homeaboutarchives + tagsnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivesnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, A Short Story by Ted Chiang

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

From Ted Chiang’s collection of stories, Exhalation, comes Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, published online for the first time. In the story, devices called “prisms” allow people to talk to their alternate reality selves, but only for a limited time.

Every prism — the name was a near acronym of the original designation, “Plaga interworld signaling mechanism” — had two LEDs, one red and one blue. When a prism was activated, a quantum measurement was performed inside the device, with two possible outcomes of equal probability: one outcome was indicated by the red LED lighting up, while the other was indicated by the blue one. From that moment forward, the prism allowed information transfer between two branches of the universal wave function. In colloquial terms, the prism created two newly divergent timelines, one in which the red LED lit up and one in which the blue one did, and it allowed communication between the two.

I read Exhalation several months ago; every story was fantastic, but this was one of my favorites.

We Will Pay for Our Summer Vacations With Winter Lockdowns. "The rise in infections in Europe seems particularly linked to activities like barhopping, clubbing and partying among younger people..."

If you're like me and watch absolutely no political TV/video coverage, you might not know how to pronounce Kamala Harris's first name. This video will help. (It's "COMMA-LAH".)

Twitter launches new API as it tries to make amends with third-party developers. [insert gif of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown again...]

New CDC guidance: don't wear masks with exhalation valves because if you're sick, you're potentially just exhaling virus everywhere (literally the thing masks are supposed to prevent).

"increasingly unsettling eggs"

Old gold from The Onion in 2011: Trump Unable To Produce Certificate Proving He's Not A Festering Pile Of Shit.

Apple just booted Fortnite from the App Store. Epic Games is one of many companies now protesting Apple's exorbitant 30% cut of App Store revenues.

"Joan Feynman, an astrophysicist known for her discovery of the origin of auroras, died on July 21. She was 93."

How social justice slideshows took over Instagram.

Because of excess deaths, the true Covid-19 death toll in the US has likely passed 200,000 people already.

New!  An archive of the Quick Links. You can find them @kottke on Twitter too.

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Dip of Shit

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

USPS Rain Snow Fascism

An anonymous USPS employee has written about the recent changes at the Post Office since new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (“a lifelong Republican, a Trump mega-donor/fundraiser, and a high ranking RNC official”) took over and has set about gutting it from the inside.

All of the potential angles for corruption make DeJoy’s aims pretty tough to figure out. He’s a small market conservative from the private sector running a massive government agency. He’s a Trump ally running the agency responsible for ballots during an election year. He also has a direct financial interest in seeing us fail. Take your pick. You’re probably right no matter what. And judging by the chaos he’s unleashed into USPS in just his first two months, “all of the above” might be your best bet.

See, up until just two months ago, every letter carrier, clerk, mail handler, truck driver, etc, worked under one pretty simple philosophy: every piece, every address, every day. Everyone in the chain of custody for mail made sure every piece got as far along in the system as it could, and if it made it to my hands, in my office, it was getting delivered. That’s how I’ve done it for my career, how the guys who have been doing it for forty years have always done it, and that’s literally how Ben Fucking Franklin’s guys did it. You can almost hear Aaron Sorkin’s orgasm as he punches up the Bradley Whitford speech about the majesty of it all.

But two months ago is also when that abruptly stopped. After a couple hundred years, it just…stopped. On the ground floor, there’s a lot of arguing about who is ordering what, and what’s going to be permanent, and what’s going to be a trial run, but at the end of the day, the result is obvious: I go into my job, every single morning, and don’t deliver hundreds of pieces of available mail that used to get delivered. The only reason given is some vague nonsense about “operational efficiency” and “cost savings.”

And this was written before reports of sorting machines being removed without explanation ahead of a presumed huge surge of election-related mail. I think we should actually be pretty alarmed by this. Here’s Jamelle Bouie on Trump’s election night strategy (and how to counter it: vote in person):

There’s no mystery about what President Trump intends to do if he holds a lead on election night in November. He’s practically broadcasting it.

First, he’ll claim victory. Then, having spent most of the year denouncing vote-by-mail as corrupt, fraudulent and prone to abuse, he’ll demand that authorities stop counting mail-in and absentee ballots. He’ll have teams of lawyers challenging counts and ballots across the country.

He also seems to be counting on having the advantage of mail slowdowns, engineered by the recently installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Fewer pickups and deliveries could mean more late-arriving ballots and a better shot at dismissing votes before they’re even opened, especially if the campaign has successfully sued to block states from extending deadlines. We might even see a Brooks Brothers riot or two, where well-heeled Republican operatives stage angry and voluble protests against ballot counts and recounts.

(via waxy)

Designing the Unknown: the New Biden-Harris Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that Senator Kamala Harris would be his vice-presidential running mate. The campaign was quickly updated to include a new Biden-Harris logo designed by Hoefler&Co. in collaboration with Biden campaign advisor Robyn Kanner:

Biden Harris Logo

But the designer of the logo wasn’t told who the running mate would be beforehand, so how did the campaign get it out so quickly? According to Jonathan Hoefler, the design team designed a whole collection of logos for potential candidates gleaned from reading the media tea leaves.

A consequential decision at an unpredictable time, conducted under absolute secrecy, poses an interesting dilemma to the typographer: how do you create a logo without knowing for certain what the words will say? Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an eisenhower will hardly work for a taft. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.

I would love to see some of those alternate designs (Biden-Warren!), but there’s no way in hell they’ll ever see the light of day, especially before the election.

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA & Good Humor Partner to Create a New Ice Cream Truck Jingle

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

Ice cream maker Good Humor has teamed up with legendary rapper/musician RZA to produce a new ice cream truck jingle to replace the ubiquitous “Turkey in the Straw”, a tune that gained popularity as a minstrel song with racist lyrics.

“Turkey in the Straw” is one of the most iconic ice cream truck jingles today. However, many people don’t realize that this familiar tune has racist roots.

Turkey in the Straw’s melody originated from British and Irish folk songs, which had no racial connotations. But the song itself was first performed (and gained popularity) in American minstrel shows in the 1800s. Some songs using its same melody contained highly offensive, racist lyrics.

Throughout the 19th century, minstrel songs like Turkey in the Straw were commonly played in ice cream parlors, and later, adapted as ice cream truck jingles.

While these associations of “Turkey in the Straw” are not the only part of its legacy, it is undeniable that this melody conjures memories of its racist iterations.

RZA explains the story behind the new jingle:

And from a press release:

To create an original jingle, The RZA drew inspiration from his own childhood memories of chasing after the ice cream truck in his neighborhood. The track borrows from traditional ice cream truck music and adds jazz and hip-hop elements. Expect trap drumbeats, some old-school bells that reference Good Humor’s original ice cream trucks, and a distinct RZA hook that you will not be able to get out of your head.

Here’s the full jingle:

Song of the Summer 2020? I could totally see Drake or whoever sampling this for an end-of-the-summer ice cream anthem.

The British Museum Is Full of Stolen Artifacts

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2020

The British Museum contains hundreds of contested items, the spoils of the British Empire’s reach (and smash n’ grab) across the globe. Some of the museum’s most popular and prized items are included: the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and the Benin Bronzes. The countries from which these artifacts were taken are increasingly asking for their return.

Some of the world’s greatest cultural and historical treasures are housed in London’s British Museum, and a significant number of them were taken during Britain’s centuries-long imperial rule. In recent years, many of the countries missing their cultural heritage have been asking for some of these items back.

Benin City in Nigeria is one of those places. They’ve been calling for the return of the Benin Bronzes, hundreds of artifacts looted in 1897 when British soldiers embarked a punitive expedition to Benin. Many are now housed in the British Museum.

And it’s just the beginning. As the world reckons with the damage inflicted during Europe’s colonial global takeover, the calls for these items to be returned are getting louder and louder.

See also this piece from the NY Times: This Art Was Looted 123 Years Ago. Will It Ever Be Returned?

2020: An Isolation Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2020

Isolation does funny things to people. Just ask designer Lydia Cambron, who recognized a certain kinship between the themes of her lockdown in Brooklyn this spring and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Over the course of two months, Cambron meticulously recreated 2001’s ending scene in her apartment, not only shot-by-shot but nearly look-by-look, and produced a tiny masterpiece of her own.

The adapted version delineates the passing of time through wardrobe rather than age, identifying each phase of the character’s journey with a product of self care or PPE. Tools of private entertainment or self betterment are also used as props, questioning our confidence in products and productivity as anchors during times of uncertainty. Multitasking while #wfh, conjuring guilt or longing with unused exercise equipment, your entire being reduced to a measure of time — these scenes all illustrate the absurd comedy of trying to maintain control during this unprecedented and unpredictable time.

(via daring fireball)

This Kid Crashing Into Trash Cans Sounds Like Phil Collins’ Drums from “In the Air Tonight”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2020

I love things that sound like other things and this video of a kid crashing into some trash bins on his bike sounds a lot like the drums in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”. (If I may play spoiler for just a second though, capturing the sound of those bins going over so clearly from that far away seems a little suspect. But let’s assume it’s real and have our fun.) See also This Stumbling Deer’s Hooves Sound Like Phil Collins’ Drum Fill on “In the Air Tonight”. (thx to everyone who sent this in)

Lovely Interactive Display of Early 19th-Century Hand-Drawn Illustrations of Minerals

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2020

Mineralogy Zoom

Mineralogy Zoom

I love this zoomable interactive display of British & Exotic Mineralogy. To create it, Nicholas Rougeux collected 718 hand-drawn mineral illustrations by James Sowerby sourced from a pair of multi-volume books called British Mineralogy and Exotic Mineralogy, published between 1802 and 1817. Then he arranged them according to hue and brightness in a collage worthy of Knoll.

British Mineralogy and Exotic Mineralogy comprise 718 illustrations by James Sowerby in an effort to illustrate the topographical mineralogy of Great Britain and minerals not then known to it. Sowerby’s plates are some of the finest examples of hand-drawn mineral illustrations ever created. The detail and care with which these illustrations were created is incredible and worthy of close examination. See the samples below.

And, oh boy, he’s selling posters of it too.

Study Suggests That Some Masks Are Much Better than Others

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2020

Masks comparison chart

A new study on masks that measures the number of droplets emerging from the mouth during speech shows that properly fitted N95, surgical, and polypropylene masks are best, layered cotton masks are good, bandanas are not great, and neck gaiters may be worse than wearing no mask. Here’s a Washington Post article about the study.

I have some issues with this study — most masks were tested by only one speaker and mask materials were not identified precisely1 — but when combined with other studies about masks, it is clear that surgical masks or masks that are made with similar materials (polypropylene non-woven fabric) are what you want to shoot for, you want multiple layers for more protection (no single-layer microfiber gaiters), homemade cotton masks are pretty good (but would be better with a layer of polypropylene non-woven fabric), proper fit matters, and for god’s sake, stop wearing a bandana as a mask. Yes, bandanas are convenient, but you’re probably trading safety for that convenience, especially if you factor in the amount of time you’ll be wearing a mask over the next several months. A proper mask is going to protect you and your neighbors much more over the long haul — it’s just common sense at this point.

Re: the tested neck gaiter being worse than wearing no mask: the hypothesis is that the gaiter’s material splits large droplets into smaller ones, hence the higher count.

We noticed that speaking through some masks (particularly the neck fleece) seemed to disperse the largest droplets into a multitude of smaller droplets (see Supplementary Fig. S5), which explains the apparent increase in droplet count relative to no mask in that case. Considering that smaller particles are airborne longer than large droplets (larger droplets sink faster), the use of such a mask might be counterproductive.

Here’s what I’m taking away from this and other mask studies: wear the highest quality mask you can locate (multi-layered, incorporating surgical mask materials) that fits properly and, secondarily, is comfortable & convenient. For me, that’s a two-layer cotton mask (like these Vida masks) with an inserted layer of polypropylene non-woven fabric. An N95 would be much better in terms of efficacy, but it’s overkill in most situations (particularly here in VT, where rates continue to be low) and is difficult to fit properly and quickly. (via @EricTopol)

Update: Slate’s Susan Matthews goes into more detail about the problems with this study and the conclusions that others are drawing from it.

The purpose of the research was to establish that the testing method worked in principle-not to come up with meaningful or accurate verdicts about particular masks.

But she also concludes (correctly, in my mind):

Should you think twice about wearing just a gaiter inside, in close proximity to other people? Yeah, a fitted mask is probably better. But you didn’t need this study to tell you that.

(via @BrianDau)

Update: But interesting to note that in this test, scarves, bandanas, and microfiber neck gaiters came in last.

  1. What is a “gaiter type neck fleece” made out of exactly? If you look at the photo, it doesn’t look like fleece so much as microfiber polyester, which is what my kids wear for skiing. This article says the neck gaiter was “made of polyester mixed with a little spandex”, which is definitely not fleece. My guess is they tested a one-layer microfiber gaiter and that higher quality gaiters would perform better (but still not as well as a surgical mask).

QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

Kirby Ferguson, creator of the Everything Is a Remix and This Is Not a Conspiracy Theory video series, has a new video out that attempts to explain the rise of QAnon, conspiracy theories, and magical thinking in America.

Ferguson zeros in on the divide between two different ways people make sense of a complex, chaotic, and uncertain world: evidence seeking and magical thinking. All of us employ both of these techniques to help ease our anxiety about the world, but those who tend towards magical thinking arrive at explanations that are based primarily on instinct, emotion, feelings, and gut reaction while evidence seekers mostly rely on scientific and empirical reasoning.

He also identifies six main aspects of magical thinking:

1. Obsession with symbols and codes (e.g. pizza as a “deep state” code for child trafficking)
2. Dot connecting (e.g. linking 5G with Covid-19)
3. Behind every event is a plan concocted by a person (e.g. Soros and the “deep state” conspiracy)
4. Purity (e.g. the Satanic panic and heavy metal music)
5. Apocalypse is nigh (e.g. the “deep state” again)
6. Preoccupation with good and evil (e.g. liberals are not only wrong but evil)

For me, the key quote about magical thinking is this one for late in the video: “These are not systems of knowledge, and they cannot build solutions. They can only criticize and second-guess.”

Why Police Reform Doesn’t Work In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

With the help of Harvard historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, this video from BuzzFeed documents investigations into police brutality and racism from the past century and how reforms based on those investigations have not brought about meaningful change. These reports — exploring the causes of unrest in Chicago in 1919, Harlem in 1935 & 1943, LA in 1965, Ferguson in 2014 — demonstrate again and again the discriminent violence committed against Black people by the police, and yet that violence and racism continues until the next investigation is conducted with the same conclusion.

Is Everyone Excited About Their Kids Going Back to School?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

In the United States, amid high numbers of Covid-19 infections and thousands of weekly deaths, no national plan for testing & tracing, little support for working parents, and individual states and school districts left to their own devices to figure this all out for themselves, schools around the country are trying to “open” for the 2020-2021 school year. At McSweeney’s, Kara Baskin imagines Your School District’s Reopening Survey. Here’s what a hybrid learning model will look like:

This model will combine the key elements of in-person instruction (see above) with remote learning, which we hopefully perfected this spring. Your child will be divided into a cohort (A, B, AB, BC, CC, XVY, MCXLVII, and Depeche Mode) based on careful consideration of his or her learning style, social-emotional needs, friendships, and an algorithm our intern designed this summer. You will need a reliable Internet connection, a work schedule that follows no concrete pattern, a forgiving supervisor, independent wealth, or a Xanax prescription. Please contact our school nurse for the latter.

I sent this link to a friend who is currently evaluating several options for her child’s schooling that range from poor to dangerous, and she replied, “This may be too on the nose to be funny.”

Ballpoint Pen Portraits by Mark Powell

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2020

Mark Powell Art

Mark Powell Art

Mark Powell Art

Artist Mark Powell draws portraits on repurposed canvases (old maps, newspapers, ads, postcards) with a ballpoint pen. I could have sworn I’d featured Powell’s work before, but I was probably thinking of the work of Ed Fairburn or Matthew Cusick.

The best way to check out Powell’s work is on Behance or on his website (where he has prints and originals for sale). (via colossal)

Five Months of the Virus in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2020

Daniel Arnold NYC Covid Times

Photographer Daniel Arnold and editor Dodai Stewart collaborated on a photoessay documenting the first five months of the pandemic in NYC. That image above is just…wow.

See also COVID-19 Empties Out Public Spaces.