The 2015 Tournament of BooksJAN 09

The Morning News has announced the competitors in their annual Tournament of Books. The ToB features 16 of the best works of fiction published in 2014 pitted against each other in a NCAA Tournament-style contest. It's great fun...I was a judge a few years ago. Books competing this year include All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, and An Untamed State by Roxane Gay.

On the importance of dinersJAN 14

At Serious Eats, Ed Levine writes about Why Diners Are More Important Than Ever. From his ten-point list of what defines a diner:

8. All-occasion places: Diners must rise to many occasions, from first dates to pre- or post-game celebrations by fans or teammates, to wallowing in solitary self-pity. Diners are the best restaurants for planning murders, stick-ups, or other nefarious enterprises.

Being an all-occasion place is not the only egalitarian thing about diners:

People talk about Starbucks reintroducing the notion of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the "third place" in American life: spaces where we gather besides home and work to form real, not virtual, communities. Starbucks and more high-minded cafes that followed in its wake have surely succeeded on this point, but long before 1971, when the first Starbucks opened in Pike Place Market in Seattle, diners were already serving that invaluable function for us, along with the corner tavern.

And that's why we need to cherish our local diners, whether it's a mom and pop or a Waffle House or a Greek coffee shop. They're some of the few cheap, all-inclusive places to eat and hang out and laugh and cry and stay viscerally connected with other folks.

And it warmed my heart to see Ed include Cup & Saucer and Eisenberg's on his list of notable NYC diners. An unusual thing I've noticed about Eisenberg's: instead of getting your check at the table, you just tell the cashier what you ordered on the way out and pay for it. Like on the honor system! Is there anywhere else in NYC that does this? I wonder what their loss rate is compared to the norm?

24 pieces of life advice from Werner HerzogJAN 14

Werner Herzog Bear

Paul Cronin's book of conversations with filmmaker Werner Herzog is called Werner Herzog - A Guide for the Perplexed. On the back cover of the book, Herzog offers a list of advice for filmmakers that doubles as general purpose life advice.

1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don't be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.

I bet this is some of the stuff you learn at Herzog's Rogue Film School:

The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lockpicking or forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects. In short: for those who have a sense of poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four year old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream.

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."

80s tech and Back to the FutureJAN 13

In his piece on Back to the Future trilogy, Tim Carmody focuses not on the 2015 future of the movies (hoverboards, self-drying jackets, Mr. Fusion) but on what the movies can tell us about technology in the 1980s. This riff on Back to the Future's cassette tape method of time travel is quite clever:

I sometimes call this "the cassette era," and sure enough, cassettes are everywhere. Marty has a Walkman, a camcorder, and an audition tape for his band; the Pinheads have recorded a demo even though they've never played in front of an audience.

As a material support for a medium, the cassette has certain advantages and disadvantages. It's more portable and sturdy than reels or records, and it requires less user interaction or expertise. It requires very fine interactions of miniaturized technology, both mechanical and electronic, in the form of transistors, reading heads, and so forth. Magnetic tape can actually record information as digital or analog, so it's curiously agnostic in that respect.

Cassettes can also be easily rewound or fast forward. It's easy to synchronize and dub the contents of one cassette onto another. And users can easily erase or rerecord information over the same tape.

This has clear implications for how we think - and especially, how our predecessors thirty years ago thought-about time travel. It is no accident that many important time travel films, including the Terminator franchise, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and yes, the Back to the Future movies, appear at this time. In all three cases, time travel is accomplished with a technological mechanism that allows its users precise control of where they arrive in the timestream. (In earlier time travel stories, travellers slide down a river or awake from a dream, but in the 1980s, the H.G. Wells/Doctor Who conception of time travel through a technological device pretty definitively wins out.) And in all three cases, the goal of time travel is to save and/or rewrite events within a specific person's lifetime, without which a future timeline will cease to exist.

Kids, the Holocaust, and "inappropriate" playJAN 08

On a strong recommendation from Meg, I have been reading Peter Gray's Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. Gray is a developmental psychologist and in Free to Learn he argues that 1) children learn primarily through self-directed play (by themselves and with other children), and 2) our current teacher-driven educational system is stifling this instinct in our kids, big-time.

I have a lot to say about Free to Learn (it's fascinating), but I wanted to share one of the most surprising and unsettling passages in the book. In a chapter on the role of play in social and emotional development, Gray discusses play that might be considered inappropriate, dangerous, or forbidden by adults: fighting, violent video games, climbing "too high", etc. As part of the discussion, he shares some of what George Eisen uncovered while writing his book, Children and Play in the Holocaust.

In the ghettos, the first stage in concentration before prisoners were sent off to labor and extermination camps, parents tried desperately to divert their children's attention from the horrors around them and to preserve some semblance of the innocent play the children had known before. They created makeshift playgrounds and tried to lead the children in traditional games. The adults themselves played in ways aimed at psychological escape from their grim situation, if they played at all. For example, one man traded a crust of bread for a chessboard, because by playing chess he could forget his hunger. But the children would have none of that. They played games designed to confront, not avoid, the horrors. They played games of war, of "blowing up bunkers," of "slaughtering," of "seizing the clothes of the dead," and games of resistance. At Vilna, Jewish children played "Jews and Gestapomen," in which the Jews would overpower their tormenters and beat them with their own rifles (sticks).

Even in the extermination camps, the children who were still healthy enough to move around played. In one camp they played a game called "tickling the corpse." At Auschwitz-Birkenau they dared one another to touch the electric fence. They played "gas chamber," a game in which they threw rocks into a pit and screamed the sounds of people dying. One game of their own devising was modeled after the camp's daily roll call and was called klepsi-klepsi, a common term for stealing. One playmate was blindfolded; then one of the others would step forward and hit him hard on the face; and then, with blindfold removed, the one who had been hit had to guess, from facial expressions or other evidence, who had hit him. To survive at Auschwitz, one had to be an expert at bluffing -- for example, about stealing bread or about knowing of someone's escape or resistance plans. Klepsi-klepsi may have been practice for that skill.

Gray goes on to explain why this sort of play is so important:

In play, whether it is the idyllic play we most like to envision or the play described by Eisen, children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them. Some people fear that violent play creates violent adults, but in reality the opposite is true. Violence in the adult world leads children, quite properly, to play at violence. How else can they prepare themselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically for reality? It is wrong to think that somehow we can reform the world for the future by controlling children's play and controlling what they learn. If we want to reform the world, we have to reform the world; children will follow suit. The children must, and will, prepare themselves for the real world to which they must adapt to survive.

Like I said, fascinating.

Healthcare: America's Bitter PillJAN 06

Steven Brill has written a book about the making of the Affordable Care Act called America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.

America's Bitter Pill is Steven Brill's much-anticipated, sweeping narrative of how the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was written, how it is being implemented, and, most important, how it is changing -- and failing to change -- the rampant abuses in the healthcare industry. Brill probed the depths of our nation's healthcare crisis in his trailblazing Time magazine Special Report, which won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. Now he broadens his lens and delves deeper, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners.

Malcolm Gladwell has a review in the New Yorker this week.

Brill's intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn't really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.

I haven't read his book yet, but I agree with Brill on one thing: the ACA1 did not go nearly far enough. Healthcare and health insurance are still a huge pain in the ass and still too expensive. My issues with healthcare particular to my situation are:

- As someone who is self-employed, insurance for me and my family is absurdly expensive. After the ACA was enacted, my insurance cost went up and the level of coverage went down. I've thought seriously about quitting my site and getting an actual job just to get good and affordable healthcare coverage.

- Doctors aren't required to take any particular health insurance. So when I switched plans, as I had to when the ACA was enacted, finding insurance that fit our family's particular set of doctors (regular docs, pediatrician, pediatric specialist that one of the kids has been seeing for a couple of years, OB/GYN, etc.) was almost impossible. We basically had one plan choice (not even through the ACA marketplace...see next item) or we had to start from scratch with new doctors.

- Many doctors don't take the ACA plans. My doctor doesn't take any of them and my kids' doc only took a couple. And they're explicit in accepting, say, United Healthcare's regular plan but not their ACA plan, which underneath the hood is the exact same plan that costs the same and has the same benefits. It's madness.

- The entire process is designed to be confusing so that insurance companies (and hospitals probably too) can make more money. I am an educated adult whose job is to read things so they make enough sense to tell others about them. That's what I spend 8+ hours a day doing. And it took me weeks to get up to speed on all the options and pitfalls and gotchas of health insurance...and I still don't know a whole lot about it. It is the most un-user-friendly thing I have ever encountered.

The ACA did do some great things, like making everyone eligible for health insurance and getting rid of the preexisting conditions bullshit, and that is fantastic...the "heroic work" mentioned by Gladwell. But the American healthcare system is still an absolute shambling embarrassment when you compare it to other countries around the world, even those in so-called "developing" or "third world" countries. And our political system is just not up to developing a proper plan, so I guess we'll all just limp along as we have been. Guh.

  1. I hate the word "Obamacare" and will not use it. It's a derisive term that has been embraced for some reason by ACA/Obama supporters. It needlessly politicizes an already over-politicized issue.

The ramen-flavored omeletteJAN 20

Lucky Peach, the publishing arm of the Momofuku restaurant group, recently launched their new web site with a bunch of online content. Among their offerings is a series of videos featuring David Chang making various foods, including this omelette flavored with an instant ramen seasoning packet:

See also Chang making tonkotsu broth and gnocchi from instant ramen noodles.

2014 is the hottest year on recordJAN 16

On the off chance you get this before it spontaneously combusts, you should probably know that Earth just experienced its hottest year on record (again). You can blame humans, you blame nature, you can blame Mister Heat Miser. But for most scientists, there is a towering body of evidence to explain this inferno, and the debate over what's causing the warm-up has already been decided (which is good, because the venue where the debate was being held just melted).

WaPo got reactions to the latest numbers from 21 scientists: "The temperature record is yet another brick in the massive wall of evidence that the climate is warming due to human activity." Hey, (Science) Teacher, leave them kids alone...

If we're going down in flames, let's at least take 5 charts that explain 2014's record-smashing heat. Or perhaps you'd prefer an animation?

Apparently, human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine planetary boundaries. (In layman's terms: Uh oh.)

In other news, ocean life faces mass extinction.

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

The endlessly rolling oceanJAN 23

If you'd like to relax for 80 minutes, watch this 4K video shot from the bow of a container ship navigating the South China Sea. Strangely compelling.

If you put this on the biggest, highest definition screen you have, it really looks like you're on the deck of a ship looking out at the ocean. Pretty cool.

A fun run down the mountainJAN 20

People ask me why I ski.1 A: Because sometimes it's as insanely fun as this guy makes it look.

He. Skis. THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN. Also, if you can, pause it right after he jumps off the lift platform...the kid on the lift with his dad is like ( ゚o゚).

  1. No one has ever asked me this. No one ever asks people questions like this. "People ask me..." is a phrase writers use to create a sense of an ongoing story. It's better than "This is a cool video"...you can only use that one so many times.

My favorite movie scene of 2014DEC 27

Hiro teaching Baymax how to fist bump in Big Hero 6.

Update: Jason Porath smartly speculates that Big Hero 6's fist bump scene was a social media snack sized moment inserted into the movie for marketing purposes, which is part of a larger industry trend.

I don't have a good word to describe this phenomenon, so I'm going to term it "hashgags." This is a joke in an animated movie, usually input at the behest of marketing forces, that is used to sell the movie. It's usually inserted late into production and test screened to within an inch of its life. Some are used repeatedly, some are one-offs that do well with trailers. And it is crippling the entire industry.

Extraordinary BirdsJAN 22

Extraordinary Birds

The American Museum of Natural History's research library has an online exhibit of bird illustrations taken from the book Extraordinary Birds. (via @kellianderson)

Pixel, a dancing light showJAN 06

Pixel is a dance show that premiered in November at Maison des Arts de Créteil in France. The dancers are synced cleverly with an elaborate light show that makes it seem as though the two are interacting in real time. The effect is very convincing:

The Invasion of AmericaJAN 09

From eHistory, a time lapse view from 1776 to the present day of how the US government systematically took land from Native Americans through treaties and executive orders that were rarely honored for long.

There's a companion piece at Aeon by Claudio Saunt as well as an interactive version of the map featured in the video.

The final assault on indigenous land tenure, lasting roughly from the mid-19th century to 1890, was rapid and murderous. (In the 20th century, the fight moved from the battlefield to the courts, where it continues to this day.) After John Sutter discovered gold in California's Central Valley in 1848, colonists launched slaving expeditions against native peoples in the region. 'That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected,' the state's first governor instructed the legislature in 1851.

In the Great Plains, the US Army conducted a war of attrition, with success measured in the quantity of tipis burned, food supplies destroyed, and horse herds slaughtered. The result was a series of massacres: the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho (1863), the Sand Creek Massacre in eastern Colorado (1864), the Washita Massacre in western Oklahoma (1868), and a host of others. In Florida in the 1850s, US troops waded through the Everglades in pursuit of the last holdouts among the Seminole peoples, who had once controlled much of the Florida peninsula. In short, in the mid-19th century, Americans were still fighting to reduce if not to eliminate the continent's original residents.

FYI, it's always a good rule of thumb to not read comments on YouTube, but in this case you really really shouldn't read the comments on this video unless you want a bunch of reasons why it was ok for Europeans to drive Native Americans to the brink of total genocide.

The Year in Photos, 2014DEC 29

2014 Photos Syria

2014 Photos Drought

2014 Photos Ferguson

2014 Photos Volcano

2014 Photos Soccer

2014 Photos Comet

Photos by AP Photo/UNRWA, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, Robert Cohen/MCT/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Andrew Hara/Getty Images, Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse, and ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team, respectively.

Many many more photos of the year at In Focus, Reuters, Buzzfeed, Agence France-Presse, the NY Times, Time, and The Big Picture.

Richard Scarry's Business Business TownJAN 22

Richard Scarry Business Town

Richard Scarry Business Town

Richard Scarry Business Town

What if the Busy Busy Town Richard Scarry wrote about was Silicon Valley circa 2015? Meet the fine citizens of Business Town. Great stuff, but did someone forget to credit Ruben Bolling's comic strip Richard Scarry's 21st Century Busy Town Jobs for the inspiration?

Conscience rocksJAN 26

Removal of items from US National Parks is illegal (or at least highly frowned upon). In the case of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the removal of petrified wood has come to be seen by some as unlucky. Bad Luck, Hot Rocks is a book and web site containing "conscience letters" from those who are returning stolen rocks to the park.

Conscience Rocks

In the more than one hundred years since its establishment in 1906, however, some visitors have still been unable to resist the urge to remove wood from the park. Some of these same visitors eventually return their ill gotten souvenirs by mail, accompanied by 'conscience letters.' The content of each letter varies, but writers often include stories of misfortune, attributed directly to their stolen petrified wood. Car troubles. Cats with cancer. Deaths of family members. For many, their hope is that by returning these rocks, good fortune will return to their lives. Other common themes include expressions of remorse, requests for forgiveness, and warnings to future visitors.

The unbreakable Laura HillenbrandDEC 31

Wonderful piece on Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Hillenbrand has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome for more than 25 years and can barely leave her own house, but she has turned her illness into an advantage in some ways.

Somehow, through the dizziness and disorientation, Hillenbrand has managed to produce two of the most critically and commercially successful nonfiction books in recent decades. "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken" have together sold more than 10 million copies, and the hardcover edition of "Unbroken" remained on The Times's best-seller list for 185 continuous weeks, which by some accounts is the fourth-longest reign of all time. In fact, the hardcover was so successful that Hillenbrand's publisher, Random House, waited nearly four years before releasing a paperback edition this summer; since then, the paperback has held the top position on The Times's list every week except one. Sallye Leventhal, the book buyer for history and politics at Barnes & Noble, told me that Hillenbrand's commercial success is unparalleled. "There are other phenomenal best sellers, but not this phenomenal," she said. "Not with this velocity, year after year after year."

What's startling to consider is that Hillenbrand has done this with little access to the outside world. She is cut off not only from basic tools of reporting, like going places and seeing things, but also from all the promotional machinery of modern book selling. Because of the illness, she is forced to remain as secluded from the public as the great hermetic novelists. She cannot attend literary festivals, deliver bookstore readings or give library talks and signings. Even the physical act of writing can occasionally stymie her, as the room spins and her brain swims to find words in a cognitive haze. There have been weeks and months -- indeed, sometimes years -- when the mere effort to lift her hands and write has been all that she can muster. "In the middle of working on 'Unbroken,'" she told me, "I went just off a cliff and became very suddenly totally bedridden -- I didn't get out of the house for two years." To function as an author, Hillenbrand has been forced to develop a unique creative process. Everything in her working life is organized around the illness: the way she reads, the way she thinks about language, even the way she describes familiar places. When Hillenbrand writes about the "rough, rasping tremor" of the Pacific and the "smoky brown oval" of Pimlico, her readers feel closer to the ocean and the racetrack than Hillenbrand is ever likely to be again.

After you read that, check out Hillenbrand's piece on her illness written for the New Yorker in 2003.

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)

Powered by Movable TypeJAN 02

Jason Snell on the supreme uncoolness of Movable Type, the outdated blogging software that powers Snell's site, Daring Fireball, and also kottke.org.

Regardless, it turns out that software can also be considered uncool, even if it still works. Not only is Movable Type uncool --the equivalent of '80s hair metal, but the language it's written in, Perl, is supremely uncool. Like, New Kids on the Block uncool. The razzing John Siracusa takes about being a Perl developer isn't really because Perl is old, or bad, but because it's just not what the cool kids are talking about. The world has moved on.

And yet, sometimes that old stuff still works, and is still the best tool for the job.

Movable Type is often maddening and frustrating, but it's familiar, behaves consistently, and I know it better than any other piece of software. In other words, MT is like a member of my family.

Behind the scenes of The Lego MovieJAN 13

Nice four-minute video about how the creators of The Lego Movie used CGI to make the movie look like it was 100% constructed with real Lego bricks with fingerprints and everything and animated in stop motion.

I've watched it twice with my kids, and The Lego Movie was way better than it had any right to be. They so easily could have bollocksed the whole thing up. Maybe the secret is Chris Pratt? Guardians of the Galaxy was better than it should have been as well. I'm bearish on Jurassic World, but come on Indy! (via devour)

Unreal ParisJAN 28

Unreal Engine 4 is the latest edition of Epic Games' acclaimed gaming engine for creating realistic gaming worlds. UE4 and its predecessors power all sorts of games, from Gears of War to BioShock Infinite to iOS games. But level designer Dereau Benoit recently used UE4 to model a contemporary Parisian apartment and damn if it doesn't look 100% real. Take a look at this walkthrough:

This + Oculus Rift = pretty much the future. (via hn)

A timeline of the abolition of slavery in the AmericasJAN 15

Here's a map showing when slavery was abolished in North and South America:

Slavery Abolition Map

Surprising, right? Along with Cuba, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, the United States was among the last nations in the Americas to abolish slavery. Americans like to think of ourselves as freedom-loving, progressive, and more "evolved" than other countries, particularly those in the "third world" (what a loaded term that is), but this map shows differently.

It's tempting to dismiss American attitudes toward slavery as something that happened long ago. Except for, you know, the whole Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing racism against African Americans in the US. And there are also many respects in which the US is currently less free, less progressive, and less evolved than some less industrialized nations, e.g. on things like gun control, murder rate, use of the death penalty, prison population, healthcare, and anti-science views (evolution, vaccines). So maybe the lag in abolishing slavery shouldn't be so surprising, particularly because it was so lucrative and the only thing Americans have historically cared more about than freedom is money. (via civil war memory)

How to browse to google.comJAN 20

This article attempts to explain, in great detail, what happens when you type 'google.com' into your browser and press enter.

To pick a zero point, let's choose the enter key on the keyboard hitting the bottom of its range. At this point, an electrical circuit specific to the enter key is closed (either directly or capacitively). This allows a small amount of current to flow into the logic circuitry of the keyboard, which scans the state of each key switch, debounces the electrical noise of the rapid intermittent closure of the switch, and converts it to a keycode integer, in this case 13. The keyboard controller then encodes the keycode for transport to the computer. This is now almost universally over a Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Bluetooth connection, but historically has been over PS/2 or ADB connections.

An I, Pencil for the internet age.

This is Water, David Foster WallaceJAN 16

This an excerpt of the excellent commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005, set to video.

I've either heard or read this speech at least 8 or 9 times, and I still got sucked in to watching the entire video.

You can read the whole speech online and in book form or watch it on YouTube. (via kung fu grippe)

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.

Rise of the RobotsJAN 12

From Martin Ford, a book due out in May called Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.

Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making "good jobs" obsolete: many paralegals, physicians, and even -- ironically -- computer programmers are poised to be replaced by robots. As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer jobs will be necessary. Unless we radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy and politics work, this transition could create massive unemployment and inequality as well as the implosion of the economy itself.

See also Humans Need Not Apply. (via Tyler Cowen, who thinks highly of Ford's writing on automation and jobs)

Beautiful: an aerial drone tour of the 5 boroughs of NYCJAN 07

This is a great aerial tour (by drone) of all five boroughs of New York.

I bet the Coast Guard boats equipped with the scary-looking machine guns didn't take kindly to a drone shadowing the Staten Island Ferry. (via @anildash)

8-bit Guardians of the GalaxyJAN 14

There a lots of videos of movies reimagined as 8-bit video games out there (Kill Bill, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction), but I'm posting the Guardians of the Galaxy one because of the excellent chiptune rendition of the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack.

Hooked on a Feeling, beep beep doot doot... (via devour)

Economy MinusDEC 30

Are you ready for a new level of discomfort in air travel? A major US airline is considering a seating class called Economy Minus, which would offer smaller seats at a lower price.

Now a major airline may be considering another breakthrough idea: "Economy Minus," a seat that offers less legroom at a discount price.

Before you scoff, consider that a new survey found that 42% of airline travelers said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to book a seat with less legroom if it means getting a cheap fare.

See also Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer. (A: maximizing shareholder value)

Steven Soderbergh's 2014 media dietJAN 09

Once again, Steven Soderbergh kept track of every book, TV show, movie, play, and short story he read or watched in 2014. A sampling: Girls, True Detective, Gone Girl, 2001 (3 times), Dr. Strangelove, Olive Kitteridge, My Struggle: Book One, Boardwalk Empire, and his black & white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark (twice).

Here are his lists for 2013 (House of Cards, Koyaanisqatsi), 2012 (This is Spinal Tap, The Lady in the Lake), 2011 (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), 2010 (Mad Men, Where Good Ideas Come From), and 2009 (Breaking Bad, Slap Shot). (via @khoi)

The Atlantic PhotoJAN 08

The Atlantic is beefing up their photography coverage with the launch of The Atlantic Photo. This replaces In Focus and will be edited by Alan Taylor.

I'd like to introduce our readers to The Atlantic's new Photo section, an expanded home for photography at TheAtlantic.com. This new section features not only an updated look, but more variety in formats, wider images for bigger screens, and a design that works well across a range of mobile devices.

As the editor of the Photo section, I'll continue to publish long-form photo essays nearly every day, as I have for years, in a series we'll still call In Focus, but I'll also start publishing shorter posts-often just a single noteworthy image-under a new category we're calling Burst. I'm really excited to be able to share even more high-quality photography with even more readers.

NiemanLab did a Q&A with Taylor about the new site.

I spend almost all of my day looking through photos, trying to find stories to tell the next day or the next week. Pretty often, I will come across a single image or two or three images, and there's nothing more to go with it. And since I've made it my thing to always be posting longform narratives -- constructed either from a single photographer or multiple photographers -- I thought it would be confusing to mix it up, so I just shied away from doing it.

I've been doing the photo editing now for seven years, and now it's nice to have the ability to do it just whenever something comes up. If I want to do a historic photo of the day, something from the archives, or something from the Library of Congress, or a really amazing photo was just released by NASA -- I just don't really have an easy outlet for that, and it'd be nice to have. And now I'm going to have it, hopefully.

I've long been a fan of Taylor (since the Big Picture days) and am excited to see what he gets up to with The Atlantic Photo.

Restored forests are fighting climate changeDEC 30

And now some potential good news about climate change. Efforts to restore the world's rainforests have gained traction and are having small but definite effects on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Over just a few decades in the mid-20th century, this small country chopped down a majority of its ancient forests. But after a huge conservation push and a wave of forest regrowth, trees now blanket more than half of Costa Rica.

Far to the south, the Amazon forest was once being quickly cleared to make way for farming, but Brazil has slowed the loss so much that it has done more than any other country to limit the emissions leading to global warming.

And on the other side of the world, in Indonesia, bold new promises have been made in the past few months to halt the rampant cutting of that country's forests, backed by business interests with the clout to make it happen.

In the battle to limit the risks of climate change, it has been clear for decades that focusing on the world's immense tropical forests -- saving the ones that are left, and perhaps letting new ones grow -- is the single most promising near-term strategy.

I wish Arbor Day was still a bigger thing. Parts of the US used to be covered by vast forests as well and an effort to encourage the planting of more trees might have an impact not only on our climate but also on the wellbeing of people. It might not seem like much in comparison to the Amazon rain forest, but planting millions of trees each year in the US, if you did it consistently over 20-25 years, would be a wonderful thing. (via @riondotnu)

Update: According to this publication by The Forest History Society, American forests are in better shape today than they've been in decades.

Today about one-third of the land area of the U.S. is forested. This is about two-thirds of the forest area that existed in 1600. The area of forestland today is about the same as it was in 1920.

The average volume of wood per acre in U.S. forests today is 50 percent greater than it was in 1953. In the eastern United States, average volume per acre has almost doubled since 1953.

(via @tieguy)

The return of the remaindered links (sort of)JAN 20

I've started posting more links to the @kottke Twitter account and including them on the front page of the site (pinned to the second post on the page). Read on for an explanation of why and where this is (maybe) going.

More than 12 years ago, before kottke.org became my full-time job, I made 2-3 posts per day. Maaaybe up to 5 on a good day. For whatever reason, in December of 2002 I started posting a bunch of links to the site every day. Like 10-12 per day...sometimes up to 20.1 The next month, I stuck that link blog in the sidebar of the site and called them "remaindered links". I kept at it, posting a few things to the main blog each week and dozens of remaindered links every week. Eventually, I pulled the remaindered links out of the sidebar and into the main column. The link descriptions became longer, I started pulling short quotes from the articles I was linking to, and eventually, these links became full-fledged posts. These remaindered links, these leftovers, they are kottke.org now.

The links gave the site a velocity it didn't previously have. I hadn't really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do kottke.org full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band...trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I've traded that velocity for quality (or, if you'd prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.2 That means there's a ton of very interesting but not-quite-right-for-whatever-reason stuff that I see but don't have time to share. And that's been frustrating me lately.

So, I've begun posting those extra links, those remainders, to the @kottke Twitter account. Then I pull those links in from Twitter and publish them to the front page of kottke.org. There's no permanent archive, I might stop at any time, they're not gonna show up in RSS, on Facebook, or on Tumblr, and there are no plans beyond what I've already done. I wanted to start with the simplest possible thing and see if it sticks or goes anywhere.

I do have a few ideas on where it could go, however. As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness? Using those new tools, 13 people built Instagram into a $1 billion company with millions of users. I'm not after billions, but I'd settle for making kottke.org sustainable in the future and not having to get a regular job again.

Anyway, your thoughts, questions, and feedback are always welcome.

  1. I went to a conference once and posted 50-60 things a day. It nearly killed me. Now everyone routinely does this on Twitter. Tools matter.

  2. I mean, interestingness is not the only criteria, but it's probably the most important one.

Hell and Good CompanyDEC 30

Richard Rhodes, who wrote two of my favorite nonfiction books ever (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun), is coming out with a new book in February. Hell and Good Company is a history of the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) inspired and haunted an extraordinary number of exceptional artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, and John Dos Passos. The idealism of the cause-defending democracy from fascism at a time when Europe was darkening toward another world war-and the brutality of the conflict drew from them some of their best work: Guernica, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, The Spanish Earth.

The war spurred breakthroughs in military and medical technology as well. New aircraft, new weapons, new tactics and strategy all emerged in the intense Spanish conflict. Indiscriminate destruction raining from the sky became a dreaded reality for the first time. Progress also arose from the horror: the doctors and nurses who volunteered to serve with the Spanish defenders devised major advances in battlefield surgery and front-line blood transfusion. In those ways, and in many others, the Spanish Civil War served as a test bed for World War II, and for the entire twentieth century.

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.

Responsive logos and abstraction in designJAN 12

Responsive web design is a technique used by web builders where the design adapts to different screen sizes. Designer Joe Harrison has built a page with responsive logos for several well-known brands, including Coca-Cola, Nike, Disney, and Levi's. If you resize the page, you can see the logos change. Here's how the Disney logo looks as your browser window gets smaller (from L to R):

Responsive Disney Logo

As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you're down to just the Disney "D" or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level. Which reminds me of Scott McCloud's discussion of iconic abstraction (and The Big Triangle) in Understanding Comics, which is still one of the best books on design and storytelling I've ever read. Here's a bit of the relevant passage:

Comics Abstraction

Defining the cartoon would take up as much space as defining comics, but for now, I'm going to examine cartooning as a form of amplification through simplification. When we abstract an image through cartooning, we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential "meaning", an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't.

The reason why those particular logos work responsively is because they each have abstract representations that work on that meaningful emotional level. You see that red Levi's tag or Nike swoosh and you feel something.1 I think companies are having to design logos in this way more frequently. Contemporary logos need to look good on freeway billboards, on letterhead, as iOS icons, and, in the case of the Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest logos, affixed to tiny tweet/like/pin buttons. (via ministry of type)

  1. I've talked about this elsewhere, but in designing the "identity" for kottke.org (such as it is), having an abstract logo identifying element has been an important part of the process. I wanted to have an element (currently the blue gradient) that if you saw it and recognized it, you had a reaction to it on a emotional level. Here's what I wrote about an older kottke.org design: "The yellow-green thing at the top is a tag. Like the red tag on Levi's jeans or even the red stripe on Prada shoes. It's small, out of the way, but when you see it on something, you know exactly what you're holding in your hands." It's my favorite design trick and likely influenced by Understanding Comics more than I realize.

The fast-flip method of cooking steakJAN 28

Being an avid eater and cooker of steak,1 a passage at the end of Tom Junod's profile of Wylie Dufresne / obit of WD-50 caught my eye:

"That's why I'm really proud of what we did here," he said over his cup of sake. "I'm proud of the big things, but I'm also proud of the little things we routinely did well. Do you know what made me most proud in the meal I served you? The Wagyu beef. It was perfectly cooked."

"The advantage of sous vide," someone said.

"But it wasn't sous vide!" Dufresne said. "That's the thing. It was cooked in a pan. And it had no gray on it! Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how much work that takes? Turning the beef every seven or eight seconds ... And so that question you asked me before, about food and music -- that's my answer: a perfect piece of Wagyu beef cooked in a pan that comes out without any gray on it. It might not be 'When the Levee Breaks,' but it's definitely 'Achilles Last Stand.'"

I couldn't recall hearing about this fast flipping technique from the many pieces Kenji Lopez-Alt has published about how to and how not to cook steak, so I pinged him on Twitter. He responded with Flip Your Steaks Multiple Times For Better Results.

Let's start with the premise. Anybody who's ever grilled in their backyard with an overbearing uncle can tell you that if there's one rule about steaks that gets bandied about more than others, it's to not play with your meat once it's placed on the grill. That is, once steak hits heat, you should at most flip it just once, perhaps rotating it 90 degrees on each side in order to get yourself some nice cross-hatched grill marks.

The idea sort of makes sense at first glance: flipping it only once will give your steak plenty of chance to brown and char properly on each side. But the reality is that flipping a steak repeatedly during cooking -- as often as every 30 seconds or so -- will produce a crust that is just as good (provided you start with meat with a good, dry surface, as you always should), give you a more evenly cooked interior, and cook in about 30% less time to boot!

It works for burgers too. Thanks, Kenji!

  1. Although honestly, I eat and cook steak a lot less than I used to. Burgers too. A belly full of steak just doesn't feel that good anymore, gastronomically, gastrointestinally, or environmentally. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and especially seafood. Actually, I'm not really trying...it's just been working out that way. I still really like steak, but it's almost become a special occasion food for me, which is probably the way it should from a sustainability standpoint.

The top 10 film/TV title sequences of 2014DEC 31

From the excellent Art of the Title (which had a great year), the top 10 title sequences of 2014. So awesome to see Halt and Catch Fire take the top spot. And Too Many Cooks!

The possibilities of Hayao MiyazakiJAN 05

From Mike Hale in the NY Times, a short appreciation of Hayao Miyazaki, among the best filmmakers of his generation.

Even at its high end, in the works of the Pixar studio or the director Henry Selick, the American children's movie (a category that these days is pretty much congruent with the animated feature film) approaches its young viewers in a different and less rewarding way. There is always a sense of the filmmakers looking across a divide at their audience, trying with various degrees of grace or desperation to create an entertainment for them, to figure out what will keep those allegedly hyperdistracted children from losing interest.

Mr. Miyazaki cares deeply about that young audience, but you get the feeling that he doesn't waste any time trying to guess what it wants. Like other great directors of films for and about children -- Carroll Ballard ("The Black Stallion") Steven Spielberg ("E.T."), Alfonso Cuaron ("A Little Princess" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban") -- he inhabits the child's point of view and directly communicates her joys, her trepidations and, perhaps most important, her endless curiosity.

How They Got ThereJAN 08

Khoi Vinh is coming out with a book soon called How They Got There: Interviews With Digital Designers About Their Careers. It is, as Tyler Cowen would say, self-recommending. Vinh explains a bit more:

You can read terrific profiles of many of these folks elsewhere, but the conversations that I conducted with them are both narrower and more in-depth. They focus squarely on how these folks discovered their callings in the design profession, how they got their first big breaks, how they put together successful careers in digital media. There are some wonderful, insightful, brilliant, hilarious and amazing stories captured here.

Basically, this is the book that I wish that I could have had handy when I was just starting out, when I was trying to figure out how to get from A to B career-wise. Even better, what I found when I was writing it was that the conversations were so interesting that I felt newly inspired myself. I think you'll feel similarly.

Forget the book (I mean, it looks great), but Khoi, where do you find the time for everything? Three kids, two or three side projects, regular blogger, startup VP...you're almost as productive these days as Beyonce is.

The Quora Anthology 2014DEC 31

Quora is giving their best writers an interesting care package: an anthology of the site's best writing from 2014.

Quora Anthology 2014

But why isn't this an actual book that you can buy in stores, etc.? Seems like a great way to introduce the non-SV part of the world to Quora. (via @pieratt)

The New Yorker's new TV showJAN 15

TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch's 50s TV program.

America's most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv's article "A Very Valuable Reputation," writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.

The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it's promising and pretty much what you would expect.

  1. Is this what we're going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I'd guess.

Genetic algorithm walkersJAN 15

Genetic Walker

This simulator evolves increasingly effective walking creatures through genetic algorithms. After each round, the winners are sent through to the next round and copied by the rest of the competitors, with mutations introduced. At first, the pace of improvement is swift -- two orders of magnitude within 100 generations -- but slows pretty dramatically after that. (via @nickrichter)

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.

Living in the future: the view from 2015JAN 02

It's 2015. Stuff that happened in the 80s and 90s is getting to be positively ancient. Allow Tim Urban to make you feel old. I want to quote the whole thing, but I'll make do with just a few snippets:

These movies came out closer to World War II than to today: The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Airplane, Caddyshack.

There are millions of people alive today who will live well into the 22nd century.

How about 1980? It's closer to FDR, Churchill and Hitler fighting each other than it is to 2015.

As you know, I love this sort of thing. Part of it is nostalgia and the whole "fuck I'm old" lament. I like it for the shift in perspective; it's cheap time travel.

Update: And whoa, somehow I missed Urban's post on Putting Time in Perspective. Wow.

Downtown is for PeopleJAN 20

In 1958, Fortune magazine published the first major essay by Jane Jacobs that laid out her case against modernist urban developers. Downtown is for People was the catalyst for the publication of Jacobs' seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities three years later.

You've got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)

You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.

If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York's handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?

It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.

Soderbergh's edit of 2001JAN 14

So. Steven Soderbergh has cut his own version of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like, !!!1

I haven't had a chance to watch this yet, so I don't know what's different about it aside from the shorter runtime of 1h50m. If someone watches it and wants to report in about the differences, let me know. Soderbergh also guessed that Kubrick would have liked shooting on digital:

let me also say i believe SK would have embraced the current crop of digital cameras, because from a visual standpoint, he was obsessed with two things: absolute fidelity to reality-based light sources, and image stabilization. regarding the former, the increased sensitivity without resolution loss allows us to really capture the world as it is, and regarding the latter, post-2001 SK generally shot matte perf film (normally reserved for effects shots, because of its added steadiness) all day, every day, something which digital capture makes moot. pile on things like never being distracted by weaving, splices, dirt, scratches, bad lab matches during changeovers, changeovers themselves, bad framing and focus exacerbated by projector vibration, and you can see why i think he might dig digital.

See also Soderbergh's B&W edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (via @fengypants)

Update: Reader and 2001 fan Dan Norquist watched Soderbergh's edit and reported back via email:

I love everything Soderbergh does and I love the fact that he cut this film. It's fun to see it in a more concise form. Really, there's no choppy edits or anything that doesn't make sense (except the whole movie of course!). I did miss some of my favorite parts. I love when the father is talking to his daughter on the video phone. Also, if you weren't around in 1968 it's really hard to describe how scary the Cold War was. There was always this thing hanging over our heads, that the Russians really had the means to destroy us with nuclear weapons. So you really need the full scene where the American meets the Russians (Soviets). The forced, unnatural politeness is so brilliant and helped to give the film context in its time.

All the important stuff is there -- the apes, the monolith, HAL turning evil, astronaut spinning away, the speeding light show (shortened?), old man pointing at space child -- and it's all recut by a master.

Finally, there is something about the full length of the original film that is part of its strength as a piece of art. There is no hurry, no cut to the chase. It's almost as if you have to go through the entire journey before you can earn the bubble baby at the end.

No surprise that he tightened it up into something less Kubrickian and more Soderberghish. Dan closed his email by saying he would recommend it to fans of the original. (thx, dan)

Update: I've seen some comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the legality of Soderbergh posting the 2001 and Raiders edits. The videos are hosted on Vimeo, but are private and can't be embedded on any site other than Soderbergh's. But any enterprising person can easily figure out how to download either video. The Raiders video has been up since September, which means either that Paramount doesn't care (most likely in my mind) or their lawyers somehow haven't caught wind of it, even though it was all over the internet a few months ago (less likely). We'll see if whoever owns the rights to 2001 (Time Warner?) feels similarly.

An interesting wrinkle here is that Soderbergh has been outspoken about copyright piracy and the Internet. From a 2009 NY Times article about a proposed French anti-piracy law:

In the United States, a Congressional committee this week began studying the issue. In a hearing Monday before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Steven Soderbergh, the film director, cited the French initiative in asking lawmakers to deputize the American film industry to pursue copyright pirates.

Deputizing the film industry to police piracy sounds a little too much like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. I wonder if Soderbergh feels like these edits are legal to post publicly, if they are fair use for example. Or rather if he feels it's not but he can get away with it because he is who he is. (thx, @bc_butler)

Update: Soderbergh has removed his cut of 2001 from his site "AT THE REQUEST OF WARNER BROS. AND THE STANLEY KUBRICK ESTATE". So, that answers that question. (via @fengypants)

  1. I also found out that apparently I had jury duty last week on the same day in the same room as Soderbergh. Total embarrassing fanboy meltdown narrowly avoided.

During the CrashDEC 23

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote his excellent novel, The Remains of the Day, in only four weeks (more or less).

So Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a "Crash". During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I'd get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I'd not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I'd not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

How to make almost everythingJAN 22

As you know, I love videos of how stuff is made. (See below.) Well, I just discovered this treasure trove of more than 300 14-minute videos from a Japanese show called The Making: playlist #1, playlist #2. Each video shows how a different thing is made, from wires to sugar to trophies to cheese and all of them are dialogue-free. Here's the one on how golf balls are made:

I can't wait to show some of these to the kids. Their favorite online video, which they request weekly, is this one on how croissants are made.

When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I watched this program on PBS that showed how a snack food manufacturer came up with a new snack food, from design to manufacturing. The thing that stuck with me the most was that they showed a number of the missteps in-between...like they tried a certain shape with a certain filling and it didn't work out in taste tests, that sort of thing. I LOVED seeing that trial and error in action. I only saw the show once, but it's one of my most vivid childhood TV memories. Maybe it's why I ended up becoming a designer?

Wait, wait! Holy shit, holy shit! I found the show! It was a NOVA program called How to Create a Junk Food that aired in 1988, when I was 14. I couldn't find the video or even a clip, but here's a review in the LA Times.

The ultimate weapon is the flavorist, a 20th-Century alchemist who analyzes natural things like Danish blue cheese or barbecued beef, reconstructs them chemically in the lab and produces their essences to punch up the taste of bland fillings.

Marketing and technology co-produce a croissant-dough cone with a moist meat or cheese filling that appears perfect. But when they test it on the mouths of real consumers (English housewives), it's a bloomin' flop.

Undaunted, the technologists go back to their gizmos and test tubes. After doing such goofy things as gluing electrodes to a chewer's cheeks to get "chew profiles" of different fillings, they come up with a second prototype, Crack a Snack. The wheat-cracker wrapped "savory tube" is called a "triumph of food engineering," which, we're warned, if it is given the proper image, "there's little doubt we'll buy it."

New Scientist wrote about Crack a Snack around the same time.

So yeah, now you know I'm the sort of kid who gleefully watched food engineering documentaries on PBS at 14. But you probably already suspected as much. (via @go)

New antibiotic discovered: teixobactinJAN 08

Scientists have discovered the first promising new antibiotic in 25 years. And even better, says Ed Yong, is that the antibiotic in question is "resistant to resistance".

A team of scientists led by Kim Lewis from Northeastern University have identified a new antibiotic called teixobactin, which kills some kinds of bacteria by preventing them from building their outer coats. They used it to successfully treat antibiotic-resistant infections in mice. And more importantly, when they tried to deliberately evolve strains of bacteria that resist the drug, they failed. Teixobactin appears resistant to resistance.

Bacteria will eventually develop ways of beating teixobactin -- remember Orgel -- but the team are optimistic that it will take decades rather than years for this to happen. That buys us time.

...and also that the process by which teixobactin was discovered is the real breakthrough:

Teixobactin isn't even the most promising part of its own story. That honour falls on the iChip-the tool that the team used to discover the compound. Teixobactin is a fish; the iChip is the rod. Having the rod guarantees that we'll get more fish-and we desperately need more.

The Book of Mormon Missionary PositionsJAN 13

Sometimes religion and a bit of wordplay come together to make something clever. So it is with Neil DaCosta's project, The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions, a collection of photos depicting two fully clothed Mormon Missionaries in various sexual positions, as in the Kama Sutra.

Mormon Missionary Position

NSFW, I guess...I felt a bit sheepish scrolling through that page at the office even though everyone is fully clothed. (via a photo editor)

The Shake Shack EconomyJAN 22

The food is fresh. Natural. Locally sourced. Sometimes even organic. That might sound like your local farmer's market, but it's actually part of a new and growing movement in the fast-food industry. Think Shake Shack, Chipotle, Panera. While we're not exactly seeing tractors in the drive-thrus, the rise of these chains (and the pressure on their predecessors that placed a lot more emphasis on the fast than the food) tell us a lot about economic inequality, the modern workday, and fries. From The New Yorker's James Surowiecki: The Shake Shack Economy.

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World's largest book on saleDEC 29

Bhutan Book 01

When I went to the Poptech conference 10 years ago, one of the talks featured one of the world's largest books, a book of photographs of Bhutan. The book used to fetch $10,000 a copy, but Amazon now sells it for just under $300. Something is fishy though...many of the vendors selling the book are shipping it for only $3.99, which seems unlikely for a book that weighs 133 pounds. (via cory)

Update: Long story short, there were two versions of this book made: the big one and a smaller one that's only a foot and a half tall. That Amazon link used to go to the big book but it's the little one now. Make sense? Anyway, here's a link to the big one if you want to buy it for $5,824.34 with free shipping. (thx everyone)

Anthony Bourdain: Parts UnknownJAN 28

Parts Unknown

I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than similarities. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.

Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)

The Hobbit: The Tolkien EditJAN 22

Someone called TolkienEditor has cut the three Peter Jackson The Hobbit movies down into a single 4-hour film and put the result up on BitTorrent. Their goal was to make the film hew more closely to the book, put the focus back on Bilbo as the main character, and to quicken the pace of the narrative.

The investigation of Dol Guldor has been completely excised, including the appearances of Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel. This was the most obvious cut, and the easiest to carry out (a testament to its irrelevance to the main narrative). Like the novel, Gandalf abruptly disappears on the borders of Mirkwood, and then reappears at the siege of the Lonely Mountain with tidings of an orc army.

The Tauriel-Legolas-Kili love triangle has also been removed. Indeed, Tauriel is no longer a character in the film, and Legolas only gets a brief cameo during the Mirkwood arrest. This was the next clear candidate for elimination, given how little plot value and personality these two woodland sprites added to the story. Dwarves are way more fun to hang out with anyway.

I enjoyed PJ's The Hobbit, particularly the second one, but my main criticism was the lack of focus on Bilbo. I couldn't rustle up any interest in the dwarves or their quest...they were a bunch of ex-rich dudes trying to get their money back. Bah! Martin Freeman was an amazing Bilbo and we just didn't get enough of him. (via @tcarmody)

Update: There is also a three-hour cut of the film that keeps even closer to the spirit of the book. (via @cdwarren)

Huge trove of Smithsonian art digitized; over 40,000 worksJAN 05

Freer Sackler 01

Freer Sackler 02

Over the holiday, the Smithsonian's Freer|Sackler art galleries put more than 40,000 works of art online; that's their entire collection available for high-resolution download. Here's the announcement on their blog.

We've digitized our entire collection and today, we're making it available to the public. That's thousands of works now ready for you to download, modify, and share for noncommercial purposes. As Freer|Sackler Director Julian Raby said, "We strive to promote the love and study of Asian art, and the best way we can do so is to free our unmatched resources for inspiration, appreciation, academic study, and artistic creation."

Great to see galleries and museums doing this sort of thing, e.g. the Met and all the institutions participating in The Commons at Flickr. (via the verge)

Game of Thrones on IMAXJAN 06

A couple episodes of Game of Thrones will be shown on IMAX screens.

An exclusive season five trailer, as well as the final two episodes of the fourth season, will get an unprecedented run Jan. 23-29 at 150 theaters in top markets across the U.S.

While the visual spectacle of the HBO hit makes it a natural for the large-screen treatment, "Thrones" will be digitally remastered to fit the Imax format.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the special event for an unspecified price on Imax.com in the coming weeks.

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