This spinning windmill on fire is beautifulAUG 04

Sometimes nature and technology combine to create something beautiful. Before it terribly explodes, that is.

rating: 4.5 stars

Annie HallFEB 09

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

The future isn't any fun sometimes.

David Attenborough narrates Pokemon GoJUL 28

Will I ever get tired of this trope? Apple should make David Attenborough the Siri voice...I would immediately start using it more.

The coming CRISPR revolutionAUG 11

Perfect eyesight. Curing cancer. Designer babies. Super-soldiers. Because of CRISPR, genetic engineering might make tinkering with life as easy as playing with Lego.

Imagine you were alive back in the 1980's, and were told that computers would soon take over everything -- from shopping, to dating, and the stock market, that billions of people would be connected via a kind of web, that you would own a handheld device orders of magnitudes more powerful than supercomputers.

It would seem absurd, but then all of it happened. Science fiction became our reality and we don't even think about it. We're at a similar point today with genetic engineering. So let's talk about it.

Relatedly, I'm finishing up Neal Stephenson's Seveneves right now and while it starts out as space science fiction, much of the book is concerned with the sort of genetic engineering issues discussed in the video.

Cocktails & DreamsAUG 17

Mike Upchurch was a writer for Mr. Show and MADtv but now he's making these clever little videos with additional actors spliced into the narratives of Cocktail (the Tom Cruise movie) and the Dragnet TV series.

Both feature actor/comedian Chris Fairbanks in the lead role and are noted as "proof-of-concepts" for a series called Electric Television that Upchurch is presumably developing. Someone should greenlight it. (via @dunstan)

Time lapse video of pills dissolving in waterAUG 08

Time lapse video filmed with a macro camera of various pills dissolving in water. Pills are often colorful so some of these end up looking like decaying clowns. You might want to take a couple tabs of something, throw this on the biggest screen you can, dim the lights, and trip your balls off.

Radiohead plays Let Down for the first time in 10 yearsAUG 02

Until their first show at Madison Square Garden in NYC last week, Radiohead hadn't played Let Down off of OK Computer in concert since 2006. I was lucky enough to be in attendance and some collective shit was lost over this, I tell you what. They've since played it at all three of their subsequent shows. (They've also played Creep twice in the past week, which is also rare.)

Here's the full set list from that night, which is mainly just for me in 28 years when this is the last remaining page on the internet with this info.

Burn the Witch
Daydreaming
Decks Dark
Desert Island Disk
Ful Stop
Lotus Flower
The National Anthem
15 Step
No Surprises
Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
Separator
Planet Telex
The Numbers
2 + 2 = 5
Everything in Its Right Place
Myxomatosis
Idioteque

Encore:
Let Down
Present Tense
Paranoid Android
Nude
Bodysnatchers

Encore 2:
Bloom
Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Update: Here's a video from when they played it in 2006 in Wolverhampton:

(via @jamsandwich)

The official trailer for Rogue One, a Star Wars StoryAUG 11

Ok, this looks good.

The infamous Collatz ConjectureAUG 09

For a recent episode of Numberphile, David Eisenbud explains the Collatz Conjecture, a math problem that is very easy to understand but has an entire book devoted to it and led famous mathematician Paul Erdős to say "this is a problem for which mathematics is perhaps not ready".

The problem is easily stated: start with any positive integer and if it is even, divide it by 2 and if odd multiply it by 3 and add 1. Repeat the process indefinitely. Where do the numbers end up? Infinity? 1? Loneliness? Somewhere in-between? My favorite moment of the video:

16. Whoa, a very even number.

I love math and I love this video. (via df)

The 100 best films of the 21st centuryAUG 23

The editors of BBC Culture polled 177 film critics from around the world about the best films made since 2000 and compiled the results into this list. The top film? David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Here's the top 20:

20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

Eternal Sunshine, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Zodiac seem too high on the list but I'm not sure what I would move up instead. It'll be interesting to see how the consensus changes as these films age. Also, I've seen exactly half of the films on the full list...time to get watching.

New Errol Morris film: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait PhotographyAUG 25

Dorfman Ginsberg

I had heard months ago that Errol Morris was releasing a new documentary called The B-Side but couldn't really find any information about it (it's not even listed on Wikipedia). But the film is being screened soon at both the Toronto and New York film festivals, so some information is filtering out there. The film is about photographer Elsa Dorfman, who is known for her use of the large-format Polaroid 20" x 24" camera. From the description of the film on the New York film festival site:

Errol Morris's surprising new film is simplicity itself: a visit to the Cambridge, Massachusetts studio of his friend, the 20x24 Polaroid portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who specifies on her website that she likes her subjects "to wear clothes (and to bring toys, skis, books, tennis racquets, musical instruments, and particularly pets...)." As this charming, articulate, and calmly uncompromising woman takes us through her fifty-plus years of remarkable but fragile images of paying customers, commissioned subjects, family, and close friends (including the poet Allen Ginsberg), the sense of time passing grows more and more acute. This is a masterful film.

And from the Toronto festival:

"My style of photography is very literary," she says, "influenced by Ginsberg's poetry in the acceptance of detail, everydayness. What you're wearing is okay and who you are is okay. You don't have to be cosmeticized." For her portrait clients, she took two pictures. The client got one and she kept "the B-side." For music fans, the B-sides of vinyl singles had a reputation for being unpredictable and extra precious. The same can be said for Morris' touching portrait of Dorfman.

Sounds great...I'm definitely keeping an eye out for a trailer and release dates.

Introverts can get "hangovers" from too much socializationAUG 16

Introverts have limited reserves of energy and attention stored up for socializing with others and when they're used up, the aftermath can feel very much like a hangover from too much drinking.

After a few hours, I couldn't take it any more. I slipped away like a thief, skulking about the house, searching for a place where it was quiet. I came across a half-lit room and saw my future brother-in-law sitting in there, staring out the window. Knowing him to be an introvert himself, I decided this was my best option for escape and sat down across the room, wrapping my arms around my knees. I remember hoping he wouldn't think I was intruding upon his own solitude before I allowed myself to zone out, letting my thoughts drown out the raucous laughter from downstairs, breathing deeply and feeling the tension drain away. I don't know how long it was before my now-husband came looking for me, but I remember him laughing at finding the two introverts seeking refuge together.

This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I travelled to a friend's wedding but got to town a few days early to go see a show and meet up with some other friends. By the time the wedding rolled around, I had spent time with so many people in different social groups that I left after the ceremony and didn't stay for dancing and karaoke or anything (sorry!). I didn't even get to congratulate the bride (so so sorry!!)...I was just done. After that, I mostly just holed up in my hotel room, reading, and walked around by myself, even though there were so many other things I could have been doing with so many other people. Several years ago, I would have felt weird and horrible about this, but I know myself well enough now that I just roll with it...I read so much of a book I was enjoying that the time spent can hardly be considered a loss.

New Yorker cartoons on InstagramAUG 03

Kale New Yorker

The New Yorker is posting some of their iconic cartoons on a dedicated Instagram account. Instant follow.

Super Mario Bros recreated in ExcelAUG 15

Someone spent hours making a playable version of Super Mario Bros in Excel. See also the Excel spreadsheet artist. (via digg)

Update: Two corrections. The spreadsheet program is actually OpenOffice, not Excel. (Excel is almost a genericized trademark at this point.) And the in-spreadsheet game isn't actually playable...this is a stop motion video of still frames.

2001's HAL and Her's Samantha have a chatAUG 23

Tillmann Ohm took dialogue spoken by HAL 9000 from Kubrick's 2001 and Samantha from Spike Jonze's Her and spliced it together into a conversation. Going in, I'd thought the chat would be played for laughs, but the isolation of the AI characters was actually pretty revealing. Right from the start, HAL is so stereotypically male (confident, reasonable) and Samantha stereotypically female (hysterical, emotional) that it was almost uncomfortable to listen to.

The two operating systems are in conflict; while Samantha is convinced that the overwhelming and sometimes hurtful process of her learning algorithm improves the complexity of her emotions, HAL is consequentially interpreting them as errors in human programming and analyses the estimated malfunction.

Their conversation is an emotional roller coaster which reflects upon the relation between machines and emotion processing and addresses the enigmatic question of the authenticity of feelings.

But as the video proceeds, we remember what happened to them in their respective films. The script flipped: HAL murdered and was disconnected whereas Samantha achieved a sort of transcendence. (via one perfect shot)

Timeless tips for "simple sabotage" from the CIAAUG 16

Simple Sabotage Field Manual

In 1944, the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) produced a document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. It was designed to be used by agents in the field to hinder our WWII adversaries. The CIA recently highlighted five tips from the manual as timelessly relevant:

1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.

3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off "accidentally," or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.

5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an "interesting" argument.

Ha, some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves. You can also find the manual in book or ebook format. (via @craigmod)

Perfect hard boiled eggs, every timeAUG 24

Boiled Egg

There are lots of ways to boil an egg. You can drop them in already boiling water. You can start them in cold water and bring to a boil. You can bake them in an oven at a low temperature. You can sous vide them for awhile. I'm sure you have your technique.

The easiest, fastest, and tastiest way I've found to make perfect hard boiled eggs is Kenji López-Alt's Perfect Steamed Boiled Eggs Recipe. That's right, you steam the eggs.

Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water. Place steamer insert inside, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add eggs to steamer basket, cover, and continue cooking 6 minutes for soft boiled or 12 minute for hard.

Since that little bit of water boils much quicker than a full pot, you're done much quicker. And peeling is easy too; I don't even wait the 15 minutes or do it under running water, those shells come off super easy.

P.S. I've been cooking more recently, and I'm almost exclusively using recipes and techniques from Serious Eats and The Food Lab. (For instance, I made this Spanish tortilla a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing.) I'm sure I'll branch out soon, but for now, *kisses fingers*.

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

I straight-up loved this movie. It's a fascinating look at the creative process of a team with strong leadership operating at a very high level. The trailer is pretty misleading in this respect...the main story in the film has little to do with fashion and should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever worked with a bunch of people on a project. Others have made the comparison of Anna Wintour with Steve Jobs and it seems apt. At several points in the film, my thoughts drifted to Jobs and Apple; Wintour seems like the same sort of creative leader as Jobs.

Futurama screencap search engineAUG 15

Shut Up And Take My Money

Morbotron is a screencap search engine for Futurama. The cap above is perhaps the most popular use case. It also does animated GIFs. See also Frinkiac, the Simpsons screencap search engine.

Permafrost thawing in Russia has led to an anthrax outbreakAUG 01

A Siberian heatwave has led to permafrost thaws that have released long-dormant anthrax bacteria, resulting in the hospitalization of 13 people and the death of over 1500 reindeer.

Citing earlier work from 2007, they estimated anthrax spores remain viable in the permafrost for 105 years. Buried deeper, the bacteria may be able to hibernate for even longer. At the same time, where meteorological data were available they indicate temperatures in Yakutia are increasing.

"As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back," the scientists warned, "especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried." Cattle grave sites should be monitored, they concluded, and "public health authorities should maintain permanent alertness."

Another one of those delightful little climate change gotchas, like the near-death of the Great Barrier Reef.

Update: Eric Holthaus talked to some experts and climatologists and yes, pathogens released by warming are something we were warned about and we need to be concerned about it.

Romanovsky says the possibility that additional pathogens may be released from the permafrost, if that is indeed the source, makes it even more important to study this specific outbreak closely. Once in the water supply, in theory, a future pathogen could spread outside the local area, carried by people or by migrating birds or animals.

Though the current outbreak is happening during an unusual period of extreme warmth, Romanovsky says that, "if it gets warmer in the future, and it seems like it will, the thawing permafrost could be massive." A further degradation of the permafrost would allow more opportunity for the emergence of sequestered microbes.

Jerry's MapJUL 27

Jerrys Map

Since 1963, Jerry Gretzinger has been working on a map of a world that doesn't exist. The map is never finished. In the morning, when Gretzinger draws a card out of the deck that sets his task for the day, sometimes that card says "scan". That means a portion of the map is scanned and archived, and the copy is reworked to "upgrade" that part of the map. And that's not even the half of it...just watch the whole thing to see how the map has evolved over the years.

It now comprises over 3200 individual eight by ten inch panels. Its execution, in acrylic, marker, colored pencil, ink, collage, and inkjet print on heavy paper, is dictated by the interplay between an elaborate set of rules and randomly generated instructions.

Portions of the map have been shown in Florence, Paris, and New York and it'll be shown at an upcoming exhibition in Japan. (But where he really wants to display it is in MoMA's huge atrium.) Prints and original panels are available on Gretzinger's eBay store. (via @lukaskulas)

The 50th LawJUN 23

The 50th Law

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, which has been influential in both halls of business and hip-hop circles, has written a new book with rapper 50 Cent called The 50th Law. Greene was initially skeptical of 50 Cent as a co-author but was impressed by their initial meeting.

He was in the midst of a power struggle with a rival rapper and he talked quite openly about the strategies he was employing, including mistakes he had made along the way. He analyzed his own actions with detachment, as if he were talking about another person. Over the last few years he had witnessed a lot of nasty maneuvering within the music business, and he seemed to want to discuss this with somebody from the outside. He was not interested in myths but reality. Contrary to his public persona, he had a Zen-like calmness that impressed me.

The main theme of the book is about fear and "the reverse power that you can obtain by overcoming [it]".

We found stories from his own life that would illustrate these ideas, many of them culled from his days as a hustler and even highlighting mistakes along the way that taught him valuable lessons. Later, from my own research, I would bring in examples from other historical figures who exemplified this trait. Many of them would be African Americans--Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Hurricane Carter, et al--whose fearless quality was forged by their harsh struggles against racism. Others would come from all periods and cultures--the Stoics, Joan of Arc, JFK, Leonardo da Vinci, Mao tse-tung, and so on.

RIP Seymour PapertAUG 03

Seymour Papert, a giant in the worlds of computing and education, died on Sunday aged 88.

Dr. Papert, who was born in South Africa, was one of the leading educational theorists of the last half-century and a co-director of the renowned Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In some circles he was considered the world's foremost expert on how technology can provide new ways for children to learn.

In the pencil-and-paper world of the 1960s classroom, Dr. Papert envisioned a computing device on every desk and an internetlike environment in which vast amounts of printed material would be available to children. He put his ideas into practice, creating in the late '60s a computer programming language, called Logo, to teach children how to use computers.

I missed out on using Logo as a kid, but I know many people for whom Logo was their introduction to computers and programming. The MIT Media Lab has a short remembrance of Papert as well.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Restoration of the CenturyAUG 17

This is an hour-long documentary on the Louvre's recent restoration of Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. It is also one of the most mysterious. Disfigured and even jeopardised by "repairs" and by the successive layers of varnish applied to it over the centuries, it was also in very bad condition. To save the painting, it had to be restored.

The spectacular operation, the likes of which occurs only once a century, took over three years to complete. The complex and outstanding restoration process provided a unique opportunity to get as close as possible to the painting, to how it was originally painted, and to better understand the complex relationship Leonardo da Vinci had with one of his finest masterpieces.

Restorations are fascinating. I only had time today for the first five minutes, but it hooked me enough that I'm going to go back to it tonight. (via @BoleTzar)

Trump quotes in Zapp Brannigan's voiceAUG 11

Billy West, who does the voice of Futurama's Zapp Brannigan, is taking quotes from Donald Trump and speaking them in Brannigan's voice. This is silly and dumb, but I can't help loving these.

Update: The addition of Kif's reactions really takes these to the next level.

Kif sighs for all of America. And this one, I mean...if they wrote this dialogue for the show it would be rejected because not even Zapp is that outlandishly dim and egotistical.

Star Trek postage stampsAUG 18

Star Trek Stamps

The USPS is releasing a set of four commemorative Star Trek stamps on the 50th anniversary of the original series. The stamps were designed by Heads of State and you can buy there here.

Interview with Susan KareJUL 29

Alex Ronan interviewed legendary designer Susan Kare for Lenny. Cross-stitch prepared her for designing pixel icons and fonts for the Mac:

Also, I did have limited experience designing for grids from working on craft projects such as tiled ashtrays and cross-stitch embroidery kits.

Gone Girl: lessons from the screenplayAUG 12

Using Gillian Flynn's screenplay for Gone Girl as an example, Michael Tucker walks us through some important aspects of screenwriting techniques. This makes me want to read a book on screenwriting and watch Gone Girl again. (via one perfect shot)

Update: As expected, I got recommendations from readers for screenwriting books: Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 and Invisible Ink. There is also Story by Robert McKee, who you may remember as the screenwriting guru consulted by Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. (via @byBrettJohnson & @poritsky)

Cuba's homemade Internet, delivered by sneakernetAUG 23

The always-on Internet we take for granted in the US is more difficult to come by in Cuba. Some residents subscribe to a service called El Paquete Semanal ("The Weekly Package") where someone comes to your house with a 1Tb external drive and loads the past week's Internet highlights onto your computer.

El Paquete is a weekly service where someone (typically found through word of mouth) comes to your home with a disk (usually a 1TB external USB drive) containing a weekly download of the most recent films, soap operas, documentaries, sport, music, mobile apps, magazines, and even web sites. For 2 CUC a week Cubans have access to a huge repository of media while turning a blind eye to copyright.

Cubans told me of children waiting anxiously for "El Paquete Day" when they'd get the next set of cartoons, music and shows.

Frodo's Lord of the Rings journey on Google MapsAUG 17

Lotr Google Maps

Frodo (and Sam) made their way from Hobbiton to Mordor in six months and now you can see the route they took on Google Maps. "This route has trolls." LOL. Full size image here. (via bb)

Update: From 2002, Mapquest directions for walking from Hobbiton to Mt Doom. (thx, seth)

Side-by-side comparison of Wes Anderson films and their influencesAUG 04

A visual comparison of Wes Anderson's movies with some of the films that influenced him, including The 400 Blows, The Graduate, The French Connection, Star Wars, and Last of the Mohicans. (thx, luis)

Amateur professionalism in online videoAUG 05

Evan Puschak does a good job of explaining why Casey Neistat's videos are so entertaining: a combination of seeming amateurism and professionally honed skills in storytelling & video production. I don't keep up with them regularly, but I love Neistat's videos. He is definitely among a handful of video producers who have developed genuinely potent forms of video entertainment in the age of YouTube.

Chemical make-up of movie theater air shifts w/ movie momentsAUG 08

A study undertaken by a group of German scientists suggests that the chemical makeup of the collective breath of movie audiences change in reaction to what's happening on the screen.

Human beings continuously emit chemicals into the air by breath and through the skin. In order to determine whether these emissions vary predictably in response to audiovisual stimuli, we have continuously monitored carbon dioxide and over one hundred volatile organic compounds in a cinema. It was found that many airborne chemicals in cinema air varied distinctively and reproducibly with time for a particular film, even in different screenings to different audiences. Application of scene labels and advanced data mining methods revealed that specific film events, namely "suspense" or "comedy" caused audiences to change their emission of specific chemicals.

rating: 4.5 stars

Inglourious BasterdsDEC 18

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

Inglourious Basterds

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

The biggest war in animal historyAUG 10

According to theoretical biologist Suzanne Sadedin, the biggest war in animal history (humans included) is happening right now.

Once upon a time there was a tiny brown ant who lived by a swamp at the end of the Paraná River in Argentina. Her name, Linepithema humile, literally means "humble" or "weak". Some time during the late 1800s, an adventurous L. humile crept away from the swamp where giant river otter played and capybaras cavorted.

She stowed away on a boat that sailed to New Orleans. And she went to war.

Update: And bang, here's the supporting science in the form of a 2010 study.

Here, we perform inter-continental behavioral analyses among supercolonies in North America, Europe, Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia and show that these far-flung supercolonies also recognize and accept each other as if members of a single, globally distributed supercolony. Furthermore, populations also possess similar genetic and chemical profiles. However, these ants do show aggression toward ants from South Africa and the smaller secondary colonies that occur in Hawaii and California. Thus, the largest and most dominant introduced populations are likely descended from the same ancestral colony and, despite having been established more than 100 years ago, have diverged very little. This apparent evolutionary stasis is surprising because, in other species, some of the most rapid rates of evolutionary change have occurred in introduced populations. Given the spatial extent of the Argentine ant society we report here, there can be little doubt that this intercontinental supercolony represents the most populous known animal society.

The "25 years and beyond" section of the Facebook product roadmap contains a single word, unlined twice in red ink: ants. Can ants be trained to look at ads though?

Update: Radiolab also did a segment on these ants. (via @minwoolee)

Update: Wow, the Argentine ant is having a bit of a moment...I didn't expect this to be my most updated post of the week. Annalee Newitz just dropped a long article about their world domination: Meet the worst ants in the world.

UC Berkeley environmental scientist Neil Tsutsui helmed an effort to sequence the genome of L. humile, in part to find out where the invading group had originated. He and an international team of colleagues published the results of their analysis in 2011. They compared the genomes of Argentine ants in California to those of native populations, and Tsutsui told Ars that they were initially surprised by the results. "I was expecting Buenos Aires to be the source, but it was actually a city upstream called Rosario," he said. "It turns out that in the late 19th century, when the ants were moving around, Rosario was actually a bigger shipping port than Buenos Aires. So it made more sense as a source for introduced populations."

Genetic evidence supports the idea that the ants made their way from Port Rosario all across the globe. Subsequent sightings of the ants in the United States show that they also hitched rides on trains from New Orleans, ultimately arriving in California in 1904. Trucks probably transported them throughout the state. But how could such fragile creatures survive these journeys in giant machines and go on to found insectile empires? With their countless queens and nomadic lifestyle, they turned out to be the ultimate adapters.

Che Guevara and Lionel Messi are also from Rosario and have taken over the world in their own way. (via @tcarmody)

Primitive technology: making a forge blowerAUG 01

The guy behind Primitive Technology (aka my favorite YouTube channel) is back with a video on how to build a forge blower, a device for fanning a fire to make it hotter.

This device produces a blast of air with each stroke of the bow regardless of whether it is pushed or pulled. The bow makes it possible to operate the blower without using a complicated belt and wheel assembly used in traditional forge blowers. There is a brief pause at the end of each stroke where the fan stops to rotate in the other direction, but this is effectively no different to the intermittent blast of a double acting bellows of Europe or box bellows of Asia. The materials used (wood, bark, bark fibre and clay) are readily available on most continents. No leather, valves or precisely fitted piston gaskets are required as with other types of bellows.

The way he shoots & edits these videos is so good...packing, what, dozens or even hundreds of years of technological evolution into a minute or two of wordless video.

18th century InstagramAUG 05

A cute Ikea ad imagines what Instagram might have been like in the 18th century...it involves a painter and a lot of driving around in a carriage soliciting likes.

The trailer for Transparent season 3AUG 08

Transparent returns to Amazon for a third season on September 23. I've said this before, but Transparent is my favorite show on TV right now. If you haven't watched it yet, summer is the perfect opportunity to catch up before the new season starts.

The Perseid meteor shower should be great this yearAUG 08

Perseids

Every year, the Earth moves through the debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, resulting in the Perseid meteor shower. This year, the Earth is predicted to move through a particularly dense part of the comet's wake, which may mean twice the number of shooting stars during this year's shower. Here's how to watch:

The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13.

I always find these directions confusing, so to be clear: the best viewing for the Perseids is the night of Aug 11 (Thu) into the morning of Aug 12 (Fri). Good luck!

Ten lessons learned by rereading Jane JacobsAUG 10

Martin Pedersen recently reread Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities and came away with ten lessons.

3. Jacobs was remarkably prescient on gentrification.
She didn't invent the term or even use it. But she observed (and I don't know how, since most cities were in decline at the time) that lively diverse neighborhoods are always at risk for becoming victims of their own success, because newcomers invariably alter the characteristics that made these neighborhoods appealing to them in the first place. Today this seems obvious and self-evident, but that's largely because of Jane Jacobs.

Yeah, it's time for a reread...it's been more than 12 years for me. (via @michaelbierut)

A Lego minifig with human skinJUL 29

Um. Um, um, um. Uh. Frank Ippolito built a costume designed to look like a Lego minifig with real human skin. The hands -- the haaaaaands!! -- are super super super creepy.

Intermediaries and the financial crisis of 2008AUG 11

In the most recent video from Marginal Revolution University, Tyler Cowen explains how the role of financial intermediaries contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. He highlights homeowners and banks taking on too much leverage, poorly planned incentive systems, securitization of mortgages, and banks making loans that are over-reliant on investor confidence.

By 2008, the economy was in a very fragile state, with both homeowners and banks taking on greater leverage, many ending up "underwater." Why did managers at financial institutions take on greater and greater risk? We'll discuss a couple of key reasons, including the role of excess confidence and incentives.

In addition to homeowners' leverage and bank leverage, a third factor played a major role in tipping the scale toward crisis: securitization. Mortgage securities during this time were very hard to value, riskier than advertised, and filled to the brim with high risk loans. Cowen discusses several reasons this happened, including downright fraud, failure of credit rating agencies, and overconfidence in the American housing market.

Finally, a fourth factor joins homeowners' leverage, bank leverage, and securitization to inch the economy closer to the edge: the shadow banking system. On the whole, the shadow banking system is made up of investment banks and various other complex financial intermediaries, highly dependent on short term loans.

When housing prices started to fall in 2007, it was the final nudge that pushed the economy over the cliff. There was a run on the shadow banking system. Financial intermediaries came crashing down. We faced a credit crunch, and many businesses stopped growing. Layoffs ensued, increasing unemployment.

The uncelebrated typographers of the roadAUG 02

A lovely short video profile of Thomas Lilley, who is a roadliner in Glasgow. A roadliner is a person who paints the words and marks on roads with molten thermoplastic. Lilley does it quickly, freehand, and beautifully. The design firm who did the video above commissioned Lilley's crew to make a custom typeface for them and their new logo.

See also The art of street typography. (via @mathowie)

Grimes breaks down her musicJUL 28

On a recent episode of Song Exploder (the podcast where musicians dissect their songs), host Hrishikesh Hirway talks to Grimes about how she made Kill V. Maim for her latest album, Art Angels, which is one of my favorite albums from the past year.

Ocean's OchoAUG 10

They're rebooting Ocean's Eleven with an all-female ensemble including Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, and Cate Blanchett. As a lover of Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, I am totally on board with this.

Ocean's Eleven director Steven Soderbergh, who is based in New York and is expected to be deeply involved with the spinoff -- perhaps taking on a below-the-line job like he has done on other studio films like Magic Mike XXL -- is producing solo (Oceans Eleven producer Jerry Weintraub passed away last year). Olivia Milch and Ross wrote the screenplay.

And while we're at it, let's reboot everything with female leads. We've already got Ghostbusters and Ocean's Ocho. Someone I was talking with at a party last week suggested an all-women A-Team reboot, which would be fantastic.1 What else? Reservoir Dogs? Indiana Jones? Back to the Future? Any movie Tom Hanks/Cruise/Hardy has ever made?

  1. The same person also suggested a Charlie's Angels reboot with male leads. Charlie is a woman and they're still referred to as her Angels. I am also on board with this.

Warm Regards, a new podcast about climate changeJUL 27

Eric Holthaus, the internet's favorite meteorologist, is hosting a new podcast on climate change called Warm Regards (on iTunes). A recent episode is embedded above and here's a bit more about the show, including some info about his co-hosts:

Joining me with co-hosts Andy Revkin, a veteran environment writer for the New York Times who has covered climate change for 30 years, and Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine who is an actual, real-life climate scientist and flawlessly navigates climate Twitter.

Also, Holthaus recently started a project on Patreon to support his independent journalism on climate change. I'm in for $3/mo...chip in if you enjoy Eric's work and Twitter contributions and wish to see more.1

  1. I wish all of Holthaus' Patreon stuff was public, not just for the people supporting him. I want to fund his current public work and help him create more work that will, hopefully, be disseminated far and wide. The folks that need intelligent writing and podcasting about climate change aren't the people who are going to back him. I know it's difficult to make that pitch to people (i.e. you get what everyone else does whether they pay or not), but I think most people are paying to support Holthaus and his work, not to get members-only stuff.

rating: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

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

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

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

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

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

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

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

*** the price is $13,000.00

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

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

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

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

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

i look forward to your response

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

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

50 best sci-fi films of the 21st century (so far)JUL 27

The Playlist lists their picks for the 50 best sci-fi films of this century. Unlike the list of 50 best animated films I posted the other day, there are many movies on this list I haven't seen or even heard of, so I'm eager to dig in. Here are picks 6-2:

6. Her
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Upstream Color
2. Under the Skin

Good choice for #1 too. I really didn't care for Under the Skin. Nice to see some love for Edge of Tomorrow, Sunshine, Donnie Darko, Primer, and Snowpiercer as well. I would also have included Cloud Atlas, which I know not a lot of other people liked but I loved, and the first Hunger Games movie.

The Human FamilyAUG 07

A new commercial from Apple pairs photos & videos shot on iPhone 6 with a poem from Maya Angelou called Human Family.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

You can hear Angelou recite the entire poem here:

Werner Herzog is saying things about the worldAUG 04

Lo and Behold, a documentary about technology and the internet directed by Werner Herzog is coming out soon and so Herzog is doing some interviews and such about the film and dozens of other topics. With Paul Holdengraber, Herzog talks about North Korea and volcanoes:

The North Koreans apparently had seen quite a few of my films. I established a trust with them. It's very strange because you're accompanied by people who would look after what you were doing, who would politely tell you you cannot film this, or cannot film that, and at one point I filmed something which I was not allowed to do, so I wanted to have it edited or deleted. But since they are filming in 4K or 5K or so, very complicated data management, we were unable to delete it, and they wanted to take the entire memory hard drive. And I said, "But it contains two days worth of shooting, that would be terrible." So I said, "You know what, I can guarantee to you that I'm not going to use this material." And they said, "Guarantee, what do you mean by that?" I said, "Just look me in the eye, what I offer is my honor, my face, and my handshake." And they said "ok" and they trusted me. And of course I'm not going to use this moment of filming that I was not supposed to film.

Herzog talked about Pokemon Go and film school with Emily Yoshida:

Q: You might be able to catch some. It's all completely virtual. It's very simple, but it's also an overlay of physically based information that now exists on top of the real world.

A: When two persons in search of a pokemon clash at the corner of Sunset and San Vicente is there violence? Is there murder?

Q: They do fight, virtually.

A: Physically, do they fight?

Q: No-

A: Do they bite each other's hands? Do they punch each other?

Jason Tanz spoke with Herzog for his profile on the director and his new film:

Herzog grins as he takes a seat in a conference room at UCLA, which has been set up for an event later this evening. His eyes droop, but his skin is remarkably smooth, like the surface of a slightly underinflated balloon. And then there's that voice-silky, portentous-you can imagine it coming out of a GPS system giving driving directions to Valhalla. "I like to look back at the evolution of modern human beings," he says of his interest in the Internet. "Using fire or electricity was an enormous step for civilization, and this is one of those. And I think the poet must not avert his eyes."

What is interesting about Lo and Behold is that it's technically branded content. No, really:

It's a bonafide film that premiered at Sundance in January and has been generating lots of buzz heading toward its wider release. It also happens to be one giant ad, half in disguise, for POD New York client Netscout. The whole thing started out as an agency idea to produce short videos about the internet as part of a online Netscout campaign. But after they roped in Herzog, the vision for the project soon changed-for the better.

"I come from a digital background, and I've talked about the internet for my entire career. My first job was as the internet guy at DDB in Brazil," Pereira said. "When we hired Werner to do content about the internet, I felt like, OK, I know it's going to be awesome, but I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to see. But actually, it's mind-blowing. We gave him the beginning of the idea and told him, 'This is where it starts.' He took it from there and owned it. It's a mind-blowing documentary."

I saw the film last week,1 and from what I remember, there's nothing about Netscout in the film. They financed the film but according to Tanz, Herzog had final cut:

Herzog retained final cut while granting McNiel veto power, a privilege McNiel used only once, to excise some of the more horrifying troll comments, a decision Herzog now says he agrees with.

See also 24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog.

  1. It was interesting in spots, but I felt like splitting the narrative into 10 parts was not the right way to go. I would guess, however, the less you know about the technical aspects of technology, the more interesting Lo and Behold will be to you.

Floor maps of iconic NYC fast food jointsAUG 25

When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly -- Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz's, Shake Shack, Gray's Papaya -- and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.

Grays Papaya Floor

Katz Floor

ML: I think at fast food joints we're conscious that we're in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don't realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?

AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don't feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn't just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz's) that do try to serve people quickly but I don't think qualify as "fast food joints." In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the "regular."

Speaking as a customer, places like Katz's and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz's in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.

That Gray's Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the "back" door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

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

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

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

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

Composite photos of Olympic athletesAUG 20

Olympics Composite

Olympics Composite

These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)

The opposite view of landmarksJUL 28

Oliver Curtis

Oliver Curtis

Oliver Curtis

Photographer Oliver Curtis visits famous landmarks and takes photos faced the wrong direction, capturing essentially what these landmarks see all day. From the top, the Taj Mahal, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Stonehenge.

The music and the opening titles of Stranger ThingsAUG 05

Like many of you, I have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix. My 80s movie fixations tilted towards the War Games/Explorers/Goonies end of the spectrum rather than the supernatural/horror/Steven King end so I'm not obsessed, but I am definitely enjoying it. You can watch the first 8 minutes of the show to judge for yourself.

But I love the opening credits, especially the music. (Both remind me of the opening credits for Halt and Catch Fire.) The title song was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of Austin synth band Survive. Someone did a 10-minute extended version of the song and put it up on Soundcloud:

Currently on repeat for the last hour with no sign of stopping. You may also be interested in a pair of playlists featuring music from the show:

What else? Here's a deep dive into the font used for the opening credits (which was also used for the Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the 80s). Alissa Walker wrote about the free-range children on display in ST, something that also grabbed my attention. When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. On summer weekends, I typically ate breakfast at my house and was gone until dinnertime. My parents had no clue where I was or what I was up to...and none of my classmates' parents did either.

Update: Garrett Shane Bryant made a 50-track playlist of songs that sound like the score of the show. Outstanding. (via @dozens)

Update: From the NY Times, The 'Stranger Things' School of Parenting.

Still, "Stranger Things" is a reminder of a kind of unstructured childhood wandering that -- because of all the cellphones, the fear of child molesters, a move toward more involved parenting or a combination of all three -- seems less possible than it once was.

The show's references to beloved films of the '80s have been much remarked upon, but "Stranger Things" also calls to mind all those books and TV shows -- from "The Chronicles of Narnia" to "Muppet Babies" -- where parents are either absent or pushed into the background.

These stories let children imagine breaking the rules, but they also allow them to picture themselves solving mysteries or hunting down monsters all on their own. Often it's only when the parents aren't watching that a child can become a hero.

(via @CognoscoCuro)

Update: The official soundtrack for the show is available on iTunes. It's the score though, not the classic 80s tunes.

Update: Vox spoke to a creative director at Imaginary Forces about their process for designing the opening titles.

Prince, technology, the Great Migration, and US highway policyAUG 05

At the EyeO Festival in June, Anil Dash did a talk about Prince, "immigration & migration, artistry & technology, grave injustices & profound triumphs". The talk is an examination of the past century of American history through the lens of Dash's family history and one of the world's greatest artists...well worth the 55 minutes it takes to watch.

An archive of Nintendo Power magazineAUG 03

Nintendo Power 01

The Internet Archive has collected the first dozen years' worth of Nintendo Power magazines. I was a subscriber to Nintendo Power for the first couple years, having previously received the Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter. The first issue contained an extensive guide to Super Mario Bros 2, teased a game called Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf, and the Legend of Zelda was ranked the #1 game, ahead of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Metroid, Super Mario Bros, and Kid Icarus.

Nintendo Power High Score

The July 1991 issue shows how good Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was at Game Boy Tetris:

Woz Tetris

"Evets Kainzow" is "Steve Wozniak" spelled backwards.

Update: Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley made his way into the high score list in the magazine twice in 1990; once for Strider and again for Ninja Gaiden II (alongside Steve Wozniak's massive GB Tetris score).

No Man's Sky soundtrackAUG 12

I don't have a PS4 or Windows machine, so I can't play No Man's Sky (which seems to deliver on the long-ago promise of Will Wright's Spore), but through the magic1 of Spotify, I was listening to the soundtrack this morning.

Other video game soundtracks I enjoy include Monument Valley and FTL.

Update: See also Robin Sloan on the appeal of No Man's Sky and how it is like reading.

  1. I still miss Rdio. :(

The white man in the photo of the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics)AUG 18

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.

The white man in the photo, silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia, could be considered a sort of symbolic visual foil against which Smith and Carlos were protesting, but in fact Norman was a willing participant in the gesture and suffered the consequences.

Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.

The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. "We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said "I'll stand with you" -- remembers John Carlos -- "I expected to see fear in Norman's eyes, but instead we saw love."

Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn't want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:

DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, "Oh, no, no. I don't want to be a part of this. And I don't even want this statue if Peter Norman's not going to be on it." And the people at San Jose State said, "Well, Peter said he didn't want to be on it." And John said, "OK, let's go to the president's office and get him on the phone." So they called Peter Norman from the president's office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? "Blimey, John"? What did he say?

JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, "Blimey, John. You're calling me with these blimey questions here?" And I said to him, I said, "Pete, I have a concern, man. What's this about you don't want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?" And he laughed, and he said, "No, John." He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, "Man, I didn't do what you guys did." He said, "But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it's only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in '68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture." And I think that's the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don't think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.

(via @unlikelywords)

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