Short documentary film on the history of Levi's 501 jeansAPR 01

Levi's made a short documentary film about the history and cultural impact of the brand's signature 501 jeans.

We trace the 501 Jean's roots as a utilitarian garment for coal miners, cowboys, industrial workers, all the way to the creative workers who continue to wear it today.

Speaking is DifficultAPR 15

From The Intercept and director A.J. Schnack, a simple and powerful short film about more than a dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the US since 2011.

A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos and disbelief. As Speaking is Difficult rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a story about a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.

Fuck, that was difficult to watch. When Sandy Hook came up, I just lost it. We should be deeply deeply ashamed that that happened and we did nothing about it.

Fine art gets pop culturedAPR 06

The Popquotery Instagram account mixes fine art with pop culture quotations, mostly from movies. Here for instance, is Degas + Ferris Bueller:

Popquotery

And Waterhouse + Back to the Future:

Popquotery

How about Gowy + Top Gun:

Popquotery

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.

Increasing the efficiency of photosynthesisMAR 28

Stewart Brand wrote a summary of a seminar given by Jane Langdale about how the efficiency of photosynthesis might be improved for some of the world's plants, particularly rice.

Most plants use what's called C3 photosynthesis to produce sugars and starch, but the process is not very efficient. Some plants, like corn and sugarcane, have evolved the capability to produce sugars and starch using the much more efficient C4 photosynthesis process. So if you could modify rice to use C4 instead of C3, yields would increase dramatically.

Rice is a C3 plant -- which happens to be the staple food for half the world. If it can be converted to C4 photosynthesis, its yield would increase by 50% while using half the water. It would also be drought-resistant and need far less fertilizer.

You can read more about the efforts in developing C4 photosynthesis in Technology Review.

A Prank Time!APR 14

This animation is super-freaky and somewhat NSFW and you should just watch it. Also: and that's why you always leave a note. (via @gavinpurcell)

The off-kilter cinematography of Mr. RobotMAR 29

Using traditional cinematography, characters are not usually confined to the bottom third of the screen, crammed all the way in the corner, or placed right at the edge of the screen, looking offscreen. But rules are meant to be broken and the director of photography for Mr. Robot uses these unconventional shots to tell the audience about what's happening on the screen.

P.S. Season 2 is coming in July.

P.P.S. I love that episode titles for season 1 are modeled after the filenames of pirated videos on BitTorrent: eps1.0_hellofriend.mov, eps1.4_3xpl0its.wmv, eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v, etc.

P.P.P.S. Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting doesn't like the framing in Mr. Robot, called it a gimmick. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't even notice the unusual framing when I watched it. I am flunking out of internet film school, aren't I? :(

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.

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)

The link between health and wealthAPR 12

If you're poor, you might want to consider moving to a place where your life expectancy will be reasonably high. In many parts of America, there is only a minor gap between the life expectancies of the wealthy and the poor.

But in some other parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes die on average as young as people in much poorer nations like Rwanda, and their life spans are getting shorter.

If you're rich, you're probably OK right where you are (regardless of where that happens to be). Here are some remarkable numbers from the NYT Upshot: The rich live longer everywhere. For the poor, geography matters.

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

The 1939-1940 New York World's FairMAR 31

In this 25-minute film, director Amanda Murray profiles The 1939-1940 New York World's Fair through rare color film footage and talking to people who attended.

A modernist, techno-utopia landed in New York in 1939, rocketing kids from the Depression into 'The World of Tomorrow.'

I had to stop myself from falling down a major research rabbit hole here, but just one of the tidbits I ran across was the IND World's Fair Line, an NYC subway line built especially for the fair. (via @jcormier)

The Simpsons pay homage to DisneyAPR 26

In this Simpsons couch gag, the show pays homage to some classic Disney animation styles. Featured are Steamboat Willie, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book and Fantasia. The animation was done by Eric Goldberg, who worked at Disney on films like Aladdin and Pocahontas.

The making of ZootopiaAPR 14

From Fusion, a 45-minute documentary about the making of Zootopia.

Fusion spent two years with the production team of Disney's smash hit film. In 'Imagining Zootopia,' you will travel with the team to Africa to explore the animals in their natural habitat and find out how the storytellers and animators dealt with the very real themes of prejudice and bias.

I found this via Khoi Vinh, who writes:

A lot of careful thought went into how to render the emotional truth behind experiencing racism, and the documentary takes a detailed look at the filmmakers grappling with that. However, it also betrays one of the unfortunate truths of the production; the movie is commendably bold about addressing prejudice, but it's evident from watching the documentary that of the five-hundred plus people who contributed to the film, hardly any were non-white, and even fewer were African-American.

For a criticism of Zootopia's racial allegory, read Devin Faraci's A Muddled Mess of Racial Messaging... And Cute Animals.

Prince, remembered in 11 songs you might not know he wroteAPR 22

You're probably aware of Sinead O'Conner's Nothing Compares 2 U but The Bangles, MC Hammer, Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, and others also made use of songs written by Prince.

The Concentric States of AmericaAPR 20

Concentric States

From Neil Freeman, proprietor of the excellent Fake is the New Real, a map of the continental United States with the 50 states reorganized into concentric circles of equal population.

See also the map accompanying Parag Khanna's recent piece, A New Map for America, which calls for the creation of seven mega-regions centered around metropolitan clusters in place of the lower 48 states: the Pacific Coast, the Inland West, the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, the Southeast Manufacturing Belt, and the Great Northeast.

7 States Of America

These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it's easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that's all they drive -- socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn't caught up.

America faces a two-part problem. It's no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it's not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.

To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren't about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.

Holy shit, could you imagine? Most of America would have a fit over this.

String Theory, David Foster Wallace on TennisAPR 18

Roger Federer

String Theory, a collection of David Foster Wallace's writings on tennis will be out next month.1 The five pieces in the book include his NY Times' essay on Federer and a 1991 piece from Harper's. John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote an introduction, which was published recently in the New Yorker.

The collection is also available on the Kindle, without the Sullivan intro.

  1. Hi, this is a footnote. Because Wallace. That's it.

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)

A brief history of America and CubaAPR 12

As the US and Cuba move toward becoming BFFs again (or at least members of the same #squad), it's a good time to review the history between the two countries, which includes slavery, the Spanish-American War, and the Cold War-era series of fiascos.

rating: 4.0 stars

AvatarDEC 29

One of the most difficult things to get right in movies about aliens or the future is matching the cultural and technological sophistication of a people with their environment and history. In Avatar, the Na'vi are portrayed as a Stone Age tribe, living in relatively small groups and essentially ignorant or uninterested in technology beyond simple knives and bows. But the Na'vi are also very physically capable, obviously very intelligent, aware of their global environment, well-nourished, healthy, omnivorous, adaptive, and even inventive. They have domesticated animals, are troubled by few serious natural predators, can live in different environments, have easy access to many varied natural resources (for sustenance and building/making), and can travel and therefore communicate over long distances (dozens if not hundreds of miles a day on their winged animals).

And most importantly, the Na'vi have regular and intimate access to a moon-sized supercomputer -- a neural net supercomputer at that -- that connects them to every other living thing on their world and have had such access for what could be millennia.

It just doesn't add up. The Na'vi are too capable and live in an environment that is far too pregnant with technological possibility to be stuck in the Stone Age. Plot-wise it's convenient for them to be the way they are, but the Na'vi really should have been more technologically advanced than the Earthlings, not only capable of easily repelling any attack from Captain Ironpants but able to keep the mining company from landing on the moon in the first place.

Viral dance moves, 2006-2016APR 19

In a video from the New Yorker, dancers from around the country demonstrate viral dance moves from the past decade, including the Dougie, Walk It Out, and Dabbing. (via @silviakillings)

Famous paintings recreated with colorful masking tapeAPR 21

Nasa Funahara

Nasa Funahara

Nasa Funahara makes art out of colorful masking tape, including recreations of famous artworks.

The FounderAPR 21

The Founder is about the early years of McDonald's and how Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton) came to gain control of the company. The official McDonald's corporate history glosses over the events of the film in a few sentences:

In 1954, he visited a restaurant in San Bernardino, California that had purchased several Multi-mixers. There he found a small but successful restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation. They produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items-burgers, fries and beverages-which allowed them to focus on quality and quick service.

Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald's restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955, he founded McDonald's System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald's Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald's name. By 1958, McDonald's had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

Kroc's Wikipedia entry provides more flavor:

The agreement was a handshake with split agreement between the parties because Kroc insisted that he could not show the royalty to the investors he had lined up to capitalize his purchase. At the closing table, Kroc became annoyed that the brothers would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit. The brothers had told Kroc that they were giving the operation, property and all, to the founding employees. Kroc closed the transaction, then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn't in writing. The McDonald brothers consistently told Kroc that he could make changes to things like the original blueprint (building codes were different in Illinois than in California), but despite Ray's pleas, the brothers never sent any formal letters which legally allowed the changes in the chain. Kroc also opened a new McDonald's restaurant near the McDonald's (now renamed "The Big M" as they had neglected to retain rights to the name) to force it out of business.

See also some early McDonald's menus.

Minecraft: more than just a gameAPR 14

Minecraft Niemann

Clive Thompson's article for the NY Times about Minecraft captures what many players, parents, and teachers find exciting about the game that seems like more than just a game.

Presto: Jordan had used the cow's weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack -- a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.

In addition to learning about logic and computer science, various educators have also touted Minecraft's lessons in civics, design, planning, and even philosophy. If you've ever seen little kids playing with blocks, you've noticed that some of those potential lessons there too.

Block-play was, in the European tradition, regarded as a particularly "wholesome" activity; it's not hard to draw a line from that to many parents' belief that Minecraft is the "good" computer game in a world full of anxiety about too much "screen time."

Among the parents I know, Minecraft is not classified as a game...it's very much tied to education.1 And when listening to the kids and their friends talk about it, if you can get past the endless chatter about zombies and diamond armor, their understanding of the whole world of possibilities is quite sophisticated.

And I can't resist commenting on this little aside about Lego:

Today many cultural observers argue that Lego has moved away from that open-ended engagement, because it's so often sold in branded kits: the Hogwarts castle from "Harry Potter," the TIE fighter from "Star Wars."

Until very recently, I was in that camp of cultural observers, frustrated by the brands and paint-by-number aspect of contemporary Lego kits. But my kids play with Lego a ton and I've observed plenty of open-ended engagement going on. Sure, they sit for 20-30 minutes putting the kits together using directions, but after they're "done", the real play begins. Ollie's Star Wars ships dock at Minna's birthday party. Soon, beach goers are wearing Stormtrooper helmets and Vader's eating cupcakes. None of the "finished" products survive more than a few minutes without being augmented or taken apart to make something different. Ships take on wheels from previous kits and become delivery trucks (with cool laser cannons). Parts from every station, house, vehicle, and landscape get remixed into whatever's necessary for their dramatic play. It's like jazz with injection molded plastic.

  1. On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking. (To play Alto's Adventure or Subway Surfer, they have to ask.) Minecraft is not on this screen -- and I had to explain my decision on this specifically to the kids -- but this article may have persuaded me to add it.

An honest trailer for The Force AwakensAPR 06

They go hard on the rhymes with A New Hope angle. I LOL'd when they called JJ Abrams "diet Spielberg".

Racial equality and Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodAPR 06

Actor and singer François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons for 30 years on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, talks about how and why Fred Rogers chose a black man to be a police officer on TV.

To say that he didn't know what he was doing, or that he accidentally stumbled into integration or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mister Rogers. It was well planned and well thought-out and I think it was very impactful.

NPR also recently shared Clemmons' story.

He says he'll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, "You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are." This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.

Clemmons asked him, "Fred, were you talking to me?"

"Yes, I have been talking to you for years," Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. "But you heard me today."

"It was like telling me I'm OK as a human being," Clemmons says. "That was one of the most meaningful experiences I'd ever had."

Mister Rogers always hits me right in the feels.

Parent HacksAPR 08

Parent Hacks

Asha Dornfest runs the Parent Hacks blog and she's collected some of her best tips into a new book, Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids.

A parent hack can be as simple as putting the ketchup under the hot dog, minimizing the mess. Or strapping baby into a forward-facing carrier when you need to trim his fingernails-it frees your hands while controlling the squirming. Or stashing a wallet in a disposable diaper at the beach-who would ever poke through what looks like a used Pamper?

Dave Pell from Nextdraft tipped me off to the book, writing:

My friend Asha Dornfest has turned her excellent parenting blog into an even more excellent parenting book with 134 ingenious ideas for simplifying life with kids. Parent Hacks is so good that I may even have a few more kids.

An informative and entertaining look at space elevatorsAPR 08

The latest video from Kurzgesagt is on space elevators. How would you build one? Why not just keep launching rockets into space instead? Would be easier to build one on the Moon first?

Gay Talese has a cold or some other weird thing going onAPR 04

Over the weekend, writer Gay Talese fumbled hard responding to a question about female writers.

Women reporters don't feel comfortable dealing with unsavory, interesting, dangerous characters.

I think educated women, want to deal with educated people. Men, even educated men like me, are comfortable around uneducated men.

And then, right on cue, the New Yorker published an article by Talese this morning about a man who has been secretly observing guests in the rooms of the hotel he owns for decades, very much without permission.

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.

The Old New WorldAPR 13

Alexey Zakharov gathered old photos of New York, Washington D.C. and other American cities from Shorpy and animated them into something wonderful. There's a cheesy steampunk time machine at the beginning...push through that to the good stuff. (via @pshoplifter)

Grow your own garden on XKCDAPR 07

Xkcd Garden

For April Fools' Day, Randall Munroe made an interactive widget where you can grow your own garden. Here's mine so far. Others' gardens are further along, with people and octopuses showing up. As with real gardens, the keyword is "patience".

Update: In experimenting with his garden, @dennis_e_a found:

One color of light on a spot of ground changes what grows. Red: Desert, Blue: Ocean, Yellow: Park-ish

I have modified my lighting accordingly, but my flora and fauna have yet to follow suit. Perhaps I need to prune a bit?

Koyaanisqatsi trailer recreated using stock footageAPR 08

Koyannistocksi is a shot-by-shot remake of the trailer for Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi using only stock footage.

A testament to Reggio's influence on contemporary motion photography, and the appropriation of his aesthetic by others for commercial means.

(via @waxpancake)

The Birth of a NationAPR 18

Written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is a film about Nat Turner, the man who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and will be out in theaters in October.

P.S. If the name of the movie sounds familiar, it was deliberately given the same name as D.W. Griffith's 1915 silent film, which dramatized the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview, Parker said:

When I endeavored to make this film, I did so with the specific intent of exploring America through the context of identity. So much of the racial injustices we endure today in America are symptomatic of a greater sickness - one we have been systematically conditioned to ignore. From sanitized truths about our forefathers to mis-education regarding this country's dark days of slavery, we have refused to honestly confront the many afflictions of our past. This disease of denial has served as a massive stumbling block on our way to healing from those wounds. Addressing Griffith's Birth of a Nation is one of the many steps necessary in treating this disease. Griffith's film relied heavily on racist propaganda to evoke fear and desperation as a tool to solidify white supremacy as the lifeblood of American sustenance. Not only did this film motivate the massive resurgence of the terror group the Ku Klux Klan and the carnage exacted against people of African descent, it served as the foundation of the film industry we know today.

I've reclaimed this title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America, to inspire a riotous disposition toward any and all injustice in this country (and abroad) and to promote the kind of honest confrontation that will galvanize our society toward healing and sustained systemic change.

(via trailer town)

Super high-resolution photos of tiny insectsAPR 27

Levon Biss

Levon Biss

Levon Biss

Stitching together thousands of images, photographer Levon Biss produces huge and detailed photographs of tiny insects; prints of 10 mm bugs are 3 meters across. An exhibition of Biss' photos will be on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. All three images above are of the orchid cuckoo bee at different levels of zoom. This video shows how the photos are made:

rating: 4.5 stars

ArgoFEB 20

Argo Poster

That's a movie poster for Argo, the fake movie that the CIA "made" as a cover for getting six American diplomats out of Iran in 1980. Ben Affleck's Argo, which cements the former prettyboy actor's status as one of the best young American directors, is somewhat loosely based on The Master of Disguise, a book written by the guy Affleck plays in Argo, and a 2007 Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman called The Great Escape. Argo is up for several Oscars and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Update: Here's a CIA report written by Mendez about the caper. And I'm listening to the soundtrack right now.

A bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kidsAPR 15

Kids iPad apps

In this post about Minecraft yesterday, I wrote a footnote about educational-ish1 apps on my iPad:

On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking.

I posted a screenshot of that page on Twitter, and I wanted to follow up with some App Store links as well as some links to other apps that people tweeted back at me. (Note: my kids are 6 and 8, so YMMV.)

Minecraft Pocket Edition - Duh. It doesn't do quite as much as the full versions available on other platforms, but they're improving and adding stuff all the time and the touchscreen experience is great.

The Tinybop Collection - Beautiful, fun apps. The kids most often work with The Everything Machine and Simple Machines.

Mate in 1 - A game that challenges you to find the checkmate using just one move. Ollie takes chess after school once a week, so I downloaded this for when he wants some extra practice during the week. See also Mate in 2.

Monument Valley - This is a straight-up game, but it's so well-made (I love the soundtrack) and the logic puzzles are genuinely challenging that I'm happy to let them work with this one. Ollie has made it all the way through while Minna is still on level 9. Gonna get the Forgotten Shores IAP too.

The Numberlys - This one has ceased to be educational for my kids, but it's great for the younger set.

Crazy Gears - 99 levels of mechanical puzzles involving gears.

Hopscotch - Use an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to build games. It includes many video tutorials for learning how everything works.

And here are a few recommendations from others that I am eager to try out:

Quick Math Pack - Four math apps, including multiplication, fractions, and telling time. See also Prodigy Math Game, The Counting Kingdom, the DragonBox apps.

Barefoot World Atlas - An annotated world atlas. This looks great...downloading now.

Epic! - A eBook library for kids 12 and under with 10,000 titles. A couple of very strong recommendations from people for this.

Brain It On - Draw shapes to solve challenging physics puzzles. See also LiquidSketch.

Endless Reader - For beginning readers. The same company, Originator Inc., has many other apps as well.

Professor Astro Cat's Solar System - Learn about the solar system with a cat and mouse as tour guides.

Deep Green - Top-notch chess game.

Lots of good stuff there...I've downloaded a few already. I really really wish the App Store had a try-before-you buy policy. I have no idea which of these apps the kids will actually like/play and it would be nice not to have to spend $50 to find out. Anyway, thanks to everyone who shared their favorites. Let me know if I've missed anything great!

  1. As you might have guessed from reading this here web site, I tend to have an expansive definition of what is educational. Hence, "educational-ish" to adjust people's expectations.

Yes, I'm posting Beyonce fanficAPR 26

Beyonce Lemonade

This is the best thing I've read about Beyonce's recently released album/film Lemonade.

*Beyoncé opens the door and Solange Knowles and Tina Lawson walk in.

Solange throws a reverse roundhouse kick that Jay Z lazily dodges.*

Solo: I'm sorry. I'm just very inspired right now.

Bey: Mommy! Solo! What a pleasant surprise! Neither of you could have had better timing

Jay: Sister-in-law. Mama Tina.

Mama T: Stereotypical Black Man

Solo: Blubberlips McSlutdick

Blue: LMAO

Bey: Baby, take your elevator to your playroom. Mommy will FaceTime you on your IPhone 8 when dinners ready.

Blue: Yes, mommy dearest

Solo: Rihanna called me to congratulate you.

Bey: She couldn't call me?

Solo: Because you were gonna answer?

Bey: hahahahahahahahahaha

Solo: hahahahahahahahahaha

Mama T: lol omg

Bey: You may laugh

Jay: eh heh heh

Mama T: You are pathetic. The universe wasted good water creating you.

Bey: Mama. *high fives*

See also What to read after watching Beyoncé's 'Lemonade'.

Misplaced New YorkAPR 27

Misplaced NYC

Misplaced NYC

The Misplaced Series removes notable New York buildings from their surroundings and "misplaces" them in desolate landscapes around the world. Concrete behemoths and steel-and-glass towers rise from sand dunes and rocky cliffs, inviting viewers to see them as if for the first time. Out of context, architectural forms become more pronounced and easily understood.

See all 10 buildings in their new surroundings at Misplaced New York.

First draft of Boogie Nights script rejectedAPR 07

When P.T. Anderson submitted the first draft of his script for Boogie Nights, the studio didn't think too much of it.

Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films. I'm glad Anderson stuck with it.

Charles Dickens, Star Wars, and the genre of serializationAPR 13

In a new video, Even Puschak talks about the rise of the serialization genre, from Dickens to Flash Gordon to General Hospital to Star Wars. Now that our entertainment is increasingly serialized, he argues that audiences have a unique opportunity to shape what we watch. (Case in point: the increased importance of non-white and non-male characters in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.)

Further reading: Wired's You Won't Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie, which I've thought about almost every week since I read it.

Everywhere, studio suits are recruiting creatives who can weave characters and story lines into decades-spanning tapestries of prequels, side-quels, TV shows, games, toys, and so on. Brand awareness goes through the roof; audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters.

Forget the business implications for a moment, though. The shared universe represents something rare in Hollywood: a new idea. It evolved from the narrative techniques not of auteur or blockbuster films but of comic books and TV, and porting that model over isn't easy. It needs different kinds of writers and directors and a different way of looking at the structure of storytelling itself. Marvel prototyped the process; Lucasfilm is trying to industrialize it.

And Puschak recommends Consuming Pleasures by Jennifer Hayward.

Ranging from installment novels, mysteries, and detective fiction of the 1800s to the television and movie series, comics, and advertisements of the twentieth century, serials are loosely linked by what may be called "family resemblances." These traits include intertwined subplots, diverse casts of characters, dramatic plot reversals, suspense, an such narrative devices as long-lost family members and evil twins. Hayward chooses four texts to represent the evolution of serial fiction as a genre and to analyze the peculiar draw that serials have upon their audiences: Dickens's novel Our Mutual Friend, Milton Canif's comic strip Terry and the Pirates, and the soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live. Hayward argues that serial audiences have developed active strategies of consumption, such as collaborative reading and attempts to shape the production process. In this way fans have forced serial producers to acknowledge the power of the audience.

All this makes me realize that I've often thought of kottke.org as a serial. The "family resemblances" amongst all my posts might be difficult to see sometimes, but it's there most of the time. In my mind, at least.

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

The Strange Maps book is out today. The book is based on the awesome Strange Maps blog, one the very few sites I have to exercise restraint in not linking to every single item posted there. The content of the book is adapted from the site, so of course it's top shelf.

My only reservation in recommending the book is the design. When I cracked it open, I was expecting full-bleed reproductions of the maps, large enough to really get a detailed look at them. The maps *are* the book, after all. But that's not the case...only a few of the maps get an entire non-full-bleed page and some of the maps are stuck in the corner of a page of text, like small afterthoughts. The rest of the design is not much better, cheesy at best and distracting at worst. I wasn't expecting Taschen-grade production values, but something more appropriate to the subject matter would have been nice.

How to end a movieAPR 28

Using 12 Angry Men, Psycho, The Godfather, and Gone Girl as examples, this video shows several different ways to end a movie. And so, spoilers.

An early Beatles gig for only 18 peopleMAR 30

Beatles

Beatles

You've got to start somewhere, and for The Beatles, that somewhere included Palais Ballroom in Aldershot, England, where they played in front of only 18 people in 1961.

When the Beatles arrived after being driven nine hours from Liverpool by Leach's friend Terry McCann, their posters were nowhere to be found, and they had to wait to be let into the venue.

That night, the Beatles played their usual covers of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis to about 18 very bored people.

The Art of AtariAPR 27

Art Of Atari

The Art of Atari showcases the design of the iconic company's video game packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and other stuff. Judging from my reaction to just the cover, I might die of nostalgia if I were to see the inside. Might be worth the risk though.

See also season 3 of Boss Fight Books featuring books on SMB3, Mega Man 3, Katamari Damacy, and more. (via df & @robinsloan)

Beautiful aerial photography by Bernhard EdmaierAPR 26

Bernhard Edmaier 01

Bernhard Edmaier 02

Bernhard Edmaier 03

National Geographic has a selection of wonderful aerial photos from German photographer Bernhard Edmaier. His photos can also be found in two of his most recent books, Water and EarthArt.

The Panama PapersAPR 04

A huge cache of data has leaked from a Panama-based tax firm that shows how some of the world's politicians and the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens. The video above, from the Guardian, is a quick 1:30 introduction on how these offshore havens work.

The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president's best friend -- a cellist called Sergei Roldugin -- is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin's daughter Katerina got married.

Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt's former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Here is an important bit:

Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from "raids" by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.

Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said "the corrupt, criminals and money launderers" take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their "significant" owners for the first time.

There is much more here, including Lionel Messi's involvement.

Update: The Panama Papers have claimed their first political victim. The now-former prime minister of Iceland has resigned because of his family's offshore investments.

How NYC gets its waterAPR 15

NYC water tastes amazing. Better than bottled. Where does the city get such great water from?

The Catskill/Delaware watershed, which extends 125 miles northwest of the city, provides more than 90 percent of the city's supply. The rest comes from the Croton watershed.

Nyc Water Aqueduct

It can take 12 weeks to a year for water to wind its way to the city from the streams, tunnels, dams and reservoirs in the Catskills. All of it is delivered to the city by gravity alone.

"Gravity's an important friend of ours," said Mr. Rush, the deputy commissioner, explaining that it "works nonstop" and is "energy efficient."

Whoa, I had no idea the aqueduct tunneled 1000 feet under the Hudson River. Water systems have been in the news lately, both in Flint, MI and here in NYC, where Mayor de Blasio postponed work on Water Tunnel #3 and then, a day later, responding to public concern over the postponement, announced that he was going to accelerate the work on Tunnel #3.

See also David Grann's classic 2003 New Yorker piece about the NYC water system, City of Water.

The author accompanied a group of sandhogs and nine cases of dynamite six hundred feet down a shaft leading to a segment of the tunnel that lies below Tenth Ave. and 13th St. New York's invisible underground empire goes as deep as the Chrysler building is high. Tunnel No. 3 has been under construction since 1969; it will extend sixty miles, from the reservoir in Yonkers to the end of Manhattan, with various redundant loops.

An Honest LiarAPR 08

A few days ago, I watched An Honest Liar, a documentary about the magician and charlatan-debunker The Amazing Randi. I had forgotten that in the 70s and 80s in America, belief in psychics like Uri Geller, faith healers like Peter Popoff, extraterrestrial abductions, and the like was not all that far from the mainstream. Such events and people were covered in newspapers, on the evening news, and featured on talk shows, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

The media is awash in pieces attempting to explain the success of the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Many are puzzled...how could this happen in America!? After watching Randi debunking hoaxes, I'm no longer surprised at Trump's success. Maria Konnikova, author of a recent book on scams and cons, wrote about Trump and con artists for the New Yorker.

A line, thin but perceptible, divides even egregious liars from confidence men. People deceive one another for all sorts of reasons: they might lie to stay out of trouble, for example, or to make themselves seem more interesting, or to urge a business deal toward its consummation. David Maurer, a linguist turned historian of the con, said, "If confidence men operate outside the law, it must be remembered that they are not much further outside than many of our pillars of society who go under names less sinister." Still, there is a meaningful difference between an ordinary liar and a con artist. A grifter takes advantage of a person's confidence for his own specific ends -- ends that are often unknowable to the victim and unrelated to the business at hand. He willfully deceives a mark into handing over his trust under false pretenses. He has a plan. What ultimately sets con artists apart is their intent. To figure out if someone is a con artist, one needs to ask two questions. First, is their deception knowing, malicious, and directed, ultimately, toward their own personal gain? Second, is the con a means to an end unrelated to the substance of the scheme itself?

She doesn't express an opinion on whether Trump is a con artist -- it's difficult to tell without knowing his intent -- but it's clear that like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff, Trump is adept at making people believe what he is saying without a lot of hard evidence. Like The Amazing Randi said in the movie: "no matter how smart or well educated you are, you can be deceived." Hopefully, like Geller, Popoff, and UFOs eventually did, the idea of Trump as a viable candidate for President will soon disappear back into the fringes of American discourse.

The Beach at NightMAR 28

Elena Ferrante, the mysterious Italian novelist of the critically acclaimed Neapolitan Novels, is coming out with a children's book called The Beach at Night.

Elena Ferrante returns to a story that animated the novel she considers to be a turning point in her development as a a writer: The Lost Daughter. But this time the tale takes the form of a children's fable told from the point of view of the lost (stolen!) doll, Celina.

The book has been out in Italy since 2007, but with so much interest in Ferrante (and her true identity), the English language version is now on its way.

BTW, I started reading the Neapolitan Novels last week and have barely put them down since...I should finish the second book tonight. So good.

A new Rembrandt, painted by data analysisAPR 05

A group of organizations, including Microsoft and the Rembrandthuis museum, have collaborated to produce a new painting by Rembrandt. Or rather, "by" Rembrandt. The team wrote software that analyzed the Dutch master's entire catalog of paintings and used the data to create a 3D-printed Rembrandt-esque painting.

We now had a digital file true to Rembrandt's style in content, shapes, and lighting. But paintings aren't just 2D -- they have a remarkable three-dimensionality that comes from brushstrokes and layers of paint. To recreate this texture, we had to study 3D scans of Rembrandt's paintings and analyze the intricate layers on top of the canvas.

I'd say they did pretty well:

Next Rembrandt

I wonder though, to what extent is this an averaged Rembrandt? According to the program, is there one canonical Rembrandt-esque eye and that's it? Or can the program paint dozens of variations? After all, because he was (presumably) working with actual people, Rembrandt himself had hundreds or thousands of ways to paint, it wasn't just the same sort of mouth over and over.

See also Loving Vincent and Alice in a Neural Networks Wonderland. (thx, lucas)

Update: Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the New Yorker, weighs in on The Next Rembrandt.

In truth, the portrait wobbles at a second glance and crashes at a third. The sitter has a sparkle of personality but utterly lacks the personhood -- the being-ness -- that never eluded Rembrandt. He is an actor, acting.

He also calls it "fan fiction".

Recap of Game of Thrones season 5APR 24

If you're going to watch the season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones tonight but you've forgotten what happened last season (tl;dr people died), watch this recap of last season's action. I still can't believe they made Marnie marry Desi after he missed their perfor oh wait that's Girls.

Animated virus trading cardsAPR 13

Virus Trading Cards

Eleanor Lutz's latest infographic creation is a set of animated virus trading cards.

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.

Talkshow is texting in publicAPR 27

Talkshow has launched. It's an iOS messaging app for having conversations in public.

People text amazing things.

Talkshow is a simple messaging app that allows you to text these things in public. With Talkshow, individuals, groups of friends, entertainers, creators -- anyone! -- can have conversations in public, to be viewed by others in real time or after the fact. Every Talkshow can be shared outside the app and embedded into other websites.

Talkshow was built by Michael Sippey, who has recently been at Medium and Twitter and was a formative influence in my early days online, and Greg Knauss, who loves the web down to his bones and has pulled my own personal bacon out of the system administrative fire more times than I can count, so I am predisposed to like this app and also to recommend it to you.

Back in 2007, riffing on some thoughts by Marc Hedlund about turning Unix commands into startups, I suggested choosing web projects by taking something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent.

Blogger, 1999. Blog posts = public email messages. Instead of "Dear Bob, Check out this movie." it's "Dear People I May or May Not Know Who Are Interested in Film Noir, Check out this movie and if you like it, maybe we can be friends."

Twitter, 2006. Twitter = public IM. I don't think it's any coincidence that one of the people responsible for Blogger is also responsible for Twitter.

Flickr, 2004. Flickr = public photo sharing. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake said in a recent interview: "When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph -- it didn't even exist as a concept -- so the idea of something 'public' changed the whole idea of Flickr."

YouTube, 2005. YouTube = public home videos. Bob Saget was onto something.

Talkshow, 2016. Talkshow = public text messaging.1 I am delighted to see that this approach still bearing fruit.

  1. But, but, you cry, Twitter is public texting! Talkshow is public IM! Well, sure! Twitter does a bunch of different things now, but in the first few years, it was public IM. The big difference I see is while Twitter allows anyone to participate in any public conversation (which is both a plus and minus), with Talkshow, the membership of each group/show is limited but the output is public. And that difference will allow people to do some things better w/ Talkshow than they can with Twitter.

Rival Chinese construction firms battle with bulldozersAPR 19

Worries over the slowing Chinese economy spilled out into the streets of Hebei province last weekend as two construction firms battled with bulldozers while competing for the same business. That is some end-times shit right there.

BB-8 will watch Star Wars with youAPR 05

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now out on Blu-ray and digital download. If you have Sphero's BB-8 toy, you can have BB-8 watch the movie with you and react to what's going on on-screen. Here's BB-8 reacting to seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time in the movie:

Hey, quiet in front, #bb8. Some of us are trying to watch #theforceawakens.

A video posted by Chris Taylor (@futurechris) on


That's pretty cute. But I kinda wish it worked for any Star Wars movie. Or any movie period...like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 just with BB-8 reactions. (via nerdist)

Founding Fathers, the untold story of hip hopMAR 28

Founding Fathers is a full-length documentary film about the history of hip hop narrated by Public Enemy's Chuck D. Everyone knows that hip hop originated in the Bronx. What this film presupposes is, maybe it didn't? Maybe hip hop started even earlier than commonly thought in places like Brooklyn with DJs like Grandmaster Flowers.

I don't know if this film ever found release anywhere...it's not even on IMDB or Wikipedia. (via @sampotts)

Animation of the Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking in realtimeAPR 18

When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912, it took the ship 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. I don't necessarily know why you would want to, but now you can watch a highly detailed animation of the ship sinking in realtime, all 2h 40m. I can't quite figure out if this is appropriate or not, although when I think about the inevitable realtime 9/11 version, perhaps it isn't.

NBA GM resigns with a thoroughly thinkfluenced letterAPR 11

Sam Hinkie recently resigned as general manager of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. His resignation letter took the form of an investor letter, a la Warren Buffett's annual letters. Before he gets down to basketball specifics, Hinkie spends several pages explaining his philosophy. Along with Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger, Hinkie mentions in this introductory section Atul Gawande, Elon Musk, Bill James, James Clerk Maxwell, Bill Belichick, Jeff Bezos, Tim Urban (whom he suggests the Sixers owners should meet for coffee), AlphaGo, and Slack (the Sixers' front office uses it). He even quotes Steven Johnson about the adjacent possible:

A yearning for innovation requires real exploration. It requires a persistent search to try (and fail) to move your understanding forward with a new tool, a new technique, a new insight. Sadly, the first innovation often isn't even all that helpful, but may well provide a path to ones that are. This is an idea that Steven Johnson of Where Good Ideas Come From popularized called the "adjacent possible." Where finding your way through a labyrinth of ignorance requires you to first open a door into a room of understanding, one that by its very existence has new doors to new rooms with deeper insights lurking behind them.

If I didn't know any better, I'd guess that Hinkie is a regular kottke.org reader. (via farnum street)

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptionsAPR 18

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I'd probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they're cheaper than at iTunes. That's something that Netflix can't offer right now. I wonder if they'll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

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