update: Echoing several similar comments on Twitter, John Gruber writes:
Unlike Kottke, I think the option to buy unlimited "credits" with a one-time $7.99 in-app purchase is a fair deal. Think of it as an $8 game that you can optionally play for free if you're willing to watch ads. That's a good price for a great game.
$8 is a more than fair price. But the option to buy unlimited credits is difficult to find in the game (you need to run out of credits first and then click the "Play" button anyway) and it doesn't tell you exactly what you're getting for your $8. What I want is never to see an ad ever in the game, but I don't actually think that's what it is. Paying full price for a game shouldn't involve hide n' seek.
But the bigger issue for me is how the game, and many many others in the App Store, feels: icky. Like used car salesman icky. Drug dealer icky. Depressing casino icky. The way the game presents itself, the developers seemingly want one thing: your money. Do they want me to have a good time playing the game? Eh, maybe? I don't know, it just seems really cynical to me, like a game built by a bank instead of people that love gaming or Pac-Man.
I really *really* wish the App Store had a trial period option available for apps. 20 minutes into Pac-Man 256 and I would have ponied up $8-10, no problem. I suspect App Store users would love this feature but game developers would hate it because using ads and casino tactics to upsell in your app makes a lot more money than straight sales.
After 11 years, the WireTap radio show is coming to an end. As a farewell, they put together a video of people giving advice to their younger counterparts.
Training wheels are for babies. Just let go already.
This video is magical...give it 20 seconds and you can't help but watch the whole thing. (via a cup of jo)
All the terminology on fancy restaurant menus can be overwhelming. From Judy Wu at Gaper's Block, a glossary of common menu items and terms.
Gluten-Free: This dish contains a small trace of gluten, but a full dollop of bullshit.
Duck Fat: Duck fat fries, rillette, popcorn, confit, Brussels sprouts -- never skip this menu item.
Amish: This chicken was raised without electricity and fear.
From illustrator @takumitoxin, a wonderful rendering of the events of Mad Max: Fury Road in the style of an ancient Egyptian painting.
Fury Road is out on Blu-ray today (and streaming). This movie was the perfect summer entertainment.
The best way to get me to click on something is to label it "Michael Jordan Rookie Year Highlights".
What a time capsule. (via devour)
Here's your workday sorted, then: every studio album Wilco has recorded, all in one go.
(Except, for some reason, the tracks from 2011's The Whole Love are unavailable on the compilation even though that whole album is available elsewhere on Rdio. Music licensing/promotion makes zero sense.)
From Mark Christian, a selection of deliciously pun-filled food truck name ideas. Some favorites:
Get Quiche Or Die Tryin'
What About Kebab?
Planet of the Crepes
Naan Disclosure Agreement
Entrée the Giant
What are you doing today Jason? Oh not much just exploring Mars. The hell you say. Like fun I am! NASA has released a pair of web apps: one lets you drive Curiosity around the surface of Mars and the other is a 3D visualization of the planet. Oh cool that's what I'm doing today now too. And when you're done with that, follow NASA's new Tumblr. Far out man.
The Wolfpack is a documentary that follows the six Angulo brothers, whose father kept them sequestered (along with their sister and mother) inside a four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for fourteen years because he thought the city unsafe, allowing only annual or semi-annual trips outside. The boys' only access to the outside world was through movies, which they recreated in their tiny apartment. The trailer:
With no friends and living on welfare, they feed their curiosity, creativity, and imagination with film, which allows them to escape from their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Everything changes when one of the brothers escapes, and the power dynamics in the house are transformed. The Wolfpack must learn how to integrate into society without disbanding the brotherhood.
They did not mess around when it came to their filmmaking...this is a surprisingly realistic Batman costume made out of cereal boxes and yoga mats:
The Wolfpack won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year, and the brothers made a few videos to thank the festival for their prize. Here are the Clerks and The Usual Suspects thank yous:
They also filmed a scene from one of their favorite movies of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel:
The Wolfpack was out in US theaters earlier this summer and is now on Amazon Instant...I think I'm going to watch this tonight. (via @quinto_quarto)
Netflix made big news by increasing its maternity and paternity leave to a year. But in a really interesting piece, The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara provides some historical and economic background and makes the case why not all paid family leave regulations should be left up to private employers:
Among the earners of the highest wages, twenty-two per cent have access to paid family leave, while among the lowest earners, only four per cent do. It turns out that a disparity exists even within Netflix.
Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.
Larry Lessig is raising funds for running for President in the 2016 election. Lessig would run as a "referendum president", whose single task would be to pass a package of reforms called the Citizens Equality Act of 2017, and then resign to allow his Vice President to take over.
The Citizens Equality Act of 2017 consists of three parts: make it as easy as possible to vote, end the gerrymandering of political districts, and base campaign funding on all eligible voters, not just corporations or the wealthy.
Four years ago, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks told Netroots Nation, "There is only one issue in this country," and he was referring to the corrupt funding of public elections.
That corruption is part of a more fundamental inequality that we've allowed the politicians to create: we don't have a Congress that represents us equally.
Every issue - from climate change to gun safety, from Wall Street reform to defense spending - is tied to this "one issue." Achieving citizens equality in America is our one mission.
Read why he wants to run and watch his pitch:
This is a long shot (and he likely knows it), but I wish him well...it's a worthy and important goal.
NASA's original logo looked something like this:
It was referred to, colloquially, as the meatball. In the 1970s, the meatball was switched out for the worm, a more Modernist take:
This logo was done by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, and Danne wrote an essay about the experience.
And here is one of the most interesting exchanges I've ever witnessed in a design presentation:
Fletcher: "I'm simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing."
Low: "Well yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A."
Fletcher: "Yes, and that bothers me."
Fletcher: (long pause) "I just don't feel we are getting our money's worth!"
Others, not just the designers were stunned by this last comment. Then the discussion moved back to the strong red/rust color we were proposing. We had tried many other colors of course, including the more predictable blue range, but settled on red because it suggested action and animation. It seemed in spirit with the Can Do nature of the Space Agency.
Fletcher: And this color, red, it doesn't make much sense to me."
Low: "What would be better?"
Fletcher: "Blue makes more sense... Space is blue."
Low: "No Dr. Fletcher, Space is black!"
NASA's Graphics Standards Menu utilizing the worm logo can be seen here.
The space agency switched back to the original logo in 1992. Michael Bierut compared the two:
The worm is a great-looking word mark and looked fantastic on the spacecraft. By any objective measure, the worm was and is absolutely appropriate, and the meatball was and is an amateurish mess.
Jez Burrows is writing short stories composed of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary. Here's a story called Noir; the underlined words are those from which the example sentences are drawn:
The midnight hours. The rain had not stopped for days. A stranger slowly approached from the shadows. The walls threw back the echoes of his footsteps. His voice was low and shaky with emotion. A day's growth of unshaven stubble on his chin. He took an envelope from his inside pocket. Her alabaster cheeks flushed with warmth, high cheekbones powdered with freckles. "We should talk somewhere less public." She grabbed him by the shirt collar. "We're going to settle this here and now." He drew a deep, shuddering breath. Chest pains. A trickle of blood. She was smiling. "I got all dolled up for a party."
As something of an expert on the topic, I thought this New York Magazine piece about spending time alone in the Big Apple is pretty good. The opening of the piece gets at why busy, crowded NYC is actually a good place for an introvert to be:
Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift -- and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. "Every form of human expressiveness is on display," Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, "and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish."
And this tip on the Empire State Building is one for the ol' bucket list:
A lot of people don't know this, but the Empire State Building is open until 2 a.m. The last elevator leaves at 1:15. If you go up then, it's empty, it's beautiful, and the city sounds like the ocean.
....and it still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo.
So why are we doing this now? Once upon a time, Google was one destination that you reached from one device: a desktop PC. These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices-sometimes all in a single day. You expect Google to help you whenever and wherever you need it, whether it's on your mobile phone, TV, watch, the dashboard in your car, and yes, even a desktop!
Today we're introducing a new logo and identity family that reflects this reality and shows you when the Google magic is working for you, even on the tiniest screens. As you'll see, we've taken the Google logo and branding, which were originally built for a single desktop browser page, and updated them for a world of seamless computing across an endless number of devices and different kinds of inputs (such as tap, type and talk).
Update: The design team shares how they came up with the new logo.
Update: When I said that Google's new logo "still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo", this is pretty much what I meant.
Gymboree's identity (1993-2000) vs. Google's new identity (Sep 01, 2015)
In Rolling Stone, Eric Holthaus writes that as far as climate change is concerned, we are already past the point of no return. The things climate scientists have warned against are already beginning to happen...and faster than predicted.
Hansen's new study also shows how complicated and unpredictable climate change can be. Even as global ocean temperatures rise to their highest levels in recorded history, some parts of the ocean, near where ice is melting exceptionally fast, are actually cooling, slowing ocean circulation currents and sending weather patterns into a frenzy. Sure enough, a persistently cold patch of ocean is starting to show up just south of Greenland, exactly where previous experimental predictions of a sudden surge of freshwater from melting ice expected it to be. Michael Mann, another prominent climate scientist, recently said of the unexpectedly sudden Atlantic slowdown, "This is yet another example of where observations suggest that climate model predictions may be too conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding."
Since storm systems and jet streams in the United States and Europe partially draw their energy from the difference in ocean temperatures, the implication of one patch of ocean cooling while the rest of the ocean warms is profound. Storms will get stronger, and sea-level rise will accelerate. Scientists like Hansen only expect extreme weather to get worse in the years to come, though Mann said it was still "unclear" whether recent severe winters on the East Coast are connected to the phenomenon.
You might also like to read Adam Sobel's reaction to this piece. As I wrote in reaction to James Hansen's recent paper: "That's the thing about nonlinear systems like the Earth's climate: things happen gradually, then suddenly."
Update: A group of climate scientists at Climate Feedback analyzed Holthaus' piece at his request for accuracy.
While the information within the article is mostly accurate, the main issue for scientists is the article's framing of the information. More specifically, the article implicitly attributes many weather events to human-induced climate change, while the influence of human activity on these events is not always supported by science, or is at the frontier of scientific knowledge and still debated.
My commute these days doesn't lend itself to listening to headphones and I can't listen to anything with words while I work, so I don't listen to many podcasts. But I've been driving more than usual this summer, so I've had a chance to dip into some shows, old favorites and newcomers alike.
I've only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine's new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine's ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.
The second mystery concerns a not-so-popular book seen clutched in Britney Spears' hand in a paparazzi photo. [Mild spoilers follow...listen to the show if you wish to remain unsullied.] Where did she get it? Did she read it? And if so, did she like it?
The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting -- What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? -- but the best part of the whole thing was Kine's conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, "you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness", which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.
This image was tweeted out by the NASA Europa Mission account the other day:
One of these images is of Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, and the other eight are frying pans. Can you pick Europa out? Hint: frying pans tend not to have impact craters.
Update: The photos of the frying pans were taken by Christopher Jonassen, whose work I featured back in 2011 (which I had totally forgotten about). At the time, I even joked about the pans looking like a Jovian moon. kottke.org is a flat circle. (thx, tony)
Larch Wood Enterprises is a Nova Scotian company specializing in the manufacture of cutting boards from end grain wood...that is, the top surface of the board shows the rings of the tree. Not only that, but each row on the board is cut from the same stick of wood so you can see how the grain changes through the tree. It's tough to explain...just watch how they make 'em.
End Grain is when the individual boards of wood are arranged so that the grain of the wood (the growth rings) runs vertically (up and down). This puts one end of each board up so that the cutting surface is actually the end of many individual pieces of wood. With the grain aligned in this manner (up and down), when the knife strikes the surface during cutting, the grain of the wood actually separates and then closes when the knife is removed. This accounts for the self-healing aspect of the end-grain surface. The wood itself is not cut, but instead you are cutting between the fibers.
A medium sized board costs $220 but if you can pass it on to your grandkids, perhaps it's worth the price to upgrade yourself. (via devour)
The Strange Maps book is out today. The book is based on the awesome Strange Maps blog, one the very few sites I have to exercise restraint in not linking to every single item posted there. The content of the book is adapted from the site, so of course it's top shelf.
My only reservation in recommending the book is the design. When I cracked it open, I was expecting full-bleed reproductions of the maps, large enough to really get a detailed look at them. The maps *are* the book, after all. But that's not the case...only a few of the maps get an entire non-full-bleed page and some of the maps are stuck in the corner of a page of text, like small afterthoughts. The rest of the design is not much better, cheesy at best and distracting at worst. I wasn't expecting Taschen-grade production values, but something more appropriate to the subject matter would have been nice.
Walter Chang saved up, quit his job, travelled around the world for three years, and made this video.
I went to South America and trekked through Patagonia. In Zimbabwe, hippos, lions, and elephants roamed through our camping ground. When I got to South Korea, my relatives treated me as one of their own, despite having last seen them 18 years prior.
It was in China, the third country of my trip, when I realized that what I was doing wasn't totally crazy. I had already met a multitude of other backpackers taking extended trips ranging from several months to four years. Young people from abroad were prioritizing travel over hurrying into careers.
This video makes me happy. And sad...I am clearly not grabbing enough tiger by the tail in life currently. Chang is doing a Kickstarter campaign for a book of photos from the trip.
At Vox, David Roberts argues that tech nerds are too dismissive and ignorant of politics, particularly if they are as interested as they say they are in changing the world. The piece includes this fascinating one-paragraph take on the state of contemporary American politics:
So that's where American politics stands today: on one side, a radicalized, highly ideological demographic threatened with losing its place of privilege in society, politically activated and locked into the House; on the other side, a demographically and ideologically heterogeneous coalition of interest groups big enough to reliably win the presidency and occasionally the Senate. For now, it's gridlock.
The Rosses were expecting twins but learned that one of the two, Thomas, wouldn't live much past birth. They decided to donate Thomas's body to science. And then, they decided to investigate just what it was they had given and how it had helped others. Great piece by Radiolab.
See also this piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The next day, Gray met James Zieske, the institute's senior scientist, who told her "infant eyes are worth their weight in gold," because, being so young, they have great regenerative properties. Thomas' corneas were used in a study that could one day help cure corneal blindness.
Thirteen more studies had cited that study. Gray felt a new emotion: pride.
Are computer generated special effects ruining movies? Freddie Wong says no; CG is so good these days that we only notice it when it's bad and in bad movies.
My biggest concern with CG is with unrealistic camera movements, e.g. like when the camera is following Spider-Man swooping all over NYC. I can't not notice it and it almost always takes me out of the experience, which is the opposite of what I want. (via @tonyszhou)
PBS is airing a documentary in September about Muppets creator Jim Henson called In Their Own Words: Jim Henson.
I had never really noticed before that Henson's natural speaking voice obviously sounds a lot like Kermit. (via @khoi)
Oliver Sacks was a champion of one of humankind's most admirable qualities: Curiosity. The neurologist and writer died on Monday. He wrote beautifully about his impending death in a piece published a couple weeks ago:
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life...
Longform has a collection of links to some of Sacks' most popular essays.
Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.
KonMari, meet Mallory Ortberg. She has some hardcore advice for ridding your life of clutter so you can "live abundantly". Some tips:
How many of the spices lining your pantry have you ever actually used? "Most of them?" Get rid of them. Every one. If you're not using a spice right now, it's not important. Your lymph nodes should be covered in turmeric 100% of the time, but you don't even know where the lids to your Tupperware containers are, do you? Look at the moon. That's all of the spice you need.
Thank every item in your refrigerator deeply -- kiss each one of them softly and slowly with your mouth -- then prepare for each item a small Viking funeral. Set them adrift on a blazing ship into the waters of a very cold lake. In the future, when you are hungry, eat your memories. The only thing that belongs in your refrigerator is mindfulness.
Throw away everything in your dirty laundry hamper. If a piece of clothing really mattered to you, you wouldn't let it get dirty.
There is no need for a bed in the truly de-cluttered life. You should hover gently several inches above the floor in perfect harmony with your surroundings during your yearly nap, like a seahorse.
Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.
Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones' series on segregation at ProPublica.
One of the most difficult things to get right in movies about aliens or the future is matching the cultural and technological sophistication of a people with their environment and history. In Avatar, the Na'vi are portrayed as a Stone Age tribe, living in relatively small groups and essentially ignorant or uninterested in technology beyond simple knives and bows. But the Na'vi are also very physically capable, obviously very intelligent, aware of their global environment, well-nourished, healthy, omnivorous, adaptive, and even inventive. They have domesticated animals, are troubled by few serious natural predators, can live in different environments, have easy access to many varied natural resources (for sustenance and building/making), and can travel and therefore communicate over long distances (dozens if not hundreds of miles a day on their winged animals).
And most importantly, the Na'vi have regular and intimate access to a moon-sized supercomputer -- a neural net supercomputer at that -- that connects them to every other living thing on their world and have had such access for what could be millennia.
It just doesn't add up. The Na'vi are too capable and live in an environment that is far too pregnant with technological possibility to be stuck in the Stone Age. Plot-wise it's convenient for them to be the way they are, but the Na'vi really should have been more technologically advanced than the Earthlings, not only capable of easily repelling any attack from Captain Ironpants but able to keep the mining company from landing on the moon in the first place.
From the always excellent BLDGBLOG, a list of recommended books for your end-of-summer reading. Included on the list are a novel about drug cartels, a book about crime in the future, a history of Nazi concentration camps, and a book on rust, about which I have personally heard good things.
The newest app from Tinybop (The Human Body, Homes, and The Robot Factory apps) is called The Everything Machine. A small sampling of what you can do with it:
Use a simple programming language to connect, control, and play with all the sensors and tools. Put the camera, microphone, speaker, screen, gyroscope, and light to work for you.
Playing around with the app with Minna for 30 minutes this evening (she loved it) reminded me of my college electronics classes + Scratch + LabVIEW. Super fun.
Tyler Ford was born a girl, transitioned to being a man in college, but now identifies as an agender person.
I have been out as an agender, or genderless, person for about a year now. To me, this simply means having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary. I wear what I want to wear, and do what I want to do, because it is absurd to limit myself to certain activities, behaviours or expressions based on gender. People don't know what to make of me when they see me, because they feel my features contradict one another. They see no room for the curve of my hips to coexist with my facial hair; they desperately want me to be someone they can easily categorise. My existence causes people to question everything they have been taught about gender, which in turn inspires them to question what they know about themselves, and that scares them. Strangers are often desperate to figure out what genitalia I have, in the hope that my body holds the key to some great secret and unavoidable truth about myself and my gender. It doesn't. My words hold my truth. My body is simply the vehicle that gives me the opportunity to express myself.
Ford uses the "they", "them", and "their" pronouns to refer to themselves. (Is it themselves? Or would it be themself? English is a relatively young and fluid language but even it can't keep up.)
Justin Hall has been sharing his life online for over 20 years at links.net. Justin's Links from the Underground was one of the first sites I found and read regularly, back in the mid 90s. Now Hall has made a documentary about his time online, overshare: the links.net story.
Starting in 1994, my personal web site Justin's Links from the Underground has documented family secrets, romantic relationships, and my experiments with sex and drugs.
overshare: the links.net story is a documentary about fumbling to foster intimacy between strangers online. Through interviews, analysis and graphic animations, I share my motivations, my joys and my sorrows from pioneering personal sharing for the 21st century. In 2004 the New York Times referred to me as "perhaps the founding father of personal weblogging." I hope this documentary reveals that I was a privileged white male with access to technology who worked to invite as many people as possible to join him in co-creating an internet where we have a chance to honestly share of our humanity.
The movie is available in various formats, including as a digital download with extra footage from VHX for $11.99.
As if you needed more proof that dolphins are cool: they enjoy surfing.
The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is the only US museum and memorial to slavery. The Atlantic has a video about the museum and its founder, John Cummings, who spent 16 years and $8 million of his own money on it.
Nick Johnson slammed his head on the ice while playing hockey last year and hasn't been able to smell anything since then.
At the time of his accident, Nick's wife was eight months pregnant with their second child. Over lunch, he says: "I joke I can't smell my daughter's diaper. But I can't smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o'clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I've never experienced that."
Much of the article focuses on research about how smell can send signals we are not aware of (e.g. body odor can "smell" like stress), but my favorite thing about smell is its connection to memory...which makes the quote above all the more poignant. There are certain scents that when I smell them, they zap me so vividly back to when I was a kid or in college...it's like time travel.
One man invented both the Aerobie Flying Disc and the AeroPress coffee maker. In this short video documentary by David Friedman, inventor Alan Adler tells the story of how those products came to be.
I still remember the first time I threw an Aerobie. The week-long science camp 1 I attended in northern Wisconsin the summer after middle school had one, and I was astounded at how far it flew compared to a Frisbee. As Adler notes in the video, an Aerobie was once thrown 1333 feet (that's over a quarter of a mile) and stayed aloft for 30 seconds. (No word on far an AeroPress can be thrown.)
Matt Might, who is a professor in computer science at the University of Utah and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, responded to a question on Quora about minimizing the chances of having a disabled child and ended up answering two seemingly unrelated questions as well: How do you get tenure? and How do you live the good life? Long story short: he got tenure and started living the good life because he had a disabled child. But you should read the long story; it's worth it.
My son forced me to systematically examine what matters in life -- what really matters -- and in the end, I came to appreciate a quote from his namesake, Bertrand Russell, more than I could have ever imagined:
"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."
My first year as a tenure-track professor cannot be described as anything other than an abject failure. I was so desperate to publish and raise funds that I began thin-slicing my research and submitting lots of poor quality papers and grant proposals.
I must have had a dozen rejections in a row that year. It sucked.
I remember huddling on the porch at the end of that year with my wife, telling her, "Well, I'll at least have a job for six more years."
I looked at my young son, cuddled in her arms. I saw his very existence hung in the balance between knowledge and ignorance.
Then it hit me: Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn't become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.
I stopped working on problems for the sole purpose of notching up a publication. I shifted gears to cybersecurity. I found a project on cancer in the med school. I joined a project in chemical engineering using super-computing to fight global warming.
Suddenly, my papers started getting accepted.
You may remember Might and his son from a recent New Yorker article on people with ultra-rare diseases.
[This is NSFW.] Artist Hilde Krohn Huse needed a minute or two of film of herself hanging naked upside down from a tree branch for a project she was working on. But when the rope tightened around her ankle too much, things went a little wrong.
My first thought was, "OK, you've fucked up, Hilde, but let's try to get you out of this so nobody needs to know." I hauled myself up, hand over hand, until I was swinging horizontally, just below the branch, and tried to yank my foot free.
It was hopeless. Righting myself, I put my free foot back on the ground to rest for a moment, then tried again, pulling myself up and fighting, puppet-like, against my bonds. My left foot, taking my weight in the lowest noose, started to spasm and I knew my strength wouldn't hold out. But my pride was still uppermost -- the idea of having to draw the attention of others to my humiliating plight still seemed unthinkable. I was losing strength, but full of adrenaline, my face dragging along the woodland floor, leaving me spitting twigs.
As any good artist would, Huse turned her ordeal into an art piece in the form of the 11 minutes of video shot before her camera shut off:
In A Children's Picture-book Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, Brian Skinner explains quantum field theory -- "the deepest and most intimidating set of ideas in graduate-level theoretical physics" -- as if you and I are five-year-old children.
The first step in creating a picture of a field is deciding how to imagine what the field is made of. Keep in mind, of course, that the following picture is mostly just an artistic device. The real fundamental fields of nature aren't really made of physical things (as far as we can tell); physical things are made of them. But, as is common in science, the analogy is surprisingly instructive.
So let's imagine, to start with, a ball at the end of a spring.
Google's latest project is called Project Sunroof. Sunroof utilizes Google Earth data to estimate the solar energy potential of buildings.
Enter Project Sunroof, my recent 20% project. Project Sunroof is a new online tool we're testing to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar. Available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), and the Boston area for now, the tool uses high-resolution aerial mapping (the same used by Google Earth) to help you calculate your roof's solar energy potential, without having to climb up any ladders.
If you're in one of our test regions, simply enter your address and Project Sunroof will crunch the numbers. It first figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop throughout the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns. You can also enter your typical electric bill amount to customize the results. The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers.
Google still has 20% time?
This beach towel featuring Han Solo frozen in carbonite is the only Star Wars merch I want in my life. (thx, meg)
Update: Ok, I had forgotten about the Han Solo frozen in carbonite ice cube tray, which is slightly more awesome. (via @ajsheets)
I thought I'd posted about Philip Glass' new memoir, Words Without Music, when it came out back in April, but I can't find anything in the archives, so let's do it right now. I was reminded of it after reading this review by Dan Wang, which pushed Glass' book to the top of my queue.
These biographical details are manifestations of a quality I admire. Glass never needed much convincing to drop everything in his life to go on a risky venture. I'm not familiar with the many plot twists in his life, and found the book engaging because I had no idea what new adventure he was going to go on next. It's astonishing how open-minded he is. Consider: His decision to go to India was based entirely on seeing a striking illustration in a random book he grabbed off a friend's shelf. In addition, he never hesitated to go into personal debt, at times quite steep, because his music couldn't wait. The book is filled with instances of him saying "sure, when?" to improbable proposals without dwelling on their costs.
He seemed uninterested in stabilizing his position with more regular income. He never took up an honorary conductor position. He never ensconced himself in a plush conservatory professorship. And he didn't even apply for grants because he didn't like that they imposed terms.
See also the 2007 documentary Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. (via mr)
Emily Lakdawalla provides an update on all of the exploration that's going on in our solar system this month. Here's a quick map view of the 20+ spacecraft exploring our solar system beyond Earth:
Mars remains the most active spot beyond Earth in the solar system. This week, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reaches its 10th anniversary of service in space, but it's far from the oldest spacecraft in orbit at Mars; Mars Express and Mars Odyssey are still at work up there. Mars Orbiter Mission has ventured into an extended mission and is still returning photos, though apparently none of the full-disk images in a variety of phases that I had hoped for from its 4-Megapixel color camera. Even Mars' newest resident, MAVEN, is three-quarters of the way through its one-year primary science mission, which began on November 16, 2014. MAVEN's mission will undoubtedly be extended long beyond that, as it will be needed to support surface missions if and when Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter eventually fail.
Both Opportunity and Curiosity have been very active lately. Opportunity has finally reached Marathon Valley, a site identified from orbit to have signs of clay chemistry. The team is excited about the science prospects even though the rover's memory problems persist.
In a post on his great blog, The Year in Pictures, James Danziger discusses some of the photography featured in a forthcoming book, The Final Four of Everything, including Danziger's own selections for Iconic American Photographs. The Final Four of Everything seems to be a sequel of sorts to The Enlightened Bracketologist by the same authors...or perhaps just the same book with a much better title.
Matt Daniels of Polygraph used playcount data from Spotify to identify the most played songs from the past, which he labeled The Most Timeless Songs of All Time. The most timeless song of the 90s, by a wide margin? Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.1
Out of the entire catalog of music from the 90s, these are the tracks on the trajectory to survive. Some of my friends were deeply disturbed by what's been lost in time (e.g., Pearl Jam). And No Diggity isn't just anecdotally timeless, it's the fifth most-played song from the 90s.
Note the tracks that hardly charted on Billboard, in their day. Smells Like Teen Spirit, a track that never reached the Billboard Top 5 when it was released in 1992, is now the most-played song from the 90s.
Daniels makes the point that it is not the generation that made the music that will determine its long-term prospects for being remembered, but subsequent generations, which sounds obvious when it's put that way, but I'd never really thought about it.1
Biggie has three of the Top 10 hip-hop songs between 1986 and 1999. This is a strong signal that future generations will remember Biggie as the referent artist of 80s and 90s hip-hop. And there's No Diggity as the top - perhaps it's that glorious Dr. Dre verse.
Hip hop heads will lament the omission of Rakim, Public Enemy, or Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. It's a depressing reality that exists for every genre and generation: not every artist will be remembered. The incoming generation will control what's relevant from the 90s and carried into the future, independent of quality and commercial success. For rock, that might be Blink-182. For electronica, that might be Sandstorm.
I made playlists on Rdio and on Spotify of the top 30 most timeless songs from the article:
Update: Mike Harris made a Spotify playlist with all 1001 songs from the article. 66+ hours of timelessness is a lot of timelessness.
After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:
a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you
From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.
But I don't know...
foreach ($items as $value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.
Cities, businesses, and artists are producing small batches of paper currency designed to be spent locally. I love the £20 note from Bristol, England (above)...it's got Wallace's head on it!
The local currency, though, is intended not as collectible but to encourage trade at the community businesses where they are accepted, rather than chain stores, where money taken in tends to flow out of town and into the coffers of multinational corporations. (Compare it to the farmers' market: Homegrown lettuce now has a whole new meaning.)
"If you use a local currency, you keep the money local, and that has a 'lifts all boats' vibe to it," said David Wolman, the author of "The End of Money."
From Pop Chart Lab, a beautiful poster showing 121 architectural styles of American houses.
Useful if you don't know your Victorian from your Tudor from your Greek revival.
Up until very recently, humans were thought to be the only animals who made and used stone tools, an era in human development that began roughly 3.3 million years ago. But according to this piece at the BBC, some chimpanzees and monkeys in various places around the globe have been using primitive stone tools for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Boesch and his colleagues had previously studied modern chimpanzee stone tool culture in the region. This research revealed that the chimpanzees have an idiosyncratic way of choosing and using their tools.
For instance, chimpanzees will often deliberately opt for particularly large and heavy stone hammers, between 1kg and 9kg, while humans prefer to use stones that weigh 1kg or less. Many of the 4300-year-old stone tools weighed more than 1kg, suggesting they were used by chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees also use their stone tools to crack open certain types of nuts that humans don't eat. Starch residues on some of the ancient tools came from these nuts.
Together, these findings led to an obvious conclusion: chimpanzees have been using stone tools in the rainforests of Ivory Coast for at least 4300 years.
The Jefferson Grid is an Instagram account which posts satellite photos picturing one square mile of land.
The account takes its name from the grid Thomas Jefferson used to divide up the growing United States.
The Land Ordinance of 1785, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, extended government authority over the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes regions. As a response to what he believed to be a confusing survey system already in use, Jefferson suggested a new grid system based on the rectangle. The grid divided land into plots one mile square, each consisting of 640 acres. The grid also placed a visible design upon a relatively untouched landscape. The ordinance was the first of its kind in America but would continue to affect urban, suburban and farmland planning to present day.
These folks created a real-life first person shooter game and invited strangers on Chatroulette to control the action.
Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how they did it. (thx, oren)
GravityLight is an electric light that draws its power from gravity. You lift up a weight attached to the light and as it falls, it generates enough power to light the light for 20 minutes.
GravityLight is installed to provide a 6ft/1.8m drop of a 12kg weight. This weight is lifted and on release starts falling very slowly (about 1mm/second).
This movement powers a drive sprocket, which rotates very slowly with high torque (force). A polymer geartrain running through the product turns this input into a high speed, low torque output that drives a DC generator at thousands of rotations per minute.
This generates just under a tenth of a watt, a deciwatt, to power an onboard LED and ancillary devices. Given the ever-increasing efficiency of LEDs, this produces a light over 5 times brighter (lux) than a typical open-wick kerosene lamp.
Once the weighted bag reaches the floor, which depends on how high it was installed, it is simply lifted to repeat the process.