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America is a developing nation for most of its citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

In his new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT economics professor Peter Temin says that the US “is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation” and that the US is really two countries at this point:

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

This whole piece on the book by Lynn Parramore is worth a read. Another small tidbit:

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Check. Mass incarceration. Check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

What is literature for?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

The School of Life on four uses of literature. I especially liked this bit:

We’re weirder than we’re allowed to admit. We often can’t say what’s really on our minds, but in books, we find descriptions of who we genuinely are and what events are actually like described with an honesty quite different from what ordinary conversation allows for. In the best books, it’s as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves. They find the words to describe the fragile and weird special experiences of our inner lives: the light on a summer morning, the anxiety we felt at a gathering, the sensations of a first kiss, the envy when a friend told us of their new business, the longing we experienced on the train looking at the profile of another passenger we never dare to speak to. Writers open our hearts and minds and give us maps to our own selves, so that we can travel in them more reliably and with less of a feeling of paranoia and persecution. As the writer Emerson remarked, “In the works of great writers, we find our own neglected thoughts.”

I would argue these points also apply, in one degree or another, to not just literature but to any artful endeavor: film, TV, comics, theater, painting, etc.

“Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Adam Gopnik writes about three books — Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra, A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr, and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari — that address the tension between liberalism and conservatism, going back to Voltaire v. Rousseau during the Enlightenment (and even further back, to Plato).

For Mishra, elements in modernity that seem violently opposed, Zionism and Islamism, Hindu nationalism and Theosophical soppiness — not to mention Nazi militarism — share a common wellspring. Their apostles all believe in some kind of blood consciousness, some kind of shared pre-rational identity, and appeal to a population enraged at being reduced to the hamster wheel of meaningless work and material reward. Mishra brings this Walpurgisnacht of romanticized violence to a nihilistic climax with the happy meeting in a Supermax prison of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing: the fanatic, child-murdering right-wing atheist finds “lots in common” with the equally murderous Islamic militant — one of those healing conversations we’re always being urged to pursue. (“I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his,” Yousef gushed of McVeigh.)

Very interesting context and a stimulating argument for the middle way by Gopnik — in his estimation, Betteridge’s law applies to the title. He didn’t care much for Homo Deus, and I have to admit, as a big fan of Sapiens, that I’ve run out of steam with this new one and found myself nodding my head at Gopnik’s objections. I’m gonna get back to it, I’m sure, but with less enthusiasm than before.

Climate change is shifting cherry blossom peak-bloom times

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

Kyoto Cherry Blossom Chart

Records of when the cherry blossoms appear in Kyoto date back 1200 years. (Let’s boggle at this fact for a sec…) But as this chart of peak-bloom dates shows, since the most recent peak in 1829, the cherry blossoms have been arriving earlier and earlier in the year.

From its most recent peak in 1829, when full bloom could be expected to come on April 18th, the typical full-flowering date has drifted earlier and earlier. Since 1970, it has usually landed on April 7th. The cause is little mystery. In deciding when to show their shoots, cherry trees rely on temperatures in February and March. Yasuyuki Aono and Keiko Kazui, two Japanese scientists, have demonstrated that the full-blossom date for Kyoto’s cherry trees can predict March temperatures to within 0.1°C. A warmer planet makes for warmer Marches.

Temperature and carbon-related charts like this one are clear portraits of the Industrial Revolution, right up there with oil paintings of the time. I also enjoyed the correction at the bottom of the piece:

An earlier version of this chart depicted cherry blossoms with six petals rather than five. This has been amended. Forgive us this botanical sin.

Gotta remember that flower petals are very often numbered according to the Fibonacci sequence.

Science is a fundamental part of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2017

Science in America is an impassioned video from Neil deGrasse Tyson about the threat we face from the political uncoupling of science from the truth in America today.

How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known? We pioneered industries. And all this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world. And so, science is a fundamental part of the country that we are. But in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable what is not reliable, what should you believe what you do not believe. And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.

Baby Driver

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2017

A heist film featuring a getaway driver named Baby — B. A. B. Y. Baby? — directed by Edgar Wright of Hot Fuzz fame? Take. My. Money. This is like the comedy version of Drive. In making the film, Wright himself was influenced by the “holy trinity” of heist films from the 90s: Point Break, Reservoir Dogs, and Heat.

See also Tony Zhou’s video tribute to Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy.

Update: Well, that was the international trailer (which is good!) and this is the American trailer (which perhaps is not as good).

Is it me or does the American trailer aim about 15 IQ points lower than the other one? (thx, david)

Preemie lambs successfully grown to term in artificial wombs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Artificial Womb

Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have succeeded in gestating premature lambs in artificial wombs. The abstract from the paper in Nature Communications:

In the developed world, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success. Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. We show that fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to 4 weeks. Lambs on support maintain stable haemodynamics, have normal blood gas and oxygenation parameters and maintain patency of the fetal circulation. With appropriate nutritional support, lambs on the system demonstrate normal somatic growth, lung maturation and brain growth and myelination.

The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan translates what that might mean for human babies born prematurely.

One reason preterm birth is so dangerous is that, for an underweight baby, the first few breaths of air halt the development of the lungs. “Infants that are currently born and supported in a neonatal intensive care unit with gas-based ventilation demonstrate an arrest of lung development,” Partridge says, “which manifests in a long-term, severe restriction of lung function.”

With the artificial womb, the infant would continue “breathing” through the umbilical cord as its floats in amniotic fluid, which would flow into and out of the bag. Using its tiny heart, the fetus would pump its own blood through its umbilical cord and into an oxygenator, where the blood would pick up oxygen and return it to the fetus-much like with a normal placenta. In addition to boosting lung growth, the amniotic fluid would protect the baby from infections and support the development of the intestines.

If this does work for humans, there’s a possibility that at some point using artificial wombs may be safer (or just preferable for some people) than women carrying babies to term…which would have an interesting effect on childbirth (to say the least). And as Khazan mentions, there are potential implications related to abortion rights:

If they ever materialize, artificial wombs may stir concerns among pro-choice advocates, since the devices could push the point of viability for human fetuses even lower. That might encourage even more states to curtail abortions after, say, 20 weeks’ gestation. But speaking with reporters Monday, the Philadelphia researchers emphasized they don’t intend to expand the bounds of life before the 23rd gestational week. Before that point, fetuses are too fragile even for the artificial wombs.

Update: There’s a short video clip of the lamb in the artificial womb as well:

Strange Beasts, a sci-fi short about an augmented reality game

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2017

Magali Barbé wrote and directed this short sci-fi video about an imaginary augmented reality game called Strange Beasts. It starts off with a “hey, yeah, cool, augemented reality games are going to be fun to play” vibe but gradually veers down the same dystopian path as a lot of augmented reality fictions (like Keiichi Matsuda’s Hyper-Reality). Barbé wrote about how the video was created.

A talented pufferfish creates an underwater “crop circle”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

The elaborate courtship rituals of animals from around the world are featured heavily in every BBC nature documentary series. (See, for instance, these birds of paradise…if you haven’t seen this before, wait for the giant clicking smile.) In the video above featuring a scene from the 2014 series Life Story, watch a Japanese puffer fish create an elaborate pattern in the sand in order to attract a mate. Narrator David Attenborough calls the puffer fish “probably nature’s greatest artist” and I gasped at the full reveal of his creation.

Road dieting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2017

The concept of road diets is an alternate approach to dealing with road congestion that’s gained popularity in recent years. The typical solution to heavy traffic on roads is to widen them with more travel lanes. The problem is such an approach can induce demand and instead of two lanes of traffic jam, you get four lanes going nowhere.1

Instead, with a road diet approach, you might turn a four-lane road into three lanes: two travel lanes and a turn lane in the middle.

Realizing these unintended outcomes, some localities implemented a type of road diet: reconfiguring the four lanes (two in each direction) into three (one each way plus a shared turn lane in the middle). The change dramatically reduced the number of “conflict points” on the road-places where a crash might occur. Whereas there might be six mid-block conflict points in a common four-lane arterial, between cars turning and merging, there were only two after the road diet.

Likewise, at an intersection, eight potential conflict points became four after a road diet.

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet — DOT’s reported figure.

Pedestrian and bike usage tends to increase as well (b/c that extra street can be converted to bike lanes or sidewalks), speeding decreases, and car travel times are largely unaffected. This quick video by Jeff Speck shows four different approaches to road dieting:

Update: See also Braess’ paradox.

Braess’ paradox or Braess’s paradox is a proposed explanation for a seeming improvement to a road network being able to impede traffic through it. It was discovered in 1968 by mathematician Dietrich Braess, who noticed that adding a road to a congested road traffic network could increase overall journey time, and it has been used to explain instances of improved traffic flow when existing major roads are closed.

The paradox may have analogues in electrical power grids and biological systems. It has been suggested that in theory, the improvement of a malfunctioning network could be accomplished by removing certain parts of it.

(thx, david)

Update: A street in Oakland recently underwent a road diet: two of five lanes were converted into protected bike lanes. The result is an increase in biking and pedestrian use, a decrease in collisions, a decrease in speeding, and an increase in business along the street.

Along nine blocks of Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, biking is up 78 percent since protected bike lanes were installed. Walking is up 100 percent - maybe because, thanks to the single lane of through traffic in each direction, the pedestrian yield rate doubled in the mornings and tripled in the afternoons.

Meanwhile, the number of traffic collisions fell 40 percent. Retail sales in a district that has sometimes struggled are up 9 percent, thanks in part to five new businesses.

And the median car speed is now the speed limit: 25 mph. As usual on such projects in urban areas, the main effect of removing a car passing lane was not to jam traffic, only to prevent irresponsible drivers from weaving between lanes in order to get to the next stoplight more quickly.

  1. The concept of induced demand can be seen in other places, like New Orleans’ overcrowded jails.

The economics of airline classes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 17, 2017

How much money does an airline make on a typical flight in the various classes of service? On some flights, revenue from first & business class seats can be up to 5 times that of economy seats. This video explores the economics of airline classes and looks at how we got to the present moment, where the people and companies buying business class and first class tickets are subsidizing those of us who fly economy.

Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine is still the best

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

It’s 2008. George W. Bush is President. The Democratic primaries have just ended, and Barack Obama is the unlikely presumptive nominee. The economy is circling around the drain, and America is about to have its first black Presidential nominee by a major political party.

I don’t know exactly how you might measure and graph a country’s level of plausibly deniable racism or awkward attempts to identify or discount such racism, but if you could, summer 2008 would have to be one of its peaks.

That’s when Jay Smooth posted “How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist,” one of the greatest videoblog entries of all time.

Jay’s video turned into a TED Talk and a video series for Fusion called The Illipsis.

But mostly, he’s still hosting WBAI’s Underground Railroad (since 1991!), keeping up his site HipHopMusic.com (not much lately, but he started it in 1997!) and writing blog posts and making consistently great videos about music, race, politics, and culture at Ill Doctrine.

Watching Ill Doctrine is to feel the power and pleasure of seeing a mind at work. He’s always thinking around seven or eight sides of an issue and following them through all the way to the end. He does what you might call “explainers” but without any of the condescension to the audience or pretense to having settled an issue once and forever endemic to the form. It’s conversation.

He’s the best editor of any weblog I know — every cut is a new thought, a new idea, a new argument to hang on the thought right before it, and the cumulative effect is like a cubist painting.

He’s still experimenting with the format, adding interviews, letting his cat co-host, always oscillating between the public and the personal. Jay’s still the best at what he does.

Update: Jay just launched a Patreon campaign to keep Ill Doctrine going well into the future; if you love his work, please consider supporting it.

Flatland II, curved landscape panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2017

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Buyuktas Flatland

Aydın Büyüktaş has continued his Flatland project with more of these photographic panoramas folded over on themselves. Looks like he’s gotten better at picking good subjects and stitching these together…love these. (via colossal)

A brief visual history of Studio Ghibli

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Update: The Movies of Studio Ghibli, Ranked from Worst to Best. Happy to see Princess Mononoke in the top spot and surprised at Spirited Away’s relatively low placement.

What will the night sky look like in 5 million years?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Based on the motions of the 2 million stars observed by ESA’s Gaia mission over the past two years, scientists created this simulated animation of how the view of the Milky Way in the night sky will evolve over the next 5 million years.

The shape of the Orion constellation can be spotted towards the right edge of the frame, just below the Galactic Plane, at the beginning of the video. As the sequence proceeds, the familiar shape of this constellation (and others) evolves into a new pattern. Two stellar clusters — groups of stars that were born together and consequently move together — can be seen towards the left edge of the frame: these are the alpha Persei (Per OB3) and Pleiades open clusters.

Stars seem to move with a wide range of velocities in this video, with stars in the Galactic Plane moving quite slow and faster ones appearing over the entire frame. This is a perspective effect: most of the stars we see in the plane are much farther from us, and thus seem to be moving slower than the nearby stars, which are visible across the entire sky.

Well, how’s that for some perspective? (via blastr)

Musical fractals

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

Adam Neely made a song that is constructed of smaller versions of itself, resulting in a musical fractal that sounds the same at full speed and at 1000 times slower. How does it work? Harmonic polyrhythms.

E=mc^2 tells us that mass and energy are the same thing, just on massively different scales. This is similar to the musician’s theory of relativity which says that rhythm, melody, and harmony are the same thing, just on similarly massively different scales.

So by slowing things way down or speeding things way up, you can convert between harmony and rhythm. (via waxy)

Citizen Jane, a documentary film about Jane Jacobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2017

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City is a documentary films about Jane Jacobs and her legendary battle against Robert Moses for the soul of New York City.

People have to insist on government trying things their way.

The film will be available in theaters and on-demand on April 21.

I’m a bit more than halfway through the audiobook of The Power Broker and Robert Moses is approaching the height of his influence. The power that Moses possessed in NYC almost cannot be overstated — I can’t think of any other single person who affected the “look and feel” of the city more than he did. I have heard the story many times, but I can’t wait to get the part with Jacobs, to hear in Caro’s words how this infinitely powerful man lost his grip on the city because of this remarkable woman and a group of concerned citizens. (via @daveg)

Update: Astoundingly, Jacobs is not in The Power Broker. Her chapter was cut for length. (thx, alec)

Bill Hayes adored Oliver Sacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The Guardian has an entertaining and touching excerpt of Bill Hayes’ memoir Insomniac City about his moving to New York and his relationship with Oliver Sacks. Even though Sacks had little interest or knowledge about popular culture — “‘What is Michael Jackson?’ he asked me the day after the news [of Jackson’s death]” — he became part of it, and so he and Hayes travel to Iceland to dine with Björk and run into the actress and model Lauren Hutton at a concert.

[Hutton] overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

“Hey doc, you ever done belladonna?” she asked. “Now there’s a drug!”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have,” and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasn’t his first book.

“Are you — are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks?” Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

“Well, it is very good to meet you, sir.” She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasn’t an act. “I’ve been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks - imagine that!”

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea…

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad - the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

See also My Own Life, a piece about the cancer diagnosis that would eventually take Sacks’ life.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Sacks dictated the piece to Hayes “nearly verbatim” and is very much worth a re-read. (via @tedgioia)

The Orion Nebula, our friendly neighborhood star factory

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2017

Orion Nebula

Rolf Olsen recently took this amazing photo of the Orion Nebula using a home-built telescope.

The Orion Nebula is one of the most studied objects in the sky and also has a significant place in the history of astrophotography. In 1880 it was the first ever nebula to be photographed; Henry Draper used the newly invented dry plate process to acquire a 51-minute exposure of the nebula with an 11 inch telescope. Subsequently, in 1883, amateur astronomer Andrew Ainslie Common recorded several exposures up to 60 minutes long with a much larger 36-inch telescope, and showed for the first time that photography could reveal stars and details fainter than those visible to the human eye.

Thanks to Phil Plait for the link…he’s got much more to say about the image and the nebula here.

Also called M42 (the 42nd object in a catalog kept by comet hunter Charles Messier in the late 18th century), it is a sprawling star factory, a gas cloud where stars are born. It’s a couple of dozen light-years across, and sits well over a thousand light-years from Earth. That’s 10,000 trillion kilometers, and you can see it with your naked eye! It’s so bright because of a handful of extremely massive hot stars sit in its center. They blast out ultraviolet light that energizes the gas in the nebula, causing it to glow.

It’s actually a small section of a much larger dark cloud, what’s called a molecular cloud, that we cannot see directly. Stars were born near the edge of that cloud, not too deeply inside it, and when they switched on their fierce light and stellar winds blew a hole in the cloud, popping it like a bubble. The Orion Nebula is a cavity in the side of that cloud, carved by the newborn stars.

Recreating the Asteroids arcade game with a laser

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

Watch as digital artist Seb Lee-Delisle recreates the old school video game Asteroids with a laser. But why use a laser? There’s actually a good explanation for this. In the olden days of arcade video games, the screens on most games were like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong…a typical CRT refreshed the entire screen line-by-line many times a second to form a pixelized scene. But with vector games like Tempest, Star Wars, and Asteroids, the electron beam was manipulated magnetically to draw the ships and rocks and enemies directly…and you get all these cool effects like phosphor trails and brighter objects where the beam lingers. When you play Asteroids on a contemporary computer or gaming system, all those artifacts are lost. But with a laser, you can emulate the original feel of the game much more closely.

You’re not going to want to because it’s 17 minutes long, but you should watch the whole video…it’s super nerdy and the explanations of how the various technologies work is worth your while (unless you’re already a laser expert). I loved the bit near the end where they slowed down the rate of the laser so you could see it drawing the game and then slowly sped it back up again, passing through the transition from seeing the individual movements of the laser to observing an entire seamless scene that our mind has stitched together. In his recent book Wonderland, Steven Johnson talks about this remarkable trick of the mind:

On some basic level, this property of the human eye is a defect. When we watch movies, our eyes are empirically failing to give an accurate report of what is happening in front of them. They are seeing something that isn’t there. Many technological innovations exploit the strengths that evolution has granted us: tools and utensils harness our manual dexterity and opposable thumbs; graphic interfaces draw on our powerful visual memory to navigate information space. But moving pictures take the opposite approach: they succeed precisely because our eyes fail.

This flaw was not inevitable. Human eyesight might have just as easily evolved to perceive a succession of still images as exactly that: the world’s fastest slide show. Or the eye might have just perceived them as a confusing blur. There is no evolutionary reason why the eye should create the illusion of movement at twelve frames per second; the ancestral environment where our visual systems evolved had no film projectors or LCD screens or thaumatropes. Persistence of vision is what Stephen Jay Gould famously called a spandrel — an accidental property that emerged as a consequence of other more direct adaptations. It is interesting to contemplate how the past two centuries would have played out had the human eye not possessed this strange defect. We might be living in a world with jet airplanes, atomic bombs, radio, satellites, and cell phones — but without television and movies. (Computers and computer networks would likely exist, but without some of the animated subtleties of modern graphical interfaces.) Imagine the twentieth century without propaganda films, Hollywood, sitcoms, the televised Nixon-Kennedy debate, the footage of civil rights protesters being fire-hosed, Citizen Kane, the Macintosh, James Dean, Happy Days, and The Sopranos. All those defining experiences exist, in part, because natural selection didn’t find it necessary to perceive still images accurately at rates above twelve frames a second — and because hundreds of inventors, tinkering with the prototypes of cinema over the centuries, were smart enough to take that imperfection and turn it into art.

Kubrick’s original ending of The Shining

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2017

When The Shining premiered in 1980 in NYC and LA, there was a short scene in a hospital between the shot of Jack Torrence frozen in the maze and the long zoomed-in shot of the framed photo. After the premieres, director Stanley Kubrick decided the scene didn’t work and had it cut from dozens of prints and destroyed.

It’s also important to note that this was likely not the exact scene that Kubrick shot; since the scene no longer exists, it’s impossible to know how exactly it played. Even the many people who saw the epilogue when The Shining was first released have varying recollections of the exact details. Clearly, the final text about the Overlook’s history was an idea omitted during the writing process.

No known copy of the scene remains but you can read it in the screenplay and see brief glimpses in these Polaroids.

An average hand-drawn map of the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2017

Average World Map

Zak Ziebell asked 30 people to sketch a map of the world and then averaged the results into the map above. I especially love the bottom one with the satellite terrain.

Tasked with creating “a piece of art that would reveal something unseen” as part of a pre-college fine arts program, Ziebell approached 29 strangers on the University of Michigan’s campus, handed them a pen and half a sheet of paper, and asked them, on the spot, to draw a map of the world. Ziebell, who recently posted his findings to Reddit, then completed the task himself and digitally merged the 30 maps into one image, overlaying the composite drawing with satellite data.

Update: This is yet another world map without New Zealand. (via @edmz)

Experiencing grief can feel like tripping on hallucinogens

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

Last year, Ariel Meadow Stallings wrote a piece in the Guardian called Seven things I wish I’d known before my divorce: an optimistic guide to the future. It’s a good list, full of problems turned into opportunities, but the first item blew my mind a little.

1. Trip out on grief — it’s a hallucinogen.

Regardless of how your marriage ends, it’s a death. Maybe it’s a loving euthanasia that you both agree on, maybe it’s a violent one-sided decision that only one of you sees coming, but it’s a death regardless. This means both of you will go through grief — a powerful mind-altering substance.

In the darkest of my days, I felt like I was on a low dose of LSD at all times — time was weird, my vision was odd, I threw up for no reason, my emotions were out of control. Even eating was an intellectual exercise (chew, chew … swallow? Is that what you do next?). I generally felt like I was tripping.

This state of mind was profoundly uncomfortable, but also weirdly educational. Never a big crier, I received a crash course in what tear-induced catharsis felt like — and holy wow, it felt good. Like many mind-altering substances, there are lessons there if you want to learn them.

I didn’t realize it until I read this, but having experienced the sort of grief Stallings describes here and come out the other side (mostly) the better for it, I can attest to her description of it as a trippy educational experience.

Recreating history for the movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2017

For movies based on historical events, getting the details right can be essential in convincing the audience they’re watching something meaningful and important, particularly if the real-world scenes are iconic. But often, historical happenings are changed to make scenes more cinematically effective. This video shows several historical events coupled with their cinematic recreations in films like Jackie, Into the Wild, JFK, Catch Me If You Can, and Selma.

Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

1984. I believe I last saw this movie in high school, which seems unlikely given the nudity. Or maybe we saw a censored version, in which case: lolololol. (B+)

Ghost in the Shell. Superb visuals but the story felt flat. (B)

Big Little Lies. I almost gave up on this after two episodes. I can watch TV characters do all sorts of horrible things to each other — lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill — but apparently epically bad parenting is my last straw. But. The final episode contains one of the best scenes I’ve ever watched on TV and was just fantastic all around. Was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire 60 minutes. (A-)

Future Sex. Among the least titillating books about sex you’ll ever read. (That’s a compliment.) (B+)

The Undoing Project. I was unsure about this one until about 1/3 through but persisted because it’s Michael Lewis. Fascinating in places and unexpectedly emotional. (B)

Mr. Bean. I have never seen my kids laugh quite as hard as they did watching Mr. Bean rush to the dentist office. My dad instilled in me an appreciation of British comedy and I guess I’m passing that on to my kids. They seem to get it, but not all kids do. They were so excited recently to show some friends The Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python and the friends looked really really confused and didn’t laugh at all. Fawlty Towers is up soon. (B)

The Rules Do Not Apply. At one shocking, heartbreaking point in the book, time reels backwards. If you’ve read Ariel Levy’s Thanksgiving in Mongolia in the New Yorker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (B+)

Tim Carmody’s Best of the Web series for kottke.org. I love getting to be a reader of the site sometimes, just like all of you. I always enjoy Tim’s residencies here, but this one made me clap my hands in joy and stomp my feet in a jealous rage. It’s not entirely fair that he does the site better than I do, but I’m glad he does. (A)

The final season of Girls. Not their best season, but I’m sad to see it go nonetheless. The ensemble is what made the show special, and they just weren’t together enough this season. The single episode “goodbyes” for each character felt forced. (Same reason why Arrested Development season 4 wasn’t up to scratch.) (B+)

Terror of the Zygons. I started watching old Doctor Whos with the kids and they love them. (B-)

Hedgehog Launch. Ancient iOS game…my phone might contain the last functioning install of it. I started playing it a few weeks ago and now I am addicted to it for absolutely no good reason. The game sucks: it’s tough and not that fun until a certain point and then it gets really easy to win. But I can’t stop playing it. It’s like a metaphor for something in my life I can’t quite figure out. Fuck this game. (F)

Damn. I need to listen to this more. So I shall. (B+)

Get Out. Really good but not great. I saw this weeks after everyone else and my expectations were too high. Kept waiting for it to slip into a slightly higher gear but it never did. Don’t @ me! (B+)

Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen this movie at least four times and I love it. (A-)

The Prestige. Hadn’t seen this since it came out. Holds up. Had totally forgotten about Bowie as Tesla. (A-)

The Holy Mountain. Was way too sober for this. (B-)

The Life Aquatic. Not my favorite Wes Anderson but solid. There’s some weirdly clunky acting in the middle bits. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy. Gearing up for the new one. (A-/B+)

See also the last installment of this list from earlier this month.

Fran Lebowitz on books and reading

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review recently interviewed Fran Lebowitz for their By the Book series. She mentions Memoirs of Hadrian as the last great book she read and doesn’t like literary dinner parties.

Q: You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

a: None. I would never do it. My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book. That’s my idea of a literary dinner party. When I eat alone, I spend a lot of time, before I sit down to my meager meal, choosing what to read. And I’m a lot better choosing a book than preparing a meal. And I never eat anything without reading. Ever. If I’m eating an apple, I have to get a book.

Her answer to the very last question made me laugh out loud. Buuuuuuurn.

I’m With Her: designing Hillary Clinton’s campaign identity

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2017

Hillary Logo Sketch

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut and his team designed the identity for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign (of which I was not initially a fan but came around later). Here’s how it happened.

I put together a three-person team: me, designer Jesse Reed, and project manager Julia Lemle. We would work in secret for the next two months. Our first meeting with the Clinton team began with a simple statement: “Our candidate has 100 percent name recognition.” There is a well-known marketing principle that is often credited to midcentury design legend Raymond Loewy. He felt that people were governed by two competing impulses: an attraction to the excitement of new things and a yearning for the comfort provided by what we already know. In response, Loewy had developed a reliable formula. If something was familiar, make it surprising. If something was surprising, make it familiar.

That same principle applies to political campaigns. In 2008 Sol Sender, Amanda Gentry and Andy Keene were faced with the challenge of branding a candidate who had anything but name recognition. Barack Obama’s design team responded with a quintessentially professional identity program, introducing — for the first time — the language of corporate branding to political marketing. Obama’s persona — unfamiliar, untested, and potentially alarming to much of the voting public — was given a polished logo and a perfectly executed, utterly consistent typographic system. In short, they made a surprising candidate seem familiar.

We faced the opposite problem. Our candidate was universally known. How could we make her image seem fresh and compelling?

This is a great look at how a designer at the top of his game approaches a problem…and reckons with failure. Even this little bit:

It wasn’t clever or artful. I didn’t care about that. I wanted something that you didn’t need a software tutorial to create, something as simple as a peace sign or a smiley face. I wanted a logo that a five-year-old could make with construction paper and kindergarten scissors.

Leading up to the election, how many photos did you see of Hillary logos hand-drawn by kids on signs and t-shirts? Lots and lots…my kids even got into the act.

Anyway, a huge contrast to the process and impact of the Trump campaign’s identity.

The Ballad of Holland Island House

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2017

The Ballad of Holland Island House was created by animator Lynn Tomlinson using a clay-on-glass painting technique.

The Ballad of Holland Island House is a short animation made with an innovative clay-painting technique in which a thin layer of oil-based clay comes to vibrant life frame by frame. Animator Lynn Tomlinson tells the true story of the last house on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay. Told from the house’s point of view, this film is a soulful and haunting view of the impact of sea-level rise.

The technique is a hybrid of traditional cel animation (traditionally done on transparent sheets) and claymation stop-motion animation.

Misty black & white watercolor paintings of animals and children

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2017

Elicia Edijanto

Elicia Edijanto

Colossal posted these watercolor paintings by Elicia Edijanto on Friday and I’ve been peeking at them all weekend.

“My subject are often children and animal because they are honest, sincere, unprejudiced and unpretentious,” shares Edijanto. “They give me so much inspiration for [a] particular mood or atmosphere, such as tranquility, solemnity, and also wilderness and freedom, which I put on my paintings.”

Instant follow on Instagram.

Watch a near-pristine Apple I boot up and run a program

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2017

Glenn and Shannon Dellimore own at least two original Apple I computers built in 1976 by Steve Wozniak, Dan Kottke, and Steve Jobs. The couple recently purchased one of the computers at auction for $365,000 and then lent it to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for an exhibition. The hand-built machine is in such good condition that they were able to boot it up and run a simple program.

The superlative rarity of an Apple-1 in this condition is corroborated by this machine’s early history.The owner, Tom Romkey, owned the “Personal Computer Store” in Florida, and was certified as an Apple level 1 technician in 1981. One day, a customer came into his shop and traded in his Apple-1 computer for a brand new NCR Personal Computer. The customer had only used the Apple-1 once or twice, and Mr. Romkey set it on a shelf, and did not touch it again.

The Apple I was the first modern personal computer: the whole thing fit on just one board and used the familiar keyboard/monitor input and output.

By early 1976, Steve Wozniak had completed his 6502-based computer and would display enhancements or modifications at the bi-weekly Homebrew Computer Club meetings. Steve Jobs was a 21 year old friend of Wozniak’s and also a visitor at the Homebrew club. He had worked with Wozniak in the past (together they designed the arcade game “Breakout” for Atari) and was very interested in his computer. During the design process Jobs made suggestions that helped shape the final product, such as the use of the newer dynamic RAMs instead of older, more expensive static RAMs. He suggested to Wozniak that they get some printed circuit boards made for the computer and sell it at the club for people to assemble themselves. They pooled their financial resources together to have PC boards made, and on April 1st, 1976 they officially formed the Apple Computer Company. Jobs had recently worked at an organic apple orchard, and liked the name because “he thought of the apple as the perfect fruit — it has a high nutritional content, it comes in a nice package, it doesn’t damage easily — and he wanted Apple to be the perfect company. Besides, they couldn’t come up with a better name.”

In other words, Woz invented the Apple computer, but Jobs invented Apple Computer. Here’s a longer video of another working Apple I:

This one is also in great condition, although it’s been restored and some of the original parts have been replaced. If you’d like to play around with your own Apple I without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at an auction, I would recommend buying a replica kit or trying out this emulator written in Javascript. (thx, chris)

Endless robotic loop of a toy train

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

This video of robot continuously building a looped track in front of a toy train is definitely a metaphor for something. Procrastination? Living paycheck to paycheck? Life with small children? I don’t know, but it makes me SO ANXIOUS! Why does it wait so long to place the next section of track?!! I couldn’t watch for more than 10 seconds or so.

See also the chase scene from The Wrong Trousers. (via @MachinePix)

An Inconvenient Sequel

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

In 2006, Davis Guggenheim directed An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary film about Al Gore’s fight to educate the world about climate change. It made nearly $50 million at the box office, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and is credited for moving the conversation about climate change along (although not nearly fast enough, in my mind). This July, a followup documentary will be released: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. From a review in the LA Times:

Eleven Sundances later, Gore’s star wattage seemed entirely undimmed at Thursday evening’s premiere of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” an awkwardly titled, stirringly crafted follow-up that measures the progress that has and hasn’t been made in the battle against global warming. Taking over for Davis Guggenheim, the directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk largely abandon the framing device of Gore’s lecture (which he and his international team of trainees continue to give regularly) in favor of a nimbler, more on-the-go approach.

Despite some updates on the continuing decline of the world’s glaciers and the link between climate change and the recent Zika virus outbreak, the focus this time is less on science than on politicking. Cohen and Shenk tag along with Gore on a globe-trotting mission to persuade various heads of state to invest in wind and solar energy, and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels — an effort that culminates on-screen with the signing of last year’s historic Paris climate accord.

In praise of Flickr

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Sunset by Tom Hall

Matt Haughey comes not to bury Flickr, but to praise it.

Flickr represents one of the very best of things in the history of the internet. It was the first popular way to share photos in a social way instead of photos lingering in private accounts online and in the real world in shoeboxes under beds. It brought millions together and helped kick off first the digital SLR revolution, then it was eclipsed by the mobile photography revolution. Flickr—despite being a big corporate entity—embraced open licensing and took on the ambitious goal of being a mirror and gallery for oodles of museums around the globe.

Those values that drove Flickr during its influential peak can be seen in its Explore page, which still knocks your socks off. Matt calls it “an entire year’s worth of epic shots from National Geographic, generated each day, automatically by algorithms.”

Lots of wondrous shots from places I’ve never heard of. Lots of “how’d they even get that shot?!” photos of animals… Instagram has an explore tab but it’s popular music and tv stars and their dogs or it’s brand advertising-driven shots cooked up to sell something. There’s something so completely boring about Instagram’s explore page that makes me ignore it and go back to my friend feeds, whereas Flickr is the opposite: my friend feed is largely silent, but the best of the best page is truly awe-inspiring and at least one photo each day is going to take my breath away.

It is bizarre to think now that Flickr was only active for about a year before it was acquired by Yahoo. For those of us who were on the site then, that year felt like everything.

Jason’s first post that mentions Flickr is from March 2004. He wonders whether Flickr could be used as a universal login (much like Facebook, Twitter, and Google accounts are today). Annotation quickly followed. Then calendar view. RSS feed splicing. Organizr. A public API. The interestingness algorithm. Prints. It was step-by-step, bit-by-bit, but every new feature was a milestone. It excited people, and got them thinking and working on what was next.

Jason even has a remarkable post from August 2004 where he imagines an entire web-based operating system linking different services together:

To put this another way, a distributed data storage system would take the place of a local storage system. And not just data storage, but data processing/filtering/formatting. Taking the weblog example to the extreme, you could use TypePad to write a weblog entry; Flickr to store your photos; store some mp3s (for an mp3 blog) on your ISP-hosted shell account; your events calendar on Upcoming; use iCal to update your personal calendar (which is then stored on your .Mac account); use GMail for email; use TypeKey or Flickr’s authentication system to handle identity; outsource your storage/backups to Google or Akamai; you let Feedburner “listen” for new content from all those sources, transform/aggregate/filter it all, and publish it to your Web space; and you manage all this on the Web at each individual Web site or with a Watson-ish desktop client.

Think of it like Unix…small pieces loosely joined.

That last part didn’t come true; the pieces didn’t join so much as fuse together into something new. The companies listed either took over the world, faded into relative obscurity, or stopped existing (at least for a little while). And then there’s Flickr — which didn’t do any of those things, but changed how we use the web forever.

I usually say that platforms stop being vital, even if they continue to have lots of users, when the platforms stop getting better. It’s a tricky thing: sometimes a ham-handed “improvement” can actually ruin a lot of what made a platform special. Flickr was extraordinarily vital, for years. It still has so much to offer. Sometimes there’s something reassuring about a tool that’s still much the same.

Photo by Tom Hall, via Flickr. Used under a CC-BY license.

Cute illustrations of bread birds

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Bread Birds

Twitter user @fuguhitman has recently done a series of bread birds with portmanteau names like Croisswant, Breadolark, Pidgingerbread, Bagull, and Crownut. Now I’m hungry and I want to go sit in a quiet forest with binoculars.

Giant meteorite sculpture is at the center of a stunning UK Holocaust Memorial proposal

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2017

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

Anish Kapoor Holocaust Memorial

British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Zaha Hadid Architects have proposed a massive sculpture resembling a meteorite for the centerpiece of the UK Holocaust Memorial.

Meteorites, mountains and stones are often at the centre of places of reflection, especially in the Jewish tradition. They call on the vastness of nature to be a witness to our humanity. A memorial to the Holocaust must be contemplative and silent, such that it evokes our empathy. It must be a promise to future generations that this terrible chapter in human history can never occur again.

All ten shortlisted proposals can be viewed on the design competition site.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

From director Martin McDonagh, who is also responsible for In Bruges, comes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Frances McDormand stars and even in the trailer, she is a force of nature. (No offense to Meryl Streep, but McDormand is a very strong candidate for the best actor or actress working today.) The red band trailer above is entertaining in its use of many of George Carlin’s seven dirty words but I prefer the more conventional trailer I saw in the theater the other day — which I cannot locate online for some reason — because, among other reasons, it contains more Peter Dinklage.

Tabitha Soren documented in photos what happened after Moneyball

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2017

Tabitha Soren Baseball

Tabitha Soren, who you may remember as a reporter for MTV News, has for the past number of years been working as a photographer. One of her projects began more than 13 years ago as she accompanied her husband Michael Lewis on his visits to the Oakland A’s while working on Moneyball. After the book was published, Soren kept returning to photograph the up-and-coming players Lewis had profiled, following their careers as they either made it in the big leagues or didn’t.

Since then, she has followed the players through their baseball lives, an alternate reality of long bus rides, on-field injuries, friendships and marriages entered and exited, constant motion, and very hard work, often for very little return. Some of the subjects, like Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, have gone on to become well-known, respected players at the highest level of the game. Some left baseball to pursue other lines of work, such as selling insurance and coal mining. Others have struggled with poverty and even homelessness.

The culmination of the project was a gallery show called Fantasy Life, which is now being released as a book.

Nomadic gardener rents people’s yards to grow produce

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2017

Jim Kovaleski is a nomadic gardener — he refers to what he does as “portable farming” at one point — who moves from place to place, renting out people’s yards to grow produce, which he then sells to stores and markets.

This nomadic gardener travels between Maine to Florida gardening leased front yards. With a frugal lifestyle and revenues as high as $1.5K a week, he’s living the dream.

That’s pretty cool. I have space for a garden at my place…I wonder if anyone local wants to farm it in exchange for some fresh produce? (via bb)

An epic desk lunch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2017

Admission: I eat lunch at my desk pretty much every day. So do a lot of people. Some think desk lunches are sad, but many people trade lunch at their desks for family or leisure time at some other point in the day.

A Chinese YouTuber, Little Ye, has taken the desk lunch to a whole new level. In this video, she makes noodles from scratch, scavenges soda cans out of garbage to turn into DIY Bunsen burners & food graters, and cooks a hotpot meal right at her desk.

Little Ye, you are my new hero. In this one, she takes apart her computer so she can use the case to fry a breakfast crepe.

She and the Primitive Technology guy should definitely meet. (thx, claire)

Research principles of the legendary Xerox PARC

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2017

Xerox PARC was one of the most influential technology companies of the past 50 years. Among the technologies invented and/or developed there include Ethernet, laser printers, the modern mouse-controlled GUI, and WYSIWYG text editing. On Quora, former PARC researcher Alan Kay shared the principles under which research at the company operated; here are the first five:

1. Visions not goals

2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.

3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving

4. Milestones not deadlines

5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

(via @pieratt)

Relive the 1917 Russian Revolution through the voices of the day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2017

Romanovs In Color

“1917. Free History” is a project that lets you relive the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution from letters, photos, videos, and texts written at the time.

The project consists entirely of primary sources. It includes not a trace of invention. All the texts used are taken from genuine documents written by historical figures: letters, memoirs, diaries and other documents of the period.

“1917. Free History” is a serial, but in the form of a social network. Every day, when you go onto the site, you will find out what happened exactly one hundred years ago: what various people were thinking about and what happened to each of them in this eventful year. You may not fast-forward into the future, but must follow events as they happen in real time.

“1917. Free History” is a way of bringing the past to life and bringing it closer to the present day. It is a way of understanding what the year 1917 was like for those who lived in Russia and in other countries. We have scoured archives and storerooms for texts, photographs and videos, many of which have never seen the light of day before.

For instance, 100 years ago today writer Maxim Gorky wrote:

The events currently unfolding appear grandiose, moving even, but the meaning behind them is not as profound and great as everyone takes it to be. I am trying to remain sceptical, although I am also moved to tears by the sights and songs of the soldiers marching to the State Duma. We can never go back, but we’ll not move much forward. A sparrow’s step maybe. A lot of blood will be spilt — more than has ever been spilt before.

Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov wrote:

My assistant came in late today. He tried to explain that the revolution has halted all street transport. I believe that a revolution is no excuse for being late!

The image at the top of the page is Tsar Nicholas II with three of his daughters. Spoiler: he abdicates his throne tomorrow.

See also Who are you in 1917 Russia? (I ended up in the Democratic Right quadrant, just right of center.)

The web is a portal to other worlds

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

Like I mentioned in the post on web comedy, something about the experience of the World Wide Web, the experience of working with a screen, seems to loosen our hold on reality. Maybe we’ve trained ourselves to do it by reading stories and playing video games with very vague visual details (sometimes just text). Maybe it’s part of blocking out the world around us so we can focus and interact on the screen. Maybe it’s a residue of the awkward metaphors of “cyberspace,” or maybe this is where those metaphors come from. But I think we are amenable to the suggestion of a possible world where everything is different, even more so than when we read a book or watch a movie. The closest thing might be comic books, which likewise play endlessly with time travel, alternate universes, and what-if scenarios.

Rome, Sweet Rome” is a short story that began as part of a Reddit thread and eventually turned into a movie deal. It’s about a modern US Marine Corps unit that gets sucked back in time and fights Roman soldiers in 23 BC. It’s just like one of the thousand of ridiculous “what if?” conversations that take place on the web every day. But it’s also something that the people who were involved with it while it was being made never forgot.

A People’s History of Tattooine is something I was involved with, although someone else nominated it for part of the time capsule. In 2014, a bunch of geeky dads (mostly) on a Saturday started to wonder how the Star Wars stories would be told not by the Rebellion or the Empire, but by the nonhuman people seen throughout the series. In other words, as Jake Harris wrote, “what if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?”

This attitude, which treats almost nothing with reverence, but everything with care for its consistency and its consequences, is one of the fundamental modes of being on the web. It’s not like traditional fandom, scholarly pedantry, or manual-driven computation, where the original texts are treated like sacred writ. It’s fanfic, it’s slashfic, it’s deconstruction, it’s inventing your own entire fork of a standard because the standard doesn’t do what you think it ought to do. And it’s an attitude particularly well-suited for world-building.

The Onion imagined a film script that had been floating around Hollywood for 75 years called The Final Symphony, with a part written for Basil Rathbone that was later “rewritten for Mickey Rooney, and later Gene Wilder and then Chris Tucker.”

SB Nation wrote an entire feature imagining quarterback Tim Tebow’s sojourn through the Canadian Football League, little imagining that he would do something even less likely and take up minor league baseball.

The Beatles have two alternate histories that readers nominated: one, a Borgesian counterhistory where the band never broke up (complete with unexplained artifacts from that universe), the other, a timeline of events where The Beatles accepting Lorne Michaels’ stunt offer to reunite on Saturday Night Live leads to a reunion album, Mark David Chapman’s suicide, Michael Jackson’s premature death, and Lennon protesting the second Iraq war.

Dru Johnston’s “I Think I Should Get More Credit For Killing Hitler” shows that in a utopia as well as a dystopia, the gods are indifferent to our heroism.

Finally, there’s the case of Walter Miller’s Homepage. Walter Miller was basically dril before dril. Same dark humor, same misspellings, same grim, bizarre universe, same cult reverence.

The homepage began as a Prodigy site in the mid-1990s at the URL pages.prodigy.com/Hell/walter. It appeared on Suck in January 1996, it was in Time magazine, it won awards, the Harvey company optioned it to be an animated series.

Nobody, as far as I know, ever figured out who Walter Miller was, whether he/she/they were just one person. The site just… faded away. Except it’s mirrored and hosted by fans all over the web, sometimes in different states: an entire sea of alternate versions of an alternate universe, waiting to one day be made whole again.

A Golden Age of Oral Histories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 17, 2017

Golden Girls is one of my ten favorite TV shows ever. Recently, the entire series came to Hulu. I went to find the terrific oral history of the show, published just last year… and it was gone. The entire publication and its website had folded.

Luckily, the writer (Drew Mackie) had saved a copy, and published it on his own site after the magazine went under. So we still have gems like this anecdote from writer Winifred Hervey:

Bea was always my favorite. I left after the third season, and that’s the year she won her Emmy for Best Actress. I was at the ceremony, and after she gave her speech she came over and said, “Winifred, did you hear I mentioned your name, you little twat?” She was mad because I left.

That Golden Girls oral history is part of why I’ve been thinking about how we might save and recirculate the best parts of the web. So many good things have already vanished. The web is resilient, but fragile, too.

Big, splashy, gossipy pop culture oral histories used to be pretty rare, online or off. Vanity Fair would publish one every once in a while; in 2009, the magazine collected nine of them from the previous decade, including great features on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Motown Records, and a galloping 50-year history of the entire internet, from ARPA to YouTube. Other magazines would do oral histories from time to time — GQ has had some terrific ones — but the real explosion begins in this decade, and it begins and ends on the web.

One of the first pieces Grantland published in 2011 was an oral history of The National, a writerly sports publication stacked with talent that could never make enough money and ended far too soon. (Message!) Right around then, a few really successful features helped kick off the boom.

Since then, my god — we have so many oral histories! Two years ago, Thrillist put together a list of 260 oral histories on music, movies, TV, and related pop culture alone. There are fake oral histories, “oral histories” that only interview two people, oral histories of things the writers profess to hate (trigger warning: autoplay), and oral histories of cult TV shows even more cultish side characters. (“In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.”)

But what are the histories you actually need to read? The Kottke Archives have links to and capsule summaries of no fewer than twenty-five oral histories, going back to 2008. These include histories of SXSW Interactive, the Challenger disaster, Freaks and Geeks, Cheers, Die Hard, and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

With these alone, you already have enough reading material to get you through this week and beyond. But since we’re saving these for aliens, our grandchildren, and our alien grandchildren, I’m going to add a few more. These are just some of my favorite oral histories that (as far as I can tell) have never appeared on Kottke.org.

That last oral history in particular shows you how much the web has changed over the last twelve years — i.e., about half its life. In 2005, Yacht Rock was a show that me and a few thousand other people were really excited about, and that was enough to make it a web sensation. You couldn’t even get it on YouTube, because YouTube barely existed. Web video series were not getting loving write-ups in prestigious magazines. Yet here we are.

A trap for self-driving cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Artist & writer James Bridle has shared a video and photos of his new work-in-progress, Autonomous Trap 001. It’s a trap for self-driving cars.

Autonomous Trap Bridle

Looooooovvve this. (via @robinsloan)

Option B: building resilience and finding meaning in the face of adversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Option B

Two years ago, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband to an unexpected death. The loss left her bereft and adrift. Grieving hard, she struggled to figure out how to move forward with her life. The result of her journey is a book co-authored by Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity.

Jessi Hempel’s piece on Sandberg is a good overview on the book and that period in her life, particularly in relation to Sandberg’s return to work and how that changed leadership & communication at Facebook.

Every year in late May, Facebook gathers its policy and communications team for a day-long retreat. Employees fly in from satellite offices in Germany, say, or Japan. It’s a chance to address problems, and set strategy for the year to come.

Sandberg always speaks, but that year Caryn Marooney, who was then in charge of technology communications, remembers everyone told her she could skip it. She insisted on coming anyway. As 200 people looked on, she began telling the group what she was going through, and how it was. “There were a lot of tears. It was incredibly raw, and then she said, “I’m going to open it up to Q and A,” Marooney remembers. People spoke up.

Talking about her situation allowed Sandberg — and the entire team — to move past it and transition into a productive conversation. Having acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room, they could all focus on the work at hand. “I think people think that vulnerable is soft, but it’s not,” said Marooney, as she described Sandberg’s tough approach to business questions that followed. “It was a blueprint of what we saw from Sheryl going forward.”

Sandberg has also started a non-profit “dedicated to helping you build resilience in the face of adversity — and giving you the tools to help your family, friends, and community build resilience too.”

See also Sandberg’s Facebook post about her husband’s death and her NY Times opinion piece How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.

One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day — with the rules written by my kids in colored markers — still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

“There is no reason to push against [convention]”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2017

From a Kim Severson profile of chef Thomas Keller:

Preeti Mistry, 40, a classically trained chef with a modified Mohawk who cooks elevated Indian street food at her Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, Calif., and her new spot, Navi Kitchen in nearby Emeryville, was in culinary school when she discovered Mr. Keller’s “French Laundry Cookbook.” It had become an instant professional and spiritual guide for cooks of her generation.

In 2004, she visited the French Laundry. At the time, she thought it was the most amazing meal she had ever eaten. She even got to shake hands with Mr. Keller. “I left feeling like I just met Drake or something,” she recalled.

But now? She views fine dining as disingenuous, built from a system steeped in oppression and hierarchy in which women, gays and other minorities — whether customers or cooks — are not treated the same.

“It’s essentially haute couture, and we know haute couture appropriates from minorities and urban communities,” she said. Chefs as powerful as Mr. Keller, she said, have a responsibility to address those issues. “You need to go on your woke journey.”

Mr. Keller smiled when presented with that lens on his profession.

“I pushed against convention when I was young,” he said. “Then you realize there is no reason to push against things. There is no value in it.” Hard work and dedication to craft, he said, will right all wrongs.

That certainly is one way to think about it. [thinking face emoji]

The end of Rogue One + the beginning of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2017

The ending of Rogue One — spoilers! — shows an unconvincing CG clone of Princess Leia receiving the plans for the Death Star just before her ship jumps into hyperspace. The beginning of Star Wars takes place just a few minutes (or hours?) after the final scene in Rogue One. Vader’s ship has caught the Rebel ship. He boards it and captures Leia, but not before she hands off the plans to R2-D2, who escapes to Tatooine with C-3PO. Watching them cut together like this, the whole narrative makes a lot more sense. BTW, on March 24, you’ll be able to watch both movies back-to-back in the comfort of your home when Rogue One is available for digital download.

Why are knights pictured fighting snails in medieval manuscripts?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2017

Snails, particularly those shown in combat with knights, show up in the margins of medieval manuscripts copied around the turn of the 14th century…a sort of medieval meme that spread among scribes. In this video, Phil Edwards investigates what’s going on with those snails, drawing upon the work of Lilian Randall in The Snail in Gothic Marginal Warfare (a corker of a title for an academic work, to be sure).

Should we get rid of the European Union?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2017

As Britain lumbers towards Brexit, other parts of Europe seem to be weighing, electorally and otherwise, if the European Union is something worth keeping or whether it belongs on the trash heap of history next to The League of Nations and the Roman Empire. In this video, Kurzgesagt takes a look at some of the benefits and criticisms of the EU and considers whether the former outweigh the latter.

Some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few months

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2017

Don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades, they’re super subjective. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the descriptions…also subjective. You know what, you should probably just skip this post and watch Planet Earth II instead. It’s objectively great.

The Handmaiden. Khoi Vinh turned me onto this. Loved it. (A)

What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone is underrated. There are some spine-tingling live musical moments in this film. (B+)

The Three-Body Problem. Recommended by Barry. The first book is great, the next two are good but pretty depressing. (B+)

Moonlight. While this didn’t grab me as much as it did everyone else, the Academy got it right. (A-)

The Night Manager. I can see what Taylor Swift saw in Tom Hiddleston. (B+)

T2 Trainspotting. If you saw and loved the original, you should see this. It is somehow nostalgic and also not. (B)

Girls. The struggles of 20-something New Yorkers and the crises of 40-something males may not be the same, but they sure do rhyme. (B+)

Beauty and the Beast. Better than I expected, even for a musical about the Stockholm syndrome. (I mean, why didn’t the Beast let Belle go like waaaay sooner?) I never saw the original when I was a kid but somehow knew all the songs anyway? I even got a little teary at the end but perhaps that’s just because my emotional life is a puddly mess rn. (B)

Hidden Figures. Really liked this. (A-)

Turing’s Cathedral. Raging Bull. Manchester by the Sea. I am increasingly bored by stories about white dudes. Look at the rest of this list. The best stuff, the things I liked the most, are stories about or stories told by women or people of color or non-Americans. (C)

Homo Deus. Still haven’t finished this, but I’m persisting because Sapiens was so good. Hard to escape the conclusion that the sequel is not quite so good. (B-)

Planet Earth II. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the last year. Just fucking watch it already. (A+)

More Life. Liking this more than Views. Drake’s non-albums are better than his albums. (B+)

Mad Men. My second time through. Better than I remember and I remember it being great. (A+)

The Crown. Expected Downton (soapy but fun) but was rewarded with great acting and writing. Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill were *kisses fingers*. (A)

“Awaken My Love”. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t figure this one out. (C-)

Wonderland. Steven Johnson’s best book yet. (A)

The Underground Railroad. Nothing to say about this that already hasn’t been said. (A)

Logan. Producers are realizing they’ve stocked their superhero movies with great actors so maybe they should give them material worthy of their talents. (B+)

Finding Dory. It’s a movie about disability. (A-)

Abstract. Pretty good, but I agree with Rob Walker’s take. Niemann is closest to the way I work/think but I liked Bjarke’s episode the best…even though I’ve got some, er, issues with the guy. (B)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script, not the play. I have now read all 8 of the Harry Potter books with my kids…it took more than 4 years. Very sad it’s over…it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with them. (B+)

Norway’s new pixelated banknotes are gorgeous

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Norway Banknotes

Norway Banknotes

Back in 2014, I posted that Norway would start using new banknotes in 2017 featuring an abstract pixelated design on the reverse of each note. Time did the only thing it knows how to do so here we are in 2017 and the bills will begin circulating later this year. The overall theme for the notes is “The Sea”:

Norway’s long, gnarled coastline has shaped the identity of Norwegians individually and as a nation. The use of marine resources, combined with the use of the sea as a transport artery, has been crucial to the development of Norwegian society.

And each particular note has its own subtheme:

The 50-krone banknote: The sea that binds us together
The 100-krone banknote: The sea that takes us out into the world
The 200-krone banknote: The sea that feeds us
The 500-krone banknote: The sea that gives us prosperity
The 1000-krone banknote: The sea that carries us forward

The final design concept by Terje Tønnessen was chosen from among several finalists. I love the final design but also really like the concept by Aslak Gurholt with a children’s drawing on the back of each note echoing the illustration on the front.

Norway Banknotes Gurholt

Also of note (ha!): Norges Bank crowdsourced several aspects of the design process but managed to do it in such a way as to avoid the Boaty McBoatface problem.

The web’s funniest stories

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 20, 2017

I asked Kottke readers to tell me the funniest stories they’d ever read on the web.

Now let me say this: I like to think I have a pretty eclectic sense of humor. I can go high or low, folksy or surreal, G-rated puns or X-rated filth. But some of you… let’s just say a few of you surprised me with some of this. This is some seriously weird shit.

NOTE: To narrow things down, I knocked out anything that didn’t resemble a story. I knocked out videos and focused on text. People who suggested comedy specials on Netflix — I didn’t watch those. I eliminated anything that seemed downright stupid, mean, or just not funny. And I probably dropped a few other links here and there because I closed the tab instead of saving it, or some other reason. This isn’t a scientific survey; this is a blog.

There’s still something to be said about the kind of humor that the web makes possible, or at least rewards disproportionately to other kinds of media. There’s definitely more short-form, densely-referential bits that somehow fuse tweeness and gallows humor than you see on television, or even in magazines, which might be their nearest successor. Some savage blend of The New Yorker and underground zines.

It’s a little like what happened to television comedy after The Simpsons showed up. Animation opened up the possibility space for other kinds of comedy, found a way for the weirdest bits of Get Smart and Monty Python to exist in their own separate universe.

The web had a similar effect. You could write anything. You could do anything. No sets to build, no pages that had to be filled. You had endless reflections by comics on podcasts and interviews and their own blogs and social media feeds about what made the funniest things funny. There were all sorts of new media genres you could lampoon, pillory, and steal from on the sly. You had greater collisions than ever before of different people from all over the world and every walk of life who brought their own traditions of humor and storytelling. Amateur and up-and-coming jokesters desperate to connect with friends and strangers. And an audience chained to their desks or stuck on a train or a doctor’s office looking to laugh. That’s just good gumbo.

Trailer for the latest Thor movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2017

For awhile, I think Hollywood forgot that movies are supposed to be fun. This looks fun, like movies in the 80s were before the studios started fixating too much on boobs and bombs for teen boys, gritty reboots, and save-the-world movies.

Super cool time lapse video of cell division

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

This is a stunning time lapse video of the cells in a tadpole egg dividing over a period of 33 hours. The filmmaker, Francis Chee, built a custom microscope and lighting system to capture the action.

I can say that it was done with a custom designed microscope based on the “infinity optical design” It is not available by any manufacturer. I built it. I used LEDs and relevant optics to light the egg. They too were custom designed by me. The whole microscope sits on anti-vibration table. I have to say that it doesn’t matter too much what microscope people use to perform this. There are countless other variables involved in performing this tricky shot, such as for example: the ambient temperature during shooting; the time at which the eggs were collected; the handling skills of the operator; the type of water used; lenses; quality of camera etc etc.

Chee says in the comments that he’s perfecting his technique and hopes to capture a complete egg-to-tadpole video in the near future. His other videos are worth a look too, like this mushroom time lapse and this gruesome video of a praying mantis eating a fly alive. (via colossal)

What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Queen Elizabeth II

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, who knows how a Brexit-addled Britain might react. She’s ruled now for 65 years; so long that three of her Prime Ministers were born during her rule. That’s why the Palace has a plan (known as “London Bridge”) for announcing her death, “its ceremonial aftermath”, and the ascension of Charles to the throne.

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness - the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard — which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time — a century, in some cases — to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”

This is a great piece, full of interesting details and observations throughout. Like that George V was euthanized in time for the morning paper:

“The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” was the final notice issued by George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson, at 9.30pm on the night of 20 January 1936. Not long afterwards, Dawson injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine — enough to kill him twice over — in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight.

And that radio stations are equipped with a emergency system:

Britain’s commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which is tested once a week and supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe. When the news breaks, these lights will start flashing, to alert DJs to switch to the news in the next few minutes and to play inoffensive music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.

They’ve got this planned out to the second…no detail is too small:

It takes 28 minutes at a slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall.

British royals are buried in lead-lined coffins. Diana’s weighed a quarter of a ton.

(via @oliverburkeman)

The paintings of “Afro Surrealist” Alim Smith

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2017

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

Alim Smith

I really like these paintings by Alim Smith of black culture in America. (The best way to see them all is in the shop.) They’re slightly Cubist almost, reminiscent of Picasso. But of course Picasso’s Cubism was heavily influenced by African art and sculpture; unpacking the levels of cultural influence and appropriation here is above my pay grade. On Instagram, Smith refers to himself as an “Afro Surrealist”. Prints are available. (via @anildash)

Gender inequality and the Supreme Court

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers have published the results of a study they’ve done related to the role of gender in the workings of the Supreme Court. They found that female justices are interrupted much more often by male justices and advocates than male justices are.

Our empirical study examines interruptions among justices, and between the justices and the advocates, during Supreme Court oral arguments. It shows that women still do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land. In fact, as more women join the court, the reaction of the male justices and the male advocates has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.

Even in the most powerful courtroom in the world, the women are being verbally dominated.

Even without adjusting for the low representation of women, the effect is stark. On average, women constituted 22 percent of the court, yet 52 percent of interruptions were directed at them. Overwhelmingly, it was men doing the interrupting: Women interrupted only 15 percent of the time and men interrupted 85 percent of the time, more than their 78 percent representation on the court.

Their study shows that seniority can’t explain this effect — “gender is approximately 30 times more influential than seniority” — but some of it can be explained in terms of political ideology: conservative justices interrupt more than liberal justices do.

We found that the power dynamic does not only affect women: In a court that has been dominated by Republican appointees for over half a century, conservative justices have also dominated liberal justices by interrupting them. We expected cross-ideological interruptions to occur more often than interruptions within ideological camps, and this is true: 62 percent of interruptions cross ideological lines, compared to 38 percent within an ideological camp. However, the effect does not go in both directions: 70 percent of interruptions were of liberals, and only 30 percent of conservatives. Once again, advocates display the same tendency. Advocates interrupting the liberal justices account for over ten percent of interruptions, yet advocate interruptions of the conservative justices account for less than three percent of interruptions.

I wonder what the results would look like if Clarence Thomas ever talked in court? (via @caitlin__kelly)

Andre Agassi and what the scoreboard doesn’t say

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way first…this is a photo of Andre Agassi playing tennis at age 7:

Agassi at 7yo

OMG, that face! That photo is from a recent profile/interview of Agassi, who, after some struggles on and off the court early in his career, seems to have figured out how to live his life with purpose. Through his foundation and other efforts, Agassi has helped build almost 80 schools around the country for underprivileged children.

Did Agassi also wish he could be on court playing Federer or Nadal? “No. You can’t believe you once were at that level — and, even if I could do it, I think of my life now and ask: ‘Why do they do it?’ Steffi said: ‘Can you believe what these guys are still willing to put themselves through?’ It’s remarkable but if I went back in time I would probably retire sooner.”

Surely he misses the intensity? “I miss that the least. That was always the tough part for me. I enjoyed the work that went into making yourself the best you can be but I hated what the scoreboard doesn’t say. It just tells you if you won or lost. But the biggest issue for most athletes is you spend a third of your life not preparing for the next two-thirds. One day your entire way of life comes to an end. It’s a kind of death. You just have to go through it and figure it out. In her own quiet way Steffi feels stronger than me. She’s pretty linear in how she lives. I probably do a little more reminiscing than she does — which says a lot.”

As a kid, I always loved watching Agassi play, especially during the second half of his career. He’d been through some shit, dealt with it, and was playing with a different kind of verve. His game was more knowing, purposeful. I still remember Pete Sampras, overflowing with talent, pounding that amazing serve of his at Agassi, a serve that no one else on the tour could return properly. Some of these wicked serves would confound him, but every few points, Agassi would take a Sampras serve, this perfect booming thing, and absolutely paste it right down the line or cross-court for an easy winner. He took everything that was good about that serve and molded it into his return — the better Sampras hit the serve, the better Agassi’s return would be. (via mr)

I wuv you wobot!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

Rayna is a small child who thinks this hot water heater looks like a robot and she is determined to say hi to it and tell it that she loves it. THIS IS THE CUTEST THING OF ALL TIME THAT IS NOT THAT PHOTO OF OTTERS HOLDING HANDS SO THEY DON’T DRIFT AWAY FROM EACH OTHER WHILE SLEEPING. In the future, when humanity is on trial for the mistreatment of machines, our randomly assigned legal algorithm will introduce this video as Exhibit A in our defense. I like our chances.

Pour some out for the sites that aren’t here

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

Some of the best things ever seen or used on the web can’t be saved. They’re already gone. These are some of them, nominated by Kottke readers.

Google Reader. On the one hand, Google kind of ruined RSS, up until then the best distribution method for serial content, by turning it into a product. At the end, some of the best RSS readers weren’t even RSS readers, just frontends for Google Reader, which handled all the resource-intensive work.

On the other hand, Google Reader was a really wonderful community. It had a lightweight social graph component, but it was really oriented around news and stories and blog updates that people shared. Everything that people wanted online comments to be, Google Reader was. And when it ended, it took all of that away, leaving social media networks — which were really never designed to do content distribution — as the only game in town. I honestly don’t know if we’ve ever recovered.

Geocities. Geocities was a lot of people’s first experience making and reading home pages, putting their lives, personalities, contact information, getting email addresses, and anything else they wanted to share out on the web. The “cities” conceit made it sortable and browsable: they weren’t quite geographical and weren’t quite thematic, but a weird combination of the two. It got bought by Yahoo, back when Yahoo was buying and blending everything, and went the way of all such things.

Now Geocities exists only in Japan, but, like a lot of “first websites,” you can emulate it if you want using Glitch. As Anil Dash writes, “millions of people created their own websites in the era before today’s social networks took over. Learning to tweak HTML to create a GeoCities page, or to customize CSS to make a MySpace page look perfect, was a rite of passage for the first 10 or 15 years of the web.”

Think Secret was an early tech blog focused on Apple, back when Apple was very far from the biggest company in the world. Writing and reading about it, especially rumors about new products, was just a weird obsession for a handful of people. Anyways, Think Secret and its editor Nick “de Plume” Ciarelli got sued for violating trade secrets, and Think Secret was shut down as part of a settlement right as the iPhone was turning Apple into the company everybody was talking about all of the time. Things break another way, and that site’s worth millions of dollars today. Then again, that didn’t save Gawker — so who knows.

Television Without Pity practically invented the genre of TV episode recaps, starting with Dawson’s Creek. Now they’re everywhere! It got bought by NBC in 2007 and shut down in 2014, but supposedly it’s coming back. We’ll see. Nope, turns out it’s just the shell of the website; TWOP won’t running new material after all. But the founders of TWOP went on to start previously.tv. (Thanks, @adrienneLaF, @michelet.)

Nothing lasts forever on the World Wide Web. Even death.

Update: So many people, after this story went live, answered “what about Suck.com?” that I had to make an update.

Reading Suck is bizarre now, because on the one hand, its wry, teasing, sweetly cynical voice has shaped so much of what we know of the web, but its style is actually quite different. It’s like reading Don Quixote and realizing that Cervantes’s book somehow contains, in miniature, every novel that came after it, but that it is also somehow older and stranger and more imaginative than all of them. Also, that every tech or media hype or hustle is exactly the same as one that happened twenty-odd years before it. This is why reporters who’ve been covering Silicon Valley forever have such a twisted sense of humor.

Anyways, the archive still exists; the best way to get it, in my opinion, is the Suck Again email newsletter, which posts every instance of Suck twenty years after its original publication date. Suck is dead; long live Suck.