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McHive, the World’s Smallest McDonald’s (for Bees)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

McHive

A few McDonald’s restaurants in Sweden started putting beehives on their rooftops to help save dwindling bee populations and it turned into a national sustainability effort.

More franchisees around the country are joining the cause and have also started replacing the grass around their restaurants with flowers and plants that are important for the wellbeing of wild bees.

To promote the idea, McDonald’s constructed what might be their smallest restaurant, actually a fully functioning beehive just for the bees:

Totes adorbzzzz.

The teaser trailer for Star Trek: Picard, with Patrick Stewart reprising the title role

"Once-In-A-Hundred Year" Sightings of Bamboo Blossoms Reported In Japan

Pastry chef Claire Saffitz makes homemade Doritos from scratch

Another take on why folks didn't like the final season of Game of Thrones: the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological.

Muslims came to America more than a century before Protestants, and in great numbers. How was their history forgotten?

Dracula Live, a live re-publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula

Researchers have found what they think is the oldest human footprint in the Americas, left 15,600 years ago in Chile. Evidence continues to mount that the peopling of the Americas happened earlier than commonly believed.

A new Terminator movie with Linda Hamilton & Arnold Schwarzenegger that takes place after Terminator 2 will be out in November. Not gonna lie...watching the trailer gave me goosebumps.

A former FBI agent reveals how to read body language. "You can have a poker face, but you can't have a poker body."

Laugh track history. "Ancient Athenian performer Philemon routinely defeats his rival Menander at comedy competitions, not because he’s funnier, but because he hires audience members to laugh loudly at his jokes to sway the judges."

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

What’s It Like Living with Perfect Pitch and Synesthesia?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

LJ Rich has synesthesia and perfect pitch and wrote about what that feels like for her personally.

Now, I’d like you to imagine you’re chatting with your conversation partner. But instead of speaking and hearing the words alone, each syllable they utter has a note, sometimes more than one. They speak in tunes and I can sing back their melody. Once I know them a little bit, I can play along to their words as they speak them, accompanying them on the piano as if they’re singing an operatic recitative. They drop a glass on the floor, it plays a particular melody as it hits the tiles. I’ll play that melody back — on a piano, on anything. I can accompany that melody with harmony, chords — or perhaps compose a variation on that melody - develop it into a stupendous symphony filled with strings, or play it back in the style of Chopin, Debussy or Bob Marley. That car horn beeps an F major chord, this kettle’s in A flat, some bedside lights get thrown out because they are out of tune with other appliances. I can play along to every song on the radio whether or not I’ve heard it before, the chord progressions as open to me as if I had the sheet music in front of me. I can play other songs with the same chords and fit them with the song being played. Those bath taps squeak in E, this person sneezes in E flat. That printer’s in D mostly. The microwave is in the same key as the washing machine.

I have a friend with perfect pitch and one of the first times we hung out together, the horn on a tugboat sounded and she said, “C sharp”. I looked puzzled so she explained, and then I peppered her with questions about all the other sounds around us. It was like watching a superhero do their thing.

But with great power sometimes comes great irritation. From a NY Times article about Rich:

LJ said she had been a “weird prodigy kid.” For her, perfect pitch had been a nightmare. The whole world seemed out of tune. But then teachers introduced her to Indian ragas, Gamelan music and compositions with quarter tones, unfamiliar modes and atonal structures. As her musical horizons expanded, her anxiety dissipated. (She remains exceedingly sensitive to pitch, though. Her refrigerator, for example, hums in A flat. Working from home, I hear my fridge running 12 hours a day. Blindfolded, I’m not sure I could pick the thing out of a lineup of three other refrigerators.)

WebGL Fluid Dynamics Simulator

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

Pavel Dobryakov has built a nifty little fluid dynamics simulator in WebGl that runs in any modern browser, including on mobile devices. You can drag around on the screen with your mouse or finger and produce colorful swirling patterns like these:

WebGL fluid simulator

iOS and Android apps are also available. (via @EdwardDixon3)

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

Branded Junkyard Creations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

Artist and former advertising art director Alvaro Naddeo does these wonderful paintings of old iconic junk from our branded past repurposed into absurdist structures and vehicles, like Junkyard Wars through the lens of Warhol. It’s tough to explain, so just feast thine eyes on a couple of examples:

Alvaro Naddeo

Alvaro Naddeo

Alvaro Naddeo

Alvaro Naddeo

Ok, that was more than a couple. But there are so many more on his website and Instagram (including work-in-progress stuff)…check them out!

Naddeo recently shared his process for making these paintings with Colossal:

Naddeo tells Colossal that he starts with a loose sketch by hand. He then uses 3D software to help define a plausible shape for his imagined constructions, and creates a reference composition in Photoshop. After years of practice, Naddeo shares that he is able to recreate the texture, color, and shadows of various building materials like brick and concrete from memory. He uses reference photos to help flesh out small detail items, which are similarly rendered in watercolor.

A prime example of Robin Sloan’s concept of the flip-flop.

Introducing the Playdate Gaming System

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

Playdate

Playdate is a new handheld gaming system from Panic, the makers of FTP software. Hold on, what?! From the press release:

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

The crank made me laugh out loud — in delight, mind you. Who puts a hand-crank on the side of a handheld video game console?! A very playful Nintendo-esque touch, designed in collaboration with Teenage Engineering. There’s more info, including photos of their first prototype, in this Twitter thread.

The old school tech blogging community1 is fired up about this thing in a way I’ve not seen for years. John Gruber writes on Daring Fireball:

The idea of a new upstart, a company the size of Panic — with only software experience at that — jumping into the hardware game with a brand new platform harkens back to the ’80s and ’90s. But even back then, a company like, say, General Magic or Palm, was VC-backed and aspired to be a titan. To be the next Atari or Commodore or Apple.

In today’s world all the new computing devices and platforms come from huge companies. Apple of course. All the well-known Android handset makers building off an OS provided by Google. Sony. Nintendo.

Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun.

And from Anil Dash, Putting the Soul in Console:

I’d been given a hint a while ago that something like this was coming, but the final execution is even more delightful than I’d imagined it might be. (That crank!) More importantly, it’s captured the imagination of so many, and seems like the kind of thing that could inspire a new generation of creative people to think, “Hey, maybe good tech is something we can make ourselves.” I’ve seen it happen on Glitch, and now I see it happening around Playdate after just a few hours.

That idea, that maybe things like our gaming devices or the websites we visit should be created by people we know and like, instead of giant faceless companies, seems more essential than ever. We would never settle for replacing all of our made-with-love, locally-grown, mom’s recipe home cooking with factory-farmed fast food, even if sometimes convenience demands we consume the latter. And we shouldn’t compromise any less on making sure that some of the time we spend playing games with each other, and delighting in the promise of technology, comes from people who’ve been diligently working for years to make well-sourced, organically grown, made-with-love technology.

Playdate starts shipping in early 2020. Supplies are probably going to be limited, so if you’re interested in getting one, you should hop on their mailing list.

  1. I.e. the folks who write about technology (software, gadgets) because they love it, not the folks who write about technology (IPOs, funding rounds) because it makes them money and gives them power.

We Will Add Your Biological and Technological Distinctiveness to Our Own

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

Design firm Pentagram has brought in a new partner to their New York office, information designer Giorgia Lupi, who joins heavy hitters like Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, and Eddie Opera. I remain fascinated with how Pentagram operates:

Established in 1972, the firm has a collectivist attitude and adheres to a longstanding constitution, which exists in its original form with only small modifications. It spreads profits and decision-making power equally among its self-governed partners — all designers — irrespective of seniority or how much business they brought in during a given year. There’s no CEO. The partners do collaborate with one another, often across disciplines, but essentially operate their own studios, though the local offices meet on a weekly basis and the entire group convenes twice a year. These all-partner meetings, chaired by one of the partners on a rotating basis, are about sharing work with the group and discussing business dynamics, Pentagram’s publishing program, its website, and trends in the industry.

The process for bringing in a new partner can take years from start to finish and requires the unanimous consent of the rest of the partners:

“One vote against and it’s over, truly,” says Miller. “We’ve seen it happen.”

I’ve often thought about if a collective structure could work for independent content sites. I wouldn’t want to sell kottke.org to anyone, but the idea of sharing resources and infrastructure with a couple dozen similar sites is appealing. You could collect the sites into a membership bundle; hire dedicated staff for customer support, ad sales, & devops; do cross-promotion, syndicate the content via a meta-site, and generally help small indie sites punch above their weight. This is what The Deck could have evolved into, I suppose. Aw well.

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

This wonderful site presents animations of 507 mechanical movements first published in a book by Henry T. Brown in 1868, the full title of which is:

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several of Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use

The site is a work-in-progress…not all of the movements have been animated yet. This short video shows movement #123:

You can buy a paperback version of the original book or browse/download the entire thing at the Internet Archive.

See also this great explanation of differential gears and especially Ralph Steiner’s 1930 short film Mechanical Principles, in which we see many of the mechanisms from Brown’s book actually working:

Warning: if you start Steiner’s film, you’ll probably end up watching the whole thing…it’s mesmerizing, particularly when the gears come in around ~2:30.

The Bit Player

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

The Bit Player is a documentary film about Claude Shannon, the underrated “Father of Information Theory”, whose work, more than anyone else’s, laid the foundation for the information age in which we find ourselves currently immersed.

In a blockbuster paper in 1948, Claude Shannon introduced the notion of a “bit” and laid the foundation for the information age. His ideas ripple through nearly every aspect of modern life, influencing such diverse fields as communication, computing, cryptography, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, cosmology, linguistics, and genetics.

The film is directed by Mark Levinson, a former particle physicist, who also directed the excellent Particle Fever (about the search for the Higgs boson). The Bit Player premieres later this month at the World Science Festival in NYC and presumably will be out in theaters sometime after that.

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

I am here for any metaphor linking the internet and Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler writes that netizens are retreating from the public square of the internet, resulting in many private & isolated worlds that don’t communicate with each other, a la the dark forest condition in Liu’s books.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

Philip Glass on Soul Train

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

It turns out that the fourth track off of Philip Glass’ soundtrack for Koyaanisqatsi matches up pretty well to the dancers in this clip from Soul Train.

I don’t know whether to like this or hate it. Actually, I think I love it. See also Soul Train dancers backed by Daft Punk. (via @tedgioia)

Explore Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus Online

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

An 1119-page collection of papers known as the Codex Atlanticus has been completely digitized and put online to explore. The codex showcases Leonardo’s impressive range of interests and abilities, from flying machines to anatomy to weaponry to astronomy to engineering.

Several more of Leonardo’s notebooks have been put online as well…I’ve listed all of them in this post about the Codex Forster. (via open culture)

The World Building Bureaucracy of Sequels

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

An intriguing insight from Khoi Vinh in his short review of the third John Wick movie:

This is what usually happens: a film creates a compelling fantasy world and fans clamor for more. So sequels build that world out, they show more of its mechanics, its people, its history. But “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” demonstrates one little acknowledged principle of escalated world building: the inevitable outcome is bureaucracy.

[…]

Things that were at first only suggested become explicit, mysteries are explained, and idiosyncrasies metastasize into red tape. Suddenly filmmakers find themselves in a position where building the world becomes its own motivation.

See also Why the Writing in Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Feels Off. (via @capndesign)

The Solitary Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

In 1960, David Latimer put some compost, water, and plant seeds into a large glass jar and sealed it up. And it’s been growing like that ever since, save for when Latimer opened the bottle to water it in 1972.

Bottle Plants

It’s easy to take nature and evolution for granted but think about how marvelous this is. Over billions of years, an ecosystem evolved on Earth that can sustain itself basically forever using light from the Sun.

The plant creates energy from the sunlight via photosynthesis, using up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the bottle. When parts of the plant die, bacteria in the soil use the oxygen to break down these dead parts, releasing carbon dioxide and completing the circle. The water cycle is similarly self-refueling: whatever water the plant takes in through its roots ultimately transpires out of its leaves, condenses on the inside of the bottle, and drips back into the soil.