Tesla's Master Plan, part twoJUL 20

Tonight, Elon Musk shared part two of Tesla's "Master Plan" (here's part one, from 2006). The company is going all-in on sustainable energy, building out their fleet of available vehicle types (including semi trucks and buses), and pushing towards fully self-driving cars that can be leased out to people in need of a ride.

When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.

You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.

Summing up: Telsa, Uber, and probably Apple all want to replace human drivers with robot chauffeurs. It's a race between the Jetson's future and the Terminator's future. Fun!

Amazon's ad-supported Android phone is only $50JUL 19

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don't need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon's ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it's no iPhone or Galaxy, but it's great for the price.

No, the R1 doesn't feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn't feel like something you'd find on a Toys "R" Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen's curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.

The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It's not as crisp as the 1080p displays you'll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again...$50.

In only 9 years, we've gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.

The price for Amazon's Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it's $259.

If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I'm actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.

The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven't quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I'm thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle...that's gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don't doesn't make sense.

Anyway, it'll be an interesting race...will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)

The Ambiguous Cylinder optical illusionJUL 01

I couldn't figure this out when I watched it on my phone this morning, but if you watch it in fullscreen HD, you can see how the shapes are cut to look different from various angles. Still trippy though.

Update: Make Anything reverse-engineered the illusion...here's how it works:

(via @dunstan)

The historical accuracy of Saving Private RyanJUL 14

Saving Private Ryan has been praised for its graphic and intense depiction of World War II, particularly the Normandy landing scene. History Buffs recently analyzed the film for its historical accuracy. How well does the film reflect the events of the actual D-Day landing and aftermath?

The video takes a bit to get going but is really good when it does. For instance, did you know that the Allies used inflatable tanks and Jeeps to make Germany believe Allied forces had strongholds in places they did not? Look at them inflating the tanks and bouncing Jeeps around:

How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to TrumpJUL 26

Now that Donald Trump's officially the Republican candidate, here's a summary of how a party once led by Abraham Lincoln came to select Mr. Orange as their #1. The Republican Party hasn't been "the party of Lincoln" for many decades now, but I'm sure Abe is spinning particularly rapidly in his grave over his party's latest turn. (As I'm sure Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Davis have been doing as well over the past eight years.)

The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

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

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

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

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

A supercut of 400 fourth wall breaking moments in moviesJUL 28

I have to admit I didn't watch all 17 minutes of it, but this is a nicely edited compilation of direct narration, looks into the camera, and other self-conscious moments from movies.

Trailer for Narcos season twoJUL 21

Narcos season 2 starts on Netflix on September 2. Oh, how I missed that stare! Wagner Moura is fantastic.

The green screen driving machineJUN 29

Creative agency The Mill has built a car called the Blackbird that, after visual effects are applied in post-production, can impersonate any sort of car in a commercial, TV show, or movie.

The Mill BLACKBIRD® is able to quickly transform its chassis to match the exact length and width of almost any car. Powered by an electric motor, it can be programmed to imitate acceleration curves and gearing shifts and the adjustable suspension alters ride height, rigidity and dampening to replicate typical driving characteristics.

Wreck-It Ralph sequel announcedJUL 01

Wreck It Ralph 2

Disney has announced a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph due to come out in 2018. Given that the plot summary is "Ralph's wrecking wreaks havoc on the Web", I guess it's appropriate the announcement took place on Facebook, which has already done its part in wrecking the open web.

View from the camera car during a Jason Bourne car chaseJUL 20

Watch the intricate dance of trailing camera car, camera, and stunt car as they each bob and weave through traffic during the filming of the latest Jason Bourne movie in Las Vegas. The relevant scene is at 2:23 in the behind-the-scenes video above. (via @MachinePix)

A year-long time lapse of the Earth rotating in spaceJUL 22

NASA recently released a time lapse video of the Earth constructed from over 3000 still photographs taken over the course of a year. The photos were taken by a camera mounted on the NOAA's DSCOVR satellite, which is perched above the Earth at Lagrange point 1.

Wait, have we talked about Lagrange points yet? Lagrange points are positions in space where the gravity of the Sun and the Earth (or between any two large things) cancel each other out. The Sun and the Earth pull equally on objects at these five points.

L1 is about a million miles from Earth directly between the Sun and Earth and anything that is placed there will hover there relative to the Earth forever (course adjustments for complicated reasons aside). It is the perfect spot for a weather satellite with a cool camera to hang out, taking photos of a never-dark Earth. In addition to DSCOVR, at least five other spacecraft have been positioned at L1.

L2 is about a million miles from the Earth directly opposite L1. The Earth always looks dark from there and it's mostly shielded from solar radiation. Five spacecraft have lived at L2 and several more are planned, including the sequel to the Hubble Space Telescope. Turns out that the shadow of the Earth is a good place to put a telescope.

L3 is opposite the Earth from the Sun, the 6 o'clock to the Earth's high noon. This point is less stable than the other points because the Earth's gravitational influence is very small and other bodies (like Venus) periodically pass near enough to yank whatever's there out, like George Clooney strolling through a country club dining room during date night.

And quoting Wikipedia, "the L4 and L5 points lie at the third corners of the two equilateral triangles in the plane of orbit whose common base is the line between the centers of the [Earth and Sun]". No spacecraft have ever visited these points, but they are home to some interplanetary dust and asteroid 2010 TK7, which orbits around L4. Cool! (via slate)

Making handbags from lab-grown human skinJUL 18

Human Skin Fashion

Designer Tina Gorjanc plans to create a collection of leather goods made from skin grown from human DNA, specifically the DNA of fashion designer Alexander McQueen. McQueen died in 2010, but he sewed his own hair into the items in his first collection, which is where Gorjanc is sourcing the genetic material for her leather.

The Pure Human project was designed as a critical design project that aims to address shortcomings concerning the protection of biological information and move the debate forward using current legal structure.

Furthermore, the project explores the ability of the technology to shift the perception of the production system for luxury goods as we know it and project its implementation in our current commercial system.

In other words, should we be able to make handbags from of Alexander McQueen's DNA without his (or his estate's) permission? Dezeen has more details on the project. BTW, the handbag pictured above is a mockup created from pigskin, onto which freckles have been applied. Other mockups include replicas of McQueen's tattoos, which, you know, wow. (via @claytoncubitt)

Pandora's Box: 10 super scary things about the futureJUL 14

George Dvorsky at Gizmodo highlights 10 Predictions About the Future That Should Scare the Hell Out of You. My, uh, favorites are:

1. Virtually anyone will be able to create their own pandemic
5. Robots will find it easy to manipulate us
7. The antibiotic era will end
8. Getting robots to kill humans will be disturbingly routine -- and dangerous

From the manipulating robots section:

"Human empathy is both one of our paramount gifts and among our biggest weaknesses," Brin told Gizmodo. "For at least a million years, we've developed skills at lie-detection...[but] no liars ever had the training that these new [Human-Interaction Empathetic Robots] will get, learning via feedback from hundreds, then thousands, then millions of human exchanges around the world, adjusting their simulated voices and facial expressions and specific wordings, till the only folks able to resist will be sociopaths -- and they have plenty of chinks in their armor, as well."

Many of the things on the list seem to have a similar potential for mischief as the discovery of nuclear fission chain reactions in the 1930s. On the other hand, humans have at least temporarily turned that possible civilization-ending technology into a major source of clean energy and 75+ years of world peace (relatively speaking) so maybe there's some room for optimism here? Maybe? Hello?

70 Hester StreetJUL 11

Casimir Nozkowski grew up in a building at 70 Hester Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before his parents occupied it in the late 1960s, the building had been a synagogue, a Prohibition-era distillery, and a raincoat factory. Before they moved out in 2012, Nozkowski "filmed the hell out of it" and made a short documentary about his childhood home.

My documentary is about my childhood home and how much of the past you could still see in it when we left. It's about the development of a neighborhood a lot of lives have passed through and whether you can protect that legacy while still making room for new lives and new memories. In making my movie, I tried to follow some advice my mom gave me: "Don't make a movie about moving out. Make it about how great it was to live here." I like that sentiment but I couldn't help wondering what was going to happen next to the old building I grew up in.

Constructing a grass hut from scratchJUL 19

The dude from Primitive Technology is back and this time he's constructed a grass hut from scratch.

This hut is easy to build and houses a large volume. The shape is wind resistant and strong for it's materials. Gaps can be seen in the thatch but not if viewing from directly underneath meaning that it should shed rain well. A fire should be possible in the hut as long as it's small and kept in a pit in the center.The reason the hut took so long is due to the scarcity of grass on the hill. It could be built much quicker in a field.

We're getting six new episodes of Making a Murderer from NetflixJUL 19

Well! Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, are working on six more episodes of the series for Netflix.

The new episodes of Making A Murderer will provide an in-depth look at the post-conviction process of convicted murderer Steven Avery, and his co-defendant, Brendan Dassey, as their respective investigative and legal teams challenge their convictions and the State fights to have their life sentences upheld.

They will also offer access to Avery's new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and Dassey's legal team, led by Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, as well as the families and characters close to the case.

I thought Making a Murderer was excellent, one of the best things I watched last year. Reminder: the entire first episode of the show is on YouTube for free. (via @beaucolburn)

Teaser trailer for Sherlock season 4JUL 25

I really like Sherlock, but a little less so every season...and this trailer seems to point in what I feel is a bad direction. Why does everything have to be so cartoonishly big and important? This isn't James Bond with the entire world under imminent threat every 12 months from some heretofore unknown super-villain who is in charge of a global cabal of baddies that suddenly materialized, fully formed, out of nowhere. To be fair, Sherlock is far from the only show/movie series that does this (and to be more fair, they do it less than most), but the constant raising of the stakes is lazy writing and leads only into a corner.

The two most suspenseful movies I saw last year were Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight. Both focused on relatively small actions -- the rescue and survival of five women in the former and the gathering of long hidden truths about the Catholic Church in the latter -- and both were edge-of-your-seat the entire time. And the movie about journalism (journalism!) was actually the more suspenseful of the two, even though I knew the outcome the entire time. That's excellent writing. I know the Sherlock team is capable of excellent writing -- it's one of the most inventive shows out there -- and I hope this season will be more interesting than the OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING AND ONLY SHERLOCK CAN SAVE US vibe I'm getting from the trailer. TL;DR: the trailer for a TV show is too exciting. (Oh brother.)

61 Glimpses of the FutureJUL 11

Jan Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, which is sort of a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns. For example, Chipchase is the sort of person who, for vacation, does not sip pina coladas in Bali but heads for "Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan's GBAO region and China's western provinces". At the conclusion of the trip, which was actually only partially a vacation, Chipchase jotted down 61 Glimpses of the Future. A few of my favorite observations:

7. A white male travelling alone in interesting places, will always need to disprove they are a spy. Thanks Hollywood.

24. There is only one rule for driving in the GBAO: give a lift to every local that wants one, until the car is full. It's common to travel main thoroughfares for a day and only see a couple of vehicles.

33. People wearing fake Supreme are way more interesting than those that wear the real deal.

34. An iPhone box full of fungus caterpillar in Kham Tibet sold wholesale, is worth more than a fully specced iPhone. It's worth 10x at retail in 1st/2nd Tier China. It is a better aphrodisiac too.

38. Tibetan monks prefer iOS over Android.

53. Visitors to Tibet proper are supposed to go in a tour group and hire a local guide. With the right agent you can become a tour group of one and on arrival tell the guide you don't need their services. It helps to look like you're going to behave.

This is, as Tyler Cowen might say, interesting throughout. (via @themexican)

Wes Anderson's Bad DadsJUL 11

Bad Dads

Wes Anderson's films are chock full of bad fathers and father figures. Bad Dads, the third book in the Wes Anderson Collection, showcases some of the art from the annual Bad Dads art show (prints!) at the Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco.

What to the slave is the 4th of July?JUL 05

In 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, NY which historian James West Davidson calls "the most remarkable Independence Day oration in American history".

In Rochester, Douglass stalked his largely white audience with exquisite care, taking them by stealth. He began by providing what many listeners might not have expected from a notorious abolitionist: a fulsome paean to the Fourth and the founding generation. The day brought forth "demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm," he told them, for the signers of the Declaration were "brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age." Jefferson's very words echoed in Douglass's salute: "Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country ... "

Your fathers. That pronoun signaled the slightest shift in the breeze. But Douglass continued cordially. "Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do." Then another step back: "That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker."

The text of the speech itself is well worth reading...that "slightest shift in the breeze" slowly builds to a mighty hurricane.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Several years ago, James Earl Jones read a portion of Douglass' speech:

Update: Baratunde Thurston recently presented Douglass' speech live at the Brooklyn Public Library. (thx, rick)

Amazon Prime Day dealsJUL 12

Kubrick Blu Ray

Amazon's fake sales holiday is back and like last year, there are some good things on offer if you poke around a little.

The Kindle Paperwhite is $90 (I have one of these and love it). Oh, and the regular Kindle is only $50. Oh and also, the Amazon Echo is $50 off as well.

A collection of Stanley Kubrick's best movies on Blu-ray is $70 (down from $125).

A 55-inch 4K TV for $650. Is that a typo? Weren't 4K TVs like $5000 just a couple of years ago?

This wireless b&w laser printer for $50 is a great deal. (I have this printer. It is solid.)

The professional size KitchenAid stand mixer can be had today for $249.

The heavy metal-ness of languageJUL 27

To determine which words are the most "metal", this data scientist wrote a program to sift through more than 22,000 albums to find the words most frequently used in heavy metal songs compared to their use in standard English. "Burn" is the most metal word, followed by "cries", "veins", "eternity", "breathe", and "beast". The least metal words?

particularly
indicated
secretary
committee
university
relatively
noted
approximately
chairman
employees

If you were to run an analysis on what I've written at kottke.org, I doubt it would be particularly metal. \m/

David Chang's Unified Theory of DeliciousnessJUL 20

Chef and Momofuku founder David Chang spends a lot of time thinking about food and he's arrived at what he calls the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.

My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It's the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that's wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.

I'm not sure his observations are exactly unified, but they are interesting and also why I enjoy eating at his restaurants so much. A meal I had at Ssam Bar shortly after they switched away from the initial Korean burritos menu is in my top 5 meals of all time and a pair of dishes at Ko (both somehow simultaneously familiar and new) are among the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

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.

Zero Days, a documentary about cyberwarJUL 11

Alex Gibney, the documentary filmmaker who directed the awesome Going Clear (on Scientology) as well as films about Enron and Wikileaks, has a new film out called Zero Days. The film is generally about cyberwarfare and specifically about the Stuxnet virus, which has a particularly cyberpunk sci-fi first paragraph on Wikipedia:

Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm believed to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyber weapon. Although neither state has confirmed this openly, anonymous US officials speaking to The Washington Post claimed the worm was developed during the Obama administration to sabotage Iran's nuclear program with what would seem like a long series of unfortunate accidents.

The movie was funded on Kickstarter and is out in select theaters...but is also available to rent on Amazon right now. Gonna watch this tonight.

Update: Ok, weird. Zero Days was not funded on Kickstarter. The KS film was originally called Zero Day and changed its name to Every Move You Make when the focus of the film changed. Gibney came on as a "Consulting Producer" to Every Move last year so that's where my confusion came in. (thx, ken)

OJ: Made in AmericaJUL 25

OJ Simpson Trial

Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN's 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I'd gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I'd heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico's review:

Ezra Edelman's stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX's excellent "The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story," but "OJ: Made in America" not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you've never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It's that good.

The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:

It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film's discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson's history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can't figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.

A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.

The visual evolution of Steven Spielberg's moviesJUL 06

From the films he made as a teenager on up to the recently released BFG, this is a look at the evolution of the films of Steven Spielberg.

I was 20 when Jurassic Park came out and while I really liked it, I didn't think much about who directed it at the time. It certainly didn't remind me much of Raiders of the Lost Ark or ET. I watched it again last night (it's on Netflix) and it is soooooo obviously Spielberg.

World speed climbing recordJUL 11

Back in 2014, Ukrainian Danyl Boldyrev scampered up a 15-meter course in just 5.60 seconds. That's almost 6 mph, straight up a wall.

The true size of things on world mapsJUL 19

True Size Map

One of the most popular map projections of the world is the Mercator projection:

Mercator Projection

It's useful but misleading in important ways. With the the True Size Map, you can drag countries and continents around a Mercator map to uncover their true sizes. For example, it may not be apparent on a Mercator map that Australia is about the same size as the lower 48 US states (see above). Or that Africa is much larger than it seems on the map:

True Size Map

Or is it that North America is oversized on the map? Greenland certainly is. Its true size becomes more clear when you overlay it on India:

True Size Map

Mercator's been around for hundreds of years, so luckily cartographers have invented dozens of other ways to visualize the world in 2D, each of which have their own strengths and disadvantages. You can view many of them here.

Update: I had somehow forgotten about this great scene from The West Wing discussing the geographic bias of the Mercator map:

(thx to the many who reminded me)

Zootopia was going to be a much darker movieJUN 29

This storyboarded scene from Zootopia shows an early and much darker direction for the plot: the predators need to wear collars that shock them if they get too excited. This reminds me that Woody was a "sarcastic jerk" in the early drafts of Toy Story. Oh, and Lightning McQueen was an asshole in Cars whose redemption the audience didn't completely buy, which Pixar didn't end up fixing.

Update: There's more about how Zootopia's story evolved in Fusion's 45-minute feature about the production of the film. (via @luketonge)

Visualization of the history of cities from 3700 BC to nowJUN 28

Using the results of a recent report by a team of Yale researchers, this visualization shows the growth of urbanization across the globe from 3700 BC to the present day. There is an amazing flurry of activity in the last few seconds of the video because:

By 2030, 75 percent of the world's population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

There are now 21 Chinese cities alone with a population of over 4 million.

2016 Presidential election oddsJUN 30

According to the first national election forecast by FiveThirtyEight, Hillary Clinton has an 80.3% chance of winning the Presidency.

538 Trump Hillary

A 20% Trump chance is waaaaay too close for my comfort...that's better odds than ending up dead playing one round of Russian roulette. We gotta Mondale that Cheeto-faced shitgibbon.

New from Tinybop: SkyscrapersJUL 21

Tinybop's newest app for kids is called Skyscrapers.

Discover how people build, live, and play in skyscrapers. Construct a skyline full of buildings! Go up and down, through every floor, and underground. Spark a blackout, fix a pipe, or clog the toilets. Test your building's engineering when dinosaurs invade, lightning strikes, or the earth quakes. Find out what keeps skyscrapers standing tall and people happy in them all.

I believe my kids have all of the Tinybop apps and love them...I'm downloading this one right now. See also a bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kids.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

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

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

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

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

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

Huge collection of photos of Native Americans taken by Edward CurtisJUL 11

Edward Curtis

Edward Curtis

Edward Curtis

Beginning in 1904, Edward Curtis travelled around North American for more than 20 years photographing Native Americans. While his collection of over a thousand photos housed at the Library of Congress isn't a precise record of how American Indians lived at the time (he took some liberties in romanticizing the past), it is nonetheless a valuable record of a people largely marginalized by history. (via open culture)

David Attenborough narrates Pokemon GoJUL 28

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

Video for Gosh by Jamie xxJUL 05

Directed by Romain Gavras. Best at fullscreen with headphones.

Warm Regards, a new podcast about climate changeJUL 27

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

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

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

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

How to Smoke a JointJUL 14

This is a scene from Miloš Forman's 1971 film, Taking Off, in which a support group of "square" parents meet to try and understand their children who have run away from home. What a great scene. Unfortunately, the entire movie seems quite difficult to find these days. It's not streaming anywhere and this Blu-ray is $45. (via @dunstan)

The radicalization of the US Republican PartyJUL 20

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann argue that the Republican Party has been radicalized and Trump is the result.

Trumpism may have parallels in populist, nativist movements abroad, but it is also the culmination of a proud political party's steady descent into a deeply destructive and dysfunctional state.

While that descent has been underway for a long time, it has accelerated its pace in recent years. We noted four years ago the dysfunction of the Republican Party, arguing that its obstructionism, anti-intellectualism, and attacks on American institutions were making responsible governance impossible. The rise of Trump completes the script, confirming our thesis in explicit fashion.

Turning your anxiety into excitementJUL 12

Some recent research suggests that if you're feeling anxious, saying "I am excited" can switch your heightened emotional state from negative (anxiety) to positive (excitement).

It's also counterintuitive: When most people feel anxious, they likely tell themselves to just relax. "When asked, 'how do you feel about your upcoming speech?', most people will say, 'I'm so nervous, I'm trying to calm down,'" said Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the phenomenon. She cites the ubiquitous "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters as partial evidence.

But that might be precisely the wrong advice, she said. Instead, the slogan should be more like, "Get Amped and Don't Screw Up."

That's because anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions. In both, the heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action. In other words, they're "arousal congruent." The only difference is that excitement is a positive emotion' focused on all the ways something could go well.

Calmness is also positive, meanwhile, but it's also low on arousal. For most people, it takes less effort for the brain to jump from charged-up, negative feelings to charged-up, positive ones, Brooks said, than it would to get from charged-up and negative to positive and chill. In other words, its easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you're anxious.

Totally trying this the next time I'm anxious.

Jerry's MapJUL 27

Jerrys Map

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

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

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

The man who became a goatJUL 13

Goatman

In response to feeling like he was psychologically "stuck in a big, dark hole", designer Thomas Thwaites decided to become a goat. At least part time.

From this, he builds a goat exoskeleton-artificial legs, helmet, chest protector, raincoat from his mum, and a prosthetic goat stomach to digest grass (with help from a pressure cooker and campfire)-before setting off across the Alps on four legs with a herd of his fellow creatures. Will he make it? Do Thwaites and his readers discover what it truly means to be human?

A book detailing his experience came out earlier this year.

You may remember Thwaites as the guy who built a toaster from scratch (also a book). Like completely from scratch...he smelted his own iron ore.

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

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

Poem from 1943 complaining about poor street sign typography in NYCJUN 30

Nyc Type Poem

In 1943, artist and poet Gelett Burgess wrote a poem to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia complaining of the poor typography on some of the city's street signs. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse. (via @john_overholt)

How Prince's iconic symbol was designedJUL 25

Prince Logo

Prince's iconic symbol was originally designed by Martha Kurtz and Dale Hughes (based on an initial concept by Lizz Frey) for use in a 1992 music video and Hughes shared a bunch of the original files and thinking that went into its design.

The day before Prince was scheduled to view HDMG's latest edit of the video, Mitch Monson (HDMG partner/video graphics artist) asked Martha and me if we could create an animated 3D logo to use as a close to the video.... by tomorrow.

Umm, okay, and what do you have to work with?

Well, we have these drawings that Lizz has been working on...

(via do I even need to tell you)

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.

Some Kind of QuestJUL 13

What compels people to do things? Especially things that don't make sense to other people? Bruce Zaccagnino has, by himself over the past few years, built Northlandz, a massive model train installation 75 minutes away from NYC. The facility is 52,000 square feet, where more than 100 trains travel over 8 miles of track.

But can it last? While Bruce has even grander plans for Northlandz, his dream has grown beyond what anyone initially imagined. Yet the audiences he hoped Northlandz would attract just aren't coming. He's transformed from a creator into a caretaker, wrestling with upkeep instead of making art. Northlandz is not just another roadside attraction. It's a man's life, work, and home.

The true scale of the thing becomes evident at 3:40, when you see Zaccagnino walking through a valley with the walls towering over him. As someone who has built a massive, sprawling thing by himself without knowing why or how it was going to be successful, I hope Zaccagnino finds a way to keep Northlandz going.

Statistical analysis of 67 years of Lego setsJUL 22

Legos Are Graying

Life-long Lego fan Joel Carron recently analyzed a data set containing the types, colors, and number of pieces in every Lego set from the past 67 years and graphed the results. The shift in colors is the most striking thing to me: Legos are graying.

Legos have gotten darker, with white giving way to black and gray. The transition from the old grays to the current bluish grays (or "bley") is a hot-button topic for many Lego fans.

If you look at the dominant color palettes for all of the tie-in sets they're doing now, it's not difficult to see where those darker colors are coming from.

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)

Juno successfully enters orbit around JupiterJUL 05

After a voyage from Earth lasting almost 5 years, the Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter's orbit late last night.

The engine burn was tense. 35 minutes is a long time for a spacecraft burn; after 20 minutes it had slowed Juno enough to be in orbit, but not the correct one. It had to continue for another 15 minutes to put the spacecraft on the correct orbit. It worked essentially perfectly. The burn time was off by just one second. That will have no real effect on the orbit.

The 35-minute burn slowed Juno down by more than 1200 mph.

The pilot for SeinfeldJUL 06

Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards' character is called "Kessler" (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David's real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.

Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.

  1. I watched an incredible amount of TV as a kid. I would read TV Guide from cover to cover each week and have seen every episode of a number of embarrassing shows.

  2. Fun fact: Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't even aware of the existence of the Elaine-less pilot episode until 2004 (6 years after the show ended) and plans never to watch it. Whoever told her must have earned a solid GET! OUT! shove in the chest.

The world's first chatbot lawyerJUN 29

AI chatbot lawyer sounds like a SNL skit, but the DoNotPay chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York.

Dubbed as "the world's first robot lawyer" by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

Having spent a shitload of money on lawyering over the past few years, there is definitely an opportunity for some automation there.

An appreciation of The Darjeeling LimitedJUL 19

I am not alone in saying that The Darjeeling Limited is perhaps my least favorite Wes Anderson movie (even though Ebert liked it). But it's Evan Puschak's favorite and he does an admirable job in raising my appreciation for the film.

Terrence Malick's Voyage of TimeJUN 30

Legendary director Terrence Malick is making a documentary about the birth and death of the universe. It looks like a Koyaanisqatsi sort of thing rather than a here's a suburban tableau that's a metaphor for Big Bang and everything that comes after it sort of thing.

Apparently: 1. Malick has been working on this for more than 30 years. 2. Brad Pitt is narrating a 40-minute version that will air exclusively in IMAX. 3. There will also be a feature-length version of the movie narrated by Cate Blanchett. 4. This will either be amazing or sort of, you know, eh.

Why is Peter Thiel supporting Donald Trump?JUL 21

As Elon Musk plans to introduce a fleet of completely autonomous self-driving vehicles to America's roads, another PayPal co-founder is giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention. But why exactly is a canny libertarian with a penchant for undermining the fundamental pillars of democracy to forward his own personal aims supporting Trump? Jeff Bercovici has a not-so-crazy theory:

I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America's attachment to democratic government.

I'm not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn't more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

He also wrote that his fellow libertarians were on a "fool's errand" trying to achieve their ends through political means: "In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms -- from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called 'social democracy.'"

Here's the essay Bercovici refers to: The Education of a Libertarian. Tyler Cowen, who interviewed Thiel last year and admires him (or at least finds his views interesting), has another take on Thiel's support of Trump, which is perhaps related to Bercovici's:

The Straussian interpretation of the Republican Convention is the correct one, which is perhaps one reason why Peter Thiel will be speaking there. They are not saying what they are saying, in fact they are saying "the world is going to hell, and many of those amongst us have been traitorously disloyal. That is why we scream out stupidities, debase ourselves, and court attention by waving our arms in ridiculous ways. We are a small church seeking to become larger." Is that not how many smaller churches behave? Is that not how some of the early branches of the Christian church behaved? Did they have any influence?

What does Donald Trump actually want? What does Thiel want? What do Republican voters want? I'd wager their actual goals have less to do with the party's official platform and what people are saying at the convention and more to do with broader opportunities to gain power that arise from disruption and the energetic application of fear.

Tilt-shift van GoghJUL 01

Tilt Shift Van Gogh

Tilt Shift Van Gogh

Scenes from van Gogh paintings, modified with a fake tilt-shift effect. (via colossal)

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