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Green Day brings fan on stage, fan slays on guitar

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

At a recent concert in Chicago, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong noticed a kid in the audience holding a sign saying “I can play every song on Dookie” and pulled him up on stage to prove it. Aside from a slightly slow tempo, he did pretty well on When I Come Around.

P.S. Was thinking about this the other day: I don’t know that I would have picked Green Day as one of the 90s bands that has stuck around, still touring, still recording, still attracting new fans.

We Work Remotely

A history of pencil lead and how pencils are made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

This video is a combination of two things I like very much: long zoom histories and how things are made. The first part of the video follows the story of graphite back to the Big Bang.

[Carl Sagan-eque interlude: “If you want to make a pencil from scratch, first you must invent the universe.”]

The second part shows how pencils are made. Most surprising discovery while watching: Henry David Thoreau (yes, that one) was a talented pencil engineer:

John’s thoughtful son David*, unemployed after graduating from college, started helping out with the family business. He developed new refining techniques that made Thoreau pencils less brittle, less greasy — at the time, they were the finest pencils America had to offer. The Thoreaus were able to offer a variety of pencils, from No. 1 (the softest) to No. 4 (the hardest). That numbering system survives today.

The best artists invent their own tools. (via the kid should see this)

Donald Trump is modeling his life after Charles Foster Kane

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

Last year, back when he was only one of more than a dozen GOP candidates, I discovered Citizen Kane was one of Donald Trump’s favorite movies via a video filmed by Errol Morris.

Trump acquits himself pretty well on Kane and its lessons — although I would not characterize Kane’s fall as “modest” — and his commentary about the film is probably the first actually interesting thing I have ever heard him say. But I watched all the way to the end and he shoots himself in the foot in the most Trumpian & misogynistic way — it’s actually perfect.

Spurred by a recent re-watch of Citizen Kane, Anthony Audi digs deeper into Trump’s misunderstanding of the film and finds that the course of Trump’s life has followed that of Charles Foster Kane.

He understands instinctively that by controlling the press, he can shape opinions on a mass scale — bending the truth as he sees fit. Over time, and through his marketing savvy, he develops a powerful media empire. Because that’s not enough, he then turns his sights to politics, running for New York governor as a stepping-stone to the White House. At campaign rallies, Kane gleefully brags about his poll numbers, and vows to lock up his opponent Jim Gettys, whom he condemns as an establishment tool. “Here’s one promise I’ll make,” he finally thunders. “My first official act as governor of the state will be to appoint a special district attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution, and conviction of “Boss” Jim W. Gettys!”

Kane never gets to fulfill that pledge. Instead, he loses the election-his campaign derailed by a last minute sex scandal. His editors know what to do, and the following day their headlines scream: “FRAUD AT POLLS!”

The piece is entitled Donald Trump Modeled His Life on Cinematic Loser Charles Foster Kane. Consciously or not, Trump does seem to be following Kane’s playbook here, right down to the fascism.

Specifically, Citizen Kane was a vision of what fascism might resemble in America. Both men knew better than to expect Hitler or Mussolini on our shores. They knew that our demagogue would be glossier, more entertaining-more American; and the man they conjured, inspired by real-life plutocrats like William Randolph Hearst, happened to look an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Read the whole thing…this is right up there with the best explainers of why Trump is the way he is. And part 2 is coming soon, an interview with Morris about Trump’s love of Kane.

We’ve reached the end of white Christian America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

America is no longer a majority white, Christian country.

At 45 percent of the population, white Christians are a shrinking demographic — and the backlash from many members of the group against the increasing diversification of America has been swift and bitter.

The narrator of the video, Robert P. Jones, wrote a book about this new reality called The End of White Christian America.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA) — the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians — set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Nazi helmets remade into pots and pans

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

After World War II, the helmets of German soldiers were refashioned into colanders, pots, and other kitchen utensils. This video from the British Pathé archive shows how the repurposing happened.

A hypnotic display of robots making tiny springs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

A beautifully shot HD video of machines manufacturing springs and other wire gizmos. I love how all the tools take turns and work together to make the widgets. Imagine the chatter amongst the tools:

“Ok, thanks, my turn.”

“Here, hold this while I turn it. Alright, we’re out.”

“Lemme just bend that a little for you.”

“Outta the way, I just gotta twist this for a sec.”

(via @pieratt, who says to substitute Steve Reich for the provided music)

Kate McKinnon’s Ghostbusters outtake reel: A++++

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2016

I watched the new Ghostbusters last week and:

1. It was good…better than the trailers indicated it would be.

2. LOL to all the whiny man-babies who boycotted and trashed it because of the all-female main cast. If there was anything wrong with the film, it had nothing to do with the leads.

3. Kate McKinnon was flat-out amazing, a revelation. I could watch 20 more minutes of her outtakes.

4. “Not just Higgs!”

The Most Efficient Way to Destroy the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

Kurzgesagt shares a speculative bit of physics called vacuum decay that could very efficiently erase the entire Universe.

To understand vacuum decay, you need to consider the Higgs field that permeates our Universe. Like an electric field, the Higgs field varies in strength, based on its potential. Think of the potential as a track on which a ball is rolling. The higher it is on the track, the more energy the ball has.

The Higgs potential determines whether the Universe is in one of two states: a true vacuum, or a false vacuum. A true vacuum is the stable, lowest-energy state, like sitting still on a valley floor. A false vacuum is like being nestled in a divot in the valley wall — a little push could easily send you tumbling. A universe in a false vacuum state is called “metastable”, because it’s not actively decaying (rolling), but it’s not exactly stable either.

There are two problems with living in a metastable universe. One is that if you create a high enough energy event, you can, in theory, push a tiny region of the universe from the false vacuum into the true vacuum, creating a bubble of true vacuum that will then expand in all directions at the speed of light. Such a bubble would be lethal.

Such a process could already be underway, but don’t worry:

But even if one or multiple spheres of death have already started expanding, the Universe is so big they might not reach us for billions of years.

A short history of Beyonce

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

From Genius, a short review of Beyonce Knowles’ life and career, from an appearance on Star Search — I wonder what Skeleton Crew is up to these days? — to Lemonade, one of 2016’s few genuine bright spots. The greatest entertainer of the century so far? A friend recently went to see Beyonce and Kanye concerts about two weeks apart. I asked her who was better and she just rolled her eyes.

SNL’s Black Jeopardy

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2016

This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.

Update: Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie details why the Black Jeopardy sketch was so good; the title of the piece asks, “The Most Astute Analysis of American Politics in 2016?”

When Thompson reads a second clue for that category — “They out here saying that every vote counts” — Doug answers again, and again correctly: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ‘fore it happens.’” With each correct answer, Doug gets cheers and applause from Thompson, the black contestants, and the black audience. They all seem to understand the world in similar ways. “I really appreciate you saying that,” says Thompson after Doug praises Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, leading to an awkward moment where Hanks’ character recoils in fear as Thompson tries to shake his hand, but then relaxes and accepts the gesture.

By this point, the message is clear. On this episode of “Black Jeopardy!”, the questions are rooted in feelings of disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity-experiences that cut across racial lines. Thompson and the guests are black, but they can appreciate the things they share with Doug, and in turn, Doug grows more and more comfortable in their presence, such that he gets a “pass” from the group after he refers to them as “you people.”


posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

A quick short film about how different people in LA approach breakfast, from the woman who nibbles to the professional bodybuilder who eats 30 egg whites and a cup of grits on his off day.

Me? I almost never eat breakfast and have been unwittingly following an intermittent fasting regimen for many years.

The cutthroat world of professional mini golf

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

A short video look at the Master’s golf tournament. You know, the one where you get the green jacket for winning. No, not that onethe mini golf one.

True story: I have won a mini golf tournament. It was an 18-hole affair, a 4th of July tourney at a campground in northwestern Wisconsin. At 16, I was the youngest competitor in the adult competition and had never before (or since) shown any aptitude for the game of golf, mini or otherwise. Somehow I beat the defending champion on his home course by one stroke. I declined to turn pro and promptly retired from competition.

Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog’s latest volcanic documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2016

Werner Herzog has directed a documentary film for Netflix on volcanoes.

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Into the Inferno, heads just where its title suggests: into the red-hot magma-filled craters of some of the world’s most active and astonishing volcanoes-taking the filmmaker on one of the most extreme tours of his long career. From North Korea to Ethiopia to Iceland to the Vanuatu Archipelago, humans have created narratives to make sense of volcanoes; as stated by Herzog, “volcanoes could not care less what we are doing up here.” Into the Inferno teams Herzog with esteemed volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to offer not only an in-depth exploration of volcanoes across the globe but also an examination of the belief systems that human beings have created around the fiery phenomena.

Into the Inferno debuts on Netflix on October 28.

This happy dog sounds like a TIE Fighter

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Animals make all sorts of crazy noises when they’re happy or when they laugh, like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. This dog, named Geraldine, sounds pretty much like a TIE Fighter from Star Wars when she gets excited. (via @jhgard)

Isis Hair Salon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Carrie Banks has owned and operated Isis Hair Salon in LA for more than 20 years. But because of recent events in the Middle East and jokers on social media, the name has become a liability in recent years. Banks has even had difficulty finding someone to replace the sign outside the salon in the event of a name change.

Harry Potter and the Translator’s Nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Due to its popularity, the Harry Potter series of books has been translated into dozens of different languages from around the world. Given the books’ setting in Britain, heavy use of wordplay & allusions, and all of the invented words, translating the books accurately and faithfully was difficult.

Translators weren’t given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.

Also not mentioned in the video is all of the foreshadowing Rowling uses in the first few books in the series that pays off in later books. Since the translators probably didn’t know the plot details of the later books, some of that foreshadowing might have been edited out, downplayed, or misinterpreted.


posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary won the 2016 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and is now available to view online for free courtesy of the New Yorker.

It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter.

Great little film…my heart broke three separate times watching it.

A short history of time travel and killing Baby Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.

I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.

Scientists accidentally discover a process to turn CO2 into fuel

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have stumbled upon a process that uses “nanospikes” to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol, a common fuel.

This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.

This sounds like a big deal…is it now possible to limit the effects of climate change by sinking carbon while also placing less dependence on fossil fuels? Here’s the Oak Ridge press release. That this news is almost a week old already and we haven’t heard more about it makes me a bit skeptical as to the true importance of it. (Of course, CRISPR is potentially a massive deal and we don’t hear about it nearly enough so…)

Update: A relevant series of tweets from Eric Hittinger on “why creating ethanol from CO2 cannot solve our energy or climate problems”. Wasn’t fully awake when I posted this apparently because, yeah, duh. (via @leejlh)

The original Star Wars in 4K

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2016

A group of hardcore Star Wars fans are restoring the original 1977 theatrical release of the first Star Wars movie in ultra high-def 4K resolution. The video above is a trailer of sorts, but it also shows the restoration of a short scene…the increase in quality and resolution is impressive.

Simply put, we are restoring the original, theatrical version of Star Wars in 4K. Using multiple 35mm prints, scanned at 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at full 4k UHD 4096x1716 resolution. To be clear, this is not simply an upscale of any other source, this is all to be done natively in 4K from 35mm sources. The only exception to this rule is when we don’t have a particular frame available, in that case either an upscale of the Silver Screen Edition, or the official Bluray will be used.

Obama: “progress is on the ballot”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2016

As a chaser to the last post, here’s Hillary Clinton’s latest campaign commercial. This is right up there with the best political ads I’ve seen. Obama’s words are taken from his speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last month.

Our work’s not done. But if we are going to advance the cause of justice, and equality, and prosperity, and freedom, then we also have to acknowledge that even if we eliminated every restriction on voters, we would still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. That’s not good, that is on us.

And I am reminded of all those folks who had to count bubbles in a bar of soap, beaten trying to register voters in Mississippi. Risked everything so that they could pull that lever. So, if I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn’t matter who we elect, read up on your history. It matters. We’ve got to get people to vote.

In fact, if you want to give Michelle and me a good sendoff, and that was a beautiful video, but don’t just watch us walk off into the sunset now, get people registered to vote. If you care about our legacy, realize everything we stand for is at stake, on the progress we have made is at stake in this election.

My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot. Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Ending mass incarceration, that’s on the ballot right now.

The Spielberg Face

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

If you watch any of Steven Spielberg’s movies, you’ll notice a distinctive element: the Spielberg Face.

If Spielberg deserves to be called a master of audience manipulation, then this is his signature stroke.

You see the onscreen character watching along with you in wonder, awe, apprehension, fear, sadness. It’s the director’s way of hitting pause, to show the audience this is a critical scene, to reinforce how the audience should be feeling in that moment.

Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2016

Trials rider Danny MacAskill busts out some more amazing tricks as he takes a mountain bike out for a ride in the area around Edinburgh. This could double as a tourism video for Scotland…the scenery almost steals the show here. (via @mathowie)

A classic film noir trailer for Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

Blade Runner was made by Ridley Scott partly as an homage to classic film noir movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Woman in the Window. This trailer turns the noir factor up to 11; aside from a shot or two here and there, it portrays a film that could have been made in the 40s. (via one perfect shot)

How to make traditional Chinese Suomian noodles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.

The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.

The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.

Calculating Ada

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2016

From the BBC, an hour-long documentary on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

You might have assumed that the computer age began with some geeks out in California, or perhaps with the codebreakers of World War II. But the pioneer who first saw the true power of the computer lived way back, during the transformative age of the Industrial Revolution.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

Planet Earth II

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2016

I reported back in February that the BBC was doing another season of Planet Earth with David Attenborough (aka the voice of nature). Now there’s a trailer out (with a Sigur Ros soundtrack) and the show is set to debut in the UK on BBC One later this month. In US? Who knows… probably in 8 months with Ellen Degeneres narrating.

The Choice: Frontline’s program on the 2016 election

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2016

Frontline has posted their 2-hour documentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 presidential election to YouTube.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history. Veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk goes beyond the headlines to investigate what has shaped these two candidates, where they came from, how they lead and why they want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

This looks excellent…I might watch this instead of the debate tonight.1

  1. To be clear, there’s no way I’m watching the debate tonight under any circumstances. I’ve already decided on my vote so there’s no need and I have no desire to gawk at a particularly gory traffic accident that’s doing long-term damage to American society.

Season three of Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

The trailer for the third season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror just dropped. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, I’d recommend catching yourself up. And did I spy Mackenzie Davis and Kelly Macdonald in the trailer? I did, I did. The new season starts October 21 on Netflix.

FIFA in real life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2016

EA Sports’ FIFA is one of the most popular sports video games in the world. But it’s also a challenging game to master, which can make for some blooper-filled afternoons with your mates. In these two videos, real players get out onto the pitch to imitate the mannerisms and slip-ups of their video game counterparts.