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Google Pays Tribute to Mister Rogers with an Animated Short

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2018

In partnership with Fred Rogers Productions and The Fred Rogers Center, Google is honoring Mister Rogers today with a stop motion animated short as part of their Google Doodle program.

On this date, September 21, 1967, 51 years ago, Fred Rogers walked into the television studio at WQED in Pittsburgh to tape the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which would premiere nationally on PBS in February 1968. He became known as Mister Rogers, nationally beloved, sweater wearing, “television neighbor,” whose groundbreaking children’s series inspired and educated generations of young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty.

What’s interesting is that on his show (unlike his stop motion counterpart in the short), Rogers deliberately didn’t show himself travelling to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe because he didn’t want his young viewers to confuse reality and fantasy. He wanted kids to know he and the people he visited with were in the real world, dealing with real situations.

P.S. And a further interesting tech note: this is the first YouTube video I’ve seen where the number of views isn’t displayed. I’m assuming that’s a Google-only God Mode feature?

Tony Hawk Keeps Tweeting When People Don't Recognize Him And It's Freaking Hilarious

An Oral History of Infinite Loop, Apple's old HQ. Lots of great anecdotes in here.

"We can't have a Supreme Court on which a third of the men have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct."

Amazon's new microwave oven works with Alexa voice control, costs only $60, and will automatically order more popcorn if you run low

Season 3 of the Serial podcast is underway.

"20 percent of Congress is women. Only 5 percent of CEOs are."

This Saturday is Museum Day and over 1000 US museums are offering free admission. Get your tickets here:

The winners of the 2018 Ig Nobels have been announced. One of the prizes was for a paper that showed "that chimpanzees imitate humans about as often, and about as well, as humans imitate chimpanzees".

"If you start counting from zero your lips won't touch until you reach 1 million."

A brief history of numeric keypads. Or: Why do telephones and calculators use different layouts for their keypads?

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

The Fish Copter, Cactus Binky, and Other Clever Visual Mashups

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

I love these fun visual mashups created by French creative agency Les Créatonautes. (via colossal)

First Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

I don’t know why I’m so skeptical about First Man, the upcoming biopic about Neil Armstrong and the first Moon landing. Oh wait, yes I do: Apollo 11 holds a special place in my heart, as does Armstrong and his role in the historic landing, and I’m very protective of it. It would be so easy and, in my opinion, wrong to load this story up with unnecessary drama when there’s already so much there in the story, even though it might not be naturally cinematic.

On the other hand, the trailer looks great, Ryan Gosling is a terrific actor, director Damien Chazelle’s previous films are really good (Whiplash and La La Land), and the film is based on the authorized and well-received biography by James Hansen. Ok fine, I just talked myself into it!

What Would a Truly Representational US Congress Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Even though the diversity of the US Congress has increased in recent years, a trend that looks to continue after the midterm elections in November, overall the 538 people who serve in Congress are not actually that representative of the US population as a whole. Congress is still way more white, male, and Christian than the US as a whole.

In 2016, Ken Flerlage looked at the gender, religious, and racial diversity of the United States and compared it to that of Congress.

Congress has 104 women (19%) and 431 men (81%) while the United States population is 51% female and 49% male. In order to be truly representative, in terms of gender, 168 seats currently held by men would need to be won by women (taking the number to 272 women and 263 men). It is also worth noting that, of the 104 women, 76 are Democrat (73%), while only 28 are Republican (27%).

And here is the visualization for religion:

Religion Diversity Congress

7.1% of the population are atheist or agnostic and 2.4% ascribe to “other” religions (this includes “don’t know”, other world religions, Pagan, Wiccan, Native American religions, and numerous others), yet not a single member of Congress falls into any of these categories.

When you hear people saying that America is still largely a patriarchal & white supremacist society, this is what they are talking about. It’s not just people being hyperbolic.

You could easily expand on this analysis by breaking it down by age, income, education, urban vs rural, sexual orientation, and occupation. You could guess that a truly representational Congress would be younger, waaaay more poor, less accredited, more urban, less straight, more working class, and, when you consider the gender & racial factors, much more politically progressive, but it would be illuminating to see the actual numbers. I’d love to see the NY Times (maybe The Upshot?), FiveThirtyEight, or The Pudding tackle this analysis.

P.S. It’s also worth noting a truly representational Congress would include full voting members from Puerto Rico and Washington DC as well as from other US territories. And maybe separate Native American representation?

Meet Feng E, an 11-Year-Old Taiwanese Ukelele Prodigy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Feng E started playing the ukelele when he was just five years old. His father pushed him into it by saying that he wouldn’t play Legos with the boy unless he took up the instrument. Six years later, he can casually slay Zombie by The Cranberries in the back of a car:

Or Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the streets on London:

Or Classical Gas in the park:

Ok, get this kid a duet with this guy’s washing machine.

Stan & Ollie

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Stan & Ollie is an upcoming film about the legendary comedy duo of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the twilight of their career, starring Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy. I would not necessarily have picked those two actors — I’m not sure who I would have picked instead…perhaps the latter day Stan and Ollie (Tucci & Platt) — but damned if they don’t fill out those roles well.

I’m excited for this one. As kids, we didn’t watch a lot of TV aside from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, but we did watch all sorts of stuff from the black & white era that my dad was into: Abbott & Costello, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd. But my favorite was always Laurel and Hardy. I don’t remember laughing harder at anything as a kid than The Music Box:

A Short Tour of the Manufacturing Might of China

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

“Commodity City” is a short documentary directed by Jessica Kingdon about a huge wholesale market in China with 75,000 vendors selling everything from flowers, pens, and clocks to dolls, rope, and Santas.

Ultimately, Kingdon decided to focus on what she describes as “the quieter, more subtle moments” amidst the chaotic atmosphere of the five-mile-long consumer metropolis. Comprised of mostly static shots, her short observational documentary, Commodity City, is a mesmerizing window into the daily lives of some of the 75,000 individual vendors who exhibit more than 400,000 products at Yiwu.

“I saw directly how lives are built around market forces,” Kingdon said of her experience shooting the film. “It’s similar to most other places in the world participating in global capitalism, but in China, it’s more obvious right now.”

I know this is pretty slow in spots — It’s meditative! Why are you in such a dang hurry? — but there are great little moments sprinkled in here and there (at 7:10 for one). It also weirdly reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi.

Law & Order: Martian Victims Unit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I loved this imaginative and clever piece by Geoff Manaugh called How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars? about how a future human settlement on Mars would handle matters of law and order. For one things, crimes might be more difficult to investigate.

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

At a broader level, what sort of political system develops because of the Martian environment might shape how law enforcement happens.

In the precarious Martian environment, where so much depends on the efficient, seamless operation of life-support systems, sabotage becomes an existential threat. A saboteur might tamper with the oxygen generators or fatally disable a settlement’s most crucial airlock. When human life is so thoroughly entwined with its technical environment, we should not consider these sorts of acts mere petty crimes, he explained to me. In a literal sense, they would be crimes against humanity-even, on a large enough scale, attempted genocide.

“I think the fact that tyranny is easier in space is a foregone conclusion,” he explained to me, precisely because there is nowhere to escape without risking instant death from extreme cold or asphyxiation. In other words, the constant presence of nearly instant environmental lethality will encourage systems of strong social control with little tolerance for error. Orders and procedures will need to be followed exactly as designed, because the consequences of a single misstep could be catastrophic.

A few paragraphs after this, the terrifyingly wonderful phrase “politically motivated depressurization” is used. I don’t think we’re super close to the colonization of Mars, but Manaugh says, better to think about it now before we “unwittingly construct an interplanetary dystopia run by cops who shoot first and ask questions later”.

Shoreline Maps of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

In a book called Atlas of the World with Geophysical Boundaries, scientist Athelstan Spilhaus published a series of world maps that emphasized the Earth’s oceans over the continents. The maps turn our familiar continental view of the world inside out. Check out this rendering of one of Spilhaus’ maps by Le Cartographe:

Spilhaus Map

Takes a second to get your bearings on that, right? One big ocean with Antarctica in the middle, surrounded by the stretched-out landmasses of Asia and the Americas. Jason Davies recreated some of the other Spilhaus maps and so did Mike Bostock.

Spilhaus Map

You can see a bunch of Spilhaus’ other shoreline maps by flipping through the pages of his book on Google Books.

Some Cool Projects I’ve Noticed on Kickstarter Recently

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I seem to have a bunch of links to Kickstarter campaigns up in browser tabs right now so instead of dripping them out over the next few days as Quick Links, I thought I’d do a mini roundup here.

Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders: Geology & Evolution. The latest in the Stardust series of books authored by 12-year-old Bailey Harris and her father, Douglas. Harris got the idea for the first book watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and she was off to the races. Both of her previous books have been enjoyed in our household.

Alexander von Humboldt - Illustrating Nature. This is a reissue of a book from a previous successful campaign. I have a couple of Kronecker Wallis’ beautifully designed books about science, including this one — they do good work.

I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions. We’re massive fans of the Rebel Girls books and podcast in our house, so this is a no-brainer.

DRYP - an app that keeps your plants alive & happy. DRYP is an iOS app that “tells you when to water your plants AND helps you cure them when they’re sick”. Yes, please.

4-Mation: The Interactive 3D Zoetrope. A little tough to explain…watch the first few seconds of the video to get it.

THE SONGULARITY. From Botnik Studios, this is “an impending full-length pop album co-created by humans and machines” with lyrics generated by a predictive text program seeded with “Scottish folk ballads, Amazon reviews, Carrie Underwood, The Elements Of Style and more”.

Our President Was Called Barack. This children’s book about Barack Obama was funded on Kickstarter in 2017 and they still have a few copies left for sale.

What’s My Name?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

What’s My Name? is an upcoming HBO documentary about Muhammad Ali. This is a teaser trailer so there’s not much to go on but LeBron James and Maverick Carter are executive producing and the director is Antoine Fuqua, who directed Training Day in 2001. What’s My Name? will air in two parts in early 2019.

The Harriet Tubman $20 Stamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Frustrated that the US Treasury Department is walking back plans to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, Dano Wall created a 3D-printed stamp that can be used to transform Jacksons into Tubmans on the twenties in your pocketbook.

Tubman $20 Stamp

Here’s a video of the stamp in action. Wall told The Awesome Foundation a little bit about the genesis of the project:

I was inspired by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and subsequently saddened by the news that the Trump administration was walking back that plan. So I created a stamp to convert Jacksons into Tubmans myself. I have been stamping $20 bills and entering them into circulation for the last year, and gifting stamps to friends to do the same.

If you have access to a 3D printer (perhaps at your local library or you can also use a online 3D printing service), you can download the print files at Thingiverse and make your own stamp for use at home.

Wall also posted a link to some neat prior art: suffragettes in Britain modifying coins with a “VOTES FOR WOMEN” slogan in the early 20th century.

Votes For Women Coin

Update: Several men on Twitter are helpfully pointing out that, in their inexpert legal opinion, defacing bills in this way is illegal. Here’s what the law says (emphasis mine):

Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The “with intent” bit is important, I think. The FAQ for a similar project has a good summary of the issues involved.

But we are putting political messages on the bills, not commercial advertisements. Because we all want these bills to stay in circulation and we’re stamping to send a message about an issue that’s important to us, it’s legal!

I’m not a lawyer, but as long as your intent isn’t to render these bills “unfit to be reissued”, you’re in the clear. Besides, if civil disobedience doesn’t stray into the gray areas of the law, is it really disobedience? (via @patrick_reames)

Update: Adafruit did an extensive investigation into the legality of this project. Their conclusion? “The production of the instructional video and the stamping of currency are both well within the law.”

Alexa Meade’s Living Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Artist Alexa Meade paints right on the bodies and clothes of living models to create the illusion that they’re in 2D paintings. It’s not body art…it’s like living trompe-l’œil in reverse.

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Yeah, those are all actual people painted and posed in front of painted backdrops. Here’s Meade posing with one of her models:

Alexa Meade

Meade did a TED talk about her work and also recently collaborated with Ariana Grande for her God is a woman video.

I first featured Meade’s work more than 8 years ago, so I figured it was time for a revisit. You can keep up with her stuff on Instagram or her website.

A New Twitter Feature: Smart Accounts

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Last night, Twitter gave its users the option to switch back to a purely chronological timeline.

Meanwhile, today we updated the “Show the best Tweets first” setting. When off, you’ll only see Tweets from people you follow in reverse chronological order. Previously when turned off, you’d also see “In case you missed it” and recommended Tweets from people you don’t follow.

That’s good! Most users probably benefit from the algorithmic timeline, but not everyone wants to use the service that way (I certainly don’t).

Whenever Twitter changes their mind like this, it always reminds me of a missed opportunity by the company to give people more ways to discover new things on Twitter while keeping the service simple. They’ve tried the Discover feature, sticking likes from friends in the timeline, “in case you missed it”, recommended followers, Moments, Trends, etc. etc. And despite these things being at least somewhat interesting some of the time, many people freak out because they don’t have any control over whether this stuff pops up in their timelines.

What Twitter should do instead1 is use the same simple mechanism people already use to control their timelines: following and unfollowing. Instead of adding tabs to the interface or throwing random stuff into everyone’s timeline for the greater good, those things should be accounts you can follow. Call them Smart Accounts because they would be based on each user’s particular activity. Then users would be able to have a fully chronological timeline but also see tweets from their Smart Accounts according to their particular preferences.

Here’s an example. Seeing likes from people you follow is fun and interesting…the serendipity and relevance factors are high.1 The “Likes from Friends” Smart Account would post tweets that your friends have liked recently and you could set how many you wanted to see each day.

More examples:

- In Case You Missed It. Just like the current feature, except you can follow/unfollow and control the frequency.

- Trends. An account that posts tweets related to trending stories…or maybe it just alerts you that “Mario Kart” is trending. You can see global trends, location-based, or tailored just for you.

- Threads. See X number of the most popular threads posted in my extended network each day.

- Who to Follow. Every day (or X number of times/day), this account would suggest an account to follow.

- Moments. I never ever go to the Moments tab but I would definitely follow an account that periodically tweeted out the five best Moments from my extended network each day.

- Promoted Tweets. This is a Smart Account everyone would have to follow. But maybe you could pay a subscription fee to be able to unfollow?

I would pretty much follow all of those accounts in some way…and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Twitter has all kinds of interest data that you could slice up in interesting ways and feed back into the system. A “Longreads” account that tweets out a long magazine or newspaper article that’s bubbling up in your network each day before your commute home? A “Book Stack” account that recommends books that people in your network have tweeted about recently. A “Smart Smart Accounts” account that recommends new Smart Accounts to follow (*Inception Horn*). A “Random Follow” account that automagically follows a different recommended account each day…then unfollows them and follows a new account the next day. Likes from My Friends’ Friends. Trending Videos. Meme Factory. Check Out My Soundcloud. So many possibilities.

Twitter wouldn’t want these accounts to get lost in the shuffle — they need to keep that engagement high — so maybe they’d have special status in the app somewhere: a tab that replaces Moments and they’re listed first on the Following page? Perhaps a few Smart Accounts are turned on by default when you make a new account. Maybe users could pin the tweets from select Smart Accounts to the tops of their timelines (much like Twitter was forcing on people with the algorithmic timeline).

But the point of all this is that Twitter would have a way to deliver new & engaging features powered by their algorithmic special sauce to their users in a very familiar and simple way without always mucking up people’s expectations: by simply clicking the follow button.

  1. I mean, besides banning Nazis.

  2. I should know, I ran a beloved service called Stellar for a few years where people could follow each others likes. Many people miss it and I really do too. In fact, the whole Smart Accounts idea came from Stellar. There were “house” accounts you could follow that fed interesting posts and links back into the system. It kept things simple — every feature is just a followable account — but also gave everyone controlled access to different interesting parts of the data set, increasing the level of serendipity. If I’d had the time and the money and a more stable Twitter API, Stellar would have been very Smart Accounts-driven. And it would have been fucking amazing. (Can you tell how much I like this idea?!)