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What’s the most “normal” place in the US?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2016

There’s been a lot of talk in this election cycle about “average Americans” and “real Americans”. In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, Jed Kolko used age, education, and race & ethnicity to find the city most demographically similar the US as a whole. Here’s his top 5:

1. New Haven-Milford, CT
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
4. Oklahoma City, OK
5. Springfield, MA

Economist Lyman Stone thought Kolko’s methodology was flawed:

See, he used 3 variables: race, education, and age, to proxy for “normalcy.” His method looked at how typical a given “race” group in a given city was on educational/age factors, and a given educational group in a given city on race/age factors, etc. In other words, he didn’t truly ask “What city is most normal?” He asked “In what city is each group of people most typical of that group of people nationally?” That’s a cool question, but it’s totally not “normalcy.” The reason is simple: as best I can tell, Jed doesn’t fully capture the role of aggregate composition. He’s trying to get specific and avoid calling a place “abnormal” just because it has one weird demographic lump; he wants cell-specific abnormality. But nobody cares if Graduate-Degree-Holding Native Americans happen to be much younger in St. Louis than elsewhere. We care if St. Louis has a weirdly large number of Graduate-Degree-Holding-Native-Americans. Composition of the population is the most important measure of normalcy, and one that Kolko’s method will tend to under-emphasize.

Stone ran his own analysis with that in mind, using 20 different demographic variables, and came up with a different list of the most normal places in America:

1. Oklahoma City, OK
2. Tulsa, OK
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA
5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

The above table shows the places with the lowest weirdness-scores. Two of them are in Oklahoma. I’ll talk about them together. Oklahoma City is less than 1 standard deviation from the mean on every single variable. It is exactly the mean for the poverty rate, and almost exactly the mean for educational attainment. It’s biggest oddity is housing costs compared to income, which are a bit high, and the percent of households with a car, which is also just a teentsy bit high. Other than that? If you’re looking for “Normal America” then look to Oklahoma City. Tulsa’s story is the same, except it also has a bit of a low share of civilian government workers.

Among the weirdest places on Stone’s list? San Jose, NYC, and Jacksonville, NC.

New York is up next. Again, a large foreign-born share makes New York weird. But the real weirdness is actually in New York’s transit access. New York’s car-ownership share is a whopping nine standard deviations below the national average. New York’s housing costs also make it weird, as does the percent of people who are renting. In other words, New York is weird because it’s just so darn urban.

We Work Remotely

Pub fare gets the fancy food TV treatment

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2016

From CBC Radio show This Is That, which previously did a bit on Artisanal Firewood, comes a spoof on fancy shows about chefs like Chef’s Table called Cooks.

What do I want people to think of my food? Well, that it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s a little salty, and most importantly, that it was cooked all the way through.

Nailed it.

A collection of maps of the languages and ethnic groups of Asia

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Language Map China

Language Map India

Language Map Indochina

Tim Merrill is using Pinterest to collect maps showing where ethnic groups live and what languages are spoken in Asia.

“Frog and Toad and the Self”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2016

Frog And Toad

Bert Clere wrote a nice appreciation for the children’s books of Arnold Lobel, among them the Frog and Toad series and Owl at Home. Clere says Lobel’s stories offered insights for children about, yes, friendship but also about the importance of individuality.

Lobel’s Frog and Toad series, published in four volumes containing five stories each during the 1970s, remains his most popular and enduring work. Frog and Toad, two very different characters, make something of an odd couple. Their friendship demonstrates the many ups and downs of human attachment, touching on deep truths about life, philosophy, and human nature in the process. But it isn’t all about relationships with others: In the series, and in his lesser-known 1975 book Owl at Home, Lobel offers a conception of the self that still resonates decades later. Throughout his books, he reminds readers that they are individuals, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of being themselves.

Frog and Toad are favorites at our house. I’m going to read them to the kids this weekend with a new appreciation. Wanting to fit into the group is a powerful impulse for children, reinforced these days by the increased focus on group work in schools, so it’s nice to have a counterpoint to share with them.

Update: From the New Yorker’s Colin Stokes, another appreciation of Arnold Lobel. Lobel’s daughter Adrianne suspects the Frog & Toad books were “the beginning of him coming out” of the closet.

Adrianne suspects that there’s another dimension to the series’s sustained popularity. Frog and Toad are “of the same sex, and they love each other,” she told me. “It was quite ahead of its time in that respect.” In 1974, four years after the first book in the series was published, Lobel came out to his family as gay. “I think ‘Frog and Toad’ really was the beginning of him coming out,” Adrianne told me.

The article also sadly notes that Lobel died at age 54, “an early victim of the AIDS crisis”. (via @bdeskin)

A new DJ Shadow album: The Mountain Will Fall

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2016

Out just yesterday, DJ Shadow’s new album is pretty great so far.

Turning your anxiety into excitement

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2016

Some recent research suggests that if you’re feeling anxious, saying “I am excited” can switch your heightened emotional state from negative (anxiety) to positive (excitement).

It’s also counterintuitive: When most people feel anxious, they likely tell themselves to just relax. “When asked, ‘how do you feel about your upcoming speech?’, most people will say, ‘I’m so nervous, I’m trying to calm down,’” said Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the phenomenon. She cites the ubiquitous “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters as partial evidence.

But that might be precisely the wrong advice, she said. Instead, the slogan should be more like, “Get Amped and Don’t Screw Up.”

That’s because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. In other words, they’re “arousal congruent.” The only difference is that excitement is a positive emotion’ focused on all the ways something could go well.

Calmness is also positive, meanwhile, but it’s also low on arousal. For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones, Brooks said, than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chill. In other words, its easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you’re anxious.

Totally trying this the next time I’m anxious.

I Contain Multitudes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2016

I Contain Multitudes

Crackerjack science writer Ed Yong is coming out with his very first book in a month’s time. It’s called I Contain Multitudes (good title!) and is about “astonishing partnerships between animals and microbes”.

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light-less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.

The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

I will read anything described as “like a David Attenborough series shot through a really good microscope”.

Video for Gosh by Jamie xx

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

Directed by Romain Gavras. Best at fullscreen with headphones.

Pandora’s Box: 10 super scary things about the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2016

George Dvorsky at Gizmodo highlights 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare the Hell Out of You. My, uh, favorites are:

1. Virtually anyone will be able to create their own pandemic
5. Robots will find it easy to manipulate us
7. The antibiotic era will end
8. Getting robots to kill humans will be disturbingly routine — and dangerous

From the manipulating robots section:

“Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses,” Brin told Gizmodo. “For at least a million years, we’ve developed skills at lie-detection…[but] no liars ever had the training that these new [Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots] will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths — and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well.”

Many of the things on the list seem to have a similar potential for mischief as the discovery of nuclear fission chain reactions in the 1930s. On the other hand, humans have at least temporarily turned that possible civilization-ending technology into a major source of clean energy and 75+ years of world peace (relatively speaking) so maybe there’s some room for optimism here? Maybe? Hello?

A tour of some of the world’s most famous houses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2016

John Green shares delightful and interesting stories about 21 of the world’s most famous houses, including the Playboy Mansion, Winchester Mystery House, and Graceland.

Facebook is shutting down Paper

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2016

Sad but not unexpected news: Facebook is shutting down its Paper app.

When it was introduced in January 2014, Paper signaled the beginning of a design renaissance at Facebook. The look and feel of the app were orchestrated by Mike Matas, whose design firm Push Pop Press was acquired by Facebook in 2011. Paper was notable for the novel animations it used to guide you through the app - tap on a link and it would unfold like a letter; pull down on the story and it would fold back up, returning you to the feed.

They say the app is shutting down on July 29th, but my news feed has already stopped updating.

I love Paper. The look and feel of the app is amazing; it’s still one of the best apps ever for reading things online. Paper was the only way I read Facebook…I guess I’ll either d/l the Facebook app or stop reading?

How “My Boo” got its name

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 14, 2016

This is fun: an oral history of Ghost Town DJ’s 1996 hit “My Boo.” Did you know that Lil Jon started out in A&R for So So Def? Or that he picked the title “My Boo” over “I Want To Be Your Lady” and pushed to include it on an early label comp? (I did not.)

#RunningmanChallenge ???? @jerrygunnz ???? By @malachi_variations IB By @Rah2bandz

A video posted by Kevin Sözé ???????? (@11.oo7) on

I was also very late to hear about the Running Man Challenge, which put “My Boo” back into circulation and the sales charts back in April, but in my defense: I am old.

You may also like: this oral history of hyphy and the Bay Area hip-hop scene at the turn of the millennium. It’s a little distended and the photo layout almost feels like Beats By Dre sponsored content, but it’s a loving look at a moment that’s gone.

And who shows up halfway through, helping to break hyphy nationwide? Lil Jon! That guy is everywhere.

(Hat-tip: @xohulk, @myhairisblue)

Incredible breakdancing crew from Korea

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Morning of Owl is a dance crew from Korea and they are from The Matrix, I think?

How did you do that? You moved like they do. I’ve never seen anyone move that fast.

Amazing athleticism and coordination. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Science and storytelling in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 16, 2016

Adam Summers is a biomechanist who worked as a consultant on fish behavior and anatomy for Pixar’s Finding Nemo and its sequel, Finding Dory. How do you figure out where and how to stick to the known science (or sneak it in sideways) in a movie about talking fish? It’s not an easy question to answer.

This question is very important for the entertainment industry: does it matter whether you’re right, when you’re telling a story to entertain? Under some circumstances, I don’t think it matters. But with an animated movie about real, living systems, when you use the truth — their complexity and beauty — as a springboard for the story, you add a level of gravitas that is vitally important to creating a broad and deep appeal. A young audience is much more sophisticated than you think, and a story informed by a lot of facts alerts them to the presence of real concepts. I got an e-mail from an eight-year-old about Finding Nemo, explaining that characters could not emerge from a whale’s blowhole if they were in its mouth, because there is no link between the trachea and the oesophagus.

There are over 100 inaccuracies in Finding Nemo, but Summers says only one is a genuine error. (He doesn’t name it, but it might be Mr. Ray, who lists names of classes in his song about aquatic species.) Everything else, from the whale’s blowhole to ignoring clownfish’s ability to switch between male and female (although what if Marlin does become female, but just never spawns again?) is an intentional gloss or omission for storytelling purposes.

Or aesthetic ones. “The claspers — external, stick-like sexual organs on sharks — were cut off Bruce the great white shark,” says Summers, “not because of family values, but because he’s spherical, and when you add a bunch of sticks to spherical sharks, they look really stupid.” Noted.

Summers admits there’s also just a lot about the species in Pixar’s fish movies that nobody really knows.

They did ask me some questions about the biology of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) that we just don’t know the answers to. It’s the largest fish in the sea, yet I think there’s just one record of a pregnant female, which revealed that they can have more than 300 pups at a time. That’s not much to know about the reproductive biology of such an iconic fish.

The Floating Piers by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2016

The Floating Piers is a new art installant from Christo and Jeanne-Claude consisting of massive floating bridges and docks covered in yellow fabric that connects a pair of islands to the mainland in Italy’s Lake Iseo. The video above offers an aerial view of the installation.

Visitors can experience this work of art by walking on it from Sulzano to Monte Isola and to the island of San Paolo, which is framed by The Floating Piers. The mountains surrounding the lake offer a bird’s-eye view of The Floating Piers, exposing unnoticed angles and altering perspectives. Lake Iseo is located 100 kilometers east of Milan and 200 kilometers west of Venice.

“Like all of our projects, The Floating Piers is absolutely free and accessible 24 hours a day, weather permitting,” said Christo. “There are no tickets, no openings, no reservations and no owners. The Floating Piers are an extension of the street and belong to everyone.”

The Floating Piers

This is very reminiscent of The Gates, which is one of my favorite pieces of art. (via tksst)

The Ambiguous Cylinder optical illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2016

I couldn’t figure this out when I watched it on my phone this morning, but if you watch it in fullscreen HD, you can see how the shapes are cut to look different from various angles. Still trippy though.

Update: Make Anything reverse-engineered the illusion…here’s how it works:

(via @dunstan)

John Oliver takes on the debt buying industry

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2016

On Last Week Tonight last night, John Oliver not only blasted the debt buying industry but ended up starting a company, bought $15 million worth of medical debt from Texas, and forgave it.

Update: I forgot to add, Occupy Wall Street did a similar thing back in 2012.

OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it - traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

Update: It’s disappointing that Last Week Tonight did not acknowledge the work and assistance of the Debt Collective and their Rolling Jubilee.

At the last minute Wilson told us LWT did not want to associate themselves with the work of the Rolling Jubilee due to its roots in Occupy Wall Street. Instead John Oliver framed the debt buy as his idea: a giveaway to compete with Oprah. The lead researcher who worked on this segment invoked the cover of journalism to justify distancing themselves from our project.

The man who became a goat

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2016

Goatman

In response to feeling like he was psychologically “stuck in a big, dark hole”, designer Thomas Thwaites decided to become a goat. At least part time.

From this, he builds a goat exoskeleton-artificial legs, helmet, chest protector, raincoat from his mum, and a prosthetic goat stomach to digest grass (with help from a pressure cooker and campfire)-before setting off across the Alps on four legs with a herd of his fellow creatures. Will he make it? Do Thwaites and his readers discover what it truly means to be human?

A book detailing his experience came out earlier this year.

You may remember Thwaites as the guy who built a toaster from scratch (also a book). Like completely from scratch…he smelted his own iron ore.

The dance number in Ex Machina works well with pretty much any song

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2016

In Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan Bateman performs a dance number with one of his AI robots, played by Sonoya Mizuno. It’s the scene where I decided I was going to like the movie. Mizuno is a ballerina as well as an actress, but Isaac has no problem keeping up with her as the pair dance to Get Down Saturday Night.

Now, Twitter account @oscardances is showing how you can plug pretty much any song into that scene and the dance still works. Here’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller:

Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys:

And Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears:

And there are dozens more here. (via @gavinpurcell)

The 50 greatest films by black directors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

Slate gathered a panel — made up of people like film critic Dana Stevens, Selma director Ava DuVernay, and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. — to choose The Black Film Canon, the 50 greatest movies by black directors.

We must recognize that even with the financial and systemic odds stacked against them, black filmmakers have long been creating great and riveting stories on screen. The academy’s failure may have inspired a memorable hashtag, but that failure is deeply linked to the way nearly all movie fans remember cinematic history. In our never-ending conversation — or argument — about which films deserve to be remembered, which films are cultural touchstones, which films defined and advanced the art form, we habitually overlook stories by and about black people.

Included on the list are 12 Years a Slave, Boyz n the Hood, Killer of Sheep, and Do the Right Thing.

Satellite imagery search engine

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2016

Terrapattern is a search engine for satellite images. You click on a specific feature of interest on a map and the site returns results that match it. For instance, here are the locations of solar panels in NYC.

Terrapattern

You can also use Terrapattern to find school bus depots, fracking wells, Air Force bombers, baseball diamonds, train tracks, and much more.

There are only four cities currently represented (Pittsburgh, New York, San Francisco, and Detroit) but this is already super cool to play around with. (via @genmon)

A supercut of Stanley Kubrick references in The Simpsons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2016

There are tons of movie references in The Simpsons, but the show leans more heavily on referencing Stanley Kubrick’s films than perhaps any other director. As you can see in the video, there are dozens of references to 2001, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and even Eyes Wide Shut sprinkled throughout the series.

The 100 greatest American films

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2016

In 2015, BBC Culture polled critics around the world and came up with a list of the best 100 American films. The video above offers a visual look at the list. Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg each have several films on the list. Although many of the films were edited by women, only one was directed by a woman.

Boston Dynamics’ new house-trained robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2016

Boston Dynamics has a new 55-pound robot with an arm that looks like a head. It gets up after slipping on banana peels and can load your delicate glassware into the dishwasher.

Do they deliberately make these videos unsettling and creepy? Or is that just me? That last scene, where the robot kinda lunges at the guy and then falls over…I might have nightmares about that.

Hollywood movies: too much fan service

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2016

In his latest video, Evan Puschak argues that intertextuality in movies — you know, fan service: “hey look, that thing you know from the previous thing!” — is increasingly doing the heavy lifting of creating drama and excitement, resulting in weaker stories.

I loved seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in The Force Awakens, the use of the original Jurassic Park vehicles in Jurassic World, and hearing Dumbledore’s name in the trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but yeah, those things have to be the cherry on top of good storytelling elements, not the whole sundae.

A rare live performance of Creep by Radiohead

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2016

Creep is perhaps Radiohead’s best known song, especially in the US. But the band is a bit ashamed of it, so they don’t play it all that often. They played it last night at a show in Paris for the first time since 2009. When I saw them in 2001, they played it for the first time since 1998 (and it was awesome).

There’s a certain point in everyone’s life when they’re unable to appreciate their younger selves. Between this and putting True Love Waits on their latest album, perhaps Radiohead has become more accepting of the band they used to be. The genie’s out of the bottle, mates, you might as well use the wishes.

Zero Days, a documentary about cyberwar

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2016

Alex Gibney, the documentary filmmaker who directed the awesome Going Clear (on Scientology) as well as films about Enron and Wikileaks, has a new film out called Zero Days. The film is generally about cyberwarfare and specifically about the Stuxnet virus, which has a particularly cyberpunk sci-fi first paragraph on Wikipedia:

Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm believed to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyber weapon. Although neither state has confirmed this openly, anonymous US officials speaking to The Washington Post claimed the worm was developed during the Obama administration to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program with what would seem like a long series of unfortunate accidents.

The movie was funded on Kickstarter and is out in select theaters…but is also available to rent on Amazon right now. Gonna watch this tonight.

Update: Ok, weird. Zero Days was not funded on Kickstarter. The KS film was originally called Zero Day and changed its name to Every Move You Make when the focus of the film changed. Gibney came on as a “Consulting Producer” to Every Move last year so that’s where my confusion came in. (thx, ken)

The evolution of Pixar’s animation from 1984 to now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2016

Watch how far Pixar’s skill in animation has come over the past 30+ years, from their initial shorts to the nearly photorealistic animation in last year’s The Good Dinosaur to Finding Dory.

It’s incredible how dated the original Toy Story looks now. It’s going to look positively prehistoric in 20 years and it’ll be impossible for anyone who didn’t see it at the time to understand how astounding and groundbreaking it was.

Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2016

Kubrick Blu Ray

Amazon’s fake sales holiday is back and like last year, there are some good things on offer if you poke around a little.

The Kindle Paperwhite is $90 (I have one of these and love it). Oh, and the regular Kindle is only $50. Oh and also, the Amazon Echo is $50 off as well.

A collection of Stanley Kubrick’s best movies on Blu-ray is $70 (down from $125).

A 55-inch 4K TV for $650. Is that a typo? Weren’t 4K TVs like $5000 just a couple of years ago?

This wireless b&w laser printer for $50 is a great deal. (I have this printer. It is solid.)

The professional size KitchenAid stand mixer can be had today for $249.

The visual evolution of Steven Spielberg’s movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2016

From the films he made as a teenager on up to the recently released BFG, this is a look at the evolution of the films of Steven Spielberg.

I was 20 when Jurassic Park came out and while I really liked it, I didn’t think much about who directed it at the time. It certainly didn’t remind me much of Raiders of the Lost Ark or ET. I watched it again last night (it’s on Netflix) and it is soooooo obviously Spielberg.

Live: Sigur Ros circles Iceland with generative soundtrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Icelandic band Sigur Rós is doing a live slow TV event: a broadcast of a drive around the entirety of Iceland with a soundtrack generated by software based on a new song of theirs.

driving anti-clockwise round the island, the journey will pass by many of the country’s most notable landmarks, including vatnajökull, europe’s largest ice-sheet; the glacial lagoon, jökulsárlón; as well as the east fjords and the desolate black sands of möðrudalur.

the soundtrack to the journey is being created moment-by-moment via generative music software. the individual musical elements of unreleased song, and current sigur rós festival set opener, óveður, are seeded through the evolving music app bronze, to create a unique ephemeral sonic experience. headphones, external speakers and full-screen viewing are recommended.

A calendar for fictional holidays

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 16, 2016

I love James Joyce’s Ulysses, spent a huge chunk of my life in grad school trying to figure out that book, still follow a ton of modernist scholars and Joyce freaks on social media, and even I managed to forget that today was Bloomsday, the anniversary of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold and Molly Bloom’s treks across Dublin in that book.

I also love Star Trek: The Next Generation, probably even more than I do James Joyce, and I had no idea that today was also “Captain Picard’s Day,” when the children on the Enterprise honor him (and make him deeply uncomfortable) by presenting him with arts and crafts.

What I needed (for a peculiar definition of “need”) was a calendar plugin, something to put the anniversary of Terminator 2’s Judgment Day, The Simpsons’ Whacking Day, and Roy Batty’s inception date directly into my stream of doctor’s appointments, scheduled phone calls, NBA games shown on broadcast basic cable, and Facebook friends’ birthdays.

And that’s exactly what the staff at Atlas Obscura made: a pop culture calendar of imaginary holidays. It doesn’t solve real problems, unless those problems include properly commemorating The Purge. But it is pretty fun.

4K video of Norway’s stunningly beautiful fjords

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2016

If you need a small window of peaceful beauty today, here you are.

How to Smoke a Joint

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2016

This is a scene from Miloš Forman’s 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of “square” parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It’s not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)

Super sad supercut

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2016

A collection of super sad moments from movies like The Iron Giant, E.T., Wrath of Khan, Up, and Old Yeller. This’ll have you sobbing in 3 minutes or your money back.

An atlas of audiovisual artifacts and glitches

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2016

Skew Error

The AV Artifact Atlas keeps track of the anomalies that can affect audio and visual signals. Start at the table of contents…all of the glitchy video effects have names! Like quilting, carrier leak, and DV record head clog.

A visual comparison of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2016

The films of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick share some interesting visual similarities. Any influence was a one-way street, of course. With the exception of Bottle Rocket, which was cinematically spare compared to his later work, all of Anderson’s films were shot after Kubrick finished shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

This week’s guest host: Tim Carmody

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 13, 2016

Hello, Kottke readers! Jason has the week off, so he asked me to fill in. He’s given me the keys to the shop about once a year since 2010, and it’s always been a treat. Sometimes I have themes or a plan; this time, I have a few ideas, but I’m mostly just going to try to write loose and think through some connections. If you have any tips or see any problems, let me know (you should be able to figure out how). Please read and share and enjoy.

Perhaps Britain won’t leave the EU after all?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2016

Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking or the social media filter bubble I’m in, but there seems to be a more-than-zero chance that Britain won’t actually leave the European Union, despite last Thursday’s vote. For one thing, as I mentioned in my Friday AM post about Brexit, the vote is not legally binding. The Prime Minister needs to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which has not happened yet.

But there’s no requirement that the UK invoke Article 50 in a timely fashion. Indeed, both Cameron and Johnson have said they think it’s appropriate to dawdle; Cameron says he’ll leave the decision to invoke to his successor, and Johnson has said there’s no rush.

It wouldn’t be tenable for the government to just completely ignore the vote forever, even though that is legally permissible.

But perhaps not untenable. A Guardian commenter speculates that Cameron did something politically canny when he passed the buck to his successor. As the full ramifications of Leave become apparent, it may be that the consequences of leaving will be transferred from the voters to the person who decides to invoke Article 50…i.e. it may become politically untenable to leave.

Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.

And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.

The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.

The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?

Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?

There’s also been talk that Scotland could veto Brexit.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC that Holyrood could try to block the UK’s exit from the EU.

She was speaking following a referendum on Thursday which saw Britain vote by 52% to 48% to leave Europe.

However, in Scotland the picture was different with 62% backing Remain and 38% wanting to go.

SNP leader Ms Sturgeon said that “of course” she would ask MSPs to refuse to give their “legislative consent”.

But perhaps the most heartening bit of information comes courtesy of David Allen Green: that boat never did get named “Boaty McBoatface”, vote or no vote. Prime Minister David Attenborough anyone?

Update: From Gideon Rachman at the FT: I do not believe Brexit will happen.

Any long-term observer of the EU should be familiar with the shock referendum result. In 1992 the Danes voted to reject the Maastricht treaty. The Irish voted to reject both the Nice treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon treaty in 2008.

And what happened in each case? The EU rolled ever onwards. The Danes and the Irish were granted some concessions by their EU partners. They staged a second referendum. And the second time around they voted to accept the treaty. So why, knowing this history, should anyone believe that Britain’s referendum decision is definitive?

Update: John Cassidy writing for the New Yorker:

As reality sets in, E.U. leaders may well be content to let the Brits stew in their own juices for a while. Initial talk of forcing the U.K. to begin the process of leaving straight away has been replaced by calls for patience. Monday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal quoted Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, as saying, “Politicians in London should have the possibility to think again about the fallout from an exit.” To leave now, he added, “would be a deep cut with far-reaching consequences.” A majority of the politicians at Westminster probably agree with Altmaier’s analysis. But what, if anything, can they do to reverse the march toward Brexit?

The fractal and geometric beauty of plants

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2016

Plant Geometry

Plant Geometry

Plant Geometry

When you look at some plants, you can just see the mathematics behind how the leaves, petals, and veins are organized.

The surprising history of the infographic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2016

1860 Slavery Map

From Clive Thompson, a history of the infographic, which was developed in part to help solve problems with an abundance of data available in the 19th century.

The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that’s what a map is — a representation of geographic information — and we’ve had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a “Chart of Biography,” plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information “with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading.”

Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect-and publish-reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. “For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it,” says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. “The age of data really began.”

Body of Theseus

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2016

How old are different parts of our bodies? Does anything stick around the entire time? The hair on our bodies lasts only a few years. Fingernails are fully replaced every six months. Your skin lasts 2-4 weeks. Even your blood and bones regenerate every so often. There’s at least one part of your body with lasts the whole time you’re alive, which I found somewhat surprising. See the ship of Theseus paradox.

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

How do we know the lifespans of different cells in the body? Carbon-14 levels from nuclear testing done in the 50s and 60s.

Analysis of growth rings from pine trees in Sweden shows that the proliferation of atomic tests in the 1950s and 1960s led to an explosion in levels of atmospheric carbon 14. Now, Jonas Frisen and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have taken advantage of this spike in C14 to devise a method to date the birth of human cells. Because this test can be used retrospectively, unlike many of the current methods used to detect cell proliferation, and because it does not require the ingestion of a radioactive or chemical tracer, the method can be readily applied to both in vivo and postmortem samples of human tissues.

This and only this is a sandwich

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 15, 2016

In today’s post on “What is barbecue?” I skipped past “is a hot dog a sandwich?” so quickly that I forgot to answer the question. So in the same spirit in which someone can boldly declare that only smoked, slow-cooked pork is barbecue, here is my minimal definition of a sandwich:

A sandwich is any solid or semi-solid filling between two or more slices of bread. Not a roll, not a wrap, not a leaf of lettuce: sliced bread. What is inside far less than the container.

Consequently:

Alternatively, “sandwich” is a family-resemblance concept and we can’t appeal to definitional consistency to get away from the fact that language is a complex organism and its rules don’t always make perfect sense.

(PS: I do not speak for Jason or Kottke.org on this matter, please do not argue with him about sandwiches)

Update (from Jason): Boy, you leave Tim to his own devices for a few hours and he establishes the official kottke.org stance on sandwiches. [That new emoji of the yellow smiley face grabbing its chin and looking skeptical that you might not have on Android IDK I’m Apple Man] I was just talking to my kids the other day about this important issue and Ollie, who is almost 9, told me that both hamburgers and hot dogs are sandwiches because “the meat is sandwiched in between the bread; it’s right there in the word”. When Ollie and Minna take over the family business in 2027, they can revisit this, but for now, Tim’s definition stands.

How Ghostbusters became Ghostbusters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2016

In a relatively new video essay about movies, Lessons from the Screenplay, Michael Tucker looks at Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s original script for Ghostbusters and how the framework it provided, enhanced by the improv skills of the actors, produced a movie better than the script might have indicated at first glance. And oh man, I love the turn-of-the-century Ghostbusters idea. (via one perfect shot)

Game of Thrones for beginners, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2016

HBO did a beginner’s guide to Game of Thrones and got Samuel L. Jackson to narrate it.

Over in Westeros, Lord Eddard Stark, aka Ned, is asked by his friend the King, Robert Baratheon, to be the Hand of the King, aka his right hand man. Ned doesn’t wanna go, but das his boy! So he uproots his family and heads to King’s Landing. Nice family, right? Don’t get attached. I’m just saying.

Does anyone swear as delightfully well as Samuel L. Jackson?

2016 Presidential election odds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2016

According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.

538 Trump Hillary

A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort…that’s better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.

A manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2016

In 2004, George Saunders wrote a article for Slate in the style of a manifesto for an organization called People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction. I believe Saunders’ piece has some relevance to current events.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

And in summary:

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

(via everything changes)

NASA extends the missions of nine spacecraft

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2016

While we’re on the subject, NASA announced late last week that they are extending the missions of nine spacecraft sprinkled about the solar system. Included are the New Horizon probe, which will wing off to study an object in the Kuiper Belt after doing so well with Pluto and the rover Opportunity, which was slated for a mission lasting just over 90 days but has now spent more than 12 years exploring the surface of Mars.

The Dawn mission to Ceres is another spacecraft whose duration has been extended, beating long odds. Part of the spacecraft’s functionality had not been working for some time, but was recently repaired.

It was a bit unexpected because Dawn is low on fuel. “Less than a year ago, I would have thought it was ridiculous that the spacecraft would even be operating at this point,” said Marc D. Rayman, the chief engineer for the Dawn mission.

The Dawn spacecraft was designed to use four spinning wheels to pivot in different directions. But at its previous destination, the asteroid Vesta, two of the four wheels overheated and failed. At Ceres, the wheels stayed off, and the spacecraft used its thrusters instead to pivot.

In December, Dawn reached its lowest orbit, just 240 miles above Ceres. Dr. Rayman said he and his team had expected Dawn to exhaust its remaining propellant by March.

But they spun up the wheels again. That succeeded, cutting the use of the thrusters. “It all worked out beautifully,” Dr. Rayman said. That left enough fuel to contemplate doing something more.

The limits of forensic science, and beyond

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 16, 2016

Veronique Greenwood’s story on a new method to infer someone’s physical appearance from DNA evidence doubles as a skeptical mini-history of forensic science:

In 2009 the National Academy of Sciences released a blistering report calling into question the scientific validity of the analysis of fingerprints, bite marks, blood spatters, clothing fiber, handwriting, bullet markings, and many other mainstays of forensic investigation. It concluded that with one exception [DNA evidence], no forensic method could be relied on with a high degree of certainty to “demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”

And even with DNA, it’s tricky. The common theme: academics doing pure research have a better track record than criminal investigators trying to prove or crack a case, or companies trying to develop a product. (See also: everything.)

Documentary on Dieter Rams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2016

Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and Objectified, is directing a movie on legendary product designer Dieter Rams. Here’s the Kickstarter campaign.

This Kickstarter campaign will fund the film and also help to preserve Dieter’s incredible design archive for the future. There’s a trove of drawings, photographs, and other material spanning Dieter’s fifty plus years of work, and it needs to be properly conserved.

To that end, we’re working with the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation to help them catalog, digitize, and save these documents. The public has never seen most of this material, and we intend to share some of these discoveries with our backers during the process of making the film.

Rams’ designs have influenced an entire generation of designers, including one Jony Ive from a small company called Apple.

Newspaper front pages about Brexit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2016

Economist Brexit

Buzzfeed has a collection of newspaper front pages and magazine covers related to Brexit. Newseum has a more extensive collection (900+ newspapers) and the Guardian has a nice selection as well.

Out of all of them, I think the cover for next week’s issue of the New Yorker is perhaps my favorite:

New Yorker Brexit

Ah, Monty Python.

How do airplane black boxes work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2016

First of all, they’re not actually black. (They’re orange.) They capture more than 80 types of on-board information, including the last two hours of cockpit voice communications. And someday, they might get replaced by uploading data to the cloud (a secure cloud, one hopes).

A tour of the Svalbard Seed Vault

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2016

Tucked away in a mountain located on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, also home to The Northmost Town on Earth, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Vault is home to more than 860,000 plant seed samples deposited by dozens of different countries from around the world (even North Korea) and is closed to access about 350 days per year. But the folks from Veritasium were able to finagle a tour of the facility during one of its rare open days.

This facility was built to last about 200 years and withstand earthquakes and explosions. It was placed on the side of a mountain so even if all the ice on Earth melts, it will still be above sea level.

Other fun facts about the Vault: the temperature in the storage rooms are kept at minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit to hinder seed growth/deterioration, the permafrost in which the Vault is built will maintain the low storage temp in case of electrical failure, GMO seeds are forbidden due to Norwegian law, and the first withdrawal was made last year by Syria because of the civil war.

On bullshit and Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2016

In this video, Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, talks about what bullshit is and how dangerous it is to society.

The reason why there’s so much bullshit I think is that people just talk. If they don’t talk, they don’t get paid. The advertiser wants to gain sales. The politician wants to gain votes. Now, that’s ok but they have to talk about things that they don’t really know much about. So, since they don’t have anything really valid to say, they just say whatever they think will interest the audience, make it appear they know what they’re talking about. And what comes out is bullshit.

The bullshitter is more creative. He’s not submissive. It’s not important to him what the world really is like. What’s important to him is how he’d like to represent himself. He takes a more adventurous and inventive attitude towards reality, which may be sometimes very colorful, sometimes amusing, sometimes it might produce results that are enjoyable. But it’s also very dangerous.

It’s at this point that the video cuts to Donald Trump, who is the Lionel Messi of bullshitting; it is his singular dazzling gift. He cultivates convenient facts and deliberately remains ignorant of inconvenient ones so as to be most effective. As Frankfurt notes, bullshit is a serious threat to the truth because it’s not the opposite of truth…it cannot be refuted like a lie can:

Liars attempt to conceal the truth by substituting something for the truth that isn’t true. Bullshit is not a matter of trying to conceal the truth, it is a matter of trying to manipulate the listener, and if the truth will do, then that’s fine and if the truth won’t do, that’s also fine. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth in a way in which the liar is not. He’s playing a different game.

It is Trump’s indifference to the truth that makes him so effective and so powerful. Much of what I read from people who oppose Trump attempts to counter his rhetoric with facts. That hasn’t worked and is not going to work. The truth is not the antidote for bullshit. So how do you defeat the bullshitter? This has been a genuine problem for his political opponents thus far. Frankfurt doesn’t offer any advice in the video (perhaps his book does?), and I’m at a loss as well, but I do know that factual refutation will not make any difference. I hope someone figures it out soon though.

World speed climbing record

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2016

Back in 2014, Ukrainian Danyl Boldyrev scampered up a 15-meter course in just 5.60 seconds. That’s almost 6 mph, straight up a wall.

Food truck wars

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 13, 2016

Mister Softee used to dominate ice cream sales on Manhattan’s streets. Now Midtown is run by a splinter group called New York Ice Cream, former Softee franchisees (for a little while the trucks read “Master Softee”) who cut out the overhead but kept their corners.

The New York Times ran a story about the ice cream turf wars in late May:

“Let me tell you about this business,” Adam Vega, a thickly muscled, heavily tattooed Mister Softee man who works the upper reaches of the Upper East Side and East Harlem, said on Wednesday. “Every truck has a bat inside.”

Mr. Vega, 41, said that if he comes across a rival on his route, “I jump out and say, ‘Listen young man, this is my route, you gotta get out of there.’”

The same day that story was printed, a New York Ice Cream driver was arrested for attacking a pretzel vendor in Midtown with a baseball bat.

This week, Crain’s New York had a deep-dive into the nitty-gritty of NYC food carts, from managing licenses and fees, dealing with wholesalers, appealing tickets, and paying taxes. The wholesalers run out of Hell’s Kitchen; the expediters and permit brokers are in Astoria.

A thousand and one systems, legal, quasi-legal, and extra-legal, overlapping each other like nervous and circulatory networks in a body. All of the unseen navigation that makes a city run.

The oppression of silence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2016

Elie Wiesel died yesterday in NYC aged 87. He survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald during WWII and later wrote and spoke extensively about the experience, not letting the world forget what happened to so many Jews under Hitler’s boot. For his efforts, Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech remains as vital as when he spoke it:

And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.

I am going to be thinking about that paragraph a lot in the next few months, I think.

Exploring flyover country on your phone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2016

Grand Canyon Plane

The app Flyover Country, built by a team at the University of Minnesota, uses GPS to tell you what interesting features you’re currently flying over.

Learn about the world along the path of your flight, hike, or road trip with GPS tracking. Offline geologic maps and interactive points of interest reveal the locations of fossils, core samples, and georeferenced Wikipedia articles visible from your airplane window seat, road trip, or hiking trail vista.

More on the app from Fast Company. (via @feltron whose book came out the other day!)

The green screen driving machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2016

Creative agency The Mill has built a car called the Blackbird that, after visual effects are applied in post-production, can impersonate any sort of car in a commercial, TV show, or movie.

The Mill BLACKBIRD® is able to quickly transform its chassis to match the exact length and width of almost any car. Powered by an electric motor, it can be programmed to imitate acceleration curves and gearing shifts and the adjustable suspension alters ride height, rigidity and dampening to replicate typical driving characteristics.

A look inside America’s assembly line prison system

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2016

Reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a guard in a Louisiana private prison for four months. Mother Jones devoted their entire recent issue to the story.

In class that day, we learn about the use of force. A middle-aged black instructor I’ll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He’s the head of Winn’s Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison’s SWAT-like tactical unit. “If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?” he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, “I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit.”

Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. “If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him,” he says, pacing slowly. “If a inmate hit me, I’m go’ hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day.” Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. “If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don’t supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him.”

He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.

“I’d probably call somebody,” a cadet offers.

“I’d sit there and holler ‘stop,’” says a veteran guard.

Mr. Tucker points at her. “Damn right. That’s it. If they don’t pay attention to you, hey, there ain’t nothing else you can do.”

He cups his hands around his mouth. “Stop fighting,” he says to some invisible prisoners. “I said, ‘Stop fighting.’” His voice is nonchalant. “Y’all ain’t go’ to stop, huh?” He makes like he’s backing out of a door and slams it shut. “Leave your ass in there!”

“Somebody’s go’ win. Somebody’s go’ lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!” The classroom erupts in laughter.

Fusion has a summary of Bauer’s reporting, which you really should actually read in its entirety. America’s prison system is shameful; its reform is one of the biggest issues facing our nation in the future.