The DWR Champagne Chair ContestFEB 13

The winners have been announced in the 2015 edition of the always-charming DWR Champagne Chair Contest in which contestants compete to build the coolest little chairs using only a single champagne cork. The winner and the runner-up:

Champagne cork chair

Champagne cork chair

I actually like the second place chair more than the winner. You can check out all of the submissions to the contest on the main contest page, including this fantastic swiveling chair:

Champagne cork chair

(via @fromedome)

Google's new officesMAR 02

The plans for Google's new offices in Mountain View blew me away. Not so much the reconfigurable office spaces1 but the greenhouse canopies. If those canopies actually work, they could result in a workspace that combines the best parts of being outdoors (the openness, the natural light & heat, greenery) with the benefits of working indoors (lack of wind & rain, moderate temperatures).

  1. I'm skeptical. Can spaces made for any purpose be right for any single purpose? Swiss Army knives aren't that great at slicing bread.

Space ProbesFEB 20

Voyager 2

The Spaceprob.es site tracks the active probes in operation in and around our solar system, from Voyager I (19.56 billion km from Earth) to the Artemis probes (358,000 km away). (via @BadAstronomer)

A murmuration of starlingsJAN 29

A flock of starlings is called a murmuration, an apt word because the flocks move like a rumor pulsing through a crowded room. This is a particularly beautiful murmuration observed in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Ah-Ha to Zig-ZagFEB 25

Kalman Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag

I'm a big fan of Maira Kalman but somehow missed a book she illustrated that came out in October, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

"A. Ah-ha! There you Are." begins Maira Kalman's joyfully illustrated romp through the treasures of Cooper Hewitt's design collection. With her signature wit and warm humor, Kalman's ABC book introduces children and adults to the myriad ways design touches our lives. Posing the question "If you were starting a museum, what would you put in your collection?", Kalman encourages the reader to put pen to paper and send in personal letters -- an intimate, interactive gesture to top off her unique tour of the world of design. Objects ranging from a thirteenth-century silk thinking cap to 1889 tin slippers with bows, all the way to Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair are brought to colorful life. Kalman's hand-lettered text is whimsical and universal in turns, drawing lessons as easily from a worn old boot as a masterpiece of midcentury modernism. Irresistibly, we are led to agree, "Everything is design."

(via tinybop)

LOTR's One Ring explainerFEB 10

Here's a good explanation of what the One Ring from Lord of the Rings actually is and what it can do:

I transcribed a short passage from the video:

First, the ring tempts everyone (well, almost everyone) with promises that yes, this little ring can be a mighty weapon or a tool to reshape the world and gosh don't you just look like the best guy to use it. Let's go vanquish the powerful demigod who lives over there to get started, shall we? This is why the hobbits made great ring bearers, because they're pretty happy with the way things are and don't aspire to greatness. Of course, there's Gollum, who started out as a hobbit, but all things considered, he held out pretty well for a couple hundred years. Set the ring on the desk of most men and they wouldn't be able to finish their coffee before heading to Mordor to rule the world and do it right this time.

What's interesting about hearing of The Ring in this focused way is how it becomes a part of Tolkien's criticism of technology. The Ring does what every mighty bit of tech can do to its owner/user: makes them feel powerful and righteous. Look what we can do with this thing! So much! So much good! We are good therefore whatever we do with this will be good!

The contemporary idea of the tech startup is arguably the most seductive and powerful technology of the present moment, the One Ring of our times. It's not difficult to modify a few words in the passage above to make it more current:

First, the startup tempts everyone (well, almost everyone) with promises that yes, this little company can be a mighty weapon or a tool to reshape the world and gosh don't you just look like the best guy to use it. Let's go disrupt the powerful middleman who lives over there to get started, shall we? This is why the nerds made great ring bearers, because they're pretty happy with the way things are and don't aspire to greatness. Of course, there's Sergey and Larry, who started out as nerds, but all things considered, they held out pretty well for a decade. Set the ring on the desk of most men and they wouldn't be able to finish their mail-order espresso before heading to Silicon Valley to rule the world and do it right this time.

Ok, haha, LOL, and all that, but it's curious that nerds (and everyone else) shelled out billions of dollars to watch Peter Jackson's LOTR movies in the early 2000s in the aftermath of the dot com bust. Those were dark times...the power of the startup had just been lost after Kozmo's CEO Dave Isildur was slain by economists while delivering a single pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby to far reaches of the Outer Sunset and had not yet been rediscovered by Schachter, Butterfield, and Zuckerberg.

And these nerds, whose spines all tingled when Aragorn charged into the hordes of Mordor -- for Frodo! -- and whose eyes filled with tears when Frodo parted with Sam at the Grey Havens, came away from that movie experience siding with Boromir, Saruman, and Denethor, determined to seize that startup magic for themselves to disrupt all of the things, defeat the evil corporate middlemen, and reshape the world to be a better and more efficient place. And gosh don't you just look like the best guy to use it?

WooperFEB 12

Wooper is a Robot Chicken parody of Looper, in which cartoon characters like Elmer Fudd are sent back in time to be killed because they can't show guns in children's cartoons anymore.

(via @gruber)

The Hungarian EuroFEB 20

For her master's project, Barbara Bernát designed a set of fictional banknotes: the Hungarian Euro.

Hungarian euro

I am a total sucker for banknote mockups and aside from the simplicity, what caught my eye about Bernát's project is the one security feature: if you look at the notes under a UV light, you see the skeletons of the animals depicted on the notes:

Hungarian Euro

(via @shaylamaddox)

Errol Morris interviewedMAR 03

As part of Errol Morris Week on Grantland1, Alex Pappademas did a great interview with Morris about his work. Morris has interviewed serial killers, Holocaust deniers, rapists, and the architect of the Vietnam War but said that the person that most challenged his capacity for empathy was Donald Rumsfeld.

He's confident right now! He doesn't have to wait 100 or 500 years. He doesn't care. I really care whether I'm right or wrong. I really do care. And probably for lots of reasons. I don't want to be seen as a dumbass, I don't want to be seen as someone who believes in something that's absolutely false, untrue, something that can't be substantiated, checked. I believe that there's some deep virtue in pursuing truth. Maybe it's the highest virtue. I believe that. Whether you can attain it or not, you can pursue it. It can be a goal. It can be a destination. I don't believe that's Donald Rumsfeld's goal. I believe that Robert S. McNamara really wanted to understand what he had done and why he had done it. You know, we remain a mystery to ourselves, among the many, many, many other mysteries there are. And McNamara's struggle with his own past -- I was deeply moved by it. I think he's a war criminal, I think he sees himself as a war criminal, but I like him.

Update: Another recent interview, by Brin-Jonathan Butler, is being offered as a .99 Kindle Single.

  1. Yeah cool guys, but it's always Errol Morris Week here at kottke.org.

The HD AquariumJAN 29

In the tradition of the 80-minute video of the South China Sea shot from the bow of a container ship, here's six high-definition hours of 8000 fish and other aquatic animals swimming in the massive Ocean Voyager tank at the Georgia Aquarium.

Are you relaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxed? (via @riondotnu)

A farewell to the Model TFEB 05

Writing for the New Yorker in 1936, E.B. White pens a farewell to the Model T, a gadget that defined the first quarter of the 20th century.

During my association with Model T's, self-starters were not a prevalent accessory. They were expensive and under suspicion. Your car came equipped with a serviceable crank, and the first thing you learned was how to Get Results. It was a special trick, and until you learned it (usually from another Ford owner, but sometimes by a period of appalling experimentation) you might as well have been winding up an awning. The trick was to leave the ignition switch off, proceed to the animal's head, pull the choke (which was a little wire protruding through the radiator), and give the crank two or three nonchalant upward lifts. Then, whistling as though thinking about something else, you would saunter back to the driver's cabin, turn the ignition on, return to the crank, and this time, catching it on the down stroke, give it a quick spin with plenty of That. If this procedure was followed, the engine almost always responded -- first with a few scattered explosions, then with a tumultuous gunfire, which you checked by racing around to the driver's seat and retarding the throttle. Often, if the emergency brake hadn't been pulled all the way back, the car advanced on you the instant the first explosion occurred and you would hold it back by leaning your weight against it. I can still feel my old Ford nuzzling me at the curb, as though looking for an apple in my pocket.

Aside from the obvious advantage of price, White details three compelling factors of the Model T, all of which still move car owners to purchase today: quickness, height, and customizability. The Model T was gloriously quick off the line, reaching its top speed of 45 mph, according to White, more quickly than other cars of the age. The driver sat high up in the car, on top of the gas tank, which must have given you the same mighty feeling as driving a huge-ass SUV or pickup truck. And as delivered, the Model T was just functional, leaving ample opportunity for people to add their own touches. For instance, the car didn't come with a gas pedal (the throttle was hand-operated), speedometer, rear view mirror, or windshield wipers. (via @ftrain, who notes what a great tech blogger White was)

Neon ChinatownFEB 18

Chinatown Logo

Chinatown Logo

Chinatown Logo

A project called Chinatown takes familiar logos like Pepsi, Starbucks, UPS, and Lego and translates them, imprecisely, into their Chinese equivalents.

It uses basic words for translation, such as "Caramel Macchiato" for "Starbucks" in order to maintain the visual continuity. By arranging the words this way, 'Chinatown' pushes viewers to ask themselves what it means to see, hear, and become fully aware. 'Chinatown' also demonstrates our strangeness to 1.35 billion people in the world, when you can't read Chinese.

(via @pieratt)

Ocean GravityFEB 05

Free diver Guillaume Néry looks like an astronaut floating around in space in this underwater video.

See also this surrealist free diving video and Néry's underwater base jump. (via ★interesting)

The problem with action movies todayFEB 11

In this persuasive video, Chris Stuckmann argues that today's action movies are mostly bad and provides six reasons why.

His fifth point, the camerawork, drives him a little crazy.

Shakycam. Fucking shakycam. At some point, someone somewhere told Hollywood that people like incoherent incompetent camera work, blinding the audience with multiple cuts and assaulting us with nothing but a barrage of sound effects that are supposed to subconsciously tell us that something is happening on screen.

See also how to do action comedy from Every Frame a Painting and Chaos Cinema from Mattias Stork. (via devour)

What are the Coen brothers trying to say?FEB 18

From Steven Benedict, a short video essay featuring the characters from different Coen brothers' films talking to each other. According to Benedict, the dialogue reveals three main themes of their movies.

While other essays have assembled several recurring visual tropes: elevators, dogs, dream sequences, bathrooms etc., this essay has the characters talk to one another across the films so we can more clearly hear the Coens' dominant concerns: identity, miscommunication and morality. Taken as a trinity, these elements indicate that the Coens' true subject is the search for value in a random and amoral universe.

(via @khoi)

Human/computer partnerships are potentJAN 30

Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker about how Netflix uses a ~70/30 combination of data and human judgment to determine their recommendations and what shows/movies to make.

Over the years, however, I've started to wonder whether Netflix's big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix's embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher ("House of Cards"), Jenji Leslie Kohan ("Orange is the New Black"), Ricky Gervais ("Derek"), John Fusco ("Marco Polo"), or Mitchell Hurwitz ("Arrested Development"). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company's programming, like "Marco Polo," hasn't seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, "House of Cards." In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here -- but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.

I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm," moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. "It is important to know which data to ignore," he conceded, before saying, at the end, "In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix." But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? "Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment," he told me later. Then he paused, and said, "But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense."

This reminds me of the situation in chess, where cyborg human/computer teams can beat computer- or human-only players in chess, although perhaps for not much longer.

Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of "freestyle chess," where humans can use any and all tools available -- most of all computers and computer programs -- to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that "man plus computer" is a stronger player than "computer alone," at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken's explanations are a bit dense for those who don't already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.

I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald's or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert DurstFEB 11

From HBO and director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), comes The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part documentary series on reclusive millionaire Robert Durst and the three unsolved murders he is suspected of committing. The first episode aired over the weekend and is now free to watch on YouTube (in the US). A couple of reviews: The Anti-Serial and HBO's Crime Drama 'The Jinx' Succeeds Where Others Fail.

The 50 best films of the 2010s (so far)FEB 03

The Dissolve picks the 50 best films of the current decade. Picks 50-26, and picks 25-1. Boyhood, The Social Network, Under the Skin, and Inside Llewyn Davis all rank high. (via @khoi)

rating: 4.5 stars

Inglourious BasterdsDEC 18

This is pretty much the point at which I knew I was going to love Inglourious Basterds:

Inglourious Basterds

Although I can sure see why someone might hate it; the film rode that razor's edge all the way through.

Posthumous hackathonFEB 06

Jessamyn West writes about the nuts and bolts of dealing with the death of her techie dad, including wresting control from the hidden computer controlling his house and digitally impersonating him to use his apps and cancel cable.

My dad's retirement home was not quite so high tech but it was designed to provide a certain level of creature comforts with minimal inputs from him. Set it and forget it. An X-10 system turned most of the lights on and off on a schedule. Some of this was pretty straightforward "Turn on the porch lights after dark." and some was a bit more esoteric "Turn off the office lights at 10 pm so that I'll know it's time for bed." He knew the ruleset. I did not. I'd be working on an article or reading a book and suddenly be plunged into total darkness. I'd poke at some wall switches that would sometimes turn the lights back on.

The system was controlled by a laptop. The laptop died. I removed the hard drive to get at the config files. This project went on a lengthy To Do list and never rose to the top. The lights kept turning on and off. Over time their schedules got out of sync. The driveway lights would stay on for days. The porch lights would never come on, or turn on at 6:15 pm and then off at 6:27. Sometimes they'd just blink on and off and we'd be all "Did you see that?" My sister and I kept lists, tried to discern patterns. I pulled the switches off the walls, only to find that they were just stuck on with tape, with no actual wires underneath. Somewhere in some wall there was a transmitter sending out signals that only the lights could hear.

It's oddly comforting that even in the digital age, our loved ones can still haunt us from their graves.

The Infinite Hotel ParadoxFEB 19

In a lecture given in 1924, German mathematician David Hilbert introduced the idea of the paradox of the Grand Hotel, which might help you wrap your head around the concept of infinity. (Spoiler alert: it probably won't help...that's the paradox.) In his book One Two Three... Infinity, George Gamow describes Hilbert's paradox:

Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms, and assume that all the rooms are occupied. A new guest arrives and asks for a room. "Sorry," says the proprietor, "but all the rooms are occupied." Now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and all the rooms are occupied. To this hotel, too, comes a new guest and asks for a room.

"But of course!" exclaims the proprietor, and he moves the person previously occupying room N1 into room N2, the person from room N2 into room N3, the person from room N3 into room N4, and so on.... And the new customer receives room N1, which became free as the result of these transpositions.

Let us imagine now a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all taken up, and an infinite number of new guests who come in and ask for rooms.

"Certainly, gentlemen," says the proprietor, "just wait a minute."

He moves the occupant of N1 into N2, the occupant of N2 into N4, and occupant of N3 into N6, and so on, and so on...

Now all odd-numbered rooms became free and the infinite of new guests can easily be accommodated in them.

This TED video created by Jeff Dekofsky explains that there are similar strategies for finding space in such a hotel for infinite numbers of infinite groups of people and even infinite amounts of infinite numbers of infinite groups of people (and so on, and so on...) and is very much worth watching:

(via brain pickings)

The sounds of TarantinoFEB 18

A montage of hundreds of sounds from Quentin Tarantino's movies, from Zed drumming his fingers on top of the gimp's head in Pulp Fiction to the schiiiiing of The Bride's Hattori Hanzo sword in Kill Bill.

Karl Ove Knausgaard travels through AmericaFEB 26

The NY Times Magazine got Karl Ove Knausgaard (author of My Struggle) to "drive across America and write about it without talking to a single American", like some sort of introverted Tocqueville. He came unprepared:

I dialed the number of the driver's-license office at the Swedish Transport Agency, keyed in my personal identity number and sat down at the desk, scrolling through some Norwegian newspapers as I waited my turn.

A prerecorded voice came on and informed me about opening hours, then the line went dead.

What the hell?

Had they closed?

But it couldn't be later than 1 p.m. in Sweden.

I looked at the Transport Agency website. To my dismay, I discovered that it was a holiday in Sweden tomorrow, Trettondagsafton, the Feast of the Epiphany, and a half-day today.

That meant I couldn't get the driver's-license confirmation letter until three days from now at the earliest, more likely four.

Oh, no.

I wasn't even in the U.S. yet, I was just in Canada!

I lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. I should email The Times and explain the situation. Maybe they had a solution. But I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to tell them that I'd undertaken this great road-trip assignment across the U.S. without my license. They'd think I was a complete idiot.

In any case, there was nothing I could do today.

And his thoughts on Detroit (emphasis mine):

I'd seen poverty before, of course, even incomprehensible poverty, as in the slums outside Maputo, in Mozambique. But I'd never seen anything like this. If what I had seen tonight - house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster - if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within. When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.

Was that what home was here? Not the place, not the local, but the culture, the general?

The art of staying aloftFEB 20

Photographer Gloria Wilson takes photos of birds in flight. A few favorites:

Gloria Wilson

Gloria Wilson

Gloria Wilson

Wilson sells prints of this series in her Etsy shop. (thx, meg)

The Himalayas from 20,000 ft.MAR 05

Beautiful video of the Himalayas shot from a helicopter flying at up to 24,000 feet high.

(via ★interesting)

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

I don't think he's talked about it on his site yet, but Tyler Cowen has a new book coming out called Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

As economist Tyler Cowen boldly shows in Create Your Own Economy, the way we think now is changing more rapidly than it has in a very long time. Not since the Industrial Revolution has a man-made creation -- in this case, the World Wide Web -- so greatly influenced the way our minds work and our human potential. Cowen argues brilliantly that we are breaking down cultural information into ever-smaller tidbits, ordering and reordering them in our minds (and our computers) to meet our own specific needs.

Create Your Own Economy explains why the coming world of Web 3.0 is good for us; why social networking sites such as Facebook are so necessary; what's so great about "Tweeting" and texting; how education will get better; and why politics, literature, and philosophy will become richer. This is a revolutionary guide to life in the new world.

I never properly reviewed Cowen's last book (sorry!), but I found it as enlightening and entertaining as Marginal Revolution is. (via david archer)

The Michael Jordan of ________FEB 13

Calling someone "the Michael Jordan of [whatever they're good at]" is a familiar journalistic trope. A team at the WSJ decided to search through the newspapers of the world for mentions of the Jordans and LeBrons of their professions.

Calling someone "the Michael Jordan of..." or, more recently, "the LeBron James of..." is a trope that acknowledges excellence in a way that everyone can understand. So with the NBA getting set to host its annual All-Star Game, the Wall Street Journal went on a hunt for all of the Michael Jordans and LeBron Jameses in newspapers around the world. We found thousands, including the Michael Jordan of bagpipers and private detectives, and the LeBron James of yodeling and midwives.

Some examples:

Jimmy McIntosh, the Scotsman who started Carnegie Mellon's bagpipe program, calls Gillies the Michael Jordan of piping.

We are the Michael Jordan of onion growers, Butch Peri said. "We started off as the smallest onion grower in the state of Nevada, and in 1999, we became the largest producer in the world of fresh market onions, the kind you buy in the grocery store."

If you were to convert him from his importance in science to the sports world, Charles Darwin would be the Wayne Gretzky or the Michael Jordan of biology, says Dr. Greg Bole, a bioscientist from the University of B.C. "He shaped the field."

With a medical cause ruled out, I was forced to accept reality... my son is just really good at screening things out. No, let me rephrase that. The boy is the LeBron James of selective hearing, the Michael Phelps of tuning me out. He's a best-in-class parental ignorer, and actually it would be kind of admirable... if it wasn't so infuriating.

This is surely the Tiger Woods of fun Friday links. (via @lauratitian)

Update: According to Google, describing people as "the Michael Jordan of ________" in books has been on the decline since 1999. (thx, david)

Daft Punk soundboardFEB 12

Daft Punk Soundboard

A keyboard-controlled soundboard for Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. See also the Beyonce Soundboardt. (via waxy)

Messi scores 64 goals at onceFEB 26

Here are 64 goals scored by FC Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, presented simultaneously in one frame.

Fusion's Cara Rose DeFabio has dubbed this type of video The Superfuse.

The reimprisonment of homosexuals in Germany after WWIIFEB 10

After the end of World War II in Europe, homosexual prisoners of liberated concentration camps were refused reparations and some were even thrown into jail without credit for their time served in the camps. From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

After 1945, it was no longer a crime to be Jewish in Germany, but homosexuality was another matter. Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code had been on the books since 1871. An English translation of the earliest version read simply:

Unnatural fornication, whether between persons of the male sex or of humans with beasts, is to be punished by imprisonment; a sentence of loss of civil rights may also be passed.

In Germany, homosexuality was considered a crime worthy of up to five years of imprisonment until Paragraph 175 was voided in 1994.

Update: I missed this while writing the post: Paragraph 175 was amended in 1969 to limit enforcement to engaging in homosexual acts with minors (under 21 years). (thx, eric)

Taylor Swift's Nine Inch NailsFEB 05

If you take the vocals from The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails and match them to the beats from Taylor Swift's Shake It Off, you get this little bit of magic:

Update: I totally forgot I'd previously featured this awesomeness: NIN's Head Like a Hole vs. Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe. Also of note: Mark Romanek directed the videos for Shake It Off and The Perfect Drug. (via ★interesting, @sarahmakespics, and mark)

NYC in 1981, a most violent yearJAN 30

The producers of A Most Violent Year, one of the year's most acclaimed movies, are doing something interesting to promote their film. They're running a blog that posts all sorts of media and information about NYC in 1981, the year the film is set. Today, they released a short documentary that features interviews with some people who were scraping together lives in NYC circa 1981. It's worth watching:

Featuring Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, performance artist and former Warhol Factory fixture Penny Arcade, actress Johnnie Mae, Harlem street-style legend Dapper Dan, auto body shop owner Nick Rosello, and trucking union rep Wayne Walsh.

The trailer for A Most Violent Year is here...I've heard good things about this one and hope to catch it soon.

1940 Nazi tourist map of ParisMAR 04

Nazi Tourist Map Paris

In 1940, Germany published a tourist map of occupied Paris intended for use by German soldiers on leave.

Infrared Planet EarthJAN 30

This is an ultra-HD time lapse of planet Earth in infrared. Infrared light is absorbed by clouds and water vapor, so the result is a sphere of roiling storms and trade winds.

Here's a video with both hemispheres at once and another offering a closer view. If you've got a 4K display, this will look pretty incredible on it. James Tyrwhitt-Drake has done a bunch of other HD videos of the Earth and Sun, including Planet Earth in 4K and the Sun in 4K.

A Few Silent MenFEB 25

Someone edited the courtroom scene from A Few Good Men and took out all the dialogue, leaving just the reaction shots. It's surprisingly coherent and dramatic.

See also Dr. Phil without dialogue and musicless music videos. (via @pieratt)

Man violates laws of gravity while pouring teaMAR 03

I love watching people who are particularly adept at food prep and this guy preparing teh tarik certainly fits the bill. His pour seems to violate at least two of Newton's three laws of motion.

This guy and this other guy have some serious skills as well.

These gentlemen making parathas is still my all-time favorite food prep video, but these are good as well. (via cyn-c)

The unbearable slowness of lightFEB 03

Nothing is faster than the speed of light. But compared to the unimaginable size of the Universe, light is actually extremely slow. This video is 45 minutes long and during that time, a photon emitted from the Sun1 will only travel through a portion of our solar system.

In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it's unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system.

It takes light more than 43 minutes to travel to Jupiter and even to travel the diameter of the Sun takes 4.6 seconds. (thx, andy)

  1. To even fight its way out of the Sun is an incredible journey for a photon. The Sun is so dense that a photon generated at the core is absorbed and re-emitted trillions of times by hydrogen nuclei on its way out. By some estimates, it may take up to 40,000 years for a photon to escape the Sun's surface and head on out to the cold reaches of space.

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20

Green Eggs and Ham

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.

Becoming Steve JobsMAR 03

A new biography of Steve Jobs is coming out in March, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, a pair of technology journalists who have covered Jobs and the personal computer revolution for decades. John Gruber has read it and calls it "remarkable".

It is, in short, the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves. You might wonder how such a book could be written without Jobs's participation, but effectively, he did participate. Schlender, in his work as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, interviewed Jobs extensively numerous times spanning 25 years. Remember the 1991 joint interview with Jobs and Bill Gates? That was Schlender. As the book makes clear, Jobs and Schlender had a very personal relationship.

The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked. They also got an astonishing amount of cooperation from the people who knew Jobs best: colleagues past and present from Apple and Pixar -- particularly Tim Cook -- and his widow, Laurene Powell Jobs.

Instant pre-order.

rating: 4.5 stars

Annie HallFEB 09

A young-ish Christopher Walken appears in Annie Hall but his name is misspelled in the credits as "Christopher Wlaken". Were this 1990, I might have invented a eastern European backstory for Wlaken, who, perhaps, Americanized his name sometime after appearing in the film. But as we live in the future, a cool hunk of glass and metal from my pocket told me -- before the credits even finished rolling -- that the actor was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, Queens.

The future isn't any fun sometimes.

How YouTube changed the worldFEB 10

Burning a person alive is not a new act in warfare or intimidation. Far from it. So how did the gruesome burning of a Jordanian pilot become a incident that outraged the world and possibly altered a war? It was on video. Seeing a video changes everything. The existence of video footage can determine what leads the news, what drives public opinion, and what gets lodged in our memories. It can also determine who becomes a celebrity, who gets elected, which products we purchase, and confirm again and again the dominance of the once overlooked house-cat. Whoever controls the video controls the story. And since about 2005, the person who's controlled the video has been you. You, the cat owner. You, the aspiring singer. You, the citizen journalist. And yes, you the terror group determined to intimidate and remain at the forefront of a global conversation. From The Telegraph: How YouTube Changed the World.

Syndicated from NextDraft. Subscribe today or grab the iOS app.

"Did I marry a pathological liar?"FEB 17

In his new book, Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love, Clancy Martin argues that loving someone requires lying to them. His third wife, Amie Barrodale, recently interviewed Martin about his assertions.

Amie: What if this woman who cheated finds herself fantasizing about it a lot. She's never contacted the guy, and she never will, but she thinks about him every time she sleeps with her husband.

Clancy: Wow, good one. For the record, you're my wife, and if this happens, please lie to me about it.

Amie: Wait, that's a good answer. Why?

Clancy: Because I don't think I could handle the truth, but I want us to stay married. So I'm asking you to be the strong one, since it's your deal, your mental affair. If you feel like it's starting to threaten the relationship -- if the only way for us to continue to be happily married is for you to get the truth out -- well, then I'd ask you to find a gentle, caring way to do it. Don't just say: "I can't stop thinking about this guy I slept with, he was fantastic and had a huge --"

Amie: How come you didn't go into detail about our marriage, or your previous two marriages, in the book?

Clancy: Two reasons: respect for you and my two previous wives, and respect for my daughters. And also, I guess, fear that you guys would all love me less if I were too bluntly honest. But truthfully there are some things I would love to say, but can't, because I know they would really hurt people I love.

(via the morning news)

Earth PrimerFEB 02

Earth Primer is an upcoming iOS app that bills itself as "A Science Book for Playful People". It looks amazing:

Earth Primer is a science book for playful people. Discover how Earth works through play-on your iPad. Join a guided tour of how Earth works, with the forces of nature at your fingertips. Visit volcanoes, glaciers, sand dunes. Play with them, look inside, and see how they work.

Earth Primer defies existing genres, combining aspects of science books, toys, simulations, and games. It is a new kind of interactive experience which joins the guided quality of a book with open ended simulation play.

Here's a quick preview of the app. Can't wait to explore this, with and without the kids.

Update: The Earth Primer app is now available on the App Store.

The sea of NYCFEB 18

NY Sea

Jeffrey Linn makes maps that show how extreme sea level increase will impact major cities around the globe. Recently he made a map of NYC showing what it would look like if sea levels rose by 100 feet, which is what would happen if a third of the world's ice sheets melted. So long, most of Manhattan and Brooklyn; hello Coral Gardens, Prospect Beach, and Sunset Island. Prints are available.

See also Linn's maps of a drowned London, the bay of LA, and islands of Seattle.

Neil Armstrong's bag of Moon junkFEB 10

For whatever reason, when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong left the surface of the Moon after their historic space walk, they collected "a bunch of trash that we want to take back" in a small white bag. Upon their return to Earth, Armstrong put the bag in a closet and there it sat for more than 40 years, until Armstrong's widow discovered it shortly after his death. Among other items, the bag contained the camera that recorded The Eagle's landing on the Moon and Armstrong's first step, which was presumed to have been lost or left on the Moon.

Apollo 11 Camera

As far as we know, Neil has never discussed the existence of these items and no one else has seen them in the 45 years since he returned from the Moon. (I asked James Hansen, Neil's authorized biographer if he had mentioned the items, and he had not.) Each and every item has its own story and significance, and they are described with photographs in extraordinary detail in an addendum to the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. But two of the items are especially timely. Both have been placed on display as part of the recently opened temporary exhibition Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity.

The first is the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that was mounted in the window of the lunar module Eagle to record the historic landing and "one small step" made by Armstrong as humankind first set foot on another world.

On sitting at the barFEB 11

David Chang is exactly right: when dining at a restaurant, often the best option is to sit at the bar.

When everyone's so close, it changes the dining experience. Out on the floor, you're a dickhead if you overhear a conversation and chime in. Not at the bar. You connect, trade stories, then trade bites. I've never shared as much food with strangers as I have at the bar. You meet great people that way -- you're part of this band of outsiders within the restaurant. And for me, that's the best possible dining experience of all.

I almost always eat at the bar at my regular place.

Vintage weekly bus passesFEB 12

Milwaukee Bus Passes

Milwaukee Bus Passes

Milwaukee Bus Passes

A collection of weekly bus passes from Milwaukee, WI. Years covered are 1930-1979. Was there a new design every single week? (via @slowernet)

The world's worst contractFEB 27

In 1997, Max-Hervé George's father bought a unique policy from a French insurance company that functions like Grays Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II, only for financial markets. The policy allows George to invest in investment funds offered by the insurance company at prices up to a week old, essentially traveling back in time with knowledge of which investments will increase in price the most.

For instance, he might have his money in an Aviva fund invested in the French stock market. Lets say the Nikkei 225 rises 5 per cent during the week. He'll tell Aviva to move his investments into its Japanese fund, at the price before the market moved.

At last report, in 2007, George's investments were worth €1.4 million and growing at a rate of 68.6% per year. Assuming that rate holds and he continues investing his entire allocation optimally, George will be a billionaire in five years, would be able to buy the insurance company in question by 2025, and be worth a whopping €234 billion by 2030.

See also how you could have turned $1000 into $167 billion by trading the S&P 500 perfectly last year.

Superintelligent AI, humanity's final inventionFEB 04

When Tim Urban recently began researching artificial intelligence, what he discovered affected him so much that he wrote a deep two-part dive on The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence and Our Immortality or Extinction.

An AI system at a certain level -- let's say human village idiot -- is programmed with the goal of improving its own intelligence. Once it does, it's smarter -- maybe at this point it's at Einstein's level -- so now when it works to improve its intelligence, with an Einstein-level intellect, it has an easier time and it can make bigger leaps. These leaps make it much smarter than any human, allowing it to make even bigger leaps. As the leaps grow larger and happen more rapidly, the AGI soars upwards in intelligence and soon reaches the superintelligent level of an ASI system. This is called an Intelligence Explosion, and it's the ultimate example of The Law of Accelerating Returns.

There is some debate about how soon AI will reach human-level general intelligence -- the median year on a survey of hundreds of scientists about when they believed we'd be more likely than not to have reached AGI was 2040 -- that's only 25 years from now, which doesn't sound that huge until you consider that many of the thinkers in this field think it's likely that the progression from AGI to ASI happens very quickly. Like -- this could happen:

It takes decades for the first AI system to reach low-level general intelligence, but it finally happens. A computer is able understand the world around it as well as a human four-year-old. Suddenly, within an hour of hitting that milestone, the system pumps out the grand theory of physics that unifies general relativity and quantum mechanics, something no human has been able to definitively do. 90 minutes after that, the AI has become an ASI, 170,000 times more intelligent than a human.

Superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can remotely grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics. In our world, smart means a 130 IQ and stupid means an 85 IQ -- we don't have a word for an IQ of 12,952.

While I was reading this, I kept thinking about two other posts Urban wrote: The Fermi Paradox (in that human-built AI could be humanity's own Great Filter) and From 1,000,000 to Graham's Number (how the process of the speed and intelligence of computers could fold in on itself to get unimaginably fast and powerful).

The secret life of machinesFEB 06

From Tim Hunkin, The Secret Life of Machines is a series of drawings illustrating how everyday objects work, from fax machines to refrigerators to quartz watches.

Secret Life of Radio

Update: The drawings are nice, but Hunkin's real The Secret Life of Machines project is this series of videos, uploaded by some kind soul to YouTube:

(via @leftnotracks & john)

Dancing mathematicsMAR 02

Dancing Math

Mathematical functions depicted as stick figure dance moves. (via @mulegirl)

Hunter S. Thompson calls customer serviceFEB 23

This is allegedly a recording of a voicemail that Hunter S. Thompson left for the AV company that wrongly installed his home theater system.

If your setup is still here tomorrow night, I'm gonna destroy it and write about it. Yeah, I write a column, several, I write about a lot of things, you might of heard of the rest of my name somewhere, I write books, I write things that get out and people read! I'll ruin your fucking name! You goddamn idiots, you fuck up my system!!

We've all been there, haven't we? Perhaps with fewer illicit substances in our systems, but still. (via @davidgrann)

Update: Here's an interview with someone who worked at the AV company at the time of the call.

The Design Audio/Video team got back to Thompson and fixed the problem which, it turned out, they hadn't actually caused. The items had actually been sold to the author by another local dealer, which McCorkle knows but would not name.

"It turns out, we didn't sell him the stuff, but we ended up fixing it for him," McCorkle said. "In true Hunter style, he never apologized for it, but he was grateful."

(via @StephenSilver)

How Peanuts got its first black characterFEB 12

Franklin Peanuts

Franklin, the first black member of Charles Schulz's Peanuts gang, made his debut in July 1968. His presence came about through the efforts of Los Angeles schoolteacher Harriet Glickman, who wrote Schulz several letters in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination arguing that the inclusion of black characters in the most popular comic strip in America would be a positive thing. Here is her initial letter to Schulz:

Franklin Peanuts Letter

After some back and forth between Schulz and Glickman, Franklin made his first appearance in the strip.

Franklin's introduction was part of a five-day sequence featuring Sally tossing away Charlie Brown's beach ball and Franklin rescuing it. In some ways, this seems an aggressive bit of integration -- many American public beaches, while no longer legally segregated, were still de facto segregated at the time. In other ways, the strips suggest what might be seen today as an excess of caution; of the twenty panels of the series, Franklin is in ten panels and Sally is in eight, but never is Franklin in the same panel as the white girl. Franklin would not reappear for another two and a half months, when he came for a visit to Charlie Brown's neighborhood. He was somewhat lighter skinned here, which seems to be less a matter of trying to make him acceptable to the readers and more a matter of cutting back on shading lines which were overpowering his facial features. Franklin's job in this series was to react to the oddness of the neighborhood kids, and that was a precursor to what would be his primary role in the strip as a whole. Perhaps due to excessive caution, Franklin was never granted any of the sort of usual quirks that define a Peanuts character, the very sort of mistake that Glickman was warning about when she called for one of the black kids to be "a Lucy."

His inclusion made news nationally and upset many people, particularly in the South. Schulz had a conversation with the president of the comic's distribution company:

I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin -- he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, "Well, Larry, let's put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How's that?"

(via @essl)

The Algorithmic SeaMAR 02

For years, one of the holy grails of computer generated visual effects was realistic looking water. Millions of dollars and rendering hours spent. Now, using just 185 lines of WebGL JavaScript code, you can get super-realistic ocean waves rendered right in any modern web browser at 60 frames/sec.

Wow. Wow wow. (via ★interesting-links)

Supply, demand, and equilibriumJAN 30

From Marginal Revolution University, three short videos on the economic concepts of supply, demand, and equilibrium using oil as an example good.

A love letter to plywoodFEB 24

I have a new appreciation of plywood after watching this:

A regular expression for finding prime numbersFEB 12

Given that there's so much mathematicians don't know about prime numbers, you might be surprised to learn that there's a very simple regular expression for detecting prime numbers:

/^1?$|^(11+?)\1+$/

If you've got access to Perl on the command line, try it out with some of these (just replace [number] with any integer):

perl -wle 'print "Prime" if (1 x shift) !~ /^1?$|^(11+?)\1+$/' [number]

An explanation is here which I admit I did not quite follow. A commenter at Hacker News adds a bit more context:

However while cute, it is very slow. It tries every possible factorization as a pattern match. When it succeeds, on a string of length n that means that n times it tries to match a string of length n against a specific pattern. This is O(n^2). Try it on primes like 35509, 195341, 526049 and 1030793 and you can observe the slowdown.

Alto's AdventureFEB 19

Altos Adventure

Alto's Adventure just came out this morning and is definitely my go-to iOS game for the foreseeable future. The game is a cross between something like Monument Valley (the audio and visuals are beautiful) and Ski Safari, which is still one of my all-time favorites.

rating: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

John Gruber's tweet last night reminded me I'd never written up a review for Room 237, the documentary about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Gruber writes:

Broke down and watched "Room 237". It was bad. Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people.

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

I agree. I watched it earlier this year and disliked the film so much, I didn't even finish it, which is rare for me. As I hinted at on Twitter, I'm exposed to enough anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-anthropogenic climate change, anti-science, and religious fundamentalist "theories" in my day-to-day reading that are genuinely harmful to humanity that an examination of how the minds of conspiracy theory crackpots take the smallest little details and weave them into fantastical stories that make no sense is not how I want to spend my time.

As if to underscore my dislike of the film, the following arrived in my inbox shortly after I watched it.

To: Jason Kottke <jason@kottke.org>
Prospective Story: Re: Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"

i'm not good at salesmanship so i'll get right to the point. i've solved the mystery of room 237 in stanley kubrick's 'the shining' i'm shopping this information to various media sources. here's the deal:

*** the price is $13,000.00

*** i'm aware of the documentaries, the scholarly analyses and the terrabytes of web space dedicated to the topic

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

*** there's no risk. either you think the solution to the greatest cinematic mystery of all time is worth 13k or you don't. all i require beforehand is a conditional agreement protecting me from ip theft

*** i remain anonymous. once the transaction is complete the information is yours. i don't care who receives credit or what you do with it

it's been over 30 years. this information should be public. YOU can be the first.

i look forward to your response

Putting on my tin foil hat for a minute, DONT YOU SHEEPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS? That someone is watching what I'm watching! How did this person know I had just watched Room 237?! I bet it's the NSA! Or something! They are watching for people with large audiences to plant lies about Kubrick to deflect attention away from the faked Moon landing! For some reason! THIS IS THE PROOF WEVE BEEN WAITING FOR!??

Yep: "Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people."

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