Heliocentrism vs geocentrismJAN 11

Helio Vs Geo

With hindsight, it seems bloody obvious the Sun and not the Earth is the center of the solar system. Occam's razor and all that. (via @somniumprojec)

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20

Green Eggs and Ham

After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:

a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you

From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.

But I don't know...foreach ($items as $value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.

Every Oscar Best Picture winner everJAN 29

As we gear up for the upcoming Oscars... Ok, let's stop right there. There are a lot of problems with the Oscars, starting with diversity, but I just love movies. And this review of every Best Picture winner is a fun trip through motion picture history.

Oh, and here's a look at all of the films nominated for Oscars this year (not just for Best Picture):

There are lots of movies from the past year I haven't seen yet (The Revenant, Carol, Creed, Anomalisa), but the best 2015 movie I saw was The Big Short. Spotlight and Mad Max were up there as well.

CNN previews The State of the Union address in the style of Wes AndersonJAN 11

They should have roped Mothersbaugh in on the music, but this was actually really informative! And the Bobby Jindal slow-mo was [kiss-fingers emoji].

Cross-pollinated comicsJAN 26

100 Comic Characters

Artist Jaakko Seppälä drew 10 of his favorite comic characters in each other's distinctive styles, e.g. Lucy van Pelt in the style of Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield in the style of Donald Duck.

Update: See also the Great Comic Switcheroo of 1997, where a bunch of comic authors drew each others' comics for a day. (via @craigpatik)

Chinese nicknames for American pop starsJAN 28

Ethnographer Christina Xu discovered a few of the nicknames that young Chinese fans have devised for American pop stars.

Nicki Minaj - 麻辣鸡 (má là ji): a slant transliteration of "Minaj". Means spicy chicken (ma la is a spice combo commonly used in Sichuan cooking).

Drake - 公鸭 (gōng yā): Literally "male duck", as in the definition of a "drake". I laughed out loud when I finally figured this one out.

Kanye West - 侃爷 (kǎn yé): a transliteration of Kanye. In Beijing dialect, this means someone who brags a lot with no actions to follow it up.

Update: According to @billyroh's coworker, Rihanna is known to some as "the Pop Queen of Shandong Province".

Strange MapsOCT 29

Strange Maps

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

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

The importance of composition in cinematic storytellingJAN 26

In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.

Frozen soap bubbles are beautifulJAN 12

The man who shot the video writes:

An inspiration for this session was a conversation with my 3year old daughter while dressing up to go out:

- Daddy, I don't want to put this jacket on. - she moaned

- Me too, darling but it is very cold outside. - I explained

- How cold?

and I had to figure out an interesting answer which would satisfy a preschooler's curiosity, so I told her:

- It is so cold that even soap bubbles freeze and it looks really beautiful, you know?

I saw a sparkle in her eye so I promised to make a film to show her that. She was so excited about this idea that of course she forgot that she didn't want to put her jacket on. It wasn't easy to capture those bubbles because only around 5-10% of them didn't break instantly and as you can imagine it was a challenge to be patient at -15 Celsius ;) but it was worth it because now that my daughter has seen it, winter is magic for her.

(via devour)

rating: 4.5 stars

Inglourious BasterdsDEC 18

This is pretty much the point at which I knew I was going to love Inglourious Basterds:

Inglourious Basterds

Although I can sure see why someone might hate it; the film rode that razor's edge all the way through.

The best rapper alive for every year since 1979JAN 11

Bigge Smalls

From Complex, a listing of the best rapper alive for each year since 1979, from Grandmaster Caz to Biggie to Nicki to Drake.

Christopher Wallace was only alive for 67 days in 1997, but with a talent so immense, that's all it took for him to be the most dominant rapper of the year. In the months after Biggie's March 9 death, it's almost as if his stock rose. The untimely loss of someone so young, with so much heft in the language of hip-hop, was like a call to reflection. Infatuation with his wit, wordplay, and delivery soared, and 1997, in spite of tragedy, was Biggie's biggest year.

Life After Death was released just over two weeks after Biggie passed and peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album was an ambitious two-disc set with a tracklist comprised of every type of song imaginable. While the diverse styles and subject matter -- his daughter's college plan, kinky sex, hotel heists, a fully-sung ballad -- were an organic product of Biggie's incomparable range, the strategy of Life After Death's sequencing has become the de facto approach for rap albums in the years since. It's an incredibly influential project, before you even press play.

Product companies were told to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandiseJAN 20

This is maddening if true: according to an industry insider, vendors making tie-in products for the new Star Wars movie were directed by Disney1 to exclude Rey from Star Wars related merchandise.

In January 2015, a number of toy and merchandise vendors descended on Lucasfilm's Letterman Center in San Francisco. In a series of confidential meetings, the vendors presented their product ideas to tie in with the highly-anticipated new Star Wars film. Representatives presented, pitched, discussed, and agreed upon prototype products. The seeds of the controversies Lucasfilm is facing regarding the marketing and merchandising of The Force Awakens were sown in those meetings, according to the industry insider.

The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

"We know what sells," the industry insider was told. "No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it."

What good does it do our culture if JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy work to make popular movies with progressive characters if the cowards in marketing are not going to follow suit?

Update: Lots of people are sharing this story, and I wanted to highlight and explain the "if true" in the first paragraph. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the article I linked to. It relies completely on a single anonymous source. I have no idea what Sweatpants and Coffee's fact-checking procedures are. There are also many Star Wars related products featuring Rey (like Lego), so clearly the directive to "exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise" was either not issued in such a restrictive manner or was disregarded in some cases.

  1. The article was annoyingly unclear on who was doing the directing, but you have to assume it's Disney. Who else in the room would have the authority to so direct?

Rosa Parks on To Tell the TruthJAN 08

In 1980, civil rights hero Rosa Parks appeared on To Tell the Truth, a long-running game show. Parks appeared alongside two other women claiming to be Parks and a celebrity panel tried to guess the identity of the true Parks. See also the appearance of a Lincoln assassination witness on a 50s game show. (via @ptak)

White people are pissedJAN 07

From Dave Pell at Nextdraft, who says that "rage is all the rage these days", comes the results of an Esquire/NBC News poll about how angry Americans are these days. Americans are more angry, especially white Americans.

Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what -- these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef -- we found three main factors shaping American rage.

I've been thinking about this issue a lot recently and I think part of the rage white Americans feel has to do with a perceived relative loss of power and status. I mean, look who's in the Oval Office right now...a black Muslim man who wasn't even born here!

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17 equations that changed the worldJAN 28

17 Equations

In the book In Pursuit of the Unknown, Ian Stewart discusses how equations from the likes of Pythagoras, Euler, Newton, Fourier, Maxwell, and Einstein have been used to build the modern world.

I love how as time progresses, the equations get more complicated and difficult for the layperson to read (much less understand) and then Boltzmann and Einstein are like, boom!, entropy is increasing and energy is proportional to mass, suckas!

A brief history of swearing in moviesJAN 20

Swearing in Hollywood movies was banned from the 1930s until 1968. And even then it took two more years for a movie (MASH) to use the word "fuck". NSFW if you've got your fucking sound turned up.

RIP David Bowie, 1947-2016JAN 11

Bowie Hair

David Bowie died Sunday from cancer. Dave Pell at Nextdraft has a nice roundup of links, writing:

In the NYT obituary, Jon Pareles writes: "Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut." Maybe that's why there is such an outpouring of emotion at the news of David Bowie's death at the age of 69. Everyone feels like an outsider and Bowie made being an outsider feel more like being ahead of the curve. Today, there are people who are famous for nothing. David Bowie was famous for everything.

Bowie was also quite keen on the Internet:

Quartz calls him a tech visionary, and there's this from a 1999 Rolling Stone article: "David Bowie has pulled another cyber-coup by becoming the first major-label artist to sell a complete album online in download form."

He didn't get the future exactly right, but authorship and intellectual property has been "in for such a bashing" lately and music sales are down down down:

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity," he added. "So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen."

Spotify is the running water and YouTube is the electricity. (Illustration by Helen Green.)

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Magical chocolate milk erases concussion effectsJAN 14

This is America in a nutshell. Instead of banning kids from playing football, as the world's leading expert on the football-related head injuries urges, a school district is having their football players drink a brand of chocolate milk that has been shown in a preliminary study to "improve their cognitive and motor function over the course of a season, even after experiencing concussions".

Experimental groups drank Fifth Quarter Fresh after each practice and game, sometimes six days a week, while control groups did not consume the chocolate milk. Analysis was performed on two separate groups: athletes who experienced concussions during the season and those who did not. Both non-concussed and concussed groups showed positive effects from the chocolate milk.

Non-concussed athletes who drank Maryland-produced Fifth Quarter Fresh showed better cognitive and motor scores over nine test measures after the season as compared to the control group.

Concussed athletes drinking the milk improved cognitive and motor scores in four measures after the season as compared to those who did not.

Vice Sports has a quick look at what's wrong with this study.

See also these new helmets designed to "prevent" concussions. The problem is not poorly designed helmets or lack of magic chocolate milk. Those things only make matters worse by implicitly condoning poor behavior, e.g. if helmets prevent concussions, it'll gradually result in harder hitting, which will result in more injuries.

Visual effects breakdown for The Force AwakensJAN 14

A look at how some of the most arresting visual effects were done in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The filmmakers used many real sets and models (i.e. practical effects), but there were also 2100 shots in the movie with digital effects.

Update: The original video was removed, but I replaced it with one that's a bit better.

Absolutely mind- and leg-bending acrobatic gymnastics routineFEB 03

The thing these three Russian women do starting at about 0:45 and continuing until about 1:20, is just flat-out amazing. Just watch. (via @dunstan)

How to win at Monopoly and piss off your friendsFEB 08

Monopoly Win

If you're forced into playing Monopoly by friends, you can employ this simple strategy to ensure they will never ever ask you to play again.

With a second monopoly completed, your next task is to improve those properties to three houses each, then all of your properties to four houses each. Six properties with three houses will give you more than half of the houses in the game, and four houses each will give you 75% of the total supply. This will make it nearly impossible for your opponents to improve their own property in a meaningful way. Keep the rulebook nearby once the supply gets low, as you will undoubtedly be questioned on it. At this point, you will be asked repeatedly to build some friggin' hotels already so that other people can build houses. Don't.

At this point, you more or less have the game sewn up. If losing a normal game of monopoly is frustrating, losing to this strategy is excruciating, as a losing opponent essentially has no path to victory, even with lucky rolls. Your goal is to play conservatively, lock up more resources, and let the other players lose by attrition. If you want to see these people again, I recommend not gloating, but simply state that you're playing to win, and that it wasn't your idea to play Monopoly in the first place.

It is difficult to read this without thinking about income inequality in the real world.

FootGolfJAN 15

It took me a few minutes to realize that FootGolf, like chessboxing, is an actual sport and not a Funny or Die skit. As you might have guessed, FootGolf is golf but with soccer balls and feet instead of golf balls and clubs.

The Simpsons screencap search engineFEB 04

Frinkiac searches through the subtitles from every episode of The Simpsons (in the first 15 seasons) and returns screencaps of all the times when the search term was used. For example, inanimate:

In Rod We Trust

(via @emunn)

Trippy spinning optical illusionFEB 01

Spinning Optical Illusion

Somehow, this woman seems to be spinning both clockwise and counter-clockwise simultaneously. This is worse than the spinning ballerina. Anyone know who did this? Randomly found it on Facebook and couldn't trace the source back...

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)

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.

Michael Pollan gets his own Netflix seriesJAN 15

Food writer Michael Pollan -- author of The Botany of Desire (my fave of his) and originator of the world's best simple diet: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." -- is the subject of a four-part Netflix series called Cooked. The series is based on Pollan's book of the same name and debuts on February 19.

Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the "Fire" episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the "Water" episode, he'll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled "Air" explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, "Earth," looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that "surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being."

Announcing this show only a month out and unaccompanied by a trailer? I have no idea what Netflix is thinking sometimes.

Quantum Chess: Stephen Hawking vs Paul RuddJAN 29

So, this is a time travel movie with Keanu Reeves (narrator) and Alex Winter (director), but it's not Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Part 3? No, of course not. It's actually a video about quantum chess featuring Paul Rudd, Stephen Hawking, and music from The Matrix. Like, WHAT?! If The Chickening hadn't dropped earlier, this would be the oddest thing you'll watch this week. (And it's not quite clear, but the video appears to be an advertisement for a quantum chess game that's launching on Kickstarter next week. Nothing about this makes any sense...) (via @gavinpurcell)

A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry in the United StatesFEB 02

American Slave Coast

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned & Constance Sublette is a book which offers an alternate view of slavery in the United States. Instead of treating slavery as a source of unpaid labor, as it is typically understood, they focus on the ownership aspect: people as property, merchandise, collateral, and capital. From a review of the book at Pacific Standard:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? "The South," the Sublettes write, "did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people." Slavers called slave-breeding "natural increase," but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia's capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It's hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, "most of it in the North," the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South's total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

Just reading that turns my stomach. The Sublettes also recast the 1808 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade as trade protectionism.

Virginia slaveowners won a major victory when Thomas Jefferson's 1808 prohibition of the African slave trade protected the domestic slave markets for slave-breeding.

I haven't read the book, but I imagine they touched on the fact that by growing slave populations, southern states were literally manufacturing more political representation due to the Three-Fifths clause in the US Constitution. They bred more slaves to help politically safeguard the practice of slavery.

Update: Because slaves were property, Southern slave owners could mortgage them to banks and then the banks could package the mortgages into bonds and sell the bonds to anyone anywhere in the world, even where slavery was illegal.

In the 1830s, powerful Southern slaveowners wanted to import capital into their states so they could buy more slaves. They came up with a new, two-part idea: mortgaging slaves; and then turning the mortgages into bonds that could be marketed all over the world.

First, American planters organized new banks, usually in new states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Drawing up lists of slaves for collateral, the planters then mortgaged them to the banks they had created, enabling themselves to buy additional slaves to expand cotton production. To provide capital for those loans, the banks sold bonds to investors from around the globe -- London, New York, Amsterdam, Paris. The bond buyers, many of whom lived in countries where slavery was illegal, didn't own individual slaves -- just bonds backed by their value. Planters' mortgage payments paid the interest and the principle on these bond payments. Enslaved human beings had been, in modern financial lingo, "securitized."

Slave-backed securities. My stomach is turning again. (via @daveg)

Creepy skinless animatronic babiesJAN 15

Has your day been insufficiently creepy? Not anymore! You may not be able to sleep properly after looking at this video of animatronic babies, some of them without their "skin" on. (via @machinepix)

Max Mad: Fury Road sped up 12X is still watchableJAN 25

Film editor Vashi Nedomansky took five movies whose ASL (average shot length) is under 2 seconds and sped them up by 12 times. You can judge for yourself, but according to Nedomansky, Mad Max: Fury Road is the only one that's still comprehensible at that speed. Huge props to director George Miller and editor Margaret Sixel.

Scratch circlesJAN 08

This is a photo of a scratch circle taken by David Marvin:

Scratch Circle

However, the lack of snow and ice on the beaches has allowed unique features called scratch circles, or Scharrkreise, to form on the sand. Etched by windblown, dried dune grasses, the circles take shape when the wind causes a bent stalk of grass to pivot around on its axis, scratching out an arc or full circle in the sand.

This is delightful, a perfect geometric form made by nature in a seemingly random way. (via @BadAstronomer)

Why The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movieJAN 14

Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, explains why the third movie in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best film in the series -- spoiler: because Alfonso Cuarón -- and why that matters for the young fans of the series: for some, it's their first exposure to good filmmaking.

Woman escapes hired killers, shows up at own funeralFEB 05

Noela Rukundo, whose husband had only recently paid to have killed, showed up at her own funeral.

Finally, she spotted the man she'd been waiting for. She stepped out of her car, and her husband put his hands on his head in horror.

"Is it my eyes?" she recalled him saying. "Is it a ghost?"

"Surprise! I'm still alive!" she replied.

Far from being elated, the man looked terrified. Five days earlier, he had ordered a team of hit men to kill Rukundo, his partner of 10 years. And they did - well, they told him they did. They even got him to pay an extra few thousand dollars for carrying out the crime.

Now here was his wife, standing before him. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Rukundo recalled how he touched her shoulder to find it unnervingly solid. He jumped. Then he started screaming.

What a story. As @tcarmody says, "I like to imagine Bezos grinning and salivating over this story like Charles Foster Kane".

Fish slap remixFEB 05

Happy Friday, everyone. I am so glad this week is done. I have no idea what this is. But it made me happy briefly and that's enough. (via @jasonzada)

Obama bans use of solitary confinement for juvenilesJAN 26

President Obama announces a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn't make us safer. It's an affront to our common humanity.

Here's Obama's Op-Ed on the topic.

"It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment." That's a quote on solitary from John McCain from an old New Yorker piece from Atul Gawande: Hellhole. (via nextdraft)

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What the NYC subway train sawJAN 19

YouTube user DJ Hammers has been uploading videos of start-to-finish trips on NYC subway lines from the perspective of the operator at the front of the train. The realtime videos are interesting to watch, but the 10x time lapses are probably a better use of your attention. Here's the time lapse of the Queens-bound 7 train (realtime version):

See also Slow TV.

The 50th LawJUN 23

The 50th Law

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, which has been influential in both halls of business and hip-hop circles, has written a new book with rapper 50 Cent called The 50th Law. Greene was initially skeptical of 50 Cent as a co-author but was impressed by their initial meeting.

He was in the midst of a power struggle with a rival rapper and he talked quite openly about the strategies he was employing, including mistakes he had made along the way. He analyzed his own actions with detachment, as if he were talking about another person. Over the last few years he had witnessed a lot of nasty maneuvering within the music business, and he seemed to want to discuss this with somebody from the outside. He was not interested in myths but reality. Contrary to his public persona, he had a Zen-like calmness that impressed me.

The main theme of the book is about fear and "the reverse power that you can obtain by overcoming [it]".

We found stories from his own life that would illustrate these ideas, many of them culled from his days as a hustler and even highlighting mistakes along the way that taught him valuable lessons. Later, from my own research, I would bring in examples from other historical figures who exemplified this trait. Many of them would be African Americans--Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Hurricane Carter, et al--whose fearless quality was forged by their harsh struggles against racism. Others would come from all periods and cultures--the Stoics, Joan of Arc, JFK, Leonardo da Vinci, Mao tse-tung, and so on.

The Syrian lodgerJAN 12

In the Guardian, an English woman named Helen takes in a Syrian refugee as a lodger and shares her story:

What does he make of my bourgeois life? He does not appreciate the middle-class obsession with sanded floorboards, when we could all afford wall-to-wall carpets. He cannot believe I own a cook book holder. Cook books themselves he finds hilarious; the women in Yasser's life have always cooked for him (he is an excellent washer-upper) and his early forays into gastronomy appalled and amused me in equal measure. One morning he asked me how to turn on the oven. I showed him, asking what he wanted to warm up. "Safari eggs," he said. No amount of miming or Google Translate could make me understand. It was something he'd bought the previous night, he said, rummaging through the bin for the packaging of what turned out to be "savoury eggs" -- scotch eggs. "Two things you need to know about these eggs, Yasser," I said. "One, we eat them cold. Two, they contain pork and you don't eat pork."

And her lodger, Yasser, shares his side:

Soon after I moved in, Helen threw a Halloween party -- my first. She dressed up in a fake white beard, with black rings round her eyes. "I'm Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour party," she said. "Then I should be David Cameron," I replied. I didn't really mean it, but Helen liked the idea. I borrowed a suit and shaved my beard. She taught me some catchphrases about hard-working families, low tax something and housing benefits. The idea of a Syrian refugee dressed up as David Cameron was very amusing for other people. People drank so much at the party. I couldn't believe the recycling bin the next day!

I had a good time and things began to be less awkward. Every one of Helen's friends offered to help me if need be. Some of them offered to help me with my English. You hear things about British people; that although they might smile at you, they never show their true feelings. This hasn't been true for me. Although I come from a completely different culture, I found something very familiar. People are loving, thoughtful and compassionate, both here in Britain and back in Syria.

Liquid columns of falling animated peopleJAN 19

This is a bunch of animated naked people falling into two precise columns. Mesmerizing. Perhaps a little NSFW? And throw some headphones on...the sound, while subtle, is essential.

See also that video -- you remember the one -- of a bunch of computer-generated people being mowed down by a rotating bar.

Bull's Head by Pablo PicassoJAN 13

Before the holiday break, I took in the Picasso Sculpture show at MoMA. Sculpture typically isn't my cup of tea art-wise (or Picasso-wise) and much of the exhibition was lost on me, but Bull's Head stopped me in my tracks.

Picasso, Bull's Head

Picasso once said of the piece:

Guess how I made the bull's head? One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled up together, I found an old bicycle seat right next to a rusty set of handlebars. In a flash, they joined together in my head. The idea of the Bull's Head came to me before I had a chance to think. All I did was weld them together... [but] if you were only to see the bull's head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact.

The piece is, at once, just barely over the line of what can be considered art and also so wonderfully artistic. Love it.

If movies ended when someone said the titleFEB 04

What a great idea. I just wish it were better executed. The weird music they use for the end credits of each movie is too much...it would have been better to just play it straight and let the gag stand by itself. (via cynical-c)

What makes Star Wars Star Wars?JAN 08

A short entertaining look at Star Wars' secret sauce. Joseph Campbell? Kurosawa? Flash Gordon? The ancient future? The sounds? (PS: The Wilhelm Scream shows up pretty early on in The Force Awakens, as Poe and Finn exit the First Order hangar bay.)

rating: 4.0 stars

The Truman ShowMAY 26

The Truman Show delusion is how some psychiatrists are describing the condition of psychotic patients who believe they are filmed stars of reality TV programs.

Another patient traveled to New York City and showed up at a federal building in downtown Manhattan seeking asylum so he could get off his reality show, Dr. Gold said. The patient reported that he also came to New York to see if the Twin Towers were still standing, because he believed that seeing their destruction on Sept. 11 on television was part of his reality show. If they were still standing, he said, then he would know that the terrorist attack was all part of the script.

As for the movie itself, for all its popularity and critical success when released, it's little-remembered today. And unfairly so; the "realness" about our increasingly mediated lives remains a hot topic of debate.

Drone footage of a Syrian city destroyed by warFEB 03

Until recently, the Syrian city of Homs was the country's third largest, with an estimated population of more than 800,000. As you can see from this drone footage, The Siege of Homs left much of the city destroyed and its population displaced.

If you scroll down in this Guardian piece, there's a photo showing what a Homs street looked like before and after the siege. (via @alexismadrigal)

Update: A pair of newlyweds recently posed for some wedding portraits in war-ravaged Homs. Bad idea or the worst idea?

rating: 4.5 stars

The September IssueMAR 18

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

What has Obama got in its pocketses?JAN 21

Last week, after the State of the Union address, President Obama was interviewed by three prominent YouTube users. Oh, the outcry that arose! (Even though he did the same thing last year.) The President giving valuable country-running time over to mere social media stars, what has this country come to?

Well, it turns out if you get different kinds of people asking different kinds of questions, you're going to get answers you normally wouldn't hear. Case in point: Ingrid Nilsen was one of the three YouTubers chosen to interview the President. She asked him to talk about a meaningful item from his house and the President told a wonderful story about what he carries in his pockets every day:

Obama continues to be delightful and Nilsen might be my new favorite person after watching her YT channel for a bit this morning. I mean, just watch the first few minutes of this video where she came out to her viewers.

Lo and Behold, a film about "the connected world" by Werner HerzogJAN 20

Well, holy shit...Werner Herzog has made a film called Lo and Behold about the online world and artificial intelligence.

Lo and Behold traces what Herzog describes as "one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing," from its most elevating accomplishments to its darkest corners. Featuring original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and world-famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the film travels through a series of interconnected episodes that reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships.

From the trailer, it looks amazing. Gotta see this asap.

Absurdly challenging recipes from actual cookbooksJAN 22

Ben Schott collects some instructions from the cookbooks of noted chefs that will likely never be attempted by the home chef (unless you're this woman). Like this one from A New Napa Cuisine that calls for phytoplankton:

20 grams marine phytoplankton
100 grams water
4 matsutake mushrooms, peeled and left whole

Or this one from Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck Cookbook to make frankincense hydrosol:

50 grams golden frankincense tears
100 grams water

I've owned several cookbooks where one recipe on page 107 calls for the product of a recipe on page 53 which in turn calls for the output of a recipe on page 28. Rube Goldberg cooking. Living in NYC, it's often easier, faster, cheaper, and tastier to walk to the restaurant in question and just order the damn thing. Or head to Shake Shack instead.

The ChickeningJAN 26

The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won't be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Massive data analysis of NYC Citi Bike dataJAN 13

Late last year, Todd Schneider did a big data analysis of taxi and Uber usage in NYC. This morning, he posted the results of a similar analysis for Citi Bike.

But unlike the taxi data, Citi Bike includes demographic information about its riders, namely gender, birth year, and subscriber status. At first glance that might not seem too revealing, but it turns out that it's enough to uniquely identify many Citi Bike trips. If you know the following information about an individual Citi Bike trip:

1. The rider is an annual subscriber
2. Their gender
3. Their birth year
4. The station where they picked up a Citi Bike
5. The date and time they picked up the bike, rounded to the nearest hour

Then you can uniquely identify that individual trip 84% of the time! That means you can find out where and when the rider dropped off the bike, which might be sensitive information. Because men account for 77% of all subscriber trips, it's even easier to uniquely identify rides by women: if we restrict to female riders, then 92% of trips can be uniquely identified.

Alan Rickman, RIPJAN 14

In this short video (oh just be patient and watch the whole damn thing), Alan Rickman demonstrates how I feel this morning that he has died of cancer at the age of 69. (Same age and affliction as Bowie, you'll note.)

That Rickman never won an Oscar (he did receive a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Bafta and many more) became a perennial topic in interviews but did not seem to trouble the actor himself. "Parts win prizes, not actors," he said in 2008. It was the wider worth of his art to which Rickman remained committed, saying that he found it easier to treat the work seriously if he could look upon himself with levity.

"Actors are agents of change," he said. "A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."

I loved Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and as Dr. Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, but I'll remember his turn as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films the most. Among several fantastic actors in that series, Rickman's performance was arguably the best. Many characters in Potter struggled between the good and not-so-good sides of themselves (including Harry and Dumbledore) but none of them carried that battle off as well as Rickman's Snape.

The first feature film shot entirely with a Prius backup cameraJAN 26

Watch these inspiring film pioneers in this behind the scenes look at the first movie shot entirely with a Prius backup camera. (via @kevin2kelly)

Wait for The Wolf, who should be coming directly...JAN 12

A company called Studio D recently published their corporate end-of-the-year report for 2015. It is unlike most other companies' year-end reports. Studio D, which was founded by global citizen Jan Chipchase, "specialises in sensitive research topics requiring a very discreet presence; through to working in higher risk environments".

This year the studio was joined by two four-legged team members: Ramoosh the camel purchased from the livestock market in Hargeysa; and Neyy a goat bought on the road between Harare and Bindura. As is the local norm in a country with limited electricity and even less refrigeration, Neyy was gifted to an interviewee as a small thank-you -- anything larger wouldn't be possible to eat in one sitting and would spoil after slaughter. Both were expensed.

The company also debuted the 1M Hauly Heist, which is a ultra-durable and discreet travel pack that will carry $1 million in US $100 bills and shield electronics from RF tracking. The 1M Hauly Heist made it onto my 2015 holiday gift list.

The Brownstone by Paula ScherJAN 22

The Brownstone by Paula Scher

I had no idea mega-designer Paula Scher wrote a children's book back in the early 70s. Just recently re-released in a new edition, The Brownstone is the story of the inhabitants of a NYC apartment building all trying to live together and get along.

Living in harmony with your neighbor isn't always easy, but it's doubly difficult if you're a bear living in a New York City brownstone, getting ready to hibernate, and the kangaroos' tap dancing upstairs and Miss Cat's piano playing reverberate through the walls and floors.

The original has been long out of print (copies are $275 and up), so this is good news.

Adele rapping Nicki Minaj's verses from Monster is everythingJAN 14

James Corden does this thing on the Late Late Show where he drives around with singers doing karaoke in a car. Yesterday, he picked up Adele and they drove around singing a few of her songs and then she did, without dropping a word, Nicki Minaj's verses from Monster1 (starts at about the 10:15 mark). Soooo good. (via @djacobs)

  1. Which is, for my money, one of the rap performances of all time, album or no.

The One with Chicken BobJAN 19

Twitter user Andy Pandy fed the scripts for all the episodes of Friends into a neural network and had it generate new scenes. Here's what it came up with.

Neuro Friends

Neuro Friends

(via @buzz)

Clearing retired cells may extend lifeFEB 04

"I'm looking at a picture of two mice. The one on the right looks healthy. The one on the left has graying fur, a hunched back, and an eye that's been whitened by cataracts."

What's the difference? Well, scientists at the Mayo clinic used a process to remove senescent (or retired) cells from one of them. And that process leads to mice who age better and live longer. As one researcher not connected to the study explains:

The usual caveats apply -- it's got to be reproduced by other people -- but if it's correct, without wanting to be too hyperbolic, it's one of the more important aging discoveries ever.

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

The best facts I learned from reading The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015JAN 07

Kathryn Schulz, who wrote the now-infamous New Yorker piece about earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest, shared a list of the best facts she learned fron books in 2015. Two stuck out for me. The first is from Sarah Hrdy's Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and provides some necessary context for the debates over birth control and abortion:

In the era before women had any control over their fertility, child abandonment -- a de-facto form of infanticide -- "affected not tens of thousands, not even hundreds of thousands, but millions of babies," according to the anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Hrdy. In Florence, for instance, the average annual rate of infant abandonment between 1500 and 1843 ranged from twelve per cent to forty-three per cent. In response, societies eventually began establishing foundling hospitals, but the mortality rates at these were equally high. Two-thirds of babies left at a Florence foundling home between 1755 and 1773 died before their first birthday; in 1767, mortality rates in foundling homes in St. Petersburg and Moscow reached ninety-nine per cent. While contemporary readers may find these statistics shocking, many people at the time knew exactly what was going on. In the town of Brescia, in northern Italy, residents proposed carving a motto over the entrance to the foundling home: "Here children are killed at public expense."

And from Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss comes the realization that London's poor visibility was not limited to outdoors:

Having read my share of Victorian novels, I was familiar with the phenomenon of London fog, but I was surprised to learn, from Lauren Redniss's "Thunder & Lightning," that the combination of atmospheric conditions, factory emissions, and coal fires sometimes made the city's air so impenetrable that visibility was reduced to just a few feet even indoors. That was bad news for theatregoers, who could not see the stage, but good news for thieves, who could not be seen. Worse, ambulances got lost, trucks accidentally drove into the Thames, and at least one airplane overshot its runway. Conditions began to improve only in 1956, with the passage of England's Clean Air Act.

Thanks, Kathryn!

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