The history of technology is the history of pocketsTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 08

Pocket Calculator.jpg

Diana Kimball writes on the complex symbiosis of devices, clothing, and the body:

In a very real way, what people tuck into their pockets signals what they care about. Ötzi the Iceman carried fungus to make fire. Japanese men in the Edo period carried medicine and seals. Queen Elizabeth I carried a miniature jewel-encrusted devotional book. European women in the 18th century carried money, jewelry, personal grooming implements, and even food. Here in 2015, we carry cellphones?--?never letting them out of our sight.

If what we put in our pockets is important, to advertise a product as pocketable is to imply that it's indispensable: something you'll always want by your side. Pocket watch manufacturers adopted this approach early; purveyors of pocket knives, pocket handkerchiefs, and pocket books (also known as paperbacks) followed suit. Technologies all, these tools still seem primitive relative to slim electronic bricks we haul around today. To find a direct ancestor of the cellphone, we need only look back as far as 1970: the year the pocket calculator was born.

It's a short essay, but still manages to cover multiple historical periods, eastern and western traditions, different problems faced by men and women -- remarkable range. A beginning.

(photo via Matthew Rutledge at Flickr)

Hidden connections in Tarantino filmsSEP 17

The worlds in many of Quentin Tarantino's movies are connected; here are ten of the biggest connections, including the Vega brothers, Red Apple cigarettes, and Big Kahuna Burger. Tarantino has even said that some of his movies are watchable within others...e.g. the characters in Pulp Fiction could have watched From Dusk Till Dawn in the theater.

Interviewing Kermit's new partnerTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

No, not his new girlfriend Denise (although I hope for Kermit nothing but happiness), but Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who became the man behind the frog (and Ernie, and several other beloved characters) after Jim Henson's death. It's also a sweet, mournful look into the mystery of puppeteering:

Until Being Elmo, the documentary about long-time Elmo performer Kevin Clash, nobody knew who Clash was. Elmo was just Elmo. Consider the secondary performer, the underling to the already-invisible: They don't play a fictional character; they gesture a single limb. That dark empty sleeve is the foxhole of puppeteers--you dig in, protecting your neighbor and hope you come back alive. Survive and your own identity awaits. Jerry Nelson began as a right hand for the Muppets in 1965--eventually he would perform one of the most recognizable Sesame Street citizens, Count von Count. If anyone knows the value of digits, it's a 4-year-old learning their numbers by extending one finger at a time until, finally, their hand is open, the better to grab on.

The Muppets premieres on September 22, and a Jim Henson documentary will air on September 15.

The end of Key and PeeleTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

Wesley Morris expertly examines the show's achievements:

American television has always been fundamentally white. Its points of view emanate from the vantages of those who control the industry and create its content. If it deals with race as a problem, it typically can do so only if it believes there's a solution. But as a black viewer, I'm never looking for contrition, simply an acknowledgement of a condition; I don't need television -- or American culture -- to provide a remedy. Black America has tended to see the discrepancy between the cultural importance to diagnose and the delusion to attempt to cure. Merely giving a nonwhite person a speaking role is not absolution. That contradiction is visible to a black audience almost anytime it sees itself chauffeuring, housekeeping, mammying, best-friending, sidekicking, saying everything about white characters while saying nothing about itself. That was the biracial brilliance of Key and Peele. It understood race as real and racism as inevitable, and never lost sight of the way in which individual white people can be agents of change but also of offense, wittingly or not supporting a system of demoralization.

Kwame Opam discusses how the show lived and grew across the world wide web:

Key & Peele's greatest strength and weakness was its format; as a sketch show, it's best remembered for its bite-sized bits -- most of which wound up online. "Substitute Teacher," which first aired in 2012, is one of the show's earliest highlights. It quickly went viral, and right it now boasts more than 80 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year, Paramount even announced it plans on turning it into a feature-length film. But the episode it premiered on only pulled in 1.16 million viewers at the time, a drop in the bucket compared to its online views. And it makes sense, especially for a huge swath of the population that doesn't have cable. Why wait for the show when you can watch the best clips on the internet?

This is a complex but not unique irony: how a slice of pop culture in 2015 can be popular enough for the President himself to take notice (and embrace it), and to seem to have zeitgeist-defining properties, but not be quite popular enough to sustain a half hour in basic cable.

Maybe that's tied to something Morris and Opam touch on but don't quite name. More than any show on television, to my mind, Key and Peele felt young. Not young in the shallow way that all media, maybe especially television, seem to exploit young talent; not young in the same reckless, juvenile way Chappelle's Show or vintage Saturday Night Live was; young in the open, searching, insouciant, absurdist key that's so important to sketch comedy.

That's what's in the mix of what Morris rightly identifies as the show's blend of sadness and acceptance. It's youth knowing that this is not forever, that it would be wrong to linger, that the future (and everything good, bad, and unchanging that comes with it) is inevitable.

The Collective Quarterly: Mad River ValleySEP 15

Mad River Collective

The issue of The Collective Quarterly on Vermont's Mad River Valley is wonderful and gorgeous.

When we visited the Mad River Valley -- which includes the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Moretown, Fayston, and Duxbury -- we found grown men who loiter outside the local general store like furtive minors, sheepishly asking inbound customers if they'd be willing to help them circumvent the three-bottle limit on the impossible-to-find Sip of Sunshine double IPA from Lawson's Finest Liquids. We shared drinks with backwoods boys, each with a quirky approach to extreme sports: kayaking raging rivers, big-air huck fests in sleds, and cliff-jumping at near-suicidal heights. We met a man who builds houses in the trees for the disabled youth of the Mad River Valley. We found a woman who forges artful kitchen knives out of old horse-hoof rasps from her father's blacksmith operation. We ran into a socialist German refugee whose politically charged puppet shows in the fields of the Northeast Kingdom draw thousands.

And of course there were the architects. By some estimates, there are more architects per capita in Warren, Vermont, than anywhere else in the United States. Throughout the '60s and '70s, these freewheeling designers hacked together zany, experimental constructions on Prickly Mountain, heralding the arrival of the design/build movement.

I've spent quite a bit of time there, and I can tell you that the magazine definitely captured it. From just this summer, here's Ollie doing a 360 off a cliff at the swim hole and views of another more peaceful swim hole as well as from a hike I took:

Mad River swim hole

Mad River hike

Vancouver Never Plays ItselfSEP 21

In the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou talks about the different techniques filmmakers use to make shoot locations like Vancouver (Zhou's hometown) look like New York, India, Chicago, Shanghai, and San Francisco in the finished films.

Superstorm Francis descends on the USSEP 24

It's the Pope's first time in America and we sent him straight to Congress. That doesn't exactly seem like we're putting our best foot forward. In his historic speech to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis addressed climate change, capitalism, the death penalty and immigration. MoJo pulled out the ten most important lines from the speech.

"This Pope often operates through symbolism and gestures that convey his intentions in ways that words never could." The New Yorker on Pope Francis and his little Fiat.

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

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)

Mother Nature invented the gearSEP 23

Nature Gears

Scientists have discovered that an insect has evolved something like a gearbox to coordinate its leg movements while jumping. That's right, nature invented mechanical gears before man got around to it.

The gears in the Issus hind-leg bear remarkable engineering resemblance to those found on every bicycle and inside every car gear-box.

Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears -- essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.

The gear teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together like those in a car gear-box, ensuring almost complete synchronicity in leg movement -- the legs always move within 30 'microseconds' of each other, with one microsecond equal to a millionth of a second.

This is critical for the powerful jumps that are this insect's primary mode of transport, as even minuscule discrepancies in synchronisation between the velocities of its legs at the point of propulsion would result in "yaw rotation" -- causing the Issus to spin hopelessly out of control.

"This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required," said lead author Professor Malcolm Burrows, from Cambridge's Department of Zoology.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

Robert Wright has a new book out soon called The Evolution of God. Andrew Sullivan has a review.

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Last month's issue of The Atlantic contained an excerpt.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?

I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)

Time lapse video of a scale model of the solar systemSEP 17

A pair of filmmakers, Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, built a scale model of the solar system in the Nevada desert and made a time lapse of the result. For orbits, they drove their car in circles around "the Sun". The Earth they used was the size of a marble, which made Neptune's orbit seven miles across. (via the kid should see this)

The bicycle gymnastSEP 01

Nicole Frýbortová can do things on a bicycle that will make your eyes pop out of your head, including a no-hands, one-foot, backwards wheelie.

(via @atenni)

Histography, an interactive timeline of all historyOCT 02


Whoa, Histography is a super-cool interactive timeline of historical events pulled from Wikipedia, from the Big Bang to the present day. The site was built by Matan Stauber as his final project at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. This is really fun to play with and I love the style.

What if the world's best goalkeeper...was a cat?SEP 21

(via @dens)

rating: 4.0 stars

The Truman ShowMAY 26

The Truman Show delusion is how some psychiatrists are describing the condition of psychotic patients who believe they are filmed stars of reality TV programs.

Another patient traveled to New York City and showed up at a federal building in downtown Manhattan seeking asylum so he could get off his reality show, Dr. Gold said. The patient reported that he also came to New York to see if the Twin Towers were still standing, because he believed that seeing their destruction on Sept. 11 on television was part of his reality show. If they were still standing, he said, then he would know that the terrorist attack was all part of the script.

As for the movie itself, for all its popularity and critical success when released, it's little-remembered today. And unfairly so; the "realness" about our increasingly mediated lives remains a hot topic of debate.

Meow the JewelsSEP 28

Hip-hop group Run the Jewels have released a remix album called Meow the Jewels of their second album that features various meows, purrs, yowls, and other cat noises. Congratulations Internet, we have achieved Peak Cat.

The retail churches of the cult of AppleSEP 25

Apple Store Church

Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura took cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson to the Soho Apple store. Robles-Anderson recently studied the use of technology in churches and Laskow wanted to know: are Apple stores the new temples?

"People have used technology for a long time to speak to the gods," she says -- to create collective experiences of the sublime.

These days, technology is more often talked about as a way to create personalized, individual experiences, but Robles-Anderson thinks that's only part of the story. Communal ritual is always a part of technology: Early computers came into group spaces, like families and offices. (Mad Men understood this dynamic: the computer as an event weathered together.) Powerpoint presentations gather people to look at giant screens. Even using an iPhone to tune out the human beings around you requires being part of a larger group.

And Apple, more than any other technology company, has been able to access both these experiences, the individual and the collective. "They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal," says Robles-Anderson. "And yet it's a cult. Right? It's so obviously a cult."

The architecture of the stores contributes to the sacred feeling of cult membership.

"The oversized doors are fantastic," says Robles-Anderson. "There's no reason for them." They're there only to communicate that this place is important. Also, they're heavy, like church doors, to give purpose and portent to the entry into the space.

We walk inside. It's light and bright, and immediately in front of us, a wide staircase of opaque glass sweeps up to the second floor.

This is an old, old trick. "It's used in ziggurats, even," Robles-Anderson says. "It creates a space that emphasizes your smallness when you walk in. You look at something far away, and that makes your body feel like you're entering somewhere sacred or holy."

How a volcanic eruption changed the worldSEP 03

The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. According to Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D'Arcy Wood, the eruption affected the world's weather for at least three years, inspired artists & writers, triggered famine, contributed to the world's cholera epidemic, and altered economic systems all over the world.

Here, Gillen D'Arcy Wood traces Tambora's global and historical reach: how the volcano's three-year climate change regime initiated the first worldwide cholera pandemic, expanded opium markets in China, and plunged the United States into its first economic depression. Bringing the history of this planetary emergency to life, Tambora sheds light on the fragile interdependence of climate and human societies to offer a cautionary tale about the potential tragic impacts of drastic climate change in our own century.

William Broad reviewed the book recently for the NY Times.

The particles high in the atmosphere also produced spectacular sunsets, as detailed in the famous paintings of J.M.W. Turner, the English landscape pioneer. His vivid red skies, Dr. Wood remarked, "seem like an advertisement for the future of art."

The story also comes alive in local dramas, none more important for literary history than the birth of Frankenstein's monster and the human vampire. That happened on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where some of the most famous names of English poetry had gone on a summer holiday.

The Tambora eruption must have also unleashed quite a racket, perhaps louder than Krakatoa's loudest sound in the world.

Google has a new logoSEP 01

Google Logo 2015

....and it still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo.

So why are we doing this now? Once upon a time, Google was one destination that you reached from one device: a desktop PC. These days, people interact with Google products across many different platforms, apps and devices-sometimes all in a single day. You expect Google to help you whenever and wherever you need it, whether it's on your mobile phone, TV, watch, the dashboard in your car, and yes, even a desktop!

Today we're introducing a new logo and identity family that reflects this reality and shows you when the Google magic is working for you, even on the tiniest screens. As you'll see, we've taken the Google logo and branding, which were originally built for a single desktop browser page, and updated them for a world of seamless computing across an endless number of devices and different kinds of inputs (such as tap, type and talk).

Update: The design team shares how they came up with the new logo.

Update: When I said that Google's new logo "still looks like a middlebrow kids clothing brand logo", this is pretty much what I meant.

Gymboree Google

Gymboree's identity (1993-2000) vs. Google's new identity (Sep 01, 2015)

(via @buzz)

The Epic of Gilgamesh grows by 20 linesSEP 30

Gilgamesh Stone Tablet

The Epic of Gilgamesh just got more epic. A recent find of a stone tablet dating back to the neo-Babylonian period (2000-1500 BCE) has added 20 new lines to the ancient Mesopotamian poem.

The tablet adds new verses to the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu slew the forest demigod Humbaba. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, gets the idea to kill the giant Humbaba, guardian of the Cedar Forest, home of the gods, in Tablet II. He thinks accomplishing such a feat of strength will gain him eternal fame. His wise companion (and former wild man) Enkidu tries to talk him out of it -- Humbaba was set to his task by the god Enlil -- but stubborn Gilgamesh won't budge, so Enkidu agrees to go with him on this quest. Together they overpower the giant. When the defeated Humbaba begs for mercy, offering to serve Gilgamesh forever and give him every sacred tree in the forest, Gilgamesh is moved to pity, but Enkidu's blood is up now and he exhorts his friend to go through with the original plan to kill the giant and get that eternal renown he craves. Gilgamesh cuts Humbaba's head off and then cuts down the sacred forest. The companions return to Uruk with the trophy head and lots of aromatic timber.

How the tablet was discovered is notable as well. Since 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was been paying smugglers to intercept artifacts leaving the country, no questions asked. The tablet was likely illegally excavated from the southern part of Iraq, and the museum paid the seller of this particular tablet $800 to keep it in the country.

The Civil War, remasteredSEP 07

Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20

Green Eggs and Ham

After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:

a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you

From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.

But I don't know...foreach ($items as $value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.

Computer graphics circa 1968TIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 14

"The Incredible Machine" (not to be confused with the 1975 film) is a 1968 documentary about experiments at Bell Labs focusing on graphics, voice, and other art and media applications. Technicians draw circuits using an electric stylus, animate titles for a movie presentation, and look at sound waveforms of different words trying to replicate speech.

It's a treat to see the state-of-the-art the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially when one of the Bell Labs computers sings "Daisy Bell"/"A Bicycle Built For Two".

Also, mind the rabbit hole: the related links bar on YouTube leads to dozens of similar vintage computing videos.

(Via @katecrawford)

A new species of the genus HomoTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

There's a new (extinct) hominin on the block (in a cave system in Africa): Homo naledi.

skull comparison.jpg

Basically, Homo naledi had humanlike hands, legs, and feet, but tiny little australopithecine skulls, i.e., brains.

And, there are a lot of them, fossil-wise: "Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa."

But we don't yet know exactly how long ago they lived: maybe two million years ago, when the Homo genus emerged, or as late as a hundred thousand years ago, when it contracted to, well, us. In an accompanying article, Chris Stringer gets a little testy about it.

Frustratingly, the rich and informative H. naledi material remains undated. Given that this hominin material could conceivably even date within the last 100,000 years, I am puzzled by the apparent lack of attempts to estimate its age. This could have been achieved directly via radiocarbon dating (even if only to test whether the material lies beyond the effective range of that method) or indirectly based on ancient DNA samples. For example, after ancient DNA was successfully recovered from the Sima de los Huesos fossils, it was used to date them to about 400,000 years old (Meyer et al., 2014). Moreover, tests on even small fragments of bone and tooth enamel could have narrowed down the possible age range and at least ruled out either a very ancient or very young age (Grün, 2006).

As Dan Cohen points out, this discovery is also unusual in that it didn't make its splash at Science or Nature, but eLife, a free, open-access journal. Study leader Lee Berger tells Buzzfeed the article was rejected by Nature because the authors couldn't meet the mag's demands to squeeze the whole thing into 2500 words. Well, whatever the reason for going open-access, we of the science-following-but-not-institutional-password-having-audience approve.

Update: Ed Yong has a terrific account of the discovery, with a ripping narrative about the caving team's expedition and an intelligent analysis of the new species and its implications. Well worth reading.

Rosie Perez on Soul TrainTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 14

At 19 (so, around 1983 or 1984) Rosie Perez moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to help a cousin with her children and go to college for biochemistry. Then she was recruited to be a dancer on Soul Train.

In her line dance solos, you can see early versions of many of the moves that would be immortalized in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing.

You also see a lot of what Perez calls "face dancing." "Face dance means you don't know what the hell the rest of your body was doing but your face is fierce. That's face dancing."

According to this Esquire article, Don Cornelius was dead set on packaging Perez as part of a girl group of hip-hop/R&B dancer-singers. Perez was uncertain and wouldn't sign the contract. This led to a confrontation where Cornelius grabbed Perez, and in response, she threw a box of chicken at him.

That fight ended Perez's time on Soul Train, but she soon had jobs choreographing Bobby Brown, The Fly Girls on In Living Color, and more. Arguably nobody did more to bring hip-hop dance to mainstream attention than Rosie Perez.

(Via @eugenewei)

Vargic's Miscellany of Curious MapsSEP 30

Vargic Maps

Vargic Maps

Vargic Maps

In his upcoming book, Vargic's Miscellany of Curious Maps, Martin Vargic builds maps of imaginary worlds like the Map of the Internet, the Map of Literature, the Map of Stereotypes, The Music Map, The Map of YouTube, and The Corporate World Map. (via @tcarmody)

The mathematical secrets of Pascal's triangleSEP 16

Pascal's triangle1 is a simple arrangement of numbers in a triangle...rows are formed by the successive addition of numbers in previous rows. But out of those simple rows comes deep and useful mathematical relationships related to probability, fractals, squares, and binomial expansions. (via digg)

  1. As the video says, Pascal was nowhere near the discoverer of this particular mathematical tool. By the time he came along in 1653, the triangle had already been described in India (possibly as early as the 2nd century B.C.) and later in Persia and China.

The History of CartographySEP 25

History Of Cartography

Published in 1987, copies of Volume 1 of The History of Cartography are expensive and difficult to find.1 The subsequent two volumes aren't much less expensive. So the publisher of the series, The University of Chicago Press, has made PDFs of the books available online for scholars and map enthusiasts to use.

  1. Copies are $250 on Amazon.

The intellectual at warTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 10

Bernard-Henri Levy (known as BHL) is a French philosopher and public intellectual who seems to have come from central casting. Sixty-six, handsome, he wears gorgeous tailored shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest, weighs in on any public dispute that catches his fancy (like when he argued that his good friend, the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, could not have assaulted a hotel employee since, as everyone knows, the finest hotels always send in cleaning brigades of two people).

He is, in short, ridiculous, all the more so because he takes himself so seriously, and is taken seriously by others.

All this is background to explain what is absurd, charming, and inexplicably funny about this slideshow of photographs of BHL in various combat zones over the years.

BHL 1.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2007.jpg

BHL - Darfour 2.jpg

BHL poolside.jpg

Bagel pluralismTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 08

Murray's Bagels in New York will now toast customers' bagels on request, doubtlessly reviving a debate about the appropriateness thereof that rivals the oxford comma, shorts on men, and the pronunciation of GIF in its ferocity over the smallest things.

To this I say, let a million flowers bloom, à chacun son goût, de gustibus non est disputandum, whatever blows your hair back. Judge not your fellow citizens' bagel choices, whether in flavor, condiment, or the preparation thereof. But customers, you too should not judge your bagelry too harshly if they are not able to toast your bagel to your specifications. Your indignation is as unwelcome as the prejudice against you.

After all, those machines take up a lot of counter space. And you're holding up the line.

The earliest use of "fuck"TIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 14

Get ready to update the OED. There's a new attestation of English's most colorful and versatile word, from the year 1310.

Dr Paul Booth of Keele University spotted the name in 'Roger Fuckebythenavele' in the [Cheshire] county court plea rolls beginning on December 8, 1310. The man was being named three times part of a process to be outlawed, with the final mention coming on September 28, 1311.

Dr Booth believes that "this surname is presumably a nickname. I suggest it could either mean an actual attempt at copulation by an inexperienced youth, later reported by a rejected girlfriend, or an equivalent of the word 'dimwit' i.e. a man who might think that that was the correct way to go about it."

We've doubtlessly been using the word "fuck" in English for a lot longer; this is just an unusual set of conditions that's led it to be preserved in the written record. Like an animal falling into a tar pit.

(Via @kirstinbutler)

The High Times softball dynastyTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 11

High Times, the magazine for marijuana enthusiasts, has a really, really good softball team. They are called "the Bonghitters," and are defending their championship in the New York Media Softball League.

The mainstreaming of marijuana has helped High Times thrive despite the downturn in print media... This success translates to stability for the team. Media softball rosters are flexible, a mix of current and former staffers, friends, and friends of friends. There's occasional grumbling about "ringers," but usually the only credential you need is an invitation. Still, every team needs a few regular employees. Typically, there's an employee who schedules games, recruits players, sets lineups, and makes sure somebody brings a bat. Each team also needs a keeper of the park permit; the best fields and time slots are almost impossible to get if it lapses. So staff cuts or overhauls can be catastrophic.

Perhaps we can add this to the shortlist of nonstandard economic indicators. Is your media organization healthy? ? How good is your softball team?

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.

Leadership merit badgesSEP 21

Michael Lopp, Head of Engineering at Pinterest, recently gave a talk at the Cultivate conference in which he talks about different merit badges that a leader might earn if there were such a thing. Check the video for the whole list, but here are a few of them:

Influence without management authority
Delegate something you care about
Ship a thing
Ask for help from an enemy
Fail spectacularly

Part of the list made me think of parenting, which reminded me of Stella Bugbee's recommendation of the book Siblings Without Rivalry on Cup of Jo.

I have a VERY, VERY unlikely book that I often reference as a boss: Siblings Without Rivalry. It's not about money or business per se, but I've found since reading it that I put so many of its lessons into practice managing my team at work. I love the way it teaches you to listen, repeat the issues without taking sides, empathize and then teach the parties involved to solve their own disputes. It also helps at home. (Duh.)

College football is riggedTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 09

Sports and education are the two parts of American life where our meritocratic fantasies crash hardest into exploitative reality.

In "BROKE," SBNation's Spencer Hall has a powerful argument for paying student-athletes, specifically college football players.

When and if [student-athletes] do receive their degree, it might mean even less in terms of real future dollars than those received by their peers. The networking they might have done with others on campus is restricted by their class schedules and practice; the networking with wealthy alumni that might benefit them in business is explicitly forbidden in many instances, something Princeton's own Michael Lewis points out in The Blind Side. The athlete receives no dividend or funds kept in trust for their well-above-average financial contributions to the university on graduation.

By rule they are separated from the income they make, and by system they are separated from the university education they were promised. They are neither amateurs nor professionals, and effectively moved as undeclared contraband through the United States tax system.

Hall's argument is intercut with a personal essay about growing up with his own family precariously in and out of poverty. The two halves don't quite join up, but it helps break some of the abstractions around the amateur ideal and gives the whole thing an added urgency.

Star Wars Episode IV: Laser Moon AwakensSEP 04

The Auralnauts provide an alternate soundtrack and dialogue for Star Wars.

(via @waxpancake)

70s cocaine paraphernalia advertisingSEP 29

Before the Reagans cranked up the War on Drugs in the early 80s due to the massive influx of cocaine from Latin America, advertisements offering all kinds of coke paraphernalia could be found in magazines. The World's Best Ever collected a bunch of ads offering spoons, mirrors, straws, knives, and the like for America's coke sniffers.

Cocaine ads

Cocaine ads

I am an episode and a half into Narcos on Netflix. Pretty good (but not great) so far.1 (via adfreak)

  1. They should have found a way to do it without the voiceover. Too much telling and not enough showing. (I have a thing about voiceovers. My first exposure to Blade Runner was Ridley Scott's Director's Cut, which omitted Deckard's voiceover, and when I started watching the original version on TV a few months ago, I nearly threw the remote through the grating and entirely unnecessary.)

Alice in a Neural Networks WonderlandSEP 17

Gene Kogan used some neural network software written by Justin Johnson to transfer the style of paintings by 17 artists to a scene from Disney's 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland. The artists include Sol Lewitt, Picasso, Munch, Georgia O'Keeffe, and van Gogh.

Neural Wonderland

The effect works amazingly well, like if you took Alice in Wonderland and a MoMA catalog and put them in a blender. (via prosthetic knowledge

A short history of the British Royal FamilySEP 18

The succession of English/British kings and queens explained, from William the Conquerer in 1066 to little Prince George, perhaps, in 2067-ish. For a list of English monarchs organized into their houses (Plantagenet, Tudor, etc.), Wikipedia is the place to go.

Hanging in the WoodsSEP 03

[This is NSFW.] Artist Hilde Krohn Huse needed a minute or two of film of herself hanging naked upside down from a tree branch for a project she was working on. But when the rope tightened around her ankle too much, things went a little wrong.

My first thought was, "OK, you've fucked up, Hilde, but let's try to get you out of this so nobody needs to know." I hauled myself up, hand over hand, until I was swinging horizontally, just below the branch, and tried to yank my foot free.

It was hopeless. Righting myself, I put my free foot back on the ground to rest for a moment, then tried again, pulling myself up and fighting, puppet-like, against my bonds. My left foot, taking my weight in the lowest noose, started to spasm and I knew my strength wouldn't hold out. But my pride was still uppermost -- the idea of having to draw the attention of others to my humiliating plight still seemed unthinkable. I was losing strength, but full of adrenaline, my face dragging along the woodland floor, leaving me spitting twigs.

As any good artist would, Huse turned her ordeal into an art piece in the form of the 11 minutes of video shot before her camera shut off:

How to make a $1500 sandwichSEP 22

Making a sandwich completely from scratch took this guy six months and cost $1500. He grew his own vegetables, made his own butter & cheese, made sea salt from salt water, and harvested wheat for bread flour. And that's with a few shortcuts...he didn't raise the cow & chicken from a calf & chick or the bees from a starter hive.

See also I, Pencil, how a can of Coca-Cola is made, and How to Cook Soup.

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.

Human, the filmSEP 24

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand is known for his aerial photography of the Earth's landscapes, but in his film Human, he blends his trademark overview style with simply shot interviews with people from all over the world.

Humans made its debut earlier this month and is available in its entirety on YouTube in three 90-minute parts; start here with part one. (via in focus, which is featuring several photos from the film)

The Life-Changing Magic of Losing ShitOCT 02

Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up encourages you to examine all of your possessions one by one, ask if they "spark joy", and if they don't, get rid of them. Christina Xu recently lost her backpack with some of her most-used and valuable possessions and came away from the experience with a different spin on the KonMari method.

Involuntarily losing shit is the ultimate version of the KonMari method. It brutally takes things away at random and makes you fight to get them back so that you remember and reaffirm the value of each one.

This will henceforth be known as the XuHulk method.

Vertical panoramas of churchesOCT 02

Richard Silver Churches

Richard Silver Churches

From photographer Richard Silver, vertical panoramic photos of churches that emphasize their often incredible ceilings. (via ignant)

Serious SeinfeldSEP 02

If you recut the scenes from seasons seven & eight of Seinfeld to emphasize certain aspects of Susan's death-by-envelope, you get a feel-good TV movie about George Costanza, a man who finds triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Her death takes place in the shadow of new life; she's not really dead if we find a way to remember her.

Children of Men: Don't Ignore the BackgroundSEP 15

The Nerdwriter takes on Children of Men, specifically what's going in the background of Alfonso Cuarón's film, both in terms of references to other works of art & culture and to things that push the plot along and contribute to the tone and message of the film.

Mad Max: Fury Road as a silent B&W filmSEP 23

In an interview with Slashfilm, Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller stated that "the best version of this movie is black and white" and that the purest version of the film would also be silent (which it very nearly is anyway). Miller wanted to include the B&W version on the Blu-ray, but the studio decided to delay the release of that until a Super Special Ultra Gimme All Your Money Blu-ray Edition can be arranged at some later date. Until then (or, more probably, until Warner's lawyers get around to taking it down), we have this fan-made edit of the film in B&W without dialogue. (via @SebastianNebel)

Update: Well, that was fun while it lasted. Good thing I totally didn't grab a copy to watch later using a Chrome extension. (And before you ask, no I won't.)

The effect of choosing and changing aspect ratios in filmSEP 16

The aspect ratio of a movie can have a significant effect on how the scenes in the movie are perceived by the viewer. Changing the ratio during a movie (as in Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.) can be an effective way to signal a thematic change.

Making mama's meatballsSEP 29

Mario Carbone is a chef and restaurateur who, with his partners, runs a number of NYC restaurants like Dirty French, Parm, Carbone, and Santina. Carbone borrowed and modified his mother's recipe for meatballs and put it on the menu at one of his restaurants. In this video, a clash of home cooking and fine dining, Mario and his mother Maria get together to cook and fight over the provenance of these meatballs.

I love the brief exchange at ~4:00 where Mario admits to using a French technique to make his mother's Italian meatballs and Maria responds "Ah. See?" with a healthy helping of side-eye. (via @CharlesCMann, whose description of the video -- "A ferocious Oedipal power struggle over meatballs" -- I cannot improve upon)

The life and death of languagesTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 11

John McWhorter looks at Aramaic, once the lingua franca of the near east, now reduced to about half a million speakers (who separately call it Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian, Mandaic, etc.).

Aramaic, then, is in a splintered and tenuous state. Yet it was the English of its time--a language that united a large number of distinct peoples across a vast region, a key to accessing life beyond one's village, and a mark of sophistication to many. The Aramaeans--according to Biblical lore named for Noah's grandson Aram--started as a little-known nomadic group. But they were seekers, and by the 11th century B.C.E. they ruled large swaths of territory in Mesopotamia, encompassing parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, including, for a spell, the city of Babylon itself. On the basis of this expansion alone, however, theirs would likely have become just one of various languages of the area that briefly enjoyed fame and then vanished in the endless game of musical chairs that was ancient Middle Eastern politics. The Aramaeans themselves were in Babylon only temporarily: In 911 B.C.E., the Assyrians, who spoke a language called Akkadian, ousted them. But the Assyrians unwittingly helped the Aramaeans' language extinguish their own.

Namely, the Assyrians deported Aramaic-speakers far and wide, to Egypt and elsewhere. The Assyrians may have thought they were clearing their new territory, but this was like blowing on a fluffy milkweed and thinking of it as destruction rather than dissemination: The little seeds take root elsewhere.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic -- English is supposedly simple and easy to learn, while Aramaic is manifestly not -- but that actually had little effect on English's emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic's rise and decline. But one set of differences between the two languages, McWhorter argues, really is material:

At this point, I am supposed to write that English's preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic's. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even--arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.

The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

In a post on his great blog, The Year in Pictures, James Danziger discusses some of the photography featured in a forthcoming book, The Final Four of Everything, including Danziger's own selections for Iconic American Photographs. The Final Four of Everything seems to be a sequel of sorts to The Enlightened Bracketologist by the same authors...or perhaps just the same book with a much better title.

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.

Why America Needs a Slavery MuseumSEP 02

The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is the only US museum and memorial to slavery. The Atlantic has a video about the museum and its founder, John Cummings, who spent 16 years and $8 million of his own money on it.

On the declining ebook reading experienceOCT 01

When reports came out last month about declining ebook sales, many reasons were offered up, from higher pricing to the resurgence of bookstores to more efficient distribution of paper books to increased competition from TV's continued renaissance, Facebook, Snapchat, and an embarrassment of #longread riches. What I didn't hear a whole lot about was how the experience of reading ebooks and paper books compared, particularly in regard to the Kindle's frustrating reading experience not living up to its promise. What if people are reading fewer ebooks because the user experience of ebook reading isn't great?

Luckily, Craig Mod has stepped into this gap with a piece asking why digital books have stopped evolving. As Mod notes, paper books still beat out digital ones in many ways and the industry (i.e. Amazon) hasn't made much progress in addressing them.

The object -- a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth -- requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book -- there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight -- delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come -- opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven't missed anything.

The Kindle is a book reading machine, but it's also a portable book store. 1 Which is of great benefit to Amazon but also of some small benefit to readers...if I want to read, say, To Kill A Mockingbird right now, the Kindle would have it to me in less than a minute. But what if, instead, the Kindle was more of a book club than a store? Or a reading buddy? I bet something like that done well would encourage reading even more than instantaneous book delivery.

To me, Amazon seems exactly the wrong sort of company to make an ebook reader 2 with a really great reading experience. They don't have the right culture and they don't have the design-oriented mindset. They're a low-margin business focused on products and customers, not books and readers. There's no one with any real influence at Amazon who is passionately advocating for the reader. Amazon is leaving an incredible opportunity on the table here, which is a real bummer for the millions of people who don't think of themselves as customers and turn to books for delight, escape, enrichment, transformation, and many other things. No wonder they're turning back to paper books, which have a 500-year track record for providing such experiences.

PS. Make sure you read Mod's whole don't want to miss the bit about future MacArthur Genius Bret Victor's magic bookshelf. <3

  1. And it's a weird sort of store where you don't really own what you's really more of a long-term lease. Which would be fine...except that Amazon doesn't call it that.

  2. And I still want an ereader that's great for more than just books. Which is now the iPad/iPhone I guess?

The New Yorker MinuteTIM CARMODY  ·  SEP 09

"The New Yorker Minute" is a reader-service email newsletter that triages articles in The New Yorker (the magazine) to let you know whether or not they're worth reading. (Or, alternatively, how excited you should be to read them or not read them). Each issue is sorted into "Read This," "Window-Shop These," and "Skip Without Guilt." Even the poetry, fiction, and cartoons get short notes from editors dedicated to those sections. Fun, surprisingly useful, nearly essential.

Edward Snowden's Fermi Paradox solutionSEP 21

Edward Snowden has come up with a solution to the Fermi Paradox that I hadn't heard of before. Maybe we haven't discovered intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, says Snowden, because their communications encryption is indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation.

"If you look at encrypted communication, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted," Snowden said. "You can't distinguish a properly encrypted communication from random behaviour."

Therefore, Snowden continued, as human and alien societies get more sophisticated and move from "open communications" to encrypted communication, the signals being broadcast will quickly stop looking like recognisable signals.

"So if you have an an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations," he said, "or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there's only one small period in the development of their society when all their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means."

After that, Snowden said, alien messages would be so encrypted that it would render them unrecognisable, "indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation". In that case, humanity would not even realise it had received such communications.

Snowden shared his hypothesis with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Tyson's podcast, StarTalk.

The Wire theme, SimpsonsizedSEP 22

The opening credits sequence of The Wire done using clips from The Simpsons. The theme song and clips are from the third seasons of the respective shows.

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.

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