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Perfectly Normal, How Autism Feels From the Inside

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

This short film by Joris Debeij features Jordan Kamnitzer talking about his experience as someone who is on the autism spectrum.

Autism affects my life in several ways. I have to, sort of, know on a repetitious level, like, how to do things accordingly. Change is very difficult in a routine.

It’s hard to interact with people. I’d like to get to know people better. I try to listen very hard and try to become interested and gradually be friends. Sometimes it does work, but sometimes I know the subject matters are sort of limited with normal individuals.

I’ve had cases where I felt turned down, but silently. I sometimes feel disappointed and hurt, then I retreat and go back into my own indifferent world.

In a related essay, Eli Gottlieb writes about the film and his brother Joshua, who is severely autistic:

As a documentary, though, “Perfectly Normal” is necessarily a partial version of the truth. When Joshua and I were filmed for a short documentary, for example, I was struck by how the film showed a higher-functioning version of the person than the one I knew. That was because, like many people with developmental disabilities, my brother had evolved a repertoire of stock responses to social situations. Glimpsed serially in a 15 minute film, these responses added up to a semblance of a socially appropriate person, and skipped the endless testing questions and self-involved rhetorical loops that make him so exhausting to spend time with. (The film, “The Inviolable Bond,” can be seen here.)

Jordan and his girlfriend, Toni, obviously have another life than the one revealed in the film.

I had similar thoughts while watching. How can we know what it’s like in Kamnitzer’s head, especially when the director and editor have so much input into how the film is constructed? At the same time, he definitely said some things about his experience that resonate with me and my experience of the world. It’s not the first time this has happened in recent years. I’ve never been identified as such by a professional, but I would not be surprised to find myself somewhere on the autism spectrum. It would certainly explain some things!

Astronomers have spotted the universe's first molecule, helium hydride. "Researchers believe that in that primordial gas, neutral helium reacted with hydrogen ions to form the first chemical bond joining the very first molecule."

Vermont passes bill abolishing Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples' Day. VT's governor will likely sign the bill.

Elizabeth Warren wants to cancel almost all student debt in America. As someone who benefitted greatly from not having significant student debt after graduating college, I fully support this.

This article, about Finnish hobbyhorse enthusiasts, is my happy place this afternoon (especially that short video clip at the top)

Delta is starting to limit seat reclining on some of their planes. Great move. Seats are so close together now that reclining is idiotic.

How many packs of Skittles would you need to buy in order to find two packs having exactly the same number of candies of each flavor? Fewer than I would have guessed...

Pretty late to this one, but this thread of oddball celeb encounters is pretty great. Read at least until @questlove's story about roller skating with Prince and Eddie Murphy.

Web design color palettes have nicer websites now than most companies

Living with passive suicidal ideation. "I wish there was a nicer way to say this, but I don't always want to be alive."

Trailer for season 2 of HBO's Big Little Lies. The season 1 finale was one of the best hours of TV I've ever watched.

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

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.

The Extinction Symbol

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

Extinction Symbol

With its recent use by the participants in the Extinction Rebellion, the extinction symbol has become much more widely known, on its way to becoming the peace symbol of the climate movement.

The symbol above represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

The symbol and a stencil template are available for download “for non-commercial purposes”.

There’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the page about merchandise, which reads in part:

No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Here’s the thing: I want a t-shirt with the extinction symbol on it so I can signify my support (in a small way) for climate justice. If I’m reading this correctly, I can make a t-shirt for myself but not have one made for me? Or can I have a single print-on-demand shirt made for me at cost? Making my own shirt (I’d need to buy a bunch of single-use supplies) or getting a one-off printed doesn’t seem very climate-friendly at all. How about taking orders from other interested folks (like you all) and selling the shirts at cost? That seems much more climate-friendly but also firmly against the symbol maker’s strict policy.

I think we’re bumping up against an inconvenient truth about capitalism here: it is sometimes (or perhaps even often) the most efficient and least wasteful way to produce something because it’s actually a deeply collectivist endeavor. Let’s say you’re holding a climate protest, 100,000 people are coming, and those people want to bring shirts or signs or other protest equipment to the protest to “advertise” their displeasure to those watching, near and far. Is it more climate friendly for all those people to individually buy supplies and each produce their own things or would it be better to rely on a organization whose sole purpose is to produce protest supplies (using carbon-free energy and materials) and pay them more than the cost of the supplies so they can provide their employees a living wage and even advertise their services a little so they can actually remain in the protest supplies business and take even more advantage of economies of scale to keep prices down? Run it as a non-profit if you’d like. That seems far less wasteful to me than people buying one-off supplies, even on a group basis.

You might interject here that producing anything that uses any natural resources for such a protest is wasteful and unethical. I think that’s a fair point! What’s the ROI for protest materials? Is it wasteful to spend a little CO2 now to possibly save a bunch of CO2 in the future or is it smart? Gah, all I want is a shirt to express myself! Are there any simple and ethical solutions in a world that’s so densely networked and interconnected?

David Attenborough Hosts “Climate Change: The Facts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

From the BBC and hosted by David Attenborough, “Climate Change: The Facts” is an hour-long program on the science of climate change and what we might be able to do about it.

Sir David’s new programme laid out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.

“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David stated in the film.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

With each successive nature series, Attenborough has become more vocal about the effects of climate change on our planet and its plant and animal populations. In his new Netflix series Our Planet, climate change takes center stage.

Compared to its predecessors, the series also frames the value of nature in a new way. Usually Attenborough’s programs establish a place or a species as a thing of remarkable beauty-this soulful orangutan, that industrious bird of paradise-before warning that it is somehow imperilled. The value of the creature is its existence. We may never see a polar bear, but we take pleasure from knowing that they’re out there. In “Our Planet,” the value of nature is presented as something much closer to home, and more practical. Attenborough reminds viewers again and again of the connections that link these far-flung ecosystems to our own species’s survival. Protect the sea otter because it’s lovely, if you like, but also because it keeps in check the sea urchins that otherwise mow down kelp forests, which act as crucial carbon sinks. “We are part of nature. We aren’t separate from nature,” Attenborough told me.

Resources for Living a More Ethical Life Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Ethical.net has compiled a list of resources for “discovering ethical alternatives to stuff”. Their list includes web browsers like Tor and Firefox (check out the first site in the “top sites” listing in the graphic), search engines like DuckDuckGo, email services like Fastmail, a bunch of carbon-neutral web hosting options, and all kinds of other services and apps that tend to be open source, privacy friendly, not supported by advertising, and decentralized.

Physical Data Visualizations

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

For almost as long as we’ve had civilization, people have been making data visualizations.1 The availability of paper and screens has exploded their creation in the last few hundred years, but the earliest visualizations were made from physical objects. This list contains more than 300 examples of physical visualizations and related artifacts and is absolutely fascinating (the older artifacts in particular). Take these stick charts from the Marshall Islands for example:

Marshall Islands Stick Map

These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862.

The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and islands.

And Yakama time balls:

Yakama Time Ball

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball.

A young woman would use a time ball to record her courtship, marriage, and other experiences using a system of knots and beads that only she could decipher. As she grew older, a woman might have several time balls with which to share her life story or keep those memories private. When she passed on, they were buried with her.

The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences.

You can read more about stick maps in the Smithsonian magazine and more about time balls at the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel.

  1. And visualizations probably enabled civilization. Or is it the other way around?

The Secret Pigeon Service

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

This short piece in the London Review of Books about pigeons is fascinating. I learned many new things about pigeons and now hold them in higher esteem than I did previously.

Pigeons are more intelligent than we give them credit for, one of the few animals — along with great apes, dolphins and elephants — able to pass the mirror self-recognition test. If you mark a pigeon’s wing and let it look in a mirror it will try to remove the mark, realising that what it sees is a reflected image of its own body. Pigeons can recognise video footage of themselves shown with a five-second delay (three-year-old children find it difficult to comprehend a two-second delay). They are able to recognise individuals from photographs, and a neuroscientist at Keio University in Japan has trained them to distinguish between the paintings of Matisse and Picasso. ‘Modesty,’ Marianne Moore wrote, ‘cannot dull the lustre of the pigeon.’

Pigeons move through a human world. They stay close to the land, often flying at street level, below the height of the rooftops. Recent studies have suggested that they navigate using human structures as well as natural ones: they follow roads and canals, and have been observed going round roundabouts before taking the appropriate exit. They can fly extremely fast — up to 110 miles per hour — and with a following wind can cover 700 miles in a single uninterrupted flight (pigeons don’t like to fly at night but can be trained to do so). There are faster birds — peregrine falcons, the pigeon’s main predator, can reach 200 miles per hour on the stoop — but none can fly horizontally, under its own power, as quickly as a pigeon.

This bit, about the role of pigeons in developing the telecommunications networks of today, is terrific:

During the 19th and early 20th centuries they became important auxiliaries to the technological networks that were springing up across the world. Reuter’s News Agency was established in 1850 with a flock of 45 pigeons, which were used to cover a gap in the telegraph network between Brussels and Aachen, giving Paul Reuter a monopoly over all telegraph traffic between Belgium and Germany. The five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild used pigeons to stay in touch as they travelled around Europe consolidating their father’s banking dynasty. During the Siege of Paris in 1870, pigeons were taken out of the city by balloon and returned carrying thousands of letters stored on microfilm and sewn into their tail feathers.

Pigeon Secret Service

The bulk of the piece is a review of Gordon Corera’s book, Operation Columba - The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story of World War II Resistance in Europe, which is about a British campaign that used carrier pigeons to gather intelligence from German occupied territories during WWII.

Between 1941 and 1944, British intelligence dropped sixteen thousand homing pigeons in an arc across Nazi-occupied Europe, from Bordeaux, France to Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of a spy operation code-named Columba. Returning to MI14, the secret government branch in charge of the “Special Pigeon Service,” the birds carried messages that offered a glimpse of life under the Germans in rural France, Holland, and Belgium. Written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into canisters and tied to the birds’ legs, these messages were sometimes comic, often tragic, and occasionally invaluable-reporting details of German troop movements and fortifications, new Nazi weapons, radar systems, and even the deployment of the feared V-1 and V-2 rockets used to terrorize London.

Life Aboard a Finnish Icebreaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Monocle has produced a pair of videos about what Finland’s fleet of icebreakers do and what daily life is like for the crew.

In the second video, I was most interested in how life aboard icebreakers has changed now that wifi and personal TVs & DVD players are ubiquitous. Crew members are able to speak & video chat with their families daily (instead of every few weeks or months as in the past) and as a result, they feel less isolated and closer to their loved ones. But at the same time, access to the internet and TVs in each cabin results in less on-board socialization among the crew, which perhaps makes for a less tight-knit group. Extrapolating to society at large is left as an exercise to the viewer.

See also the Relaxing Sounds of an Arctic Icebreaker. (via why is this interesting?)

Public Sans, a New Typeface from the US Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Public Sans

As part of their recent announcement of a new web design system for US government websites, the General Services Administration has also introduced a new typeface called Public Sans.

USWDS 2.0 adds built-in support for custom typefaces, and sometimes you need one that’s simple, neutral, and isn’t Helvetica. Public Sans is an open source, free license typeface (SIL Open Font License 1.1) designed and maintained by USWDS, adapted from Libre Franklin. Just as with our components, we intend Public Sans to be an example of how to design an accessible open source typeface with contributions and feedback from the public — to deliver a useful, neutral, sans serif and continuously improve it.

Always interesting when typefaces are described as “neutral”. I’ve never found that to be the case…

Colorful Pixelated Murals by Alberonero

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2019

Alberonero

Alberonero

I love these colorful pixelated exteriors by Italian artist Alberonero. These are going on the mood board for my theoretical future house. You can find more of their work on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. (via colossal)

The Saturday Night Live Portrait

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

SNL Bumpers

SNL Bumpers

Since 1999, Mary Ellen Matthews has been the official photographer of SNL. For each show, Matthews captures a stylized portrait of the host, which is then used for “bumpers” between commercials and the live program.

“I kind of think of them as billboards. They pop off the screen,” Matthews, a self-described “one-woman circus,” told Vulture in a recent interview. “I like to make it as easy as possible for everyone. I don’t want them overthinking this part of the show. It should be super fun and super easy. It’s an open invitation to get kooky.”

The Failure of the Great Tip-Free Restaurant Experiment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

Over the past three years, a number of restaurants across the geographic and economic spectrum of America have experimented with eliminating tipping. The practice is outdated, creates a difficult-to-justify wage imbalance between servers and cooks, and can result in mistreatment of staff (racism, sexual harassment) because of the fucked-up power dynamic it creates.

But as Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson writes, the no-tip test has largely failed, with many of those places going back to the old ways. This happened for three main reasons:

1. No tips meant higher prices printed on the menu, and customers stayed away from what they perceived as more expensive meals. That $12 burger became a $14.50 burger and all of a sudden, people knew what they were actually paying for their food. What’s interesting is that in another situation (say, having to pay to check a bag on a flight), people would be upset at not knowing the price up front and having a “hidden charge” added to their bill when they’re drunk and happy at the end of a meal.

2. Servers can make more at tipping restaurants. Places that went tip-free lost a bunch of their staff to places that still had tipping.

Meanwhile, by raising menu prices and thus revenues, the extra money would go toward higher wages for kitchen staff, who could start making $12 to $15 an hour at a time when the state minimum wage was $8.75.

But, it turned out, many front-of-house staffers were more concerned with making money than with maintaining the moral high ground. This February, Meyer admitted that he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his “legacy” staffers since 2015. (One Meyer employee told Grub last year that her wages dropped from $60,000 per year to $50,000 under the new policy.) While he insisted that the employees that replaced them “understand ‘Hospitality Included’ and are thrilled about it,” added employee attrition in an industry where turnover is already 1.5 times that of the private sector average has to hurt.

My regular NYC spot was one of the restaurants that experimented with eliminating tipping, and I can report that the staff was indeed quite skeptical about it and they switched back to the old method very soon. (I believe they kept the raises for the chefs though somehow.)

3. Tips make diners feel powerful. With tipping, you become the boss of your server or bartender and are responsible for a large chunk of their take-home pay.

Generally speaking, Americans hated the practice of tipping when it was first introduced in the late 19th century, perceiving it as a form of bribery for service workers who should simply do their jobs. But as we’ve adjusted to it, tipping has become undeniably intertwined with a sense of power.

Short of walking into the kitchen and telling off the chef, tipping is the easiest way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a dining experience.

As a customer, I loved not tipping. I don’t feel the need to have power over the staff in a restaurant, I want cooks & chefs to get paid as well as servers, and I’ve acclimated to factoring the tip into my dining expenses. But it seems that Americans in the aggregate do care about those things, and so here we are.

And if we’re going to have tipping in restaurants, we should all know how it works.

If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant.

And if your meal is bad?

You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

Only Mass Protests Can Prevent “an Ecological Apocalypse”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, George Monbiot argues that mass protests are “essential” to force a political response to climate change.

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament.

This paragraph neatly summarizes a bunch of important points about climate change and our current system (italics mine):

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union — Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More — systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the disintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system — characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing — will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

As I wrote several years ago, “nonlinear systems, man”.

Rebuilding the Notre Dame with Strong Trees and Laser Scans

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

According to an expert, France doesn’t have any of the large, old trees necessary to replace the burned wooden beams in the roof of the Notre Dame.

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told France Info radio that the wooden roof that went up in flames was built with beams more than 800 years ago from primal forests.

He says the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about future planning (possibly apocryphal). As told by Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn, the story goes:

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was founded around the late 14th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top. These might be two feet square and forty-five feet long.

A century ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because they had no idea where they would get beams of that calibre nowadays.

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be some oak on College lands. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks has been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

Hopefully the trees needed for rebuilding Notre Dame can be sourced elsewhere. Just as important, a more modern form of future planning was recently undertaken that should help greatly with the rebuild. In 2010, two men photographed and laser-scanned every inch of the Notre Dame, creating an incredibly detailed 3-D map of the building.

3D Notre Dame

Now, with the building having sustained untold but very substantial damage, the data that Tallon and Blaer created could be an invaluable aid to whoever is charged with rebuilding the structure. Ochsendorf described the data as “essential for capturing [the structure] as built geometry.” (He added, however, that the cathedral, no matter what happens now, “is irreplaceable, of course.”)

Tallon and Blaer’s laser data consist of 1 billion data points, structured as “point clouds,” which software can render into images of the three-dimensional space. Stitch them together, inside and out, map the photographs onto the precise 3-D models, and you have a full digital re-creation of incredible detail and resolution.

“I saw this happening, and I had two thoughts,” Blaer told me of watching the cathedral engulfed in flames. “One thought was that I was kind of relieved that he didn’t actually have to see this happen. But on the other hand, he knew it so well and had so much information about how it’s constructed, he would have been so helpful in terms of rebuilding it.”

(thx, meg)

Update: According to this piece in Le Monde (as best as I can discern in Google Translate), French forests have both the quality and quantity of wood available to provide new beams for Notre Dame. (via @ramdyne)