After tinkering in the kitchen for weeks, Kenji Lopez-Alt has discovered a super-simple recipe for macaroni & cheese that uses only three ingredients and takes about ten minutes to make.
The idea for this came from working on my recipe for cacio e pepe, the Roman pasta and cheese dish. In that recipe, I cook spaghetti in a small volume of water, using the starchy pasta water to emulsify the cheese into a creamy sauce. I wondered if the same thing would work for an American-style macaroni and cheese, using a much higher ratio of cheese to pasta and using cheddar in place of pecorino.
It didn’t quite work the first time — the high proportion of cheese caused the sauce to break and turn greasy — but with a few tweaks, I nailed it.
Need to try this soon.
One of my favorite art experiences this year was seeing Bruce Conner’s short film Crossroads at The Whitney. (It’s part of the Dreamlands exhibition, on view until Feb 5, 2017.) The film pairs slow-motion clips of the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll with music from composers Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. The result is mesmerizing…the film’s 37 minutes long and I sat through the entire thing and will likely go back once more before the show closes. Riley’s portion of the music was particularly memorable for me…I would love to have a recording of that. Neither the film or the music is available online, save for the short clip at the bottom of this page, so you’ll have to go to The Whitney or SFMOMA, where it also happens to be showing.
Update: It’s not an exact match, but this 51-minute song from Riley called Descending Moonshine Dervishes is quite close to the music he did for Crossroads.
National Geographic Infographics is an anthology published by Taschen of some of the best infographics featured by National Geographic in the past 128 years.
Through seven sections — History, The Planet, Being Human, Animal World, World of Plants, Science and Technology, and Space — we encounter the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the mysterious origins of the Easter Island statues, Cleopatra’s Alexandria and a history of Hawaiian surfboarding, all distilled in expert, accessible graphic form. We discover how our genetic patterns have been pieced together over the years or how hip-hop emerged as a cultural heavyweight; we get to grips with global warming, and explore our ever-expanding study of an ever-expanding universe.
I really like Keanu Reeves. He’s one of my favorite actors and seems like a genuinely nice person who has dealt well with his stardom. But after watching this collection of clips from every single movie he’s ever been in, I can’t tell if Reeves is actually a good actor or not. He definitely gets better as his career progresses, but many scenes where emotion or nuance are called for are just…oof. It’s like he’s reading the dictionary sometimes. But I still like him! Why is that?
See also: Danny Bowes believes Reeves belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Hollywood Action Stars along with John Wayne, Tom Cruise, and Harrison Ford.
Update: From Peter Suderman, Why Keanu Reeves is a perfect action star:
This may come off hyperbolic, or flat-out inaccurate, to those who don’t see Reeves as a great screen actor. And granted, his performance style doesn’t capture the tiny nuances of human reactions that are usually associated with great acting; he’s often characterized as a big-screen blank, and that’s not an entirely faulty statement.
But while it’s not wrong to label Reeves a blank, it’s also not enough. For nearly three decades, Reeves has proven himself one of Hollywood’s most durable and entertaining action stars, and the John Wick films show why: His total physical commitment to his action roles makes him a perfect avatar for the visions of ambitious action directors. At his very best, he becomes inseparable from the cinematic visions he embodies.
I look forward to David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his favorite films of the year and 2016’s installment does not disappoint. Nice to see Beyonce’s Lemonade, the weirdo Swiss Army Man (which I loved, Daniel Radcliffe 4eva!), and the excellent OJ: Made in America on there. Still puzzled by Hail Caesar…I love the Coen brothers but was bored by this one. No Arrival though…this was the only movie I saw in the theater twice this year. For those looking for upcoming or recently released films to watch, Ehrlich includes Jackie, La La Land, and Scorsese’s Silence on his list.
We’ve known for awhile that Wes Anderson is doing another stop-motion animated movie, but in this video, Anderson himself shares the name of the film — Isle of Dogs — and shows a very tiny clip of the character played by Edward Norton.
Also appearing in the film are Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Yoko Ono, Scarlett Johansson, and possibly you. Anderson is doing a fundraiser for a favorite charity and if you donate, you’re entered to win a trip to London to meet Wes, get a tour of the production, and record the voice of a character for the movie (“barking, howling & whimpering may be required”).
Update: The poster for the movie is out. WWII?
This is a map showing where all of the characters originated in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. I know Greece is small by today’s standards, but it was surprising to me how geographically widespread the hometowns of the characters were. The Iliad is set sometime in the 11th or 12th century BC, about 400 years before Homer lived. I wonder if that level of mobility was accurate for the time or if Homer simply populated his poem with folks from all over Greece as a way of making listeners from many areas feel connected to the story — sort of the “hello, Cleveland!” of its time. (thx, adriana)
Update: I’ve gotten lots of feedback saying that not every character is represented in this map (particularly the women) and that some of the locations and hometowns are incorrect. Seems like Wikipedia might need to take a second look at it.
Update: The map was made using the Catalogue of Ships, a list of Achaean ships that sailed to Troy, and the Trojan Catalogue, a list of battle contingents that fought for Troy. That’s why it’s incomplete. An excerpt:
Now will I tell the captains of the ships and the ships in their order. Of the Boeotians Peneleos and Leïtus were captains, and Arcesilaus and Prothoënor and Clonius; these were they that dwelt in Hyria and rocky Aulis and Schoenus and Scolus and Eteonus with its many ridges, Thespeia, Graea, and spacious Mycalessus; and that dwelt about Harma and Eilesium and Erythrae; and that held Eleon and Hyle and Peteon, Ocalea and Medeon, the well-built citadel, Copae, Eutresis, and Thisbe, the haunt of doves; that dwelt in Coroneia and grassy Haliartus, and that held Plataea and dwelt in Glisas; that held lower Thebe, the well-built citadel, and holy Onchestus, the bright grove of Poseidon; and that held Arne, rich in vines, and Mideia and sacred Nisa and Anthedon on the seaboard.
Ice Call is a clip from a freeskiing movie called Backyards Project that features Sam Favret using the gullies, ridges, and caves of Chamonix’s Mer de Glace glacier like a natural terrain park to do some super-cool tricks and jumps. If you like skiing at all, this might make you want to head to France tout de suite.
Last night, during the Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III1 for Attorney General, Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship (which he did not get).
The first page of the letter appears above and the entire contents may be read here. King pretty plainly states that Sessions abused his position in an attempt to disenfranchise black voters:
Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.
Under Senate Rule XIX and after two votes by the full Senate, Warren was barred from speaking and finishing the letter.
When Warren first spoke against Sessions Tuesday night, Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, warned her that she was breaking the rules. When she continued anyway, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retaliated by finding her in violation of Senate Rule XIX — which prevents any senator from using “any form of words [to] impute to another Senator… any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
Warren later read the letter outside of the Senate chambers. How the Senate is supposed to debate the appointment of a Cabinet member without being able to criticize the actions, words, and beliefs of that candidate is left as an exercise to the reader. (Ok, I’ll answer anyway: it’s not supposed to debate. That’s the entire point of the Republicans’ actions w/r/t Trump’s political nominees thus far.)
King’s letter, which Buzzfeed called “a key part of the case against Sessions [in 1986]” was only published earlier this week in part because Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond never officially entered it into the congressional record. Thurmond, you may remember, vehemently opposed the civil rights reforms of the 50s and 60s, even going so far as filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for more than 24 hours and switching political parties because of the Democrats’ support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
And Senate Rule XIX? Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann notes the precedent:
Let’s be clear on the precedent here: it’s the 1836-44 gag rule that forbade any consideration of abolition in the House.
Racist southern representatives were so frustrated by abolitionist petitions to Congress, that they adopted a series of rules.
All abolitionist petitions would immediately be tabled, and any attempt to introduce them would be prohibited.
From pro-slavery members of the House to Davis to Beauregard to Thurmond to Trump (and Bannon) to Sessions to McConnell (and the nearly all-white Republican majority). Paraphrasing Stephen Hawking, it’s white supremacy all the way down. Gosh, if you’re a black person in America, you might even think the system is tilted against you!
P.S. I like this part of Senate Rule XIX, right at the bottom:
8. Former Presidents of the United States shall be entitled to address the Senate upon appropriate notice to the Presiding Officer who shall thereupon make the necessary arrangements.
I’m not sure what it would accomplish, but seeing a former President address this Senate, after an appropriate period spent kiteboarding, would be pretty fun to watch.
P.P.S. In silencing Warren, McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Not a bad explanation of the feminist movement in America there, Mitch. Folks on Twitter are having fun with the #shepersisted hashtag.
Update: While the precedent for Senate Rule XIX dates back to the abolition debates in the 1830s and 1840s, the actual rule was made after a fight broke out in the Senate in 1902. From a book called The American Senate: An Insider’s Story:
South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman accused his South Carolina colleague, John McLaurin, of selling his vote for federal patronage. McLaurin called Tillman a malicious liar. Tillman lunged at him, striking him above the left eye. McLaurin hit Tillman back with an upper-cut to the nose.
Given the history of this rule and how it was recently applied, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn that Tillman was an outspoken advocate of lynching, once remarking in a speech:
“[We] agreed on on the policy of terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.” (Tillman boasted during the same speech that his pistol had been used to execute seven black men in 1876.)
So we can squeeze Tillman in-between Beauregard and Thurmond in the abbreviated narrative of how it came to be that a white majority Senate silenced a white woman for reading a letter written by a black woman.
Using mostly old-school visual effects — like ink dispersing in an aquarium and poking holes in napkins (to represent stars) — Thomas Vanz created a pretty compelling representation of a dying star going supernova.
Novae is a movie about an astronomical event that occurs during the last evolutionary stages of a massive star’s life, whose dramatic and catastrophic death is marked by one final titanic explosion called supernova.
By only using an aquarium, ink and water, this film is also an attempt to represent the giant with the small without any computed generated imagery.
As a tribute to Kubrick or Nolan’s filmography, Novae is a cosmic poem that want to introduce the viewer to the nebulae’s infinite beauty.
Vanz documented his process in these two videos, which are almost as entertaining as the finished product.
The original Planet Earth series was released 10 years ago. In celebration, BBC asked some YouTube creators to share their favorite scenes from the show. My pick would be the shark jumping out of the water, not least because of the technique the filmmakers invented to capture the scene.
The Equal Justice Initiative is filling jars with soil from the sites of lynchings to honor the victims and to create a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950 — several hundred of these victims were lynched in Alabama.
Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West in the first half of the 20th century. Lynching created a fearful environment in which racial subordination and segregation were maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.
Rob Holmes recently visited and took some photos of the jars…just row after row of them. “Stunning,” he said.
Update: See also this map of lynchings in the US.
The United States Government Manual is the official handbook of the US federal government. Here is the org chart for our government…take notice of what’s right at the top:
I’m no constitutional scholar, but that particular document starts off:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I realize the current executive administration doesn’t care and the current majority in the legislative branch barely cares, but remembering exactly who our government works for will be helpful over the next few years. (via @monstro)
Watching these soap bubbles freeze in 5 °F weather is pretty much the coolest. What’s that? You want me to acknowledge that pun back there in a playfully knowing way? Ok, fine. (via @choitotheworld)
From Now This, a short animated history of Planned Parenthood, the origins of which date back more than 100 years.
No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.
Voices in the video include Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Meryl Streep.
The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail is releasing a limited edition of ten stamps honoring David Bowie, available on March 14 (although you can preorder now).
The images include Bowie in concert on the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973; the famous zigzag lightning bolt across his face on the “Aladdin Sane” cover; and the covers of his “Heroes” (1977), “Let’s Dance” (1983) and “Earthling” (1997) albums. An image from Bowie’s final LP, “Blackstar,” released days before his death, is also part of the set…
The Royal Mail said that this will be the first time it has dedicated a full set of stamps to a single musician. Philip Parker, the stamp strategy manager at the Royal Mail, said in a statement that the stamp issue honored Bowie’s “many celebrated personas.”
He said: “For five decades David Bowie was at the forefront of contemporary culture, and has influenced successive generations of musicians, artists, designers and writers.”
I would love for the USPS to do something similar for Prince. I don’t know if we have any other stamps that honor royalty. (Besides maybe Wonder Woman.)
Testing human blood for tropical diseases like malaria can be difficult in some parts of the world. Centrifuges used to separate the blood for testing are expensive and require electricity. Researchers from Stanford have developed an ingenious human-powered centrifuge made of paper and string inspired by a children’s toy invented 5000 years ago (paging Steven Johnson, Steven Johnson to the courtesy desk please).
In a global-health context, commercial centrifuges are expensive, bulky and electricity-powered, and thus constitute a critical bottleneck in the development of decentralized, battery-free point-of-care diagnostic devices. Here, we report an ultralow-cost (20 cents), lightweight (2 g), human-powered paper centrifuge (which we name ‘paperfuge’) designed on the basis of a theoretical model inspired by the fundamental mechanics of an ancient whirligig (or buzzer toy; 3,300 BC). The paperfuge achieves speeds of 125,000 r.p.m. (and equivalent centrifugal forces of 30,000 g), with theoretical limits predicting 1,000,000 r.p.m. We demonstrate that the paperfuge can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 min, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 min.
A million rpm from paper and string…that’s incredible. (via gizmodo)
In the US, cars went from curvy in the 30s & 40s to boxy in the 60s and then back to curvy in the 90s. The price of oil, design imported from Europe, and fuel economy regulations all played a factor in the changes.
Update: A strong rebuttal from Jalopnik:
This Vox Video About The Evolution Of Cars Is A Complete Mess. (via @nick__vance)
French drone company Parrot recently announced significant layoffs and will shift focus away from their recreational drone business.
French company Parrot has had a rough year and missed its sales expectations. That’s why the company will lay off 290 employees who were working on drones. In total, Parrot currently has 840 employees on the drone team and more than a thousand employees in total.
While the company isn’t just selling drones, it represents a good chunk of the business. But it looks like other companies, such as DJI, are doing better in this market. Parrot expected to report $105.9 million in sales for 2016. It reported $90 million instead (€85 million vs. €100 million expected).
Even though the company is still selling quite a few drones, Parrot says that it doesn’t generate healthy margins. So here’s the new plan: focusing on commercial drones.
Well, this explains my holiday shopping difficulties with Parrot. Ollie asked for a drone for Christmas and after doing some research, I decided on the Parrot Swing. Amazon was out of stock, so I decided to buy directly from Parrot. They had stock and the site said they’d ship in plenty of time for Xmas. So I ordered one. The next day, I get a call from Parrot saying I need to “verify my order”. So, I call them back, give them some info about my order and where it’s being shipped and the very nice woman on the phone tells me that I’m all set and they’re shipping it out.
Two days go by, no shipping confirmation email in sight. I get another voicemail: you need to call us to verify your order. I call back, give them the same info and tell them, oh by the way I’ve already done this once. Profuse apologies were offered, that was a mistake, and the very nice woman on the phone tells me she’s going to tell the shipping people to send out my order “right away”. It will still arrive in time for Xmas. The next day I get an email from Parrot:
Hello! We have refunded your order No. XXXXX-XXXXX placed 12/15/2016. We are sorry that your order did not meet your expectations and hope that you will visit us again.
Obviously, I am done with them at this point but still need that drone. Amazon is still out of stock, but Walmart has them. I order one, it arrives two days later (with free shipping), and on Christmas morning, after some reflection, Ollie says it was the best present Santa has ever gotten him.
I did quite a bit of holiday shopping this year…went a bit nuts making up for some not-so-great efforts the past two years. The kids and I shopped for Toys for Tots (twice), I bought gifts for them from me and from Santa, I bought non-holiday stuff like clothes for myself,1 and I shopped virtually for the gift guide. I shopped every which way: small, locally, at big box stores, and online at 4-5 different retailers. My main takeaway from that experience? Amazon is miles and miles and miles ahead of everyone else. It is not even close.
Sure, Walmart had the drone in stock, but when I’d tried shopping with them earlier in the month, the product page threw a 404 error. I switched to Safari and was able to put the item into my cart, but then a form in the ordering flow wouldn’t work, so I had to get that item elsewhere. (When I did finally create an account while ordering the drone, Walmart thought my name was “Ashley”?!)
Target’s site was so slow that it was nearly unusable (like 30-40 seconds for a product page to start loading). But I persevered because they had an item I really wanted that no one else had in stock. I got an email two days before Xmas saying they were out of stock and couldn’t ship until Jan 4 at the earliest, but that if I still wanted the item, I would have to log in to my account to verify the new shipping date. I didn’t want the item later, so I did nothing. Guess what arrived on my doorstep last week?
My troubles with Parrot I shared above. The local toy stores are expensive (Lego sets are $5-10 more than if you buy online) and ran out of popular items 2-3 weeks before Xmas. Very few online stores outside Amazon, Walmart, etc. had clear holiday shipping policies, so relying on them more than a week or two out was risky. Zappos was great (Amazon owns them) and Patagonia was pretty good, although their shipping estimates aren’t that great and returns aren’t free.
And Amazon? The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years,1 each product page was clearly marked with holiday shipping information, they showed the number of items in stock if they were running low, shipping was free (b/c I’m a Prime member), returns are often free, and the items arrived on time as promised. More than 20 years after the invention of online retailing, how is it that Amazon seems to be the only one that’s figured all this out? How come massive companies like Walmart and Target, whose very businesses are under immense pressure from Amazon, can’t get this stuff right despite having spent hundreds of millions on it? I’m not a financial analyst, but unless something changes drastically, Amazon is just going to continue to eat more and more of the US retail pie and at this point, with all these advantages they’ve accrued and their razor-sharp focus on low pricing, it’s difficult to see how anyone is going to compete.1
Lode Runner was probably the first video game I was ever obsessed with. I finished all 150 levels and designed countless custom levels to stump my younger sister with. That level editor was my first taste of design and I loved it. Simon Hung has built a version of the game in HTML5 that includes the 150 levels of the original game as well as almost 300 levels of subsequent versions and and! AND!! the custom level editor!!! (I actually squealed when I discovered this in the options.) I’ll see you in a few days, I guess. (via @pomeranian99)
Artist Matthew Rangel hikes through what looks like some of the most beautiful terrain in the world and makes these cartographic drawings based on his experiences. Lovely work. (via @djacobs)
From Timeline, a collection of photos of video arcades in the 80s.
The years between 1978 and 1983 are generally considered the golden age of video games. Most recognize Space Invaders as the original, arcade game to reach mass audiences, quickly followed by Asteroids (1979), Centipede (1980), and Pac-Man (1980). Space Invaders was such a hit it was rumored that Japan suffered a shortage of ¥100 coins in its wake. But Pac-Man was the real game changer. Stateside, reception of the ground breaking character-driven game was ravenous, and by the end of the 20th century it was estimated that Pac-Man’s total gross consumer revenue had hit $2.5 billion (or 10 billion quarters).
I have an odd nostalgia for video arcades. They were very present in the media when I was a kid, but growing up in a small town, I never had the opportunity to actually visit a proper arcade in their heyday, aside from the one tucked into a corner of roller skating rink in a slightly larger nearby town. The best we had was a single Ms. Pac-Man machine in the entrance way of our local grocery store and the occasional Donkey Kong or Mr. Do machine we stumbled across in pizza places when we travelled later in the 80s. I was an arcade-era kid who had to wait for the Nintendo and Game Boy.
Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker have collected a group of writers to tell stories about political objects they own.
Batches of POLITICAL OBJECTS stories will appear on HILOBROW before, on, and just after the inauguration, and will continue to roll out through the end of March. The objects include overtly political artifacts both charismatic and absurd, and items whose stealthily political nature will surprise you; the stories range from the uplifting to the poignant to the unexpectedly illuminating. It’s a terrific collection.
Stephen Duncombe wrote about a God Bless Hysteria protest sign and Ben Greenman wrote about a Matchbox car.
Soon enough, I found what I didn’t know I was looking for — a Corvette. This was early May of 2016. Prince had just died. I had just started writing a book about him. I knew that I needed a little red Corvette, somehow, as a talisman. The only problem was that the one from the bin was black. I bought it. I took it home. I went into the closet and found the model paints that my sons no longer use. I painted it red.
At The Awl, Victoria Johnson fondly remembers the books of her youth that contained extra material. Like maps.
If I ruled the world, or at least a publishing company, all books would contain as much supplementary information as possible. Nonfiction, fiction — doesn’t matter. Every work would have an appendix filled with diagrams, background information, digressions and anecdata. And of course, maps. Lots and lots of maps.
The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, and The Wizard of Oz all included great maps that expanded the story in the mind of the reader. Near the end of the piece, Johnson notes that The Hunger Games didn’t include a map of Panem and links to this fan-drawn map (image here):
The Capitol is in Denver.
D12 is Appalachia.
D11 shares a border with D12, is one of the largest districts, is South of D12, and is primarily used for growing grain and produce.
D10 is primarily used for raising livestock. They do NOT process the livestock in D10. However, to feed an entire nation, D10 is likely another very large District.
D9 processes food for the Capitol and the tesserae; therefore, it likely shares borders with the food production Districts (D4, D10, D11).
D8 produces and treats textiles and is a factory District. It is POSSIBLE to reach D12 from D8 on foot over a course of weeks/months. Therefore, it does not cross a large body of water.
May the maps be ever in your books.
Last month, game designer Elizabeth Sampat took to Twitter to share some life lessons she’d learned. Perhaps you’ll find some of them as interesting and useful as I did.
The maximum amount of work you can ever possibly do in a relationship is 50%.
When someone says they can’t do something, 75% of the time it means “There are things not worth sacrificing to make this happen.”
Never feel bad for dropping people from your life. Friends, family, whoever.
Don’t rely on a single person for all your emotional needs, even if monogamous. It’s not a poly thing, it’s a diversification of assets.
Brussels sprouts and spinach are delicious, it’s just that your mom couldn’t cook.
Mallory Ortberg’s “what an odd thing to say!” is the world’s best polite response to someone saying something insulting.
You can’t self-control your way out of sadness.
Corey Robin is a political scientist whose expertise is the history of conservative movements and the politics of fear. Sounds like the perfect person to predict whether reactionary strongmen are about to swoop in and destroy the democratic institutions we’ve all enjoyed, right?
It’s a little more complicated. We are more complicated.
The worst, most terrible things that the United States has done have almost never happened through an assault on American institutions; they’ve always happened through American institutions and practices. These are the elements of the American polity that have offered especially potent tools and instruments of intimidation and coercion: federalism, the separation of powers, social pluralism, and the rule of law. All the elements of the American experience that liberals and conservatives have so cherished as bulwarks of American freedom have also been sources and instruments of political fear. In all the cases I looked at, coercion, intimidation, repression, and violence were leveraged through these mechanisms, not in spite of them.
Genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, imperialism, internment camps, crushing unions, mass surveillance, torture, lynching, indefinite detention, extrajudicial murder, and on, and on — Americans have inflicted all of this on other Americans and on the rest of the world, not in the distant past, not as an original sin, but right up to the present day.
Which is not so unusual, for great powers of the world, or even most of the smaller ones. What is exceptional about America, if anything, is we have done all of this without once needing a strongman to do it. As Robin says, it’s been done “through lawyers, genteel men of the Senate with their august traditions and practices, and the Supreme Court.”
This is why people like SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch seem almost comforting next to Trump and his inner circle. They seem so familiar.
This is what the “resilience of American institutions” means.
When it comes to the most terrible kinds of repression and violence, Fear, American Style has worked because it has given so many players a piece of the pie.
The storm is called progress.
The truth of the matter is that Trump and Bannon could get most if not all of what they want—in terms of the revanchism of race, gender, and class, the white Christian nation that they seem to wish for—without strongman politics. American institutions offer more than enough resources for revanchism. That they seem not to know this—that they are willing to make opponents of the military and the security establishment, that they are willing to arouse into opposition and conjure enemies out of potential friends—may be their biggest weakness of all. Or, if they do know this, but seek strongman politics anyway, perhaps because it is a surplus, then they’re willing to put strongman politics above and beyond the project of social revanchism that their base seeks. Which may be their other biggest weakness of all.
In my experience with abusers — and the best working explanation I have found for most of Trump’s behavior is not any exotic psychological disorder or espionage-related intrigue, but that he is a self-confessed, well-documented serial abuser — getting what they want is secondary. The abuse itself, the bullying exercise of power, the maintenance of dominance, is the point. Which is the other way in which all of this feels way too familiar.
Artist Josh Keyes makes paintings that imagine graffiti written on objects not commonly tagged, like satellites, whales, icebergs, and the Space Shuttle. (via colossal)
Richard Overton fought in the South Pacific in World War II, is 109 years old, still drives, sometimes drinks whiskey with breakfast, smokes 12 cigars a day (but doesn’t inhale), and still lives in the house he built himself in 1945. In this video from National Geographic, Overton talks about his military service, his faith, his long life, and soup. Overton’s short summary of World War II:
It wasn’t good, but we had to go.
I don’t really care to live to 100, but if I had Overton’s spirit and attitude, perhaps I’d consider it.
Update: Ryan Holiday recently visited with Overton and learned a thing or two about life.
The most animated Richard ever got was when he told me a story about the enormous pecan tree in his front yard. It seemed like an ordinary tree to me, until he told me his dog planted it seventy years ago. They had a pecan tree in the back, and the dog would grab the nuts and bury them in the front yard. With glee, Richard told me how eventually the tree grew and now it’s so big it’s nearly pushing up the foundation of his house. He loved the absurdity of it — a dog planting a tree! He was laughing at it still, seven decades later.
And then there’s this, about another instance of The Great Span:
It’s fascinating to think that when Richard was born Theodore Roosevelt was president. Overton is the oldest living American veteran now, but when he was born, Henry L. Riggs was still alive. Riggs was a veteran of the Black Hawk War (1832) and he was born in 1812…and Conrad Heyer, the Revolutionary War veteran and the oldest and earliest person to be photographed (born in 1749) was still alive when Riggs was born. Three overlapping lives, that’s all it took to get back to before even the idea of founding the United States. Richard’s brother fought in the first World War. He told me he remembered seeing Civil War veterans around when he was a kid. Not many, but they were there. It was Texas — those men fought to keep his mother in slavery. How long ago all that horribleness seems. How recent it is at the same time.
GQ talked to a bunch of people about Prince and came back with many stories — “ordinary and out there” — about the entertainer. Picked this excerpt pretty much at random:
Ian Boxill (engineer at Paisley Park, 2004-09): Even when he was dressed down, he’d dress like Prince: three-inch-tall flip-flops, or these heels with lights — they’d light up when he walked. That was his comfortable clothing. He had no pockets. You know, if you got people around that can carry phones and money for you, you can get away with that. No pockets and no watch. If he needed to use a phone he’d use my phone or a driver’s phone.
Hayes: We have a thing called Caribou Coffee in Minnesota, which is like Starbucks. He’d go over there, and he didn’t have any pockets. He didn’t have a wallet or any credit cards. He just had cash he’d carry in his hand-like, a $100 bill. And whoever took his order, they’d have a good day, ‘cause he’d buy his coffee drink and then just leave the whole hundred. He doesn’t wait for any change because he doesn’t have anywhere to put it.
Van Jones: He was very interested in the world. He wanted me to explain how the White House worked. He asked very detailed kind of foreign-policy questions. And then he’d ask, “Why doesn’t Obama just outlaw birthdays?” [laughs] I’m, like, “What?” He said, “I was hoping that Obama, as soon as he was elected, would get up and announce there’d be no more Christmas presents and no more birthdays — we’ve got too much to do.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know if that would go over too well.”
(via who else?)
In a 45-minute video called Riding Light, Alphonse Swinehart animates the journey outward from the Sun to Jupiter from the perspective of a photon of light. The video underscores just how slow light is in comparison to the vast distances it has to cover, even within our own solar system. Light takes 8.5 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth, almost 45 minutes to Jupiter, more than 4 years to the nearest star, 100,000 years to the center of our galaxy, 2.5 million years to the nearest large galaxy (Andromeda), and 32 billion years to reach the most remote galaxy ever observed.1 The music is by Steve Reich (Music for 18 Musicians), whose music can also seem sort of endless.
If you’re impatient, you can watch this 3-minute version, sped up by 15 times:
President Obama is a reader. NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani interviewed Obama about his reading just before he left office.
Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life — from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.
During his eight years in the White House — in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions — books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
During his tenure in office, the President publicly recommended 86 different books, compiled into one list by Entertainment Weekly. Here are several of them, some of which I have also read and recommended on this very site:
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro
Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Working, Studs Terkel
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
What Is the What, Dave Eggers
Our most widely read US President, for sure.
Update: I’m getting some pushback on my assertion that Obama was “our most widely read US President”. Since “widely read” seems to have multiple meanings, I should have been more explicit on what I meant. I didn’t mean that he had written the most books read by the most people (that is perhaps Teddy Roosevelt) or had read the most books (George W. Bush and Roosevelt were both voracious readers, as were Jefferson, Clinton, and Lincoln). I meant that compared to previous Presidents, Obama has read books from the widest spectrum of viewpoints and authors. Among the list of 86 (which are not the books he read in office but just the ones he publicly recommended) are books on politics (of course), science, economics, sports, and medicine, some classics, children’s books, plenty of fiction, and science fiction. Most importantly, the list includes many books written by women and persons of color. Judging by this (partial) George W. Bush reading list (which includes only two books written by women (one of whom is his daughter)), outside of Clinton and perhaps Carter, I would wager very few Presidents have read many books by women and no more than a token few books by black authors.
Jesse Kriss wonders whether we’ve been acclimating ourselves to a more authoritarian system for some time, not just through politics, but in our technical and commercial choices. Like, say, whichever social network you might have used to route to this story right now.
We live with our technological and political systems. They are part of the fabric and substance of our everyday existence. That is significant, but it also goes deeper: their embedded values and philosophies are inescapable.
The systems we use everyday can have insidious effects: we internalize them, and they constrain our imaginations. When everything around us mirrors the same structural properties, those positions and impositions become invisible to us-we don’t even realize that they’re there, or that it could be any other way.
This isn’t to say that big systems have to be evil-far from it-but when everything is this way, our democracy, our agency, our freedom, and our imagination are all at risk.
This is by way of introducing a now two-weeks-old open-source project called Altcloud, described as “a web server with some niceties build in so that you can create real applications without any backend code or external services.” It’s probably beyond my talents, but I imagine more than a few Kottke readers could build some cool things with something like that.
Yesterday, I was talking with my friend Audrey Watters, a technology journalist, historian, and education activist. For years, Audrey’s been critical of education technology companies — their data and privacy practices, their close ties to the military and prison-industrial complexes, their historical myopia, and their ideologies about what learning is and what (and who) it is for. And basically, what she’s always done is to try to articulate an antifascist alternative to education technology, knowing that the roots of what we do now lies in the command-and-control models we borrowed from Nazi Germany, American slavery (and the systems that succeeded it), and the most exploitative and totalitarian sides of good old-fashioned liberal capitalism.
In a talk titled “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump,” she writes:
I’m concerned, in no small part, because students are often unaware of the amount of data that schools and the software companies they contract with know about them. I’m concerned because students are compelled to use software in educational settings. You can’t opt out of the learning management system. You can’t opt out of the student information system. You can’t opt out of required digital textbooks or digital assignments or digital assessments. You can’t opt out of the billing system or the financial aid system. You can’t opt of having your cafeteria purchases, Internet usage, dorm room access, fitness center habits tracked. Your data as a student is scattered across multiple applications and multiple databases, most of which I’d wager are not owned or managed by the school itself but rather outsourced to a third-party provider.
School software (and I’m including K-12 software here alongside higher ed) knows your name, your birth date, your mailing address, your home address, your race or ethnicity, your gender (I should note here that many education technologies still require “male” or “female” and do not allow for alternate gender expressions). It knows your marital status. It knows your student identification number (it might know your Social Security Number). It has a photo of you, so it knows your face. It knows the town and state in which you were born. Your immigration status. Your first language and whether or not that first language is English. It knows your parents’ language at home. It knows your income status - that is, at the K-12 level, if you quality for a free or reduced lunch and at the higher ed level, if you qualify for a Pell Grant. It knows if you are the member of a military family. It knows if you have any special education needs. It knows if you were identified as “gifted and talented.” It knows if you graduated high school or passed a high school equivalency exam. It knows your attendance history - how often you miss class as well as which schools you’ve previously attended. It knows your behavioral history. It knows your criminal history. It knows your participation in sports or other extracurricular activities. It knows your grade level. It knows your major. It knows the courses you’ve taken and the grades you’ve earned. It knows your standardized test scores.
This has always been a problem, but now it’s a problem with a different kind of relevance and a different range of endgames. Data can be destroyed, which hurts us one way, or it can be operationalized and abused, which hurts us in another. Data can also make us complicit, by limiting our range of expectations, encouraging us to accept compromised outcomes and successes and not question too closely what forces are moving behind the scenes. Trust given is not easily revoked; and trust abused is not easily regained.
The Recording Academy has produced a series of three short and breezy videos on the history of recorded music, from the wax cylinder phonograph to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s. Interest piqued, I went to read more about the history of the CD. When developing the disc, the physical size of it was dictated by Beethoven:
The two companies argued about what size, shape and technology the CD should support. It was eventually settled on a disc of 115 millimetres in diameter and 74 minutes worth of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course.
When the format was released in 1982, players cost $900 and CDs themselves were $30 ($2270 and $75 in 2016 dollars)1 and fewer than 100 individual titles were available for sale.
The words “Blade Runner sequel” have inspired equal parts excitement and dread in my heart. Some things, you just shouldn’t mess with, particularly if you’re Ridley Scott (see the Alien5 franchise). But with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford headlining, Denis Villeneuve directing (he did the pitch-perfect Arrival), and this teaser trailer, the scale has tipped towards excitement.
Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
Garry Kasparov, who is one of the top chess players ever, said that his 1999 match against Veselin Topalov was the greatest game of chess he ever played. In this video, MatoJelic goes through the game, move by move. Even if you only have a passing interest in chess, I’d recommend watching…it gets really interesting after the first 10-12 moves (which are presented without explanation) and listening to someone who is passionate about a topic is often worth it.
Also entertaining and informative was his explanation of The Game of the Century, which pitted a 13-year-old Bobby Fischer against Donald Byrne, a top-ranked American player. (via farnam street)
808 is a feature-length documentary film on perhaps the most important musical instrument of the past 30 years, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The soundtrack includes songs by Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Jamie xx. The film will be available exclusively on Apple Music sometime in the next week but will likely be available elsewhere at some point after that.
See also a browser-based emulation of the 808.
Over at Bloomberg, Tyler Cowen provides an explanation as to why Donald Trump and his staff are lying.
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
This is interesting throughout, particularly the bit about “higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths”.
Note that these tactics do not require a strategic masterplan.1 We know Trump acts mostly on instinct, so all the lying is just how he’s found success doing business in the past. I’ve been listening to The Power Broker on audiobook for the past few months and the similarities between how Robert Moses operated (particularly in NYC at the height of his powers) and Trump’s tactics are downright eerie, right down to the outright lies, ignoring outside counsel, and favoring short-term results over deeper long-term consequences.2 Both men had so much power and (especially in Moses’ case) capability that they could have really helped people and made a difference in the lives of millions but instead used it mainly to get their own way.
The film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is moving right along. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Emma Watson (as well as John Boyega from The Force Awakens) and the first trailer was released yesterday. Looks Black Mirror-ish…I think we’ll be getting a lot of that over the next four years.
If you were a religious reader of the encyclopedia and peruser of atlases like I was as a kid, you’ll love this video of interesting facts about almost 100 countries. There’s another video coming next week that’ll highlight the rest of the world’s countries…I’ll feature it here when they post it.
Update: I’ve embedded part 2 below the first video.
From psychotherapist Amy Morin, who expanded this list into a book of the same name, a list of 13 ways mentally strong people avoid negative behaviors.
1. They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
2. They Don’t Give Away Their Power
3. They Don’t Shy Away from Change
4. They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control
5. They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
6. They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks
7. They Don’t Dwell on the Past
8. They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
9. They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success
10. They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure
11. They Don’t Fear Alone Time
12. They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything
13. They Don’t Expect Immediate Results
That’s all fine and those are worthy goals — and the book probably gets into more detail about this — but do you become more mentally strong by not doing these things or do you already need mental strength? Some of this seems to come down to personality or temperament, things that are difficult to change under even the best circumstances. And self-help lists like this always make me think of Simpsons pitchman Troy McClure’s introduction to a self-help video he’s hosting:
Oh hi, I’m Troy McClure. You might remember me from such self-help videos as Smoke Yourself Thin and Get Confident, Stupid!
It’s simple, just get confident! Just draw the rest of the fucking owl!
Steve Hackman, aka Stereo Hideout, composes, arranges, and conducts mashups of orchestral music and pop music. Not just mixes on Soundcloud, mind you, but entirely new compositions that are played by actual orchestras. The video embedded above is Brahms Symphony No. 1 mixed with Radiohead’s OK Computer but he’s also done a few others that are available on YouTube: Copland vs Bon Iver, Beethoven vs Coldplay, and Bartok vs Bjork. Hackman’s next project in this vein? Tchaikovsky vs Drake, which he’s premiering with the Pittsburgh Symphony in March. (thx, spencer)
Update: Here’s a trailer from Tchaikovsky vs Drake:
I wish I lived closer to Pittsburgh…I’d totally go.
Earlier this year, the LIGO experiment detected evidence of gravitational waves. Now the evidence shows that those waves may have echoes, which would contradict one of the tentpoles of modern physics, the general theory of relativity.
It was hailed as an elegant confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity — but ironically the discovery of gravitational waves earlier this year could herald the first evidence that the theory breaks down at the edge of black holes. Physicists have analysed the publicly released data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and claim to have found “echoes” of the waves that seem to contradict general relativity’s predictions.
The echoes could yet disappear with more data. If they persist, the finding would be extraordinary. Physicists have predicted that Einstein’s hugely successful theory could break down in extreme scenarios, such as at the centre of black holes. The echoes would indicate the even more dramatic possibility that relativity fails at the black hole’s edge, far from its core.
If the echoes go away, then general relativity will have withstood a test of its power — previously, it wasn’t clear that physicists would be able to test their non-standard predictions.
Covering an actual time of 20 minutes, you can watch this time lapse of smog rolling into Beijing in a matter of a few seconds. The NY Times has a short piece on the video, which was filmed on January 2.
Residents have come to expect such dense air pollution in the late fall and winter, as people burn coal to heat their homes. Recently, the problem has been particularly bad, and the city has been enveloped in smog for extended periods starting in October.
Mr. Pope, writing on Twitter, pegged the air quality index, a measure of the pollution, above 400 around the time of the video. The United States government rates readings of 301 to 500 as “hazardous.”
What a disaster…and the air wasn’t that clear before the smog rolled in. I’ve been to Beijing once, back in 1995, and even though I’d love to see how the city has changed over the past 20 years, I have no interest in returning until they get their air quality under control.
Update: And it’s not just Beijing; cities around the world are struggling with pollution. Parts of London have blown through their annual 2017 emissions limits in just 5 days.
By law, hourly levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year, but late on Thursday this limit was broken on Brixton Road in Lambeth.
Many other sites across the capital will go on to break the annual limit and Putney High Street exceeded the hourly limit over 1,200 times in 2016. Oxford Street, Kings Road in Chelsea and the Strand are other known pollution hotspots.
I don’t know about you, but I could watch milling machines grinding down metal all day long (and very nearly did). Seeing metal behave like soft butter is weiiiird. Those blades are shaaaarp. Some words can be made looooong by repeating voooooowels. (via @rands)
From this piece by Evan Williams, it sounds like Medium is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.
So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.
It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like. This strategy is more focused but also less proven. It will require time to get it right, as well as some different skills. Which is why we are taking these steps today and saying goodbye to many talented people.
I like Medium and read thoughtful & engaging stuff on there daily, including articles by the many publications that moved their entire publishing operations to Medium and who were caught off-guard by Williams’ announcement:
As part of the strategic pivot, Medium will lay off 50 staffers and close its satellite offices in New York and Washington. It will also stop selling “Promoted Stories,” its native ad unit, and distributing revenue from those sales to publishers.
Medium’s exit from the online ad business was news to some of its publishing partners, many of whom have come to depend on the publishing platform as a key source of revenue. More than two dozen publications are members of Medium’s revenue beta program, which allows them to sell paid subscriptions to readers and to receive a cut of Medium’s native advertising revenue.
Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.
Over the past year, when I was thinking about how best to steward kottke.org into a financially stable future, moving to Medium was definitely an option. But never, in my mind, a very serious option. It was just too many eggs in one basket for a small publisher like me, especially when Medium is still obviously trying to figure out if they’re even in the egg-carrying business. New businesses are unstable…that’s just the way it is.1 In Silicon Valley (and in other startup-rich areas), these unstable businesses have lots of someone else’s money to throw around — which makes them appear more stable in the short term — but they cannot escape the reality of the extreme risk involved in building a new business, particularly a business that needs to grow quickly (as almost all VC-backed startups are required to do). All of which can make it difficult to enter into a business arrangement with a startup…just ask publishers working with Facebook or businesses dependent on Twitter’s API or Vine or Tumblr, not to mention the thousands of startups that have ceased to exist over the years.
With kottke.org, even though it hasn’t been easy, I’ve opted for independence and control over a potential rocketship ride. Instead of moving the site to Medium or Tumblr or focusing my activities on one social network or another, I use third-party services like The Deck, Amazon Associates, Stripe, and Memberful that plug in to the site. Small pieces loosely joined, not a monolithic solution. If necessary, I can switch any of them out for a comparable service and am therefore not as subject to any potential change in business goals by these companies. Given the news out of Medium, I’m increasingly happy that I’ve decided to do it this way (with your very kind assistance).
Update: It’s tough to hear about the small companies that put their faith in Medium and then got blindsided by their umpteenth pivot.
“Right now, we’re very concerned about the future of our site’s partnership with Medium,” said Neil Miller, the founder of pop culture site Film School Rejects. “What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward.”
“It’s almost as if Ev Williams wasn’t concerned that he was pulling out the rug from underneath publishers who had placed their trust in his vision for the future of journalism,” he said.
The World of Tomorrow is Bora Barroso’s tribute to some of the best post-apocalyptic movies, including Children of Men, 12 Monkeys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Road. Wall-E wasn’t dark enough I guess?
It’s Groundhog Day — again. Once a year, our nation turns its eyes to an offbeat existential romantic comedy that thoroughly outperforms its sharpie-on-an-index-card premise, thanks to a brilliant collection of character actors, a thoroughly memorizable script, and the then-underrated, now-maybe-a-smidge-overrated acting talents of Bill Murray.
Four years ago, Jason hosted a 20th anniversary Groundhog Day liveblog with three of his regular guest editors: me, Sarah Pavis, and Aaron Cohen. It was a lot of fun. (I talked too much.)
Some of the questions we considered:
- Is Groundhog Day a time-travel movie?
- If you were recasting it, who would you pick?
- Does Phil’s behavior mid-movie predict creepy pick-up-artist culture?
- Does the time loop stop because Rita falls in love with Phil, or because Phil finally manages to live one day sincerely?
- Wouldn’t it be better to predict the weather by doing the opposite of what the groundhog indicates?
The answer to that last question is almost definitely yes.
I used to work at Wired, and later at The Verge, and at both places we had a lot of reverence for “Wired in the 90s.” You’d say it fast like that, too — “wired-in-the-90s” — and it was a universally recognized shorthand for relevance, cool, slick design, smart writers, the “culture of now.” I suspect it probably stands for that for a lot of Kottke readers too.
Yesterday, for reasons unknown, my RSS reader spit up a random Kevin Kelly post from 2012 called “Predicting the Present” that excerpts a bunch of quotes from the early years of Wired. Here are some of them (I tried to pick fun ones):
We as a culture are deeply, hopelessly, insanely in love with gadgetry. And you can’t fight love and win.
— Jaron Lanier, Wired 1.02, May/June 1993, p. 80
The idea of Apple making a $200 anything was ridiculous to me. Apple couldn’t make a $200 blank disk.
— Bill Atkinson, Wired 2.04, Apr 1994, p. 104
Marc Andreessen will tell you with a straight face that he expects Mosaic Communications’s Mosaic to become the world’s standard interface to electronic information.
— Gary Wolf, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 116
The human spirit is infinitely more complex than anything that we’re going to be able to create in the short run. And if we somehow did create it in the short run, it would mean that we aren’t so complex after all, and that we’ve all been tricking ourselves.
— Douglas Hofstadter, Wired 3.11, Nov 1995, p. 114
Of all the prospects raised by the evolution of digital culture, the most tantalizing is the possibility that technology could fuse with politics to create a more civil society.
— Jon Katz, Wired 5.04, Apr 1997
It is the arrogance of every age to believe that yesterday was calm.
— Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997
Separately, Ingrid Burrington was leafing through a 1996 issue of Wired and found this beauty:
AI-based investment systems will cut a swath through Wall Street, automating thousands of jobs or downgrading their skills.
— Clive Davidson, freely quoting Ron Liesching, Wired 4.12, Dec 1996
For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
Attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but was actually written by screenwriter Eric Roth for the film adaptation of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Beyoncé Knowles recently interviewed her sister Solange Knowles for Interview magazine.
And, as far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example. If she conjured up an idea, there was not one element of that idea that she was not going to have her hand in. She was not going to hand that over to someone. And I think it’s been an interesting thing to navigate, especially watching you do the same in all aspects of your work: Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue. There’s no way to succeed without having a team and all of the moving parts that help bring it into life. But I do have — and I’m unafraid to say it — a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective. And who better to really tell that story than yourself?
This exchange just made me laugh out loud:
BEYONCÉ: Well, it brought tears to my eyes to hear both of our parents speak openly about some of their experiences. And what made you choose Master P to speak on the album?
SOLANGE: Well, I find a lot of similarities in Master P and our dad.
BEYONCÉ: Me, too. [laughs]
I loved the simple mic drop bio for Beyoncé at the bottom:
BEYONCÉ IS A 20-TIME GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING RECORDING ARTIST. HER SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM AND COMPANION FILM, LEMONADE, WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR.
And Beyoncé is right about Solange’s wedding photo (above), it is indeed “the dopest wedding photo of all time”. (via @caseyjohnston)
It feels like a stretch to call this “An Oral History of Homestar Runner” — the author only interviews two people, and it zips through time while all the details are kinda glossed over in a way that’s not entirely satisfying.
However. It’s still a solid interview with the two creators of Homestar Runner, which was easily the best all-ages cult video site from a time (the early 00s) when there weren’t exactly a lot of any of those things around.
It’s also a memory of a time when the web, or at least some corners of it, were a respite from the awfulness of the world, without being wholly removed from it. For example, I was introduced to it by a friend who’d just moved to lower Manhattan for grad school in 2002. We went and saw Ground Zero, commiserated about the upcoming midterm elections and the possibility of war with Iraq, and then he showed me a Strong Bad email. None of this seemed discordant. It was a firehose of new things, good and bad, not a stream of distilled horror demanding constant engagement. I miss that, and I know I’m not the only one.
My friend Courtney Skott wrote an intense piece about the three miscarriages she’s had, including one just a couple of weeks ago. (Note: you may find the images disturbing, but that might also be a good thing.)
It wasn’t until after that miscarriage that I learned how common they are. But even if you know the statistics — that perhaps 20% of confirmed pregnancies miscarry — they are easy to dismiss. After all, it’s much more likely that you will be in the other 80%, isn’t it? But 1 in 5 is still pretty high, and once you start telling your friends that you had a miscarriage, all the miscarriages around you come out of the woodwork. “My sister had one. My best friend had one. I had two.”
Why didn’t I know that before?
Waaaay more people should know this — I didn’t until, well, you know. Like Courtney says, you don’t realize until you start talking to other people about it and…”out of the woodwork” is right.
Abstract is an upcoming documentary series from Netflix that explores the art of design. Each of the eight episodes profiles a designer at the top of their discipline: photographer Platon, graphic designer Paula Scher, stage designer Es Devlin, illustrator Christoph Niemann, architect Bjarke Ingels, shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, interior designer Ilse Crawford, and automotive designer Ralph Gilles.
Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.
Looks like a Chef’s Table for design. All episodes will be available February 10.
Each year, Edge has asked a group of scientists, philosophers, musicians, writers, and designers a simple but provocative question and collects the answers on their website. Past questions have included:
What do you think about machines that think? (2015)
What have you changed your mind about? Why? (2008)
What do you believe true even though you cannot prove it? (2005)
What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years? (1999)
This year, the question is: What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?
Of all the scientific terms or concepts that ought to be more widely known to help to clarify and inspire science-minded thinking in the general culture, none are more important than “science” itself.
Many people, even many scientists, have traditionally had a narrow view of science as controlled, replicated experiments performed in the laboratory-and as consisting quintessentially of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. The essence of science is conveyed by its Latin etymology: scientia, meaning knowledge. The scientific method is simply that body of practices best suited for obtaining reliable knowledge.
Here are some of the responses. Alison Gopnik chose “Life History”:
“Life history” is the term biologists use to describe how organisms change over time-how long an animal lives, how long a childhood it has, how it nurtures its young, how it grows old. Human life history is weird. We have a much longer childhood than any other primate-twice as long as chimps, and that long childhood is related to our exceptional learning abilities. Fossil teeth suggest that this long childhood evolved in tandem with our big brains-we even had a longer childhood than Neanderthals. We also rapidly developed special adaptations to care for those helpless children-“pair-bonding” and “alloparents.” Fathers and unrelated kin help take care of human children, unlike our closest primate relatives.
And we developed another very unusual life history feature-post-menopausal grandmothers. The killer whale is the only other animal we know that outlives its fertility. The human lifespan was expanded at both ends-longer childhood and a longer old age. In fact, anthropologists have argued that those grandmothers were a key to the evolution of learning and culture. They were crucial for the survival of those helpless children and they also could pass on two generations worth of knowledge.
Jessica Flack chose “Coarse-Graining”:
In physics a fine-grained description of a system is a detailed description of its microscopic behavior. A coarse-grained description is one in which some of this fine detail has been smoothed over.
Coarse-graining is at the core of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of the universe is increasing. As entropy, or randomness, increases there is a loss of structure. This simply means that some of the information we originally had about the system has become no longer useful for making predictions about the behavior of a system as a whole. To make this more concrete, think about temperature.
Temperature is the average speed of particles in a system. Temperature is a coarse-grained representation of all of the particles’ behavior — the particles in aggregate. When we know the temperature we can use it to predict the system’s future state better than we could if we actually measured the speed of individual particles. This is why coarse-graining is so important — it is incredibly useful. It gives us what is called an effective theory. An effective theory allows us to model the behavior of a system without specifying all of the underlying causes that lead to system state changes.
And physicist Nigel Goldenfeld chose “The Scientific Method” itself:
There’s a saying that there are no cultural relativists at thirty thousand feet. The laws of aerodynamics work regardless of political or social prejudices, and they are indisputably true. Yes, you can discuss to what extent they are an approximation, what are their limits of validity, do they take into account such niceties as quantum entanglement or unified field theory (of course they don’t). But the most basic scientific concept that is clearly and disturbingly missing from today’s social and political discourse is the concept that some questions have correct and clear answers. Such questions can be called “scientific” and their answers represent truth. Scientific questions are not easy to ask. Their answers can be verified by experiment or observation, and they can be used to improve your life, create jobs and technologies, save the planet. You don’t need pollsters or randomized trials to determine if a parachute works. You need an understanding of the facts of aerodynamics and the methodology to do experiments.
There are 200 more contributions from bold-faced names like Richard Dawkins, Hanna Levin, Brian Eno, Kevin Kelly, and Danny Hillis. Have fun!
Melody Kramer is one of the smartest, most thoughtful people I know in journalism. She has a new post up at Poynter talking about ways to design the news that take into account that news can be overwhelming.
People take breaks, go on vacations, have stretches where they can’t keep up, work weird hours, have different levels of interest and background knowledge, and so forth — but they still want to be informed, connected, and engaged.
How can we deal with that? Here’s one good idea:
We should allow people to check out or pause and return. I envision a website where someone can say how long they’d like to be away from the news and what kinds of news they’d like when they return. This could most easily be accomplished through newsletters. For example, a landing page might allow a user to say: “I am taking [XX] [days / weeks / months] off. When I come back, I’d like to be updated on [topics] on [this frequency.]”
Years ago, some of us called this “my time” or “TiVo time”: a personalized, time-shifted attention economy. (Actually, I don’t think anybody called it “TiVo time” but me. And maybe a few guys who worked for TiVo.)
And for a little while, say around 2000-2010, media consumption in the form of DVRs, IM chats, blogging (and commenting), RSS feeds, Netflix DVDs (by mail!), was sort of unconsciously driven by this principle. It was available in close-to-real-time, but you could dip in and out of the stream much more easily.
Then a lot of factors — including short-form social media, livestream video, Netflix bingeing, a resurgence of TV events, and maybe especially always-available mobile devices — pushed us back to a much more immediate and real-time immersion in media. This hasn’t always been to everyone’s benefit. Not all consumers’, and not all producers’ either.
Choosing between plunging in or checking out has become a much more all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn’t have to be that way. We know this. We already built a lot of the tech that lets us manage this. Now we just have to figure out the best ways to deploy it.
Scifi Policy reviews Rogue One as an engineering ethics case study (spoilers!).
The film also makes its engineering ethics explicit. Before the opening scene, Galen Erso had escaped the Death Star project because of his moral objections, likely against the Empire as well as the concept of making such a terrifying weapon at all. After Krennic captures him, Galen later tells his daughter Jyn that he had a choice: he could have continued abstaining, and let someone else build the Death Star, or he could dive deep into the project, become indispensable to it, and find a way to stop it. He chooses to dive deep, and succeeds in building a subtle flaw in the Death Star design. Then 15 years later, he sends a messenger to the Rebellion informing them of the weapon’s existence, power and most importantly, its fatal flaw.
Part of the point of the review is that resistance can take many forms. Erso resists by working within the system to help bring about a better outcome. The problem, for the outside observer, is that for such resistance to be effective, it needs to be indistinguishable from collaboration. Something to think about in relation to the incoming Trump administration and how best to work against it, particularly in the area of technology. (via mr)
In 2012, physicist Frank Wilczek speculated that it would be possible to make a crystal whose lattice repeats in four dimensions, not just three.
Wilczek thought it might be possible to create a similar crystal-like structure in time, which is treated as a fourth dimension under relativity. Instead of regularly repeating rows of atoms, a time crystal would exhibit regularly repeating motion.
Many physicists were sceptical, arguing that a time crystal whose atoms could loop forever, with no need for extra energy, would be tantamount to a perpetual motion machine — forbidden by the laws of physics.
Now, a team at Berkeley have succeeded in making time crystals, publishing a method that two other teams have already successfully followed.
For Yao’s time crystal, an external force — like the pulse of a laser — flips the magnetic spin of one ion in a crystal, which then flips the spin of the next, and so forth, setting the system into a repeating pattern of periodic motion.
There are two critical factors. First, after the initial driver, it must be a closed system, unable to interact with and lose energy to the environment. Second, interactions between quantum particles are the driving force behind the time crystal’s stability. “It’s an emergent phenomenon,” says Yao. “It requires many particles and many spins to talk to each other and collectively synchronise.”
More than a year ago, before the Iowa caucuses, the story of folk singer/songwriter/activist Woody Guthrie’s hatred for his landlord, Fred Trump (father of Donald) started to circulate. (I believe the first piece was this nicely done essay at The Conversation, by Will Kaufman.)
The story goes like this: Between 1950 and 1952, Guthrie lived in a Federal Housing Administration-funded low-income apartment building in Brooklyn’s Coney Island built by Fred Trump. But Trump (who already had a history of bigotry, including an arrest at a Klan parade that turned into a riot in 1927), quickly worked to segregate even his federal developments, prohibiting black tenants from renting in majority-white complexes or neighborhoods.
Guthrie moved out of the Trump building when his two-year-lease was up, but wrote a song about it called “Old Man Trump”:
I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
And in fact, Donald and his father Fred would eventually be sued for housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act of 1968; this was 1973, and was the first time Donald Trump ever appeared in the New York Times (“Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City”). They settled the lawsuit in 1975.
But that’s not the end of the story. The present-day Trump slogan “America First” is a direct callback to the America First Committee, an isolationist antiwar group that formed after the outbreak of World War 2 in Europe. It included pacifists and farmers and students and socialists and businessmen and a lot of wealthy, anti-Semitic, pro-German, pro-fascist Americans, notably its main spokesman Charles Lindbergh.
As it happens, one of Woody Guthrie’s best protest songs, “Lindbergh” (or “Mister Charlie Lindbergh”) is about America First. It criticizes Lindbergh and the group, but also the devil’s bargain socialist and other workers’ groups across the midwest had made in partnering up with pro-Nazi capitalists:
Hitler said to Lindy: “Stall ‘em all you can,
Gonna bomb Pearl Harbor with the help of old Japan.”
In Washington, Washington.
Then on a December mornin’, the bombs come from Japan,
Wake Island and Pearl Harbor, kill fifteen hundred men.
In Washington, Washington
Now Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let him in,
Afraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men.
In Washington, Washington
So I’m a-gonna tell you people, if Hitler’s gonna be beat,
The common workin’ people has got to take the seat
In Washington, Washington.
And I’m gonna tell you workers, ‘fore you cash in your checks:
They say “America First,” but they mean “America Next!”
In Washington, Washington.
Easy enough to remember.
Laura Olin runs the Everything Changes mailing list for The Awl and she asked her readers “about a time they’d been brave” (or perhaps when they’d wished they had been). Here are some of their answers.
I was raised in a pretty abusive household. When I was 14, I found a boarding school three thousand miles away, applied in secret, got a full scholarship, and left home. I haven’t lived at home since and have made it ten years later fully supporting myself in a city I love, a job I love, friends/community that I love. I sometimes think about that now, packing up everything and moving across the country without any support and building a new life for myself through a lot of luck and other people’s help, and know I probably couldn’t do it again. I left the worse place for paradise, both handed-out and self-made, and there’s nothing I’m prouder of.
Some regretted not having courage at times:
A few months ago, some coworkers made some antisemitic jokes in a team chat channel. I quit the channel and started looking for (and since found) a new job, but I didn’t say anything. I’ve thought about that time I didn’t say anything literally every day since. I wish I had been a better person.