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)

Soundtrack for The Unknown KnownAPR 14

Your Monday morning needs a soundtrack and Danny Elfman's score for Errol Morris' The Unknown Known is just the thing. Available at Amazon or on iTunes.

Radio show story structuresAPR 09

Bradley Campbell drew the story structures of various public radio shows down on cocktail napkins. Here's the structure of This American Life:

This American Life ___! ___! ___!

"Napkin #1'' is Bradley's drawing for This American Life, a structure Ira Glass has talked about ad infinitum: This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. (Those are the dashes.) And then a moment of reflection, thoughts on what the events mean (the exclamation point).

The description of Radiolab is the most fun to read. That show doesn't quite have the non-linearity of Pulp Fiction, but it's a good example of hyperlink radio (a la hyperlink cinema). (via explore)

Watch The Unknown KnownAPR 06

Errol Morris's latest documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, just came out in theaters. But it's also available right now to rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes. Here's a trailer if you need convincing.

True Detective: it was okAPR 02

Now that I've caught up on True Detective, I have to agree with Emily Nussbaum's take on the show and finale: a stylish well-acted show with a "hollow center".

To state the obvious: while the male detectives of "True Detective" are avenging women and children, and bro-bonding over "crazy pussy," every live woman they meet is paper-thin. Wives and sluts and daughters -- none with any interior life. Instead of an ensemble, "True Detective" has just two characters, the family-man adulterer Marty, who seems like a real and flawed person (and a reasonably interesting asshole, in Harrelson's strong performance), and Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti. At first, this buddy pairing seems like a funky dialectic: when Rust rants, Marty rolls his eyes. But, six episodes in, I've come to suspect that the show is dead serious about this dude. Rust is a heretic with a heart of gold. He's our fetish object -- the cop who keeps digging when everyone ignores the truth, the action hero who rescues children in the midst of violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets and harsh truths and nice arms. McConaughey gives an exciting performance (in Grantland, Andy Greenwald aptly called him "a rubber band wrapped tight around a razor blade"), but his rap is premium baloney. And everyone around these cops, male or female, is a dark-drama cliche, from the coked-up dealers and the sinister preachers to that curvy corpse in her antlers. "True Detective" has some tangy dialogue ("You are the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch") and it can whip up an ominous atmosphere, rippling with hints of psychedelia, but these strengths finally dissipate, because it's so solipsistically focussed on the phony duet.

I enjoyed the show and am seated in the McConaissance cheering section, but True Detective is far from TV's best thing evar. And Nussbaum hits the nail right on the head: the lack of good women characters is to blame.

Something I've noticed about my favorite TV shows: they are mostly testosterone fests where the women are more interesting than the men. Mad Men is the perfect example. Game of Thrones is another. And Six Feet Under. Even in Deadwood, which I am rewatching now and is loads better than True Detective, women more than hold their own against the men. It's fun to watch the men on these series generate bullshit, but it's much more interesting to watch the great actresses who play these women navigate and elevate through the predictable male privilege.

The Prayer of Saint FrancisAPR 08

I am not a religious person, but Reverend Smith spoke a few lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis on an episode of Deadwood I watched recently and I can't stop thinking about it. The prayer in full:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Reverend put it slightly differently:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted, to understand, than to be understood, to love, than to be loved...

Believer in eternal life or not, that's a way of living life I can get behind.

Evidence of humans in South America 22,000 years agoMAR 31

Recent discoveries in Brazil that humans were present in South America as early as 22,000 years ago has contributed to the growing belief that the Clovis First hypothesis is wrong.

Researchers here say they have unearthed stone tools proving that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.

"If they're right, and there's a great possibility that they are, that will change everything we know about the settlement of the Americas," said Walter Neves, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Sao Paulo whose own analysis of an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil implies that some ancient Americans resembled aboriginal Australians more than they did Asians.

Up and down the Americas, scholars say that the peopling of lands empty of humankind may have been far more complex than long believed. The radiocarbon dating of spear points found in the 1920s near Clovis, N.M., placed the arrival of big-game hunters across the Bering Strait about 13,000 years ago, long forming the basis of when humans were believed to have arrived in the Americas.

More recently, numerous findings have challenged that narrative. In Texas, archaeologists said in 2011 that they had found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers had reached another site, known as Buttermilk Creek, as early as 15,500 years ago. Similarly, analysis of human DNA found at an Oregon cave determined that humans were there 14,000 years ago.

Dronies!APR 16

A dronie is a video selfie taken with a drone. I featured Amit Gupta's beautiful dronie yesterday:

Other people have since taken dronies of their own and the idea seems like it's on the cusp of becoming a thing. Here's one taken by Joshua Works of him and his family on the shore of a lake in Nevada:

The Works clan sold most of their worldly possessions in 2011 and has been travelling the US in an Airstream ever since, logging more than 75,000 miles so far.

Adam Lisagor took this dronie of him and fellow drone enthusiast Alex Cornell standing on the roof of a building in LA:

Adam was inspired to begin playing with drone photography because of Alex's recent video on Our Drone Future.

Have you taken a dronie? Let me know and I'll add it to the list.

Update: Jakob Lodwick reversed Amit's dronie from a pull back shot to a Spielbergesque close-up. This reel from Antimedia begins with a dronie. Steffan van Esch took a group dronie. This video opens with a quick dronie. I like this one from Taylor Scott Mason, if only for the F1-like whine of the receding drone:

Here's a Powers of Ten-inspired dronie that combines a Google Earth zoom-in with drone-shot footage covering the last few hundred feet:

Adam Lisagor wrote a bit about drone photography and how photographers always come back to the human subject, no matter what format the camera takes:

There's a reason that you're going to see a lot of these from drone flyers like me, and it's this: once you get past the novelty of taking a camera high up in the air, getting a bird's eye view of stuff is actually a little boring.

What birds see is actually a little boring. Humans are interesting. Getting close to stuff is interesting. I bet if we could strap tiny cameras to bird heads, most of what we'd want to look at would happen when they fly close to people. If we could, we'd put cameras on bird heads to take pictures of ourselves.

The company that Amit runs, Photojojo, is going to start doing rentals soon, including kits for drone photography. And they're gonna do flying lessons as well. For now, there's a tutorial on the page about how to make "the perfect dronie". (thx to everyone who sent in videos)

Creativity, Inc.MAR 21

Ed Catmull has written a book about Pixar's creative process: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation -- into the meetings, postmortems, and "Braintrust" sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture -- but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, "an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible."

For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired -- and so profitable.

Catmull was a founder of Pixar and while he never got the press Jobs and Lasseter did, he was instrumental in the company's success and is currently president of both Disney and Pixar's animation studios. Fast Company has an excerpt of the book.

Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so -- to go, as I say, "from suck to not-suck."

Think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must've seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don't get them right on the first pass. This is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process -- reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.

DJ HodorAPR 17

Dj Hodor

Kristian Nairn is the actor who plays Hodor on HBO's Game of Thrones. When he's not acting, the 6'10" Belfast resident DJs and makes music. His Soundcloud page contains a bunch of his house mixes; here's the latest mix from three months ago:

Hodor!

First episode of Silicon ValleyAPR 07

HBO put the entire first episode of Mike Judge's new show Silicon Valley up on YouTube:

2001 behind-the-scenes photosAPR 03

From a large collection of photos shot on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, two of my favorites:

2001 Behind 01

2001 Behind 02

Those are a pair of smooth criminals right there.

Flash BoysMAR 31

Michael Lewis (The Big Short, Liar's Poker) is back with another book about the financial markets: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. It's the story of high-frequency trading and the traders who are fighting against it.

Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post-financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading-source of the most intractable problems-will have no advantage whatsoever.

The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think "Wall Street guy." Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world's stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

From a Bloomberg article about the book:

His latest target, high-frequency trading, comprises a diverse set of software-driven strategies that have spread from U.S. equity markets to most developed countries as computer power grew and regulators tried to break the grip of centralized exchanges. While the tactics vary, they usually employ super-fast computers to post and cancel orders at rates measured in thousandths or even millionths of a second to capture price discrepancies on more than 50 public and private venues that make up the American equities market.

I don't know too much about it but from what I've read, high-frequency trading seems to involve huge Wall Street banks using the Office Space/Richard-Pryor-in-Superman-III trick of shaving fractions of a penny off of trillions of trades every year, except that it's perfectly legal. The NY Times has an excerpt of the book to further whet your appetite.

A.I. movie merch: Super Toy TeddyAPR 11

Super Toy Teddy

Today I learned that Hasbro released a toy based on the talking teddy bear in Kubrick/Spielberg's A.I. W? T? F? And of course it's super creepy:

Noel Murray has the whole story, along with an appreciation of the movie and Spielberg's direction of it.

A.I. in particular still strikes me as a masterpiece. I thought it might be back in 2001; now I'm certain of it. But it isn't any easier to watch in 2014 than it was before my first child was born. Like a lot of Spielberg's films -- even the earlier crowd-pleasers -- A.I. is a pointed critique of human selfishness, and our tendency to assert our will and make bold, world-changing moves, with only passing regard for the long-term consequences. Spielberg carries this theme of misguided self-absorption to child-rearing, implying that parents program their kids to be cute love machines, unable to cope with the harshness of the real world. He also questions whether humankind is nothing but flesh-based technology, which emerged from the primordial ooze (represented in the opening shot of A.I. by a roiling ocean), and has been trained over millennia to respond to stimuli in socially appropriate ways. A.I. blurs the lines between human and mecha frequently, from an early shot of Monica that makes her look exactly like one of Professor Hobby's creations, to the way Martin walks, thanks to mechanical legs.

UPS trucks don't turn leftAPR 07

Well, they do sometimes but not very often. Left turns cross traffic, which wastes time and causes accidents. So UPS routes are designed with mostly right turns...three rights make a left, you know.

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. By mapping out routes that involved "a series of right-hand loops," UPS improved profits and safety while touting their catchy, environmentally friendly policy.

I wonder though, does this make the drivers unhappy?

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.

GoPro, circa the 1960sAPR 14

Back in the olden days, you just tied your cameraman right to the car:

GoPro 1960s

Looks almost as goofy as Google Glass. Legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart wore this stills-only proto-GoPro at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 (though not during the actual race):

Gopro 1960s Stewart

Stewart ended up winning that race. I believe Stewart is also the model for this contraption, which looks like a film camera counterbalanced with a battery pack?

Gopro 1960s Stewart

That couldn't have been comfortable. For some reason, neither of Stewart's helmet cams are recognized by Wikipedia as being the first documented helmet cam, which is instead attributed to a motorcycle race in 1986:

Motorcycle Helmet Cam

Update: Another early use of the helmet cam comes from the world of skydiving. Here's Bob Sinclair with a camera setup from 1961:

Gopro 1960s Parachute

(thx, david)

Rumsfeld to IRS: taxes are too damn complicatedAPR 16

Uh oh, Donald Rumsfeld and I agree on something. Each year, with his tax return, Rumsfeld sends a letter to the IRS explaining that neither he or his wife are sure of how accurate their taxes are because the forms and tax code are too complex. Here is this year's letter:

Rumsfeld Tax

If only he had been less certain of his accuracy in an even more complex situation, like, say the whole WMD/Iraq War thing.

Five word usage tips from David Foster WallaceAPR 10

Farnam Street is featuring a handout given by the late David Foster Wallace to his fiction writing class in 2002. It's titled YOUR LIBERAL-ARTS $ AT WORK and covers five common usages gotchas.

2. And is a conjunction; so is so. Except in dialogue between particular kinds of characters, you never need both conjunctions. "He needed to eat, and so he bought food" is incorrect. In 95% of cases like this, what you want to do is cut the and.

The British Pathe archiveAPR 17

Newsreel archivist British Pathé has uploaded their entire 85,000 film archive to YouTube. This is an amazing resource.

British Pathé was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience, renowned for first-class reporting and an informative yet uniquely entertaining style. It is now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in existence. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage -- not only from Britain, but from around the globe -- of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture. The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.

I've shared videos from British Pathé before: the Hindenberg disaster and this bizarre film of a little boy being taunted with chocolate. The archive is chock full of gems: a 19-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger at a bodybuilding competition, footage of and interviews with survivors of the Titanic, video of the world's tallest man (8'11"), and the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. And this film from 1956 showing how cricket balls are made by hand:

EggAPR 13

Egg

New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, "A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient".

For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it's how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.

Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:

But often, Ruhlman argues, we don't treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. "It's one of the most overcooked dishes in America," he says. "We kill our eggs with heat."

Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. "When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn't fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation."

A tour of the accents of the British IslesAPR 07

Using Google Earth, dialect coach Andrew Jack gives a tour of the accents of Great Britain and Ireland.

The audio is originally from this BBC program. See also Peter Sellers doing various English accents. (via devour)

The weight loss gameAPR 03

2008 article by Clive Thompson on how Weight Watchers is like a RPG (role playing game).

Think about it. As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers' points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you've used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up -- by losing weight! And the more you play it, the more you discover interesting combinations of the rules that aren't apparent at first. Hey, if I eat a fruit-granola breakfast and an egg-and-romaine lunch, I'll have enough points to survive a greasy hamburger dinner for a treat!

Even the Weight Watchers web tool is amazingly gamelike. It has the poke-around-and-see-what-happens elegance you see in really good RPG game screens. Accidentally snack on a candy bar and ruin your meal plan for the day? No worries: Just go into the database and see what spells -- whoops, I mean foods -- you can still use with your remaining points.

And those 35 extra points you get every week? They're like a special buff or potion -- a last-ditch save when you're on the ropes.

It's funny how quaint this seems now...the quantified self and gamification of diet & health is everywhere now. (via @arainert)

Scale AmericanaAPR 02

Michael Paul Smith takes photographs of classic cars that evoke feelings of nostalgia for America in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Take a look, these are about as Pleasantville as you can get:

Michael Paul Smith 01

Michael Paul Smith 02

But as you'll discover browsing through Smith's collection, the cars he photographs are scale models. Here's the set-up for that second shot:

Michael Paul Smith 03

And here's further evidence of Smith's trickery:

Michael Paul Smith 04

No Photoshop here...all effects are done in-camera. As Smith notes, "It is the oldest trick in the special effects book: lining up a model with an appropriate background, then photographing it." (via @osteslag)

The journey of a pennyAPR 12

Chris Ware Penny

Chris Ware follows the wanderings of a penny in his latest piece for the NY Times.

Building the next PixarMAR 26

Fast Company talked to a number of ex-Pixar employees about how they are using lessons learned at Pixar in their new endeavors.

"Delight" may be an intangible concept, but it's a useful term to describe Pixar's relationship with its audience, and one that any company can strive for even if they don't make heartwarming cartoons.

It seems counterintuitive that simple pleasure would be a core principle of something as elaborate as a Pixar production, but Suzanne Slatcher says she has translated this idea directly to her new career.

"Food is a bit like cartoons," says Slatcher. "It's not some high-minded thing that people will make themselves like because they think they ought to. The food has to work on that very simple level of just someone is watching TV and they're shoving it in their mouths."

The idea that "everybody deserves quality" is a fundamental Pixar concept that Slatcher applies equally to snack foods.

"Pixar makes amazing, beautiful, hilarious, deep, wise films for kids, and adults can watch them and everybody watches them 25 times if they've got kids, and it's still funny. It's really, really great quality, where most things made for kids are made very cheaply. A lot of time and money is spent making the most accessible thing possible, and that's such an inspiration and so not what you learn at art school," Slatcher says. "The Good Bean could choose to be the darlings of the foodie world, using obscure, exotic spices, trying to be clever, but we'd rather make affordable, accessible food."

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.

Mercedes is dominating F1 so far this yearAPR 09

Coming into this season, Formula One made a lot of rule changes: new engines, better turbo systems, two different power sources (fuel & electrical), fixed-ratio gearboxes, etc. The cars had to be redesigned from top to bottom. Whenever a situation like this occurs, there's an opportunity for technical innovation (rather than the gradual improvements that tend to occur when the environment remains mostly unchanged). This year, the Mercedes team built their engines to get more out of the new turbo system than the other teams.

What Mercedes' boffins have done, according to Sky Sports F1 technical guru Mark Hughes, is split the turbo in half, mounting the exhaust turbine at the rear of the engine and the intake turbine at the front. A shaft running through the V of the V6 engine connects the two halves, keeping the hot exhaust gases driving the turbo from heating the cool air it's drawing into the engine.

Aside from getting cooler air into the engine and extracting more power (maybe as much as 50 horsepower), this setup also allows Mercedes to keep drivetrain components closer to the center of the car. It also allowed the team to use a smaller intercooler, which cools off the heated air before going into the engine, compared to the rest of the cars.

And the result so far? Utter Mercedes domination. Out of the three races this year, the two drivers for the Mercedes team (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) have three first-place finishes and two second-place finishes (Hamilton had to retire with engine issues in the first race). Mercedes was certainly competitive last year, finishing second, but Red Bull-Renault easily beat them in the points race and one of their drivers finished 1st in 13 out of 19 races. More relevant to the discussion here is how easily these races are being won by Mercedes. In each of the three races, a member of the Mercedes team qualified in pole position, recorded the fastest lap, and beat the other teams' drivers by more than 24 seconds in each case. To put that last stat in perspective, last year the winning team beat the second place team by more than 20 seconds in only three races, with the margin typically in the 3-10 second range.

So yeah, Mercedes is killing it so far. And the other teams aren't happy about it. Shades of the situation over Speedo's LZR Racer swimming suit.

Update: I said earlier that one of the changes was "no refueling during races" which has been the case for a few years now (hence the 2-second pit stop). Also, this video is a great explanation of how Mercedes turbo is designed and how it helps make their car go faster:

(thx, @coreyh & @gazbeirne)

The A-to-Z of danceAPR 07

Super-cool video from i-D of dance styles for each letter of the alphabet.

(via @Han)

Death & Co cocktail bookMAR 27

Looking forward to this one: a cocktail recipe book from Death & Co, an East Village cocktail joint.

Featuring hundreds of recipes for signature Death & Co creations as well as classic drink formulas,Death & Co is not only a comprehensive collection of the bar's best, but also a complete cocktail education. With chapters on the theory and philosophy of drink-making; a complete guide to the spirits, tools, and other ingredients needed to make a great bar; and specs for nearly 500 iconic drinks, Death & Co is destined to become the go-to reference on craft cocktails.

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.

2014 Smithsonian photo contest finalistsAPR 08

Smith Photos

Smithsonian Magazine has announced the finalists in their annual photography contest. The shot above is a finalist in the Mobile category...it was taken with an iPhone 5. (via colossal)

Finding Vivian Maier now out in theatersAPR 01

Now showing at IFC Center in NYC: Finding Vivian Maier. Maier is the Chicago street photographer whose extensive and impressive body of work was recently discovered at an auction. John Maloof bought Maier's work, started posting it to a blog several years ago, did a Kickstarter (one of the first I backed) to fund a documentary about Maier and her photos, and now the film is showing in theaters around the US and Canada.

Drone selfiesAPR 15

For the past couple of months, Amit Gupta has been playing around with taking moving self-portraits with a camera mounted on a drone. Here's an early effort. This past weekend, Amit's efforts crossed over into the realm of art. This is beautiful:

In the comments at Vimeo, Alex Dao dubbed this type of photograph a "dronie". We'll see if that catches on.

Update: More examples of dronies here.

Louis C.K. on SNLMAR 30

It's Saturday Sunday Night Live! Here's Louis C.K.'s monologue from last night's SNL; it's 8 minutes of his trademark stand-up.

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.

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains evolutionMAR 23

The reboot of Cosmos has been solid but not spectacular so far, but the second episode contains as solid and clear an explanation of evolution as I've ever seen.

Even if evolution clashes with your world view, this is worth watching if only to understand what you're aligned against (per Bret Victor's advice). The third episode airs on Fox tonight and is about the creation of the scientific method.

The anternetAPR 04

Researchers at Stanford have observed that foraging harvester ants act like TCP/IP packets, so much so that they're calling the ants' behavior "the anternet".

Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here's how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.

This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.

It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants -- which forage for seeds as individuals -- leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.

A forager won't return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.

(via wordspy)

Hand-drawn cityscapesAPR 01

Ben Sack makes these amazingly detailed maps of cities, all drawn by hand.

Ben Sack Map

And just so you can get a sense of how large these drawings are:

Ben Sack Map Progress

Here's a peek at his process:

Reminiscent of Stephen Wiltshire's work. And every time I see something like this, I think about when I went to the Met a few years ago and noticed the sketchbook of this guy working the membership desk. It was filled with beautifully intricate drawings of NYC-style city streets. I chatted with him about them briefly, but I wish I'd asked if he had put any of it online. Would have been neat to share his drawings with you. (via waxy)

How Japan copied American culture and made it betterAPR 15

American favorites (blue jeans, whiskey, burgers) have been embraced by the Japanese, who have been turning out improved versions of the originals.

In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate-and even improve upon-the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn't limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There's something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. "What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery," says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. "It's true in traditional arts, it's true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it's true of restaurateurs all over Japan."

It's easy to dismiss Japanese re-creations of foreign cultures as faddish and derivative-just other versions of the way that, for example, the new American hipster ideal of Brooklyn is clumsily copied everywhere from Paris to Bangkok. But the best examples of Japanese Americana don't just replicate our culture. They strike out, on their own, into levels of appreciation and refinement rarely found in America. They give us an opportunity to consider our culture as refracted through a foreign and clarifying prism.

Another example, not mentioned in the piece, is coffee. From the WSJ a couple of years ago:

"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."

Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.

What makes you hungry?APR 11

Recent studies show that our physical level of hunger, in fact, does not correlate strongly with how much hunger we say that we feel or how much food we go on to consume.

As Maria Konnikova reports, a lot of things can make you hungry -- a song, a book, a smell, even a study.

Being genuinely hungry, on the other hand -- in the sense of physiologically needing food -- matters little.

In other news, Tater Tots.

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

Unleash the maps!APR 03

Viele Map Close

Last week, the New York Public Library released a massive collection of maps online...over 20,000 maps are available for high-resolution download. An incredible resource.

Beautiful photos of chicken beauty pageantsMAR 26

Photographer Ernest Goh documents chicken beauty pageants in Malaysia. Gorgeous photos, gorgeous animals.

Chicken Pageant

(via colossal)

The Oldest Living Things in the WorldAPR 16

Oldest Living Things Book

The very first Kickstarter campaign I ever backed was Rachel Sussman's project to photograph the oldest living organisms in the world.

I'm researching, working with biologists, and traveling all over the world to find and photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. I started the project 5 years ago, and have since photographed nearly 25 different organisms, ranging from the Bristlecone Pine and Giant Sequoias that you've surely heard of, to some truly unusual and unique desert shrubs, bacteria, a predatory fungus, and a clonal colony of Aspen trees that's male and, in theory, immortal.

Her goal was to compile the photographs into a book. Almost four years later, the book is out. Looks like it was worth the wait. The trailer does a nice job explaining what the book is all about:

Noah soundtrackMAR 31

A Clint Mansell soundtrack for a Darren Aronofsky film? Hell. Yes.

Mansell also did the soundtracks for Moon (my favorite of his, I think) and Requiem for a Dream. The Noah soundtrack is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

Shaun the Sheep MovieAPR 03

Holy cow, Aardman is making a Shaun the Sheep Movie! Here's a teaser trailer:

The movie will be out in March 2015 and the plot centers on the sheep going to the big city to retrieve the Farmer. As I wrote last year, Shaun the Sheep is wonderful family entertainment. I wonder how the lack of dialogue will translate to the feature length format? (thx, greg)

Drunkenly stumbling baby trashes barMAR 20

No matter who you are, this is pretty funny. But if you have kids, it's very nearly transcendent.

(via @ginatrapani)

Clean coal?MAR 25

You have solar on your roof, a hybrid in your garage, and wind, water, nuclear, and natural gas all being pushed by various companies and interest groups. But, now, and for the foreseeable future, you've also got coal. And lots of it. Wired's Charles C. Mann lays it out:

A lump of coal is a thoroughly ubiquitous 21st-century artifact, as much an emblem of our time as the iPhone. Today coal produces more than 40 percent of the world's electricity, a foundation of modern life. And that percentage is going up.

That reality is bad news for the environment and climate change, and it leaves us with a big question: How do we minimize the damage?

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

Drones on demandAPR 09

Gofor imagines a future world where drones are cheap and ubiquitous. What sorts of things would we have personal drones do for us? Follow us home in unsafe neighborhoods? Personal traffic copters? Travel location scouting?

How long before someone uses a personal drone for the same purpose as the US government? Just think how easy and untraceable it would be to outfit a drone with a weapon, shoot someone, and then dump the drone+weapon in a lake or ocean. When it happens, the reaction will be predictable: ban personal drones. Guns don't kill people, drones kill people, right?

The Uncomfortable ProjectMAR 27

For her Uncomfortable Project, Katerina Kamprani redesigned useful objects; they're still technically functional but are a pain in the ass to use. Like this key:

Uncomfortable key

Or this awkward broom:

Uncomfortable broom

Cobain gone for 20 yearsAPR 06

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain at the age of 27. Many have written of the anniversary, but I liked Dennis Cooper's piece published in Spin a few weeks after Cobain's death.

Cobain's work nailed how a ton of people feel. There are few moments in rock as bewilderingly moving as when he mumbled, "I found it hard / It's hard to find / Oh well, whatever / Nevermind." There's that bizarre, agonized, and devastating promise he keeps making throughout "Heart-Shaped Box": "Wish that I could eat your cancer when you turn black." Take a look in his eyes the next time MTV runs the "Heart-Shaped Box" video, and see if you can sort out the pain from the ironic detachment from the horror from the defensiveness.

(via NYT Now app)

Let It Go internationallyAPR 16

Frozen, Let It Go

If you have children in your home, you have likely seen the movie Frozen and heard the song Let It Go like 50 billionty times. The movie did great in the US, coming in as the 19th biggest movie ever, but it's done amazingly well overseas: #8 on the alltime list with a $1.1 billion gross.

So it's a no-brainer for Disney to release an album with 50 different versions of Let It Go, sung in languages ranging from Arabic to Icelandic to Romanian to Vietnamese. (via @cabel)

Update: Here's a video of the entire song sung in 25 languages:

(via @waxpancake & @Ilovetoscore)

The Kindly BrontosaurusMAR 26

Kindly Brontosaurus

I read this piece by Jessica Winter a few months ago and it's come in handy a few times so I thought I'd share. If you want something from someone, adopting the pose of the Kindly Brontosaurus might go a lot further than throwing a fit.

A practitioner, nay, an artist, of the Kindly Brontosaurus method would approach the gate agent as follows. You state your name and request. You make a clear and concise case. And then, after the gate agent informs you that your chances of making it onto this flight are on par with the possibility that a dinosaur will spontaneously reanimate and teach himself to fly an airplane, you nod empathically, say something like "Well, I'm sure we can find a way to work this out," and step just to the side of the agent's kiosk.

Here is where the Kindly Brontosaurus rears amiably into the frame. You must stand quietly and lean forward slightly, hands loosely clasped in a faintly prayerful arrangement. You will be in the gate agent's peripheral vision-close enough that he can't escape your presence, not so close that you're crowding him-but you must keep your eyes fixed placidly on the agent's face at all times. Assemble your features in an understanding, even beatific expression. Do not speak unless asked a question. Whenever the gate agent says anything, whether to you or other would-be passengers, you must nod empathically.

Continue as above until the gate agent gives you your seat number. The Kindly Brontosaurus always gets a seat number.

Note: Illustration by Chris Piascik...prints & more are available.

More on Michael Lewis and high-frequency tradingAPR 02

Michael Lewis's new book about high-frequency trading dropped on Monday with less than 24 hours notice and the media is scrambling to catch up. There's plenty of love for Lewis and his books out there, but Tyler Cowen has been linking to some critiques. For Bloomberg, Matt Levine writes:

In my alternative Michael Lewis story, the smart young whippersnappers build high-frequency trading firms that undercut big banks' gut-instinct-driven market making with tighter spreads and cheaper trading costs. Big HFTs like Knight/Getco and Virtu trade vast volumes of stock while still taking in much less money than the traditional market makers: $688 million and $623 million in 2013 market-making revenue, respectively, for Knight and Virtu, versus $2.6 billion in equities revenue for Goldman Sachs and $4.8 billion for J.P. Morgan. Even RBC made 594 million Canadian dollars trading equities last year. The high-frequency traders make money more consistently than the old-school traders, but they also make less of it.

And here's Matthew Philips on What Michael Lewis Gets Wrong About High-Frequency Trading:

1. HFT doesn't prey on small mom-and-pop investors. In his first two TV appearances, Lewis stuck to a simple pitch: Speed traders have rigged the stock market, and the biggest losers are average, middle-class retail investors-exactly the kind of people who watch 60 Minutes and the Today show. It's "the guy sitting at his ETrade account," Lewis told Matt Lauer. The way Lewis sees it, speed traders prey on retail investors by "trading against people who don't know the market."

The idea that retail investors are losing out to sophisticated speed traders is an old claim in the debate over HFT, and it's pretty much been discredited. Speed traders aren't competing against the ETrade guy, they're competing with each other to fill the ETrade guy's order.

And Felix Salmon:

This vagueness about time is one of the weaknesses of the book: it's hard to keep track of time, and a lot of it seems to be an exposé not of high-frequency trading as it exists today, but rather of high-frequency trading as it existed during its brief heyday circa 2008. Lewis takes pains to tell us what happened to the number of trades per day between 2006 and 2009, for instance, but doesn't feel the need to mention what has happened since then. (It is falling, quite dramatically.) The scale of the HFT problem - and the amount of money being made by the HFT industry - is in sharp decline: there was big money to be made once upon a time, but nowadays it's not really there anymore. Because that fact doesn't fit Lewis's narrative, however, I doubt I'm going to find it anywhere in his book.

rating: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

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

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

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

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

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

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

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

*** the price is $13,000.00

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

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

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

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

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

i look forward to your response

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

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

Huge hawk flies through tiny hole in wallMAR 21

This is a slow motion video of a hawk flying through increasingly tiny holes in a wall.

Nature, you crazy. (via @dunstan)

Daily Rituals: How Artists WorkAPR 02

Mason Currey's book about the daily routines of scientists, painters, writers, and other creative people looks interesting. Sarah Green collected a list of common practices among some of the book's "healthier geniuses".

A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him -- something of which today's cubicle worker can only dream. Mark Twain's family knew better than to breach his study door -- if they needed him, they'd blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he'd tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.

I love reading about people's workspaces; here's an old post about George Bernard Shaw's rotating writing room. (via myself apparently?)

The shoe masterMAR 18

Hitoshi Mimura

That is a bespoke running shoe made by a small company started by Hitoshi Mimura, who is considered one of the top shoe designers in the world. Mimura had great success at Asics, outfitting Olympic gold medal runners with shoes lighter, grippier, and more breathable than those worn by competitors, but now he has struck out on his own.

"I take 13 measurements of the foot, each foot has to be measured separately," explains the sensei of shoemaking. "I only trust hand-measuring. Currently, each shoe takes about three weeks to make, mainly due to determining which materials to use." Preparation is also key. "For a world championships or Olympics I check the course once or twice. I went to Beijing three times."

A NY Times feature on Mimura written before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing emphasized the designer's reliance on rice husks in the soles for grippiness. Mimura takes his job and his responsibility to the runners very seriously:

Surreptitiously, Mimura made soles of two slightly different thicknesses, to compensate for the fact that Takahashi's left leg was eight millimeters -- about a third of an inch -- longer than her right leg. She had tried a pair of the uneven soles before the Sydney Olympics, but felt uncomfortable.

Still, Mimura felt Takahashi needed such shoes to win and to avoid a recurrence of pain caused by the disparity in her legs. Without Takahashi's knowledge, Mimura gave her the uneven soles, then wrote a letter of resignation, in case she failed to win gold.

"I decided to take full responsibility because I made this pair against her wishes," Mimura said of the letter. "I didn't have to hand it over. It's still in my desk."

That is belief in yourself and in your craft. Many people believe in "giving people not what they want but what they need" but how many of them will put their livelihood on the line for it?

Vietnam's bag menMAR 26

In remote areas of Vietnam where there are no bridges across rivers, people are loaded into plastic bags and swum across by men strong enough to brave the current.

(via quora)

The art of street typographyMAR 31

I don't know exactly what my expectations were of how lettering is painted on city streets, but this was not it. The level of precision and artistry is surprising.

Reminds me of this video of a hand-lettering master at work.

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