homeabout kottke.orgarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchives + tagsmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

The Most Efficient Way to Destroy the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Kurzgesagt shares a speculative bit of physics called vacuum decay that could very efficiently erase the entire Universe.

To understand vacuum decay, you need to consider the Higgs field that permeates our Universe. Like an electric field, the Higgs field varies in strength, based on its potential. Think of the potential as a track on which a ball is rolling. The higher it is on the track, the more energy the ball has.

The Higgs potential determines whether the Universe is in one of two states: a true vacuum, or a false vacuum. A true vacuum is the stable, lowest-energy state, like sitting still on a valley floor. A false vacuum is like being nestled in a divot in the valley wall — a little push could easily send you tumbling. A universe in a false vacuum state is called “metastable”, because it’s not actively decaying (rolling), but it’s not exactly stable either.

There are two problems with living in a metastable universe. One is that if you create a high enough energy event, you can, in theory, push a tiny region of the universe from the false vacuum into the true vacuum, creating a bubble of true vacuum that will then expand in all directions at the speed of light. Such a bubble would be lethal.

Such a process could already be underway, but don’t worry:

But even if one or multiple spheres of death have already started expanding, the Universe is so big they might not reach us for billions of years.

We Work Remotely

Video of the most unsatisfying things in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2016

It was the soup that got me early on. Parallel Studio made this and they are running The Unsatisfying Challenge over the next two weeks, looking for people to submit their own animations and videos of unsatisfying situations.

This was all over Twitter this morning without any context or credit going to the original creators, a trend I find unsatisfying. Thanks to Frank Chimero for finding the original.

How the Cretaceous coastline of North America affects US presidential elections

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

2012 Election Map

That’s a portion of the 2012 US Presidential election map of the southern states broken down by county: blue ones went Barack Obama’s way and counties in red voted for Mitt Romney.

But let’s go back to the Cretaceous Period, which lasted from 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Back then, the coastline of what is now North America looked like this:

Cretaceous Coast

Along that ancient coastline of a shallow sea, plankton with carbonate skeletons lived and died in massive numbers, accumulating into large chalk formations on the bottom of the sea. When the sea level dropped and the sea drained through the porous chalk, rich bands of soil were left right along the former coastline. When that area was settled and farmed in the 19th century, that rich soil was perfect for growing cotton. And cotton production was particularly profitable, so slaves were heavily used in those areas.

McClain, quoting from Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery, points out: “The part of the country possessing this thick, dark and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers.” After the Civil War, a lot of former slaves stayed on this land, and while many migrated North, their families are still there.

The counties in which slave populations were highest before the Civil War are still home to large African American populations, which tend to vote for Democratic presidential candidates, even as the whiter counties around them vote for Republicans. The voting pattern of those counties on the map follows the Cretaceous coastline of 100 million years ago — the plankton fell, the cotton grew, the slaves bled into that rich soil, and their descendants later helped a black man reach the White House.

The opposite of a muse

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Isabelle Mege

Isabelle Mège does not call herself an artist, but she has nonetheless been working on an interesting project for the last 30 years. Mège contacts photographers she likes and asks them to incorporate her into their work, keeping a copy of each photograph afterwards. She has over 300 photographs and has curated 135 of them into what she calls “the collection”.

After each shoot, Mège would follow up and ask the artist for a print, signed and sometimes numbered by its edition. The print would go into her archive, along with any artifacts related to its making; Elkoury’s letter, for instance, is accompanied in the archive by Mège’s notes about their encounter (he was late to their first meeting, and arrived with his shoelaces untied). Also in her archive are the heels that Witkin attached to her feet during the 1990 shoot, and a news item about Japanese customs having seized incoming copies of the magazine ARTnews to prohibit their circulation; the photograph, in which Mège’s pubic hair is visible, was considered obscene. Her diarizing and collection of correspondence, clippings, image reproductions, and relevant items reveal that the planning around certain images often lasted years. Several times, having worked with an artist to make an image, she was unhappy with the results and excluded it from her collection. When approached by artists who wanted to work with her but for whose work she had no feeling, she refused.

Mège felt strongly that no money should be exchanged in these interactions. (“As soon as there’s a question of payment, it’s dead, you fall asleep,” she told me.) She also asked each artist to sign a contract printed on a three-inch slip of paper, stating that she would have the right to exhibit or publish the image for noncommercial reasons only.

Mège’s project fits neatly into contemporary selfie culture. Her collection reminds me of other creative people who have incorporated themselves into their media of behalf of someone or something else. Call them “selfie auteurs”. Adam Lisagor has starred in many of the videos his company makes for tech clients. Casey Neistat films himself going on adventures for clients like J. Crew and Nike. Noah Kalina was commissioned by VH1 to take photos of himself posing with celebrities in his Everyday stance. I’m sure there are many more examples1 but few have done it as cleanly and purely as Mège.

  1. Maybe kottke.org should be in this list as well. This is my website — my name’s right at the top for crying out loud — and I share my opinion about things here all the time, but in a significant way, the site isn’t actually about me. It’s mainly about other people’s work and ideas. Sure, if you read long enough you learn about who I am as a person in the process, but it’s not the point.

Obama’s letter to his successor about the economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

In the latest issue of The Economist, President Obama wrote a letter about the “four crucial areas of unfinished business in economic policy” that his successor will have to deal with.

Wherever I go these days, at home or abroad, people ask me the same question: what is happening in the American political system? How has a country that has benefited-perhaps more than any other-from immigration, trade and technological innovation suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore — and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?

It’s true that a certain anxiety over the forces of globalisation, immigration, technology, even change itself, has taken hold in America. It’s not new, nor is it dissimilar to a discontent spreading throughout the world, often manifested in scepticism towards international institutions, trade agreements and immigration. It can be seen in Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union and the rise of populist parties around the world.

Much of this discontent is driven by fears that are not fundamentally economic. The anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment expressed by some Americans today echoes nativist lurches of the past — the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Know-Nothings of the mid-1800s, the anti-Asian sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and any number of eras in which Americans were told they could restore past glory if they just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. We overcame those fears and we will again.

Look at Obama, busting out the Know-Nothings like it ain’t nothing.

Volcano Bread: geothermally baked bread

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

In Iceland, geothermal vents and hot springs abound and you can use them to bake rye bread in a pot at fairly low temperatures for 24 hours. At a spa outside Reykjavik, they have something called the Rye Bread Experience where they take guests to see how the geothermal ovens work. Filmmaker Alison Grasso went on one of the tours and made a short film about it.

A short history of time travel and killing Baby Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.

I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.

The Voter Suppression Trail

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Voter Supression Trail

Voter Supression Trail

The NY Times has released their first video game editorial in the form of an Oregon Trail spin-off by GOP Arcade highlighting how the Republican Party engages in voter suppression tactics, especially in areas with many voters of color. In the game, you can play as a white programmer from California, a Latina nurse from Texas, or a black salesman from Wisconsin. As might expect, it takes somewhat longer to finish the game as some of these players versus others.

On Nov. 8, a new generation of Americans will make their own heroic journeys — to the polls. Some paths will be more intrepid than others, particularly for blacks, Latinos and pretty much anyone who brings the kind of diversity to our polling places that they have historically lacked. Thanks to laws passed by Republicans to fight the nonexistent threat of voter fraud, the perils will be great. Long lines and voter ID laws, not to mention pro-Trump election observers, will try to keep these voters from the polls.

More on voter suppression at Vox.

Before the Flood

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic teamed up to make a documentary about climate change called Before the Flood, available in its entirety on YouTube for a limited time.

Before the Flood, directed by Fisher Stevens, captures a three-year personal journey alongside Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio as he interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations who provide unique, impassioned and pragmatic views on what must be done today and in the future to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet.

Fisher Stevens, who you might remember from Short Circuit, also produced The Cove, which won an Oscar for best documentary in 2010.

Man films annual personal report from 1977 to 2011

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2016

In 1977, the Voyager space probes were launched from Earth to explore our solar system. That same year, Sam Klemke began a project to document his life on video, and in 2011, he made a video of 35 years of annual greetings/status reports. This video resulted in a documentary film, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine.

Beginning decades before the modern obsession with selfies and status updates, Sam grows from an optimistic teen to a self-important 20-year-old, into an obese, self-loathing thirty-something and onwards into his philosophical fifties.

A hypnotic display of robots making tiny springs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

A beautifully shot HD video of machines manufacturing springs and other wire gizmos. I love how all the tools take turns and work together to make the widgets. Imagine the chatter amongst the tools:

“Ok, thanks, my turn.”

“Here, hold this while I turn it. Alright, we’re out.”

“Lemme just bend that a little for you.”

“Outta the way, I just gotta twist this for a sec.”

(via @pieratt, who says to substitute Steve Reich for the provided music)

Patton Oswalt: “I’ll Never Be at 100 Percent Again”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

The actor and comic Patton Oswalt lost his wife earlier this year to an unknown cause.

This was, Mr. Oswalt said, the second worst day of his life: “The worst is when I told my daughter the next day.”

He paused his rushing monologue, his voice lowering as he skipped over that awful memory to one from the next day, when Alice mentioned “Inside Out,” the Pixar film peopled with characters representing a girl’s emotional states. “I guess Sadness is doing her job right now,” she said.

Oh man, what a thing. How do you even deal with that? I’ve had some sad, low days over the past three years, but nothing compared to what Oswalt’s going through.

Update: Oswalt has been talking about his wife’s death and the aftermath in appearances and his updated stand-up material.

“If they would call it a numb slog instead of a healing journey, it would make it a lot fucking easier!” Oswalt said. “Because when they call it a healing journey and it’s just a day of you eating Wheat Thins for breakfast in your underwear, it’s like, ‘I guess I’m fucking up my healing journey.’ But if they would say you’re going to have a numb slog, instead you’d go, ‘I’m nailing it!’”

He went on to say that when he would sometimes tell his wife that “everything happens for a reason,” she would tell him, “No it doesn’t.” Ironically, he said, she ended up proving her point to him “in the shittiest way possible.” He added, “She won the argument in the worst way!”

(via @austinkleon)

Update: Oswalt writes about becoming a single parent after the death of his wife.

It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen. Imagine Frances McDormand dying in the first act of Fargo and her dim-bulb patrol partner — the one who can’t recognize dealer plates — has to bring William H. Macy to justice.

I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won’t screw her up the way I know I will. Somebody help me! I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

I could barely get through this piece without losing it. Every single fear and anxiety I have is now channelled through my parenting. If this is what it feels like for me — and I am lucky to have time away from it and an amazing parenting partner — I cannot imagine what this feels like for a truly single parent like Oswalt.

FIFA in real life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

EA Sports’ FIFA is one of the most popular sports video games in the world. But it’s also a challenging game to master, which can make for some blooper-filled afternoons with your mates. In these two videos, real players get out onto the pitch to imitate the mannerisms and slip-ups of their video game counterparts.

A classic film noir trailer for Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

Blade Runner was made by Ridley Scott partly as an homage to classic film noir movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Woman in the Window. This trailer turns the noir factor up to 11; aside from a shot or two here and there, it portrays a film that could have been made in the 40s. (via one perfect shot)

Upgrade your life with rechargeable batteries

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Rechargeable Batteries

Are you ready? Because I am about to change your life! (Ok, only a little, but still.) If you’re still using disposable batteries and wastefully throwing them away after they’re spent, I want to you stop what you’re doing and — right now!! — order a charger and enough rechargeable AA batteries & AAA batteries to power all the devices in your life.1 I did this about three years ago and haven’t looked back.

Look around you: your remotes, your wireless mouse & keyboard, and your kid’s remote control car. Close your eyes, what else? Flashlight, portable radio, clocks, smoke detectors, etc. Count all those batteries up, add a few extras so you always have charged batteries on hand, and then order that many rechargeable batteries. Battery problems solved forever.

Why do this? For starters, throwing batteries away is wasteful & harmful to the environment and recycling them is inconvenient (which means you probably won’t do it). In addition to saving the planet, you’ll also save money in the long run. While rechargeables might cost you 2-3X the price of normal AA batteries, you can reuse them hundreds of times. I’ve changed the batteries in my mouse every 2-3 months over the past 3 years and only used 2 rechargeables vs. 24 normal batteries over the same period. Even factoring in the charger cost, you’re saving money. There’s also the convenience factor. I never have to run to the store anymore when the remote batteries die — there’s always a fresh pair of batteries in the drawer or in another device I can use while the spent ones quickly recharge.

Rechargeable batteries used to suck but they don’t anymore. They ship fully charged, last a long time with good power, charge quickly, stay charged while sitting on a shelf, can be reused hundreds and even thousands of times for years, and you can charge AAs and AAAs from different brands with the same charger at the same time. So buy a charger, buy some batteries, and upgrade your life.

  1. The batteries and chargers I’ve linked to here are the Wirecutter’s recommendations. I’ve personally been using the Eneloop charger and batteries with zero complaints.

Erasing the nipple from Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

Note: if you’re browsing at work, there are photos below that are probably NSFW even though they are artistic and making a political point. The project itself suggests that the idea of NSFW is dumb, which makes me uncomfortable about calling it out like this, but you know, pragmatism…not everyone can afford to have a conversation with their boss about why viewing art during the workday is a good idea.

Posting photos of full frontal nudity on Instagram is against their terms of service.1 No nipples, no pubic hair and certainly no vaginas or penises. Butts are ok though because…I dunno, everyone has one? For a project entitled Busts, model and photographer Sasha Frolova took inspiration from Instagram removing one of her photos and took portraits of women and seamlessly erased their nipples.

Sasha Frolova

Sasha Frolova

The photo taken down from Instagram was the catalyst for this series. It was a black and white self-portrait I took exhausted in the bath after a panic attack at age 16. Releasing it was a coming to terms with the fact that I no longer feel so unstable. Because of that, having it removed was particularly violating. But more than anything though I was offended that all it takes is a pizza emoji over my discreetly revealed nipples to make the image appropriate. Is the implication then that a woman, simply in her own existence, and anatomy is inappropriate, vulgar?

If the goal of Instagram’s policy is to “protect” people from images of sexuality, Frolova’s project shows that they haven’t quite succeeded.2

  1. Meanwhile, you can find porn of every kind on Twitter.

  2. Also OK according to Instagram’s policies are photographs of male nipples, full frontal female nudity with nipples, public hair, and vaginas scratched out, female nipples behind see through clothing, and explicit illustrations of sex (for instance), all of which can be sexual in nature.

Insights on animation from Brad Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2016

With The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles under his belt, Brad Bird is one of the most respected and accomplished animated filmmakers out there. For this video, Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. pieced together a number of interviews and commentary tracks of Bird talking about how he approaches animation. Among the topics he discusses are the pleasures of sneaking around, the advantages of slowing down, and an appreciation of keeping the lights low.

At one point, Bird talks about how some makers of animated movies create scenarios that are too fantastic and then are, later on in their films, unable to interject a true sense of danger into the plot.

The mistake that people often make with animated films is that they love the gravity-defying aspect of it. But, if you defy gravity and then later on need to feel danger, you have a really hard time convincing the audience.

Contemporary superhero movies, even the good ones, often have this problem, and I wonder if it’s because they are essentially made like animated films with too much of the gravity-defying aspect. With CG and flawless green screens, you can essentially make anything happen on the screen, which somewhat counterintuitively lowers the stakes of what you’re watching.

I thought Westworld was going to have the same problem. The first few episodes were boring because they were set in a world where no one could get injured or killed. Park visitors could roll up to a Western town with a few guns and kill all of the inhabitants without much effort and at no personal risk. There were no stakes and it totally broke the fourth wall. But from the way the last few episodes have gone, it’s apparent the danger will come (from elsewhere) and that having the audience (both of the HBO show and the park’s paying patrons) consider the fourth wall is part of the point.

AIDS and the myth of Patient Zero

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

Some recent genetic testing of the blood of AIDS patients has determined that the strain of HIV responsible for the majority of the AIDS cases in the US spread from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, from Haiti to NYC around 1971, and from there to San Francisco around 1976 and that Gaétan Dugas (aka Patient Zero) was not responsible for setting the epidemic in motion.

The strain of H.I.V. responsible for almost all AIDS cases in the United States, which was carried from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, spread from there to New York City around 1971, researchers concluded in the journal Nature. From New York, it spread to San Francisco around 1976.

The new analysis shows that Mr. Dugas’s blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York before he began visiting gay bars in the city after being hired by Air Canada in 1974.

The researchers also reported that originally, Mr. Dugas was not even called Patient Zero — in an early epidemiological study of cases, he was designated Patient O, for “outside Southern California,” where the study began. The ambiguous circular symbol on a chart was later read as a zero, stoking the notion that blame for the epidemic could be placed on one man.

A timeline of Barack Obama’s presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Obama in 2008 and 2016

In a big feature, New York Magazine chronologically recaps Barack Obama’s presidency with help from dozens of participants, including the President himself.

More than “hope,” Obama’s candidacy promised “one America.” It is the deep irony of his presidency, and for Obama himself probably the tragedy, that the past eight years saw the country fiercely divided against itself. The president still managed to get a ridiculous amount done, advancing an unusually progressive agenda. But however Americans end up remembering the Obama years decades from now, one thing we can say for sure is that it did not feel, at the time, like an unmitigated liberal triumph. It felt like a cold civil war.

Or a never-breaking political fever. There was the tea-party rage and Occupy Wall Street. Every other week, it seemed, a new shooting. Each movement was met by a countermovement, and yet, somehow, both the left and the right were invigorated, watched over by a president marked so deeply by temperamental centrism even his supporters called him Spock. Whether you noticed or not, our culture was shaken to its core. There was a whole new civil-rights era, both for those whose skin color and for those whose love was long met by prejudice. The first iPhone was released during the 2008 campaign. We got our news from Facebook, debated consent, and took down Bill Cosby. Elon Musk built a spaceship to Mars.

The dude got a lot done, despite a Congress that fought him tooth and nail for all eight years. Writing that just reminded me: Obama’s March nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is still pending in the Senate. They’re holding it for a possible Trump-nominated judge.

The western rock covers in Westworld

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2016

I haven’t quite figured out if HBO’s new show Westworld is any good or not,1 but I’m sticking with it at least through the first season. One of the fun things about the show — ok, maybe the only fun thing, Westworld takes itself pretty seriously — is the western-style covers of rock songs by the likes of Radiohead, Soundgarden, and The Rolling Stones. There’s a mini playlist of the main theme and some of the covers — Paint It Black by the Stones and Radiohead’s No Surprises — up on Spotify.

Oh, and here’s one of the most popular fan theories out there: the multiple timeline theory.

Update: The entire “two-disk” album from season 1 is up, which includes original music as well as covers like Radiohead’s Exit Music (For a Film). LOL.

  1. The show is giving off some serious Lost vibes. Lost, if you’ll remember, started off very strong and then the people running the show got lost themselves and had no idea how to keep the whole thing from being an incoherent wreck. Thinking they’d turn it around somehow, I watched until the very end, and, disgusted by the ending, have never thought about it again, except in a context like this. Westworld, don’t play me like that!

A trailer for David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Did you know that George Lucas approached David Lynch about directing Return of the Jedi? After a visit to Lucas’ studio described here by Lynch, Lynch turned Lucas down pretty quickly. But what might have been, huh? Well, this fan-made trailer gives us a taste of a Lynch-helmed Star Wars movie. (via one perfect shot)

A well-designed reissue of Newton’s Principia

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

Newton Principia

Small Spanish publisher Kronecker Wallis is doing a Kickstarter campaign to print a well-designed version of Isaac Newton’s Principia, one of the most important texts in science.

We have spent several months working on a desire. The desire to have a new edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia in our hands that is on a par with the importance of the text and of modern editorial design. To put it back on our shelves so that we can leaf through it from time to time and feel the pages beneath our fingers.

An opportunity has now arisen. Taking advantage of the fact that the original publication is to celebrate its 330th anniversary in 2017, we wish to republish it with an editorial design that pays attention to every last detail.

I am enjoying this trend of reviving old classics through the lens of modern design and packaging; see also the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual, the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, and the Voyager Golden Record.

Best of Luck With the Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

In his film Best of Luck With the Wall, director Josh Begley takes us on a journey across the entire US/Mexico border. It’s a simple premise — a continuous display of 200,000 satellite images of the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico — but one that delivers a powerful feeling of how large the world is and how meaningless borders are from a certain perspective.

The project started from a really simple place. It was about looking. It was about the pure desire to understand the visual landscape that we are talking about when we are talking about the southern border of the United States. What does the southern border of the United States actually look like? And in that sense it was a very simple gesture to try to see the border in aggregate. If you were to compile all 2000 miles and try to see it in a short space — what would that look like? In another sense it grew out of the discourses as you suggested. The way migration is talked about in our contemporary moment and in particular the way migration is talked about in terms of the southern border of the U.S. So part of this piece is a response to the way migrants and borders are talked about in our politics. And it’s also just a way of looking at landscape as a way to think about some of those things.

The online version of the film is 6 minutes long, but Begley states that longer versions might make their way into galleries and such.

The forger who saved 1000s of Jews from the Nazis

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

During the German occupation of France, teenager Adolfo Kaminsky forged thousands of documents for Jews about to be deported to concentration camps. He worked at a shop that dyed clothes and a Jewish resistance cell recruited him because he knew how to remove ink stains, a skill that served him well in altering documents.

If you’re doubting whether you’ve done enough with your life, don’t compare yourself to Mr. Kaminsky. By his 19th birthday, he had helped save the lives of thousands of people by making false documents to get them into hiding or out of the country. He went on to forge papers for people in practically every major conflict of the mid-20th century.

Now 91, Mr. Kaminsky is a small man with a long white beard and tweed jacket, who shuffles around his neighborhood with a cane. He lives in a modest apartment for people with low incomes, not far from his former laboratory.

When I followed him around with a film crew one day, neighbors kept asking me who he was. I told them he was a hero of World War II, though his story goes on long after that.

A remarkable story and a remarkable gentleman. The video above is based on a book Kaminsky’s daughter wrote about him.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

In this video, American poet Maya Angelou recites her poem Still I Rise, which was published in 1978. The recitation includes some opening remarks…the poem begins like so:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Wonderful. That little chuckle after “Does my sassiness upset you?” — amazing. And it’s interesting to see how she deviates from the written text in her performance, a reminder that even the finest things in the world — like freedom, like liberty, like democracy — need to be refreshed and remade anew in order to remain vital. (via swiss miss)

Video games affecting real life sports

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

In the NY Times, Rory Smith writes about how video games like FIFA and Football Manager have changed professional soccer.

As Iwobi suggests, however, they increasingly do more than that: They are not merely representations of the game, but influencers of it. Iwobi is not the only player who believes that what he does on the field has been influenced by what he has seen rendered on a screen.

Ibrahimovic said that he would “often spot solutions in the games that I then parlayed into real life” as a young player. Mats Hummels, the Bayern Munich and Germany defender, has suggested that “maybe some people use what they learn in FIFA when they find themselves on a pitch.”

As a teen, Matt Neil went from a player of Football Manager to researcher for the game to working as a analyst for a League Two club.

I’m now an analyst at Plymouth. We’ve just signed the goalkeeper Marc McCallum, who some FM players will remember was an incredible prospect at Dundee United as a kid. I used to sign him all the time. When he came for a trial this summer, he walked in and it was one of the strangest moments in my life. I’ve never met him in person — I’d only ever seen his face on a computer game — but straight away I knew it was him.

I spoke to him at a pre-season game the next day. We got around to the subject of Football Manager and he’d been in charge of Argyle on the last game, getting them to the Premier League and signing himself. I asked him what he did when he first took over, and he said he got rid of all the staff. So I said: “Did you sack me?” And it turned out he’d actually sacked me as well. It was a strange opening conversation to have with someone.

American football and the Madden franchise have a similar relationship. The game is so realistic that prospective players can learn NFL-style offenses and established players like Drew Brees use the game to prep for the games ahead.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback told Yahoo! Sports in an interview this week that modern football simulation games such as Madden NFL have become so realistic that playing them during downtime can actually have a positive impact on the athlete’s on-field performance.

“Down the road it is going to be even more so,” Brees said. “The games are getting more lifelike every year, and everything in Madden is based on what really happens on the field.

“The plays are the same, it is updated all the time and you can go through a lot of stuff without having to get hit. I can definitely see a time when these things are used a lot more to help players.”

A quick perspective on how big some things are

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2016

Quick Perspective

Quick Perspective

Quick Perspective

Kevin Wisbeth, who runs a new YouTube series called A Quick Perspective that compares things like the Space Shuttle and the Megalodon (biggest shark ever) to more familiar objects like buildings and cars. Here’s the Shuttle video:

Wisbeth shared some comparison images deemed unworthy for full videos on Imgur. The examples I’ve included above are a) the Titanic resting comfortably on the deck of a US aircraft carrier,1 b) the Death Star floating just over Florida, and c) the Sears Tower resting at the bottom of one of the world’s largest mines.

Reminds me of BERG’s now-defunct BBC Dimensions project and Manhattan Elsewhere. (via colossal)

  1. And aircraft carriers aren’t even the biggest ships out there. Here’s a photo of the Titanic compared to the Allure of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world.

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2016

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes is a documentary film by Jon Ronson about Kubrick’s personal archive of more than 1000 boxes filled with material (photos, news clippings, letters, research materials, etc.) related to his films. Ronson wrote about how he got access to the archive in a 2004 Guardian piece.

The journey to the Kubrick house starts normally. You drive through rural Hertfordshire, passing ordinary-sized postwar houses and opticians and vets. Then you turn right at an electric gate with a “Do Not Trespass” sign. Drive through that, and through some woods, and past a long, white fence with the paint peeling off, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and then another electric gate, and you’re in the middle of an estate full of boxes.

There are boxes everywhere — shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen portable cabins, each packed with boxes. These are the boxes that contain the legendary Kubrick archive.

Was the Times right? Would the stuff inside the boxes offer an understanding of his “tangled brain”? I notice that many of the boxes are sealed. Some have, in fact, remained unopened for decades.

Ronson did not upload his film to Vimeo, but he is “delighted” that it’s available online, so hopefully it won’t disappear soon.

In-N-Out Burger is overrated

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2016

While I don’t quite agree, I did enjoy reading Andy Kryza’s take on In-N-Out: In-N-Out Is Crushingly Disappointing.

This is your basic, salty, flat-grilled burger that you can get absolutely anywhere. If somebody gave me a blind taste-test between this and most other fast-food burgers, I might be able to distinguish In-N-Out, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s highly generic, as if culled together from a series of stock photos: bun, burger, watery lettuce, and a slice of tomato. Sure, you can get it Animal Style, but be honest: Animal Style sauce tastes like Whole Foods’ version of Big Mac sauce, except not as good.

And as Anil Dash said on Twitter:

it’s the best burger for people who eat a burger for the vegetables

They are in different leagues — an In-N-Out cheeseburger is $2.35 while a Shackburger goes for $5.29 — so a comparison is unfair, but in my mind, that extra $3 at the Shack buys you a lot of flavor. Still, as Kryza says, next time I’m in CA, I’m gonna get myself a burger at In-N-Out.

The Central Park Five

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

In the late 1980s, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park. The Central Park Five is a documentary film directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon which tells the story from the perspective of the those five teens. I’ve seen the film, it’s excellent, and it’s currently available to watch for free on the PBS website.

The five men and this terrific miscarriage of justice are back in the news because of Donald Trump. In 1989, just a few weeks after the attack in Central Park, Trump took out a full-page ad in the Daily News denouncing the crime and the teens in which he calls for bringing back the death penalty.

Perhaps he thought it gave him gravitas, that spring, to weigh in on the character of the teen-agers in the park: “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

When NYC finally settled with the wrongly convicted men in 2014, Trump denounced the settlement, joining a police detective in calling it “the heist of the century.” And just before Trump’s crowing about sexual assault of women broke over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed that despite all evidence to the contrary, he believes that the five men are still guilty.

Louis C.K. on the 2016 election

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2016

On Conan last night, Louis C.K. had some things to say about the 2016 presidential election.

If you vote for Hillary you’re a grownup; if you vote for Trump you’re a sucker; if you don’t vote for anyone, you’re an asshole.

Paperholm: a tiny paper metropolis

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2016

Paperholm

Originally conceived as a year-long project, artist Charles Young keep going and has built an entire model city out of paper consisting of more than 600 buildings. It’s called Paperholm and many of the structures are constructed with moving parts.

Paperholm

I would like to live in some of these buildings, please. (via colossal)

Trump fact-checked in the style of Ron Howard’s Arrested Development narration

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

I am soooo tired of this election and this stupid, lying, racist, sexist, bullying predator of a candidate and the memes but this Arrested Development-style fact-checking of Donald Trump is really pretty good and right in my wheelhouse. I am terrible at following my own advice.

We’ve reached the end of white Christian America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

America is no longer a majority white, Christian country.

At 45 percent of the population, white Christians are a shrinking demographic — and the backlash from many members of the group against the increasing diversification of America has been swift and bitter.

The narrator of the video, Robert P. Jones, wrote a book about this new reality called The End of White Christian America.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA) — the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians — set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

The importance of seeing yourself clearly

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2016

In a piece excerpted from his new book, Millennium: From Religion to Revolution: How Civilization Has Changed Over a Thousand Years, Ian Mortimer argues that the introduction of glass mirrors circa 1300 in Venice spurred the shift to an individualistic society because people were able to see themselves clearly for the first time.

Polished metal and obsidian mirrors have existed from ancient times, and because of this, historians have usually passed over the introduction of the glass mirror as if it was just another variation on an old theme. But the development of glass mirrors marks a crucial shift, for they allowed people to see themselves properly for the first time, with all their unique expressions and characteristics. Polished metal mirrors of copper or bronze were very inefficient by comparison, reflecting only about 20 percent of the light; and even silver mirrors had to be exceptionally smooth to give any meaningful reflection. These were also prohibitively expensive: most medieval people would only have glimpsed their faces darkly, reflected in a pool of water.

What an odd thing, to not actually know what your face looks like, and yet for most of human history, that was the case. Also interesting that the rise of glass mirrors led to an increase of commissioned painted portraits:

People’s ability to appreciate their unique appearance led to a huge rise in the number of portraits commissioned, especially in the Low Countries and Italy. While almost all the oil paintings that survive from the fourteenth century are of a religious nature, the few exceptions are portraits. This trend toward portraiture grew in the fifteenth century, and came to dominate nonreligious art. As important men increasingly commissioned artists to create their likenesses, the more those likenesses were viewed, encouraging other people to have their portraits painted.

Steven Johnson discussed glass mirrors in the opening chapter of his book How We Got To Now.

At the exact moment that the glass lens was allowing us to extend our vision to the stars or microscopic cells, glass mirrors were allowing us to see ourselves for the first time. It set in motion a reorientation of society that was more subtle, but no less transformative, than the reorientation of our place in the universe that the telescope engendered. “The most powerful prince in the world created a vast hall of mirrors, and the mirror spread from one room to another in the bourgeois household,” Lewis Mumford writes in his Technics and Civilization. “Self-consciousness, introspection, mirror-conversation developed with the new object itself.”

Social conventions as well as property rights and other legal customs began to revolve around the individual rather than the older, more collective units: the family, the tribe, the city, the kingdom. People began writing about their interior lives with far more scrutiny. Hamlet ruminated onstage; the novel emerged as a dominant form of storytelling, probing the inner mental lives of its characters with an unrivaled depth. Entering a novel, particularly a first-person narrative, was a kind of conceptual parlor trick: it let you swim through the consciousness, the thoughts and emotions, of other people more effectively than any aesthetic form yet invented. The psychological novel, in a sense, is the kind of story you start wanting to hear once you begin spending meaningful hours of your life staring at yourself in the mirror.

If glass mirrors helped bring about such a shift in society, I wonder how society is shifting with the ability, only over the past 10-15 years or so, for people to instantly share their inner thoughts and selfies with friends, family, and even strangers many times every day? Is this more “seeing ourselves clearly” (individualism) or is the ability to allow others to see us clearly so frequently steering us back toward collectivism? Or somewhere else entirely?

Global weirding continues with massive Arctic warm-up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2016

Arctic Warming 2016

Something is rotten to the north of Denmark. Climate scientists are alarmed at the extreme warmth in the Arctic right now. It’s currently dark up there 24 hours a day, which usually means cold temperatures and rapidly freezing ice. Instead, temperatures are risingArctic temps are currently a whopping 36°F above normal.

“The Arctic warmth is the result of a combination of record-low sea-ice extent for this time of year, probably very thin ice, and plenty of warm/moist air from lower latitudes being driven northward by a very wavy jet stream.”

Francis has published research suggesting that the jet stream, which travels from west to east across the Northern Hemisphere in the mid-latitudes, is becoming more wavy and elongated as the Arctic warms faster than the equator does.

“It will be fascinating to see if the stratospheric polar vortex continues to be as weak as it is now, which favors a negative Arctic Oscillation and probably a cold mid/late winter to continue over central and eastern Asia and eastern North America. The extreme behavior of the Arctic in 2016 seems to be in no hurry to quit,” Francis continued.

Is 2017 the year the Arctic finally loses most of the ice cap during the summer?

Your Black Mirror reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

Black Mirror Reading List

Over at GQ, Lincoln Michel shares 12 Books to Read After Binge-Watching Black Mirror. Among them:

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

Earlier this month, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker shared 105 cultural artifacts that influenced the series, including some surprises like Fawlty Towers — “often in our episodes, someone is trapped at the center of a dilemma they never get out of, and that describes every episode of Fawlty Towers” — Airplane!, and Radiohead’s The National Anthem, as well as more familiar influences like 2001, The X-Files, and The Matrix. Only a handful of books on the list though, including:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.
On Killing by Dave Grossman.

On Twitter recently, Joshua Topolsky called Black Mirror “the show for people who’ve never read any science fiction”. Perhaps that’s because Brooker hasn’t really either?

Beastie Boys / Daft Punk mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2016

This is pretty simple: 8 songs from the Beastie Boys remixed using beats and samples from Daft Punk. If you need further prompting, it’s probably not for you.

Kanye songs slowed down to match the tempo of the original samples

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Here’s a playlist of snippets of five Kanye West songs that contain samples played at the original tempo of those samples. (A couple of the songs are his and some he was featured on or produced.) (thx, brant)

Portraits of culinary students in a program for low-income and homeless people

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2016

Chefs SF

Chefs SF

Episcopal Community Services runs a program called CHEFS that provides food industry training for homeless and low-income people in San Francisco. Photographer Wesley Verhoeve visited the program to take portraits of the students and staff. The photos accompany a San Francisco Magazine article that has more information on the program.

The seven-month program culminates in a 240-hour internship at participating eateries like Nopa and Kokkari; Hanks completed her internship at Lotta’s Bakery in Nob Hill, where she was struck by the universal power of food. “We cook when somebody dies, we cook when a child is born,” she says. “I’ve realized cooking is related to everything: to family, to religion, to happiness, to sadness.”

The four types of board games

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2016

In The Oxford History of Board Games published in 1999, scholar David Parlett wrote that there are four types of classical board game: race, chase, space, and displace. The book is out of print (but is available direct from the author as a PDF), so I found this description of Parlett’s categorization in a book by Stewart Woods called Eurogames.

In categorizing these public domain or “folk” games, Parlett (1999) draws on the work of H.J.R. Murray (1952) and R.C. Bell (1979) in describing four types of game, as identified by the game goals: race games, in which players traverse a track in an attempt to be the first to finish (e.g. Nyout, Pachisi); space games, in which players manipulate the position of pieces to achieve prescribed alignments, make connections, or traverse the board (e.g. Noughts and Crosses, Twixt, and Halma, respectively); chase games, in which asymmetrical starting positions and goals cast players in the role of pursuer and pursued (e.g. Hnefatafl, Fox & Geese); and games of displacement, where symmetrically equipped players attempt to capture and eliminate each other’s pieces (e.g. Chess, Draughts).

You’re probably unfamiliar with some of these games (as I was). For race games, Parcheesi is a modern version of pachisi…other examples would be Sorry, Candyland, or Snakes and Ladders. Noughts and crosses is tic-tac-toe; other space games include Go and Connect 4. A modern example of a chase game might be Clue. And as written above, chess and draughts (checkers) are classic displace games. (via @genmon)

Really Bad Chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2016

Really Bad Chess

Really Bad Chess is an iOS game by Zach Gage that randomizes the distribution of pieces when the board is set up, so that you might start a game with 4 queens, 3 knights, and only 2 pawns in the back row. The result is that you get a completely new strategic game each time, but you still play with the familiar tactical rules of chess. What a great idea…I can’t tell if people who really love chess will love or hate this.

Update: See also Knightmare Chess:

Knightmare Chess is played with cards that change the default rules of chess. The cards might change how a piece moves, move opponent’s pieces, create special squares on the board or otherwise alter the game.

and Chess960 invented by Bobby Fischer:

It employs the same board and pieces as standard chess; however, the starting position of the pieces on the players’ home ranks is randomized. The random setup renders the prospect of obtaining an advantage through the memorization of opening lines impracticable, compelling players to rely on their talent and creativity.

(via @JonRelf & @akasian)

Human landscapes of the American Southwest

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

Human SW

Human SW

Human SW

Alan Taylor has compiled a bunch of satellite photography showing how humans have altered the landscape of the American Southwest.

Humans have lived in what we now call the American Southwest for centuries, making a wide impact on the land, much of it visible from aerial and satellite photography. Nuclear detonations, housing subdivisions, oil exploration, hydroelectric facilities, solar power facilities, roads, mines, farms, ranches, cities, and towns have altered much of the land over the years.

The photos, from top to bottom: a road cuts through White Sands, NM, a former nuclear testing site in NV (those are craters left from nuclear explosions), and a housing development south of Denver.

Calculating Ada

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

From the BBC, an hour-long documentary on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

You might have assumed that the computer age began with some geeks out in California, or perhaps with the codebreakers of World War II. But the pioneer who first saw the true power of the computer lived way back, during the transformative age of the Industrial Revolution.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

Breakfast

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

A quick short film about how different people in LA approach breakfast, from the woman who nibbles to the professional bodybuilder who eats 30 egg whites and a cup of grits on his off day.

Me? I almost never eat breakfast and have been unwittingly following an intermittent fasting regimen for many years.

Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

I reported back in February that the BBC was doing another season of Planet Earth with David Attenborough (aka the voice of nature). Now there’s a trailer out (with a Sigur Ros soundtrack) and the show is set to debut in the UK on BBC One later this month. In US? Who knows… probably in 8 months with Ellen Degeneres narrating.

Update: Planet Earth II, a massive hit in Britain already, will debut on US television tomorrow (Feb 18). You can catch the first episode on AMC, BBC America, and Sundance TV. And unlike the original Planet Earth, they’ve thankfully kept the original Attenborough narration for the US version of Planet Earth II.

Incredible iguana/snake chase scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2016

The year’s best action sequence isn’t in a Marvel movie or prestige TV drama, it’s from the first episode of Planet Earth II, which aired in the UK over the weekend. In it, a group of snakes chase a small iguana, which seems at the outset to have a tiny chance of escape.

Good god, that was thrilling. We might have a new champion.

Update: I love Tony Zhou’s cut with the soundtrack from Mad Max: Fury Road (with temp music, he says). Be sure to watch to the end.

(via @philnicklin)

The Universe has 10 times more galaxies than we thought

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2016

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

A recent paper claims that the Universe has 10 times more galaxies than we previously thought: an estimated 2 trillion galaxies covering every single patch of sky visible from the Earth. But that doesn’t mean the Universe is more massive or that it contains more stars. Phil Plait explains:

Now, let me be clear. This doesn’t meant the Universe is ten times bigger than we thought, or there are ten times as many stars. I’ll explain — I mean, duh, it’s what I do — but to cut to the chase, what they found is that there are lots of teeny, faint galaxies very far away that have gone undetected. So instead of being in a smaller number of big galaxies, stars are divvied up into a bigger number of smaller ones.

So how many stars are there in the Universe? The Milky Way contains about 400 billion stars. Some massive elliptical galaxies house more than 100 trillion stars. Estimates of the total number are rough, but it’s probably around 10^24 stars…that’s a septillion stars, a trillion trillion. It’s absurd that we’d be the only planet in the Universe with life on it.

WWW: The Way We Were

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

Note: There are some *major* unavoidable spoilers about the finale of season three of Halt and Catch Fire in this post. If you’ve been watching (and you definitely should be), you might want to catch the finale first and then come back.

The final two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire aired last night. The previous eight episodes of the season took place in the mid-1980s with Joe running something like Norton or McAfee in San Francisco, and Cameron, Donna, and Gordon running a dial-up service like Compuserve for playing online video games, chatting, and selling stuff on a nascent Etsy. In the 8th episode, a lot of that changed and the characters headed their separate ways.

For the final two episodes, the show jumps forward to 1990, and in the last episode, Donna brings the four main characters (plus Cameron’s husband Tom, who works for Sega in Japan) back together to talk about a new and potentially revolutionary idea that’s crossed her desk at the VC firm where she’s now a senior partner: the World Wide Web. The five of them meet over two days, trying to figure out if there’s a business to be built on the Web — Joe argues metaphorically that they should build a stadium while Cameron says that no one’s gonna come to the stadium unless you have a kickass band playing (lack of compelling content) and then Gordon retorts that rock n’ roll hasn’t even been invented yet (aka there’s no network for this to run on). The discussion, some anachronisms and having the benefit of hindsight aside, is remarkably high level for a television audience…I doubt I could explain the Web so well.

At the second meeting, Joe, who is a Steve Jobs / Larry Ellison sort of character, has had some time to think about the appeal of the Web and lays out his vision (italics mine):

Joe: Berners-Lee wrote HTML to view and edit the Web and HTTP so that it could talk to itself. The chatter could be cacophonous, it could be deafeningly silent. Big picture: What will the World Wide Web become? Short answer: Who knows?

Donna: Ok, so what’s your point?

Joe: It’s a waste of time to try to figure out what the Web will become, we just don’t know. Because right now, at the end of the day, it’s just an online research catalog running on NeXT computers on a small network in Europe.

Cam: So, you’re saying everything we’ve talked about since we got here has been a waste of time?

Joe: I’m saying let’s take a step back. Literally step back.

Gordon: What is this on the board?

Joe: It’s the code for the Web browser.

Tom: And you wrote it all on the whiteboard.

Donna: The online catalog of research?

Cameron: Full of Norwegian dudes’ physics papers and particle diagrams and stuff?

Gordon: And we care about this because why?

Joe: How did we all get here today? The choices we made? The sheer force of our wills, something like that? Here’s another answer: the winds of fate, random coincidence, some unseen hand pushing us along. Destiny. How did we all get here today? We walked through this door. We don’t have to build a big white box or stadium or invent rock n’ roll. The moment we decide what the Web is, we’ve lost. The moment we try to tell people what to do with it, we’ve lost. All we have to do is build a door and let them inside.

When I was five, my mother took me to the city. And we went through the Holland Tunnel and it was basic, concrete and steel, but it was also my excitement sitting in the backseat, wondering when it was going to be our turn to emerge, it was the explosion of sunlight. And when we exited the tunnel, all of Manhattan was laid out before us. And that was the best part of the trip: the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending.

This is the first Web browser, the one CERN built to view and edit research. I wrote it up here for you to see how simple it is. It takes up one whiteboard — that’s basic concrete and steel — but we can take this and we can build a door and we can be the first ones to do it because right now, everyone else sees this…

Donna: …as an online research catalog…

Gordon: …running on NeXT…

Cameron: …on a network in Europe.

Joe: And with this handful of code, we can build the Holland Tunnel.

It’s Don Draper’s carousel speech from Mad Men…but for the Web. And it hit me right in the feels. Hard. When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I would sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap — “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” — and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.

Which is why this scene wrecked me so hard. The Web that they are talking about on the show, the open Web, is ailing, dying. It was like listening to a eulogy at a funeral, this thing that I love, poured the best of my self into, gone forever. Of course that’s not strictly true, the Web is still a fabulous place where anyone can set up a site to do, say, or sell whatever they want, but instead of the promise of small pieces loosely joined, what we mostly got was large pieces tightly coupled. Today’s Web browsers and apps are Holland Tunnels that open up right into shopping malls instead of open city streets. Facebook makes it absurdly easy to start your own blog that all your friends and family can conveniently read, but you give up the freedom to say anything you want, it’s impossible to move those words elsewhere if you’d like (I’m talking with URLs and social graph intact), and they sell advertising against your words & images and you don’t get a cut.

Now, I’m not advocating a Make The Web Great Again policy because the open Web of the 90s had many problems, the greatest of which was a lack of access for anyone without the free time and skills necessary to set up a web server, install software, etc. etc., not to mention the expense involved. Today’s Web is much more accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels and as a result you see much more participation across the socioeconomic spectrum, especially in developing countries.

But the open Web enthusiasts and advocates missed an opportunity to take what the Web was in the 90s and make that available to everyone. Instead of walled gardens like Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium (which echo the closed online services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve that predated the Web), imagine a bunch of smaller services bound together with open protocols where individuals have both freedom and convenience. At this stage, building an open Twitter or open Facebook is nearly impossible, but it wouldn’t have been 10-12 years ago. I hope I’m wrong, but with all of the entrenched incumbents and money pumping into online services, I’m afraid that time has truly passed. And it’s breaking my heart.

Legacy: David Bowie’s greatest hits compilation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

A pair of greatest hits albums by David Bowie have been released.

The album collects together a selection of Bowie’s most popular tracks and singles, from 1969’s ‘Space Oddity’, through to the final singles ‘Lazarus’ and ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, issued earlier this year.

BOWIE - LEGACY will be available as a 1 CD and a Deluxe 2 CD from November 11th. These will be followed by a double vinyl album version on January 6th, 2017.

The album is available in a shorter 1-disc length and as a double album (embedded above). 2016 took Bowie from us, but maybe a little Bowie can help us through the rest of the year.

Urged to eat less meat, Americans are actually eating more

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2016

For most of the past decade, consumption of meat in the United States remained flat or declined.

For environmental, health, and animal welfare advocates, this was great news. Surely it meant that efforts to raise awareness about the disturbing impacts of meat production were inspiring people to cut back on hamburgers and bacon. As Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection for the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in 2012, “The pressure is being felt all over, and for the first time in decades, our overconsumption of meat is beginning to get reined in.”

But according to research by a Dutch bank, US meat consumption jumped in 2015.

Not only was last year noteworthy for the near 5% increase in per capita consumption, but also due to the fact that the growth was achieved without the help of beef, consumption of which was flat. We expect US protein production growth of 2.5% per annum through 2018 — down from 3% in 2015 — with beef being the largest contributor relative to pork and poultry.

What drove the decline in the first place? Price. It always comes back to supply and demand.

Ranchers and farmers trimmed their herds because of the recession, historically high feed costs, and drought in the Great Plains. Meanwhile, domestic disease outbreaks like porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, meant that tens of thousands of hogs never made it to market. So Americans cut back on meat.

But by 2015, many of these issues driving higher prices were resolved. The retail price of beef has dropped by 22 percent, pork by 7 percent, and chicken by 5 percent. So Americans are eating more meat again.

“Consumers are responding to falling prices. That’s a big part of the story,” says Sawyer. The chicken industry, in particular, has also gotten more efficient and more capable of raising chickens fast.

I was at the grocery store last night and was shocked by the prices in the meat aisle. Lots of cuts on sale for just a few dollars a pound. (via the latest and particularly excellent issue of Susan MacMillan’s newsletter)

Designing Your Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2016

Designing Your Life is one of the most popular courses at Stanford. Taught by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, the class teaches how you can use design thinking and techniques to shape your life and career. Burnett and Evans just came out with a book based on the class, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

The course itself isn’t available online, but there are a couple of lectures from the class available on YouTube: Reframe Your Passion and Prototypes for Personal Success.

Wes Anderson is doing another animated movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2016

In an interview with Alexander Olch, founder of the cool new Metrograph theater in NYC, Wes Anderson just casually reveals that he’s doing another stop-motion animated movie that’s currently in production.

I’ve got an animated movie I’m doing that’s happening across the room from me right now. So I can see a long list of e-mails from people on the set whom I now need to address.

We know from about a year ago that dogs are involved, as are Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum. Looking forward to this one…Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson’s most underrated film.

P.S. In the same interview, Anderson and Olch briefly discuss Powers of Ten. :)

Olly Moss designed the covers for the Harry Potter ebooks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2016

Olly Moss Potter

I first ran across the work of designer Olly Moss several years ago, when he designed some super-simple alternate posters for iconic movies. He’s since worked on a whole bunch of great stuff, like Firewatch and posters for Studio Ghibli. Just the other day, while the kids and I were finding out what our Patronuses are,1 I discovered that Moss not only designed the cover of the forthcoming ebook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but also did the covers for all seven of the Harry Potter ebooks.

Olly Moss Potter

Moss’ main technique, of combining two or more aspects of the story into a single image, is on full display in the Potter covers — the prison on a rock shaped like a dog for Azkaban, Voldemort as Harry’s scar for Hallows, and Dumbledore’s spell casting forming the pages of a textbook for Half-Blood Prince.

  1. My Patronus is a badger. We also got sorted into our Hogwarts houses (Gryffindor for all three) and picked out wands (mine makes me sound like kind of an asshole). The sorting and wand choosing processes are basically personality tests. If you’ve never sat down with your kids and taken a personality test, I encourage you to do so. It was quite enlightening, not only seeing what they chose, but also seeing how they reacted to my choices and, especially, how I felt making those choices in front of them. I answered pretty honestly about who I think I am and what I would do in certain situations, but being watched so closely by two small humans who look to me to guide their choices in life was unsettling and caused me to second-guess some things. Like I said, enlightening.

Found: van Gogh’s lost sketchbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

Van Gogh Drawing

In 2013, art historian Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov was asked to look at some drawings that may have been done by Vincent van Gogh. What she found was an entire sketchbook containing 65 drawings done by the artist during his time spent in Provence.

As Welsh-Ovcharov began the painstaking process of authenticating the works over the past three years, the story of the sketchbook also came to light.

It was, in fact, an old-fashioned business ledger, approximately 26 by 40 centimetres, that had been given to van Gogh in May 1888 by the owners of a café in Arles, where he was temporarily living. The high-quality blank pages were ideal for use as an artist’s sketchbook.

Two years later, after van Gogh cut off his ear following an argument with the painter Paul Gauguin and spent many months in hospitals in Arles and Saint-Rémy, a doctor he had befriended returned the book of drawings to the café owners. Then for generations, it languished, likely stored with other business ledgers.

Fortunately, there was independent proof that this was van Gogh’s work, thanks to a small notebook that had also belonged to the café, documenting daily activities. It contained an entry for May 20, 1890 noting that van Gogh’s friend, Dr. Felix Rey, had returned a large album of drawings, along with some empty olive jars and towels, to the café owners on behalf of the artist.

Drawing from the sketchbook are being released as a book: Vincent van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook.

Update: As noted in the CBC piece, The Van Gogh Museum disputes the authenticity of the sketchbook.

At an earlier stage (in 2008 and 2012), our experts gave their opinion on its authenticity — an opinion not mentioned in the publication — at the request of various owners of drawings from the album. Our researchers and curators are happy about every new work that can correctly be attributed to Van Gogh, but on the basis of high-quality photographs sent to them of 56 of the 65 drawings now published, they concluded that these could not be attributed to Vincent van Gogh. After examining a number of the original drawings in 2013 and reading the recent publication, our experts have not changed their minds.

Their evidence is that the drawings do not show van Gogh’s characteristic style, use the wrong ink, contain many topographical errors, and so on. (thx, everyone)

Airportraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

Airportrait

Airportrait

Airportrait

Mike Kelley has travelled to airports all over the world, photographing planes taking off and landing and then stitching them together into photos showing each airport’s traffic. (via @feltron whose book features an Airportrait on the cover)

An American Tragedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2016

David Remnick, writing on the occasion of Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency of the United States.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President — a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit — and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

I’ve had the good fortune to meet David Remnick — he calls Obama “a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit” because it takes one to know one — and it is remarkable to hear him write like this. At times, he sounds downright unhinged. But he’s not wrong. This is our reality now and looking for upsides right now seems like grasping at straws. Donald Trump has told us, repeatedly and proudly, who he is over the past 16 months, and it seems foolish not to take him at his word.

On a personal note, I am so emotionally overloaded right now I feel empty. It’s difficult to see how to move on from this, where to go from here, even as it relates to my work. Right now, I can’t access the part of me that knows kottke.org, if only in a small way, is a thing that needs doing. At its best, I hope that the site is a source of thoughtful optimism and that it celebrates the best of humanity, the spirit of curiosity, and the necessity of art, writing, photography, science, music, and other pursuits that allow people tell their stories and explore what it means to be human. I hope we’ll be able to explore those things together again soon, but not today.

Today, hug your loved ones. Connect with your friends. Be there for someone else. Yes, look for the helpers, but also take a moment to help someone out. Start small. Build. We’ll get there.

Half a house and other incremental buildings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2016

An architecture firm called Elemental recently completed a disaster relief project in a city in Chile which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Rather than build typical public housing (high-rise apartments), the firm built out neighborhoods with the necessary infrastructure and populated them with half-finished houses.

Half A House

The houses are simple, two-story homes, each with wall that runs down the middle, splitting the house in two. One side of the house is ready to be moved into. The other side is just a frame around empty space, waiting to be built out by the occupant.

That’s from a recent episode of 99% Invisible that covered the trend toward incremental buildings.

These half-built houses are a unique response from urban planners to the housing deficit in cities around the world. The approach has its roots in a building methodology made popular by the 1972 essay, “Housing is a Verb,” by architect John F.C. Turner. Turner made the case that housing ought not be a static unit that is packaged and handed over to people. Rather, housing should be conceived of as an ongoing project wherein residents are co-creators.

Cool idea…they’ve built How Buildings Learn into the process of home ownership.

A history of pencil lead and how pencils are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

This video is a combination of two things I like very much: long zoom histories and how things are made. The first part of the video follows the story of graphite back to the Big Bang.

[Carl Sagan-eque interlude: “If you want to make a pencil from scratch, first you must invent the universe.”]

The second part shows how pencils are made. Most surprising discovery while watching: Henry David Thoreau (yes, that one) was a talented pencil engineer:

John’s thoughtful son David*, unemployed after graduating from college, started helping out with the family business. He developed new refining techniques that made Thoreau pencils less brittle, less greasy — at the time, they were the finest pencils America had to offer. The Thoreaus were able to offer a variety of pencils, from No. 1 (the softest) to No. 4 (the hardest). That numbering system survives today.

The best artists invent their own tools. (via the kid should see this)

Data analysis of The Simpsons

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2016

Simpsons Data

The Simpsons is the longest-running series in primetime TV history. The show’s 27 seasons hold much potential treasure for data scientists. Todd Schneider downloaded the scripts from every show and analyzed which characters spoke the most and where. The results reveal a heavy focus on Homer and a large gender imbalance in terms of dialogue.

The colors of the bars in the above graphs represent gender: blue for male characters, red for female. If we look at the supporting cast, the 14 most prominent characters are all male before we get to the first woman, Mrs. Krabappel, and only 5 of the top 50 supporting cast members are women.

Women account for 25% of the dialogue on The Simpsons, including Marge and Lisa, two of the show’s main characters. If we remove the Simpson nuclear family, things look even more lopsided: women account for less than 10% of the supporting cast’s dialogue.

See also Film Dialogue from 2000 screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age.