Entries for September 2008 (October 2008 »    November 2008 »    December 2008 »    Archives)


Mad Men recaps

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

Andrew Johnston has been posting great meaty Mad Men reviews over at The House Next Door after each episode. Here's a two-fer that covers the last couple of installments. You can find the rest of the season 2 recaps here.

More on The Godfather restoration

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

Slate has more on the restored Godfather films I told you about last week.

Luckily, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a print of The Godfather that was in perfect condition. (This was the approved master print that Technicolor stored with the academy when the film was complete. It had never been shown in a theater.) So, when Harris & Co. did the digital color correction, they could use this print as a reference. They also worked side by side with Allen Daviau, a brilliant cinematographer who, in turn, consulted by phone with Willis himself. (Harris is a stickler for this sort of thing. When he restored Hitchcock's Vertigo, he asked Jaguar to send him a color chip from the 1957 model of one of its cars — the same car that Kim Novak drove in the film — so that he could match the shade of green exactly.)

If you don't want to buy/rent the films, Film Forum in New York is playing the restored films through next Tuesday with other theaters around the country to follow.

Whiteboard Tower Defense

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

Fans of Desktop Tower Defense, if you're tired of the same old boards and enemies, check out Whiteboard Tower Defense. Can you feel that? The afternoon slipping away? (via buzzfeed)

Balanced shelves

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

Daniel Eatock's counterbalancing shelves.

5 pine planks (each 6 feet), 5 metal brackets, tools and materials from the gallery utility closet or found on the gallery grounds. Each of the five shelves that comprise this work is balanced on a single bracket. All maintain their level balance by the precise placement of the objects they bear.

With a little more conceptual work and product placement, he could have turned this into a piece about consumerism and the collapse of the networked global economy blah blah blah.


posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

Great but waaaay too short article about how Heather Champ and the rest of the Flickr staff build, police, and shape community on the site.

Director of Community Heather Champ doesn't just guard the pool and blow the occasional whistle; it's a far more delicate, and revealing, dance that keeps the user population here happy, healthy and growing. In addressing that question of how much to police and how much to let things be, Champ oversees an experiment that, outside some far-flung and sandy exceptions, one rarely sees in such detail. There are no IEDs or snipers in this place, but it's hard not to conclude Flickr's conducting a kind of nation-building.

Flickr is an inspiring example of how to run a community site in an era where other sites almost delight in taking zero responsibility for what goes on in their comments and forums.

Scariest movies?

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

In preparation for a panel at the New Yorker Festival, Ben Greenman put together a list of the five scariest movies of all time. I've never seen a horror movie (unless Blair Witch Project counts) so Silence of the Lambs would be my top pick.

Map of the market: here be dragons

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 30, 2008

While following the market yesterday, I updated my Twitter account after a particularly precipitous mid-afternoon drop in the DJIA:

The DJIA trend line just kinda disappeared off the bottom of the chart there into Here Be Monsters territory about 30 minutes ago.

I meant "here be dragons" but you get the idea. Anyway, a reader sent in this chart that captures what many were feeling after the market closed.

Here Be Dragons

The Sea of Dread, indeed. (thx, margaret)

John Hodgman on his unique celebrity

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

In an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman shares how he became a famous minor television personality and how he deals with all that fame.

As a matter of fact, sometimes now, if I'm feeling tired or a little sad, I'll go put on my UPS-man outfit and hit the subway. I'll hope that maybe someone will recognize me. It's very embarrassing, isn't it? But most of the time, it doesn't happen. No matter how crowded it is, no one says anything. They are reading, talking, thinking about where the train is taking them next. They don't say anything to me at all. And that's when I sit back, and look at them all, and think to myself: Don't any of you have a television? What THE FUCK is wrong with you people? I'M SITTING RIGHT HERE!

Some of this is from a bit Hodgman did for an episode of This American Life earlier this year.

What the financial crisis means for high-end prostitutes

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

High-end prostitutes see an uptick in business — for a few months anyway — during times of financial hardship and crisis.

Their clients were coming to them for a mix of escape and encouragement. As Jean, a New Yorker and a 35-year-old former paralegal turned "corporate escort" (her description) told me, "I had about two dozen men who started doubling their visits with me. They couldn't face their wives, who were bitching about the fact they lost income. Men want to be men. All I did was make them feel like they could go back out there with their head up."

Indeed, forty percent of encounters between high-end prostitutes don't involve sex...like therapy with occasional benefits.

Taxicab confessions

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

Kent Nerburn on a cab ride he'll never forget.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

(via dooce)

26 actors who deserve better careers

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

A list of actors who deserve better careers. Quentin Tarantino should do a film starring all of these actors and raise their boats like he did with John Travolta.

Squirt gun battles on the streets of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

On the streets of New York City, a (squirt) gun battle rages.

"I told my doorman that if he sees anyone suspicious with a water pistol, then he's not to let them in the building," Mr. Deane said. He shaved the beard he wore for the picture his pursuer is carrying. He is considering borrowing a wheelchair to use as part of a disguise. By Friday evening, he had logged four kills; he was one of 16 players left. "I've been walking around like a crazy person," he said, "wondering when they're going to get me." His wife, who works promoting nightclubs, is very patient about the whole thing.

Oh, and people use umbrellas as shields! The final day of StreetWars is today. (Tried to work in a "don't make me go all Evian on your ass" joke but failed. (Or did I?))

What photographers see

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

Five noted photographers choose films they've been influenced by. Blue Velvet appears on more than one list.

Mad Men places

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

The Washington Post takes a stroll through Manhattan, circa the Mad Men era.

Sterling Cooper, as every fan with a pause button knows, is at 405 Madison Ave., an address that...does not exist. If it did exist, it would be where a bank of Chase ATMs is now, not the ideal spot to spend the morning, but don't worry, soon it will be 11:30 and time for your first cocktail.

One place the article doesn't mention is Lutèce, the fancy French place frequented by the bigwigs in the show. It closed in 2004. (thx, jake)

40 years of food in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

As part of their monster 40th anniversary celebration, New York magazine has some notes from the past four decades of food and dining in NYC. Gael Greene remembers her favorite meal as a restaurant critic and also lists the 14 most important NYC restaurants over the past 40 years. No Union Square Cafe? Meyer deserves some credit for taking the stuffiness out of NYC dining.

Legendary chef André Soltner and David Chang share a conversation about the state of food in the city. When Soltner was asked if he did interviews, he replied:

If they came to Lutèce, if they came to my kitchen, yes. I would not go out. If they asked me to go to Chicago to do a fund-raising dinner, it was, "No." If they asked me to come to give me a prize or whatever, I said, "Only on Sundays, when I'm not in the kitchen." I was sort of a slave to my restaurant. And my wife too. I don't say it was right. Today, I maybe say it was wrong. Years ago, in Paris, we had no money. But when we were more comfortable, maybe twenty years later, I said, "Simone, you know, you've paid your dues and everything, I buy you whatever you wish." I was thinking to buy her a ring or a necklace or something like that. "Whatever you wish, tell me." She looked at me and said, "Take me to a movie." For twenty years, I hadn't taken her to a movie. I woke up. I said, "Oh my God, what did I do to my wife?"

And finally but wonderfully, a timeline of food in NYC. The first McDonald's opened here in 1972 and Starbucks in 1994. Hanger steak was big in 1990.

Illegal toilet seats

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 29, 2008

As a companion to an offline article about illegal logging, the New Yorker has a video that traces illegally cut wood in Russia to distribution and manufacturing centers in China and eventually a finished toilet seat is shipped to Wal-Mart in the US.

Michael Lewis' mansion

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

Michael Lewis rents a mansion in New Orleans and finds in the experience a parable about the thirst of Americans for better housing than they can afford, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the ensuing financial panic.

The real moral is that when a middle-class couple buys a house they can't afford, defaults on their mortgage, and then sits down to explain it to a reporter from the New York Times, they can be confident that he will overlook the reason for their financial distress: the peculiar willingness of Americans to risk it all for a house above their station. People who buy something they cannot afford usually hear a little voice warning them away or prodding them to feel guilty. But when the item in question is a house, all the signals in American life conspire to drown out the little voice. The tax code tells people like the Garcias that while their interest payments are now gargantuan relative to their income, they're deductible. Their friends tell them how impressed they are-and they mean it. Their family tells them that while theirs is indeed a big house, they have worked hard, and Americans who work hard deserve to own a dream house. Their kids love them for it.

(thx, kabir)

The class of 2012 is super wired

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

Out of 438 incoming freshman students at Amherst College, 432 of them are on Facebook and only 5 have landlines.

6. Number of students in the class of 2012 who brought desktop computers to campus: 14.
7. Number that brought iPhones/iTouches: 93.
8. Likelihood that a student with an iPhone/iTouch is in the class of 2012: approximately 1 in 2.

Another interesting stat: 94% of all incoming email is spam. (via cd)

Fashion Week review

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

Molly Young of n+1 takes in some shows at New York Fashion Week.

You can tell who is destined for the tents by their appearance. It's not that fashion people dress the same or even splashily, but rather that every one of them possesses an uncanny sartorial self-awareness. You get the sense that they have arrived at their outfits and hairstyles after painstaking analysis of personal flaws and assets cross-indexed with current trends.

(via 3qd)

All sorts of accents

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

The speech accent archive:

The speech accent archive uniformly presents a large set of speech samples from a variety of language backgrounds. Native and non-native speakers of English read the same paragraph and are carefully transcribed. The archive is used by people who wish to compare and analyze the accents of different English speakers.

See also the International Dialects of English Archive.

The most interesting boring photos on Flickr

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

The most interesting boring photos on Flickr (i.e. the "boring" tag sorted by interestingness). Got this from ni9e, although he used a slightly different technique.

Tech conference panels suck

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

Dan Lyons (né Fake Steve Jobs) explains why panels at tech conferences are so pointless.

Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over... It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.

The irony of the post is that many of the blogs in Lyons' list of "Things I Read" in the sidebar are like that panel, only in blog form.

Momofuku Ko reservation yours for the taking

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

Ok folks, there's a reservation for 4 people for lunch today at Momofuku Ko that has been sitting there since last night. Snap it up, it's yours!

Update, 10:21am: It's still there. This is insanity!

Update, 10:46am: Still there!! The financial crisis is taking its toll...no one wants to spend $160 per person on lunch today.

Update, 11:25am: 35 minutes until lunch...looks like they might have empty seats. Walk-in? (Unless this is some sort of weird software bug.)

How to land a 747

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 26, 2008

A checklist for landing a 747, presumably in a emergency.

1. Get on the radio, and tell whoever's listening that you are landing a 747.

Muxtape v1.0, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

As anticipated, Muxtape was unable to maintain its original form under assault from the RIAA and slow moving legal negotiations with the labels.

The first red flag came in August. Up until then all the discussion had been about numbers, but as we closed in on an agreement the talk shifted to things like guaranteed placement and "marketing opportunities." I was denied the possibility of releasing a mobile version of Muxtape. My flexibility was being constricted. I had been worried about Muxtape getting a fair deal, but my biggest concern all along was maintaing the integrity and experience of the site (one of the reasons I wanted to license in the first place). Now it wasn't so simple; I had agreed to a variety of encroachments into Muxtape's financials because I wanted to play ball, but giving up any kind of editorial or creative control was something I had a much harder time swallowing.

Instead, the site will become more of a stripped-down MySpace for bands wanting to put their music online. Disappointing because Muxtape, as originally conceived, was obviously what everyone but the "music industry" wanted. Some of that simplistic magic will likely transfer over to the new incarnation but it won't be as cool as mix tapes for your pals. (thx, mark)

Update: For posterity, I'm pasting Justin's whole note in here.

I love music. I believe that for people who love music, the desire to share it is innate and crucial for music itself. When we find a song we love, we beckon our friends over to the turntable, we loan them the CD, we turn up the car stereo, we put it on a mixtape. We do this because music makes us feel and we want someone else to feel it, too.

The story of Muxtape began when I had a weekly show at my university's radio station in Oregon. In addition to keeping the station's regular log I compiled my playlists into a web page, with each show represented by a simple block that corresponded to a cassette recording for that week. At the time, mixtapes were already well into their twilight, but long after my show ended I couldn't stop thinking about how the playlist page served a similar purpose, and in many ways served it better. Like a mixtape, each playlist was a curated group that was greater than the sum of its parts. Unlike a mixtape, it wasn't constrained by any physical boundaries of dissemination, but... it also didn't contain any actual music. Someone might come across the page and smile knowingly at the songs they knew, but shifting the burden of actually compiling the mix to its intended listener defeated the purpose entirely.

Five years later, internet technology had advanced significantly. I was working on experimental user interfaces for web sites when I started thinking about that playlist page again, and ultimately set out to bring it to life. My desire to share music (in the mixtape sense) hadn't gone anywhere, but the channels to do so were becoming extinct. Popular blogging services allow you to post audio files in an ephemeral sort of way, but it wasn't the context I was looking for. A physical cassette tape in your hands has such an insistent aesthetic; just holding one makes you want to find a tape player to fulfill its destiny. My goal with Muxtape's design was to translate some of that tactility into the digital world, to build a context around the music that gave it a little extra spark of life and made the holder anxious to listen.

The first version was a one-page supplement to my tumblr, and was more or less identical to what it would become later. The feedback was great, and the number one question rapidly became "can you make one for me, too?" At first I started thinking about ways I could package the source code, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like massively wasted potential. Distributing the source would mean limiting access to the small niche of people who operate their own web server, whereas I wanted to make something that was accessible to anyone who loves music. The natural conclusion was a centralized service, which suddenly unfolded whole other dimensions of possibility for serendipitous music discovery. What seemed before like the hollow shell of a mixtape now seemed like its evolution. I knew I had to try building it. Three weeks of long nights later, I launched Muxtape.

It was successful very quickly. 8,685 users registered in the first 24 hours, 97,748 in the first month with 1.2 million unique visitors and a healthy growth rate. Lots of press. Rampant speculation. Tech rags either lauded it or declared it an instant failure. Everyone was excited. I was thrilled.

There was a popular misconception that Muxtape only survived because it was "flying under the radar," and the moment the major labels found out about it it'd be shut down. In actuality, the labels and the RIAA read web sites like everyone else, and I heard from them both within a week or so. An RIAA notice arrived in triplicate, via email, registered mail, and FedEx overnight (with print and CD versions). They demanded that I take down six specific muxtapes they felt were infringing, so I did.

Around the same time I got a call from the VP of anti-piracy at one of the majors. After I picked up the phone his first words were, "Justin, I just have one question for you: where do I send the summons and complaint?" The conversation picked up from there. There was no summons, it was an intimidation tactic setting the tone for the business development meeting he was proposing, the true reason for the call. Around the same time another one of the big four's business developers reached out to me, too.

I spent the next month listening. I talked to a lot of very smart lawyers and other people whose opinions on the matter I respected, trying to gain a consensus for Muxtape's legality. The only consensus seemed to be that there was no consensus. I had two dozen slightly different opinions that ran the gamut from "Muxtape is 100% legal and you're on solid ground," to "Muxtape is a cesspool of piracy and I hope you're ready for a hundred million dollar lawsuit and a stint at Riker's."

In the end, Muxtape's legality was moot. I didn't have any money to defend against a lawsuit, just or not, so the major labels had an ax over my head either way. I always told myself I'd remove any artist or label that contacted me and objected, no questions asked. Not a single one ever did. On the contrary, every artist I heard from was a fan of the site and excited about its possibilities. I got calls from the marketing departments of big labels whose corporate parents were supposed to be outraged, wanting to know how they get could their latest acts on the home page. Smaller labels wanted to feature their content in other creative ways. It seemed obvious Muxtape had value for listeners and artists alike.

In May I had my first meeting with a major label, Universal Music Group. I went alone and prepared myself for the worst, having spent the last decade toeing the indie party line that the big labels were hopelessly obstinate luddites with no idea what was good for them. I'm here to tell you now that the labels understand their business a lot better than most people suspect, although they each have their own surprisingly distinct personality when it comes to how they approach the future. The gentlemen I met at Universal were incredibly receptive and tactful; I didn't have to sell them on why Muxtape was good for them, they knew it was cool and just wanted to get paid. I sympathized with that. I told them I needed some time to get a proposal together and we left things in limbo.

A few weeks later I had a meeting with EMI, the character of which was much different. I walked into a conference room and shook eight or nine hands, sitting down at a conference table with a phonebook-thick file labeled "Muxtape" laying on it. The people I met formed a semi-circle around me like a split brain, legal on one side and business development on the other. The meeting alternated between an intense grilling from the legal side ("you are a willful infringer and we are mere hours from shutting you down") and an awkward discussion with the business side ("assuming we don't shut you down, how do you see us working together?"). I asked for two weeks to make a proposal, they gave me two days.

I had to make a decision. As I saw it I had three options. The first was to just shut everything down, which I never really considered. The second was to ban major label content entirely, which might have solved the immediate crisis, but had two strong points against it. The first, most visibly, was that it would prevent people from using the majority of available music in their mixes. The second was that it did nothing to address the deeper questions surrounding ownership and usage for everyone else who wasn't a major label: mid-size labels and independent artists who have just as fundamental a right to address how their content is used as a large corporation, even if they don't carry quite as big a stick.

The third option was to approach a fully licensed model, which I had been edging toward since I met with Universal. I knew other licensed services so far had met with mixed success, but I also knew Muxtape was different and that it was at least worth exploring. The question about whether or not the labels saw value in it had been answered, the new question was how much it was going to cost.

It was June. I approached a Fifth Ave law firm about representing me in licensing negotiations with the major labels, and they took me on. Two weeks later I met with all four, flanked by lawyers this time, and started the slow process of working out a deal. The first round of terms were stiff and complex, but not nearly as bad as I'd imagined, and I managed to convince them that allowing Muxtape to continue to operate was in everyone's best interest. Things were going well. I spent the next two months talking with investors, designing the next phases of the site itself, and supervising the negotiations. A big concern was getting a deal that took into consideration the fact that Muxtape wasn't a straightforward on-demand service, and should pay accordingly less than a service that was. Another reason I liked the licensing option from the outset was that it seemed like an uncommon win-win; I didn't want the ability to search and stream any song at any given notice, and they were reluctant to offer it (for the price, anyway). Muxtape's unusual limitations were its strength in more ways than one.

The first red flag came in August. Up until then all the discussion had been about numbers, but as we closed in on an agreement the talk shifted to things like guaranteed placement and "marketing opportunities." I was denied the possibility of releasing a mobile version of Muxtape. My flexibility was being constricted. I had been worried about Muxtape getting a fair deal, but my biggest concern all along was maintaing the integrity and experience of the site (one of the reasons I wanted to license in the first place). Now it wasn't so simple; I had agreed to a variety of encroachments into Muxtape's financials because I wanted to play ball, but giving up any kind of editorial or creative control was something I had a much harder time swallowing.

I was wrestling with this when, on August 15th, I received notice from Amazon Web Services (the platform that hosts Muxtape's servers and files) that they had received a complaint from the RIAA. Per Amazon's terms, I had one business day to remove an incredibly long list of songs or face having my servers shut down and data deleted. This came as a big surprise to me, as I'd been thinking that I hadn't heard from the RIAA in a long time because I had an understanding with the labels. I had a panicked exchange of emails with Amazon, trying to explain that I was in the middle of a licensing deal, that I suspected it was a clerical error, and that I was doing everything I could to get someone to vouch for me on a summer Friday afternoon. My one business day extended over the weekend, and on Monday when I wasn't able to produce the documentation Amazon wanted (or even get someone from the RIAA on the phone), the servers were shut down and I was locked out of the account. I moved the domain name to a new server with a short message and the very real expectation that I could get it sorted out. I still thought it was all just a big mistake. I was wrong.

Over the next week I learned a little more, mainly that the RIAA moves quite autonomously from their label parents and that the understanding I had with them didn't necessarily carry over. I also learned that none of the labels were especially interested in helping me out, and from their perspective it had no bearing on the negotiations. I disagreed. The deals were still weeks or months away (an eternity on the internet) meaning that at best, Muxtape was going to be down until the end of year. There was also still the matter of how to pay for it; getting investment is hard enough in this volatile space even with a wildly successful and growing web site, it became an entirely different proposition with no web site at all.

And so I made one of the hardest decisions I've ever faced: I walked away from the licensing deals. They had become too complex for a site founded on simplicity, too restrictive and hostile to continue to innovate the way I wanted to. They'd already taken so much attention away from development that I started to question my own motivations. I didn't get into this to build a big company as fast as I could no matter what the cost, I got into this to make something simple and beautiful for people who love music, and I plan to continue doing that. As promised, the site is coming back, but not as you've known. I'm taking a feature that was in development in the early stages and making it the new central focus.

Muxtape is relaunching as a service exclusively for bands, offering an extremely powerful platform with unheard-of simplicity for artists to thrive on the internet. Musicians in 2008 without access to a full time web developer have few options when it comes to establishing themselves online, but their needs often revolve around a common set of problems. The new Muxtape will allow bands to upload their own music and offer an embeddable player that works anywhere on the web, in addition to the original muxtape format. Bands will be able to assemble an attractive profile with simple modules that enable optional functionality such as a calendar, photos, comments, downloads and sales, or anything else they need. The system has been built from the ground up to be extended infinitely and is wrapped in a template system that will be open to CSS designers. There will be more details soon. The beta is still private at the moment, but that will change in the coming weeks.

I realize this is a somewhat radical shift in functionality, but Muxtape's core goals haven't changed. I still want to challenge the way we experience music online, and I still want to work to enable what I think is the most interesting aspect of interconnected music: discovering new stuff.

Thank to you everyone who made Muxtape the incredible place it was in its first phase, it couldn't have happened without your mixes. The industry will catch up some day, it pretty much has to.


Blindfold chess

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Blindfold chess is playing chess without a board or pieces...you've got to remember where everything is in your head. The world record holder played 45 games of blindfold chess simultaneously. More at Wikipedia. (via panopticist)

Flexible network usage for mobile phones

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Google has filed a patent that might eliminate the need for mobile phone users to choose a single network. Instead, a piece of software would poll all available networks and select the most appropriate one based on price.

Devices using the system would send networks a description of their requirements — for example, a phone call or access to the internet — and receive back bids with a per-minute cost, or flat rate, at which those needs could be met. Users can either manually accept the bid that looks best to them, or have the phone choose one automatically, based on pre-programmed criteria.

Besides being a brain-dead obvious idea — nice work once again, USPTO — if a system like this were put in place, calling Mom on Mother's Day would get a whole lot more expensive, as would calls and data usage during other peak times or locations.

Update: I'm reminded that this is just an application, not an accepted patent, so my "nice work" comment doesn't apply. But I would imagine that patents coming from Google have little trouble getting accepted. (thx, mike)

Nothing like a good 12-yo hamburger

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Karen Hanrahan shares her favorite prop that she shows parents in her Healthy Choices for Children workshop: a McDonald's hamburger purchased in 1996 that still looks like it did the day it was made.

People always ask me — what did you do to preserve it? Nothing — it preserved itself.

(via wider angle)

Update: Looks like the post got taken down for some reason? Server getting a little melty maybe? Anyway, that hamburger was amazingly preserved. Serious Eats grabbed a pic before the site went down.

A visit to the Criterion Collection HQ

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Gizmodo recently paid a visit to the headquarters of the Criterion Collection as they begin the process of releasing all their movies in HD on Blu-ray.

But with that huge uptick in resolution for the consumer, Criterion is faced with a lot of problems that they didn't have when their masters were converted to standard definition for DVD. After all, they're often dealing with old films, created before there was fancy low-grain filmstock and digital processing. And with the technology they have today, how much restoration and processing is too much?

Really, the mission of Criterion is "trying to replicate the original experience of seeing that movie when it was first released," according to Phillips. While they certainly have the ability to process old films until they look like they were shot on a DV cam, that's not the goal.

It's difficult to know if Blu-ray will actually take off as a format, given the competition from other methods of obtaining HD media (iTunes store, HD cable, etc.). It might become a niche option like the Criterion Collection itself but a welcome one all the same. We watched The Darjeeling Limited the other night on the Starz HD channel on Time Warner Cable. It was 1080p but compressed enough that if you're paying attention, you can see artifacts, especially with fast motion. But the worst part is that Starz didn't bother to show the film in its original aspect ratio, which, with Wes Anderson movies, is more than half of the point! They chopped off the sides to fit a 2.39:1 film into 16:9. So for fans of films that deserve to be seen as the director intended, Criterion on Blu-ray might be the only option.

David Chang on peak meat

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

David Chang, AKA Captain Fucking Pork Bun, and his food producers are growing uneasy about the breakdown of the sustainability of the "Crazy Eddie abundance of the American agricultural industry".

The machinery that's pumped so much meat into our lives over the last half century was never built to last, and now it's breaking down big-time. Feed is more expensive. Gasoline is more expensive. Milk, rice, butter, corn — it's all going through the roof. And for the foreseeable future, it's not coming back down.

Suzanne Vega, the mother of the mp3

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

A rumination by Suzanne Vega on technology and her hit song, Tom's Diner. The song was used as a reference when Karl-Heinz Brandenberg was working on the mp3 compression method.

So Mr. Brandenberg gets a copy of the song, and puts it through the newly created MP3. But instead of the "warm human voice" there are monstrous distortions, as though the Exorcist has somehow gotten into the system, shadowing every phrase. They spend months refining it, running "Tom's Diner through the system over and over again with modifications, until it comes through clearly. "He wound up listening to the song thousands of times," the article, written by Hilmar Schmundt, continued, "and the result was a code that was heard around the world. When an MP3 player compresses music by anyone from Courtney Love to Kenny G, it is replicating the way that Brandenburg heard Suzanne Vega."

Vega once went to listen to the final mp3 version of her song. She could not agree with Brandenberg that the track sounded "exactly" like the original.

"Actually, to my ears it sounds like there is a little more high end in the MP3 version? The MP3 doesn't sound as warm as the original, maybe a tiny bit of bottom end is lost?" I suggested.

Ebert pwns bad movie fan

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Roger Ebert recently got a question asking why he didn't review Disaster Movie.

Q. Yo dude, u missed out on "Disaster Movie," a hardcore laugh-ur-@zz-off movie! Y U not review this movie!? It was funny as #ell! Prolly the funniest movie of the summer! U never review these, wat up wit dat?
- S.J. Stanczak, Chicago

A. Hey, bro, I wuz buzier than $#i+, @d they never shoed it b4 hand. I peeped in the IMDb and saw it zoomed to #1 as the low flic of all time, wit @ lame-@zz UZer Rating of 1.3. U liked it? Wat up wit dat?

Totally pwned. He's not completely fluent, but Ebert should write all of his reviews in l33tspeak.

YouTube video turned into game

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 25, 2008

Someone has turned a YouTube video into a rudimentary game using the annotation feature.

You get to the "next level" by clicking annotations, which loads the next video. If you want to cheat ahead, all of the videos are available here.

Update: Andy points out that this YouTube text adventure game predates the game above.

Interview with Charles Murray

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Deborah Solomon recently interviewed Charles Murray for the NY Times. Murray is the author of the recent book, Real Education, which argues that 80% of all college students should not be pursuing a bachelor's degree.

Even though the interview is pretty short, Solomon shows how Murray's scientific views don't jibe with his political views, namely that you don't need smart, able people running the country.

What do you make of the fact that John McCain was ranked 894 in a class of 899 when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy? I like to think that the reason he ranked so low is that he was out drinking beer, as opposed to just unable to learn stuff.

What do you think of Sarah Palin? I'm in love. Truly and deeply in love.

She attended five colleges in six years. So what?

Why is the McCain clan so eager to advertise its anti-intellectualism? The last thing we need are more pointy-headed intellectuals running the government. Probably the smartest president we've had in terms of I.Q. in the last 50 years was Jimmy Carter, and I think he is the worst president of the last 50 years.

The cognitive dissonance inside Murray's head must be deafening.

Mars rovers still roving

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Those plucky Mars rovers are still going. Their planned roving time was three months but now more than four years in, NASA is sending Opportunity off on a two-year trek to visit a large crater.

The mission team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 100m per day. But even at that pace, the journey could take two years. The rover will stop to study rocks on the way, and in winter months it cannot move because there is not enough sunlight to provide sufficient power for driving.

Punched in the face

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Video of people getting punched in the face at 1000 frames/second. Wonder no longer what Rocky would look like as filmed by Wes Anderson. (thx, kitt)

Michael Lewis' new book on financial insanity

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Ok, Michael Lewis *is* writing a book about the current financial situation. Sort of. It's called Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity.

When it comes to markets, the first deadly sin is greed. Michael Lewis is our jungle guide through five of the most violent and costly upheavals in recent financial history: the crash of '87, the Russian default (and the subsequent collapse of Long-Term Capital Management), the Asian currency crisis of 1999, the Internet bubble, and the current sub-prime mortgage disaster.

It's out in December so I imagine that it won't include the current Lehman/AIG/Merrill/bailout kerfuffle, but that's what "with new material" paperbacks are for. (thx, paul)


posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Wired writer Sonja Zjawinski commissioned for-hire paparazzo Izaz Rony (previously) to follow her around for the day and take photos.

I leave the coffee shop with Rony trailing unobtrusively. I'm beginning to understand why celebrities go nuts, shave their heads, and bounce in and out of rehab; I would, too, if I had relentless photographers on my tail 24/7. When I stop to peruse a pair of shoes at an outdoor stall, Rony snaps away at me through a rack of dresses, startling a fellow shopper. "Sorry," I sheepishly explain. "That's, uh ... my photographer."

I don't feel like a celebutante hounded by the media anymore; I feel like the lamest lame-o in Phonytown. And I've had enough of it. I call off the shoot.

(via fimoculous)

Artist Tara Donovan

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Why have I not heard of artist Tara Donovan before...her stuff is great.

Though Ms. Donovan's new prints won't be on view, her glass-shattering talents will be: she intends to recreate "Untitled (Glass)," a process-oriented sculpture that she first made in 2004. It involves stacking sheets of tempered glass into a perfect cube, then working carefully one by one from bottom to top, striking a single corner of each pane with a hammer. As with the print, Ms. Donovan will contain the glass with a wooden frame while she works. Once the mold is removed, the cube "stays in place," she said. "You can still see the layers, but everything's really broken into itty-bitty teeny-weeny shards."

Donovan is one of the 2008 MacArthur genius fellows. (via delicious ghost)

Best magazine covers of the year

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

Finalists for the 2008 magazine cover of the year competition. That Spitzer one always makes me laugh.

1908, Cubs vs. NY Giants

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

The crazy finish to the 1908 baseball season, which was decided by an obscure rule, Christy Mathewson's dead arm, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown's pitching, and Fred Merkle's decision not to run all the way to second base. Things got ugly.

"From the stands there was a steady roar of abuse," Brown said later. "I never heard anybody or any set of men called as many foul names as the Giant fans called us that day." Foul names might have been the least of their worries. The New York Journal reported that Cubs catcher Johnny Kling, chasing a pop foul, had to dodge "two beer bottles, a drinking glass and a derby hat."

The box score of the first game and a bunch of other juicy details are available in the original 1908 NY Times article.

Censurable stupidity on the part of player Merkle in yesterday's game at the Polo Grounds between the Giants and Chicago placed the New York team's chances of winning the pennant in jeopardy. His unusual conduct in the final inning of great game perhaps deprived New York of a victory that would have been unquestionable had he not comitted a breach in baseball play that resulted in Umpire O'Day declaring the game a tie.

It's also interesting to look at the statistics for that season. Merkle is listed as the league's youngest player, and Honus Wagner won nearly every single batting category, the Brooklyn Superbas (no, really!) topped the league with only 28 homers (for the entire team), and Mathewson won a whopping 37 games. Here's that NY Times article again:

Up to the climatic ninth it was the toss of a coin who would win. For here is our best-beloved Mathewson pitching as only champions pitch, striking out the power and the glory of the Cubs, numbering among his slain Schulte in the first, Pfeister in the third, Steinfeldt in the fourth, Pfeister in the fifth, Haydon in the eighth, and Evers and Schulte in the ninth — these last in one-two order. Proper pitching, and for this and other things we embrace him.

With such headings as "The Fatal Third Inning", the 1908 Times story about the second game is worth a look as well.

Gorgeous restored Godfather trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 24, 2008

The three Godfather films have been restored, remastered, retouched, unscratched, and cleaned for release on Blu-ray and DVD.

By all accounts, the original negatives of the first two films were so torn up and dirty that they could no longer be run through standard film laboratory printing equipment, and so the only option became a digital, rather than a photochemical, restoration.

The final product, which the studio is calling "The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration," combines bits and pieces of film recovered from innumerable sources, scanned at high resolution and then retouched frame by frame to remove dirt and scratches. The color was brought back to its original values by comparing it with first-generation release prints and by extensive consultation with Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, a cinematographer ("E.T.") who is also a leading historian of photographic technology.

The article goes on to say that the Blu-ray version is like a "pristine 35-millimeter print projected in perfect focus" in your living room. Must get Blu-ray player. Amazon has the Blu-ray version for a whopping 50% off the retail price...it's almost the same price as the DVD version.

Update: The author of the Times piece has two before-and-after stills from the first film on his blog. Wow.

NYC subway directions on Google Maps

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

Google has added transit directions to Google Maps. Finally.

We've just added comprehensive transit info for the entire New York metro region, encompassing subway, commuter rail, bus and ferry services from the Metropolitan Transit Agency (MTA), the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit and the City of New York.

One feature I'd like: a quick at-a-glance comparison of the three travel methods (walking, subway/train, driving) to see which is going to take less time.

Old agriculture

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

New studies show that prehistoric agriculture may have taken much longer to develop than previously thought.

Until recently researchers say the story of the origin of agriculture was one of a relatively sudden appearance of plant cultivation in the Near East around 10,000 years ago spreading quickly into Europe and dovetailing conveniently with ideas about how quickly language and population genes spread from the Near East to Europe. Initially, genetics appeared to support this idea but now cracks are beginning to appear in the evidence underpinning that model.

How to bull your shoes

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

Video on how to bull your shoes (bull = put a really nice polish on them).

1000 circles! From the same series: checkmate in four moves. (via acl)

Nice book covers

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

Some nice work amongst the finalists of a contest to design the book cover for a novel called The Island at the End of the World. (via book design review)

2008 MacArthur genius grants

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

The MacArthur Foundation announced the list of their 2008 fellows today, the recipients of the $500,000 "genius grant". Among the fellows is Alex Ross, staff writer for the New Yorker and author of The Rest is Noise (kottke.org interview).

America the Gift Shop

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

More new work from the busy Phillip Toledano: America the Gift Shop.

If American foreign policy had a gift show, what would it sell?

I like the Cheney shredding secret documents snow globe.

The coincidental package

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 23, 2008

Artist Mike Mitchell found a box on his doorstep. Inside was a note and an improbable object from Mitchell's past.

As one of my photographer friends, Brett Littlehales, pointed out later, it was even amazing that the tape had lasted for 45 years. He also observed in a typically exuberant way, "the chances of this happening are...are...like winning the lottery...no!...no!...more like winning the cosmic lottery!"

(via clusterflock)

Night colors of Van Gogh

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

Color palettes taken from a MoMA exhibition of nighttime paintings by Vincent van Gogh. Review of the show by the NY Times.

Illegal but mainstream behavior

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

A list of illegal behaviors that are also mainstream: pirating media/software, alcohol during Prohibition, speeding, marijuana, and sodomy. (via waxy)

190 Bowery

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

Photographer Jay Maisel bought the building at 190 Bowery 42 years ago for $102,000. Covered by graffiti and assumed by many to have been abandoned for years, it's matured into a single family home with 6 stories, 72 rooms, 35,000 square feet, an estimated value of up to $70 million and three residents.

American Express card, 1963

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

American Express card from 1963

That's from the Smithsonian. Here's a non-plastic card from 1958.

Food porn, porn porn

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

This Harper's article from 2005 compares the food porn of the Food Network to regular porn.

Eventually, Tyler and the housewife would go cheek to cheek, lean forward, open their mouths, taste the chicken and rice, and melt into a flushed-face, simultaneous food swoon. When the inevitable sequence finally rolled, the editor kept looping their wet mouths and rapt faces as they pushed forkful after forkful of arroz con pollo past their lips, chewed, and swallowed-and pushed and chewed and swallowed again and again. "Classic porn style," said Nitke. "They're stretching the moment out, the orgasmic moment. In porn they'll take a cum shot and run it in an endless loop."

That must have been a fun one to write. See also: Food Network star or porn star? (via serious eats)

Update: Here's an interview with the author about the article. (thx, jim)

Michael Lewis on the financial collapse

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

Michael Lewis looks on the bright side of the current financial crisis and finds five positive aspects.

Our willingness to believe that we can hire some expert to tell us how to outperform markets is a big problem, with big consequences. It underpins Wall Street's brokerage operations, for instance, and leads to a lot more people giving out financial advice than should be giving out financial advice. Thanks to the current panic many Americans have learned that the experts who advise them what to do with their savings are, at best, fools.

God I hope he writes a book about all this someday, sort of a Liar's Poker 2. He can call it Fool's Roulette or something.

Funhouse mosaic

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 22, 2008

If I'd been walking at the time — perhaps at my treadmill desk — this photo from Cornelia Hediger would have stopped me in my tracks.

Cornelia Hediger

It falls apart under scrutiny but each time I go back to it after a few minutes, my initial reaction is always, "wow, cool". (via heading east)

John Madden, football for fans

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

A nice short appreciation of John Madden and how his insistence on telling and showing people how the game of football is played has had an impact on how the game is played and watched.

Thus, the first tenet of Maddenism: a football game can be understood only by analyzing all its complexity. As he once put it: "Football isn't nuclear physics, but it's not so simple that you can make it simple. It takes some explaining to get it across."

This is also the rare profile that mentions nothing about Madden's bus and fear of flying.

The new Microsoft ads

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

After a couple of teasers starring Jerry Seinfeld, Microsoft is airing some new ads that take Apple's "I'm a PC" out into the real world. So instead of John Hodgman's dorky PC character (who is parodied in one of the new ads), they've got all sorts of people — basketball players, actresses, scientists, fashion designers, etc. — proudly declaring "I'm a PC". As Michael Sippey mentions, the ads do communicate a "message of joy and abundance and widespread use of Personal Computing", but they're not "great".

I briefly worked for a design firm in the late 90s that did a lot of advertising work. One of the hard and fast rules in the office — which was taken from a book written by a successful ad man whose name I cannot recall — was that if a company was #1 in a certain space, their advertising should never ever mention the competition, not even in an oblique fashion. And even if a company was #2, they should do the same and act as if they were #1.

That's the problem with Microsoft's ads. They're still #1 and the bigger company, but by referencing Apple's successful ad campaign, they're acting like Apple is #1. (John Gruber made this same point the other day.) The ads fail because they serve to remind people that Apple comes up with good ideas that Microsoft then takes and shapes into something that so-called "normal people" can use or understand. Except that this isn't 1993. With the iPod, iPhone, iMac, OS X, the Apple Stores, and the iTunes Store, Apple has their finger firmly on the pulse of what normal people want and Microsoft's recent attempts (the Zune, Vista) to keep up by emulating Apple have failed. If MS had created the "I'm a PC" message on their own, the ads would be great, but these copy-and-paste ads lack soul and are merely "eh".

What's interesting is that with the I'm a Mac/I'm a PC ads, Apple mentions Microsoft explicitly, over and over, proving the old adage that rules are made to be broken. What works in Apple's favor is that they are the #2 company and were clever about how they attacked #1. Microsoft's hamfisted ads are almost saying to Apple, "nuh-uh, my mom thinks I'm cool" while the image of Hodgman's frumpy PC is hard to shake and makes Windows seem lame without being overly insulting about it.

LeBron James loses at HORSE

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

LeBron James gets beat in a game of HORSE by a mere mortal. The crowd's stunned silence when James loses is amazing. (via mr)

Most-rewatched movies

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

Question of the week over at the Onion AV Club: what movie have you rewatched the most times? My short list: Star Wars, Ocean's 11, The Day After Tomorrow, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I've also seen Zoolander a fair number of times but not as many as the others.

For sale: Albert Einstein's watch

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

Among the watches being auctioned at a sale in October is a watch once owned by Albert Einstein.

For the Einstein fan, we have a Longines that was owned by the scientist himself. It is a unique and historically important wristwatch, made in 1930.The watch was presented to Professor Albert Einstein on February 16, 1931 in Los Angeles. It is a fine, tonneau-shaped, 14K yellow gold wristwatch accompanied by various photos showing Prof. Einstein wearing the watch. Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000

You'd think that the price for timepiece once owned by the man who changed our conceptions about time and space would be substantial, but it's one of the lower priced featured watches. And the price is not even close to the world record:

In 2002, Antiquorum established the all-time world record price for a wristwatch at auction when it sold a platinum Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 1415 from 1939 for an astounding CHF 6,603,500 (US$ 4,026,524). This record-breaking price more than doubled the previous world record price for a wristwatch at auction. Another record price for a modern watch was achieved in 2004, the unique white gold Calibre 89, also by Patek Philippe, was sold for SFr. 6,603,500 (US$ 5,002,652).

(thx, sam)

WASP clubs

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

While clubs that admit only WASPs are still around, their power and influence have diminished and their diversity has increased. A little. The language employed by WASPs in describing outsiders is interesting:

Acronyms like N.O.C.D. and P.L.U. are used to mean Not Our Class, Dear and People Like Us. W.O.G. refers to Wealthy Oriental Gentleman or Wise Oriental Gentleman, depending on whom you ask for a definition. "Hawaiian," "Canadian," and "Eskimo" all have special meaning as well. I was told by one Palm Beach resident that Hawaiian refers to anyone who pronounces the phrase "how are you" as "how ahhh yaaa" (they are howahhhyaaa-n, or Hawaiian). Another Wasp told me that, at the establishment-incubating St. Paul's School in the early 1960s, Hawaiian was used to refer to anyone who was considered "trash." To say that someone is Canadian can mean that they are Jewish, and Eskimo that they are African American.

Odd perfumes

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

Perfumer Christopher Brosius has a little shop in Brooklyn, out of which he offers several surprising and offbeat perfumes.

When my parents visited New York, I gave them a tour of my favourite scents in the shop. This took some time: the accords include clever riffs on the smell of rubber, from the intoxicating Inner Tube to a just-short-of-noxious Rubber Cement. Equally impressive is Wet Pavement, which strikes me as wearable, even pretty. Burning Leaves is startlingly alluring, and Ink smells so authentic that I held up the bottle to show my mother that the fluid was clear and not an indelible blue. Roast Beef is predictably revolting, but still a must-smell. My mother lingered over In the Library, a blend that Christopher describes as "First Edition, Russian and Moroccan Leather, Binding Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish".

Unsurprisingly, Brosius also created the Demeter line of fragrances, featuring scents like Creme Brulee, Wet Garden, Funeral Home, Dirt, and Sugar Cookie.

17 years of daily self-portraits

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

Dan Hanna has made a rotating self-portrait video assembled from 17 years of daily photos, a la Noah Kalina's Everyday video.

17 years worth of taking 2 photos a day as my head rotates in sync with the Earth around the Sun.

The split screen is a nice touch and I love watching the hair on his shaved head grow back like a Chia Pet every few months. Here's a description of the rig he uses to take the photos. (via heading east)

Sergey Brin's blog

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

Google founder Sergey Brin has started a blog. (via waxy)

Synecdoche, New York trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 19, 2008

The trailer for Synecdoche, New York, the first film directed by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A.O. Scott liked it at Cannes. The film will be out in limited release (NY & LA?) on Oct 24. Say sih-NECK-duh-kee...kinda like Schenectady. (via crazymonk)

Update: I removed the embedded video...I didn't know it came with all that extra cruft around it.

Update: The video is back, YouTube-style.

Walking desks

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

Some people now work at walking desks, standing-height desks outfitted with treadmills.

To the uninitiated, work-walking sounds like a recipe for distraction. But devotees say the treadmill desks increase not only their activity but also their concentration. "I thought it was ridiculous until I tried it," said Ms. Krivosha, 49, a partner in the law firm of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand. Ms. Krivosha said it is tempting to become distracted during conference calls, but when she is exercising, she listens more intently. "Walking just takes care of the A.D.D. part," she said.

One work-walker lost 16 pounds doing two hours of work-walking over a two-month period.

Update: Walking desk + addictiveness of World of Warcraft = 100 pound weight loss. Of course, he estimates that he gained 60-70 pounds playing Warcraft and eating Hot Tamales. (thx, johan)

Update: Walking desk footage on YouTube. (via get fit slowly)

1958 NFL championship game and modern football

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

Writer Mark Bowden sits down with Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid to watch film from a classic football game, the 1958 NFL championship game. At several points during the session, 1958 football and contemporary football don't even seem like the same game. Perhaps the biggest disparity is the difference in pay:

Most pro players in the 1950s held down full-time jobs off the field. Huff was a salesman for the textile company J. P. Stevens. Unitas and many of his teammates worked at Bethlehem Steel. Art Donovan, the Colts' hilarious defensive tackle known as Fatso, was a liquor salesman. Most of the men earned less than $10,000 a year playing football. The highest-paid stars made between $15,000 and $20,000 — enough to support a middle-class lifestyle in 1958, but nothing like today's hefty paychecks. Players who took off from their full-time jobs to play were often expected to make up the time by working long hours in the off-season.

(via df)

Ebert on starred movie ratings

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

As someone who gets quite a lot of shit for his movie ratings, I quite enjoyed Roger Ebert's explanation of how he decides how many stars to give a film and why his ratings are usually higher than those of other critics. I give this bit 4 out of 4 stars:

In the early days of my career I said I rated a movie according to its "generic expectations," whatever that meant. It might translate like this: "The star ratings are relative, not absolute. If a director is clearly trying to make a particular kind of movie, and his audiences are looking for a particular kind of movie, part of my job is judging how close he came to achieving his purpose." Of course that doesn't necessarily mean I'd give four stars to the best possible chainsaw movie. In my mind, four stars and, for that matter, one star, are absolute, not relative. They move outside "generic expectations" and triumph or fail on their own.

His "I like to write as if I'm on an empty sea" line is happily filed away, to be used as liberally as possible.

Remembering David Foster Wallace

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

This post is more for me than usual. I've got all these tabs open in my browser and need to close them to get some work done so I'm going to put this stuff here for now to revisit later. Any emphasis is mine.

Editors and authors remember at Slate:

You didn't really edit David. Instead you played tennis with him using language as the ball. At Harper's, we did three lengthy pieces together — on attending the Illinois State Fair, on sailing on a luxury cruise, and on the usage of the English language — and with each one I increasingly came to see how competitive David was. Not with me, his magazine editor, nor particularly with other writers, but with the great maw of horridness, to choose a word he might use. He was competing against the culture itself, and his pieces arrived on my desk way too long, letter-perfect, and appended with a one-line note that said something like "Here, maybe you'll like this."

A note from a former teacher of his at Amherst:

So here's a true fact to embellish his reputation (not that it needs much embellishment): He wrote two senior theses at Amherst. A creative thesis in English that was his first novel, "The Broom of the System," and a philosophy thesis on fatalism. Both were judged to be Summa Cum Laude theses. The opinion of those who looked at the philosophy thesis was that it, too, with just a few tweaks to flesh out the scholarly apparatus, was a publishable piece of creative philosophy investigating the interplay between time and modality in original ways.

That much is probably common knowledge. Here's what is not so widely known: Though theses normally take a whole school year to write, DFW had complete drafts of his theses by Christmas, and they were finished by spring break. He spent the last quarter of his senior year reading, commenting on, and generally improving the theses of all his friends and acquaintances. It was a great year for theses at Amherst.

NASCAR Cancels Remainder Of Season Following David Foster Wallace's Death, The Onion:

"Racing and literature are both huge parts of American life, and I don't think David Foster Wallace would want me to make too much of that, or to pretend that it's any sort of equitable balance," Helton added. "That would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever cultural deity, entity, energy, or random social flux produced stock car racing also produced the works of David Foster Wallace. And just look them. Look at that."

Harper's has made freely available online everything that Wallace had published in the magazine.

The davidfosterwallace tag on kottke.org.

Interview with Wallace in The Believer from Nov 2003. I don't think I've ever read this one.

Wallace talks on NPR in 1997 about, among other things, relaxed concentration.

He loved The Wire:

He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire — he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?

A letter from an alumni of Granada House, a Boston-area treatment center, is assumed by many to have been written by Wallace:

In 1989, I already had a BA and one graduate degree and was in Boston to get another. And I was, at age 27, a late-stage alcoholic and drug addict. I had been in detoxes and rehabs; I had been in locked wards in psych facilities; I had had at least one serious suicide attempt, a course of ECT, and so on. The diagnosis of my family, friends, and teachers was that I was bright and talented but had "emotional problems." I alone knew how deeply these problems were connected to alcohol and drugs, which I'd been using heavily since age fifteen.

A previously unpublished work from 1984 by Wallace which Ryan Niman collected from the shelves of Amherst. It's called The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing (PDF).

Wallace filed a report on John McCain for This American Life in 2000.

Wallace wrote about the 1996 US Open for Tennis magazine.

Personal remembrances from Pomona College faculty and students. He had taught at Pomona since 2002.

Dave Eggers at McSweeney's:

A few months later, Dave was the first person we asked to contribute to McSweeney's, thinking we could not start the journal without him. Thankfully, he sent a piece immediately, and then we knew we could begin. We honestly needed his endorsement, his go-ahead, because we were seeking, at the start at least, to focus on experimental fiction, and he was so far ahead of everyone else in that arena that without him the enterprise would seem ridiculous.

Along with his first piece, he also sent a check, for $250. That was the craziest thing: he sent a donation with his contribution. Thus he was the first donor to the journal, though he insisted that his donation remain anonymous in that first issue. I had such a problem cashing that check; I wanted to keep it, frame it, stare at it.

A 1999 interview with Wallace for Amherst magazine.

Ok, tabs are clear. Back to work, somehow.

Outside.in's StoryMaps

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

Outside.in has launched a new feature called StoryMaps. When you sign up, they crawl your blog looking for mentions of places and then make a map of your posts. It doesn't work so well for my site (mostly because — giggedy — kottke.org is all over the map, har har), but for sites that post about a lot of local stuff, it works pretty well. See Gothamist's implementation, for instance. More on the outside.in blog. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to outside.in.)

Thread count

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

Finally! The truth about thread count.

In a quality product, the incremental comfort value of increasing thread count over 300 is very little. A 300 thread count can feel far superior to a 1000 thread count. Thread count has become a simple metric used by marketing people to capture interest and impress with high numbers. The problem with mass produced high thread count sheets is that to keep the price down, important elements of quality must be sacrificed, meaning in the end the customer gets a product with an impressive thread count but that probably feels no better (or even worse) than something with a lower thread count.

I am hoping that John Hodgman will shed further light on the thread count controversy (working title: CountGate) in his new book, More Information Than You Require.

Update: Even more about thread count. (thx, jeremy)

Purple and red and yellow and on fire

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 18, 2008

An exploded toner cartridge.

Accidents should always be this beautiful.

(via chrisglass)

How Crayons Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

This is probably my all-time favorite childhood TV moment. I loved watching the smiling workers and relentless machinery turn all that formless wax into something that I USED EVERY DAY. My favorite part is the crayons popping up out of their molds. Still gives me chills, it does! BTW, the YouTube page says the video originated from Sesame Street but it was actually from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. (thx, janelle)

Update: I stand corrected...the above clip is from Sesame Street. But Mr. Rogers did show a similar clip on his show (stills here). I know I've seen the one on Mr. Rogers but I don't know about the Sesame Street one. (thx, everyone)

Update: Ok, here's the clip from Mr. Rogers. Its pace is a lot more leisurely than the Sesame Street clip.

Update: Richard Harvey composed the music for the Sesame Street segment in 1978. In this video, talks about how he put the track together.

(thx, sara)

19th century Arctic exploration photos

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

Photos from two Arctic expeditions, one in 1854 and the other in 1875-6.

Inuit group, 1854

This photo is part of the National Maritime Museum's contribution to Flickr's Commons project.

Grand Theft Festal

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

This year's harvest of crop art from the Minnesota State Fair included Grand Theft Festal, a mashup of Grand Theft Auto and Festal-brand canned corn done in millet, alfalfa, canola, and white clover seeds. The artist recorded a timelapse video of its construction. (via mark simonson)


posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

The results of some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

- The air in the Empire State Building weighs about 4 million pounds.
- The energy consumption of the world's population will be greater than the energy coming from the sun in less than 500 years. (Peak photons?)

What's surprising about such estimates is how often they are very close to the reality. This is especially true in a multi-step approximation, where over- and underestimates at various steps tend to cancel each other out, usually resulting in something not too far off from the truth.

Both Microsoft and Google use questions like these as part of their job interview process. We did a bunch of them in my freshman physics class; I loved them.

Update: The NY Times says that these are called Fermi Problems. (via gerry)

Soulja Boy reviews Braid

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

Video of rapper Soulja Boy reviewing Braid, an innovative Xbox 360 game in which a player can rewind the action to travel back in time to change previous actions in different ways. Soulja Boy *really* likes the time travel aspect of the game. I wish all game reviews were this exuberant. (via waxy)

Dignan's notebook

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 17, 2008

Dignan's 75-year plan from the movie Bottle Rocket.

E. Develop outside interests
  a. Travel
  b. Art
  c. Science

(thx, tommy)

The totem fridge

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Totem Fridge

For creator Stefan Buchberger, a design student at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, the idea grew out of a semester-long theme about keeping personal space clean and tidy. "I decided to create Flatshare fridge because there is nothing more disgusting than a dirty fridge in a shared flat," he says. "At the time, I was living in such a flat!"

The fridge consists of a base station and up to four stackable modules. The modules allow each individual user to have his or her own refrigerator space and can be customized with various colorful skins as well as with add-ons like a bottle opener or a whiteboard.

The Flatshare refrigerator has the perhaps unfortunate side effect of reinforcing which household members hold lower positions on the metaphorical totem pole and therefore always need to bend down to access their unit while higher-status members can easily get at their fruit and veg without genuflection. (via cribcandy)

Every Photoshop filter

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Dorothy Gambrell applies every Photoshop filter to an image in order and posted the results, including all the tweens. (via waxy)

Rothko remembrance

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Mark Rothko's daughter Kate remembers her father nearly 40 years after his death.

Rothko may have been depressed at the end of his life, he may not have been as clear as he should have been when it came to writing a will; but with regard to his work, and where it might end up, he had long held strong views. While selling to private individuals from his studio, he would scrutinise their reactions to paintings; they had to pass a test they did not know they were taking. If they failed, they went home empty-handed, irrespective of the size of their wallets. Lighting, on which wall of a gallery a painting might hang; these things obsessed him.

I saw Rothko's Seagram Murals at the Tate Modern in May.

Only say true things

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

At McSweeney's, Zadie Smith on the organizing principle of David Foster Wallace's writing:

If we must say something, let's at least only say true things.

Lots to say about that and him, but the words, they aren't here yet. I don't have heroes but made an exception for Wallace. Still stunned.

The economics of fruit picking

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

A British fruit company gave three economists the chance to increase the company's fruit harvest by tinkering with pay schemes of the pickers.

The owner had been paying a piece rate — a rate per kilogram of fruit — but also needed to ensure that whether pickers spent the day on a bountiful field or a sparse one, their wages didn't fall below the legal hourly minimum. Farmer Smith tried to adjust the piece rate each day so that it was always adequate but never generous: The more the work force picked, the lower the piece rate. But his workers were outwitting him by keeping an eye on each other, making sure nobody picked too quickly, and thus collectively slowing down and cranking up the piece rate.

Over the course of three summers, three different approaches raised the total harvest by 50% the first year, another 20% the second year, and by another 20% the third year.

Why people pirate games

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Last month, indie game developer Cliff Harris asked on his blog: why do people pirate the games I make? That question made its way onto some popular web sites and he got hundreds of thoughtful responses. Kevin Kelly summed up the responses that Harris received.

He found patterns in the replies that surprised him. Chief among them was the common feeling that his games (and games in general) were overpriced for what buyers got — even at $20. Secondly, anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult — like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines — anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route. Harris also noted that ideological reasons (rants against capitalism, intellectual property, the man, or wanting to be outlaw) were a decided minority.

The gaming, music, and movie industry would do well to take note of the key sentence here: "Anything that made purchasing and starting to play difficult — like copy protection, DRM, two-step online purchasing routines — anything at all standing between the impulse to play and playing in the game itself was seen as a legitimate signal to take the free route."

Last week, I tried to buy an episode of a TV show from the iTunes Store. It didn't work and there was no error message. Thinking the download had corrupted something, I tried again and the same problem occurred. (I learned later that I needed to upgrade Quicktime.) Because I just wanted to watch the show and not deal with Apple's issues, I spend two minutes online, found it somewhere for free, and watched the stolen version instead. I felt OK about it because I'd already paid for the real thing *twice*, but in the future, I'll be a little wary purchasing TV shows from iTunes and maybe go the easier route first.

Traits of the creative personality

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality.

Furthermore, people who bring about an acceptable novelty in a domain seem able to use well two opposite ways of thinking: the convergent and the divergent. Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance.

Some of this seems like foolishness but the rest is a really interesting look at how to channel your creativity into success. (via 43f)

Travel by container ship

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 16, 2008

Another story of traveling by cargo ship.

The stevedores, or as we call them in the states, longshoremen, are becoming the latest group of tradespeople to be put out of their jobs by robots. The ships already practically steer themselves, that's why I'm staying in the pilot's cabin, "there is no pilot". The course of the ship is plotted in advance as a series of vectors with turns at key points. The ship's computer lets the officer on duty know when it's time to make a turn, and corrects itself with GPS as a reference during the straight runs. The origin of word "cybernetic" is "kybernetes" — 'steersman' in Greek. So the arrangement of cargo and the logistics of operations are already optimized by software, the next step will be to link that software directly to the hardware of cranes and harvesters and turn them into robots. They will have a set of broad goals and priorities (the strategy), and the kind of basic decision making processes (the tactics) that the ship uses to stay on course autonomously: avoidance and correction.

People who travel by container ship also seem to be able to write well about the experience. Previously. Even more previously.

David Foster Wallace dead at 46

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 13, 2008
David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1996 tome "Infinite Jest," was found dead last night at his home in Claremont, according to the Claremont Police Department. He was 46.

Jesus. No no no no. So fucking sad and unfair. I am in here and upset.

War and Peace-grade traffic

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

If you live and work in Los Angeles and have an average commute, you spend 72 hours a year in traffic. That's enough time to read War and Peace once, get through Wagner's The Ring Cycle almost five times, or watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy almost eight times. The page includes stats for other cities too.

Update: A closer read, a bit of arithmetic, and several emails have convinced me that the 72 hours is not the overall commute time but the time spent sitting motionless in traffic. (thx, everyone)

Talking body parts

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

Surreal Nike commercial featuring British sprinter Nicola Sanders and her talking body parts.

The recent architectural development of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

Not sure I agree with all of it, but New York magazine's interesting piece about all the new development that has been going on in NYC for the past few years is certainly worth a read.

In the last 25 years, the city's population has increased by a million people, and another million will be here 25 years from now. The question is not whether to make room for them but how. We could, in theory, rope off most of Manhattan to new development and push new arrivals to the city's fringes. Had we done that years ago, we would have created a museum of shabbiness. Even doing so now would keep the city in a state of embalmed picturesqueness and let the cost of scarce space climb to even loonier heights than it already has. In its 43-year existence, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has tucked more than 25,000 buildings under its protective wing, which seems about right. Protect every tenement, and eventually millionaires can no longer afford them.

If you can't take all the text, read it Playboy-style...there are over fifty great before-and-after photos of various new buildings around town, just keep scrolling down.

2008 Summer Paralympic Games photography

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

I don't mean to link to every single thing on The Big Picture, but Alan's knocked it out of the park again with these fantastic photos of the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games. These sports look more difficult than the ones at the regular Olympics. Take, for instance, goalball:

Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it, into the opponents' goal. They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 10 minute halves. Blindfolds allow partially sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.

The Games aren't being broadcast on American TV but you can catch them on the web at Universal Sports.

Usain Bolt: 9.55 seconds

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

Some physicists have worked out what Usain Bolt's time in the 100 meters in Beijing would have been if he hadn't started celebrating before the finish line: 9.55 seconds. The original paper is here. I tried doing this the day after the race but even the HD footage wasn't good enough to see the tick marks on the track and I didn't want to mess around with all the angles. (via justin blanton)

Update: The folks at The Science of Sport lay out a much more sensible case relying on split times that Bolt would have run somewhere between 9.61 and 9.69. (thx, jim)

What is new media art?

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

How to identify interactive or new media art.

7. Someone in your audience wearing a Crumpler bag, slinging a fancy digital SLR and/or standing with their arms folded smugly says, "Yeah..yeah, I could've done that too..c'mon dude..some Perlin Noise? And Processing/Ruby-on-Rails/AJAX/Blue LEDs/MaxMSP/An Infrared Camera/Lots of Free Time/etc.? Pfft..It's so easy..."

(via russell davies)

Biking terminology

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

From a Copenhagen blog that highlights biking style, a plea to cool it with all the subculture cycling attitude and terminology already.

Let's straighten things out, shall we? What you see in the photo above, taken in Copenhagen, is something we call a "cyclist".

Not a "bicycle commuter", nor a "utility cyclist". Certainly not a "lightweight, open air, self-powered traffic vehicle user". It's a cyclist.

The Copenhagener above is not "commuting" - or at least she doesn't call it that. She's not going for a "bike ride" or "making a bold statement about her personal convictions regarding reduction of Co2 levels and sustainable transport methods in urban centers".

She's just going to work. On her bike.

(via gulfstream)

Update: The problem with biking in America: people don't feel safe, mainly because people in cars just aren't that aware of people on bicycles.

Big black holes

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

It looks like black holes can grow to be as massive as 50 billion suns. How massive is that? It's approximately 99 duodecillion kilograms....which is a 99 followed by 39 zeros. (Put another way, if you had 99 duodecillion dollars, you could buy as many PlayStation 3s as you wanted. Blows your mind, right?)

Voice deepening gas

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 12, 2008

You know helium makes your voice go all squeaky? Adam from Mythbusters demonstrates that sulfur hexafluoride makes it do the opposite. Must get sulfur hexafluoride.

Speed skateboarding

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 11, 2008

HD video of two guys in powder-blue suits skateboarding down a hill at high velocity. This is insane, insane, insane...they even pass a car on the way down. Fast forward to 2:20 for the good stuff. (thx, dunstan)

Update: Michael Sippey made a topological map of the route these guys took.

Some recent Merlin Mann goodness

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 11, 2008

Merlin Mann has been on a tear lately. He's been rethinking what he wants to do with 43 Folders — a site he started four years ago to think in public about Getting Things Done (and other stuff) — which rethinking has resulted in a bunch of good writing on weblogs, creative work, and online media. Some links and excerpts follow.

How to blog, the best and most succinct blogging advice I've ever read:

Find your obsession. Every day, explain it to one person you respect. Edit everything, skip shortcuts, and try not to be a dick. Get better.

Going through my newsreader today, most of the sites I follow are written with those things in mind. Those that don't, out they go.

Better is a short account of Merlin's quest to remove the unpleasant and unproductive from his life. Worth quoting at length:

What makes you feel less bored soon makes you into an addict. What makes you feel less vulnerable can easily turn you into a dick. And the things that are meant to make you feel more connected today often turn out to be insubstantial time sinks - empty, programmatic encouragements to groom and refine your personality while sitting alone at a screen.

Don't get me wrong. Gumming the edges of popular culture and occasionally rolling the results into a wicked spitball has a noble tradition that includes the best work of of Voltaire, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and a handful of people I count as good friends and brilliant editors. There's nothing wrong with fucking shit up every single day. But you have to bring some art to it. Not just typing.

What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, makebelieve insight, and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it's making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I've come to despise it.

I've pointed to this one before...What Makes for a Good Blog?

Good blog posts are made of paragraphs. Blog posts are written, not defecated. They show some level of craft, thinking, and continuity beyond the word count mandated by the Owner of Your Plantation. If a blog has fixed limits on post minimums and maximums? It's not a blog: it's a website that hires writers. Which is fine. But, it's not really a blog.

And then a pair of posts that serve as Merlin's public declaration for 43 Folders' new direction and as a blistering takedown of the productivity blogs industry, reminiscent of Joel Johnson's classic takedown of Gizmodo and other gadget blogs published *on* Gizmodo. The first is Four Years:

At this juncture, I wish to apologize and formally atone for any role 43 Folders or I have had in popularizing "hack" as the preferred nomenclature for unmedicated knowledge workers dicking around with their "productivity system" all day. 43 Folders regrets the error.

And then Time, Attention and Creative Work:

If the work that really matters to you involves understanding a relationship between a handful of seemingly unrelated things and then figuring out the best way to portray, magnify, or resolve those relationships, then you're already doing creative work. Any time you make a connection between two or more axes that hadn't occurred to you 10 minutes ago, yes, you've done something creative. Seriously. This does not require your wearing a beret.

But, then — and this is really important — if you want to actually make something out of all that insight, and if you have the will and desire to polish and improve the execution of all the things you produce, then we'll have a lot to talk about.

Good luck with your new direction, Merlin. I never really read 43F too much before this summer — spending a lot of time reading about all those little productivity tricks and whatnot seemed oxymoronic — but I'm paying attention now.

About 311

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 11, 2008

The head IT guy for NYC is taking questions about the city's 311 system over at the Times' City Room blog. Here are his first set of answers. Here he talks about unusual calls they receive:

For a few examples of those we can't ... well, we've received calls from people wondering who won "American Idol," or what the daily lottery numbers were. We've had people ask us why pets can't be claimed on income tax returns, how many planets there are, and whether we can provide various out-of-state ZIP codes. My personal favorite is the call we received by someone asking how to boil a chicken.

Bridal preparations

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 11, 2008

T&A is not my usual schtick here, but I found these photos of brides in their underwear — most are pictured getting dressed for the ceremony — appealing for non-obvious reasons (the titillation factor here is almost zero unless you're 12 years old). There's something about the natural, unguarded informality of the preparation in comparison to the fussiness and solemnity of the ceremony itself...it makes the wedding part seem artificial. It's also disturbing that all these intimate photos ended up online, likely without the consent of the undressed. Really NSFW.

Best show poll results

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 11, 2008

Almost 4000 people have taken the best show on TV poll so now is a good time to take a look at the results. Here are the top five:

The Wire: 16%
The Simpsons: 8%
Seinfeld: 7%
Arrested Development: 7%
The West Wing: 6%

No other show got more than 4% of the total vote. As expected, The Wire topped the list1. Some notes:

Thanks to everyone who voted.

[1] I got some emails saying that The Wire ranked first only because I talk about the show so much on the site. That was probably a factor, but it's not like this is a Wire fan site or something. The poll wasn't that scientific anyway. Run a similar poll on Perez Hilton and American Idol might have won. Or on a site that appeals to 50-somethings and some of the older shows on the list might have done better. All this poll really shows is what people who like the kinds of things I post about on kottke.org also like to watch on television. (This was also not, as someone suggested, an attempt to gather information about viewing habits for advertisers. Duh.)

Gone Baby Gone

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2008

Ben Affleck?s status as a lightweight is hereby permanently suspended. This is a serious movie by a serious, thoughtful director. The film also fits into a theme that?s been developing around these parts lately related to switched identities: Switched at Birth, The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, and Don Draper.

Bringing Pluto back to the solar system

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

Meg bought Ollie this ball a couple of weeks ago. It's got all the planets of the solar system on it, plus the Sun. But no Pluto. That's right, it's barely been two years since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status and the toy manufacturers have already made the adjustment.

It saddens me that Ollie has to grow up in a world where Pluto isn't considered a planet, although I take comfort that his textbooks probably won't be updated by the time he's in school. In the meantime, I've Sharpied Pluto onto his ball.

Pluto, back where it belongs

One ball at a time people, that's how we win.

Scholium Project wines

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

Winemaker Abe Schoener, instigator of the Scholium Project, sounds crazier than Sean Thackrey. Schoener says he makes wine by accident, through a process of trial and error, and is unapologetic about his less drinkable wines. When Eric Asimov wrote about his dislike of one of the Scholium Project's wines, Schoener responded thusly:

"I am so sympathetic to your reaction to my wine," he wrote. "I don't think that you said anything unfair about it. It is a kind of behemoth." He suggested that a roast chicken and a minimum of four people would make such a big wine more bearable.

Most winemakers tend to rival politicians in their efforts to stay on message and spin catastrophe into triumph, but Mr. Schoener freely and cheerfully discusses his failures, which made me receptive to his invitation to try some of his other wines. He makes 10 or so different wines each year, and a total of about 1,500 cases.

I had one of his wines at dinner a few months ago; it was really good. The wine shop around the corner from us sells a bunch of his stuff...time to go pick some up, I think.

The School of Life

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

London's School of Life bills itself as "a place where you can try out a variety of cultural solutions to everyday ailments". They offer schooling, travel holidays, bibliotherapy, expert sermons, and conversational meals.

We offer courses about the big issues of life — love, politics, work, family, play. The courses have been devised by leading authors, artists, actors and academics. They combine the experiences of a remarkable faculty with insights from great thinkers of the past, to offer you intelligent and playful ways to interpret the world, and your place within it.

Seems a bit like a secular church...all the fellowship with none of the gee-oh-dee. Here's a short video from Monocle that explains a bit more about it. (via buzzfeed)

Ten things you don't know about the earth

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

A list of ten things that you didn't know about the earth. My favorite one, by far:

But what if you did dig a hole through the Earth and jump in? What would happen?

Well, you'd die (see below). But if you had some magic material coating the walls of your 13,000 km deep well, you'd have quite a trip. You'd accelerate all the way down to the center, taking about 20 minutes to get there. Then, when you passed the center, you'd start falling up for another 20 minutes, slowing the whole way. You'd just reach the surface, then you'd fall again. Assuming you evacuated the air and compensated for Coriolis forces, you'd repeat the trip over and over again, much to your enjoyment and/or terror. Actually, this would go on forever, with you bouncing up and down. I hope you remember to pack a lunch.

Note that as you fell, you accelerate all the way down, but the acceleration itself would decrease as you fell: there is less mass between you and the center of the Earth as you head down, so the acceleration due to gravity decreases as you approach the center. However, the speed with which you pass the center is considerable: about 7.7 km/sec (5 miles/second).

Fast forward to the year 2483 and we'll probably all be using such holes to quickly travel through the earth. Spain to New Zealand in 42 minutes! New York to the middle of the Indian Ocean? 42 minutes! I also recall reading somewhere that the tunnels don't need to run through the middle of the earth. You don't get the free fall effect, but with the proper contraption (mag-lev tunnel train?) you'll be pulled through the tunnel at a great speed. Does this ring anyone's bell?

Update: A bell has rung. The tunnels described above are called chord tunnels and the travel time through the earth in a frictionless chord tunnel is always 42 minutes, even if the tunnel is only a few hundred miles long or so (say from New York to Detroit). (thx, mike)

Update: In this short Nova clip, Neil deGrasse Tyson "demonstrates" a trip through the center of the earth. (thx, michael)

Mad Men wallpaper

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

These Mad Men illustrations done by Nobody's Sweetheart are fantastic.

Mad Men Wallpaper

Mad Men Wallpaper

Oh, Joan! And wallpaper-sized to boot! The full-sized Sally Draper's Cocktail Cheat Sheet is awesome. (via merlin)

Chronotron Flash game

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

I know it's only Wednesday, but I'm going to lay ruin to your productivity for the rest of the week with this little number: Chronotron. It's a Flash game where you and your past selves work together to complete puzzles. Just like in The Five Doctors. (Sort of.)

The Invention of Air, Steven Johnson's new book

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 10, 2008

Steven Johnson's new book is called The Invention of Air.

It has an organizing theme of how innovative ideas emerge and spread in a society, while integrating many different threads along the way: 18th-century London coffeehouse culture; the Adams-Jefferson letters; the origins of ecosystem science; the giant dragonflies of the Carboniferous Era; the impact of energy deposits on British political change; the discovery of the gulf stream; the Alien and Sedition acts; Jefferson's bible; the Lunar Society; mob violence; Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Ben Franklin's kite experiment.

It's also not, somehow, 6500 pages. I thought for sure that this was going to be some sort of long zoom book, not a book with a long zoom approach.

Lance Armstrong returns to cycling

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Vanity Fair confirms: Lance Armstrong will return to cycling with the goal of competing in and winning the Tour de France in 2009.

The case of Bobby Dunbar

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Another great-but-disturbing episode of This American Life: The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.

Host Ira Glass plays the song "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child" by Richard "Rabbit" Brown. It describes Bobby Dunbar's disappearance and recovery and the trial of his kidnapper, all of which was front page news from 1912 to 1914. Almost a century after it happened, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, was looking into her grandfather's disappearance and found that the truth was actually more interesting than the legend. And a lot more troubling.

This one's not as good as the switched at birth episode (which was amazing) but is still well worth a listen. (All this also reminds me a bit of Don Draper's pre-Sterling Cooper life.)

IHOP meets House of Leaves

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

IHOP meets House of Leaves. This will only be funny if you've read the book.

Best show on TV ever?

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Just for fun, I whipped up a little poll based on the best show(s) on TV post the other day:

What's the best show that's ever been on television?

There are around 30 shows on the list; please consider all the options before choosing.

Production notes: My methodology can be described as "half-assed". I consulted a number of "best of" lists in choosing the shows — not just the ones listed in yesterday's post — and excluded some currently airing shows on which the jury is still out (e.g. 30 Rock, Mad Men) for lack of sufficient evidence. No miniseries allowed, episodic only. My feeling is that there are still too many show on the list (there are four or maybe five real choices) but I wanted to give people options. Also, unless the list is missing something *very* obvious, I'm not looking for additions so don't even think about Cmd-N'ing that mail message.

Google to scan newspaper archives

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

In exchange for publishing rights on their site, Google is offering to foot the bill for scanning the archives of any newspaper, like the NY Times and others have done.

As part of the latest initiative, Google will foot the bill to copy the archives of any newspaper publisher willing to permit the stories to be shown for free on Google's Web site. The participating publishers will receive an unspecified portion of the revenue generated from the ads displayed next to the stories.

(via rw)

True Blood titles

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

I don't know if I'm interested in watching the show or not, but we might have a new leader in the best TV show main title sequence: True Blood. By the same folks who did the Six Feet Under titles. Perhaps NSFW. (via quips)

Update: Maybe Digital Kitchen was influenced by a documentary called Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus in making the True Blood titles?

Stevie Wonder, Superstition

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Stevie Wonder performs Superstition on Sesame Street in 1972. (via sfj, who says "If I ever saw a band this good on stage, I would eat several hats and wire money to twelve senators.")

Andy Warhol's Blow Job

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Short film: Blow Job by Andy Warhol. Mostly SFW...it's just the face of the recipient. Here's some info on the film.

When Andy Warhol decided to shoot Blow Job, he rang Charles Rydell and asked him to star in it, telling him that "all he'd have to do was lie back and then about five different boys would come in and keep on blowing him until he came," but that the film would only show his face.

Charles agreed, but when he didn't show up for the following Sunday afternoon shoot, Andy reached him at Jerome Hill's suite at the Algonquin and screamed into the phone "Charles! Where are you?" Charles responded: "What do you mean, where am I? You know where I am - you called me," and Andy the said "We've got the camera ready and the five boys are all here, everything's set up!" Charles's shocked reply was: "Are you crazy? I thought you were kidding. I'd never do that!"

Unreleased 1972 Rolling Stones movie on YouTube

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

In 1972, Robert Frank followed The Rolling Stones on their tour of North America and made a film called Cocksucker Blues. The title referenced a song written by the band as a fuck-you to their outgoing record label. The film was never released but bootleg copies exist...and a copy has inevitably found it's way onto YouTube in nine parts (93 minutes total).

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight, and part nine.

The quality is not very good but for hardcore Stones and music fans, it's probably worth a look if you haven't seen it. NSFW.

Annie Leibovitz on photography

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 09, 2008

Annie Leibovitz talks about her photography and how her process has changed, from toting a single camera around to capture the rawness of the Rolling Stones to the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars that VF spends for Leibovitz to make a few photographs for the magazine.

I learned about power on that tour. About how people in an audience can lose a sense of themselves and melt into a frenzied, mindless mass. Mick and Keith had tremendous power both on and offstage. They would walk into a room like young gods. I found that my proximity to them lent me power also. A new kind of status. It didn't have anything to do with my work. It was power by association.

I've been on many tour buses and at many concerts, but the best photographs I've made of musicians at work were done during that Rolling Stones tour. I probably spent more time on it than on any other subject. For me, the story about the pictures is about almost losing myself, and coming back, and what it means to be deeply involved in a subject. You can get amazing work, but you've got to be careful. The thing that saved me was that I had my camera by my side. It was there to remind me who I was and what I did. It separated me from them.

Hurricane photos

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

Absolutely scrumtrilescent photos of hurricanes from space. The Big Picture once again. I feel as though Alan is reaching directly into my brain and asking, "hey, what photos do you want to see next to flood you with high levels of dopamine?"

The best show on television, all of them

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

According to several TV writers, bloggers, and cultural critics, each of these is the best show on television.

The Wire
Friday Night Lights
30 Rock
The Daily Show
Battlestar Galactica
The Sopranos
Arrested Development
Studio 60
South Park
Veronica Mars
Six Feet Under
Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys
The Colbert Report
Mad Men
The West Wing

Mad Men is getting the most buzz lately but The Wire is still the high-water mark (in my opinion as well as the web's collective opinion according to Google). The Sopranos gets surprisingly little love as the top show, although its relatively weak competition back in the early 2000s perhaps means it didn't need to be said. The quality of television for the past 3-5 years is impressive...most of the shows listed above were all on at the same time.

US Open live online

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

Tennis fan and still stuck at the office? USOpen.org is streaming the men's final (Federer vs. Murray) live. Right now. Go!

Lance Armstrong returns?

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

Sources are saying that Lance Armstrong will come out of retirement to race the Tour de France in 2009. (via clusterflock)

The McDonald's theory of war

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

The Russian/Georgian conflict has proven the McDonald's theory of war wrong. The theory stated that no two countries with McDonald's restaurants would ever go to war with each other. (via mr)

Update: Depending on what you consider a war, the theory has been proven incorrect before. (thx, lots of folks who sent this in)

English spelling inconsistencies

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

102-year-old Ed Rondthaler on the English language's spelling inconsistencies. Well dun.

Chess #1 is 17 years old

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

According to these unofficial rankings, 17-year-old Magnus Carlsen is the #1 chess player in the world. The Norwegian became a grandmaster at 13 and is the youngest player ever to reach #1. (via mr)

Oh, in other #1 news, Serena Williams will be the new #1 in women's tennis after beating Jelena Jankovic in the final of the US Open. On the men's side, world #1 Rafael Nadal lost in the semis to Andy Murray but won't lose the top spot in the rankings.

Marco. Polo. Google.

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

Google Maps map annotated with all the places Marco Polo visited during his travels to China and back. Larger map here. (via short schrift)

Road runner rules

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 08, 2008

The simple but strict rules for Road Runner cartoons.

1. Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep".
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime — IF he was not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." — George Santayana).
4. No dialogue ever, except "beep, beep".
5. Road Runner must stay on the road — for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert.
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
10. The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

Charles Miller argues that John Hodgman's PC character in the Mac vs. PC commercials is like Wile E. Coyote...likable but inept. (via df)

Ebert, how to read movies

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

Roger Ebert talks about how to read a movie.

This all began for me in about 1969, when I started teaching a film class in the University of Chicago's Fine Arts program. I knew a Chicago film critic, teacher and booker named John West, who lived in a wondrous apartment filled with film prints, projectors, books, posters and stills. "You know how football coaches use a stop-action 16mm projector to study game films?" he asked me. "You can use that approach to study films. Just pause the film and think about what you see. You ought to try it with your film class."

I did. The results were beyond my imagination. I wasn't the teacher and my students weren't the audience, we were all in this together. The ground rules: Anybody could call out "stop!" and discuss what we were looking at, or whatever had just occurred to them.

This article also contains the most information-rich paragraph I've ever read online...it's like an entire film class in 12 lines. Fascinating stuff. One of the points is that, generally, the right side of the screen is more positive. In a later comment, Ebert adds:

In all the years with Siskel and on all the incarnations of the show, I always quietly made sure I was seated on the right. When Roeper came aboard, the producers insisted I "belonged" in "Gene's seat." Sentiment won over visual strategy. Did I really think it made a difference? Yes, I really did.

Also, he should do this online...post film stills and let people leave comments, discuss, etc.

Great arts videos

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

A list of fifty great arts video available on YouTube, including Joy Division playing on Granada Television in 1978, Jack Kerouac reads On the Road in 1959, and Jackson Pollock making one of his drip paintings in 1951.

Daydreaming is important business

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

Jonah Lerher on daydreaming and the human brain's default network. Creativity, especially with regard to children, might be stifled by too little daydreaming and too much television.

After monitoring the daily schedule of the children for several months, Belton came to the conclusion that their lack of imagination was, at least in part, caused by the absence of "empty time," or periods without any activity or sensory stimulation. She noticed that as soon as these children got even a little bit bored, they simply turned on the television: the moving images kept their minds occupied. "It was a very automatic reaction," she says. "Television was what they did when they didn't know what else to do."

The problem with this habit, Belton says, is that it kept the kids from daydreaming. Because the children were rarely bored — at least, when a television was nearby — they never learned how to use their own imagination as a form of entertainment. "The capacity to daydream enables a person to fill empty time with an enjoyable activity that can be carried on anywhere," Belton says. "But that's a skill that requires real practice. Too many kids never get the practice."

But television isn't the default network that Lehrer is referring to:

Every time we slip effortlessly into a daydream, a distinct pattern of brain areas is activated, which is known as the default network. Studies show that this network is most engaged when people are performing tasks that require little conscious attention, such as routine driving on the highway or reading a tedious text. Although such mental trances are often seen as a sign of lethargy — we are staring haplessly into space — the cortex is actually very active during this default state, as numerous brain regions interact. Instead of responding to the outside world, the brain starts to contemplate its internal landscape. This is when new and creative connections are made between seemingly unrelated ideas.

NYC's eccentric vegetable peeler salesman

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

If you've spent any time at all walking around Manhattan, you've likely run across Joe Ades, the English gent hawking vegetable peelers at the top of his lungs on a bit of sidewalk. An occasional part of his current routine is a laminated copy of a profile of him that Vanity Fair published in May 2006. No surprise: Ades is a character.

Mayhew and the patterers might have been surprised at just how far Joe has taken this gent thing. At the end of each day he returns with his gear to a commodious three-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue, the home that he shares with his present wife, Estelle. (In spite of the polished ways of the patterers, their typical abode was the "vagrant hovel.") Then it's out again for an early dinner in a style unheard of in London Labour. Six nights a week, accompanied by Estelle, he hits some of the biggest-name restaurants in town-Elio's, Jean Georges, Milos, Centolire. He never has trouble getting a table. In the soft light his hands glow pink from the half-hour hot-water-and-nailbrush treatment he performs as part of his evening toilette.

Update: Watch Ades in action on YouTube.

Word Clock

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

I love the linear version of the Word Clock. Completely impractical but lovely.

Unlikely action heroes

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

Who would have thought ten years ago that Hollywood's biggest action stars would be Tobey Mcguire (Spider-Man), Matt Damon (Bourne), Elijah Wood (LoTR), Christian Bale (Batman), Johnny Depp (Pirates), and maybe even Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)? No Stallones, Schwarzeneggers, or Van Dammes in that group.

All-maleness strikes again

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

William Drenttel opines on the all-white-male jury of an Adbusters design competition:

Nearly a decade into a new century, I believe it is unacceptable for a design organization, foundation, board of directors, magazine or other enterprise, to mount an initiative with an all male panel of judges — or, put another way, "white, native English-speaking men from the U.S., British Isles or Australia." Such behavior is no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated by a community of designers (or any other community). Designers around the world should just say no.

The color of bruises

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 05, 2008

COLOURlovers, the site that takes inspiration from colors in the real world to make design palettes, today has a collection of palettes inspired by some wickedly vibrant bruises.

Star Wars influence chart

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

A chart from Wired in 2005 shows how Star Wars influenced the later development of movies, games, TV programs, and the like.

The Star Wars empire has grown into one of the most fertile incubators of talent in the worlds of movies (Lucasfilm), visual effects (Industrial Light & Magic), sound (Skywalker Sound), and video games (LucasArts). Along the way, some of the original Lucas crew has gone on to become his biggest competitors.

The Flash interface is really annoying and not useful...the whole image is a better way to look at it. Very Mark Lombardi. (via vc)

The Walls of China

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

Great Wall of China

Name: The Great Wall of China
Date of construction: 6th century B.C. through 16th century
Built to keep out: Invaders from the north
Status: Tourist attraction and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Little known fact: You actually can't see it from space.

Green Wall of China

Name: The Green Wall of China
Date of construction: 2002 through ~2050
Built to keep out: The Gobi Desert
Status: Mixed
Little known fact: Prior to the Wall's erection, the Gobi was advancing south at 3 km per year.

Great Firewall of China

Name: The Great Firewall of China
Date of construction: 2002 (and even earlier) to present
Built to keep out: Ideas
Status: Trivial to circumvent but still annoying
Little known fact: Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Skype, and MySpace all self-censor their services for use in China.

Great Wall photo by mooney47.

How to be a con man

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

I could read about con men and tricksters all day.

"I could sell shit at an anti-scat party," he says, "you have to figure out someone's wants and needs and convince them what you have will fill their emotional void." A con man is essentially a salesman — a remarkably good one — who excels at making people feel special and understood. A con man validates the victim's desire to believe he has an edge on other people.

It requires avid study of psychology and body language. It's an amazing paradox—a con man has incredible emotional insight, but without the burden of compassion. He must take an intense interest in other people, complete strangers, and work to understand them, yet remain detached and uninvested. That the plan is to cheat these people and ultimately confirm many of their fears cannot be of concern.

The particular fellow profiled in that piece has also written a book called How to Cheat at Everything.


posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

Experiments with Guilloche patterns, those fine geometric patterns you find on European banknotes.

Banknote patterns fascinate me. I can get lost for hours in all the details, seeing how the patterns fit together, how the lettering works, the tiny security 'flaws' — they're amazing. Central to banknote designs are Guilloche patterns, which can be created mechanically with a geometric lathe, or more likely these days, mathematically. The mathematical process attracted me immediately as I don't have a geometric lathe and nor do I have anywhere to put one. I do, however, have a computer, and at the point I first started playing with the designs (mid-2004) Illustrator and Photoshop had gained the ability to be scripted.

Predicting free throw success

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

Basketball players are more skilled than even keen observers of the game (sportswriters and coaches) when predicting whether a shot will go in the basket or not.

Not surprisingly, the players were significantly better at predicting whether or not the shot would go in. While they got it right more than two-thirds of the time, the non-playing experts (i.e., the coaches and writers) only got it right 44 percent of the time.

It's thought that the brains of the players act as though they are actually taking the shot.

In other words, when professional basketball players watch another player take a shot, mirror neurons in their pre-motor areas might light up as if they were taking the same shot. This automatic empathy allows them to predict where the ball will end up before the ball is even in the air.

Las Manitas closed forever

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

SXSW will never be the same again: Las Manitas is closed forever to make way for a Marriott Hotel complex. The patio out back = good times.

Triumph interviews Star Wars fans

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

I'm not sure anyone has made anything online funnier than this classic: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog interviews Star Wars fans standing in line for Attack of the Clones.

How a Wired article comes to be

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 04, 2008

Wired is keeping a blog that details the process of writing an upcoming story on, appropriately, writer/director Charlie Kaufman.

An almost-real-time, behind-the-scenes look at the assigning, writing, editing, and designing of a Wired feature. You can see more about the design process on Wired creative director Scott Dadich's SPD blog, The Process. This is a one-time experiment, tied solely to the Charlie Kaufman profile scheduled to run in our November 08 issue.

We will post internal e-mails, audio, video, drafts, memos, and layouts. We reserve the right to edit our posts, out of sympathy for the reader or to protect our relationships with our sources. We will not post emails with sources or reproduce communications that take place outside of Wired.

Reading through, I'm not sure I want to know how the sausage is made. With the well-established processes and tropes that magazines follow in publishing each and ever month, stuff like this has a tendency to come off as cynical and overly mechanical (e.g. the piece is already mostly written...they just need Kaufman to fill in the details). I also keep thinking...what if Kaufman reads this before his interviews take place? Is it better or worse for the finished piece that he knows their whole angle going in? (via snarkmarket)

Update: Clarification from Jason Tanz (the author of the Kaufman piece) at Wired...most of the interviews with Kaufman have already been conducted and a rough draft of the story has been completed. They wanted to be at least this far along before they posted any of these materials so as to avoid complications with the interview process. Tanz says that they hope to be "pretty close to real time [on the storyboard blog] by the end of next week".

Tumbrel remarks

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

Christopher Hitchens is an expert on the tumbrel remark.

A tumbrel remark is an unguarded comment by an uncontrollably rich person, of such crass insensitivity that it makes the workers and peasants think of lampposts and guillotines. I can give you a few for flavor. The late queen mother, being driven in a Rolls-Royce through a stricken district of Manchester, England, said as she winced at the view, "I see no point at all in being poor." The Duke of St. Albans once told an interviewer that an ancestor of his had lost about 50 million pounds in a foolish speculation in South African goldfields, adding after a pause, "That was a lot of money in those days." The Duke of Devonshire, having been criticized in the London Times, announced in an annoyed and plaintive tone that he would no longer have the newspaper "in any of my houses."

Someone please start a Tumblr of tumbrels. (via clusterflock)

Swing dancing in Washington Square Park

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

Shot this video of some swing dancing in Washington Square Park while out and about the other day.

You know, typical New York stroll in the park.

Relatively rich

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

Social scientist Dalton Conley on how rich people are now working longer hours than poor people in America.

This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn't have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).

In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy "the good life," we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.

The increasing income inequality in the US is partially to blame, says Conley. Those in the middle and upper middle classes are working harder and longer, trying to keep up with the Joneses who are growing more wealthy at an even faster pace. Conley's got a book coming out in January on the same topic called Elsewhere, USA. (via ah)

24-hour trip to NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

A lovely and "surprisingly moving" video of a day in NYC, shot entirely on an iPhone. (via lonelysandwich)

2008 NFL TV maps

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

New for the 2008 NFL season: the NFL TV distribution maps that tell you which football games are going to be broadcast is which parts of the country. They're using zoomable Google Maps this year...here's what a typical coverage map looks like:


During football season in a TV market like NYC, which is dominated by coverage of two local teams (Giants and Jets), this is an essential tool for determining if you're actually gonna get to watch the game you want to on Sunday.

Update: There's an interview on Yahoo with the guy that runs the site, J.P. Kirby.

Alec Baldwin, an appreciation

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

A profile of Alec Baldwin by Ian Parker for the New Yorker.

He recalled a day, a few years ago, when he was driving through L.A., saw a car run a red light, smash into another car, and keep moving. Baldwin gave chase and, eventually, blocked the culprit in a cul-de-sac. Before the police arrived, the driver got out of his car — "Typical drug-addict, alcoholic, fuckhead look on his face. He was, 'O.K., what? What? You're chasing me. What?' This nineteen-year-old kid, his eyes blazing. I'm thinking, I'm going to come over there and knock your teeth down your fucking throat just because you're asking me 'What?' You know what, you little fuck? I saw you. I'm a pretty liberal person, but my liberalness comes from what the government should be doing with its excess of wealth. That doesn't mean I'm not a law-and-order person. I'm the kind of person — you catch the kid who's drunk and high and he almost killed a girl, let's take him in and beat the shit out of him for a couple of hours. Then he'll learn." He laughed. "I believe that!"

Things I have enjoyed Alec Baldwin in:

The Hunt for Red October
Glengarry Glen Ross
The Departed
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Aviator

But what firmly installs Baldwin onto my list of favorite actors of all time is his many Saturday Night Live appearances. Watching Schweddy Balls and Inside the Actors Studio (with Baldwin as Charles Nelson Reilly) still brings tears of howling laughter to my eyes. I gotta bump 30 Rock to the top of my viewing queue.

Hidden radio

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

The Hidden Radio has no obvious controls...unless you count that the radio *is* the controls...it "has either no user interface...or...is all user interface".

Hidden Radio

The volume is controlled by lifting the lid of the radio (which also reveals the speaker). Tuning is done by twisting the lid. Absurdly clever. (via monoscope)

Old iPhones still valuable

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

Before the iPhone 3G came out in July, I did a quick price survey on the 1st generation iPhones being sold on eBay.

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.

After the 3G came out, the prices on the old iPhone remained about the same.

I just checked eBay again and those prices are down only slightly. Never-opened unlocked iPhones are still fetching $400-500 and somewhat less for previously used phones.

BusinessWeek recently confirmed that those old phones are still selling well, demonstrating a lot of demand for iPhones that can be easily unlocked for use on networks besides AT&T in the US and elsewhere in the world.

On e-commerce site eBay, where NextWorth peddles many of its wares, a 16-GB version of the first-generation iPhone goes for about $600, and an 8-GB model in good condition commands $500. When it was new, the 16-GB phone sold for $499; the 8-GB model went for $399. Today, AT&T's most expensive iPhone 3G model sells for $300 with a two-year service contract.

Amazing switched at birth story

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

I just finished listening to this amazing episode of This American Life about two babies who were switched at birth and didn't find out FOR MORE THAN FORTY YEARS even though one of the mothers knew all along.

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families' lives — and how it didn't.

The worst part about the whole thing is that the mother that knew, Mrs. Miller, always treated her non-biological daughter differently, like she wasn't really a full part of the family. The Millers sound like awful people.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 03, 2008

The R-rated trailer for Kevin Smith's new film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Promising!

First look: Alinea book

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Michael Ruhlman has some photos of the Alinea book in the wild. Though possibly biased, he says it's a beaut.

Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas, along with designer Martin Kastner and his wife, photographer Lara Kastner, wanted to do it on their own and so they have. Kastner, I believe a sculptor by trade, had never designed a book. His wife had never photographed a book, food or otherwise. Grant and Nick had never done a book either. And they were told by numerous publishers (in a nasally dismissive tone, Kokonas suggested) that they just didn't have the skill or experience to do what they wanted to ("Gray pages?! You can't do gray pages!" "You can't sell a book like this at that price.")

As mentioned in the post, the Alinea book is only $31.50 if you order through Amazon.

In a world, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Don LaFontaine, the voice of countless movie trailers, is dead at 68. I liked this tribute from the Washington Post:

In a world of people who all have some sort of private omniscient voice-over running things inside their heads, sometimes God, sometimes Mom, and sometimes Don LaFontaine...

In a world where marketing is far more important than content...came one man...with a Voice.

Check out a brief bio video of LaFontaine with his voice in action.

Muxtape still offline

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Muxtape, sadly, still offline.

Pre-European Amazonian civilization

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Before European conquerers arrived, large areas of the Amazon River basin had been cleared away to make room for a network of towns and villages.

The findings raise big questions, says Susanna Hecht of the University of California in Los Angeles.

For starters, it forces a rethink of the long-held assumption that these parts of the Amazon were virtually empty before colonisation. What's more, it shows that the large populations that did inhabit the region transformed the landscape.

"What we find is that what we think of as the primitive Amazon forest is not so primitive after all," Heckenberger told New Scientist. "European colonialism wasted huge numbers of native peoples and cleared them off the land, so that the forest returned."

I'm gonna plug 1491 again...the story above isn't news to anyone who's read this book, which argues that there was plenty going on in the New World before Columbus, et. al. arrived.

What not to write in your thesis

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Footnotes, Endnotes, and Parentheticals That Cost Me Marks on My Thesis.

3 Who, although a gifted academic, is still a douche.
10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Paul_Sartre

Fashion for the seasonally depressed

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

Two t-shirts for those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder: s.a.d. t-shirt 01 and s.a.d. t-shirt 02. Both shirts feature inks that reveal hidden elements when worn in the sun or warm weather. (Psst, Hypercolor shirts are back and, yes, I'm a bit OMGWMCC about it. What, it's not possible to buy your childhood back?) (Psst, oh my God, where's my credit card?)

Update: For whatever reason, the site featuring those tshirts has been taken down. today and tomorrow grabbed some of the pics though.

Gravestone motif analysis

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

An analysis of the three major types of gravestone motifs used in eastern Massachusetts during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The earliest of the three is a winged death's head, with blank eyes and a grinning visage. Earlier versions are quite ornate, but as time passes, they become less elaborate. Sometime during the eighteenth century — the time varies according to location — the grim death's head designs are replaced, more or less quickly, by winged cherubs. This design also goes through a gradual simplification of form with time. By the late 1700's or early 1800's, again depending on where you are observing, the cherubs are replaced by stones decorated with a willow tree overhanging a pedestaled urn.

Pay special attention to the graph of the popularity of each motif and the slideshow of example gravestones. (thx, peterme)

Update: A reader writes in:

In regards to your post on Gravestone Motif Analysis, I think that the most important text on the subject is still Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815 by Allen Ludwig. It was originally published in 1966, before the article that you linked to. However, Wesleyan University Press published a new edition in 2000 to help meet the rising demands of Material Culture Studies courses. Lots of helpful images and histograms showing the changing patterns of gravestones over that time period.

I *love* that the collective readership of this site knows what the definitive text on New England gravestone carving is. (big thx, fletcher)

Walter Benjamin's tips for writing

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

A list of writing tips from Walter Benjamin.

Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

I find that when I develop an idea for too long in my head, I forget most of it when I go to write it down. Once again proving that Walter Benjamin is a better man than I am.

Silkscreen in cross-stitch

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 02, 2008

In addition to being well-suited to web graphics, Silkscreen works equally well in cross-stitch.

Entire New Yorker online this week

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 01, 2008

I think this is a first (or a mistake): the entire issue of the latest New Yorker is available online for free. Usually they leave 5-7 articles offline so's to get your cheap ass to the newsstand.

Google Chrome, Google Browser

posted by Jason Kottke Sep 01, 2008

Google Browser, 2001.

What if Google built something that was very much like a browser but was mainly used for searching for information. What if they built a tool that was focused on searching for answers to your questions first, and looking at web pages second. Wrap your head around that. You have search needs. You also have unique search patterns. You have ways of looking for information that are very interesting and personal. Where are the tools that help you search? You are probably thinking of search engines, like Google. But search engines are server based. Why not bring the power of the server to the desktop? There are some tools out there like this, but they aren't complete. They also don't have the usability and brand recognition of Google.

Google Browser, 2003.

So, a Google browser, based on Mozilla. An easily-justified commitment to cross-platform support and outstanding user experience, based on Google's history of honoring those tenets and the Mozilla organization's inherent preference for them. Culturally, hiring the core members of the Mozilla dev team would be an extraordinarily easy fit. And, frankly, it'd probably require little more development resources, bandwidth, or staffing than the Pyra acquisition did.

Google Browser, 2004.

Google could use their JavaScript expertise (in the form of Gmail ubercoder Chris Wetherell) to build Mozilla applications. Built-in blogging tools. Built-in Gmail tools. Built-in search tools. A search pane that watches what you're browsing and suggests related pages and search queries or watches what you're blogging and suggests related pages, news items, or emails you've written. Google Toolbar++. You get the idea.

Google Browser, 2008.

All of us at Google spend much of our time working inside a browser. We search, chat, email and collaborate in a browser. And in our spare time, we shop, bank, read news and keep in touch with friends — all using a browser. Because we spend so much time online, we began seriously thinking about what kind of browser could exist if we started from scratch and built on the best elements out there. We realized that the web had evolved from mainly simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and that we needed to completely rethink the browser. What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build.

More on this tomorrow if motivation allows.

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