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The Delightful New “Universe in a Nutshell” App

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

The breadth of scale of measurable objects in the universe — our distance from the most distant objects we can observe (billions of light years away) to particles measured in something called a yoctometer (1×10-24 meters) — is staggering to think about. That’s where the Universe in a Nutshell app comes in. Developed by Kurzgesagt & Wait But Why (both kottke.org favorites), you can use the app to quickly and easily zoom in and out through objects at all the scales of the universe, like quarks, DNA, cells, earthworms, Europe, Jupiter, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Crab Nebula, galaxies, and galaxy superclusters.

Universe In A Nutshell

Universe In A Nutshell

You can tap on any object you encounter to learn more about it, like an interactive Powers of Ten. I spent 20 minutes just now playing around and it’s really fun. You can download the app for $2.99 from the App Store or on Google Play.

To mark the release, Kurzgesagt made a video comparing the sizes of stars:

And Wait But Why’s Tim Urban wrote a post about the scales of objects: The Big and the Small.

Gig Economy Company Launches Uber, But for Evicting People. "Civvl aims to make it easy for landlords to hire process servers and eviction agents as gig workers."

William Gibson asks what the collective weight is of all the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the world. Various guesstimates are presented in the thread; a rough consensus seems to be on the order of grams?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be the first woman ever to lie in state at the US Capitol.

The Atlantic storm season has been so busy that they've run out of names for tropical storms & hurricanes and have started in on Greek letters.

Join me and the 1000 other backers in supporting The Brick House Cooperative, "a journalist-owned, wolf-proof home for independent media" from veterans of the Awl, Splinter, Gawker, Deadspin, and other like-minded publications.

The Root 100, a list of the most influential African Americans in 2020. Lots of bold-faced names (Nikole Hannah-Jones, Yamiche Alcindor, Ibram X. Kendi, Issa Rae) but spend some time getting to know the folks farther down the list too.

Back in early April, the USPS had a plan to send free face masks to every household in America. The White House blocked it. This would have saved many lives and prevented many severe infections.

Former model Amy Dorris says that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in 1997. This makes at least 2 dozen women to come forward with sexual assault and rape accusations against Trump.

These maps based on recent research shows how profoundly climate change will alter the United States to make large swaths of the country unsuitable for human habitation in the next 20-40 years.

Open Culture, always excellent, has been absolutely fantastic lately.

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

Friluftsliv, the Norwegian Concept of Outdoor Living

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

Two people out walking in a snowstorm

As winter weather approaches here in North America, those seeking relief from pandemic isolation might take inspiration from the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv (meaning roughly “open-air living”).

In Norway this is not as outlandish as it might seem in other nations. The Reads are simply following the concept of friluftsliv, which translates roughly to “open-air living” and is deeply engrained in the country’s heritage.

From the remote Arctic to urban Oslo, friluftsliv means a commitment to celebrating time outdoors, no matter the weather forecast. “It’s the most natural thing for me because I’m Norwegian,” says Alexander, who documents their father-daughter journeys on Instagram.

The idea is as Norwegian as cross-country skis and aquavit. But amid a pandemic that’s upended rhythms of daily life around the globe, friluftsliv might also be a model for coming more safely — and sanely — through the northern hemisphere’s approaching winter season.

I wrote last year about The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter and I’ll have more to say about how that approach worked out for me personally in a future post (short version: well), but for now I’ll just mention that one of my favorite things I did last winter was going on a 7-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend. We were both dressed appropriately and keeping warm through movement — being out in nature and the engaging conversation was so enjoyable that I could have cared less about the temperature. (via kottke ride home)

A Photographic Window into the Remote Siberian Territory of Yakutia

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev

Alexey Vasilyev’s photos of the remote Russian territory of Yakutia (also known as Sakha, ultra-cold in the winter and hot in the summer) and the people who live there are really something.

Yakutia is the largest region of Russia, but it is almost not explored by man. The number of population is only one million on three million square kilometers. There is no other corner on the Earth where people live in such a severe and contrasting climate. In summer the air warms up to 40 degrees Celsius and in winter it drops to 60 degrees below zero. There is the longest duration of winter, temperatures below zero and snow lies here from October to mid-April.

The transport system has made Yakutia one of the most inaccessible areas in the world. There are almost no railways and few roads. Some places can be reached by plane or helicopter only. The remoteness from the world and severe climatic conditions determined a special way of life and culture of local residents.

That culture includes an enthusiasm for filmmaking, which Vasilyev has also captured.

However, Yakutia is famous not only for the severe climate and gold which is mined here, but also for the cinema. Yakut films participate in international festivals in Europe and Asia, receive awards, which are already more than 80. Yakut Hollywood is called “Sakhawood”.

People with different experiences are engaged in filmmaking. Most directors have no special education, for some of them directing is not the main way to earn money. Actors are people who work in the theater, or people who have never acted in a movie before. About 7-10 feature length films are shot here per year, from romantic comedies to fairy tales, based on local legends and beliefs. Sometimes Yakut movies have better box office than world blockbusters.

You can find more of Vasilyev’s work on Instagram.

Winners of the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2020

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year

The winning entries from the Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 competition are here and they are spectacular. As longtime readers can attest, I will never get tired of looking at photos of the sky and space.

Above from top to bottom: Nicolas Lefaudeux’s tilt-shift shot of the Andromeda Galaxy, Alain Paillou’s ultra-contrasty photo of the Moon, Kristina Makeeva’s aurora shot, Evan McKay’s self-portrait under the Milky Way, and Olga Suchanova’s 3-month exposure of the Sun’s path through the sky using a beer can pinhole camera. You can read a little bit about how Suchanova got that shot on 35mmc:

If exposure times on the order of minutes seem long, try months. Olga Suchanova (London, UK) used a pinhole camera made from a beercan — and not just any beercan, but a Peter Saville design for the Tate Modern — to record the solargraph below.

She used Ilford paper, exposed for 3 or 4 months at an art residency in Almeria, Spain. The long exposure traces the sun’s path across the sky over multiple days — sunny days make brighter lines, and as spring turns to summer, the sun rises higher in the sky. The fantastic colours — another consequence of the long exposure — are created spontaneously on black and white paper, without the need for development or any other chemical processing.

The Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Each year, photographers entering the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards capture animals in various hilarious (and often anthropomorphic) situations and this year’s finalists can hopefully provide you with some relief from the absolute shitstorm that’s raging outside our skulls here in 2020. [Uh, how about something a little more upbeat next time? -ed] (via digg)

A Conversation with Jason Kottke on the Kottke Ride Home Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Hi folks. As you may have seen here recently, there is now an official kottke.org podcast: Kottke Ride Home (subscribe here). Every weekday, host Jackson Bird brings you 15 minutes of “the coolest stuff that happened in the world today”. Last week, Jackson and I talked on Skype for a special weekend bonus episode of the podcast: A Conversation with Jason Kottke (more listening options).

This is a peek behind the scenes of Jason’s process, his philosophies, and general thoughts on the internet — where it’s been, and maybe where it’s going. We talked about what running the blog looks like now, how it’s changed over the years. The evolution of patronage models, and his current thoughts on them. We talked a bit about burn out and managing that tension between what you really want to do versus what may appear to be the path of success online. And about the increasingly challenging task of maintaining ownership over what you create online. We also compared and contrasted our experiences as an OG blogger versus an OG vlogger, and how terrible both of those words are.

I thought this was a really good conversation. Jackson had some great questions that got me talking about some stuff I don’t normally get into. Hopefully we’ll do another one again soon. In the meantime, subscribe to Kottke Ride Home to get the best of the internet into your ears every weekday.

Who Knew You Could Play Music with a Boxing Speed Bag?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Alan Kahn, aka the Speed Bag King and author of The Speed Bag Bible, can seemingly do anything with a boxing speed bag…like make music. Just watch this 45-second video of him getting warmed up on the bag and then performing a tiny virtuoso concert for a small group of amazed onlookers.

See also Kahn punch drumming the William Tell Overture. Again, this starts off slow but wait for the complex stuff to kick in over the course of the video. (via @austinkleon)

Washington National Cathedral Bell Tolls for 200,000 Covid-19 Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

In the next day or two, the official number of people who have died from Covid-19 in the United States will pass 200,000 (the actual death toll passed 200,000 back in July). To mark the grim occasion yesterday, the Washington National Cathedral tolled its mourning bell 200 times in remembrance, once for each 1000 people who have died.

We toll this 12-ton bell for every funeral held at the Cathedral. Funerals mourn the loss, but they also celebrate the lives of our loved ones, and point us to the hope of resurrection.

This gesture cannot replace the lives lost, but we hope it will help each American mourn the toll of this pandemic.

The tolling goes on for more than 19 minutes and you hear a number of deaths equal to 9/11 every 17 seconds. I recommend listening as long as you are able, to remember those who have been lost, and to inspire action so that 200,000 more Americans don’t have to die before this is all over.

See also A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death from back in July.

FKA twigs on Artemisia Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy is a painting made in the 1620s by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting was presumed lost until it was rediscovered in a private collection in France and sold at auction for more than $1 million in 2014.

As part of season 2 of Google Arts & Culture’s Art Zoom project (previously), British singer/songwriter FKA twigs gives her personal interpretation of the painting in the video above.

Scholars assumed it was painted in the 1620s, when Artemisia Gentileschi left Florence and moved back to Rome. She had separated from her husband and become an independent woman, the head of her own household, a rarity at that time.

When making my own album, entitled “Magdalene,” it was a time of great healing for me. When I was researching about Mary Magdalene and I was looking at a lot of paintings of her, she seemed so poised and so together. But the irony is in finishing my music, I found a deep wildness, a looseness, an acceptance, a release. And that’s exactly what I’m experiencing in this painting.

I found this incredibly soothing to watch and listen to…almost ASMR-like. And as usual, you can zoom around the painting yourself; this is not even halfway zoomed in…at full zoom you can see individual brushstrokes and cracks in the painting.

Artemisia Gentileschi's 17th-century painting of Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Cover of Barack Obama's book, A Promised Land

A Promised Land is a forthcoming memoir from Barack Obama that he says is “an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody”. Here’s the official description of the book:

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency — a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy.

A Promised Land will be released November 17 but you can preorder it on Bookshop or for the Kindle.

The Song Exploder TV Series

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Wow! Hrishikesh Hirway’s Song Exploder podcast is now a Netflix series! (For those who have never listened, Song Exploder features musicians telling the stories of how their songs were created.) Check out the trailer above, featuring song explosions by Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M., and Ty Dolla .

Hirway says on Twitter:

I still don’t fully believe it but @SongExploder, a podcast I started in my bedroom!, is going to be a @netflix series.

If anyone at Netflix wants to talk about kottke.org becoming a series, let me know!! It can be about literally anything and everything. (Hey, we’ll call it “Anything and Everything”! The wheels are already in motion…)

Reprogramming a Game By Playing It: an Unbelievable Super Mario Bros 3 Speedrun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

After a fellow named Zikubi beat the speedrun record for Super Mario Bros 3 with a time of just over three minutes, speedrun analyst Bismuth made the video above to explain how he did it…by changing the game with the gameplay itself.

The first couple minutes go exactly as you’d expect, but the speedrun takes a weird turn when, instead of using the second warp whistle to go to level 8, he uses it to go to level 7. And once in level 7, Mario races around randomly, letting opportunity slip away like a blindfolded birthday boy unwittingly steering himself away from the piñata. It’s only later, during the explanation of how he got from level 7 to the final screen so quickly, that you realize Mario’s panicky idiot behavior is actually the player actively reprogramming the game to open up a wormhole to the ending. Watch the whole explanation — it’s a really fascinating little hack.

See also Bismuth’s explanation of a Super Mario Bros world record speedrun, which includes a short argument by me about why video game speedrun breakdowns are interesting to watch even if you don’t play video games.

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

(via @craigmod)

In Search of a Flat Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

In Search of a Flat Earth is a documentary essay by Folding Ideas’ Dan Olson that starts out talking about people who believe the Earth is flat (and why it’s so difficult to convince them otherwise) but then takes a sharp turn toward a more recent and much more worrying conspiracy theory, QAnon. Lots of interesting information and observations throughout.

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking.

Study of the Creative Specimens

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study of the Creative Specimens is a collection of fantastical hybrid creatures created for Adobe’s 99U conference by Mark Brooks and illustration studio alademosca. Prints are available from Paper Chase Press. (via colossal)