The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28

The Final Four of Everything

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

The Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessDEC 18

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a documentary which presents a year in the life of Studio Ghibli and its famed director, Hayao Miyazaki. The year in question was a particularly interesting one during which Miyazaki announced his retirement. The trailer:

Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, director Mami Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli -- the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential "other director" Isao Takahata -- over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki's The Wind Rises and Takahata's The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. The result is a rare "fly on the wall" glimpse of the inner workings of one of the world's most celebrated animation studios, and an insight into the dreams, passion and singular dedication of these remarkable creators.

(via @garymross)

Woz the designerDEC 05

Totally sweet and charming video of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak talking about the early days at the company while setting up and using an old Apple II.

Of Apple's two founding Steves, Wozniak was the technologist and Jobs was the one with the artistic & design sense, right? But it's obvious from watching this video that Woz cared deeply about design and was a designer of the highest order. Those early Apple circuit boards are a thing of beauty, which is echoed in the precision and compactness with which Apple currently designs iPhone and Mac hardware. They each have their own unique way of expressing it, but Woz and Jony Ive speak in a similarly hallowed way about how their products are built.

Update: Wozniak still has improving the Apple II on his mind. From earlier this year:

I awoke one night in Quito, Ecuador, this year and came up with a way to save a chip or two from the Apple II, and a trivial way to have the 2 grays of the Apple II be different (light gray and dark gray) but it's 38 years too late. It did give me a good smile, since I know how hard it is to improve on that design.

(via @samryan)

Update: From Founders at Work, an interview with Woz that goes a bit deeper into the genesis of the Apple I and the early days at Apple.

By the time I was done, the design of the Nova was half as many chips as all of the other minicomputers from Varian, Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard, all of the minicomputers of the time (I was designing them all). And I saw that Nova was half as many chips and just as good a computer. What was different? The architecture was really an architecture that just fit right to the very fewest chips.

My whole life was basically trying to optimize things. You don't just save parts, but every time you save parts you save on complexity and reliability, the amount of time it takes to understand something. And how good you can build it without errors and bugs and flaws.

Extrapolated ArtDEC 10

Yarin Gal used an "inpainting" algorithm to extend the canvases of notable paintings. Like van Gogh's Starry Night or Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa:

Extrapolated Art

Extrapolated Art

There's a post on the Wolfram Alpha blog about how you can achieve similar effects using the Wolfram Language.

Sounds like failureDEC 16

Quick three minute video about how they made the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction noise for Star Wars.

Favorite detail: one of the sounds is from the clanking pipes in the studio's bathroom. (via df)

The meteorite collectorDEC 03

A weight-loss doctor from Indiana owns a surprising number of the world's known meteorites, including about 2/3s of an unusual Martian meteorite called Black Beauty, which is valued at more than $10,000 per gram.

There is one diva in particular that I'm here to pay homage to: Black Beauty, a shiny, scaly-skinned, 4.4-billion-year-old rock from Mars. It began its journey to Earth more than 5 million years ago, about the time humans and chimpanzees were splitting from a common ancestor. That is when an asteroid struck Mars, catapulting the rock into space. Sometime in the last thousand years or so, orbital mechanics and gravity delivered the wandering rock to Earth. Surviving an incendiary plunge through the atmosphere, it landed in more than a dozen pieces in the western Sahara. There the fragments sat, untouched except by wind and sand. Finally, a nomad plucked a piece from the dunes. After passing through the hands of several Moroccan middlemen, the first piece wound up in Piatek's hands in 2011. He would acquire nine more.

Black Beauty has since set the collecting world on fire, reaching values of more than $10,000 per gram. (Gold trades for $40 per gram.) The price is in no small part due to the parade of scientific discoveries emerging from the rock's jumbled-up guts. It is the oldest rock from Mars and chock-full of the planet's primordial water. Most intriguing of all, it appears to be the first martian meteorite made of sediment, deposited by wind or water. That makes Black Beauty not only a cosmic blessing-sedimentary rocks are fragile and thought unlikely to survive interplanetary launches-but also a boon for astrobiologists. "If you're going to look for life, you want a sedimentary rock," says Munir Humayun, a meteoriticist at Florida State University in Tallahassee who led a study that last year pinpointed the rock's age.

Beautiful portraits of animals by photographer Brad WilsonNOV 25

Brad Wilson

For his recently released book Wild Life, Brad Wilson shot photos of all kinds of animals on a black background, resulting in unusually expressive portraits.

Brad Wilson

Brad Wilson

Reminds me of Jill Greenberg's monkey portraits...expressive in the same way.

The first Black FridayNOV 28

Just after the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the Native Americans came the first Black Friday with ye olde doorbusters.

And after the feaste, which did consist of water-fowl, and cod and bass and other fishes, and a great many wylde turkeys, the people of Plymouth did retire. And upon awakening they were greeted with many goodly savings, on itemes of considerable necessitie, and just in tyme for the forthcoming holidaye season!

Shoes of sturdy leather were to be had for the low, low sum of a single raccoon's pelt, and milking cow discounts did flood with joye anyone able to parse the true meaning of "half-off." Values on corn, squash, peas, and barley likewise were out of this (New!) worlde; and the people's clamour to purchase a canoe, a novel form of transport that many did consider the hot new gift, was so immense that for some poore souls it did prove injurious.

The canoe came with not one, but two paddles!

rating: 4.5 stars

Annie HallFEB 09

A young-ish Christopher Walken appears in Annie Hall but his name is misspelled in the credits as "Christopher Wlaken". Were this 1990, I might have invented a eastern European backstory for Wlaken, who, perhaps, Americanized his name sometime after appearing in the film. But as we live in the future, a cool hunk of glass and metal from my pocket told me -- before the credits even finished rolling -- that the actor was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, Queens.

The future isn't any fun sometimes.

Radio sounds from the night Lennon diedDEC 08

John Lennon died 34 years ago today. The night he died, someone made a six-minute recording of what was playing on FM radio in NYC:

Almost every station was either discussing the death or playing a Beatles song. See also the front page of the NY Times the next day and the article in the Daily News about the shooting. (via wfmu & @UnlikelyWorlds)

Update: Legendary reporter Jimmy Breslin wrote a piece shortly after the shooting about the police officers that drove Lennon to the hospital that night.

As Moran started driving away, he heard people in the street shouting, "That's John Lennon!"

Moran was driving with Bill Gamble. As they went through the streets to Roosevelt Hospital, Moran looked in the backseat and said, "Are you John Lennon?" The guy in the back nodded and groaned.

Back on Seventy-second Street, somebody told Palma, "Take the woman." And a shaking woman, another victim's wife, crumpled into the backseat as Palma started for Roosevelt Hospital. She said nothing to the two cops and they said nothing to her. Homicide is not a talking matter.

And that last paragraph, wow. (via @mkonnikova)

Earth Uber AllesNOV 25

Paul Ford imagines a future where Uber is the largest company in the world, controlling much of humanity's transportation and delivery needs.

I am Uber. I believed to 0.56 certainty that I could find a bicycle for the person doing the delivery and provide that person with a discounted rental fee. Unfortunately the city of New York insists that bicycle rental kiosks must be controlled by an entity that is not Uber and thus I am not granted the level of full control that is necessary for me to truly optimize the city. No one benefits, no one at all.

The human family growsDEC 02

A new analysis of the genomes of two extinct human species (Neanderthals and Denisovans) shows more clearly that they interbred with our species of human, contributing 2-4% of our modern genomes in some cases.

"What it begins to suggest is that we're looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world -- that there were many hominid populations," says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.

But, more interestingly, the analysis also detected the Denisovans also bred with an as-yet-unknown species of humans.

The Denisovan genome indicates that the population got around: Reich said at the meeting that as well as interbreeding with the ancestors of Oceanians, they also bred with Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans in China and other parts of East Asia. Most surprisingly, Reich said, the genomes indicate that Denisovans interbred with yet another extinct population of archaic humans that lived in Asia more than 30,000 years ago -- one that is neither human nor Neanderthal.

Is this the first time a new human species has been discovered through DNA evidence alone?

String cheetahDEC 18

Love this illustration style from Kerby Rosanes. Gorgeous:

Kerby Rosanes

(via colossal)

The Denim Breaker ClubNOV 26

I don't recall if I ever tweeted about it, but a few months ago I had this idea for a service for the wealthy who wanted properly broken-in jeans but didn't want to bother wearing them around for months first without washing.1 It's basically a dog-walking service but for jeans. It was mostly a joke, but in the age of Uber taxiing kittens to your office for you to cuddle with, no such idea is truly off the table. Huit Denim Co. is experimenting with a beta feature called the Denim Breaker Club.

You are going to break our selvedge jeans in for our customers.

You will have to agree to not wash them for 6 months.

You will have to agree to update what you get up to in them on HistoryTag.

And before you get them sent to you have pay a small deposit, which we will refund on their safe return.

When we get them back, we will expertly wash them.

And then we will sell these beautiful jeans.

You will have 20% of the sale.

So in effect you will be paid to wear jeans.

Have to admit, that's pretty clever. (FYI: HistoryTag gives individual pieces of clothing tracking codes which you can use in social media. A Social Life of Clothes, basically.)

Update: APC offers a similar Butler program:

Nothing is created or destroyed, it is merely transformed. This adage is fulfilled in every respect by the Butler jeans concept. Customers are encouraged to bring their old denim jeans to any A.P.C. store or send it to the online store, where they will be exchanged for a new pair at half price. Broken in naturally over time, their attractive patina created and preserved in accordance with washing instructions, the jeans thus reappear, beginning a second life. But not until they have been washed, mended and marked with the initials of their former owner by our workshops. Each pair is therefore truly unique.

(via @endquote)

Update: The Guardian's Morwenna Ferrier has more on Huit Denim Co. and their Denim Breaker Club, including an interview with one of the breakers-in.

I was one of the first breakers. They are the best jeans I've owned. I got involved because I've known David for a long time, as I used to run a clothing company. He told me about the idea and I signed up, paying an £80 deposit.

"When I handed them back, of course they smelled bad. I wore them every single day for six months. Literally. I don't wear a suit, you see. I live in Belfast and I work in Hollywood down the road, and I cycled to work every day. I went to the rugby in them with my thermals underneath. They got soaked in the cold and rain, and so they spent a lot of time hanging and drying above a radiator. One day, when it was warm, I went and lay on the beach in them. I went to the supermarket in them, I cooked in them, I drank in them. I didn't spill anything serious on them, thankfully. I also carved spoons in them, so by the end they were pretty covered in wood shavings.

  1. Methods of breaking in a new pair of unwashed raw selvage jeans vary, but as an example, Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean waited an entire year before washing his jeans for the first time. And yeah, you can buy them broken in, but jeans aficionados insist the proper way to break in jeans is by wearing them.

rating: 1.0 stars

Room 237SEP 25

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

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

Just watch "The Shining" again instead.

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

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

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

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

*** the price is $13,000.00

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

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

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

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

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

i look forward to your response

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

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

Ayn Rand reviews kids' moviesDEC 18

From Mallory Ortberg, some reviews of children's movies penned by objectivist Ayn Rand.

"Mary Poppins"
A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children's game. -No stars.

An oral history of Boogie NightsDEC 10

Every once in awhile on the site, I'll use the phrase "in my wheelhouse", meaning something that is particularly interesting to me. Well, Grantland's long oral history of the making of Boogie Nights is so in my wheelhouse that I might be the captain.

When [Anderson] set out to film Boogie Nights, it was with a resolve bordering on arrogance. Compromise wasn't part of the plan. Still, after an intense production and postproduction period -- one in which the director had to manage a cranky, confused Burt Reynolds and an untested, rapping underwear model named Mark Wahlberg -- Anderson was forced once again to fight studio heads for his cut of the film.

But Anderson's vision prevailed this time. Nearly 20 years later, Boogie Nights endures. For its beautiful portrait of nontraditional families; for Reynolds and Wahlberg, the surrogate father and son, who were never better; for Philip Seymour Hoffman, squeezing into character and breaking hearts; for its prodigy director sticking to his guns and nailing it; for John C. Reilly's hot-tub poetry; for Roller Girl. Is everybody ready? This is the making and near unmaking of Boogie Nights.

Man, I love that movie. But think on this: Leonardo DiCaprio as Dirk Diggler, Drew Barrymore as Roller Girl, and Bill Murray as Jack Horner.

The best magazine covers of 2014DEC 19

Piketty Bw Cover

The picks for the finest magazine covers of the year are starting to trickle out. Coverjunkie is running a reader poll to pick the most creative cover of 2014. Folio didn't pick individual covers but honored publications that consistently delivered memorable covers throughout the year; no surprise that The New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek were at the top of the heap.

See also the best book covers of 2014.

Motion signaturesDEC 15

According to a recent paper, as little as 12 seconds of video is enough to identify a particular shooter's personal "motion signature".

Here's a way to shake off anonymity - literally. Footage from wearable cameras contains a "motion signature" unique to you. The discovery could identify police wearing body cameras, but also let authorities single out protesters uploading footage, say.

(via @buzz)

Parable of the PolygonsDEC 08

Using only squares, triangles, and the condition that each shape wants to move if less than 1/3 of its neighbors are like it, watch how extreme segregation appears in even the most random mixing of shapes.

These little cuties are 50% Triangles, 50% Squares, and 100% slightly shapist. But only slightly! In fact, every polygon prefers being in a diverse crowd. You can only move them if they're unhappy with their immediate neighborhood. Once they're OK where they are, you can't move them until they're unhappy with their neighbors again. They've got one, simple rule: "I wanna move if less than 1/3 of my neighbors are like me."

Harmless, right? Every polygon would be happy with a mixed neighborhood. Surely their small bias can't affect the larger shape society that much? Well... And... our shape society becomes super segregated. Daaaaang. Sometimes a neighborhood just becomes square, and it's not their fault if no triangles wanna stick around. And a triangular neighborhood would welcome a square, but they can't help it if squares ain't interested.

Super super fascinating. Take your time and go through and play with all the interactive widgets. (via @ftrain)

John Muir and the Decline of YosemiteNOV 24

One of the major points in Charles Mann's 1491 (great book, a fave) is that the indigenous peoples of the Americas did not live in pristine wilderness. Through techniques like cultivation and controlled burning, they profoundly shaped their environments, from the forests of New England to the Amazon.

In the 1850s, the indigenous inhabitants of Yosemite Valley, who used controlled burning to maintain the health of the forest, were driven out by a militia. As Eric Michael Johnson writes in Scientific American, the belief in the myth of pristine wilderness by naturalist John Muir has had a negative impact on the biodiversity and the ability to prevent catastrophic fire damage in Yosemite National Park.

The results of this analysis were statistically significant (p < 0.01) and revealed that shade-tolerant species such as White fir and incense cedar had increased to such an extent that Yosemite Valley was now two times more densely packed than it had been in the nineteenth century. These smaller and more flammable trees had pushed out the shade-intolerant species, such as oak or pine, and reduced their numbers by half. After a century of fire suppression in the Yosemite Valley biodiversity had actually declined, trees were now 20 percent smaller, and the forest was more vulnerable to catastrophic fires than it had been before the U.S. Army and armed vigilantes expelled the native population.

(via @charlescmann)

The Game MapDEC 02

Game Map Dorothy

The Game Map from Dorothy is a street map made up of references to more than 500 video games.

The imaginary map is loosely based on an area of Tokyo, a city that was home to some of the all time classic arcade games of the late 1970's and early 1980's that paved the way for the modern day gaming industry. The map features districts dedicated to survival horror (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Sweet Home), beat 'em ups (Street fighter, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon) and Nintendo classics (Super Mario Kart, Donkey Kong Land, Luigi's Mansion) as well as many geeky 'in' references to entertain the most hardcore (or the oldest) of gamers.

Inside the brain of a designerDEC 10

If you've ever wondered how a designer does their thing (or even if you haven't), this look-over-the-shoulder view of Aaron Draplin designing a logo for a fictional company in about 10 minutes is great. A nice reminder that design is truly about making it up as you go along.

I love Draplin. Internet treasure, that guy. And that lefty writing claw! Go lefties!

Every episode of every Star Trek series rankedDEC 15

Jordan Hoffman is a huge huge huge Star Trek fan. So great is his fandom that he is able to rank every single episode from every single Star Trek series from #695 to #1. Several TNG episodes make it into the top 10, including Yesterday's Enterprise, Darmok, and The Best of Both Worlds.

Is it possible to extinguish the Sun with water?DEC 12

From Quora, an answer to the question "If we pour water on the sun with a bucket as big as the sun, will the sun be extinguished?"

The probable answer is "no." The Sun involves a special type of fire that is able to "burn" water, and so it will just get hotter, and six times brighter.

Water is 89% oxygen BY MASS. And the Sun's overall density is 1.4 times that of water. So if you have a volume of water the VOLUME of the Sun, it will have 1/1.4 = 0.71 times the mass of the Sun, and this mass will be .71*.89 = 63% of a solar mass of oxygen and 8% of a solar mass of hydrogen. The Sun itself is 0.74 solar masses of hydrogen and 0.24 solar masses of helium.

So you end up with a 1.7 solar mass star with composition 48% hydrogen, 37% oxygen, and 14% helium (with 1% heavier elements).

Now, will such a star burn? Yes, but not with the type of proton-proton fusion the Sun uses. A star 1.7 times the mass of the Sun will heat up and burn almost entirely by the CNO fusion cycle, after making some carbon and nitrogen to go along with all the oxygen you've started with. So with CNO fusion and that mass you get a type F0 star with about 1.3 times the radius and 6 times the luminosity of the present Sun, and a temperature somewhat hotter than the Sun (7200 K vs. the Sun's 5800 K). It will be bluish-white, with more UV. That, along with that 6 times heat input, will cause the Earth's biosphere to be fried, and oceans to probably boil.

Well, we probably shouldn't do that then. (via gizmodo)

Autism linked to 3rd trimester pollution exposureDEC 19

A major study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health has found a significant link between autism and the exposure of the mother to high levels of air pollution during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Researchers focused on 1,767 children born from 1990 to 2002, including 245 diagnosed with autism. The design of the study and the results rule out many confounding measures that can create a bias, Weisskopf said. The researchers took into account socioeconomic factors that can influence exposure to pollution or play a role in whether a child is diagnosed with autism.

The fact that pollution caused problems only during pregnancy strengthened the findings, since it's unlikely other factors would have changed markedly before or after those nine months, he said in a telephone interview.

The ultimate cause of autism remains a mystery in most cases, said Charis Eng, chairwoman of the Lerner Research Institute's Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. While the Harvard study isn't definitive and the findings could be coincidental, it's not likely given the large size and the precise results, she said in a telephone interview.

"The truth is there has to be gene and environmental interactions," said Eng, who wasn't involved in the study. "I suspect the fetus already had the weak autism spectrum disorder genes, and then the genes and the environment interacted."

It would be a huge help (and I am not in any way being facetious about this) if Jenny McCarthy and all the other celebrity "vaccines cause autism" folks threw their weight behind cleaning up pollution the way they attacked vaccination. Redeem yourselves. (via @john_overholt)

Master blacksmith forges a beautiful knifeDEC 02

Watch as a Latvian master blacksmith forges a Damascus steel1 knife with 320 layers of steel. Then he uses the finished knife to make a leather holder for it.

Pound it flat, fold it over. Pound it flat, fold it over. I love that twist he puts on the steel in the middle of the process. You can also see how their chisels are made, how their axes are made, or take a listen to what their knives sound like after being struck with a hammer (headphones on for this one).

The knives are available for sale from John Neeman (for $650), along with axes, chef's knives, longbows, and other handmade items.

  1. Damascus steel was a legendarily tough and resilient steel used to make Middle Eastern swords. The original process for making Damascus steel was lost, but many modern bladesmiths claim to have rediscovered the process or gotten close enough to call their steel Damascus.

rating: 4.5 stars

ArgoFEB 20

Argo Poster

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

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

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22

Create Your Own Economy

I don't think he's talked about it on his site yet, but Tyler Cowen has a new book coming out called Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

As economist Tyler Cowen boldly shows in Create Your Own Economy, the way we think now is changing more rapidly than it has in a very long time. Not since the Industrial Revolution has a man-made creation -- in this case, the World Wide Web -- so greatly influenced the way our minds work and our human potential. Cowen argues brilliantly that we are breaking down cultural information into ever-smaller tidbits, ordering and reordering them in our minds (and our computers) to meet our own specific needs.

Create Your Own Economy explains why the coming world of Web 3.0 is good for us; why social networking sites such as Facebook are so necessary; what's so great about "Tweeting" and texting; how education will get better; and why politics, literature, and philosophy will become richer. This is a revolutionary guide to life in the new world.

I never properly reviewed Cowen's last book (sorry!), but I found it as enlightening and entertaining as Marginal Revolution is. (via david archer)

The best longreads of 2014DEC 12

Longreads is sharing some of their best, favorite, and most read long-form nonfiction articles of the year. So far, they've highlighted their weekly email picks and their most read exclusives, but they will be adding more as the month goes on. Some notable pieces include Ghosts of the Tsunami, You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?, and David Foster Wallace and the Nature of Fact.

Update: Longform picked their favorite long articles in a number of different categories. #1 on their best of the year is Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations.

Update: And here is Digg's list.

The typography of AlienDEC 03

The excellent Typeset in the Future covers the typography in Ridley Scott's Alien.

Alien Typography

Previously 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon. (via df)

A possible solution for dying coral reefsDEC 04

It turns out if you break some kinds of slow-growing corals into tiny pieces, these microfragments grow much much faster than usual, even 25-50 times faster.

"Part of the coral had grown over the back side and had attached to the bottom of the aquarium," he said. When he grabbed it, "it broke off and left two or three polyps behind. I thought I just killed those. But oh, well, I moved the puck over."

A week later he happened to glance at the abandoned polyps -- the individual hydra-shaped, genetically identical organisms that make up a coral colony -- on the bottom of the aquarium. "I noticed that those one to three polyps were now five to seven polyps," he said. "They not only had lived -- they had grown and had doubled in size."

It was, he said, "my eureka mistake." He cut a few more polyps from the original colony and placed them on other pucks. "And they grew like crazy. The coral seems to want to repair itself quickly and grow back over its lost ground before something else takes its territory."

Both this and the article about the quickly regenerating corals I posted last month seem to hinge on a realization scientists have had recently about coral: what matters most is the surface area, not the volume. You look at a massive brain coral and you think the whole thing is the organism, but most of it is just a base for the thin layer of stuff coating it that actually matters.

More StormscapesDEC 11

This time lapse video of storm clouds by Nicolaus Wegner is flat-out incredible, by far the best of its kind.

Crank up the sound for this one. Previously: Stormscapes 1. (via bad astronomy)

Aerial wallpapersDEC 12

Aerial Wallpapers

Aerial Wallpapers is a collection of iPhone-sized wallpapers of satellite imagery and topographic maps from @juririm. I just downloaded several of these. The image above is a satellite image of the Namib Desert in southern Africa.

Best TV shows of 2014DEC 08

kottke.org favorite Matt Zoller Seitz weighs in on his top 10 best TV shows for 2014. For someone who doesn't watch a ton of TV, I have seen a surprising number of these.

My friend David has been trying to tell me about Hannibal, but I haven't been listening. Maybe I should start? Olive Kitteridge was great; Frances McDormand was incredible. True Detective was pretty good and I was lukewarm on Cosmos (I have NDT issues). Mad Men continues to be great...I keep waiting for it to fall off in quality, but it hasn't happened. The Roosevelts was really interesting and like Seitz, I find myself thinking about it often. I've seen bits and pieces of John Oliver but I get enough of the "humans are awful ha ha" news on Twitter to become a regular viewer.

Other shows I've watched that aren't on the list: Downton Abbey (my favorite soap), Game of Thrones (tied w/ Mad Men for my fave current show, although MM is better), Boardwalk Empire (strong finish), Sherlock (still fun, tho got a bit too self referential there), and Girls (gave up after s03e04 when it was airing but recently powered through rest of the 3rd season and is back in my good graces).

The best movie posters of 2014DEC 16

Adrian Curry selects his favorites for the best movie posters of 2014. This one, for Gabe Polsky's Red Army, caught my eye:

Red Army Poster

See also the best poster lists from Empire, Entertainment Weekly, and Indiewire. (via subtraction)

2014 Physics Breakthrough of the YearDEC 12

Physics World, the magazine of the Institute of Physics, has named their 2014 Breakthrough of the Year and nine runners-up. The top spot goes to the ESA's Rosetta mission for landing on a comet.

By landing the Philae probe on a distant comet, the Rosetta team has begun a new chapter in our understanding of how the solar system formed and evolved -- and ultimately how life was able to emerge on Earth. As well as looking forward to the fascinating science that will be forthcoming from Rosetta scientists, we also acknowledge the technological tour de force of chasing a comet for 10 years and then placing an advanced laboratory on its surface.

The other nine achievements, which you can click through to read about, are:

Quasar shines a bright light on cosmic web
Neutrinos spotted from Sun's main nuclear reaction
Laser fusion passes milestone
Electrons' magnetic interactions isolated at long last
Disorder sharpens optical-fibre images
Data stored in magnetic holograms
Lasers ignite 'supernovae' in the lab
Quantum data are compressed for the first time
Physicists sound-out acoustic tractor beam

Amazon's robotic fulfillment armyDEC 02

Amazon's newest fulfillment center1 features hundreds of robots. Watch them work in an intricate ballet of customer service through increased speed of delivery and greater local selection. Also, ROBOTS!

Now imagine this with McDonald's hamburgers and every other thing we buy and watch Humans Need Not Apply again. (via @tcarmody)

  1. Fulfillment center. How's that for a metaphor for one of the world's largest retailers?

The "power tower feeding frenzy" and hyper-large numbersDEC 04

What's a large number? A billion? A billion times a billion? A billion to the billionth power? A googol? A googolplex? A googolplex is 10^googol, BTW:

So a googol is 1 with just 100 zeros after it, which is a number 10 billion times bigger than the grains of sand that would fill the universe. Can you possibly imagine what kind of number is produced when you put a googol zeros after the 1?

That's pretty big, right? Not. Even. It turns out you can construct numbers that are so much larger than a googolplex, that it's gonna light your head on fire just to read about them. Put on your asbestos hat and feast your eyes on Graham's Number.

Moving up another level, exponentiation is iterated multiplication. Instead of saying 3 x 3 x 3 x 3, exponentiation allows me to bundle that string into the more concise 3^4.

Now, the thing is, this is where most people stop. In the real world, exponentiation is the highest operation we tend to ever use in the hyperoperation sequence. And when I was envisioning my huge googolplex^googolplex number, I was doing the very best I could using the highest level I knew -- exponentiation. On Level 3, the way to go as huge as possible is to make the base number massive and the exponent number massive. Once I had done that, I had maxed out.

The key to breaking through the ceiling to the really big numbers is understanding that you can go up more levels of operations -- you can keep iterating up infinitely. That's the way numbers get truly huge.

You might get lost around the "power tower feeding frenzy" bit or the "power tower feeding frenzies psycho festival" bit, but persist...the end result is really just beyond superlatives. (via @daveg)

Update: In this video, you can listen to the inventor of Graham's number, Ron Graham, explain all about it.

(via @eightohnine)

George Lucas' Special Edition of the Star Wars: Episode VII TrailerNOV 30

What if George Lucas was making the new Star Wars movie instead of JJ Abrams? This recut trailer offers a glimpse of the cheesy CG madness.

So so good.

Vanishing SpiritsNOV 26

Photographer Ernie Button photographs the dried remains of single malt scotch whiskies, which end up looking like desolate landscapes on distant worlds.

Ernie Button Whiskey 01

Ernie Button Whiskey 02

Curious as to how these patterns were formed by some kinds of whiskey but not others, Button reached out to an engineering professor at Princeton.

Dr. Stone's group found that the key difference in whisky is that unlike coffee, it consists of two liquids -- water and ethyl alcohol. The alcohol evaporates more quickly, and as the fraction of water increases, the surface tension of the droplet changes, an effect first noticed in the 19th century by an Italian scientist, Carlo Marangoni. That, in turn, generates complex flows that contribute to the patterns Mr. Button photographed.

"Here, they actually looked at what happens when you change the fluids that are drying," said Dr. Yunker, who is soon heading to the Georgia Institute of Technology as a physics professor, "and they found some very neat effects." (That would be neat in the usual sense of "cool and intriguing" and not as in "I'll have my whisky neat.")

(via @pomeranian99)

How candy canes are made by handDEC 19

The first part of this video, the bit with the molten sugar and cooling table, is the most interesting, but the whole thing is worth a watch.

Reminds me of the lettered rock made at Teddy Grays.

Trailer for Shaun the Sheep movieDEC 01

I am still very much looking forward to the Shaun the Sheep movie, but the first official trailer is not inspiring much confidence:

Yeesh. That makes it look like The Smurfs movie or something. Movie company marketing departments don't seem to know what to do with quirky stuff like Shaun or Wallace & Gromit. Has an Aardman movie ever had a good trailer? (via digg)

The skiing line of the yearDEC 09

This is the craziest thing I've ever seen anyone do on skis: Cody Townsend skiing down a super steep face in a space between two rock walls no wider than a supermarket aisle. Powder Magazine called it "The Line of the Year".

They forgot to put "Batshit Crazy" before the word "Line". (via devour)

Fantastic 1970s letter from Lego to parentsNOV 24

At some point in the 1970s, Lego included the following letter to parents in its sets:

Lego Letter

The text reads:

The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.

It's imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship.

A lot of boys like dolls houses. They're more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They're more exciting than dolls houses.

The most important thing is to the put the right material in the their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.

The letter seems like the sort of thing that might be fake, but Robbie Gonzalez of io9 presents the case for its authenticity.

In our home, Lego currently rules the roost...the kids (a boy and a girl) spend more time building with Lego than doing anything else. This weekend, they worked together to build a beach scene, with a house, pool, lifeguard station, car, pond (for skimboarding), and surfers. Dollhouse stuff basically. Then they raced around the house with Lego spaceships and race cars. Nailed it, 1970s Lego.

Update: QZ confirms, the letter is genuine.

Wolf Hall BBC miniseriesDEC 15

Wolf Hall Tv

Wait, how did I miss this...Hilary Mantel's excellent pair of novels about Thomas Cromwell & Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are being turned into a six-part BBC miniseries. Outstanding! Noted Shakespearian actor Mark Rylance will play Cromwell with Homeland's Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

BBC One will be airing the show in Britain in January while American audiences without access to BitTorrent will have to wait until PBS airs it in April.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11

The Evolution of God

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

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

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

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

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

The economics of SeinfeldDEC 01

Scenes from Seinfeld can help illustrate economic concepts like incentives, thinking at the margin, and common resources. For instance, in The Strike from season nine (the episode that popularized Festivus), Elaine angles for a free sandwich:

Elaine has eaten 23 bad sub sandwiches, and if she eats a 24th, she'll get one free. She is determined to do it, even though Jerry advises her to ignore sunk costs and walk away.

See also the economics of The Simpsons.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailerNOV 28

Here it is, the very first look at JJ Abrams' new Star Wars movie.

Not ashamed to say I felt chills down my spine when the music kicked in. Please please please let this not suck.

Update: From the teaser, it's a little early to tell whether Abrams is following these four rules to make Star Wars great again (1. The setting is the frontier. 2. The future is old. 3. The Force is mysterious. 4. Star Wars isn't cute.) but there are hints of 1&2 in there...they're still driving those old rust-bucket X-Wings and wearing beat-up helmets.

Unedited Footage of a BearDEC 16

Following in the footsteps of Too Many Cooks is Unedited Footage of a Bear. It aired for the first time on Adult Swim this week in their 4am infomercial slot. It starts off as a nature thing with a bear which is interrupted by a fake infomercial and then. Gets. WEIRD.

Update: Adult Swim has a site set up for Claridryl. There might be some answers there to some questions you might have? About stuff? (via devour & @veganstraightedge)

TransparentDEC 17

Transparent

I'm adding mine to the chorus of voices praising Transparent, the Amazon Original Series starring Jeffrey Tambor, aka Arrested Development's Pop Pop. Tambor plays a retired college professor who is transitioning to living as a woman. Each episode is 30 minutes long and the pacing is sitcom-like, but the show is equally comedic and dramatic. The show started off kind of slow for me but got better and better as the season went on. Here's a trailer.

The first episode is free to watch but for the rest you'll need an Amazon Prime subscription1 (for which they offer a 30-day trial). Highly recommended, Tambor is amazing. Oh, and they're doing a second season.

  1. I wonder how effective this tactic is in driving new Prime subscriptions. It's weird that you can't just buy the whole season of the show for $20 or something. I would love to see their internal analysis of how much revenue each Prime member brings in over X number of years versus potential lost revenue from direct sales by non-members.

rating: 4.0 stars

AvatarDEC 29

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

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

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

Interactive visualization of the periodic tableDEC 01

Google Research built an interactive periodic table of the elements where you can see the relative amounts of the elements as found in the human body, in the sea, and, most interestingly, by the number of mentions in books.

Periodic table

If you've ever wondered why the periodic table is shaped the way it is, click on "electrons" under "Shape" and pay attention to the number of electrons in the outer shells in each column of elements. Amazingly, when Dmitri Mendeleev and German chemist Julius Meyer published the first periodic tables in 1869/1870, the elements were organized only by atomic weights and chemical properties; they didn't know what an electron was and certainly weren't aware of quantum shells of electrons. (via @djacobs)

Apple Watch font on OS X YosemiteNOV 21

I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here's what you do...just type the following in Terminal.app:

ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/wellsriley/YosemiteSanFranciscoFont/master/install)"

Then restart your computer. Full instructions are on GitHub. Here's what it looks like:

Apple Watch font on Yosemite

Pretty nice. But it's not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs...it's not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that's weirdly misaligned too. If you'd like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.

  1. From 10.8, no less. I'd been wary of upgrading for the past couple years due to the 15 hours I'd have to spend getting my development environment back into working order again. New version of Apache? Perl moved? Oh, I need to install memcached again? Where did all my configuration files go? [hair tearing out noise] But recently I moved my web development to Vagrant and holy crap is that a game changer. After updating OS X last night, I just issued a quick 'vagrant up' command and there was my dev environment, just like I left it. Awesome.

Recursive gamingDEC 11

The Entire Screen of One Game is like the video game version of Powers of Ten. The game isn't fun or winnable, but it will confuse your brain after only a few seconds. (via @pieratt)

Lauren IpsumNOV 21

Lauren Ipsum is a book about computer science for kids (age 10 and up) published by No Starch Press.

Meet Lauren, an adventurer who knows all about solving problems. But she's lost in the fantastical world of Userland, where mail is delivered by daemons and packs of wild jargon roam.

Lauren sets out for home, traveling through a journey of puzzles, from the Push and Pop Cafe to the Garden of the Forking Paths. As she discovers the secrets of Userland, Lauren learns about computer science without even realizing it-and so do you!

Sounds intriguing. And 1000 bonus points for making the protagonist a girl. There's an older self-published version of the book that's been out for a couple of years. I like the older description slightly better:

Laurie is lost in Userland. She knows where she is, or where she's going, but maybe not at the same time. The only way out is through Jargon-infested swamps, gates guarded by perfect logic, and the perils of breakfast time at the Philosopher's Diner. With just her wits and the help of a lizard who thinks he's a dinosaur, Laurie has to find her own way home.

Lauren Ipsum is a children's story about computer science. In 20 chapters she encounters dozens of ideas from timing attacks to algorithm design, the subtle power of names, and how to get a fair flip out of even the most unfair coin.

Has anyone read it?

Curiosity: stronger support for life on MarsDEC 11

Whilst roving about Mars, Curiosity has slowly but surely racked up evidence for a past Mars that was warm, wet, and possibly habitable.

John P. Grotzinger of Caltech, the project scientist for the mission, reported at a news conference on Monday that the rover's yearlong trek to Mount Sharp provided strong new evidence that Gale Crater had large lakes, rivers and deltas, on and off, for millions to tens of millions of years. The geology shows that even when the surface water dried up, plenty of water would have remained underground, he said.

Moreover, the team concluded, numerous deltalike and lakelike formations detected by orbiting satellites are almost certainly the dried remains of substantial ancient lakes and deltas. None of this proves that life existed on the planet, but the case for an early Mars that was ripe and ready for life has grown stronger.

"As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a habitable planet," Dr. Grotzinger said in an interview. "Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a handful of locations, but at different times around the globe."

See also the interactive 28 Months on Mars.

Update: And right on cue, Curiosity has recorded a two-month-long methane burst on Mars. One explanation for the methane is that it's a waste product of living organisms.

The presence of methane is significant because the gas cannot exist for long. Calculations indicate that sunlight and chemical reactions in the Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years, so any methane there now must have been created recently.

It could have been created by a geological process known as serpentinization, which requires both heat and liquid water. Or it could be a product of life in the form of microbes known as methanogens, which release methane as a waste product.

Even if the explanation for the methane turns out to be geological, the hydrothermal systems would still be prime locations to search for signs of life.

Welcome to Union GlacierDEC 11

While working as a filmmaker as part of the Scott Expedition, Temujin Doran made a beautifully shot and edited short film about a small team of people who live and work on Antarctica's Union Glacier during the summer.

For me, this film seems a bit like an antithesis to many expedition and adventure documentaries. There is no great achievement or record broken, nor any real challenge to overcome. Instead it concerns minor details; the everyday tasks of the staff that were made more special by the environment surrounding them. And in fact, I think that's what attracted me to make this film - the delightful trivialities of an average life, working in Antarctica.

Wes Anderson-esque. (thx, joseph)

Inherent Vice soundtrackDEC 17

The soundtrack for PT Anderson's Inherent Vice is now on Spotify, well all except for one song. The album is even more partially on Rdio. For the whole thing, you'll have to head to Amazon.

The fifth track, Spooks, is a variation of a Radiohead song that's never been officially released. (via @naserca)

Confessions of a morticianDEC 05

Astonishing, if you think about it: that a person could live half his life without coming face-to-face with the one thing that unites us all. And I don't think I'm alone in this.

Eric Puchner pays a visit to a sixth-generation funeral director who wants to reacquaint us all with the uncomfortable, eye-opening realities of death.

Update: The Death, Sex & Money podcast has a good episode about the same funeral director, Caleb Wilde, whose blog is worth a read. (via @mims)

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