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Vibrant Oil Paintings of Clouds

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2019

Ian Fisher Clouds

Ian Fisher Clouds

Ian Fisher Clouds

Ian Fisher’s paintings of clouds are surprisingly lifelike. If you scroll through the paintings on his site, you can see his representation of them improve…his most recent ones are difficult to distinguish from photographs of actual clouds.

Ancient History Family Trees Poster, "a wallchart displaying the genealogy of Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, India, China, and more". It's by Matt Baker, who did the viral Evolution of the Alphabet chart.

Interesting video from Vox on how golf ball construction affects the distance golfers can drive it

A site of "endlessly unique ambient music". Each piece is generated using a unique system and played infinitely without repetition.

"One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated — and very engaged! — News Feed"

A copy of the Mona Lisa probably painted in the 17th century just sold at auction for $1.69 million

The first full trailer for Toy Story 4

According to a survey, "nearly 60 percent of people who have filed for bankruptcy said a medical expense...contributed to their bankruptcy". Lack of guaranteed healthcare is an anchor on our national well-being.

A large study of Apple Watch wearers shows that the Watch may assist in the early detection of atrial fibrillation, a condition that leads to increased stroke risk

Making music from financial data, so you can hear how the US Treasury yield curve changes over time

The Kindle version of William Gibson's seminal Neuromancer is just $1.99 today

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

The Legend of Nixon, a Data-Driven NES Soundscape

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2019

Brian Chirls took the approval ratings for Richard Nixon’s presidency and using sounds from The Legend of Zelda’s classic Dungeon Theme, he made a data-driven soundscape of the public perception of Nixon’s tenure in the White House. Here’s what his approval rating looked like:

Richard Nixon Approval

And here’s the resulting audio track:

The sound effects mostly represent actions the protagonist Link takes like the “sword slash”, things that happen to him like a grunt when he gets hurt, or the status of the game like the low health alarm that beeps when Link has only half a “heart container” left and can only take one or two more hits before he dies and the game is over. The goal of this project is to create a piece of audio that sounds like a typical playthrough of the game and also accurately tells the story of Nixon’s fall as represented by the data.

What a cool example of using the familiar to explain or illustrate the unfamiliar. If you’ve ever played Zelda, you can clearly hear Nixon doing more and more poorly as the track goes on — he’s taking damage, the dungeon boss sound chimes in right around when Watergate is ramping up, and he’s gaining fewer hearts. It’s like he’s a novice player armed only with the wooden sword trying to defeat the level 3 dungeon without a potion…the end comes pretty quickly.

A Huge Collection of Apollo 11 Press Kits

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2019

When Apollo 11 landed two men on the Moon and returned them safely to Earth, thousands of people at NASA were joined in the effort by dozens of companies that did everything from building the spacecraft to providing the cameras for the mission. Each of those companies was understandably proud of their involvement and wanted to use the mission to drum up interest in their products and services. Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott has been collecting the press kits produced by the Apollo contractors and has made them available online for free download in PDF format.

What a trove! Here are a few of my favorites. First is the kit from Fisher, who provided the pens that Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins wrote with during the voyage.

Apollo Press Kits

The final requirement was to see if the pen could still write after all that torture. NASA required that each pen write 1,653 feet of continuous traces, or for about 4 1/2 hours. The three pens were placed in an automatic writing machine and far out passed the qualifications. The first pen wrote for 54 hours and 50 minutes and 15,346 feet. The second finished after 18,303 feet. The third, writing on a new, highly absorbent paper, still wrote for 7,484 feet.

Fisher still sells a version of the original Apollo 11 space pen.

After the astronauts came back from the Moon, they were quarantined for 21 days to ensure that the crew had not returned with any harmful Moon germs. Stouffer’s, the frozen foods company, was contracted by NASA to provide some of the astronauts’ meals in quarantine.

Apollo Press Kits

A typical astronaut dinner will consist of short ribs of beef, potatoes au gratin and tossed green salad. Stouffer’s has been selected to provide from its retail line a major portion of the entrees and side dishes for the astronauts. Ease of preparation, purity, quality and variety as well as taste and appearance were the main reasons for NASA’s selection of Stouffer’s foods.

Hasselblad provided the cameras for the mission.

Apollo Press Kits

Grumman made the Lunar Module, the capsule that carried Armstrong and Aldrin to and from the surface of the Moon.

Apollo Press Kits

I could keep going on these all day. What a terrific resource. Scott, along with Richard Jurek, is also the author of Marketing the Moon, a book about how NASA sold the Apollo program to the American public. (via steven heller)

Cutting Commentary on News Media’s Complicity in Spreading Hateful Views

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, a pair of comedians whose hilarious cooking show I’ve previously featured, are back with Get Krack!n, a series that parodies a typical TV morning show. In this clip, they debut a new segment that perfectly skewers how TV media provides a platform for radical kooks to promote hateful agendas for the mutual benefit of both kook & show. (Note: this clip contains swearing and simulated religious bigotry & misogyny.)


They’re not necessarily views that we endorse or share personally, Kate McCartney, but they’re definitely opinions that we are 100% complicit in broadcasting, and that in time we will go to hell for.

This is an Australian show, but a similar panel and topic could easily have appeared on any number of Fox News programs.

Monica Lewinsky on Public Shaming

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

This week, Last Week Tonight covered the topic of public shaming and the episode included an interview by host John Oliver of Monica Lewinsky, who shared her experience of going through perhaps the most intense and enduring instance of public shaming ever.

The whole video is worth watching, but if you want to skip to the Lewinsky interview, it starts around the 15:00 mark. Lewinsky doesn’t do a lot of interviews, and it’s interesting that Oliver has built enough trust to get one, especially as the host of a comedy show.

Where Did Consciousness Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

Religion and philosophy have their own answers as to where our consciousness comes from, but in this video, Kurzgesagt explores how scientists believe consciousness first evolved, from organisms moving more quickly when consuming food to animals being able to animals who can remember where they hid food to reading the minds of competitors and allies.

The main source for the video is Rupert Glasgow’s Minimal Selfhood and the Origins of Consciousness (available as a free download). The complete list of their sources is here.

The Fertility Doctor’s Secret

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

For The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang tells the story of dozens of people who found out through DNA testing that a fertility doctor named Donald Cline had used his own sperm in artificial insemination procedures on their mothers. The piece begins with the story of a woman whose parents had been treated by Cline more than 30 years ago.

It was only when she got home and replaced her phone that she saw the barrage of messages from even more half siblings. They had found her on Facebook, she realized, after searching for the username linked to her Ancestry.com account. Her husband had given her a DNA test for Christmas because she was interested in genealogy. Her heritage turned out to be exactly what she had thought — Scottish, with English, Irish, and Scandinavian mixed in — and she never bothered to click on the link that would show whether anyone on the site shared her DNA.

Apparently she did have relatives on Ancestry.com — and not just distant cousins. The people now sending her messages said they were Cline’s secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination.

According to her DNA, Woock, too, was one of his children.

In the time since Woock’s half siblings got in touch with her, they have broken the news dozens more times. The children Cline fathered with his patients now number at least 48, confirmed by DNA tests from 23andMe or Ancestry.com. (Several have a twin or other siblings who likely share the same biological father but haven’t been tested.) They keep in touch through a Facebook group. New siblings pop up in waves, timed perversely after holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when DNA tests are given as well-intentioned gifts.

One of Cline’s patients said recently: “I feel like I was raped 15 times.”

Everything Is Just a Happening

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

This guided meditation by Alan Watts really helped me this morning. (There’s a version without music as well.)

From The Practice of Meditation:

Simply sit down, close your eyes, and listen to all sounds that may be going on — without trying to name or identify them. Listen as you would listen to music. If you find that verbal thinking will not drop away, don’t attempt to stop it by force of will-power. Just keep your tongue relaxed, floating easily in the lower jaw, and listen to your thoughts as if they were birds chattering outside — mere noise in the skull — and they will eventually subside of themselves, as a turbulent and muddy pool will become calm and clear if left alone.

Also, become aware of breathing and allow your lungs to work in whatever rhythm seems congenial to them. And for a while just sit listening and feeling breath. But, if possible, don’t call it that. Simply experience the non-verbal happening. You may object that this is not “spiritual” meditation but mere attention to the “physical” world, but it should be understood that the spiritual and the physical are only ideas, philosophical conceptions, and that the reality of which you are now aware is not an idea. Furthermore, there is no “you” aware of it. That was also just an idea. Can you hear yourself listening?

And then begin to let your breath “fall” out, slowly and easily. Don’t force or strain your lungs, but let the breath come out in the same way that you let yourself slump into a comfortable bed. Simply let it go, go, and go. As soon as there is the least strain, just let it come back in as a reflex; don’t pull it in. Forget the clock. Forget to count. Just keep it up for so long as you feel the luxury of it.

(via open culture)

The Problem of Writing and Money

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 15, 2019

Fragonard,_The_Reader - Cut.png

Now this is a lede:

When I first read Virginia Woolf’s dictum that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” I was homeless.

It follows through on that first punch:

I know half a dozen published authors who’ve had to rely on food stamps. The seedy poverty of the author has been a cliche for centuries. We find the figure of the poor writer already in the medieval era, in the form of poet-clerics called “goliards,” who begged and sang ribald songs in taverns as they wandered from monastery to monastery. Hundreds of years later, in the Beat Generation, the type survived with no essential change. Now a new generation of writers are confronting ever lower and less reliable payment for articles, stingier advances for books, fewer jobs, and smaller royalty checks. A host of new threats to writers’ livelihoods, from internet piracy to the slow-motion collapse of the academic job market, means ever fewer writers are making a middle-class wage.

So, full-disclosure time! I have been on food stamps, as recently as a couple of years ago. I am currently on Medicaid, and thank god for that, because the open market for health care is terrible, and Medicaid is great. (Freelancers, stop paying COBRA or Obamacare and get yourself on Medicaid if you can.)

I have been a professional writer for almost ten years and have only been employed at a full-time job with benefits for (counts fingers) let’s say three of them. The rest of the time, I’ve been on the 1099 economy, piecing together pieces of living from freelance gigs. I have been homeless, and I have lived with family who’ve been much more stable than I have been. My health has never been good, which has made it difficult for me to maintain full-time work when I’ve had it. I have been behind on my child support, but am currently (thank God) current.

I would not say I am devoted to writing, with my poverty a consequence of that devotion. This entire time, I have simply not known what else to do. I have been writing for my life.

There are a lot of us. We don’t always show it.

Most writers I know who’ve been really poor practice similar forms of self-censorship. Sometimes the reasons are obvious even to someone who’s never had money problems. One writer I know went through a patch where he had to report to a subway cleaning crew to keep getting his welfare checks. He talked about this openly to friends, but went through extreme contortions to hide it from a publisher who was considering hiring him. When I was first profiled for a women’s magazine, I had their photographer come to my apartment, only to have her look around and instantly suggest we go out to a park. After that, I had photographers meet me at a richer person’s apartment to save everyone time and embarrassment.

But often the decisions are less clear-cut. Social media, for instance, can be the ideal forum for openly discussing social class—but it’s also notoriously a place where going too far can damage your career. Most of us filter what we say. This affects how we talk about being broke. A post about student debt is safe, but one about living in your car risks losing face and professional standing. It can even come across as a passive-aggressive jab at more affluent people. One writer friend of mine commented: “On Twitter, we make jokes about being poor. We don’t talk about the fucking dread eating through us because we’ll never be stable. We don’t talk about what it means, that we’re on Twitter because we can’t afford therapy or social lives.”

I don’t know what to do about any of this. I can’t promise that I’ll be more forthcoming about this on Twitter, or here on Kottke.org, or anywhere else I write. I do know that my life is changing again, thanks in part to The Amazon Chronicles, and other opportunities coming into my life. I hope it continues to change. I hope it changes for all of us.

I can only testify, right here and now, that poverty and authorship coincide, including authorship that comes with a kind of modest fame. I can testify that there is nothing romantic about it, only the very real life of compromises that Sandra Newman documents so well in this essay. I can testify that talking about and not talking about it can both eat away at you. There is no cure; only doing better and doing worse, only new wounds and a moderate form of relief.

I disagree with Newman on one point. I think there is no real market for stories about poverty, first-person or otherwise. Not really. Maybe in fiction, maybe as a one-off. But one cannot be a writer about poverty in the same way that one can become a writer about technology; and in most cases, being a writer about technology is extremely difficult when one is poor. (You can track my poverty level through my writing subjects: when I’ve done better, I write about gadgets and the business of technology. When I’ve done worse, I write about memoir or pop culture: music, movies, television, comics, the internet. Things accessible from my memory or on my computer for free or cheap.)

People may want to read about what it’s like to be poor, but they don’t want to pay for it. Paying for things is a rich person’s privilege, and people pay for access to material wealth and things that get them closer to it. And in the free economy, people like the lingua franca of pop culture. Simple stories about heroes and villains, that when you scratch them open, tell them bigger stories about themselves and the worlds they live in.

That’s not to say that people can’t be brought to hear a different kind of story, but they do have to be brought there. How to bring them there? That’s what we’re all trying to figure out.

A Fan-Made Trailer for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2019

This trailer made by cinematographer and director Morgan Cooper imagines a contemporary reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that’s a little darker and grittier than the original. I dunno about you, but that’s one of the best fan-made trailers I’ve ever seen. I say give Cooper the show and let him run with it.

Tetanus Has Nothing To Do With Rust

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 15, 2019

Tetanus, popularly called “lockjaw,” is a serious illness, fatal in 10 percent of cases in North America and a larger percentage elsewhere. But despite the popular perception of its association with cutting oneself on a rusty nail, the disease has nothing to do with iron oxide, or rust:

Rather, tetanus is a product of the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which is in dirt, dust, and feces—in other words, everywhere. It can enter your body through puncture wounds, yes, but also through superficial cuts, bug bites, surgical procedures, and any other rupture to your skin. It can come from stepping on a rusty nail, or tending the soil in your garden. That’s why it’s so essential to track your booster shots: You need one every decade, not just when you rip your palm open on a rusty chain link fence. Waiting for a classic tetanus injury won’t work when anything could, in theory, be a tetanus injury.

If the bacteria enter your body and you aren’t up-to-date on your vaccinations, the tiny invaders begin to multiply rapidly. This incubation period, which lasts between three and 21 days, according to the CDC, is symptom free. But as the bacteria begin to die inside you, they form a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system. Specifically, it inhibits the chemical GABA, which regulates muscle contractions. The result is a body-wide state of tension, from lockjaw in your face to uncontrollable arching spasms in your back to permanently-curled toes.

Luckily, here as elsewhere, tetanus vaccines (a series of three shots and a booster every ten years) work. Get those shots up to date and mind those cuts, no matter where they came from.

What Counts As Evidence in Mathematics?

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 15, 2019

Einstein-Blackboard-01.jpg

The ultimate form of argument, and for some, the most absolute form of truth, is mathematical proof. But short of a conclusive proof of a theorem, mathematicians also consider evidence that might 1) disprove a thesis or 2) suggest its possible truth or even avenues for proving that it’s true. But in a not-quite-empirical field, what the heck counts as evidence?

The twin primes conjecture is one example where evidence, as much as proof, guides our mathematical thinking. Twin primes are pairs of prime numbers that differ by 2 — for example, 3 and 5, 11 and 13, and 101 and 103 are all twin prime pairs. The twin primes conjecture hypothesizes that there is no largest pair of twin primes, that the pairs keep appearing as we make our way toward infinity on the number line.

The twin primes conjecture is not the Twin Primes Theorem, because, despite being one of the most famous problems in number theory, no one has been able to prove it. Yet almost everyone believes it is true, because there is lots of evidence that supports it.

For example, as we search for large primes, we continue to find extremely large twin prime pairs. The largest currently known pair of twin primes have nearly 400,000 digits each. And results similar to the twin primes conjecture have been proved. In 2013, Yitang Zhang shocked the mathematical world by proving that there are infinitely many prime number pairs that differ by 70 million or less. Thanks to a subsequent public “Polymath” project, we now know that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by no more than 246. We still haven’t proved that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by 2 — the twin primes conjecture — but 2 is a lot closer to 246 than it is to infinity.

This starts to get really complicated once you leave the relatively straightforward arithmetical world of prime numbers behind, with its clearly empirical pairs and approximating conjectures, and start working with computer models that generate arbitrarily large numbers of mathematical statements, all of which can be counted as evidence.

Patrick Hanner, the author of this article, gives what seems like a simple example: are all lines parallel or intersecting? Then he shows how the models one can use to answer this question vary wildly based on their initial assumptions, in this case, whether one is considering lines in a single geometric plane or lines in an n-dimensional geometric space. As always in mathematics, it comes back to one’s initial set of assumptions; you can “prove” (i.e., provide large quantities of evidence for) a statement with one set of rules, but that set of rules is not the universe.

This Photo of Farmers Contains No Farmers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2019

This is a photo taken in Germany in 1914 by August Sander:

August Sander Young Farmers

It’s called Young Farmers and it depicts three young men on their way to a dance in rural Germany. But as John Green explains in this video, there is so much more going on with this photo.

From The Tate, which has a print of Young Farmers in its collection:

The Marxist art critic John Berger famously analysed the photograph in his influential essay ‘The Suit and the Photograph’ (1980) writing: ‘The date is 1914. The three young men belong, at the very most, to the second generation who ever wore such suits in the European countryside. Twenty or 30 years earlier, such clothes did not exist at a price which peasants could afford.’ (Berger 1980, p.30.) Berger suggests that these mass market suits, emulating the higher quality attire of the bourgeois urban class, draws attention to, rather than disguises, their ‘social caste’, and not in a particularly flattering sense. In his essay, Berger considers that the three young men are of a social group not beyond the reach of aspirational advertising campaigns and travelling salesmen, and in a state of awkward transition, succumbing to a new ‘cultural hegemony’. The posturing of these three rural ‘lads’, perhaps on their way to a dance, confounds and subverts expectations of the peasant ‘type’, especially in that they smoke cigarettes. Peasants were traditionally depicted smoking a pipe handcrafted from wood, and which like the wooden canes that appear frequently in Sander’s volume of photographs devoted to peasants and farmers, including this one, connoted an organic connection to the native soil as well as a certain time-honoured wisdom. By contrast, the mass-manufactured cigarette was often seen at the time as an urban symbol of social dissolution.

However, Green also cautions that there’s only so much you can infer about people from a photograph (given, for example, that the three men weren’t actually farmers).

This video is from a new-to-me channel called The Art Assignment, which is about art and art history. Subscribed!

Quid Pro Quo: The Three-Act Structure of a Thrilling Scene from The Silence of the Lambs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2019

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is one of the finest psychological thrillers ever made. In the episode of the always-illuminating Lessons from the Screenplay, the team analyzes a scene from the film with Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling that demonstrates how effective scenes follow the same three act structure as entire movies/books/stories do.

The Lessons team also did a podcast episode about the differences between the screenplay for the film and the book that inspired it.