Entries for June 2008 (July 2008 »    August 2008 »    September 2008 »    Archives)


Conceptual art race

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

This is still one of my all-time favorite paragraphs that has ever appeared in the NY Times. It concerns the captain of a tugboat that was towing a piece of art by Robert Smithson.

It's enough to give a tugboat captain angina. So when Bob Henry, captain of the Rachel Marie, who is in charge of towing Smithson's island, looked out across the East River Thursday afternoon and saw another piece of conceptual art gaining on him, he did not view the development kindly.

Hedgehog launch

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

Addictive Flash game of the week: Hedgehog Launch. There's something really clever about the game play here but can't quite put my finger on what it is. The objective of the game — to launch the 'hog into space — is so beside the point the first time around that you forget all about it until it actually happens. My best time was 7 days. (via cyn-c)

Update: Woo, 5 days! My technique: upgrade to a parachute as quick as you can, use it to float for valuable multiplier, then get rockets and band/launcher.

Update: Got it down to 4 days. 3 days is possible but I'm retiring.

Dara Torres

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

This is Olympic swimmer Dara Torres.

Dara Torres

She's 41 years old, has a two-year-old daughter, and won her first Olympic medal, a relay gold, in 1984. Torres is training to make the 2008 US Olympic team, but it's not some casual attempt to relive the good old days: Torres set the American record in the 50-meter freestyle just a few months ago. As the photo above attests, part of Torres' continuing success is due to her training regimen.

Torres calls resistance stretching her "secret weapon." Bob Cooley, who invented the discipline, describes it in less-modest terms. According to Cooley, over a two-week period in 1999, his flexibility system turned Torres "from being an alternate on the relay team to the fastest swimmer in America." The secret to Torres's speed, Cooley says, is that his technique not only makes her muscles more flexible but also increases their ability to shorten more completely, and when muscles shorten more completely, they produce greater power and speed. "What do race-car drivers do when they want to go faster?" Cooley asks. "They don't spend more hours driving around the track. They increase the biomechanics of the car. And that's what resistance flexibility is doing for Dara - increasing her biomechanics."

The Olympic Trials are going on right now in Omaha, NE. The women's 50-meter freestyle preliminaries take place on July 5 with the final on July 6, broadcast live on NBC.

Chronotopic Anamorphosis

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

Video of a Processing program that slices up frames from a video and displays them with a slight time delay from top to bottom. The result is completely trippy. Wait for the door opening bit. See also: time merge media. (via today and tomorrow...thx, red)

Porn in hollowed-out books

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

Unusual find at the thrift store: several hollowed-out books containing stashes of pornographic Poloroids. Somewhat NSFW. (thx, candy)

Image Fulgurator

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

The Image Fulgurator is an ingenious device that detects the flash from nearby cameras and quickly inserts a message onto whatever is being photographed so that it shows up in any photos being taken.

It operates via a kind of reactive flash projection that enables an image to be projected on an object exactly at the moment when someone else is photographing it. The intervention is unobtrusive because it takes only a few milliseconds. Every photo another photographer takes of an object at which the Fulgurator is also aimed is affected by the manipulation. Hence visual information can be smuggled unnoticed into the images of others.

Check out the results. (thx, red)

Autochrome photography

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

I'm fascinated by early color photography...it takes a time we think of being in black & white and makes it accessible and modern. In the hands of Auguste and Louis Lumière, the "lowly, lumpy potato" made color photography possible in the early 1900s. The photos were called autochromes.

The Lumière brothers gathered up their potatoes and ground them into thousands of microscopic particles; they separated this powder into three batches, dying one batch red-orange, one violet and one green; the colored particles were thoroughly mixed and sifted onto a freshly varnished, clear glass plate while the lacquer remained tacky; excess potato bits were swept from the plate, which was pressed through steel rollers to flatten the colored grains, transforming each into a minuscule color filter measuring from .0006 to .0025 millimeters across. Gaps between the colored particles were filled in with carbon black, the plate was varnished again and a thin, light-sensitive emulsion of silver bromide was brushed over that. Now the plate was ready for the camera. When the shutter was opened, light filtered through the translucent potato grains, and a multicolored image was imprinted on the emulsion. After the negative plate was developed in the lab, it was washed and dried, covered with another piece of glass to protect the emulsion and bound with gummed tape. Et voilà! A color photograph unlike any seen before.

Here's a slideshow of some photos taken by this process. Here's some autochromes of Mark Twain from 1908.

More early color photography (not necessarily autochromes): Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's stunning photographs of Russia circa 1909-1915, photos of WWI, photos of WWII, and photos of America in the late 30s/early 40s (color corrected). (thx, david)

Bill Cunningham's street photos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

I've not been paying enough attention to Bill Cunningham's street fashion photography slideshows. Each week, Cunningham goes out on the streets of NYC to find out what people are wearing. Even better than the photos are his enthusiastic descriptions of what he's found.

This week he looks at women's handbags, which he calls "the engine carrying the fashion world". Cunningham finds that bags are growing almost "cartoonishly large" and discovers a unique glove/bag combo. Last week, he looked at the glittery belts that some men are wearing with their saggy jeans. If this was the type of fashion that filled the pages of Vogue, I would subscribe in a second. (thx, alaina)

Update: Cunningham's video journals are now available on YouTube for easy watching/embedding.

Iconic Hubble photos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 30, 2008

From Harvard Magazine, an appreciation of the work that the Hubble telescope has done since its 1990 launch into orbit.

The "Pillars of Creation" may be the most iconic Hubble photograph ever taken. "Located in the Eagle Nebula, the pillars are clouds of molecular hydrogen, light years in length, where new stars are being born," says Aguilar. "However, recent discoveries indicate these pillars were destroyed by a massive nearby super nova some 6,000 years ago. This is a ghost image of a past cosmic disaster that we won't see here on Earth for another thousand years or so-and a perfect example of the fact that everything we see in the universe is history."

Chinese homemade airplane not a hoax

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 29, 2008

After the video of a Chinese farmer's homemade airplane started circulating around the web late last week, commenters on several sites cried hoax, and I received several emails and tweets questioning my mental health for believing such a thing exists.

But the video wasn't obviously fake; home-built airplanes aren't rare, I have no reason to doubt the ingenuity of the Chinese farmer, and I'd rather believe in the wonderfully improbably than be cynical about everything I see. A second video of the plane has been uploaded to YouTube which, in my mind, corroborates the existence of the flying contraption (it's actually an autogyro) beyond a reasonable doubt.

Harpo Marx's Gookie face

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

Harpo Marx tells the story about how his "Gookie" face came to be.

Over the years, in every comedy act or movie I ever worked in, I've "thrown a Gookie" at least once. It wasn't always planned, especially in our early vaudeville days. If we felt the audience slipping away, fidgeting and scraping their feet through our jokes, Groucho or Chico would whisper in panic, "Ssssssssssst! Throw me a Gookie!" The fact that it seldom failed to get a laugh is quite a tribute to the original possessor of the face.

(thx, mark)

Eight things I learned this week, 07

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

Through June 23 of this year, the three major television networks have spent a total of 46 minutes covering the war in Afghanistan. CBS has spent just eight minutes discussing the war. [NY Times]

Some Floridians are still living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew. [Des Moines Register]

Two thirds of the last six Presidents of the United States have been left handed. Obama and McCain are both left-handed. [NY Sun]

In New York State, "blocking the box" (i.e. getting caught in the intersection during a red light) has been reclassified from a moving violation to a parking violation. The change allows a greater number of officers and agents to issue citations. [Streetsblog]

Despite charging exorbitant "convenience" fees for concert tickets, Ticketmaster is somehow $750 million in debt. [Reuters]

There's more than a 50/50 chance that the medium bag of popcorn that you get at the movies will contain more popcorn than the more expensive large tub. [Portfolio]

Lego keeps a copy of every single set they've ever released stored in a secret vault. [Gizmodo]

We all knew it was coming: Hancock might actually suck. [Greencine]

Stanley Kubrick on MySpace

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

Stanley Kubrick's MySpace page is actually pretty interesting. Lots of photos of the man and his films.

Sourdough sucks

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

The tyranny of sourdough, AKA San Francisco's bread problem.

It's sour because in the US, particularly in San Francisco, it's hard to buy good bread. About 75% of the decent bread in my grocery store, both fresh baked and industrial, is sourdough. Consumers think sourdough is shorthand for quality. It's not. In fact, sourdough is seldom the appropriate bread for a meal. It makes lousy sandwiches, lousy breakfast, it clashes with cheese. It's good with creamy soups, and it's good plain with butter. But the premium bakeries all push sourdough, and so sourdough becomes synonymous with "good", when it's not.

This is probably more than 50% of the reason why I left San Francisco.

Asparagus on Mars!

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

Scientists think that Mars' alkaline soil might be able to grow asparagus.

Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Mr Kounaves said the soil seemed "very friendly... there is nothing about it that is toxic," he said. "It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard — you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."

Remixed album covers

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

CandyKaraoke, a bunch of album covers reimagined by Irish artists. (via ffffound)

2008 Penguin Design Award

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

The winners and shortlist of the 2008 Penguin Design Award, a student award in its second year. More info on Penguin's blog. (via book design review)

Dumb Pixar ranking list

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 27, 2008

Vulture's wrong, wrong, wrong list of the best Pixar films. Finding Nemo belongs in #1 with The Incredibles and Ratatouille close behind. Then Toy Story 2 followed by the rest. Putting The Incredibles in the #7 spot, that's just plain irresponsible.

Good reviews for Wall-E

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Wall-E is getting excellent reviews so far...it's currently rated a 92 on Metacritic.

The innner dialogue of animals

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

What do animals think of humans?

"Hey, look, the truck's stopping."
"Did they take us to the park this time?"
"No — it's a fire. Another horrible fire."
"What the hell is wrong with these people?"

Google Maps satellite tracking

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

This site lets you track the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle (when in orbit), and all sorts of other satellites in relation to their position over the earth with a familiar Google Maps interface. Very cool.

Fractal universe

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Is the universe fractal-like, even on large scales? A group of Italian and Russian scientists argue that it displays a fractal pattern on a scale of 100 million light years. Other scientists aren't so sure.

Many cosmologists find fault with their analysis, largely because a fractal matter distribution out to such huge scales undermines the standard model of cosmology. According to the accepted story of cosmic evolution, there simply hasn't been enough time since the big bang nearly 14 billion years ago for gravity to build up such large structures.

Map exaggeration

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Exaggerating with maps.

Perhaps most exaggerated of all though has to be the images that are typically given to show the accumulation of "space junk" — remnants of space flights and defunct satellites, etc. In this image each pixel represents approximately 114 miles; so a piece of debris the size of a car is marked with a point the size of Long Island — easily a 6 order of magnitude exaggeration.

(via mike)

Flickr Commons project

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Of all the things that Flickr has done, The Commons project might be the most significant. If, in two years, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of old photographs previously unavailable to the general public from collections all over the world — all tagged, geocoded, annotated, contextualized, and available to anyone with a web browser — that would be an amazing resource for exploring our recent history.

I Am Legend

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2008

God ruined I Am Legend with the most literal deus ex machina I?ve ever seen in a movie. The alternate ending makes a whole lot more sense. Then again, I would have been satisfied with three straight hours of how Neville spends his time in Manhattan wilderness, alone, procuring supplies, checking buildings off of his scavenging list, visiting the MoMA to get new art for his walls, collecting iPods for ?new? music, etc. Is it every New Yorker?s fantasy to have all of Manhattan to himself for a day?

The Waterfalls

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Olafur Eliasson's NYC Waterfalls starts today in NYC. The project consists of four huge waterfalls erected in the East River. NYC Waterfalls is the new The Gates.

Chinese homemade airplane

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 26, 2008

Video of a Chinese farmer flying his homemade airplane. Nice landing! According to a post at IfGoGo, the plane is referred to in Chinese as "shanzhai huaxiangji". The "shanzhai" part literally means "little mountain village" but has developed into a slang word that denotes something homemade or counterfeit.

Date back to 2007, due to an open (maybe leak?) source of MTK platfrom (a wireless communication development platform), there are millions of cell phone factories burst out in south China. These factories made lots of famous-brand cell-phone-copies in a short period of time. They just copied the outline and software design from Nokia, Apple iPhone etc. The manufacturing cost is very low so many people are involved. However, these cell phones are not all completely copied. They are even totally redesigned and added a lot of features. A brand called "NCIKA" even went very popular in China. People're even joking that the farmers in big mountains can develop and design a cell phone too. So many people call it "Shanzhai Ji" (Ji means machine in Chinese, here means cell phone) and then the name is widespread in China.

Since then, many funny/weird stuff from ordinary people are called "shanzhai" something, and that's why this plane is named "Shanzhai Huaxiangji" in Chinese :)

The inside lane advantage

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

The Olympic starting gun gives the runners on the inside of the track (near the gun) an unfair advantage because the sound reaches the outer lanes later and the loud bang scares inside-lane runners out of the blocks earlier.

Runners in lane eight got off the mark on average about 150 milliseconds after runners in lane one, Dapena found. A time delay of that magnitude translates to about a metre's difference at the finish line.

High Line park news

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

Two bits of news about the High Line and its impending park.

1. Curbed has new renderings of what the park is going to look like. Here's phase 1 (Gansevoort St. to 20th) and phase 2 (21st to 30th). They're calling it a park but from the drawings it seems more like a glorified sidewalk.

2. Photos of the High Line taken last weekend show how much progress is being made on construction.


posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

Daniel Barron makes photographs of things that look human but aren't. Maybe. Sorta. I don't really know! Can you tell? (via that's a negative)

High falutin' personals

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

On the personal ads in the New York Review of Books.

There are more semicolons in the New York Review of Books personals than balls in a gay bar.

Breeze Excel ad

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

To demonstrate their product's ability to remove tough stains, the makers of Breeze Excel washing detergent sent product samples wrapped in tshirts through the regular mail, with instructions to wash the shirts — significantly dirtied in transit — upon receipt.

Unthinkable futures

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

A list of predictions about the unthinkable future by Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno, made in 1993. This one by Eno isn't half bad:

A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)

Advice for Yahoo!

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

Dave Pell's advice for Yahoo!: Do What You're Great At.

Yahoo is grown up. They know what they're great at. They are great at news. When it comes to news, they absolutely crush Google. So here's a whacky idea my Yahoo friends. Why not define yourself by your news services and the other stuff where you destroy the competition?

Djokovic out at Wimbledon

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

Yikes, Novak Djokovic lost in the second round of Wimbledon to Marat Safin. Many thought Djokovic would play spoiler to the nearly inevitable Federer/Nadal final. (P.S. Euro 2008 semis, Turkey vs. Germany, 2:45 ET today on ESPN.)

Root beer tasting

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

NY Times wine guy Eric Asimov and his panel taste a bunch of root beers and conclude, among other things, that "too much root beer can make a man mean".

Our No. 1 root beer, from Sprecher in Wisconsin, a wonderfully balanced and complex brew, uses a combination of corn syrup and honey, while our No. 2, the restrained and flavorful IBC, uses only corn syrup. So even with the importance of the sweetener, something more is at play with root beers.

I've always wanted to have a root beer tasting.

How to: Christopher Walken impression

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 25, 2008

The video is too long and the guy is kind of annoying, but it's worth checking out his impression of Christopher Walken and the explanation of how he puts the voice together. Skip to 2:10.

Eddie Murphy's giant head

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Here is today's dose of surreality.

Eddie Murphy Giant Head

Books, quickly

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Books summed up in 3 lines or less.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C.S. LEWIS: Finally, a utopia ruled by children and populated by talking animals.

THE WITCH: Hi, I'm a sexually mature woman of power and confidence.

C.S. LEWIS: Ah! Kill it, lion Jesus!

Russert miracles

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Maybe I should institute a recurring feature on kottke.org...the Christopher Hitchens Quote of the Week or some such thing. This week's installment comes from an article on the media's over-exuberance in reporting on the death of Tim Russert and the "miracles" (bipartisanship, Springsteen, a rainbow) that followed.

No benign deity plucks television news-show hosts from their desks in the prime of life and then hastily compensates their friends and family by displays of irradiated droplets in the sky

Middle Ages survival song

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

A singer/songwriter named Hillel took the survival tips for the Middle Ages threads from Marginal Revolution & kottke.org and made them into a song called 1000 A.D. Deliciously nerdy.

I did my best to capture as many of the best comments as possible but 3:26 isn't a huge canvas. I'm particularly sad that I never figured out a way to mention how bad the people must have smelled, or my plan to get rich selling soap.

Escalator spinning

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Better to keep this one simple: video of a lady spinning on an escalator. (via cyn-c)

No pregnancy pact?

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Regarding last week's story about the Gloucester teen girl pregnancy pact...well, maybe there was a pact and maybe there wasn't.

But at a press conference today, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk emerged from a closed-door meeting with city, school and health officials to say that there had been no independent confirmation of any teen pregnancy pact. She also said that the principal, who was not present at the meeting, is now "foggy in his memory" of how he heard about the pact.

As Marco Carbone said, "TIME could have covered that story much more responsibly." And that goes for all the blogs too, kottke.org included.

Remi Gaillard videos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

In celebration of Euro 2008, public prankster and more-than-fair soccer striker Rémi Gaillard made the following video of himself using the urban landscape as a soccer pitch. Gaillard scores goals into police vans, trash cans, open windows, etc. to the annoyance of his oblivious goalies.

Something about the video seemed familiar and after a bit of searching, I discovered that the same fellow was also responsible for one of my favorite links from a few years ago, Rocky Recreated. There are tons of his videos on YouTube, most of them centered on Gaillard's brand of graffiti-esque performance art. I can't condone some of his actions but he's certainly amusing to watch. (via memeticians)

Stamen interview

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

Short interview with Mike Migurski and Tom Carden of Stamen about their projects and process.

We try to start from a position of great abundance and information, to show the vastness or the liveness. I think live, vast, and deep is some of the terminology that we've been using lately in a lot of our talks.

Itching and perception

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 24, 2008

I try not to miss any of Atul Gawande's New Yorker articles, but his piece on itching from this week's issue is possibly the most interesting thing I've read in the magazine in a long time. He begins by focusing on a specific patient for whom compulsive itching has become a very serious problem. (Warning, this quote is pretty disturbing...but don't let it deter you from reading the article.)

...the itching was so torturous, and the area so numb, that her scratching began to go through the skin. At a later office visit, her doctor found a silver-dollar-size patch of scalp where skin had been replaced by scab. M. tried bandaging her head, wearing caps to bed. But her fingernails would always find a way to her flesh, especially while she slept.

One morning, after she was awakened by her bedside alarm, she sat up and, she recalled, "this fluid came down my face, this greenish liquid." She pressed a square of gauze to her head and went to see her doctor again. M. showed the doctor the fluid on the dressing. The doctor looked closely at the wound. She shined a light on it and in M.'s eyes. Then she walked out of the room and called an ambulance. Only in the Emergency Department at Massachusetts General Hospital, after the doctors started swarming, and one told her she needed surgery now, did M. learn what had happened. She had scratched through her skull during the night — and all the way into her brain.

From there, Gawande pulls out to tell us about itching/scratching (the two are inseparable), then about a recent theory of how our brains perceive the world ("visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals"), and finally about a fascinating therapy initially developed for those who experience phantom limb pain called mirror treatment.

Among them is an experiment that Ramachandran performed with volunteers who had phantom pain in an amputated arm. They put their surviving arm through a hole in the side of a box with a mirror inside, so that, peering through the open top, they would see their arm and its mirror image, as if they had two arms. Ramachandran then asked them to move both their intact arm and, in their mind, their phantom arm-to pretend that they were conducting an orchestra, say. The patients had the sense that they had two arms again. Even though they knew it was an illusion, it provided immediate relief. People who for years had been unable to unclench their phantom fist suddenly felt their hand open; phantom arms in painfully contorted positions could relax. With daily use of the mirror box over weeks, patients sensed their phantom limbs actually shrink into their stumps and, in several instances, completely vanish. Researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently published the results of a randomized trial of mirror therapy for soldiers with phantom-limb pain, showing dramatic success.

Crazy! Gawande documents and speculates about other applications of this treatment, including using virtual reality representations instead of mirrors and utilizing multiple mirrors for treatment of M.'s itchy scalp. Anyway, read the whole thing...highly recommended.

Gramercy Park

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

NY Times article about Gramercy Park, one of NYC's two private parks, and Arlene Harrison, the self-styled "mayor" of the park.

Since Ms. Harrison started the Gramercy Park Block Association in 1994, after her son was attacked and beaten up in front of their apartment building at 34 Gramercy Park, she has effectively remade the area in her own image.

She has added to a list of regulations (no dogs, no feeding of birds, no groups larger than six people, no Frisbees or soccer balls or "hard balls" of any kind) that, in turn, have served to dictate how the park is - and is not - used. Most recently, she helped pave the way for Zeckendorf Realty to redevelop a 17-story Salvation Army boarding house on the south side of the park, and for the company's plan to convert the 300 rooms into 14 floor-through apartments plus a penthouse duplex. The company would not confirm the transaction.

What a bunch of elitist horseshit. Ms. Harrison sounds like a Grade A wanker. (via anil)

Spinning out of control

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

Headline of the week from the Associated Press: Everything seemingly is spinning out of control. (You see how they took the edge off with the "seemingly"? The sky is falling! Maybe!)

"It is pretty scary," said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minn. "People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven't been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change."

My guess is that the writers' editor was out of town and they decided to see if they could slip this Onion-esque article on to the wire. (thx, scott)

Great movie cameos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

A list of movie cameos that end up stealing the whole movie. The deserving #1 is Alec Baldwin's Glengarry Glen Ross speech. (God, what a great scene.)

Microsoft then and now

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

The iconic photo from 1978 of Microsoft's founders and early employees has been reshot.

Present for the reunion was office manager Miriam Lubow (center of new picture), who missed the original sitting due to a snowstorm. (When Lubow, now retired, first met Gates, she couldn't believe that disheveled kid was the president.) Absent for the reshoot was Bob Wallace (top center), who died in 2002; after leaving Microsoft in 1983, he pioneered the idea of shareware.

They should submit this to Ze Frank's Youngme/Nowme.

Valuable old iPhones

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

Last week: maybe that old iPhone isn't completely worthless after all.

But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

This week: you might actually break even or turn a small profit from selling your old iPhone on eBay or craigslist. A quick search reveals that used & unlocked 8Gb iPhones are going for ~$400 and 16Gb for upwards of $500, with never-opened phones going for even more. Here are some recent old iPhone auctions:

- A lot of five never-opened unlocked 16Gb iPhones went for $2,755 ($551 per phone)
- A used unlocked 8Gb iPhone went for $405
- A used unlocked 16Gb iPhone went for $585.

Before the announcement of the iPhone 3G, new 8Gb iPhones retailed for $399, 16Gb for $499. When the iPhone 3G comes out on July 11, the supply of old iPhones in the marketplace will greatly increase (which means that the price will drop) but the auctions above suggest that those old phones might not be shiny paperweights after all. (thx, praveen & carl)

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2008

Now showing on HBO:

On March 11, 1977, Roman Polanski was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with the following counts: furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child, unlawful sexual intercourse, rape by use of drugs, perversion and sodomy. Less than a year later, on February 1, 1978, Polanski drove to LAX, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and never came back. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired explores the implausible events that took place between these dates, along with details, before and after, that forever altered the life and career of Polanski, one of the world?s most acclaimed directors.

This snippet of an interview with the filmmaker should give you a taste of what to expect from the film:

I felt it was my job to explain how people think they know the story, but they don?t. That doesn?t excuse Polanski in any way, but it shows what he went through. I think the best viewer for this film is someone who can?t stand Roman Polanski and is disgusted by what happened. But if they allow themselves to watch the film, they usually come away from it feeling differently. If not about the crime, then at least about the aftermath. It?s quite surprising.

The Smoking Gun has the grand jury testimony of then 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, taken two weeks after she had sex with Polanski. If you don?t catch the movie on HBO, it?ll be out in limited release in theaters on July 11.

Update: There?s a post on the HBO bulletin board for the movie that looks like it was written by Samantha Geimer (formerly Gailey):

I hope you all watched and enjoyed the movie. I think Marina did an excellent job in uncovering the facts. Since my mother did not participate, let me clarify a few things for you all.

She did not travel in the same social circles with Roman. She met him once, that meeting had nothing to do with my getting the modeling job. She did not send me off to be raped, or have some blackmail plot in mind. Calling the police pretty much rules blackmail out from the get go. Roman was not known as a pedophile in March of 1977, he was a influential and respected director. Even his relationship with Natasha Kinski did not occur until after my meeting with him, as far as I know.

The sex was not consentual and I have never said it was.

And last, I was not supposed to be alone with him, a friend was to come along with with us, but he talked me into going alone with him as the last minute, my mother was unaware of that until I called her later to check in. Even so, she would never have dreamed he would do what he did to me, just because we were alone. This was a long time ago, when child molestation did not immediately leap to the front of everyone?s mind as is does today. I do find it strange that some of his friends say he couldn?t have done it, while others say of course he would.

My mother has carried alot of guilt about this for many years, so I would appreciate it if people would stop blaming her. There is alot of blame to go around.

Train travel on the increase

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

The number of passengers traveling by train in the US rose significantly in May. Unfortunately, Amtrak is reaching full capacity with no real way to increase the number of trains or routes at its disposal for several years.

In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.

Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.

Train travel, particularly high-speed train travel, should be *the* way to get anywhere on the East Coast, mid-to-southern California/Vegas, and between moderately large cities clustered together (Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit; Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston; Florida; Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Tulsa; Portland, Seattle, Vancouver; etc.).

Alan Taylor interview

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 23, 2008

Andy Baio interviews Alan Taylor, the fellow behind The Big Picture, the journalistic photo blog that's taken the web by storm.

Internally, externally, everywhere, people are being really thankful to me. I need to make sure (with some link-love in my upcoming blogroll) that the response gets directed to the photographers as well. I'm just a web developer with access to their photos and a blog - they're the ones out there working hard to get these amazing images. "Photographers" here is a loose term, encompassing photojournalists, stringers, amateurs, scientific imaging teams and more.

TiVo remote control design

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 22, 2008

The history of the design and manufacture of the TiVo remote control.

Like any remote, the designers were adamant about keeping the remote's button layout as simple as possible. But with the DVR's numerous features, the designers needed to create lots of extra buttons. To keep things straight, each button needed to have a distinctive feel, giving the ability to control the remote without even looking at it, which Newby described as a "key Braille-ability" surprisingly helped by the "blank finger parking spots between keys" that were equally important.

(via waxy)

Keith Olbermann profile

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 22, 2008

New Yorker profile of Keith Olbermann, with lots about the changing face of journalism from the desire for objective neutrality to the more sensational opinion that saturates cable, newspapers, and the blogosphere.

But Olbermann contends that the labored pretense of neutrality in the news business is a fruitless exercise. "There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Brian Williams is a Communist," he said. "There are people who, with absolute conviction, believe that Katie Couric is in the pay of the Pentagon. There are people who are absolutely certain that Charlie Gibson sleeps with Hillary Clinton, based on the last debate. This is an old schoolyard thing I learned from being repeatedly beat up in the fourth grade. It finally dawned on me one day — they are going to keep beating me up whether I respond to them or not." Olbermann continued, "Brian sometimes looks like his collar button is going to burst from the restraint that he has. I know the pain that he goes through; he measures each word like an apothecary — and they beat him up, too. The point is, why not? Why not add something to the discourse?"

As much as I agree with some of what Olbermann says, I put him in the same bucket as Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly...entertaining but intellectually untrustworthy.

Menu typos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

Washington Post writer admits to having a fantasy of correcting typos in restaurant menus with "a distinctive purple pen". But sometimes the computer's spellchecker is no help.

Despite my attempts to stop it, my Microsoft Word program would always change the word for Italy's famous cured meat into what it assumed I meant to type. The night we closed an issue, I would have nightmares that when the magazine hit the stands, one of my reviews would describe "the delicate sweet and salty balance of melon and prostitute."

Old photos of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

A whole bunch of old photos of NYC. More here.

Black models in Vogue Italia

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

For its July 2008 issue, Vogue Italia is featuring only black models and feature articles about black women in arts and entertainment.

Having worked at one time with nearly all the models he chose for the black issue — Iman, [Naomi] Campbell, Tyra Banks, Jourdan Dunn, [Liya] Kebede, [Alek] Wek, Pat Cleveland, Karen Alexander — [photographer Steven] Meisel had his own feelings. "I thought, it's ridiculous, this discrimination," said Mr. Meisel, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "It's so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race — every kind of prejudice."

Here's a slideshow of some of the images from the magazine. As I've said before, Vogue Italia is doing some interesting things with the editorial nature of the magazine's photography (see State of Emergency and Super Mods Enter Rehab, both by Steven Meisel).

Amazon MP3 preorders

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

Idea for Amazon regarding their MP3 store: allow people to pre-order MP3s and when they're available for download, send out an email to that effect. For instance, the new Sigur Ros album is out on June 24. A page for the MP3 album exists but it's difficult to find and while you can preview tracks, you can't pre-order the album.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

Quentin Tarantino's next movie: Inglourious Basterds. Here's le plot:

A band of U.S. soldiers facing death by firing squad for their misdeeds are given a chance to redeem themselves by heading into the perilous no-man's lands of Nazi-occupied France on a suicide mission for the Allies.

According to Ain't It Cool News, Tarantino will release the movie in two parts, as he did with Kill Bill. (via crazymonk)

How much is that old iPhone worth?

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

Just after Apple announced the iPhone 3G, Khoi Vinh whipped up a quick graph of the declining value of his iPhone over the past year. He generously estimates that when the iPhone 3G is released in early July, his old iPhone will be worth $100, half of the price for a new iPhone 3G. At the time, I speculated that you'd be hard pressed to find a buyer at $75.

However, the resale market for old iPhones might not be so dismal. AT&T has confirmed to MacWorld that in-store activation of the iPhone 3G will be mandatory:

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel confirmed for Macworld that activation must be done at the time of purchase, in-store.

For those who want to use their phone on another network, an untethered 8 GB iPhone 3G would cost them at least $374 ($199 + $175 AT&T account cancellation fee). But a cheaper and easier way to get an iPhone that works on T-Mobile, etc. is to buy an old iPhone from an upgrader for $100, maybe even $150?

Dougie Lampkin rides inside house

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

Video of champion motorbike rider Dougie Lampkin riding his bike through Goodwood House, a stately English home dating from the 1700s. (thx, jan)

Pregnancy pact

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 20, 2008

A group of high school girls in Gloucester, MA (about half of the 17 total pregnant in the high school, none older than 16) made a pact to get pregnant on purpose. One the girls resorted to impregnation by a 24-year-old homeless man.

The girls who made the pregnancy pact — some of whom, according to Sullivan, reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives and plans for baby showers — declined to be interviewed.

(via buzzfeed)

Mars Phoenix: ice on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

About 2 hours ago, the Mars Phoenix rover twittered that it had found evidence of ice on Mars.

Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!

The Mars rover said "w00t". Here's the w00t-less press release and the associated images that show the ice sublimating from the surface over the last four days.

Children in the mail

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

Children in the mail!

After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.

That photo is part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection at Flickr.

Update: A 1913 NY Times article includes a query from a citizen to the Post Office inquiring whether they could send a baby through the mail:

Sir: I have been corresponding with a party in Pa about getting a baby to rais (our home being without One.) May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express co are to rough in handling

(via genealogue)

You will not understand

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

Always amusing, Rosecrans Baldwin's dispatches from Paris. Unless (or perhaps especially) if you're French.

One afternoon a roving band of 30 teenagers stopped traffic on the Champs-Elysées, marching toward the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a battalion of 60 police officers in riot gear, marching in rows of two. I asked a French co-worker what the kids were celebrating. He squinted, looking into the sun. "That it's May," he said. "That they're French, that they're young. You will not understand."

How to solve a Rubik's Cube

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

You know what you need? 14 pages of handwritten instructions on how to solve a Rubik's Cube.



Tim Russert anecdote

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

An anecdote from Tim Russert's funeral:

Russert's onetime boss, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, offered the day's only example of Russert blatantly lying. After Cuomo pushed through the nation's first seat-belt law in 1985, the two men were in a Buffalo motorcade when their car was struck from behind and Cuomo — having forgotten to buckle up — hit the dashboard. As reporters rushed over, Russert blurted out: "Thank God for the seat belt!"

Alternate Indy 4 script

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

From an abridged script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

PRODUCER FRANK MARSHALL immediately proves his commitment to using CGI "only when necessary" by featuring completely necessary CGI prairie dogs in the first shot of the movie.

A bunch of cars drive through the DESERT to AREA 51. HARRISON FORD'S SHADOW, then HARRISON FORD'S SHOE, then HARRISON FORD'S ARM, then HARRISON FORD'S HAT and finally HARRISON FUCKING FORD are eventually revealed.

Alright folks, let's get this show on the road. I want to make it to Country Buffet by four.

Pryvet, Harrison. I am evil Soviet. You vill help me find Moose and Squirrel, yes?

Holy Christ, you're not going to talk like that the whole movie are you?

Da. You vill help locate MacKuffin now.

(thx, david)

Indiana Jones and Nuke the Fridge

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

Not so long ago, on May 24th, IMDB message board participant beachedblonde coined a new phrase: nuke the fridge. Here's the definition from the Urban Dictionary...it's roughly equivalent to jumping the shark:

A colloquialism used to delineate the precise moment at which a cinematic franchise has crossed over from remote plausibility to self parodying absurdity, usually indicating a low point in the series from which it is unlikely to recover. A reference to one of the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which the titular hero manages to avoid death by nuclear explosion by hiding inside a kitchen refrigerator.

Sample usage:

Man, when Peter Parker started doing the emo dance in Spider-Man 3, that franchise officially nuked the fridge.

Since then, things have progressed quickly. The original posting seems to have been deleted but the phrase caught on, infected other message boards and web sites, and is now a full-blown meme on the verge of nuking the fridge itself. Google currently returns close to 16,000 results for variations on the phrase. Some participants in the IMDB forums have already grown tired of the phrase's repeated use. A Wikipedia page was created and has already been deleted (reason: "Protologism with no RELIABLE sources evidencing more than extremely limited usage"). A web site dedicated to the meme is available at nukingthefridge.com, not to be confused with the movie review blog at nukedthefridge.com. And of course, no meme these days is complete without the proper new media accoutrements: Facebook page, MySpace page, t-shirt, YouTube page, an auction to sell the domain name, and a post on a large-ish general interest blog way after the whole thing's already played out. I only heard it for the first time an hour ago and I'm already sick of it. Memes seem to be spreading so rapidly now on the web that they burn out before they can properly establish themselves. It'll be interesting to see if nuke the fridge makes it through this ultra-virulent phase and somehow slows down enough to jump to casual mainstream usage. (via cyn-c)

Nicely designed Benjamin Button story

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

At the risk turning into a Benjamin Button fan site (gallery featuring 250 hi-res photos of Brad Pitt scanned from magazines coming soon!), here's one more little bit of info. Jonathan McNicol has taken the text of Fitzgerald's short story and will be serializing nicely-designed and proofread PDFs of the story on his site for the next 11 days. Chapter one has been posted and it's a beaut.

Sea Urchin Bukkake

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

A fancy Manhattan restaurant opened by famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten features on its menu a dish called "Sea Urchin Bukkake". It, er, comes with "all the condiments of bukkake". (I could go on, but that's a good place to stop.)

Chinese restaurant name changes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

The Chinese are encouraging their restaurants to change the names of some of their dishes before the Olympics start. Those dishes due for a name change include:

- Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman
- Chicken without sexual life
- Husband and wife's lung slice

HTML rendering visualizations

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 19, 2008

Video visualizations of how the HTML rendering engine underneath Firefox's hood renders mozilla.org, a Wikipedia page, and Google Japan.

New Michael Lewis book on New Orleans

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Blind Side, etc, has moved back to his native New Orleans to work on a book "that will center on the restoration of New Orleans". Back in Aug 2007, Lewis wrote an article for the NY Times Magazine about Hurricane Katrina and the economics of catastrophe. (thx, brian)

How to make bread

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

The most awesome bread-making video in the world. (via madame lamb)

Younger than we used to be

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

While we're on the topic of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Andrew Sean Greer wrote a book with a similar premise published in 2004 called The Confessions of Max Tivoli. It was based in part on the same Fitzgerald story as Fincher's film.

Mr. Greer is candid about the precedents: F. Scott Fitzgerald told a related story in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and that in turn was inspired by a remark of Mark Twain that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. Later Fitzgerald found "an almost identical plot" in Samuel Butler's "Note-books." In "The Sword and the Stone," which Mr. Greer read as a child, Merlin ages backward. Mr. Greer carries it further back, to Greek mythology, and forward to "Mork & Mindy," in which Jonathan Winters played a baby. And at one book signing, he said, a reader asked him if he knew about the "Star Trek" episode in which ----

Actually, when he began the book he was thinking more of Bob Dylan. In 2001, having published a collection of stories and in the middle of writing a novel, he found himself singing "My Back Pages" -- "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" -- and he had what amounted to an epiphany. "I thought that could be a book not like anything I'd written before," he said. "It sounded like a wild adventure that no one's going to want to read, but it could be a lot of fun, and maybe that's the point of it."

This passage from a NY Times review of Tivoli provides a good sense of what the tone of the film might be:

For when the repercussions of Max's reverse aging are eventually understood, the tragedy of his predicament becomes clear. Not only does he have the exact year of his death forever staring him in the face (1941, when he will complete his 70-year process of anti-decay), but he must also live his entire life, except for a few brief months in 1906 when his real and apparent ages coincide, being something other than what he seems.

Oh, and Shaun Inman quotes from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five about WWII moving backwards:

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating day and night, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again.

(thx, jamaica)

3-D back again

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 18, 2008

The idea of a 3-D movie has been explored since basically the dawn of the moving image, but now, according to Portfolio, the idea is waxing once again, thanks to Jeffrey Katzenberg and several others. The rationale:

Studios are latching onto 3-D for much the same reason that Bob Dole took Viagra. Most of Hollywood's businesses are making money — for all Katzenberg's complaining, DreamWorks' first-quarter profit was up 69 percent — but the sector that makes Hollywood feel best about itself, theatrical showings, is deflating, in large part because the difference between seeing a movie in your local multiplex and on a 52-inch high-definition TV in your family room is not that vast.

Three things I saw at the MoMA today

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

1. Perhaps the most playful art I've ever seen in a major museum is Olafur Eliasson's Ventilator, a fan hung on a long cord in the main atrium in the museum. Watching it blow around the huge room, chased by children, is hard-to-beat fun.

2. The rest of Eliasson's show on the third floor. His art seems so conceptually and constructurally simple yet, I dunno, I just wanted to hang out in the gallery all day, like I was required to remain part of the experience. Left me wishing I'd made it to London to see The Weather Project.

3. The typology photos of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Recommended if you like photography and multiples of things.

Irritated that I missed: van Gogh's Starry Night (out on loan to Yale until Sept...I've seen it 20 times at least but still like checking it out whenever I'm there), the exhibition of George Lois' Esquire covers, and lunch at Cafe 2.

Trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

Trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. David Fincher, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Pitt's character starts off as an old man and ages backwards. Is it possible to buy tickets for this *right now*? BTW, the full text of the Fitzgerald short story on which the film is based is available online.

Tech details for Wall-E

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

Interesting article on the genesis, sound design, and cinematography of Wall-E.

"We wanted it to have the feeling that it had actually been filmed," says Morris. Using subtle details such as barrel distortion and lens flare, gave Wall.E the feel of the 70mm sci-fi films of the Seventies. For the first time Pixar also brought Academy Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins and special-effects don Dennis Muren onboard. "We wanted to get the nuance of a live action film, and actually put mistakes in with zooms and framing to give it a more immediate feel."

Deakins is well-known for working with the Coen Brothers on many of their films. (thx, brian)

Celtics win the NBA Championship

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

John Gruber, the sorest winner on the web when it comes to sports or Apple, points out that I was wrong in my prediction that the Lakers would win the NBA Finals this year. I didn't actually care about the series either way...but after rooting for him in Minnesota for all those years, it sure is great to see Kevin Garnett win a championship.

I was also wrong about Paul Pierce. I never liked him as a player; thought he was soft, lazy, & petulant, settled for the outside shot too much, and just didn't have what it took to be his team's star player. He's put all that behind him; in this series, Pierce showed that he's definitely one of the top players in the league, deserving of his accolades. Count me among the number of Paul Pierce fans.

Non-violent Al Qaeda

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 18, 2008

Long-but-good article about the changing role of violence within Al Qaeda and other former terrorist organizations.

Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda's top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda's violence. "We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that," Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Conducting plastic

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

When two plastics (polymers TTF and TCNQ) are placed atop one another, a thin strip forms that conducts electricity "as well as a metal".

The TTF-TCNQ interface conducts electricity much better than standard semiconductors. "The electron concentration there is an order of magnitude higher," Mannhart says. "That has the power to create new effects, from magnetism to superconductivity."

Ferris Bueller Requiem for a Dream

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

Re-cut trailer for Ferris Bueller's Day Off using music from Requiem for a Dream. (via shaun inman)

Eames stamps

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

The Charles and Ray Eames stamps are available for your USPS mailing pleasure. (thx, doug)

Iowa flood pictures

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

I have to hold off linking to every single entry on Big Picture (best new blog of the year so far, hands down), but these photos of the flooding in Iowa are amazing. I went to college in Cedar Rapids and my mind is boggled seeing so much of downtown under so much water.

100 Thing Challenge

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

Time reports on a group of folks who are trying to whittle down their possessions to 100 items.

Bruno keeps a running tally on his blog, guynameddave.com of what he has decided to hold on to and what he is preparing to sell or donate. For instance, as of early June, he was down to five dress shirts and one necktie but uncertain about parting with one of his three pairs of jeans. "Are two pairs of jeans enough?!," he asked in a recent posting.

That's not the only dilemma faced by this new wave of goal-oriented minimalists. One of the trickier questions is what counts as an item. Bruno considers a pair of shoes to be a single entity, which seems sensible but still pretty hard-core when you're trying to jettison all but 100 personal possessions. Cait Simmons, 27, a waitress in Chicago, takes a different approach. Although she has pared down her footwear collection from 35 to 20 pairs, she says, "All my shoes count as one item."

Bruno's site is currently inaccessible...here's the Google cache for his 100 Thing Challenge page.

Indiana Jones typography

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

Mark Simonson notes that the period typography in the Indiana Jones movies is pretty good, except for that used on Indy's travel maps.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) which is set in 1936, we see ITC Serif Gothic (designed in 1972). The wide spacing feels right, and it does have an art deco feel, but it's 1970s art deco.

Undressed stuffed animals

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

Photos of singing/talking stuffed animals, dressed and undressed.

I've always been curious about stuffed animals that sing, dance, light up, or talk back. There must be a fascinating robot underneath the fur and fluff, right? Surely the robot hiding in the bear's clothing, vestimentis ursum, is impressive. So: armed with my childish curiousity and the spurious excuse of 'product design research,' I set out to discover what, exactly, these creatures are hiding.

(thx, janelle)

Spore Creature Creator out

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

If you can't wait to get your hands on Will Wright's new uber-game Spore until it's released on September 7 (pre-order!), you can download a free trial of the Spore Creature Creator.

100 best movie posters

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 17, 2008

A list of the 100 best movie posters of all time. There's a lot to disagree with on this list. American Beauty at #2?

Mario Kart in JavaScript

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Mario Kart in JavaScript.

Darkest material

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

All blacks are not created equal...a team at Rensselaer and Rice University have created the world's darkest material. Plain old black paint reflects between 5 and 10 percent of incident light; the new material reflects only 0.045%. (via animamundi)

Unusual movie reviews

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Two is a trend: unusual movie reviews. First up was Peter Bradshaw's review of The Incredible Hulk in Hulk-speak and now comes Christopher Orr's review of M. Night Shyamalan's newest stinker, The Happening. Orr hated the movie so much that his entire column is a list of spoilers so that you can mock the film without having seen it.

Exxon logo sketches

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Raymond Loewy is well-known as an industrial designer but he was also responsible for some of the world's most iconic logos. Pictured below are several sketches that Loewy did for the new Exxon logo:

Exxon Logo

Big business moved more slowly back then; the sketches were done by Loewy in 1966 but the name change and new logo didn't go into effect until 1972. Loewy was also responsible for several other logos: Shell, Hoover, BP, Nabisco, Canada Dry, and U.S. Mail.

No superpowers TV

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

George Saunders has an idea for a TV show: everyone on earth thinks that they have superpowers but they really don't.

Serious leisure

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Phrase of the day: serious leisure.

Tomato salmonella

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Tomatoes are currently spreading salmonella across the United States. In 1981, the culprit in a smaller outbreak was marijuana. Hey High Times, dude,
the NYer is totally bogarting your pot coverage on this...we need a potcast, stat!

Darwin and evolution

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

The idea of evolution did not begin with Darwin...he just (just!) explained how it happened and backed it up with evidence.

"The only novelty in my work is the attempt to explain how species become modified," Darwin later wrote. He did not mean to belittle his achievement. The how, backed up by an abundance of evidence, was crucial: nature throws up endless biological variations, and they either flourish or fade away in the face of disease, hunger, predation and other factors. Darwin's term for it was "natural selection"; Wallace called it the "struggle for existence." But we often act today as if Darwin invented the idea of evolution itself, including the theory that human beings developed from an ape ancestor. And Wallace we forget altogether.

In fact, scientists had been talking about our primate origins at least since 1699, after the London physician Edward Tyson dissected a chimpanzee and documented a disturbing likeness to human anatomy. And the idea of evolution had been around for generations.

Garfield, remixed

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 16, 2008

Garfield is the current go-to media for parody and remix. Nothing Garfield, Garfield Minus Garfield, Garkov (Garfield with random dialogue), Garfield as a real cat, Lasagna Cat, Garfield Randomizer, Silent Garfield, what if Conan the Barbarian was Garfield's owner?, The Death of Garfield, Garfield Loses His Lunch, Garfield Variations.

The "american gothic" tag on Flickr is

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

The "american gothic" tag on Flickr is quite interesting; I like the ketchup and mustard one myself.

Pixar's John Carter of Mars

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

An upcoming film from Pixar: Andrew "Finding Nemo" Stanton's adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars. As Binary Bonsai notes, this is a bit of a departure for Pixar, what with all the sexuality and violence.

Explanation of the end of The Sopranos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

In case you're still hung up on the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos, there's this long self-proclaimed definitive explanation of "The End".

"If you look at the final episode really carefully, it's all there." These are David Chase's words regarding the finale of the Sopranos. He is right, it is "all there". This is the definitive explanation of why Tony died in Holsten's in the final scene of The Sopranos. The following is based on a thorough analysis of the final season of the show and will clear up one of the most misunderstood endings in film or television history. Chase took almost 2 years to construct the final season of the show after the fifth season ended in June of 2004. Part 1 will show how Chase directed, edited and scored the final scene of the Sopranos to lead to the interpretation that Tony was shot in the head in Holsten's and how this ties into the "never hear it happen" concept that Chase hammered into the viewer before the show's final scene.

(via house next door)

Futurama portrait

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

Futurama series portrait. Same deal this Simpsons one. (via vitamin briefcase)

Hulk movie not good

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, wrote his 1-star review of The Incredible Hulk in Hulk-speak.

"Hulk. Smash!" Yes. Hulk. Smash. Yes. Smash. Big Hulk smash. Smash cars. Buildings. Army tanks. Hulk not just smash. Hulk also go rarrr! Then smash again. Smash important, obviously. Smash Hulk's USP. What Hulk smash most? Hulk smash all hope of interesting time in cinema. Hulk take all effort of cinema, effort getting babysitter, effort finding parking, and Hulk put great green fist right through it. Hulk crush all hopes of entertainment. Hulk in boring film. Film co-written by star. Edward Norton. Norton in it. Norton write it. Norton not need gamma-radiation poisoning to get big head.

Remember when The Hulk had a blog?

(via house next door)

Mirror neurons and sports

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

Rampant speculation from Jonah Lehrer on why people care so much when they watch overpaid athletes play sports. It is, perhaps, all about mirror neurons:

"The main functional characteristic of mirror neurons is that they become active both when the monkey makes a particular action (for example, when grasping an object or holding it) and when it observes another individual making a similar action." In other words, these peculiar cells mirror, on our inside, the outside world; they enable us to internalize the actions of another. They collapse the distinction between seeing and doing.

This suggests that when I watch Kobe glide to the basket for a dunk, a few deluded cells in my premotor cortex are convinced that I, myself, am touching the rim. And when he hits a three pointer, my mirror neurons light up as I've just made the crucial shot. They are what bind me to the game, breaking down that 4th wall separating fan from player. I'm not upset because my team lost: I'm upset because it literally feels like I lost, as if I had been on the court.

Eleven things I learned this week, 06

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

According to the Meth Project Foundation, one of the warning signs that you may have a problem with meth is that you are "using more meth than intended". [The Meth Project]

A household with income under $13,000 spends, on average, $645 a year on lottery tickets, about 9 percent of all income. [NY Times]

The food service operation at the House of Representatives, under private control since the 80s, is significantly more popular than the federally run Senate food service operation. The Senate recently voted to privatize their service as well. [Washington Post]

After John Glenn ran for president in 1984, he struggled for more than 20 years to pay off his campaign debt of $3 million. [NY Times]

The Mars Phoenix Mission has cost $420,000,000 so far. That's about $1/mile, about the same cost per mile as driving an SUV. Not bad, NASA! [Charisma 18]

A new form of nanopaper is stronger than cast iron and nearly as strong as structural steel. [New Scientist]

Organic milk often keeps longer than regular milk because a lot of the organic product is ultra pasteurized. [Scientific American]

MLB teams are losing road games at a rate not seen since the 1930s. According to an anonymous GM, the reason for the increased home field advantage is that last year's ban on amphetamines is finally taking hold, leaving traveling players with one less option for feeling peppier after 5 hours on a plane through 3 timezones. [The Frontal Cortex]

The Japanese words for a person obsessed with Muji is Mujirer. [The Moment]

The number of condoms available for use, free of charge, this year at McMurdo base in Antarctica: almost 16,500.

News flash! Most bridesmaids don't like their bridesmaid dresses. [The Onion

(Check out all of the past installments of this feature here.)

How to improve your home cooking

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

The top ten home cooking mistakes. The name of the post is something of a misnomer...it's really a list of suggestions to improve your home cooking.

2. A real knife. You can do a lot with a good chef's knife, and you can't do shit without one. It doesn't have to be an expensive model; America's Test Kitchen has recommended this Victorinox 8" chef's knife (or its 10" version, about a buck cheaper!) for years, although I have grown accustomed to the handles on my Henckels Four-Star knives. Buy a good chef's knife that feels comfortable in your hand, with a blade 8 to 9 inches long, and buy a honing steel to keep it sharp. Avoid home sharpeners, though, which "sharpen" your blade by destroying it.

(thx, andrew)

2600 book

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 13, 2008

2600, the hacker's quarterly magazine, is publishing a best-of book compiling their most interesting and controversial articles.

Since its introduction in January of 1984, 2600 has been a unique source of information for readers with a strong sense of curiosity and an affinity for technology. The articles in 2600 have been consistently fascinating and frequently controversial. Over the past couple of decades the magazine has evolved from three sheets of loose-leaf paper stuffed into an envelope (readers "subscribed" by responding to a notice on a popular BBS frequented by hackers and sending in a SASE) to a professionally produced quarterly magazine. At the same time, the creators' anticipated audience of "a few dozen people tied together in a closely knit circle of conspiracy and mischief" grew to a global audience of tens of thousands of subscribers.

Only 888 pages. (via bb)

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

This is a page from a book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Any guesses as to when it was published? The title, Latin text, yellowed paper, and lack of page numbers might tip you off that it wasn't exactly released yesterday. Turns out that Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in 1499, more than 500 years ago and only 44 years after Gutenberg published his famous Bible. It belongs to a group of books collectively referred to as incunabula, books printed with a printing press using movable type before 1501.

To contemporary eyes, the HP looks almost modern. The text is very readable. The typography, layout, and the way the text flows around the illustration; none of it looks out of the ordinary. When compared to other books of the time (e.g. take a look at a page from the Gutenberg Bible), its modernity is downright eerie. The most obvious difference is the absence of the blackletter typeface. Blackletter was a popular choice because it resembled closely the handwritten script that preceded the printing press, and I imagine its use smoothed the transition to books printed by press. HP dispensed with blackletter and instead used what came to be known as Bembo, a humanist typeface based on the handwriting of Renaissance-era Italian scholars. From a MIT Press e-book on the HP:

One of the features of the Hypnerotomachia that has attracted the attention of scholars has been its use of the famed Aldine "Roman" type font, invented by Nicholas Jenson but distilled into an abstract ideal by Francesco Biffi da Bologna, a jeweler who became Aldus's celebrated cutter. This font — generally viewed as originating in the efforts of the humanist lovers of belles-lettres and renowned calligraphers such as Petrarch, Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolo Niccoli, Felice Feliciano, Leon Battista Alberti, and Luca Pacioli, to re-create the script of classical antiquity — appeared for the first time in Bembo's De Aetna. Recut, it appeared in its second and perfected version in the Hypnerotomachia.

In that way, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is both a throwback to Roman times and an indication of things to come.

The MIT Press site also notes a number of other significant aspects of the book. As seen above, illustrations are integrated into the main text, allowing "the eye to slip back and forth from textual description and corresponding visual representation with the greatest of ease". In his 2006 book, Beautiful Evidence, Edward Tufte says:

Overall, the design of Hypnerotomachia tightly integrates the relevant text with the relevant image, a cognitive integration along with the celebrated optical integration.

Several pages in the book make use of the text itself to illustrate the shapes of wine goblets. The HP also contained aspects of film, comics, and storyboarding...successive illustrations advanced action begun on previous pages:

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

All of which makes the following puzzling:

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most unreadable books ever published. The first inkling of difficulty occurs at the moment one picks up the book and tries to utter its tongue-twisting, practically unpronounceable title. The difficulty only heightens as one flips through the pages and tries to decipher the strange, baffling, inscrutable prose, replete with recondite references, teeming with tortuous terminology, choked with pulsating, prolix, plethoric passages. Now in Tuscan, now in Latin, now in Greek — elsewhere in Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and hieroglyphs — the author has created a pandemonium of unruly sentences that demand the unrelenting skills of a prodigiously endowed polyglot in order to be understood.

It's fascinating that a book so readable, so beautifully printed, and so modern would also be so difficult to read. If you'd like to take a crack at it, scans of the entire book are available here and here. The English translation is available on Amazon.

HD makeup

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

A company called Cargo Cosmetics makes a line of makeup called blu_ray for use by people appearing on high-definition TV or film.

Developed in response to the needs of makeup artists shooting in high definition, these specialized products work for high-def and are ideal for perfecting the skin while still giving a natural look.

Available at Sephora. Has anyone used this? Does it work? Email me. (thx, doug)

Christopher Hitchens on gentrification

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

Christopher Hitchens, worried about tall buildings carelessly built in the West Village of Manhattan, makes his case for non-gentrification.

It isn't possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of — in no special order — insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

Goth Tweety

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

The huge media conglomerates are re-imagining their cash-cow brands like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Strawberry Shortcake for today's generation of kids. Poochie, anyone?

You want a dark, Goth version of Tweety Bird? Have at it.

This isn't going to end well.

Moving Mario

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

Moving Mario: imagine Super Mario Bros as created by Michel Gondry. Check out the video to get the gist.

Architecture scavenger hunt

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

A wonderful story about how an architect took it upon himself to build a scavenger hunt into one of his client's apartments, all without telling them.

Finally, one day last fall, more than a year after they moved in, Mr. Klinsky received a letter in the mail containing a poem that began:

We've taken liberties with Yeats
to lead you through a tale
that tells of most inspired fates
iin hopes to lift the veil.

The letter directed the family to a hidden panel in the front hall that contained a beautifully bound and printed book, Ms. Bensko's opus. The book led them on a scavenger hunt through their own apartment.

And it wasn't an easy hunt either.

In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes, which, when the correct ones were used, yielded drawers containing acrylic letters and a table-size cloth imprinted with the beginnings of a crossword puzzle, the answers to which led to one of the rectangular panels lining the tiny den, which concealed a chamfered magnetic cube, which could be used to open the 24 remaining panels, revealing, in large type, the poem written by Mr. Klinsky.

(thx, john)

Soap opera birth control

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 12, 2008

In Brazil, soap operas, and specifically the small families they depicted, might have been a form of birth control, lowering the fertility of the audience:

In 1960, the average Brazilian woman had 6.3 children. By 2000, the fertility rate was down to 2.3. The decline was comparable to China's, but Brazil didn't have a one-child policy. In fact, for a while it was even illegal to advertise contraceptives.

Many factors account for the drop in Brazilian fertility, but one recent study identified a factor most people probably wouldn't consider: soap operas (novelas). Novelas are huge in Brazil, and the network Rede Globo effectively has a monopoly on their production...

Using census data from 1970 to 1991 and data on the entry of Rede Globo into different markets, the researchers found that women living in areas that received Globo's broadcast signal had significantly lower fertility. (And yes, the study did control for all sorts of factors and addressed the concern that the entry of Globo might have been driven by trends that also contribute to fertility decline. I'll spare you the gory econometric details.) Additionally, people in areas with Globo's signal were more likely to name their children after novela characters, suggesting that it was the novelas specifically, and not TV in general, that influenced childbearing.

Update (by jkottke): The Sabido Method:

Named after the pioneer in application of this entertainment-education strategy, Miguel Sabido, the Sabido Method is based on character development and plot lines that provide the audience with a range of characters that they can engage with — some good, some not so good — and follow as they evolve and change. Sabido developed this methodology when we was Vice President for Research at Televisa in Mexico in the 1970s.

According to the Mexican government's national population council, a soap opera called Acompaname was responsible for large increases in people requesting family planning information, contraceptive sales, and enrollment in family planning clinics. From 1977 to 1986, when these soap operas were on, Mexico's population growth rate fell by 34%. The Sabido Method was also recently covered in the New Yorker. (thx, omegar)

David "The Wire" Simon's new show, Generation

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 12, 2008

David "The Wire" Simon's new show, Generation Kill, starts on HBO on July 13 and will continue for six Sundays after that.

The Death of Yugoslavia

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Rave review of a 1995 documentary on the Yugoslavian War called The Death of Yugoslavia.

Despite some criticism about the accuracy of translation, the series would be in my list of top ten documentaries of all time, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It unravels the mechanism of the sordid path of human conflict, from nationalism to genocide, like no other film before or since. It is the film that never was made about the holocaust.

Sounds like a candidate for True Films. All six parts are available on Google Video...start with part one.

Phone sex operators

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Slideshow of photos of phone sex operators by Phillip Toledano. (via waxy)

Photography before Photoshop

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Photographer Sam Haskins, well known for doing in-camera montage, briefly describes how composite photos were made in the time before Photoshop.

Its a single exposure with the model viewed through optical glass at 45° and the fabric positioned to the side. At the time there was zero retouching after the event. Now of course I have the luxury of scanning the transparency to clean and refine the image in Photoshop - God bless its digital socks.

Young girl shoots guns

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Video of a bunch of people (including what looks like a 8-yo girl) shooting the shit out of cars and stuff with fully automatic machine guns...the footage is from the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot & Trade Show.

KILL THE CAR is on of the favorite events we have here at OFASTS. In this event, there will be a car, loaded with explosives located on the far side of the shooting range. Anyone who wants, can participate, and try and "KILL THE CAR". Which basically means, try and blow it up first. It's a real BLAST!!

(via delicious ghost)

Horror vacui

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Any Wikipedia entry that references Adolf Wolfli is a friend of mine. Horror vacui:

Horror vacui is the filling of the entire surface of an artwork with ornamental details, figures, shapes, lines and anything else the artist might envision. It may be considered the opposite of minimalism.

(More of my friends here, apparently.)


posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Kevin Kelly on a fascinating concept called scenius. As defined by Brian Eno:

Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.

Kelly lists four factors that are important in nuturing scenius:

1. Mutual appreciation — Risky moves are applauded by the group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure.
2. Rapid exchange of tools and techniques — As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility.
3. Network effects of success — When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success.
4. Local tolerance for the novelties — The local "outside" does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.

Cory Doctorow interview

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Long but entertaining and informative interview with Cory Doctorow.

One of the things I've noticed about writing every day is that there are days when writing that page feels like flying. Like the hand of God reached down and touched my keyboard, and every word is just pure gold. And then there are days that I feel I'm writing absolute, totally forgettable junk that shouldn't have been committed to phosphors, let alone saved to disc. The thing is, a month later, you can't tell the difference. The difference between a day when it feels like you're writing brilliantly and a day when it feels like you're writing terribly is entirely in your head, it's not in the prose.

Champagne, an English invention

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

This phrase is attributed to French monk Dom Pierre Pérignon upon his discovery of Champagne:

Venez vite, je goûte les étoiles!

It's typically translated into English as:

Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!

Although Pérignon made important advances in sparkling wine production, a reproducible process for making sparkling wine (of which Champagne is one variety) was actually first described by an Englishman, Christopher Merret, some thirty years before. In a paper presented to the Royal Society, Merret noted that the addition of sugar to wine would result in a second fermentation, which made the wine sparkle.

Merret came to sparkling wine through his interest in glass. The process of secondary fermentation had been known since before medieval times but was not reproducible because the glass bottles would explode under the pressure. Using stronger English glass and sturdy corks, Merret was able to dependably reproduce the sparkling effect and publish the technique for anyone to do the same. A bit less glamorous than "drinking the stars" perhaps, but a deft illustration of the scientific method nonetheless.

BTW, Moët and Chandon, producers of the Dom Pérignon brand of Champagne, still perpetuate the myth that Dom Pérignon invented the method for making sparkling wine. From the DP web site:

Make "the best wine in the world." It took a visionary spirit and exceptional daring to set such an exalted ambition at the end of the 17th century. But vision and daring were second nature to Pierre Pérignon. Before him, there was only what was known as the wines of Reims, of La Montagne and of La Rivière, according to their origins in the Champagne region. With amazing intuition, Dom Pérignon was the first to see the fabulous promise of luxury. He took very ordinary wines and gave them body, spirit and grace. Through his efforts Champagne wine entered a new world.

Whatever helps you sell the Champers, I guess.


posted by Jason Kottke Jun 11, 2008

Tweetup n.

A real world meeting between two or more people who know each other through the online Twitter service.

I had a tweetup with my wife this morning. And last night. And the day before that. TMI?

Ice lickin' hot

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

It's been hot in NYC for the past few days, but I don't know if it was ice-lickin' hot.

Deborah Solomon goes straight

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

Is Deborah Solomon, the NY Times Magazine's notoriously irritating Q&A interviewer, turning over a new leaf? After complaints about her columns surfaced last fall, the NY Times public editor agreed that Solomon had not complied with the Times' policy of fairly representing the answers of her interviewees. Ben Wheeler noted that her most recent piece is an excellent straightforward interview with zero snarky asides or abusive questions.

If you point out when they suck, you gotta point out when they do well. On Sunday, Deborah Solomon's weekly NY Times Magazine interview was an excellent talk with Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota known for his Susan Jacobs/Scandinavian vision of urban planning. Solomon's old method, of inserting snide remarks and different questions after the fact, is gone; we can thank Ira Glass and Amy Dickinson (Ann Landers's successor) for that, since they complained when she did it to them. But beyond that change, Solomon here just asks good, sensible questions of an interesting subject.

Survival tips for the Middle Ages

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

I spend far too much of my life daydreaming about scenarios like this:

I wanted to ask for survival tips in case I am unexpectedly transported to a random location in Europe (say for instance current France/Benelux/Germany) in the year 1000 AD (plus or minus 200 years). I assume that such transportation would leave me with what I am wearing, what I know, and nothing else. Any advice would help.

To which Tyler Cowen replies:

Find someone who will take care of you for a few days or weeks and then look for employment in the local church. Your marginal product is quite low, even once you have learned the local language. You might think that knowing economics, or perhaps quantum mechanics, will do you some good but in reality people won't even think your jokes are funny. Even if you can prove Euler's Theorem from memory no one will understand your notation. I hope you have a strong back and an up to date smallpox vaccination.

The comments are full of informative and entertaining options. I side with the commenters who feel that the most likely outcome is death within a few days. Unless you're skilled at wilderness survival, finding edible food, shelter, and potable water in a time when those things were much more scarce than now will prove difficult. If you do manage to survive, maybe you could set up shop selling goods that people could use:

I'd start a shop that did nothing but boil water and then sell it. I'd market it as "de-spirited" water and sell it to midwives, priests, doctors - anyone who would be charged with the health of another. The boiled, micro-organism free water would dramatically improve the health outcomes for anyone with cholera or plague or infection. Even marginally better outcomes using clean water would bolster my reputation and business. Of course, barriers to entry would be pretty low in my business, but if I were widely copied, I'd start a health revolution. For that quantum timeline anyway.

Again, assuming you survive, other commenters suggest that you "invent" something, sell it, and become rich so that your wealth will insulate you from further problems, stuff like gunpowder, mass production, long bows, guns, soap, steel, the printing press, double-entry accounting, whiskey, capitalism, and hot air balloons. I'm skeptical of this approach...how many people living in the US know how to make gunpowder from scratch? Given enough time, I guess I could build a hot air balloon that actually flies and carries human passengers but anything involving chemistry would prove tougher.

How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.

Wooden bikes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

Kevin Kelly highlights wooden bikes from around the world, including those from Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Philippines.

Warren Buffett bets against hedge funds

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

Buffett to hedge fund managers: your customers would do better investing in a no-load index fund. To prove his point, Buffett has bet $1 million to that effect on Long Bets.

Costs skyrocket when large annual fees, large performance fees, and active trading costs are all added to the active investor's equation. Funds of hedge funds accentuate this cost problem because their fees are superimposed on the large fees charged by the hedge funds in which the funds of funds are invested.

A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.

iPhone 3G hangover

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

After yesterday's iPhone 3G revelry, the inevitable hangover. AT&T is done playing nice with iPhone customers. First off, the data plan for 3G is $10 more than the old plan. Second, in-store activation is required, "which takes 10-12 minutes"...with the old version of the iPhone, you could activate through iTunes and it took 2 minutes. (That means no online ordering of phones either.) Third, Apple and AT&T may be working on a purchase penalty for those who don't activate their phones within 30 days...so no more buying a phone to use on another network. Four: no prepaid plans. Yay?

No Americans allowed

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

A list of the top tourist spots that Americans can't visit.

Space photos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 10, 2008

Beautiful photos of the Space Shuttle lifting off and of earth from space. Check out the cloud wake and the thunderheads.

Mr. Pink on tipping

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Mr. Pink's thoughts on tipping from Reservoir Dogs.

Chris Gilmour

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Chris Gilmour makes intricate life-sized art entirely out of cardboard. Bikes, microscopes, cars, typewriters, wheelchairs, etc. (via fire wire)

Banana, the atheist's nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Man, I love this video. It's some guy explaining how the banana — "the atheist's nightmare" — so perfectly fits in the human hand and peels so easily that it must have been made by God**. Kirk Cameron listens intently. I can't wait for the followup video where he explains why watermelons don't have handles and what God was thinking when he built the coconut.

** Not that this guy cares or whatever, but the modern banana is a cultivated fruit...i.e. pressured by humans to, oh what's the word...evolve into its present form. And other varieties of bananas are smaller or larger and differently shaped. Some wild bananas have large hard seeds. I could go on....

JK Rowling's Harvard commencement address

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Transcript and video of JK Rowling's Harvard commencement address, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Imagination as Rowling perceives it is essential in telling other people's stories and is sorely missing in the media today. And the blogosphere can almost be defined by its lack of empathy. (thx, adriana)

2008 Democratic primary in 8 minutes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Video of the 2008 Democratic primary in 8 minutes.

Awesome recap...and mostly new to me because I didn't pay much attention to all the weighty issues that were bandied about during the whole thing. (via jakob)

Realtime Google stock prices

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Google is providing real-time stock prices now...no page refresh necessary. So you can, for instance, watch Apple's stock price drop after Jobs' keynote. Now I know how daytraders feel...I can't take my eyes off of the screen.

2008 WWDC Jobs keynote

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

What new brushed metal magic treats will Steve Jobs unveil this year at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference? Hover car? Neverlost keys? Orgasm pills? Electric pony? All that and more at 1pm ET....live blogging of Jobs' keynote at MacRumors, Mac Observer, Engadget, and Ars Technica (which includes a spectacularly nerdy photo of Gizmodo's Brian Lam and his liveblogging contraption). Let the games begin.

Update: Holy shit! Michael Sippey is on stage right now.

Update: Here's some live streaming audio of the keynote. This feels like cheating. (thx, andy)

Update: New iPhone announced with 3G, GPS, flush headphone jack (!!), thinner, cheaper, and better battery life. Price: $199 for 8 gig iPhone. $299 for 16 gig. Available in white.

Update: This is an interesting tech tidbit about how Apple fit all of those protocols into the phone:

iPhone 3G delivers UMTS, HSDPA, GSM, Wi-Fi, EDGE, GPS, and Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR in one compact device - using only two antennas. Clever iPhone engineering integrates those antennas into a few unexpected places: the metal ring around the camera, the audio jack, the metal screen bezel, and the iPhone circuitry itself. And intelligent iPhone power management technology gives you up to 5 hours of talk time over 3G networks.

Traffic zebras

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

A video clip of La Paz, Bolivia's crossing guard zebras, the Cebra Voluntaria. Traffic in La Paz is so dangerous that its mayor started a program to have youths dressed as zebras help people across the city's busiest intersections. From the recent issue of Monocle:

It doesn't get much busier than La Paz's Plaza San Francisco of a Friday afternoon. Two zebras stand on the curb chatting with a teenage girl. Then something remarkable happens: the traffic light turns red, and at the sight of the zebras, the cars actually stop. One driver, however, is a little slow and the nose of his car is left hanging over the crossing. One of the zebras skips over to the offending car and mimes pushing it backwards. Then he continues skipping across to the other side of the street.

Chicago Spire

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

The stunning Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire is due to be completed in 2011 and will, ahem, tower over the Sears Tower by more than 500 feet. Check out the view from the 140th floor.

Robert McCrum book biz summary

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Robert McCrum, the outgoing literary editor of The Observer, recently summed up the last decade in books in ten short chapters (with accompanying timeline).

People will argue about the decisive milestones (I have come up with my own 10, which I have set out in chapters), but there will be general agreement that, in Britain, a decade of change starts with the election of New Labour in 1997. That was also the year Random House launched its website, John Updike published a short story online and Vintage started a series of reading guides to encourage new book clubs. As well as new readers, the millennium saw the emergence of a new literary generation, writers born in the Sixties and Seventies, and few of them more fascinating than Zadie Smith...

McCrum also shares a tidbit about Malcolm Gladwell's first book which I'd never heard before.

The Tipping Point was almost a flop. It was published to mixed reviews in the US, did no serious business in the UK and was saved by — yes — word of mouth. After a dismal launch, and as a desperate last resort, Gladwell persuaded his American publisher to sponsor a US-wide lecture tour. Only then did the book 'tip'. Eventually, it would become a literary success of its time, turn its author into a pop cultural guru and spend seven years on the New York Times bestseller list. This was one of those pivotal moments that illustrates the story of this decade.

At the WH Smith shop at Heathrow last weekend, the paperback copy of The Tipping Point was still #5 on the business bestsellers list and nearly sold out.

Typographically inspired movie titles

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 09, 2008

Typographically inspired movie titles, including Full Meta Jacket, Bembo: First Blood, and He-Man and the Masters of the Univers.

Six things I learned this week, 05

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

China consumes half of the world's instant noodles and uses 10% of its annual wheat crop for instant ramen. [Monocle]

The average German dreams of stripping the woodchip wallpaper and laying down cherry or walnut parquet. ??? [The Observer]

Ferrari is now offering carbon-ceramic brakes as standard equipment on their cars. They're more expensive but they stop the car faster, last longer, are lighter, and don't rust. [Intelligent Life]

Neurosurgeons don't hold mobile phones to their ears. [NY Times]

A black Japanese watermelon recently sold for $6,100. [AP]

Lost and found: 1) a Massachusetts lighthouse missing since 1925 turned up in California and 2) an Egyptian pyramid discovered in the 1840s and subsequently lost again was recently rediscovered.

Freefall survival tips

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

Some survival tips for your next unplanned freefall.

Snow is good — soft, deep, drifted snow. Snow is lovely. Remember that you are the pilot and your body is the aircraft. By tilting forward and putting your hands at your side, you can modify your pitch and make progress not just vertically but horizontally as well. As you go down 15,000 feet, you can also go sideways two-thirds of that distance — that's two miles! Choose your landing zone. You be the boss.

If your search discloses no trees or snow, the parachutist's "five-point landing" is useful to remember even in the absence of a parachute. Meet the ground with your feet together, and fall sideways in such a way that five parts of your body successively absorb the shock, equally and in this order: feet, calf, thigh, buttock, and shoulder. 120 divided by 5 = 24. Not bad! 24 mph is only a bit faster than the speed at which experienced parachutists land. There will be some bruising and breakage but no loss of consciousness to delay your press conference. Just be sure to apportion the 120-mph blow in equal fifths. Concentrate!

Update: See also this longer article from Popular Mechanics. (thx, hugo)

Tombstone barcodes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

Leave it to the Japanese to put barcodes on tombstones. Scannable by mobile phone, the tombstones can deliver images and video of the deceased to future mourners.

In addition to images of the deceased, people can view a greeting from the chief mourner at the funeral and browse through the guest book. They can also make entries using their cell phones.

Line Rider McDonald's commercial

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

Whoa, a TV commercial for McDonald's that features Line Rider. (via waxy)

XLERATOR hand dryer

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

On the subject of hand dryers (a hot popular topic, judging by the amount of email that post generated in my inbox), while on vacation, we also experienced the sheer power of the XLERATOR hand dryer (in a Heathrow bathroom). Where the Dyson Airblade is a bit clever as to how it dries your hands, the XLERATOR expels the damp from your mitts with great force...so forcefully that the skin flaps on your hands like this guy's face during high-g training. My wife feels the XLERATOR is the superior dryer. (thx, monsur)

Sasha Frere-Jones on Auto-Tune

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

Sasha Frere-Jones on Auto-Tune, the studio gizmo responsible for the cool/cheesy voice effects in Cher's Believe and, more recently, most of T-Pain's work.

T-Pain, who is currently working on his third album, "Thr33 Ringz," spoke to me on the phone from his studio in Miami. He first heard the Auto-Tune effect on a song by Jennifer Lopez — he doesn't remember which one — and borrowed it for a mixtape appearance in 2003. He says it's no trade secret that he uses Auto-Tune with the retune speed set to zero, and likes to recall a time he spent selling fish out of a truck with his father in Tallahassee: "My dad said, 'They can know what you're using, but they'll never know how to use it. They can see that we're using salt and pepper.'"

Frere-Jones demonstrates how Auto-Tune works in a short audio segment. Anil Dash wrote about Auto-Tune in the context of Snoop Dogg's recent Sensual Seduction video. A free Auto-Tune clone called GSnap is available for free.

I uploaded a few of Auto-Tune's greatest hits to my Muxtape: have a listen.

Robert Kennedy funeral train photos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

In July 1968, a train delivered the body of Robert Kennedy from NYC to Washington D.C. so that he could be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to his brother. Photographer Paul Fusco was on that train and shot a bunch of photos of the hundreds of thousands of people that spontaneously turned up along the train route to mourn Kennedy, photos that were recently rediscovered. Fusco narrates a slideshow of the photos.

Paul Fusco, Robert Kennedy Funeral Train Photos

The amazing photos will be on display at Danziger Projects from June 6 - July 31...Danziger has more about the photos — which he calls "my favorite body of work in photography" — on his blog.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I'll also tell you the only area where Paul and I disagreed. For Paul, the event and the photographs represented the end of hope. To me they represent the indomitability of the American spirit.

Either way, the photos are powerful but also show the ordinary American-ness of that time period.

New ATM interface

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

Case study: a new interface for Wells Fargo's ATMs.

The new UI still offers the Quick Cash feature, but in a much smarter way. Instead of one Quick Cash button, we introduced a whole column of shortcut buttons that behave somewhat like the History menu in a web browser. It is still possible to customize them through Set My ATM Preferences, but hardly necessary since they always reflect the most recent transactions.

(via magnetbox)

Radiohead's Nude played by old computer hardware

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

An inventive cover version of Radiohead's Nude played by the following instruments: Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer, Epson dot matrix printer, HP Scanjet scanner, and an array of hard drives. Skip ahead to 1:08 if you can't wait through the opening. This isn't the correct technological time period to be steampunk. Bitpunk anyone? (via waxy)

The lost rivers of London

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 06, 2008

For my London peeps: a map of the lost rivers of London.

Spotting fake photos

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

Five ways to spot a faked photo. Comparing the light reflection in the various eyes in a photograph is an especially clever technique.

Radiohead on iTunes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

After months/years of the band putting the kibosh on it, Radiohead albums are finally available through iTunes. (The albums have been available at Amazon's MP3 store for months.)

Early movie reviews

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

Russian writer Maxim Gorky wrote one of the first movie reviews in 1896 after seeing a collection of Lumiere films. Film/sound editor Walter Murch introduces the piece:

It is written on a completely clear slate, by someone who had not already been taught how to regard the cinema by a thousand other writers, and the newness of it all leaps from the page. What is remarkable is Gorky's prescience in the last two paragraphs, as he leaps ahead from his description of the first films to speculation on what directions the cinema might eventually take, toward sex and violence. How did he know?

The bulk of Gorky's short review concerns the absence of color and sound from the films, as if he's viewing shadows of reality.

Their smiles are lifeless, even though their movements are full of living energy and are so swift as to be almost imperceptible. Their laughter is soundless although you see the muscles contracting in their grey faces. Before you a life is surging, a life deprived of words and shorn of the living spectrum of colours — the grey, the soundless, the bleak and dismal life.

In a collection of accounts of new technology, the NY Times has a pair of film reviews, the first from the Paris debut of the Lumiere films in 1895:

Photography has ceased to record immobility. It perpetuates the image of movement. When these gadgets are in the hands of the public, when anyone can photograph the ones who are dear to them, not just in their immobile form, but with movement, action, familiar gestures and the words out of their mouths, then death will no longer be absolute, final.

And this one from the projectionist of the first Lumiere in NYC:

You had to have lived these moments of collective exaltation, have attended these thrilling screenings in order to understand just how far the excitement of the crowd could go. With the flick of a switch, I plunge several thousand spectators into darkness. Each scene passes, accompanied by tempestuous applause; after the sixth scene, I return the hall to light. The audience is shaking. Cries ring out.

The Times also has a short article previewing the debut of Thomas Edison's vitascope1, which demonstrates the difficulty in describing this new technology to the public.

The vitascope projects upon a large area of canvas groups that appear to stand forth from the canvas, and move with great facility and agility, as though actuated by separate impulses. In this way the bare canvas before the audience becomes instantly a stage upon which living beings move about.

Vitascope advertisement

That sounds a bit boring but audiences loved it.

So enthusiastic was the appreciation of the crowd long before this exhibition was finished that vociferous cheering was heard. There were loud calls for Mr. Edison, but he made no response.

By 1898, the language of cinema was beginning to sort itself out, more or less, as this Times editorial notes.

All the resources of the word-builders see to have been exhausted in finding names for the simple but ingenious machine that throws moving pictures on a screen. The essential features in every device of this sort are the same — a brilliant light before which a long band of minute photographs is rapidly drawn, and a lens to focus and distribute the rays properly. The arrangements for the manipulation of the light, the band, and the lens are numerous, but they vary only in the inconsequential details, and for all practical purposes the machines are identical. Some mysterious impulse, however, has impelled almost every purchaser of the apparatus to buy with it, or to invent for it, a distinctive name. Vitascope and biograph are most familiar here, with cinematograph coming next at a considerable distance. These hardly begin the list that might be formed from a careful study of the amusement advertisements in the papers of this and other countries. From such sources might be taken phantoscope, criterioscope, kinematograph, wondorscope, animatoscope, vitagraph, panoramograph, cosmoscope, anarithmoscope, katoptikum, magniscope, zoeoptrotrope, phantasmagoria projectoscope, variscope, cinograph, cinnomonograph, hypnoscope, centograph, and xograph. This is far from exhausting the supply. Electroscope exists, and so do cinagraphoscope, animaloscope, theatrograph, chronophotographoscope, motograph, rayoscope, motorscope, kinotiphone, thromotrope, phenakistoscope, venetrope, vitrescope, zinematograph, vitropticon, stinnetiscope, vivrescope, diaramiscope, corminograph, kineoptoscope, craboscope, vitaletiscope, cinematoscope, mutoscope, cinoscope, kinetograph, lobsterscope, and nobody knows how many more. Here, surely, is a curious development of the managerial mind.

Kinetoscope advertisement

It's difficult to read these accounts and not think about how we'll all sound in 100 years as we now attempt to explain the internet, mobile phones, the web, blogs, and the like.

[1] Edison didn't actually invent the vitascope. Thomas Armat sold the rights to his invention to The Edison Company on the condition that Edison could claim to have invented it.

Killer automobiles

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

The average U.S. citizen completely ignores the regularity with which the automobile kills him, maims him, embroils him with the law and provides mobile shelter for rakes intent on seducing his daughters. He takes it into his garage as fondly as an Arab leading a prize mare into his tent. He woos it with Simoniz, Prestone, Ethyl and rich lubricants — and goes broke trading it in on something flashier an hour after he has made the last payment on the old one.

By last week, this peculiar state of mind had not only sucked thousands of American oil wells dry, stripped the rubber groves of Malaya, produced the world's most inhuman industry and its most recalcitrant labor union, but had filled U.S. streets with so many automobiles that it was almost impossible to drive one. In some big cities, vast traffic jams never really got untangled from dawn to midnight; the bray of horns, the stink of exhaust fumes, and the crunch of crumpling metal eddied up from them as insistently as the vaporous roar of Niagara.

That's from Time magazine in 1947. (thx, david)

Prediction: Lakers in six

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

The NBA Finals start tonight, pitting the LA Lakers against the Boston Celtics. Despite having finished with the best regular season record in the league, the Celtics find themselves underdogs against the Lakers, who ripped through the tough Western conference bracket with little difficulty. I'm going with the majority on this one: Lakers in six games (possibly even five) and continued heartbreak for New England fans after the high of the Red Sox's second World Series victory last season.

Swiss Made

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

From an article in Monocle about the Baselworld watch fair.

Swiss watch brands are patriotic to a fault. Rolex is one of the few high-end manufacturers that does not stamp "Swiss Made" on the watch face in the belief that Rolex defines Switzerland rather than the other way around.

Now *that's* a brand.

Warren Buffett book recommendations

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

Pay attention: ten books on investing recommended by Warren Buffett.

Moneyball works

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 05, 2008

Every year or so, the same question is asked: how is the Moneyball strategy working out for the Oakland A's. This year's answer is: pretty damn good.

Additions like [Frank] Thomas, motivated by this incremental approach, help explain why the A's have won so many games in recent years even though they've consistently traded away or declined to re-sign their top players (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, etc.), who demand top dollar—and largely on the basis of past performance. In short, Beane has bought low and sold high repeatedly and systematically, and as a result the A's have won more games this decade than every team in the league except the Yankees (whose team payroll is routinely two-to-four times larger than Oakland's).

Check out the current positions of the A's and Yankees on the salary vs. performance graph.

No professing about it

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

We were talking about the cocksure Christopher Hitchens at lunch today and when I get back to my desk, a link to an interview with Hitchens appears in my newsreader.

Oh, and I do not "profess" to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

(via clusterflock)

Big Picture

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

Big Picture is a fantastic and dead-simple new site from boston.com. Each entry tells a story through high-quality newswire images displayed at large sizes; recent entries include a look at Saturn from the Cassini space probe and the daily lives of soldiers in Afghanistan. If you're frustrated by the tiny news imagery we get spoon-fed to us on the web, this site will be a welcome addition to your daily browse. Alan Taylor, the project's instigator, has a post on his blog about Big Picture.

The sizes of the photographs are deliberately large - taking advantage of the majority of web users who have screens capable of displaying 1024x768 or larger. The long-held tradition of keeping images online tiny and lightweight is commendable still - when designing a general purpose site. But one dedicated to quality imagery should take full advantage of the medium, and I hope I've struck a good balance with The Big Picture.

When I see quality photography consigned to the archives, or when I see bandwidth readily given up to video streams of dubious quality, or when I see photo galleries that act as ad farms, punishing viewers into a click-click-click experience just to drive page views - those times are the times I'm glad I was able to get this project off the ground (many thanks to my friends within boston.com)

Natasha by Vladamir Nabokov

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

The New Yorker has some new fiction by Vladimir Nabokov that has never been published in English, a short story called Natasha. The story was recently uncovered and translated:

Written around 1924, when Nabokov was in his mid-twenties (five years after his family fled Russia, and two years after his father was assassinated in Berlin), it was discovered in the writer's archives at the Library of Congress a couple of years ago, and was translated by his son, Dmitri.

Placeholder name

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

A fantastic example of my favorite kind of Wikipedia entry: placeholder name.

Placeholder names are words that can refer to objects or people whose names are either irrelevant or unknown in the context in which it is being discussed.

Whatchamacallit, junk, widget, gizmo, Joe Blow, shitload, Podunk, and beer o'clock are all examples. Placeholder names are also used extensively in non-English languages.

The German equivalent to the English John Doe for males and Jane Doe for females would be Max Mustermann and Erika Mustermann, respectively. For many years, Erika Mustermann was used on the sample picture of German id-cards ("Personalausweis"). In Austria, Max Mustermann is used instead. Sometimes the term Musterfrau is used as the last name placeholder, possibly because it is felt to be more politically correct genderwise.

(via gulfstream)

Ladytron, Velocifero

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

The new Ladytron album almost slipped by me today. Almost.

TBS and their annoying interstitial commericials

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

Last night I was watching a rerun of Family Guy on TBS and right before the show went to commercial, this happened:

See what they did there? They paused the TV show, ran a little mini-commercial for some show that no one cares about, and then returned to the last two seconds of the segment before going to commercial. Jesus Christ. I realize that Time Warner doesn't actually care about the people who watch their shows and that television programs are just the networks' way of getting people to watch advertising, but this is too much. Do these things actually work or just piss people off in droves? Is there some marketing hot dog at Time Warner who thinks that Family Guy viewers want to watch the blue collar comedy stylings of Bill Engvall? I'm sorry that the DVR is ruining your business model, but can you kick the bucket a little more gracefully? (Digg this?)

Fast food not fattening

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

New paper: fast food doesn't make you fat.

When eating out, people reported consuming about 35 percent more calories on average than when they ate at home. But importantly, respondents reduced their caloric intake at home on days they ate out (that's not to say that people were watching their weight, since respondents who reported consuming more at home also tended to eat more when going out). Overall, eating out increased daily caloric intake by only 24 calories. The results for urban and suburban consumers were similar.

(via marginal revolution)

When Obama wins

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

We're one step closer to finding out what happens when Obama wins.

The cost of smoking

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 04, 2008

Yesterday, New York raised the tax on cigarettes by $1.25. With the previous taxes, the city tax of $1.25, and the variable pricing one sees at retail outlets around the city, people are now paying somewhere between $8 and $12 for a pack of cigarettes in NYC. Some smokers are understandably upset about the price but how does it compare to other enjoyments? If smoking a single cigarette takes five minutes and at $10 & 20 cigarettes per pack, smoking costs a smoker $6/hour. Some other NYC diversions, priced roughly by the hour:

Ice skating in Central Park: $4.25/hr
Yankees game (cheap seats): $5/hr
Smoking: $6/hr
Visit to MoMA: $8/hr
After-work drinks: $10/hr
Movie w/popcorn & soda: $11/hr
Dinner @ McDonald's: $11/hr
Dinner @ Daniel: $85/hr
Helicopter tour of NYC: $600/hr
Spitzer-grade call girl: $1000+/hr

For reference, NY State minimum wage is $7.15/hr. (Digg this?)

The Griffey card

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

The 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card is both coveted and widely available, which is odd for baseball cards (and other collectable items).

The Griffey card was the perfect piece of memorabilia at the perfect time. The number the card was given only furthered the prospect of his cardboard IPO. Junior was chosen to be card No. 1 by an Upper Deck employee named Tom Geideman, a college student known for his keen eye for talent. Geideman earned his rep by consistently clueing in the founders of The Upper Deck, the card shop where the business was hatched, on which players would be future stars. Geideman took the task of naming the player for the first card very seriously. Using an issue of Baseball America as his guide, Geideman knew that card No. 1 would belong to Gregg Jefferies, Sandy Alomar Jr., Gary Sheffield, or a long-shot candidate, the phenom they called "The Kid." It's probably the most thinking Geideman ever did compiling a checklist, save for the 1992 Upper Deck set when he assigned numbers that ended in 69 to players with porn-star-sounding names. (Dick Schofield at No. 269, Heathcliff Slocumb at No. 569, and Dickie Thon at No. 769.)

I still remember when I got my one and only "Griffey card" (as everyone called it then). My friend Derek and I ventured out in a downpour in response to a call from Al, the owner of our small town's only card shop. Al ran his shop out of his mother's garage; he was maybe 30 years old at the time, still lived with his mom, and was one of the nicest, most generous people I've ever met. He had half a box of Upper Deck packs that he'd procured from who knows where. Derek and I bought the lot at a slight markup over retail and opened them right there in the cold garage. We both got a Griffey that night; I've still got mine sheathed in a hard plastic case.

When I think back on how precious those cards were to me then and consider my current purchasing power relative to my 16-year-old self, I feel a giddy power in the realization that if I wanted to, I could go out right now and buy 10 or 20 Griffey cards. Gah, where's that eBay login info?

Update: Meet the man who owns over 400 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie cards.

Acronym jokes

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

Todd Levin on the non-funny of acronym jokes.

Ever find yourself in a room with a bunch of people, often at work, and you stumble across a mysterious acronym? Someone will recite the acronym and wonder, "what does that mean?" The instant this happens, a weird silence usually falls over the room as everyone revs up their minds, racing to be the first to construct a goofball interpretation of the acronym. Then someone will blurt one out, and soon all the remaining quickwits will follow with their own version. AND NONE OF THEM WILL BE FUNNY.

Sawdust demand

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

Has the housing downturn had a more-or-less direct effect on the rising price of milk?

I was in Vermont over the weekend and talking to a dairy farmer about the rising price of milk. I was surprised when she said that higher sawdust prices was one of the causes. Sawdust? Sawdust, it turns out, is used for bedding the cows and the price of dust has doubled in the past year. I surmise that the downturn in housing construction has meant a reduced demand for lumber and thus less sawdust.

Smokey the Bear is back

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

Smokey the Bear is back! And he's preventing forest fires in Uncanny Valley State Park!

Dyson Airblade

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

Discovered in the bathroom of Jamie Oliver's restaurant, Fifteen: the Dyson Airblade hand dryer. You stick your hands in and slowly draw them out through a thin jet of fast-moving air. Your hands are dry in about 8 seconds.

Update: Reports are coming from around the NYC metro area that the Dyson Airblade can be found quickly drying hands in the third-floor public bathrooms in the Time Warner Building. Fans of dry hands, the A, B, C, D, and 1 trains are available for your pilgrimage. (thx, all)

Interview: David Foster Wallace

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

On the occasion of the release of his 2000 Rolling Stone essay on John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign in unabridged and expanded book form, David Foster Wallace gives a short interview to the WSJ.

McCain himself has obviously changed [since the 2000 campaign]; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now — for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course — he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing. As part of the essay talks about, there's an enormous difference between running an insurgent Hail-Mary-type longshot campaign and being a viable candidate (it was right around New Hampshire in 2000 that McCain began to change from the former to the latter), and there are some deep, really rather troubling questions about whether serious honor and candor and principle remain possible for someone who wants to really maybe win.

(thx, bill)

FedEx Office

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

Kinko's is no more: FedEx is renaming the copy store chain to FedEx Office. Catchy!

Disney/Pixar progress

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

The NY Times has a look at the progress made by Disney since their 2006 acquisition of Pixar, a purchase some say Disney paid too much for.

"There is an assumption in the corporate world that you need to integrate swiftly," Mr. Iger said. "My philosophy is exactly the opposite. You need to be respectful and patient." Key to the successful integration, analysts say, has been Mr. Iger's decision to give incoming talent added duties. Instead of just buying Pixar and moving on, Mr. Iger understood what made the acquisition valuable, said Mr. Price, the author. "If you are acquiring expertise," he said, "then dispatch your newly purchased experts into other parts of the company and let them stretch their muscles."

It also sounds as though Pixar has loosened their high standards since the acquisition...they're outsourcing some animation, doing more sequels (Cars 2, presumably for the merchandising), and making several direct-to-DVD movies.

At the Tate Modern

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

I very much liked Gerhard Richter's Cage paintings on display at the Tate Modern.

Gerhard Richter, Cage

Part Pollack, part Rothko, part glitch art. From the Financial Times:

The six paintings are composed in his characteristic swiping, blurred style of over-painted and obliterated layers, fine-tuned nuances of grey and white worked through with coruscating colours — carmine, emerald, turquoise, cadmium yellow, fiery orange — dragged across the canvas, smeared, wiped, leaving fragments of beauty on cool but sensuous surfaces. They suggest rain and mist, instability and displacement, absence and endings, classical rigour and postmodern ruin. They echo the northern European palette of earnest darkness and piercing brightness that goes back to Grunewald and Caspar David Friedrich, but Richter is also a minimalist, a denier of meaning, ideals, personal signatures. He has named the works in honour of composer John Cage, in reference to his Lecture on Nothing — "I have nothing to say and I'm saying it."

Three other things I found interesting there:

1) Miroslaw Balka's 480x10x10, a sculpture consisting of used bars of soap held together by a stainless steel rope hanging from the ceiling. It's not often that contemporary art smells Zestfully Clean.

2) Jean Dubuffet's The Exemplary Life of the Soil (Texturology LXIII). The online image doesn't do it justice...the painting looked just like a slab of rock hanging on the wall.

3) The Turbine Room is an amazing, amazing space...I could have spent hours in there. I took this photo of Ollie attempting to take his first steps in the Turbine Room. Oh, and they've patched the cracks from Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth. The patching is shoddy...I wonder if that's on purpose as a permanent aftertaste of the artwork.

New Sigur Ros

posted by Jason Kottke Jun 03, 2008

New Sigur Rós album out on June 24.

the album title is translated into english as "with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly" with the english spelling of the icelandic album title being "med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust"

Pre-order at Amazon.

Hasta Lasagna

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

So Jason K., the man, the myth, is, as I write, crossing the Atlantic in one single bound, on his way back from merry olde England. Which means that I am going back to my long, cryogenic sleep, to dream about the finer things in life, such as Angela Lansbury's sexuality, dinosaur bones, lasers, and circuses. It's been fun while it's lasted. Many thanks to all of you kind enough to write in with nice things to say about my run, and thanks especially to JK. Until next time, I'll be at my own, slightly ruder blog, Delicious Ghost (which is dedicated to oddities and visual culture), and sundry other dead-tree places. Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reachin' for the stars.

Update: Thanks, Cliff...it's good to be home. And thanks for more than holding down the fort while I was away...I enjoyed reading kottke.org in my absence. -jkottke

Pringles coffin

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

The inventor of Pringles, who recently passed, was buried in a Pringles can. The man was clever marketer until the very end.

The singularity

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

IEEE Spectrum, which has quickly become a magazine as good as any out there—including the New Yorker, Wired, what have you—has a new issue devoted only to Kurzweil's idea of a singularity: That once computers possess greater-than-human intelligence, it will trigger a cascade of changes in how we live. So the question is, when will the singularity come, and from what arena? What are the limits and impetuses for it's development? The issue isn't a self-parody of futurism, but there's plenty of blow-your-mind angles:

On consciousness, we have John Horgan, whose book The Undiscovered Mind describes how the mind resists explanation. We also have Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi, neuroscientists who specialize in consciousness. Rodney Brooks, of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, weighs in on the future of machine intelligence. IEEE Spectrum journalism intern Sally Adee reports on a wildly ambitious effort, just gathering steam now, to map the human brain in enough detail to learn its secrets—and eventually re-create it. Robin Hanson, an economist, describes a future in which capitalist imperatives and technological capabilities drive each other toward a society that the word weird doesn't even begin to describe. Nanotechnology researcher Richard Jones, philosopher Alfred Nordmann, and semiconductor researcher Bill Arnold all consider aspects of singularitarian visions and explain where they're myopic.

Food and wine economics

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

Felix Salmon ponders why people for some reason tend not to pony up for good food, but will pony up for good wine:

Why does food behave in the opposite manner to wine, in this respect? The same bottle of wine, we know, will taste better the more expensive it is. Yet while price reassures us in the case of wine, and even intimidates us into liking the bottle more, it seems to serve no such role in the case of food, where we're much more likely to consider a high price a sign of being ripped off.

I've thought about this before; basically I refuse to pay a lot for wine but I'll pay a good deal for great food. My argument: Compare a $10 bottle of wine to $100 bottle of wine. If they're both great, the more expensive bottle won't be ten times more delicious. And either way, you're unlikely to notice the deliciousness after a glass and a half.

Compare that to a $10 plate of food versus a $40 plate of food. If you're careful with your restaurant choice, I'm betting the $40 plate of food potentially can be at least four times better than the cheaper one. (Though cheap, amazing meals are always out there.) And you'll probably enjoy every single bite. As a corollary, I really do think EVERY great restaurant, if they're as serious about their food as they are about their receipts, will offer cheap bottles on their menu. One example: Babbo. Though I think the restaurant isn't as great as it once was, Batali has always offered bottles below $40.

: I just remembered that even Per Se offers cheap bottles—$35, if I recall right—at dinner.

Update 2: After an interesting conversation I had with Michael, I got to thinking about what it might mean to say that one subjective experience—like the taste of a meal—is "four times" better than another. And I think there's a simple way to quantify it: Would you recall, with fondness, the experience of one four times as often as the experience of the other? Take my experience at Per Se, for example: I've told the story of that meal—the food, not the setting—many many times. At least 20 times as often as I've told people about the deliciousness of the duck at my favorite noodle shop. And the meal probably cost about 20 times more.

Magnetic fields art

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

A lovely video illustrating the magnetic fields that permeate the air in a laboratory.

Oscar Kokoschka

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

An amazing story about Oscar Kokoschka, one of the three great giants of Viennese expressionist art (the others being Klimt and Schiele). From The Nonist:

I wonder whether any of you have seen the film Lars and the Real Girl? It was a sweet, chaste sort of film considering its casting of a Real Doll as the female lead, and though I enjoyed it I couldn't help but spend its entire length being reminded of the altogether less sweet, less chaste, true life corollary of "Oscar and the Alma Doll."

Billboard demographics

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

I have lots of friends who make their living in advertising; I myself live off of it, indirectly. But nonetheless, I hate it by in large, and I always looked forward to time that new media would at least marginalize the extent of billboards and their visual pollution. Not even close. A new technology is adding the one thing that billboards have lacked: demographic data.

For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by—their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

I'm thinking that this will mean crazier and crazier billboards in every nook of big cities like NYC—big companies will see that the same demographics of a glossy magazine are available on select corners, on the cheap. And they'll respond by simply plastering ads on every inch of downtown New York that's still naked.

An editor of mine once told me his job was to "make something that kept the ads from sticking together." Now, perhaps the goal of every business on every street corner could be seen as providing a pleasant interlude between "ad impressions"?

Burn After Reading trailer

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

The trailer for the new Coen Brothers movie, Burn After Reading. It's straight up comedy. The Coen Brothers should have rights to punch up every script ever written by Hollywood.

Jeremy Bentham

posted by Cliff Kuang Jun 02, 2008

Inspired by the LOST finale, was reading up about Jeremy Bentham. He was an amazing guy—a former child prodigy (just like his friend and fellow paragon of Utilitarianism, J.S. Mill) and an astonishingly liberal thinker. He was also, among other things, the inventor of the panopticon and responsible for convincing Adam Smith to advocate letting interest rates regulate themselves. Moreover, he went out in style:

As requested in his will, his body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his "Auto-icon". Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith,[11] it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as "present but not voting".[12] Tradition holds that if the council's vote on any motion is tied, the auto-icon always breaks the tie by voting in favour of the motion.

The Auto-icon has always had a wax head, as Bentham's head was badly damaged in the preservation process. The real head was displayed in the same case for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks including being stolen on more than one occasion. It is now locked away securely.

The picture is priceless. The "cabinet" is more like a telephone booth, and Bentham looks like a ventriloquist's puppet. People were so tiny in the 19th century!

Tangentially related: The average man storming the Bastille in 1789 was 5 feet ZERO, and 100 pounds—he looked not like a valiant solider, but like a "thirteen year old girl." You'll learn that and more in Burkhard Bilger's fascinating article about height from a few years back.

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