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25 Reasons to Keep on Making Stuff in Times of Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

In an epic GIF-laden thread on Twitter, author Chuck Wendig lays out “25 REASONS TO KEEP ON MAKING STUFF IN THIS TIME OF RAMPANT ASSHOLERY”.

1. Because you need to escape the fuckery, and what you make is a door. A book, a piece of art, even an excellent meal — it’s a doorway out. It’s the tunnel dug out behind the Rita Hayworth poster in your prison cell.

3. Because creation is #resistance. Making things is additive. And in a subtractive time such as this, you must balance the void with its opposite. That is an act of defiance. And we need more defiance.

9. Because it’s therapy. It’s therapy first for you, and if you share it, eventually for us, too.

20. Because when you make stuff, you improve yourself. And we need you in fighting shape. YOU MUST BE A WHETTED BLADE READY TO SLICE THROUGH SHENANIGANS, CHICANERY, AND GARBAGE.

24. Because art is beauty. Stories, poetry, craftwork, food, it’s all beautiful and this ugly world needs a dollop of beauty. There is beauty in both the act and the result of making stuff. So kick the shitstorm out of the sky with an aggressive rainbow counterattack.

See also Austin Kleon’s upcoming book Keep Going (and related talk) and How to Be Productive in Terrible Times.

What if the Placebo Effect Isn't a Trick?

A review & behind-the-scenes of a art exhibition curated by Wes Anderson & Juman Malouf for Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. "These are things that would not normally be shown..."

"Bailey Richardson, one of the 13 original Instagram employees, has deleted the app."

Duncan Robson wants to make a version of Christian Marclay's The Clock but with clips from video games

A previously undiscovered galaxy has been found very close to the Milky Way. Its detection was hindered by its low light & density and hiding place behind the Milky Way disc.

"Massachusetts offers a model for dealing with gun violence that the rest of the country could follow." Guns in the state are registered & licensed, like cars & driving privileges.

Trailer for The Price of Everything, an HBO documentary about the contemporary art world

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Database, Will Feature Works by 600+ Overlooked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Centuries

From Eater, the list of America's 38 Essential Restaurants

Another piece of the Antikythera mechanism (aka the world's oldest computing machine (2200 years old)) might have been found

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

Better Living Through Non-Zero Sum Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

One of the very few books I think about all the time is Robert Wright’s Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Paras Chopra tweeted out a good summary of the book a couple of weeks ago.

The basic premise of the book is that history has a direction which favors co-operation and non-zero sum games, and that causes an increase in complexity. Starting from the first replicating molecule which co-operated with an outer layer to form first proto-cell, evolutionary and cultural history is full of examples where two entities come together to survive and progress a lot more than they would have done individually. This co-operative entity fares much better than two individual entities because of specialization. If two entities are in the same boat — that they win together or lose together — then trust is implicit. In a non-zero sum game, trust causes entities to focus on what they do best.

This type of win-win cooperation in biology is mirrored in the cultural world:

Out of all technologies, perhaps information technologies are most conducive to enabling more non-zero sum games. As writing skill spread, more and more people entered into simple written contracts that helped people co-operate and specialize. Perhaps the biggest information technology was money and the corresponding meme of capitalism that helped people express their desires clearly and others to fulfil those desires. We have a thousand different types of shoes because shoe-makers today do not have to worry about baking their own bread. This “trust” in the larger entity of commerce helps everyone progress.

Nonzero is an intriguing lens through which to view current events (which is why it’s often in my thoughts). As Chopra notes, cooperation isn’t always the norm…Trumpist Republicans and Brexit proponents are both veering towards the zero sum end of the spectrum and I don’t think it will work out well for either country in the long run.

Puzzle Montage Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

Taking advantage of the fact that puzzle manufacturers typically use the same cut patterns to make many different puzzles, Tim Klein uses the interchangeable pieces to create surrealist mashups of puzzles.

Puzzle Montage

Puzzle Montage

Puzzle Montage

Artist Alma Haser used this technique for her Within 15 Minutes project in which she melded identically cut puzzles of portraits of identical twins.

Puzzle Twins

(via @john_overholt)

The Ubiquitous Collectivism that Enables America’s Fierce Individualism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2018

Forbes recently released their 2019 “30 Under 30” list of “the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada” who are also under 30 years old. A persistent criticism of the list is that many of the people on it are there because of family or other social advantages. As Helen Rosner tweeted of last year’s list:

My take is: all 30 Under 30 lists should include disclosure of parental assets

In a piece for Vox, Aditi Juneja, creator of the Resistance Manual and who was on the 30 Under 30 list last year, writes that Forbes does ask finalists a few questions about their background and finances but also notes they don’t publish those results. Juneja goes on to assert that no one in America is entirely self-made:

Most of us receive government support, for one thing. When asked, 71 percent of Americans say that they are part of a household that has used one of the six most commonly known government benefits — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, or unemployment benefits.

And many people who benefit from government largesse fail to realize it: Sixty percent of Americans who claim the mortgage-interest deduction, which applies to homeowners, say they have never used a government program. If you’ve driven on public roads, gone to public school, or used the postal service as part of your business — well, we all rely on collective infrastructure to get ahead.

And then she lists some of the ways in which she has specifically benefitted from things like government programs, having what sounds like a stable home environment, and her parents having sufficient income to save money for her higher education.

I went to public schools through eighth grade. My parents were able to save for some of my college costs through a plan that provides tax relief for those savings. I stayed on my parent’s health insurance until I was 26 under the Affordable Care Act. I have received the earned income tax credit, targeted at those with low or moderate income. I took out federal student loans to go to law school.

Juneja’s piece reminds me of this old post about how conservatives often gloss over all of the things that the government does for its citizens:

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

And also of mayor Pete Buttigieg’s idea of a more progressive definition of freedom:

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Lists like 30 Under 30 reinforce the idea of American individualism at the expense of the deep spirit & practice of collectivism that pervades daily American life. America’s fierce individuals need each other. Let’s celebrate and enable that.

The Odyssey of Reading “The Odyssey”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

In this clip from the TV show Articulate (which airs on PBS), host Jim Cotter talks with Emily Wilson and Daniel Mendelsohn about The Odyssey, different versions of the self, translations, and more.

Emily Wilson: What is it to be in a family? What is it to be a person over time? For me, that’s one of the most fascinating questions just in general, but then The Odyssey speaks to that question of, am I the same person that I was 20 years ago? Am I the same person in America that I was in the UK? Is Ulysses the same person when he’s on the battlefield, verses when he’s with his son, verses when he’s with his wife? What is it to be the same or to be different? How do we treat people who are different from us? It’s a poem that’s about diaspora, immigration, emigration, travel, belonging, being at different places geographically and also being at different places spiritually and psychologically.

The kids and I have been reading Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey over the past several months together. I wasn’t quite sure if they’d like it or if they’d get bored, but they’ve been engaged the whole time and now that we’re nearing the end, everyone is eager to see how the story plays out and a little sad that it’s ending.

We probably won’t be reading Mendelsohn’s book next, but I might have to add An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic to my reading stack:

When eighty-one-year-old Jay Mendelsohn decides to enroll in the undergraduate Odyssey seminar his son teaches at Bard College, the two find themselves on an adventure as profoundly emotional as it is intellectual. For Jay, a retired research scientist who sees the world through a mathematician’s unforgiving eyes, this return to the classroom is his “one last chance” to learn the great literature he’d neglected in his youth — and, even more, a final opportunity to more fully understand his son, a writer and classicist. But through the sometimes uncomfortable months that the two men explore Homer’s great work together — first in the classroom, where Jay persistently challenges his son’s interpretations, and then during a surprise-filled Mediterranean journey retracing Odysseus’s famous voyages — it becomes clear that Daniel has much to learn, too: Jay’s responses to both the text and the travels gradually uncover long-buried secrets that allow the son to understand his difficult father at last.

Monsoon V

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

Mike Olbinski is back with another of his jawdropping storm chasing videos. I find clouds endlessly fascinating — it seems like there’s always something new to consider while watching these kinds of videos. This time around, I noticed how the clouds in several instances actually “opened up” when it started to rain, like a hatch that finally succumbed to the pressure of all that water pushing down on it. (Check out 1:38 for a particularly clear instance.)

An Infinite Icosahedral Puzzle of the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

Earth Puzzle

Nervous System designed this puzzle of Earth so that it can be put together in a variety of different ways.

This puzzle is based on an icosahedral map projection and has the topology of a sphere. This means it has no edges, no North and South, and no fixed shape. Try to get the landmasses together or see how the oceans are connected. Make your own maps of the earth!

The Girl with the Grande Iced Latte

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2018

Rodrigo Pinheiro 01

Rodrigo Pinheiro 02

Rodrigo Pinheiro 03

I seemingly cannot get enough of contemporizing old paintings and works of art. Here, from Rodrigo Pinheiro, are some familiar young people hanging out with modern beverages.

See also Girl with a Pearl Earring and Point-and-Shoot Camera and Art History Comes to Life.

A Song Map of the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Song Map

Song Map

Design studio Dorothy has produced a poster of a map of the United States where all the place names are song titles.

Some of our favourite song choices are the ones which require you to think a little harder about connections, such as Space Oddity (David Bowie) which signposts Cape Canaveral, After the Gold Rush (Neil Young) which references Sutter’s Mill, and Homecoming (Kanye West) which is placed near the rapper’s home town of Chicago.

The map is accompanied by a Spotify playlist of most of the songs used…over 61 hours of music in total.

How Fascism Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

Yale philosopher Jason Stanley recently published a book called How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Sean Illing interviewed him for Vox about what fascism is and isn’t and whether Trump is practicing fascist politics (spoiler alert: yes). I found this bit about how America is particularly susceptible to fascism interesting (italics mine…that is an amazingly succinct paragraph about American culture):

Well, the Ku Klux Klan deeply affected Adolf Hitler. He explicitly praised the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, as a useful model.

The 1920s and the 1930s was a very fascist time in the United States. You’ve got very patriarchal family values and a politics of resentment aimed at black Americans and other groups as internal threats, and this gets exported to Europe.

So we have a long history of genocide against native peoples and anti-black racism and anti-immigration hysteria, and at the same time there’s a strain of American exceptionalism, which manifests as a kind of mythological history and encourages Americans to think of their own country as a unique force for good.

This doesn’t make America a fascist country, but all of these ingredients are easily channeled into a fascist politics.

This has been on my mind lately; here’s what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, reflecting on a trip to Berlin:

With overt anti-Semitism growing in the US (as well as other things like the current administration’s policies on immigration and jailing of children in concentration camps), it’s instructive to compare the German remembrance of the Holocaust to America’s relative lack of public introspection & remembrance about its dark history.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism.

Jazz Deconstructed: John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

A new episode of Estelle Caswell’s Earworm series is always cause for celebration. In this one, Caswell examines the title track off John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” album and what makes it so challenging to play & rewarding to listen to.

John Coltrane, one of jazz history’s most revered saxophonists, released “Giant Steps” in 1959. It’s known across the jazz world as one of the most challenging compositions to improvise over for two reasons - it’s fast and it’s in three keys. Braxton Cook and Adam Neely give me a crash course in music theory to help me understand this notoriously difficult song, and I’m bringing you along for the ride. Even if you don’t understand a lick of music theory, you’ll likely walk away with an appreciation for this musical puzzle.

This is me actually walking away with that new appreciation.

How AI Agents Cheat

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

This spreadsheet lists a number of ways in which AI agents “cheat” in order to accomplish tasks or get higher scores instead of doing what their human programmers actually want them to. A few examples from the list:

Neural nets evolved to classify edible and poisonous mushrooms took advantage of the data being presented in alternating order, and didn’t actually learn any features of the input images.

In an artificial life simulation where survival required energy but giving birth had no energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle that consisted mostly of mating in order to produce new children which could be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children).

Agent kills itself at the end of level 1 to avoid losing in level 2.

AI trained to classify skin lesions as potentially cancerous learns that lesions photographed next to a ruler are more likely to be malignant.

That second item is a doozy! Philosopher Nick Bostrom has warned of the dangers of superintelligent agents that exploit human error in programming them, describing a possible future where an innocent paperclip-making machine destroys the universe.

The “paperclip maximiser” is a thought experiment proposed by Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University. Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”.

But some of this is The Lebowski Theorem of machine superintelligence in action. These agents didn’t necessarily hack their reward functions but they did take a far easiest path to their goals, e.g. the Tetris playing bot that “paused the game indefinitely to avoid losing”.

“Our Planet”, a Nature Documentary Series from David Attenborough & Netflix

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2018

It looks like Netflix has sifted through their data and determined subscribers cannot get enough of the Planet Earth and Blue Planet nature series, so they’re making their own. With David Attenborough. The teaser trailer for Our Planet borrows heavily from Planet Earth (fonts & music are similar) but is light on the details, aside from the launch date: April 5, 2019.

A Vote for Every Citizen

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 09, 2018

Perhaps the most heartening election results this week was Florida’s 60 percent-plus approval of Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to people convicted of a felony statewide. It re-extends the franchise to over a million people, reversing a policy that’s had brutal effects nationwide, but maybe nowhere more than Florida, one of the most populous states with one of the strictest disenfranchisement policies.

There’s an irony here, as it’s likely that if those citizens had had the right to vote in 2018, Florida’s still-contested elections for governor and senator would likely have been clean wins for Democrats. This means that over a fifth of Republican voters in this election also voted to overturn a policy that almost singlehandedly kept Republicans in power. All the other voter suppression policies deserve a little credit too, but this is the big one. And obviously, the Gillum and Nelson campaigns and other organizers deserve a lot of credit for getting Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans to cross over and vote on this issue. But what do we make of those crossover voters? What do we make of a state where the governor is sending police to keep votes from being counted after 60 percent of its citizens affirmed the principle that every citizen’s vote should be counted?

There’s probably a fraction of idealists, who know full well they’re hurting their own party’s chances, but voted yes anyway. I suspect, however, that there’s an even larger fraction who didn’t grasp the partisan implications of a yes vote — who don’t know (and were never meant to know) that their party’s control of the state rested almost completely on voter disenfranchisement, in all its forms. It’s invisible to them. It was designed to be invisible, and huge chunks of the press has played along, covering disenfranchisement sporadically if at all. They voted yes because they were never meant to know how much it mattered.

I also think of Michigan, my home state, where voter registration, early voting, and anti-gerrymandering measures passed with larger margins than either the Democratic governor or Senator received. These Republican voters, too, either didn’t know or didn’t care that their power in the state stems almost completely from gerrymandering and restrictions on the ability to vote. It suggests that even in the purplest states, where fighting between the parties is the fiercest and often the most arcane, there’s much more support for widespread voting rights among the electorate than there is in the parties who’ve sought to use restrictions on voting as a weapon.

What if, as Alex Pareene tweeted, Democrats and voting rights advocates pushed nationwide for “a plainly worded Constitutional amendment guaranteeing every citizen a right to vote”? No carve-outs, no exceptions, no states playing tricks. (Do you keep the restriction to the age of majority, i.e., 18+? Maybe, maybe not; I don’t know actually!)

Imagine how transformative that would be. Imagine how craven every politician who opposed this amendment would be. A vote for every citizen. And as Alex writes, it’s a short step from this idea to genuine proportionate representation, a true popular vote for the Presidency, full voting rights for Puerto Rico and all the other territories. With one stroke, you sweep so much of the anti-democratic vestiges of the Constitution away, and make the United States something closer to a true democracy.

I think it’s one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard. I think it’s something we’re ready for. I think it’s something we badly need. What else is there to say?