Entries for December 2008 (January 2009 »    February 2009 »    March 2009 »    Archives)

NY Times Year in Pictures

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 30, 2008

The NY Times’ Year in Pictures for 2008.

The younger foodie set

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 30, 2008

A fifteen-year old foodie used some of the money from his summer job to go dine solo at Per Se. In an attempt to secure the hard-to-get reservation, he asked to be excused from his classroom and dialed the reservations line while hiding in the bathroom.

It was September 29th; exactly two months from the Saturday of Thanksgiving break and one of the few times I would be able to make the trek up to New York to dine at Per Se. I would have to call to make the reservation at Per Se at exactly 10 A.M today if I had any hope of getting that Saturday reservation. The only problem? I had school.

I sat patiently in my 9:30 - 10:25 science class as the clock neared 10. Very strategically, at exactly 9:57, I innocently asked to use the bathroom. I walked, no sprinted to the bathroom down the hall. I scrolled down my contact list until I reached Per Se, then dialed, and waited…

Still Considering the Lobster

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 30, 2008

In a letter to the editor from Janice Blake of Milton, Massachusetts printed in the December 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine, a belated appreciation of David Foster Wallace’s 2004 piece, Consider the Lobster.

I began subscribing to Gourmet in 1973, but I have to admit that over the years, I haven’t been able to read each issue from cover to cover. I’m just now getting around to reading August 2004’s issue. “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace, was a delight — it went well beyond informative and entertaining; it was challenging and thought-provoking. I vividly remember the spate of letters that followed its publication. In fact, I was so impressed with his article that I recently decided to write to say thank you both to the author and to you. What a shock it was to find out that he had tragically passed away. Thank you, Gourmet, for being so willing to change and grow over the years, and for challenging all of us faitful readers to do the same.

Worst photo ever?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 30, 2008

Is a recent Annie Leibovitz photograph shot for the 2009 Lavazza espresso calendar the worst photograph ever made?

This picture as a whole has absolutely zero connection to reality or honest depiction, but is unredeemed by any countervailing expressive or artistic purpose. And (and this puts it out in front of many other contenders) it was all done intentionally, front to back, top to bottom, money-no-object, by an army of the most talented professionals, from art director to stylists to make-up artists to baby-wranglers to lighting assistants to photographer to digital retoucher, all working assiduously in concert in pursuit of the utterly pointless.

It is a horrible photograph. Leibovitz’s recent portrait of Queen Elizabeth was also digitally stitched up…the Queen was photographed inside and later matched with a garden background. I’m not going to say that these aren’t photographs, but they aren’t the kind of photographs that I’m fond of.

Wide left, no, wide right!

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 29, 2008

Highlights of yesterday’s Patriots/Bills game, aka The Wind Bowl. We must have rewound that Buffalo field goal attempt at least five times…I still can’t believe it hooked that much in two different directions.

My year in cities, 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 29, 2008

For the fourth year in a row, a list of all the places I visited in 2008.

Waitsfield, VT*
New York City, NY*
Boston, MA*
Orange, MA*
Springfield, MA
London, UK
Paris, France
Buffalo, NY
Binghamton, NY
Cedar Rapids, IA
Nantucket, MA
Las Vegas, NV
Washington DC

One or more nights were spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Note: We didn’t actually spend the night in Paris, but we were there all day so I threw it in there. Here are the lists for 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Passive houses

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 29, 2008

Passive houses — homes that use “recycled heat” to heat themselves, rather than a furnace — are growing more popular in Germany and slowly spreading elsewhere in the world.

The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants’ bodies.

Meta journalism

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 29, 2008

Ketzel Levine is a NPR senior correspondent who came up with the idea of doing a series about how Americans are handling the economic downturn…and then got laid off by NPR in the middle of her reporting. Here’s the series, American Moxie, How We Get By.

Sell your gift cards

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2008

Just in time for after Christmas and Hanukkah: GiftCardRescue buys your unwanted gift cards for 60 to 80% of the cards’ value. (via vsl)

outside.in’s StoryMaps

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2008

I made a slight addition to the kottke.org archives page the other day: a StoryMap from outside.in’s GeoToolkit.

[I removed the map temporarily because it wasn’t loading.]

To construct the map, outside.in scrapes kottke.org’s RSS feed, looks for names of specific places, and plots the related blog entries on a map. There’s not a lot of local content on kottke.org but the results are still pretty good; it works a lot better on a local site like Gothamist. [Disclosure: I am an advisor to outside.in.]

Whole wheat Christ has more flavor

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2008

The Cavanagh Company of Greenville, Rhode Island makes about 80% of the communion wafers used by several Christian churches in the US.

Some customers say the Cavanaghs have such a big market share because their product is about as close to perfect as earthly possible. “It doesn’t crumb, and I don’t like fragments of our Lord scattering all over the floor,” said the Rev. Bob Dietel, an Episcopal priest.

More bush (not George W.)

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2008

In these tight times, more women are scaling back their pubic topiary activities and opting for a more natural look.

GEL videos

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2008

The excellent GEL conference has started posting videos of some of the presentations made during the conference.

Buzzwords, 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 24, 2008

Grant Barrett and Mark Leibovich review the buzzwords of 2008. Good to see “nuke the fridge” and Flickr’s “long photo” make it.

2009 Eustace Tilley Contest

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 24, 2008

The New Yorker is holding their second annual Eustace Tilley Contest in which they invite readers to make their own variations on the magazine’s “iconic dandy”. Here are last year’s submissions.

An unlikely baseball record

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 23, 2008

The number of pinstripes on a Yankees jersey varies with the size of the player…the bigger the man, the more pinstripes on the jersey. With the Yankees’ recent signing of CC Sabathia, a rather large gentleman, ESPN’s Paul Lukas wonders: will Sabathia have the most Yankee pinstripes in history?

You’re embarking on a new field of study here, so we have to make up our own rules and standards as we go,” he said. “For example, depending on how a jersey is tailored, the number of pinstripes at the top and at the bottom aren’t necessarily the same. Also, the space between the pinstripes has changed a bit over the years, and the pinstripes themselves are thinner today than in the old days.

(thx, djacobs)

An NBA player classification

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 23, 2008

Charting out NBA archetypes.

Each player probably won’t fall neatly into one of these classifications, but I would say that most could claim one of these titles as their “primary” classification. Take Kobe, for example: I would classify Kobes as primary: Surreal scorer, secondary: Renaissance man. So what does that say about Kobe’s placement on this type of hierarchy? It says that in terms of value based on classification alone, Kobe would be among the second tier of players. This brings about the point that as a general rule, sheer talent could push a player up one tier, or maybe even two.

And LeBron James is off in a blue circle on top, all by himself. (via truehoop)

Admin notes

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 23, 2008

For the next two weeks or so, kottke.org will relax into a slower holiday publishing schedule, so slow that at times it may seem stationary. I’ll be full force again at the beginning of January. Thanks for reading this year, I really appreciate it.

Also, I’ve opened up some more slots for RSS sponsorships for the first two months of the year. Details and pricing are available here; get in touch if you’re interested. Thanks!

HD video by Hubble telescope

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 23, 2008

This HD video taken by the Hubble telescope of Ganymede going behind Jupiter looks completely computer generated and surreal.

Best architecture of 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 23, 2008

Paul Goldberger, the New Yorker’s architecture critic, lists his ten favorite buildings of 2008.

In time for the 2008 Olympics, the world saw the fruits of China’s decision to put aside nationalism, hire the greatest architects from around the world, and let them do the kind of things they could never afford to do at home. That brought us two of the greatest buildings of the year, Herzog and de Meuron’s extraordinary Olympic Stadium, the stunning steel latticework structure widely known as the Bird’s Nest; and Norman Foster’s Beijing Airport, a project that was not only bigger than any other airport in the world, but more beautiful, more logically laid out, and more quickly built. And the headquarters of CCTV, the Chinese television network, by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture — a building which I had thought was going to be a pretentious piece of structural exhibitionism — turned out to be a compelling and exciting piece of structural exhibitionism.

Big disagree on Eliasson’s NYC waterfalls…they were underwhelming.

Worst/best logos of 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 22, 2008

Brand New runs down the best and worst new logos of 2008. Some of the bad ones are downright awful…the WGN one is crazy bad.

The Last Traffic Jam

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 22, 2008

From The Last Traffic Jam in The Atlantic.

Unless we exercise foresight and devise growth-limits policies for the auto industry, events will thrust us into a crisis that will lead to a substantial erosion of our domestic oil supply as well as the independence it provides us with, and a level of petroleum imports that could cost as much as $20 to $30 billion per year. (This in turn would produce a staggering balance-of-payments problem for the United States, and give the Middle Eastern suppliers a dangerous leverage over our transportation system as well.) Moreover, we would still be depleting our remaining oil reserves at an unacceptable rate, and scrambling for petroleum substitutes, with enormous potential damage to the environment.


In short, common sense dictates that we begin a transition to policies designed to avoid an energy impasse that could cripple out transportation system and imperil our economy. We must set growth limits that will allow the automobile and oil industries to maintain economic stability while conserving our resources and preserving our environment. Of course, such a reorientation will require statesmanship as well as public pressure. It will not happen unless corporate self-interest yields to a responsible outlook that serves the broader interests of the nation as a whole. Above all, this shift requires a thorough redirection of the aims of these two industries.

Believe it or not, those words appeared in the magazine in 1972. These views would have seemed out-of-date and old fashioned just a year or two ago but now all those chickens are coming home to roost.

Dog pee mystery

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 22, 2008

Ortho at Baudrillard’s Bastard found a bunch of Revolutionary War era prints featuring dogs peeing on various things (ministers, maps, tea accessories, etc.) and asks why are these dogs peeing on things?

Update: Seventeenth-century Dutch artist Emanuel de Witte painted peeing dogs in his paintings as well. (thx, pb)

Not a lot of gold

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 22, 2008

The estimated total amount of gold mined by humans would fill a cube that’s only 25 meters on a side. Platinum is even more rare…all of the mined platinum in the world would fit inside an average home. (thx, jake)

Audio aquariums

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on a system to track the motion of fish in their tank in order to make music from their movements.

[Video removed because I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the annoying autoplay. Go here to watch it.]

It works through a camera that uses recognition software that tracks objects based on their shape and color. The software then links each movement to different instruments that change in pitch and tempo as the fish patrol the tank. Fish that move toward the surface have a higher pitch. The faster they move, the faster the tempo.

The idea is to create audio aquariums for the blind. (via clusterflock)

Obama’s speech writer

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

Nice short profile of Jon Favreau, Obama’s 27-year-old speechwriter, and his influences.

And Favreau is right, Gerson’s speech for Bush that September 20 was one of the great speeches in American history. But it must be noted here that with that speech the discord between speech and speaker has never been more pronounced, for we have come to know that Gerson’s boss never fully grasped the power of words. With an exalting script, Gerson could make George W. Bush sound like Winston Churchill for an hour. But it is Jon Favreau’s task and his gift that he is able to make his boss — a fellow who has been known to write a sentence or two on his own — sound like Barack Obama.

What I don’t understand is how Favreau finds the time to write Obama’s speeches *and* direct Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. Time machine?

A world atlas by The Onion

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

Our Dumb World is an atlas of the World presented by The Onion. It manages to inform (poorly) and entertain at the same time. For instance, here’s their description of Israel:

Home to one-third of the world’s Jews and two-thirds of the world’s anti-Semites, the nation of Israel is a place so holy that merely walking in it can gain you a place in the World to Come, nowadays often within minutes.

And about the US, “The Land Of Opportunism”:

The United States was founded in 1776 on the principles of life, liberty, and the reckless pursuit of happiness at any cost — even life and liberty.

The atlas is also available in book form.

Careers in thermometrics

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

David Mamet, speaking on Jeremy Piven’s decision to leave Mamet’s play, Speed the Plow, in the middle of its run because of mercury poisoning:

My understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.

Piven’s elevated mercury levels came from eating too much sushi and other fish.

Heart-shaped NYC subway map

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

A beautiful heart-shaped map of the NYC subway system is among the several such maps done by a pair of Korean graphic designers calling themselves Zero Per Zero.

Heart NYC Subway Map

A portable map version is available for sale, but the shipping cost from Korea to the US is a bit steep.

The dangers of precision air travel

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

William Langewiesche wrote a long piece for the January 2009 issue of Vanity Fair about the September 2006 collision of a Legacy 600 private jet and Gol Flight 1907 over the Amazon basin in Brazil. It is a tale of “a paradox associated with progress and modern times”.

Navigational precision poses dangers not immediately apparent. In the Legacy, it was based on three systems. The first was an ultra-accurate altimeter, capable of measuring the atmosphere with such finesse that at Flight Level 370 it could distinguish the Legacy’s altitude within perhaps five feet. The second was almost as accurate. It was the airplane’s satellite-based G.P.S. receiver, a positioning system that kept track of the airplane’s geographic location within a distance of half of its wingspan, and that, linked to a navigational database, defined the assigned airway with equal precision. The third was an autopilot that flew better than its human masters, and, however mindlessly, worked with the altimeter and G.P.S. to keep the airplane spot-on. Such capability is relatively new. Until recently, head-on airplanes mistakenly assigned the same altitude and route by Air Traffic Control would almost certainly have passed some distance apart, due to the navigation slop inherent in their systems. But this is no longer true. The problem for the Legacy was that the Boeing coming at them on the same assigned flight path had equipment that was every bit as precise.

Interesting throughout, it becomes downright gripping about 2/3rds of the way through. The interplay between and the eventual reversal of the pilot and co-pilot of the Legacy is fascinating.

Update: Joe Sharkey, who was on the Legacy jet when it collided with the 737, doesn’t like Langewiesche’s article very much, calling it a “journalistically disgraceful article”.

I’m not a pilot but my dad was and I flew all the time with him when I was a kid. I know what Sharkey is talking about when he says that flying a plane is not like driving a car; once you get in the air and are pointed in the right direction with the autopilot on, there’s not a whole lot the pilot is required to do. But in my reading of the article, I don’t think Langewiesche was saying that the two Legacy pilots in particular were screwing around or negligent. They were acting pretty much how any other two pilots in the same situation might act. Langewiesche’s point seems to be: the experience of flying a plane like the Legacy, with all the technology that’s there to help pilots — good and bad — do their jobs, might actually be made worse and more dangerous by that technology. Also that, as he stated at the beginning of the article, there were a whole lot of different decisions and non-decisions that converged to make that event happen…a huge pile of bad luck.

As for not talking to any of the people on the Legacy for the article, I don’t think that’s as significant as Sharkey asserts. Everyone who was aboard the Legacy jet that day is likely feeling pretty defensive about the whole thing given the intense reaction against them by the Brazilian government, the pilots doubly so given that they’re involved in a lawsuit. A prudent journalist would rightly be worried about the veracity of a narrative offered up in these circumstances, almost two years after the fact. Instead, Langewiesche chose to rely not on opinions and recollections but on the available data — the cockpit voice recordings, air traffic control records, etc….how people actually behaved in the situation, not how they say they acted or what they thought about it. Put it this way: if Sharkey and Langewiesche were to write competing books about the collision, the former based on extensive interviews with those involved and the latter based only on the available evidence, neither would be much closer to “the truth” than the other. (thx, scott)

Slavery, worse than ever

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

There are more slaves in the world today than at any time in human history. Buying a slave in Haiti takes just a few minutes and is only a short plane ride away.

But the deal isn’t done. Benavil leans in close. “This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a ‘partner’? You understand what I mean?”

You don’t blink at being asked if you want the child for sex. “I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?”

“Oui!” Benavil responds enthusiastically.

If you’re interested in taking your purchase back to the United States, Benavil tells you that he can “arrange” the proper papers to make it look as though you’ve adopted the child.

This article is adapted from E. Benjamin Skinner’s A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery.

Update: I believe I’ve linked to Free the Slaves before but it’s always worth another look.

Free the Slaves liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever. We use world class research and compelling stories from the frontlines of slavery to convince the powerful and the powerless that we can end slavery.

(thx, jacob)

Mmm, lame duck

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

Vanity Fair has gotten ahold of a few menus to be served at the White House before George W. Bush leaves office. Here are a few of the dishes:

Gored hearts of Palm Beach, with hanging chard
Chateau Petreas, Iraqi Riserva (bold start with a long, nutty finish)
Utter tripe, with Crawford ranch dressing
Deep-fried Halliburton, in Saddam Hoisin Sauce
New Orleans flounder

And for dessert, coalition crumble.

Ebert’s 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 19, 2008

Roger Ebert reminisces about the car of his boyhood dreams, the 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk.

“When these cars were new,” I said. “They weremuch faster than ‘57 Corvettes or T-Birds. The salesmen would put a client on the back seat, put a $100 bill on the front seat, and tell the client he could keep the money if he could overcome the force of the acceleration, and lean forward and pick it up while the Hawk was doing zero-to-60.”

Ebert owned a Golden Hawk for several years before he had to sell it because he couldn’t maintain it properly.

A Wii-playing Lego robot

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

Wiigobot is a robot built out of Legos that can bowl a perfect game in Wii Sports bowling. Just another step on the way to total human obsolescence. See if you can stay awake during a video of a robot playing a computer in bowling. (via thih)

Interview with Darren Aronofsky

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

The Onion AV Club has an interview with Darren Aronofsky about his new film, The Wrestler.

The more we thought about it, the more we realized the connections between the stripper and the wrestler were really significant. They both have fake stage names, they both put on costumes, they both charm an audience and create a fantasy for the audience, and they both use their body as their art, so time is their biggest enemy.

Toddler or not, I’m getting out of the damn house to see this movie.

The Chef programming language

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

I have no idea how to describe the Chef programing language to you, but here is its Hello World program, in the form of a souffle:

72 g haricot beans
101 eggs
108 g lard
111 cups oil
32 zucchinis
119 ml water
114 g red salmon
100 g dijon mustard
33 potatoes

Put potatoes into the mixing bowl. Put dijon mustard into the mixing bowl. Put lard into the mixing bowl. Put red salmon into the mixing bowl. Put oil into the mixing bowl. Put water into the mixing bowl. Put zucchinis into the mixing bowl. Put oil into the mixing bowl. Put lard into the mixing bowl. Put lard into the mixing bowl. Put eggs into the mixing bowl. Put haricot beans into the mixing bowl. Liquefy contents of the mixing bowl. Pour contents of the mixing bowl into the baking dish.

Serves 1.

Ok, I think I get it now…the programs look like food recipes but act like code when run through the proper interpreter. Mmmm, fibonacci with caramel sauce! (via ben fry)

Area woman makes good

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

Part of The Onion’s end-of-2008 package: Area Woman Becomes Republican Vice Presidential Candidate.

The mother of five, who enjoys attending church potluck dinners with husband Todd, an unemployed commercial fisherman, reportedly “jumped at the chance” to become the second most powerful person in the country.

Sometimes the funniest fake news is disturbingly real.

How do we find good teachers and QBs?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

This is more than a week old but I just finished reading it, so stick it. Malcolm Gladwell says that the problem of finding good teachers is the same sort of problem encountered by scouts attempting to find good NFL quarterbacks.

The problem with picking quarterbacks is that [college QB] Chase Daniel’s performance can’t be predicted. The job he’s being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won’t. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft — that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance — and how well he played in the pros.

A group of researchers — Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard’s school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications — as much as they appear related to teaching prowess — turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.

The upshot is that NFL quarterbacking and teaching are both jobs that need to be performed in order to find out if a certain person is good at them or not. For more, check out a follow-up post on Gladwell’s blog.

Speedcubing with the Fridrich Method

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

The Fridrich Method is a collection of more than 50 algorithms for solving the Rubik’s Cube. Developed by Dr. Jessica Fridrich, a Binghamton University electrical engineering professor, it is currently the fastest way to solve the Cube.

Cubing is a deep rabbit hole on the web so just two additional things. Here’s Dr. Fridrich solving the Cube in 16 seconds, which is actually 2 seconds slower than the one-handed world record holder. And this…this is just amazing: 7 cube moves in just 0.7 seconds (same move, a lot slower).

Ok, I lied, one more. Will Smith can solve the Cube in less than a minute.

Periodic table of awesomeness

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

A periodic table of awesomeness featuring Bacon as element #1, Laser as #21, and Black Holes as #82. I like bacon. Bacon is a close personal friend of mine. But can’t we keep this overexposed pork product out of it for once? (via rw)

Big Picture’s photos of the year

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 18, 2008

The wonderful Big Picture presents part one of the year 2008 in photographs. I’ll say it again, seeing these fantastic photos large is a whole ‘nother ball game. Parts two and three to come later today and tomorrow.

Update: Part two.

Update: And part three.

Island TV

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

Have you noticed that people like watching TV programs which take place on islands? It’s true! Some of the most popular shows in history are set on islands. Perhaps it’s the warm weather, laid-back island living, the friendly people, the azure seas, and palm trees that attract viewers. Who can really say? Here are some popular TV programs that take place or are filmed on islands.

The Cosby Show
Mad Men
Law & Order
I Love Lucy
30 Rock
All in the Family
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Countdown with Keith Olbermann
NBC Nightly News
Good Morning America

Update: Oh, man, I forgot Fawlty Towers, The Office, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus! (thx, martin)

Citizen cartographers, unite!

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

Google is soliciting contributions to Google Maps with their Map Maker service.

With Google Map Maker, you can become a citizen cartographer and help improve the quality of maps and local information in your region. You are invited to map the world with us!

They’ve posted several videos to YouTube that show timelapsed edits to maps; here’s Islamabad, Pakistan coming into existence. (via o’reilly radar)

Update: Several people wrote in to recommend OpenStreetMap instead because Google doesn’t make the data available in a raw form whereas the OSM data is under a CC license available for derivative works like OpenCycleMap. (thx, mike and everyone)

Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

Bad Astronomy has its list of the top 10 astronomy pictures of 2008 up. It includes this video of the moon orbiting the earth, comprised of a series of photos taken by a reassigned space probe.

There has never been a generation of humans in all of history who could see such an event. If you ever get a little depressed, or lonely, or think like there’s nothing going on that’s interesting any more, think on that for a moment or two. A thousand generations of people could only imagine such a thing, but we can actually do it.

(thx, amos)

Sex and the City tours

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

A.A. Gill goes on a Sex and the City tour and loves to hate it.

You remember the episode where Carrie spills the cappuccino because she’s looking after the dog and has lost the manuscript with a description of oral sex with the Russian and then oh my God she bumps into Big who she hasn’t seen since that time with the martini olives and the hemorrhoids? Well, if you look to the right, that’s the cafe, and it’s like oh my God bad hair dog blow job cappuccino hell. You remember that of course.

Oh, just one more excerpt:

I suppose a vibrator might be an impulse buy, and buying yourself one in front of 50 strangers with whom you then have to share a bus journey might be considered the height of liberated insouciance. But buying a sex aid because some actress has faked an orgasm on TV with it is evidence that there’s more wrong with your social life than can be fixed by a dildo.

Obama, Time’s Person of the Year for 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

In an obvious move, Time named Barack Obama their Person of the Year for 2008. But give Time credit; they got Shepard Fairey to do the cover based on his iconic poster of Obama.

Update: They’ve also compiled some of the best photos of Obama from Flickr.

Update: Here’s a video of Fairey talking about his work and how he created the Time cover.

Remnick writing Obama book

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, is writing a book about Barack Obama, race, and politics in America. The “germ of the book” is a great piece that ran in the magazine shortly after the election called The Joshua Generation.

Designs of the year, 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

Some design heavies — Paula Scher and Gary Hustwit among them — choose their design highlights of 2008.

The best conceived, designed, and expressed total idea, ever: Barack Obama’s entire campaign, each and every part of it, including Barack Obama.

Two designs I found interesting were the Surface Table (made of carbon fiber, it’s only 2mm thick for a 13-foot-long table!) and Boudicca Wode Perfume, which sprays on blue and fades to transparent over time. (via quips)

Star Wars on The Muppet Show in 1980

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 17, 2008

Four months before the opening of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca appeared as the special guest stars on The Muppet Show. Mark Hamill’s first line as Skywalker is:

It seems we’ve landed on some sort of comedy variety show planet.

…and it goes downhill from there. The whole show is available on YouTube in three parts:

The appearance was probably orchestrated as a promotional crossover. Frank Oz voiced Yoda in Empire and was a lead puppeteer for The Muppet Show, performing Missy Piggy and Fozzie, among others.

The Chronic, in Lego

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

Dr Dre, The Chronic

Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, in Lego. From Format magazine’s list of 20 classic hip-hop album covers recreated in Lego. Good time for a listen.

The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

Regret the Error has released their annual roundup of media errors and corrections for 2008. The absurd corrections are always the best:

We have been asked to point out that Stuart Kennedy, of Flat E, 38 Don Street, Aberdeen, who appeared at Peterhead Sheriff Court on Monday, had 316 pink, frilly garters confiscated not 316 pink, frilly knickers.

And this:

A film review on Sept. 5 about “Save Me” confused some characters and actors. It is Mark, not Chad, who is sent to the Genesis House retreat for converting gay men to heterosexuality. (Mark is played by Chad Allen; there is no character named Chad). The hunky fellow resident is Scott (played by Robert Gant), not Ted (Stephen Lang). And it is Mark and Scott — not “Chad and Ted” — who partake of cigarettes and “furtive man-on-man action.”

They also highlighted a Guardian typo: “Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude, not One Hundred Years of Solicitude”. I don’t know though…2006 and 2005 were pretty great.

Proto parkour

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

From a 1977 film called Gizmo, some urban tumbling from the 1930s that strongly resembles the contemporary sport of parkour.

The full film is available on Google Video. (via waxy)

The President’s Guide to Science

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

Aired a few weeks before the 2008 election, The President’s Guide to Science is a 50-minute video featuring several prominent scientists — Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, etc. — offering their advice for the incoming US President, basically what they would teach the President about science. (via smashing telly)

Changing New York

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

Included in the NYPL’s recent addition to the Flickr Commons project is Changing New York, a selection of photos taken of NYC in the 1930s by Berenice Abbott as part of a government program for unemployed artists. Here are the Starrett-Lehigh Building and looking north from Washington Square…so open! And the buildings are so low too. The Cyanotypes of British Algae set is worth a look as well.

I Am Sitting in a Room

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

I Am Sitting in a Room is a piece by composer Alvin Lucier. It consists of an audio recording of Lucier sitting in a room reciting a few lines. That recording is played in the same room and recorded. Then that recording is recorded. And so on.

I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.

Here’s a recording of the original performance:

Listening to it, I wonder how much of the distortion at the end is due to the “resonant frequencies of the room” and how much is just artifacts of the rerecording process. (via djacobs)

Upgrade: It’s the Larsen effect in action.

The frequency of the resulting sound is determined by resonant frequencies in the microphone, amplifier, and loudspeaker, the acoustics of the room, the directional pick-up and emission patterns of the microphone and loudspeaker, and the distance between them.

(thx, eric)

Project management lingo

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

Michael Sippey collected a bunch of project management lingo from a PM mailing list. Hit with the scope bat, analysis paralysis, eating the elephant one bite at a time, come to Beavis meeting, nine women can’t have a baby in one month, schedule chicken…collect them all.

Update: You may now play project management lingo bingo.

Muppet chickens + 2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 16, 2008

After posting the video of the chickens from the Muppets clucking their way through the Blue Danube waltz, I couldn’t resist putting it together with the most iconic use of that tune in contemporary culture. Here, then, is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Chicken Cordon Bleu Danube cut.

Wolverine trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

The HD trailer for Wolverine (or, more formally, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Looks mighty sweet. (via airbag)

Seed’s science photography portfolio

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

Seed Magazine has collected some of the wonderful science-themed photography which appears in the pages of the magazine into an online portfolio.

Seed Portfolio

Bacteria photo by Eshel Ben-Jacob.

The Muppets sing

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

Beeker from The Muppets sings Ode to Joy.

Meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep meep, meep meep…

Gonzo, Camilla, and the rest of the chickens sing The Blue Danube Waltz.

Bock bock bock bock, bock bock, bock bock. Bock bock bock bock, bock bock, bock bock…

Somewhat related: Beaker sings Yellow by Coldplay.

Some unusual Bibles

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

The best selling Bible study text on Amazon right now is Bible Illuminated, a “286-page glossy oversized magazine style” version of the New Testament (look inside here).

A site that bills itself as the #1 Christian Porn Site sells Jesus Loves Porn Stars Bibles.

The Green Bible is also very popular on Amazon.

The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God’s vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it. With over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.

James Earl Jones Reads The Bible.

In a voice as rich as it is recognized, James Earl Jones lends his narrative talents to the King James Version of the New Testament. In over 19 hours on 16 compact discs enhanced with a complete musical score, James Earl Jones interprets the most enduring book of our time utilizing the acclaimed actor’s superb storytelling and skilled characterizations. Hailed as the greatest spoken-word bible version ever, and with almost half a million copies sold, this exquisite audio treasury is certain to enthuse and inspire.

The Message Remix 2.0 is a version for young people written in “today’s language”. Here’s the first few verses of Genesis:

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

Inspired By The Bible Experience is a 85-hour audiobook of the entire Bible with over 400 different readers, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Denzel Washington, LL Cool J, and Faith Evans. Samuel L. Jackson plays God! I wonder if he gets to recite this bit from Pulp Fiction:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

The Chronological Study Bible presents the text of the Bible in the order in which they occurred.

The Manga Bible.

The Brick Testament is an online Lego version of the Bible. See The Last Supper. (via BBC)

The Year in Ideas

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

The NY Times has posted their annual Year in Ideas collection for 2008, packaged this year in an “interactive feature”, which is Esperanto for “no permalinks”. A favorite so far in paging through is Tokujin Yoshioka’s Venus Natural Crystal Chair, a piece of furniture grown in mineral water.

Update: Permalinks are a go. I repeat, permalinks are a go. Here’s the one for the crystal chair. (thx, everyone)

David Foster Wallace, philosopher

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

A short piece on David Foster Wallace’s college philosophy thesis.

Even after he began writing fiction in college — he simultaneously completed a second undergraduate thesis, in English, that ultimately became his 1987 novel, “The Broom of the System” — it was still philosophy that defined him academically. “I knew him as a philosopher with a fiction hobby,” Jay Garfield, an adviser on Wallace’s thesis and now a professor at Smith College, told me recently. “I didn’t realize he was one of the great fiction writers of his generation with a philosophy hobby.”

Slightly uncomfortable chairs

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

How to keep your meetings short: use the Slightly Uncomfortable Chair Collection.

 Slightly Uncomfortable Chair Collection

Are you a film addict?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

Film Addict takes the top 250 films on IMDB and quizzes you on how many you’ve seen. My score is 53.6% (I’ve hardly seen anything made before 1970). Compare your score. (thx, mathowie)

Update: Since posting this, I’ve been urged to watch Rope; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; M; The Third Man; Lawrence of Arabia; The Lives of Others; Roman Holiday; and Planet of the Apes. (thx, everyone)

Brad Pitt in yellow

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2008

For the completist only: Brad Pitt stars in a French? Japanese? commercial directed by Wes Anderson.

As the French would say, QEQLB? (via le fiddle)

Update: A YouTube commenter noted that this commercial is probably based on Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot’s Holiday.


posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

Thank you to the kottke.org RSS sponsor for this week, Lawrence Shainberg, on behalf of his recent novel, Crust (@ Amazon). The main character of Crust is also a writer, afflicted with writer’s block until he starts picking his nose, at which point: pinpoint clarity. A movement is started, Nasalism, which counts among its adherents one George W. Bush. Sounds ridiculous, but most satires do. Jonathan Lethem had good things to say about Crust, as did the late Norman Mailer:

Crust is unique. I know of no other novel like it. The first words that come to mind are daring, daunting, irreligious in the extreme, an academic send-up, and a grasp with no small grin of the essential mindlessness and urge to power that beset humans and creates new ventures. It’s wild as sin and revolting as vomit and as exceptional as the lower reaches of insanity itself.

More information and an excerpt is available at Shainberg’s site. Crust is available on Amazon for just a shade over $11.

Love, torn apart

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

In 1953, Molly Howard ripped up almost a hundred love letters written to her by her husband Ted after she discovered someone reading them. It took Ted 15 years to reconstruct all the letters out of the 2000 torn fragments.


posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

Sugar Daddy Online Dating, “where the classy, attractive, and affluent meet”. In my experience, use of the word “classy” means the opposite of what the speaker intends. The jarring “AS SEEN ON TV” graphic isn’t helping either. (Note: I saw the URL for this site on TV.)

“My left at floods turned upside down”

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

James Hook ran the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air through Microsoft’s speech recognition mechanism.

I pulled up to the house around seven or eight
And I yield to the cabbie your Halsey Smalley later
Look at my kingdom I was finally there
Consider my thrown as the prince of Bel air.

(thx, greg)

The Billy Ripken

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Billy Ripken “fuck face” card. Ripken explains for the first time how the card came to be.

Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote ‘F—k’ Face on it.

At the time, it was assumed by many that Ripken had intentionally sabotaged his card with the obscenity. I still have one of these somewhere… (via unlikely words)

Europe’s continental divide

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

Though not as well known as the US version, Europe has a continental divide located between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It doesn’t run along the Alps as much as I thought it would.

9/11, just like the movies

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

Just Like the Movies is a short film by Michal Kosakowski that samples footage from movies that were made prior to September 2001 to recreate the events of 9/11. More info.

“It’s just like the movies!” was usually the first reaction of those watching the events of 9/11 in New York unfolding on their TV screens, no doubt recalling the endless number of catastrophes that Hollywood has proposed over the years. Now confronted with the reality of one such scenario — of unprecedented destructive and symbolic resonance — a feeling of deja vu arises while looking at these images.

Really well done. (thx, christopher)

Tower defense game for the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 12, 2008

If I am to maintain my current levels of productivity and balance in my life, I do not need a tower defense game on my iPhone. But if I *were* to bring such a thing into my life, Fieldrunners looks like a good candidate. I can’t wait until playing video games falls under the rubric of parenting. (Just kidding, Meg.)

Also, after a long period with no activity, Desktop Tower Defense is set to be updated soon (hopefully):

Version 1.9 announced! I am working on an updated version DTD which will include multiplayer, extra modes and extra creeps. It will be released in the next few weeks so stay tuned!

But they have a lot of other games under development so I’m not holding my breath.

Update: DTD 1.9 is available here. (thx, christopher & jason)


posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

Predictably much of the feedback so far on David Denby’s critical book on Snark is snarky, even though few have actually read it (it’s out in January). Is that jumping the shark, the snake eating itself, or just plain pathetic?

Advertising in wireless network names

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

In an effort to entice their wifi freeloaders to buy more coffee, a chain of coffee shops in Holland integrated menu items into the name of their wireless network. Some network names included:


I wonder if this tactic worked. (via swissmiss)

Is This Your Paper On Single Serving Sites?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

Is This Your Paper On Single Serving Sites? is a single serving site that houses a paper on single serving sites written by Ryan Greenberg.

Visually, sites’ presentation is often as sparse as the domain names are long. Many display only a few words. Although some sites use Flash to play an audio or video clip, very few offer the rich interactivity associated with Flash deployment in other contexts. Some sites incorporate design tropes from past online eras: gaudy 3D headlines, jarring repeated background images, looping audio clips, and centered text.

Designing the Obama logo

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

Great two-part video interview with Sol Sender about designing the logo for the Obama campaign. Includes some early design sketches and other designs that made it to the final phase. (via quips)


posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

Jackson 5 Scooters

Bad Route

Top: The Jackson 5, Encino, CA, 1970. Photographed by John Olson for Life Magazine.

Bottom: “Bad Route” by Miguel Calderon, 1998. Featured in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.

Book cover contest

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

The challenge: create a fictitious book cover using an image from the Life magazine photo archive. Aside from the first few created in a rush, some of these are pretty good.

Recession dining

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

50 NYC dining deals.

Robot density

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

The world’s robot density is highest in Europe, although Japan makes use of robots at twice the rate of any other country.

There are now 1 million industrial robots toiling around the world, and Japan is where they’re the thickest on the ground. It has 295 of these electromechanical marvels for every 10000 manufacturing workers — a robot density almost 10 times the world average and nearly twice that of Singapore (169), South Korea (164), and Germany (163).

When the war with the machines starts, Africa will be humanity’s last stronghold.

1905 subway ride

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 11, 2008

Here’s a video from 1905 of a NYC subway car going from 14th Street to 42nd Street. It’s funny to see all the men in suits and hats running for the train…it takes some of the formality out what seems from photographs to be a more dignified time. Also, anyone know what line/train this is?

Update: The inbox consensus seems clustered around the opinion that this train is running on the contemporary 4/5/6 line. Here’s a 1904 map which shows the then-IRT line in question (in red). At 42nd St, the line runs crosstown to Times Square and then up the 1/2/3. (thx jason et al.)

What should Michelle Obama wear?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

Some sketches from various fashion designers of what Michelle Obama should wear for her husband’s inauguration festivities. These are fascinating to look at. (thx, david)

The age of mass intelligence

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

Dumbing down? Perhaps not — it’s the age of mass intelligence.

Millions more people are going to museums, literary festivals and operas; millions more watch demanding television programmes or download serious-minded podcasts. Not all these activities count as mind-stretching, of course. Some are downright fluffy. But, says Donna Renney, the chief executive of the Cheltenham Festivals, audiences increasingly want “the buzz you get from working that little bit harder”. This is a dramatic yet often unrecognised development. “When people talk and write about culture,” says Ira Glass, the creator of the riveting public-radio show “This American Life”, “it’s apocalyptic. We tell ourselves that everything is in bad shape. But the opposite is true. There’s an abundance of really interesting things going on all around us.”

Atomic bombs, easy to make?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

Dueling book reviews! (Sort of.) First, a pair of books suggest, contrary to Robert Oppenheimer’s post-war views, that the US is the only nation to have developed atomic weaponry and that all the other nuclear nations have gotten their information from the US program.

All paths stem from the United States, directly or indirectly. One began with Russian spies that deeply penetrated the Manhattan Project. Stalin was so enamored of the intelligence haul, Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman note, that his first atom bomb was an exact replica of the weapon the United States had dropped on Nagasaki.

Moscow freely shared its atomic thefts with Mao Zedong, China’s leader. The book says that Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project who was eventually caught and, in 1959, released from jail, did likewise. Upon gaining his freedom, the authors say, Fuchs gave the mastermind of Mao’s weapons program a detailed tutorial on the Nagasaki bomb. A half-decade later, China surprised the world with its first blast.

The book, in a main disclosure, discusses how China in 1982 made a policy decision to flood the developing world with atomic know-how. Its identified clients include Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea.

This week’s New Yorker contains an article about a third book that’s the culmination of more than a decade of research on the workings of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan (subscribers only). From the abstract:

Coster-Mullen’s book includes more than a hundred pages of declassified photographs from half a dozen government archives. Coster-Mullen, who is a truck driver by profession, sees his project as a diverting mental challenge. “This is nuclear archeology,” he says.

Coster-Mullen goes on to add that “the secret of the atomic bomb is how easy they are to make”. His hand-bound book, Atom Bombs, is available from Amazon.

Gary Hustwit on interviewing and napping robots

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

Some advice from Gary Hustwit, director of Helvetica and the upcoming Objectified, on interviewing.

“My process of interviewing people is I do not interview people,” said the cheerful Hustwit. “I’m trying to get them to forget that they’re being interviewed.” He accomplishes this by avoiding the word “interview” in his communications with subjects and going into a meeting with a list of conversation topics, never a list of prepared questions.

Wes Anderson interview

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

On the occasion of the upcoming Criterion release of Bottle Rocket on Blu-ray, the AV Club interviewed Wes Anderson. I love this bit about working with Gene Hackman.

But Gene, I don’t think loves being directed in the first place, and I had a lot of particular ideas for the way some things were to be done. He just wasn’t getting a huge kick out of it — but I don’t know that he ever does. The main thing is that everything he was doing was great. Even though he can be belligerent, there’s a lot of emotion there. I was always excited to be working with him, even when I was a little scared of him, just because this character that I’d spent so much time working on and was so invested in was being brought to life — not only in all the ways that I’d wanted, but something quite beyond.

ISO risky hugs

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

A columnist for the Financial Times signs up for Illicit Encounters, a site for people who want to have affairs, and finds that there are lots of men from the financial sector trolling for a bit on the side.

He said that, in a recession, people wanted hugs. This struck me as a pretty feeble explanation. Surely there are easier ways of getting hugs than putting one’s marriage on the line? Hugging one’s children or — if one is desperate — even one’s spouse might seem easier and safer.

He said that this was just the point: that the risk was the lure. That bankers are suffering from a risk deficit: their working lives have been derisked compulsorily and this could be a way of compensating by adding risk to their private lives.

Who’s gonna make the “Bankers Want Risky Hugs” tshirts? (via mr)

Update: Aaaaaaand, here’s the shirt.

Google Book Search now does magazines

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

Google Book Search has added a few magazines to their repertoire.

Today, we’re announcing an initiative to help bring more magazine archives and current magazines online, partnering with publishers to begin digitizing millions of articles from titles as diverse as New York Magazine, Popular Mechanics, and Ebony.

At least I think it’s a few magazines…it might be thousands but there’s no way (that I can find) to view a list of magazines on offer.

Update: Spellbound and Thomas Gruber have lists of some of the magazines on offer.

Dubbing The Wire into German

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

An interview with a translator about the difficulty of dubbing The Wire into German.

To bring over the style of the speech out of the slums or ghettos, we haven’t used very exact, grammatically correct German. Nobody says “Wegen des Fahrrads” (because of the bikes), rather “wegen dem Fahrrads” (‘cause of them bikes), for example there we use wrong German. Here and there we’ve used other phrases, sometimes with an English or American sentence structure.

The interview itself was translated from German to English. (via panopticist)

Upgrade yourself

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 10, 2008

No one needs more stuff. But if you’ve got some disposable income burning a hole in your pocket, here’s a bunch of upgrades for your current possessions.

Can you suggest some replacements for standard, everyday household items that are far superior in terms of usefulness, luxuriousness and quality?

My wife and I are ardent upgraders. I rarely buy anything anymore but the things I do buy are usually better versions of things I already have. As things break or wear out, we’ve been replacing them with items that are nicer to use/wear/whatever and will last a whole lot longer than the cheaper stuff. Here are a list of things that we’ve upgraded over the years that I would recommend.

Knives - Cooking is Meg’s department but even a novice like myself has to admit: good knives are worth the extra money. The best part is that unless you cook all sorts of crazy stuff — in which case you likely don’t need this advice — you only need two or three knives. Get a good chef’s knife that fits well in your hand, a paring knife, and a serrated knife for slicing bread. Your impulse will be to skip the nice serrated. Don’t…slicing bread is so much easier than with that flimsy piece of crap you have and it does tomatoes wonderfully as well. Keep them sharp and they’ll literally last forever.

Miele vacuum - I have no idea which model we have — it’s the low-end canister model with just a few settings — but it is the greatest vacuum cleaner in the universe. I don’t mind vacuuming at all with this thing. Love it.

Tailored shirts - If you get yourself a tailor from Hong Kong, China, or the like, shirts tailor-made to your specific measurements don’t cost much more than stuff off-the-rack from Banana Republic or whatever. And lemme tell you, tailored shirts fit really well and look amazing.

Pots and pans - Again, Meg’s department, but proper cookware is really a pleasure to use. And it heats more evenly, you won’t burn yourself grabbing the handle, blah blah blah. They’ll last forever, even with heavy use.

Bed sheets - Flannel sheets for the winter are priced the same as regular cotton sheets but are way softer. For spring/summer/fall, go with something in the 400 thread count area. Sleeping and fooling around are so much better with nice soft sheets.

Mattress - Slate says that all mattresses are created equal but we got a firm mattress with a pillowtop and love it.

Headphones - Ditch those Apple earbuds and get yourself a pair of in-ear phones from Shure or Etymotic (or sound cancelling ones from Bose). They’re expensive, no doubt. But you don’t listen to crappy music so why listen to good music with crappy sound quality?

Coffee-making machine - I don’t drink coffee but getting some sort of coffee contraption for the home, even an expensive one like an espresso machine, saves you lots in Starbucks purchases down the road.

Wine glasses - If you drink wine at all, get some nice glasses, even if it’s only two glasses that you use for yourself when drinking casually around the house. Your cheapo wine will taste better.

Fleur de sel - Or Malden’s or whatever your preference is. Regular table salt isn’t ideal for salting food after it’s served. Malden comes in nice flakes that melt nicely on the food. Meg prefers fleur de sel but I find it too crunchy. A 4 oz. container will cost you $11 — 3 times as much as 3 pounds of table salt — but it’ll last for months or even years.

Shoes - Cheap shoes wear out quickly and can hurt your feet. A good pair of men’s shoes made from quality materials will last for years; just keep resoling them.

None of these items are super-expensive…I think the mattress cost the most and it was under $800. We bought this stuff over a number of years and it probably worked out to an extra couple hundred dollars per year total. The upfront expense is sometimes tough to swallow but over time, you break even or even come out ahead money-wise (i.e. you’ll never have to buy [item] ever again). The way I think about it is buying nice products that you’ll use for several years/decades is both a financial investment and an investment in your personal well-being, even if it’s just some nice salt to make your food taste a little better.

Mona Lisa, evolved

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath and all that but this would have blown his tiny mind: the Mona Lisa “painted” using just 50 semi-transparent polygons. (via waxy)

The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

Foreign Policy has their annual list of The Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008. For instance, more coca than ever is being grown in Colombia despite the billions the US has spent to “win” the “war” on drugs.

Paper airplanes in space

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

Next year, the Japanese space agency is planning to throw paper airplanes (aka origami space shuttles) from the International Space Station with the hope that they will make it to earth intact.

It is yet to be decided whether Wakata himself will throw the paper planes or whether he will use the space station’s robotic arm.

The planes are made from sugar cane fiber paper treated to withstand high temperatures and strong winds. (via waxy no idea where I got this)

Update: The launch of the origami planes has been scrubbed. (thx, edieraye)

Jim Carrey, existential clown

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

An appreciation of Jim Carrey from an unlikely source, The Atlantic.

Jim Carrey will loom large in our shattered posterity, I believe, because his filmography amounts to a uniquely sustained engagement with the problem of the self. Who knows how the self became such a problem, or when we began to feel the falseness in our nature?

Count me among the Carrey fans; I wish all his movies were of Cable Guy / Eternal Sunshine / Truman Show quality.

Daily routines

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

The Daily Routines blog collects stories about interesting people organize their days. For instance, Thomas Friedman “can’t wait to get [his] pants on in the morning”. Neither can we! Reminds me of rodcorp’s How we work. (via snarkmarket)

How hot dogs are made

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

How hot dogs are made. It’s true, sometimes you don’t want to know how the sausage gets made. (via cyn-c)

Ballet, with sword

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

An arresting image:

Seventeen-year-old Yamaguchi Otoya uses a foot-long sword to kill Japan Socialist Party leader Asanuma Inajiro on a public stage in Tokyo. Yamaguchi was upset with Asanuma’s support of a U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty.

Lost and found

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

Henry Molaison — more widely known as H.M. — died last week at 82. Molaison was an amnesiac and the study of his condition revealed much about the workings of the human brain. He lost his long-term memory after a surgery in 1953 and couldn’t remember anything after that for more than 20 seconds or so.

Living at his parents’ house, and later with a relative through the 1970s, Mr. Molaison helped with the shopping, mowed the lawn, raked leaves and relaxed in front of the television. He could navigate through a day attending to mundane details — fixing a lunch, making his bed — by drawing on what he could remember from his first 27 years.

Molly Birnbaum was training to be a chef in Boston when she got hit by a car and lost her sense of smell. Soon after, she moved to New York.

Without the aroma of car exhaust, hot dogs or coffee, the city was a blank slate. Nothing was unbearable and nothing was especially beguiling. Penn Station’s public restroom smelled the same as Jacques Torres’s chocolate shop on Hudson Street. I knew that New York possessed a further level of meaning, but I had no access to it, and I worked hard to ignore what I could not detect.

Update: Here’s another take on anosmia and Birnbaum’s article.

In the first year of my recovery, I regularly visited both a neurologist and neuropsychologist who both disputed this claim. They told me that smell and taste, although related, are essentially exclusive. If anything, my neuropsychologist told me, smell is more integrated with memory.

In my experience, I’ve found this to be true: I have not lost my love of food; in fact, I feel like my appreciation for flavor combinations have been heightened. Milk does not taste like a “viscous liquid” to me and ice cream is certainly more than just “freezing.” Similarly, a good wine is more than tasting the acids, a memorable dessert is more than simply sweet, and french fries do not taste like salty nothing-sticks.

The prolific John Munch

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 09, 2008

According to IMDB and Wikipedia (here too), Richard Belzer has appeared as Detective John Munch on ten different television shows, more than any other character on television. An exhaustive John Munch viewing would include shows from the following programs:

Homicide: Life on the Street
Law & Order
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
The Beat
Law & Order: Trial By Jury
Arrested Development
Paris enquêtes criminelles (aka Law & Order: Paris)**
The Wire
Sesame Street

Belzer surpassed John Ratzenberger and George Wendt, who played barflies Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson in six different series: Cheers, St. Elsewhere, The Tortellie, Wings, The Simpsons, and Frasier. (Ratzenberger apparently enjoys continuity; he’s done a voice in every single Pixar movie, nine in all.) Munch/Belzer have been prolific in the matrimonial arena as well. Between the two, they’ve been married seven times (Munch:4 and Belzer: 3).

** It’s unclear from the sources that I read if Munch has appeared on this show or will appear in the future.

Update: Two more things. The Munch character was inspired by real-life Baltimore homicide detective Jay Landsman…who both inspired another character on The Wire (named Jay Landsman) and appears in The Wire as a police lieutenant. All three — Munch, the fake Landsman, and the real Landsman — appeared in a fifth season episode called Took. Oh, and Munch, like many other television characters, is a figment of an autistic kid’s fertile imagination. (thx, scott & logan)

Sine-wave speech

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Sine-wave speech — artificially degraded speech that sounds like old Doctor Who sound effects — can be difficult to understand but becomes clear once the listener knows what to listen for.

Listening to the sine-wave speech sound again produces a very different percept of a fully intelligible spoken sentence. This dramatic change in perception is an example of “perceptual insight” or pop-out. We have argued that this form of pop-out is an example of a top-down perceptual process produced by higher-level knowledge and expectations concerning sounds that can potentially be heard as speech.

(thx, tom)

Disney’s 1955 Man in Space film

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Man in Space was a short film made by Disney about the possibility of putting humans into space. The film was first shown in 1955 and features several prominent scientists of the day, including Wernher von Braun. The film is available for viewing on YouTube in eight parts.

Prehistory of Rocketry (1/8)
Early Rockets (2/8)
How Rockets Work (3/8)
Space Medicine - Adapting to Space (4/8)
Space Medicine - Dangers in Space (5/8)
Werner von Braun - Designing a Rocket (6/8)
Conquest of Space - Launch! (7/8)
Conquest of Space - In Orbit (8/8)

Watch as they gloss over the use of rockets to bomb Europe during WWII and caution against smoking in space. Man in Space was followed by two other Disney short films, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond. Particularly entertaining is von Braun explaining his complicated plan to send a manned spaceship to the moon and back, which involves a permanent orbiting space station — which looks not unlike a giant bicycle wheel — with a crew of fifty and powered by a nuclear reactor.

Wall-E bento box

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

This amazing Bento box featuring Wall-E is only one of many such creations by AnnaTheRed. (thx, fiona)

The Best of LIFE

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

The Best of LIFE blog is mining Google’s Life Magazine archive and Flickr’s Commons for the best photos.

If gamers ran the world

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Tom Armitage imagines If Gamers Ran The World. For instance, what happens if the President of the United States in 2018 is the same age as Barack Obama is now.

They’re 45 in 2018 when they stand for office - that means they were born in 1973. They would have been four when Taito released Space Invaders came out; seven when Pac Man came out. In 1985, when they were 12, Nintendo would launch the NES in the west. At 18, just as they would have been heading to University, the first NHL game came out for the Genesis/Megadrive and might consumed many a night in the dorm. At 22, the Playstation was launched. At 26, they could have bought a PS2 at launch; at 31, they might have taken up World of Warcraft with their friends.

(thx, glenn)

A tour of New New York

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Locations of interest in New New York (with photos), the setting for the events of Futurama in the year 3000. Includes Citihall, Taco Bellevue Hospital, Little Bitaly, the Metropolitan House of Opera, Original Cosmic Ray’s Pizza, and Commander Riker’s Island Jail. (thx, anthony)

Nano War

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Fun Flash game: Nano War. It’s pretty easy to brute force your way through level 10 but after that there’s some strategy required that I didn’t have the patience to work out. (via buzzfeed)

Real life Mario Kart

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Awesome real life Mario Kart by urban prankster Remi Gaillard. (via waxy)

My embarrassing web past

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 08, 2008

Late last week Jason Santa Maria posted the first web site that he’d ever made and asked others to do the same. The earliest web page of mine still online is a parody of Suck that I did in March 1996 called Suck for Dummies. (It’s now called Suck for Dimwits because I received a C&D from the X for Dummies people threatening to sue.) In June of 96, I made this over-the-top home page, Jason’s Awesome WWW Home Page. (Warning, tag usage!! Sign my guestbook! Top 5% of All Web Sites!!) I posted a bunch of old kottke.org designs back in March but missed that the first few months of posts are still live in their original design.

My earlier sites are lost, I think. (I have a few Zip and Jaz disks that might have some older stuff on them but I don’t have the capability to read them anymore.) Before 0sil8, there were three or four efforts that I must have deleted from my hard drive at some point, including some embarrassing efforts involving fractals. The very first thing I did in HTML was a personal home page around Nov/Dec 1994 that lived on a 3.5” floppy. I coded it on the computer in my dorm room (using an early version of HTML Assistant and Aldus PhotoStyler) and then put it on a floppy to use on the computer in the physics lab, the only computer I had access to on campus that had internet access. The page was little more than a gussied up list of links that I liked to visit online, but I loved building, rebuilding, and redesigning it over and over, even though I was the only one who ever saw it. The handcrafted/DIY nature of building that page hooked me on web design. I would give almost anything to see that little page again.


posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

Thank you to this week’s RSS sponsor, Kindling by Arc90. Many small companies and groups don’t need the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink power and feature set of software like Outlook/Exchange Server, wikis, and enterprise blogging software…they often do too much and yet don’t quite do what you’d like them to. Kindling is one of a number of niche web apps that attempt to do one thing well; in this case, that one thing is small-group collaboration around ideas. With Kindling, you and your co-workers (or miscellaneous idea-mates) can suggest ideas, vote on them, and then take action on the best ones. Check out the demo to learn more.

Fifty Years of Popular Songs Condensed Into Single Sentences

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

Songs boiled down to their essence…mostly “I want to do it with you”.

Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love”
I want to do it with you.

AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long”
We did it yesterday.

Kings of Leon, “Sex on Fire”
I did it with you, and now it hurts when I pee.

If it’s funny, it’s gotta be McSweeney’s.

Ways to dial a telephone

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

In 1960, just before the widespread release of push-button phones, AT&T tested a number of button configurations to see which ones offered the greatest speed and least confusion. The number pattern based on the numbers’ positions on the incumbent rotary dial did well but the company decided to go with the now-familiar 3x3+1 configuration instead.

The anti-branding of a fake French restaurant

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

Eat me daily rounds up a recent AIGA event about food. The most interesting tidbit came from Matteo Bologna’s speech. Bologna designs restaurants, most notably for Keith McNally (Pastis, Balthazar, Morandi, Schillers, etc.).

Really fascinating was what he and McNally did for Pastis — it doesn’t actually have a visual brand. McNally wanted the restaurant to look like it had been in the neighborhood for years, so Bologna constructed this narrative of a family that had maintained the restaurant for a century, and each generation some element gets updated or redesigned, but without going for consistency or even style. The result is completely different-looking signage, awnings, menus, wine lists, checks… everything uses a different palette, type set, but its essential Frenchiness ties everything together. It’s an anti-brand.

The name of the restaurant is thus a play on pastiche in addition to being named after the French aperitif. (via eater)

Only readable every 12 hours

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

Every twelve hours, these 500 clocks align to form a readable message. (via quips)

Carts of Darkness

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

The trailer for Carts of Darkness, a documentary film about Vancouver bottle collectors that have taken to racing shopping carts downhill. More excerpts are available on YouTube.

A short digital ramble

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

I read Cynical-C everyday; the other day I ran across this post about the Dancing Plague of 1518.

The Dancing Plague (or Dancing Epidemic) of 1518 was a case of dancing mania that occurred in Strasbourg, Alsace, France (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in July 1518. Numerous people took to dancing for days without rest, and over the period of about one month, most of the people died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.

Wikipedia is great but I like to dig back into the “primary” sources. A Discovery News article tells of a book called A Time to Dance, a Time to Die whose author says that the dancing was a result of mass hysteria caused by high levels of psychological distress in the community. That article also mentions the Tanganyika laughter epidemic:

The epidemic seems to have started within a small group of students in a boarding school, possibly triggered by a joke. Laughter, as is commonly known, is in some sense contagious, and for whatever reason in this case the laughter perpetuated itself, far transcending its original cause. Since it is physiologically impossible to laugh for much more than a few minutes at a time, the laughter must have made itself known sporadically, though reportedly it was incapacitating when it struck. The school from which the epidemic sprang was shut down; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off.

That epidemic was covered at length in Radio Lab’s Laughter episode from earlier in the year.

But back to the Dancing Plague. That article links to a page on another form of mass hysteria, penis panic.

Genital retraction syndrome (GRS), generally considered a culture-specific syndrome, is a condition in which an individual is overcome with the belief that his/her external genitals — or also, in females, breasts — are retracting into the body, shrinking, or in some male cases, may be imminently removed or disappear. A penis panic is a mass hysteria event or panic in which males in a population suddenly believe they are suffering from genital retraction syndrome.

Which in turn guides us to a 2008 article in Harper’s, A mind dismembered: In search of the magical penis thieves. George Costanza had a personal case of penis panic in the Seinfeld episode entitled The Hamptons.

George is seen naked by Jerry’s girlfriend Rachel, to whom he tries vainly to explain that, having just gotten out of the cold water, he is a victim of penile “shrinkage.”

Penis panic put me in mind of a similar phenomenon and after a couple of failed searches — “afraid to pee”, “pee in public” — I finally found it: paruresis, aka “pee shyness, shy kidney, bashful bladder, stage fright, urophobia or shy bladder syndrome”.

Paruresis […] is a type of phobia in which the sufferer is unable to urinate in the (real or imaginary) presence of others, such as in a public restroom. It can affect both males and females. The analogous condition that affects bowel movement is called parcopresis.

Paruresis has been referenced in several movies, TV shows, books, and other media.

Stage fright always puts me in mind of this New Yorker article by John Lahr about the phenomenon (subscribers-only version). From there, it’s relaxed concentration all the way down, a topic on which I could digitally ramble all day, so let’s stop there.

(I took the title of this post from the online excursions that Rosecrans Baldwin conducts for the NY Times’ The Moment. Apologies and thanks.)

Inside a frozen pizza factory

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

Video of the inner workings of a mostly automatic Irish frozen pizza factory. I like the tomato sauce shooter (the way it tracks along with the pizzas briefly as they whiz by on the conveyor belt) and the writhing pepperoni sticks.

Update: Inside an Austrian bread factory where they still made bread by hand.

M.T. Anderson

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 05, 2008

The Millions calls M.T. Anderson the David Foster Wallace of young adult literature and points to a profile in the Washington Post.

Anderson’s attitude helps explain “Octavian Nothing,” an ultra-challenging, two-volume young-adult novel that runs 900-plus pages and asks teen readers to contemplate the American Revolution from a wildly unfamiliar point of view. In case that’s not challenging enough, he wrote it in “the particularly complex form of 18th-century English” that its title character would have used.

The first volume won a National Book Award in 2006. The second was published last month to further acclaim.

“I believe ‘Octavian Nothing’ will someday be recognized as a novel of the first rank, the kind of monumental work Italo Calvino called ‘encyclopedic’ in the way it sweeps up history into a comprehensive and deeply textured pattern,” wrote an awed reviewer for the New York Times, tossing in references to Twain, Hawthorne and Melville for good measure.

Saigon Grill owners arrested

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

More on the Saigon Grill saga: the owners were arrested yesterday on over 400 counts of “violating minimum-wage laws, falsifying business records and defrauding the state’s unemployment insurance system”.

“Like so many restaurants across New York City, Saigon Grill was run on the backs of its workers,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “These workers allowed the business to thrive, and in exchange they were allegedly cheated out of wages, fined for ridiculous reasons” and, he said, “pulled into a painstaking ploy to cover it all up.”

(thx, nick)

Photos of all the street corners in Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

Richard Howe takes photographs of Manhattan street corners. From March to November 2006, Howe took a photo of every single street corner in Manhattan, around 11,000 in all.

I photographed each corner just as I found it, almost always as seen from its diagonally opposite corner. Some of the photographs have no people and no traffic, others are completely dominated by people or even, in some instances, by traffic; the majority are somewhere in between. Most of the photographs simply show what people were doing on the corner when I got there: crossing the street or waiting to cross it, shopping, hanging out, riding a bicycle, and so on — in short, doing what people do at almost any street corner anywhere in Manhattan.

The Atlas of True Names

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

The Atlas of True Names contains maps with very literal place names.

Called the “Atlas of True Names,” the new map traces the etymological roots of European and global place names and then translates them into English. The “City of Boatmen” is also known as Paris. Should you travel to the Land of the Fire Keepers, you’d find yourself in Azerbaijan. And Italy comes from the Latin word vitulus, which means “calf.”

New York is “Wild Boar Village”, Chicago is “Stink Onion”, Great Britain is “Great Land of the Tattooed”, and Grozny is “The Awesome”. However, Language Log notes that some of the translations should be taken with a grain of salt. (thx, andreas)

Short Peter Saville interview

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

Designer Peter Saville — you know, iconic Joy Division album cover, Factory Records, etc. — talks about his process a little bit in this video interview.

Learning and filing, learning and filing. Sounds familiar, yeah? (thx, paul)

The first mall

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

A photo from Life Magazine of Southdale Shopping Center in Edina, Minnesota after its opening in 1956.

Southdale Mall, 1956

Southdale was the first mall ever built and still stands today (I visited many times during my Minneapolis residency). The mall’s designer was an immigrant from Austria, Victor Gruen, who wanted to bring the community feeling of the European arcade to the suburbs.

Oddly, this most suburban American invention was supposed to evoke a European city centre. Hence Southdale’s density and its atrium, where shoppers were expected to sit and debate over cups of coffee, just as they do in the Piazza San Marco or the Place Dauphine. Gruen exiled cars, which he thought noisy and anti-social, to the outside of his mall. Most contemporary critics thought Gruen had succeeded in bringing urbanity to the suburbs. Southdale was “more like downtown than downtown itself”, claimed the Architectural Record. Another asserted, in a rare example of journalistic hyperbole that turned out to be absolutely right, that the indoor shopping mall was henceforth “part of the American way”.

Ironically Gruen’s creation only served to strengthen the suburban car culture that he despised. Later in life, Gruen became disillusioned with malls and their unintended consequences.

He revisited one of his old shopping centers, and saw all the sprawling development around it, and pronounced himself in “severe emotional shock.” Malls, he said, had been disfigured by “the ugliness and discomfort of the land-wasting seas of parking” around them. Developers were interested only in profit. “I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments,” he said in a speech in London, in 1978. He turned away from his adopted country. He had fixed up a country house outside of Vienna, and soon he moved back home for good. But what did he find when he got there? Just south of old Vienna, a mall had been built — in his anguished words, a “gigantic shopping machine.” It was putting the beloved independent shopkeepers of Vienna out of business. It was crushing the life of his city. He was devastated. Victor Gruen invented the shopping mall in order to make America more like Vienna. He ended up making Vienna more like America.

Update: Whoa, lots of email about this one, especially from Seattlites. There’s a bit of controversy that I was unaware of concerning the first mall…here’s a list of contenders. (thx, todd)

Five sandwiches out of one

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

The ridiculously giant Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich (retail: $14.95) contains enough meat to make at least 5 normal-sized sandwiches.

Update: There’s a Flickr group called Campaign for a Sensible Sandwich. (thx, dunstan)

Holiday shipping deadlines

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

Dealhack has collected the shipping deadlines for Christmas from a number of online retailers.

The Year in Reading 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

It’s time again for The Year in Reading, the annual feature from The Millions that asks a few trusted readers to share what they were into this year, bookwise.

At 10:10, a Watch Smiles

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

Ten minutes past ten o’clock, which forms a smiley face on a clock and “frames the brand” nicely, is the go-to time for watches in advertising. Timex sets their watches to precisely 10:09:36 while Rolex waits almost a minute until 10:10:31.

The Hamilton Watch Company was among the first to clock in at 10:10; that time is favored in ads dating at least as far back as 1926. Rolex began consistently setting watches in ads at 10:10 in the early 1940s. Timex appears to have begun the transition in 1953, when its Ben Hogan model showed 8:20 while the Marlin model was set to 10:10.

Apple usually uses 9:42 am for the iPhone, which is approximately when it was introduced at MacWorld 2007. Until recently, the icon for Apple’s iCal displayed July 17 when not in use; iCal debuted at MacWorld 2002 on that date.

Flatscreen madness and other Costco adventures

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 04, 2008

Greg Allen’s ode to Costco, flatscreen TVs, and bottomless jars of peanut butter.

So we go to Costco for lunch and formula Friday, my dad, the kids and I, and it’s a flatscreen frenzy. Like Rodney King-grade looting frenzy; every cart has a flatscreen and a bale of toilet paper, and I’m like, I have a flatscreen I don’t even watch, and yet I want another one. I couldn’t fit that box in the car, and I still want one. My dad and his wife bought the biggest flatscreen in the Triangle last spring, and I can see he wants one, too.

The kid’s sitting in the cart, and she sees a guy carrying a 19” flatscreen, and she goes, “Look! He has a tiny one!” and the guy looks at her, looks at the box — I’m not making this up, my dad told me; he was investigating the flatscreen aisle while I was in the bathroom — and goes and puts it back, and picks up a 23” flatscreen.

I’m still working through the toaster-sized box of Mach3 razor blade refills that I bought at Costco almost four years ago.

808s and Heartbreak

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

808s and Heartbreak, Kanye West. Everyone’s saying how good this is and I concur. Someone stomped on Kanye’s heart and out squirted a great album.

How to Build an Igloo

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

A fascinating companion to the recently posted book on how to build snow shelters is this 10-minute film produced by The National Film Board of Canada, How to Build an Igloo.

This is amazing. I had no idea that the blocks were arranged in a spiral pattern. (via five whys)

Mathematica’s new image processing tools

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

The new version of Mathematica does all sorts of cool image and video processing…you can just drag and drop images into your code to manipulate them. In my imagination, this seems like what one gets to do at Pixar all day. (via waxy)

The tin bucket generation

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

After a reader accused WSJ financial columnist Jason Zweig of being “a coddled member of the silver-spoon generation”, Zweig set the record straight.

I was raised in an old farmhouse on a dirt road in a village of fewer than 100 people in northern New York State, midway between New York City and Montreal. The nearest stoplight was 12 miles away.

Because we got our water from an old stone well, we did not have a dishwasher or washing machine. My mom did the laundry once a week, in the laundromat 14 miles away, among her many other errands. We - usually she - washed the dishes by hand.

Every August, almost like clockwork, the well ran dry. My brother and I then had to fetch water from the pond, which we boiled for drinking and cooking. (We also had to bathe in the pond, but sparingly; we were teenage boys.)

Zweig says that the most important lesson he learned from his upbringing is that “money is not wealth”.

Life lessons from designer Chris Pullman

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

Chris Pullman was the VP of Design at WGBH in Boston for 35 years.

Viewers of PBS will recognize Pullman’s work in the opening title sequences of “Masterpiece Theatre” and “Antiques Roadshow” and the WGBH animated on-air signature, which is used at the end of every program produced by the public broadcaster.

Pullman recently retired and shared ten lessons he’s learned over the years.

2 Work with people you like and respect.

Birds of a feather flock together. That is a natural thing. Most of the people here at WGBH are here (or certainly stay here) because of our mission. Certainly, my long tenure has been largely because of the people in this room with whom I’ve shared such personal and heart-warming recollections of our time together. Since April, when I first announced my intention to leave WGBH, the private expression of these feelings has been so gratifying, both personally and professionally, that I recently suggested that maybe we should institute the policy of encouraging individuals to make periodic “mock retirement” announcements, with the goal of releasing more regularly the flow of kind remarks for the nourishment of the individual, since we are otherwise so reticent to praise or encourage others in our busy, self-centered daily lives.

Polanski seeks case dismissal

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

Lawyers representing Roman Polanski have asked a California judge to dismiss the statutory rape case against him because of evidence presented in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a documentary about the case, that the judge in the original case engaged in unethical and unlawful behavior.

Tuesday’s filing said Judge Rittenband, who is now dead, intentionally violated a plea agreement with Mr. Polanski after having engaged in what it called “repeated unethical and unlawful ex parte communications” with a deputy district attorney who was not involved in the prosecution, but was independently advising the judge.

Star Wars: A New Heap

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

On Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Jane Jacobs, 2001, Star Wars, and minimalism: Star Wars: A New Heap.

Kubrick’s film presented a future of company men moving with assurance and clear intention toward a godlike minimalist object. Lucas, on the other hand, gave us a slapdash world of knuckleheads pursued by industrial-scale minimalists. Visually, Kubrick’s film is as seamless and smooth as the modernist authority it mirrored. Like the mid-century modernists, 2001 associated abstraction with the progressive ideals of the United Nations as embodied by its New York headquarters. Lucas, on the other hand, was a nonbeliever. Even the initially smooth and unitary form of the Death Star was shown, as the rebel fighters skimmed its surface, to be deeply fissured with an ever-diminishing body of structural fragments. These crenulated details suggested a depth and complexity to modern life that modernism’s pure geometries often obscured.

And this:

A flying saucer had never been a slum before. The immaculate silver sheen of the saucer was reinvented as a dingy Dumpster full of boiler parts, dirty dishes, and decomposing upholstery. Lucas’s visual program not only captured the stark utopian logic that girded modern urban planning, it surpassed it. The Millennium Falcon resisted the modernist demand for purity and separation, pushing into the eclecticism of the minimalist expanded field. Its tangled bastard asymmetry made it a truer dream ship than any of its purebred predecessors. It is the first flying saucer imagined as architecture without architects.

(thx, matt)

Search correlations with StateStats

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 03, 2008

StateStats is hours of fun. It tracks the popularity of Google searches per state and then correlates the results to a variety of metrics. For instance:

Mittens - big in Vermont, Maine, and Minnesota, moderate positive correlation with life expectancy, and moderate negative correlation with violent crime. (Difficult to commit crimes while wearing mittens?)

Nascar - popular in North and South Carolinas, strong positive correlation with obesity, and and moderate negative correlation with same sex couples and income.

Sushi - big in NY and CA, moderate positive correlation with votes for Obama, and moderate negative correlation with votes for Bush.

Gun - moderate positive correlation with suicide and moderate negative correlation with votes for Obama. (Obama is gonna take away your guns but, hey, you’ll live.)

Calender (misspelled) - moderate positive correlation with illiteracy and rainfall and moderate negative correlation with suicide.

Diet - moderate positive correlation with obesity and infant mortality and moderate negative correlation with high school graduation rates.

Kottke - popular in WI and MN, moderate positive correlation with votes for Obama, and moderate negative correlation with votes for Bush.

Cuisine - This was my best attempt at a word with strong correlations but wasn’t overly clustered in an obvious way (e.g. blue/red states, urban/rural, etc.). Strong positive correlation with same sex couples and votes for Obama and strong negative correlation with energy consumption and votes for Bush.

I could do this all day. A note on the site about correlation vs. causality:

Be careful drawing conclusions from this data. For example, the fact that walmart shows a moderate correlation with “Obesity” does not imply that people who search for “walmart” are obese! It only means that states with a high obesity rate tend to have a high rate of users searching for walmart, and vice versa. You should not infer causality from this tool: In the walmart example, the high correlation is driven partly by the fact that both obesity and Walmart stores are prevalent in the southeastern U.S., and these two facts may have independent explanations.

Can you find any searches that show some interesting results? Strong correlations are not that easy to find (although foie gras is a good one). (thx, ben)

A timeline of food

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

The Food Timeline shows which foods were invented when. Ok, not invented, exactly, but first eaten. A tasting menu:

Pretzels, 5th century AD.
Pork and beans, 1475.
Foie gras, 1st century AD.
Croissants, 1686.
Chop suey, 1896.
Popcorn, 3600 BC.
Swedish meatballs, 1754.

(via snarkmarket)

Personal light cones

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

When I was born 35.2 years ago, a light cone started expanding away from Earth out into the rest of the universe (Minkowski space-temporally speaking, of course). Thanks to updates from Matt Webb’s fancy RSS tool, I know that my personal light cone is about to envelop the Zeta Herculis binary star system, located 35.2 light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules.

With a mass some 50 percent greater than the Sun, however, and beginning its evolution toward gianthood (its core hydrogen fusion likely shut down), Zeta Her A is 6 times more luminous than the Sun with a radius 2.5 times as large. Nevertheless, the star gives a good idea of what the Sun would look like from a great distance, in Zeta Her’s case 35 light years. The companion (Zeta Her B), a cooler class G (G7) hydrogen-fusing dwarf with a luminosity only 65 percent that of the Sun and a mass about 85 percent solar, orbits with a period of 34.5 years at a mean distance of 15 Astronomical Units (over 50 percent farther than Saturn is from the Sun). A rather high eccentricity takes the two as far apart as 21 AU and as close as 8 AU.

Hercules is of course named for the Greek hero, Heracles. Next up is Delta Trianguli, another binary star system, in about two months.

Ebert: down with celebrity culture

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

Roger Ebert rails against our infantilizing celebrity obsessed media.

The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been “seen with” somebody, who has been “spotted with” somebody, and “top ten” lists of the above. (Celebs “seen with” desire to be seen, celebs “spotted with” do not desire to be seen.)

The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as “a Hollywood story.” I want to smash something against a wall.

As in most matters, Ebert speaks for me in this regard, the smashing in particular. His final line — “The news is still big. It’s the newspapers that got small.” — is spot on and, I’m increasingly convinced, the way out for newspapers in the long term. The news is big and newspapers need to get back to covering its complexity, significance, and interestingness.

Air Giulianis, NYC prison sneakers

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

From an article about a collection of businesses located near Riker’s Island, this tidbit: the inmates refer to the prison-issued orange sneakers as Air Giulianis. Also:

The food truck man, Mr. Samolis, said he often gives free food to inmates who are released from Rikers with no money.

“They get released at 6 in the morning with nothing but a $2 MetroCard the jail gives them,” he said. “So I’ll give them a coffee and an egg sandwich, on credit. I know they’re never going to pay it back, but I feel bad for them.”

(thx, jake)

Comprehensive 2008 election round-up

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

Created as a time capsule for future netizens, this gigantic list of reactions, analysis, and opinion surrounding the 2008 US Presidential election is amazing.

I wanted to create something to look at a couple years from now to remember the election and hopefully present a good representation of what both sides of America were feeling on that day as evidenced by the response in the press and on the blogs. I didn’t capture everything, though I’ve certainly tried

Included are lots of videos, links to articles, reactions from the author’s friends, and even Facebook status messages as the election results rolled in, covering a nice cross-section of citizens from top politicians to the big media, to blogs, to normal people celebrating on the streets. However, I have a feeling that due to linkrot, much of this may not even be available online.

Film personality test

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

Ben Tesch proposes the following personality test:

What I find most interesting is which movie people consider the best movie from a particular director, as it is usually very telling and polarizing in a different way, so to this point I will propose a new personality test where you reblog your favorite movie from each of these directors:

1. Joel Coen: No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, etc
2. Wes Anderson: The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, etc
3. Hal Ashby: Being There, Shampoo, Harold and Maude, etc
4. Kevin Smith: Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Clerks, etc
5. Quentin Tarantino: Grindhouse, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc

I would also personally throw in:

6. Stanley Kubrick: 2001, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, etc.
7. P.T. Anderson: Boogie Nights, Hard Eight, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia.
8. Errol Morris: The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, Mr. Death, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Gates of Heaven, etc.

I’m a FRHMPDBF (Fargo, Rushmore, Harold and Maude, Mallrats, Pulp Fiction, Dr. Strangelove, Boogie Nights, and The Fog of War). Notes: I’ve only seen one Hal Ashby movie. I very easily could have gone with The Thin Blue Line, Magnolia, and perhaps even Kill Bill. I would choose anything else on the list over any of Kevin Smith’s movies. Most of my picks I’d seen for the first time around the same time period, approx. 1995-1998. And what a sausage fest…I’ll add Coppola’s Lost in Translation to the mix. (via sandwich, who intriguingly chose Darjeeling over Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Zissou, and Bottle Rocket. I wonder what personality defect that indicates?)

New fiction from David Foster Wallace

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

Before his health deteriorated in the months before he died, David Foster Wallace was working on a larger work of fiction presumed by some to be a new novel, his first since the 1996 publication of Infinite Jest. Word comes from Chaffey College that “An Untitled Chunk” of that larger work will be published in the school’s literary review magazine.

Before his death, Wallace agreed to donate a portion of a larger work (“An Untitled Chunk”) along with first publishing rights, to the students of Chaffey College, allowing us to print it in the first edition of our literary magazine. The magazine is being published this January and is the only available printing of this piece. Our contract with Wallace’s family and agent dictates that we cannot publish any portion of the piece online, nor in any other publication, so this is truly a unique opportunity.

The Chaffey Review web site does not contain any ordering information…I hope they’ll anticipate the demand for this issue with a larger print run and online sales.

Update: Ordering information is here. (thx, jennifer)

Libeskind’s Met Life Tower plans

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 02, 2008

When I profiled the Metropolitan Life Tower (and an unusual postscript) a couple of months ago, I mentioned that Daniel Libeskind was working on an addition to the building that would dwarf the iconic clock tower. New York magazine has a rendering of what the building might look like, taken from the architect’s new book.

Initial designs show a glass-curtained tube with cutaways spiraling up and around the facade to reveal segments of terraced verdure, like cultivated patches on the side of a steep alpine slope. “We didn’t just fill up the tower,” the architect says. “We’ve taken space away [from the apartments] to create the gardens,” which are actually balconies tucked within the envelope. “It’s as if nature has come back into the city,” he says.

Update: More photos and details here.

Carrying bricks on your head

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

Video of a man carrying 20 bricks on his head. And that’s not even the most amazing part…he just kinda throws the bricks up there while staying balanced. I don’t know, this looks fake to me…my extensive block stacking experience over the past few months indicates that this sort of thing is impossible. (via cyn-c)

American Dialect Society

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

The American Dialect Society is now accepting nominations for the word of the year of 2008.

The best “word of the year” candidates will be:

-new or newly popular in 2008
-widely or prominently used in 2008
-indicative or reflective of the national discourse

Multi-word compounds or phrases that act as single lexical items are welcomed, as well.

Hit up their email address with your nomination.

Randy Farmer talks broken windows online

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

In this video interview, long-time online community expert Randy Farmer explicitly references the broken windows theory and its application to online spaces. He tells an anecdote about how the quick deletion of trolling questions from the front page of Yahoo Answers led to a decline in the number of trolls. (thx, bryce)

Best book cover design of 2008

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

The Book Design Review lists their favorite book covers for 2008. Go forth and drool.

Does the broken windows theory hold online?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

The Economist reports that experimental tests of the controversial “broken windows theory” of social behavior indicate that the theory is correct.

The most dramatic result, though, was the one that showed a doubling in the number of people who were prepared to steal in a condition of disorder. In this case an envelope with a EUR5 ($6) note inside (and the note clearly visible through the address window) was left sticking out of a post box. In a condition of order, 13% of those passing took the envelope (instead of leaving it or pushing it into the box). But if the post box was covered in graffiti, 27% did. Even if the post box had no graffiti on it, but the area around it was littered with paper, orange peel, cigarette butts and empty cans, 25% still took the envelope.

Here’s the 1982 Atlantic article in which the theory was first discussed in a popular forum. (Great article, BTW.)

At the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.

Reading these articles, I wondered: how does the broken windows theory apply to online spaces? Perhaps like so:

Much of the tone of discourse online is governed by the level of moderation and to what extent people are encouraged to “own” their words. When forums, message boards, and blog comment threads with more than a handful of participants are unmoderated, bad behavior follows. The appearance of one troll encourages others. Undeleted hateful or ad hominem comments are an indication that that sort of thing is allowable behavior and encourages more of the same. Those commenters who are normally respectable participants are emboldened by the uptick in bad behavior and misbehave themselves. More likely, they’re discouraged from helping with the community moderation process of keeping their peers in line with social pressure. Or they stop visiting the site altogether.

Unchecked comment spam signals that the owner/moderator of the forum or blog isn’t paying attention, stimulating further improper conduct. Anonymity provides commenters with immunity from being associated with their speech and actions, making the whole situation worse…how does the community punish or police someone they don’t know? Very quickly, the situation is out of control and your message board is the online equivalent of South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, inhabited by roving gangs armed with hate speech, fueled by the need for attention, making things difficult for those who wish to carry on useful conversations.

But what about a site’s physical appearance? Does the aesthetic appearance of a blog affect what’s written by the site’s commenters? My sense is that the establishment of social norms through moderation, both by site owners and by the community itself, has much more of an impact on the behavior of commenters than the visual design of a site but aesthetics does factor in somewhat. Perhaps the poor application of a default MT or Wordpress template signals a lack of care or attention on the part of the blog’s owner, leading readers to think they can get away with something. Poorly designed advertising or too many ads littered about a site could result in readers feeling disrespected and less likely to participate civilly or respond to moderation. Messageboard software is routinely ugly; does that contribute to the often uncivil tone found on web forums?

How to Build an Igloo

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

Kevin Kelly reviews How To Build an Igloo (and other snow shelters).

Muji Award 2008 results

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

Results of the 2008 Muji Award design competition. Winning entries include a drinking straw made from straw, a garbage bag that stands up by itself (no can needed), and a stapler that gets that staple in the corner of the page every time. (thx, dj jacobs)

Collect everything, indiscriminately

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

If you’re young, know nothing, and are trying to understand the world, here’s some good advice:

Only Collect; that is to say, collect everything, indiscriminately. You’re five years old. Don’t presume too much to know what’s important and what isn’t. Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read, even if it’s just one line saying “Never read this again”; collect newspaper clippings and email them to yourself; collect quotes; save your ideas for future papers, future projects, future conferences, even if they seem wildly implausible now. Hoarding must become instinctual, it must be an uncontrollable, primal urge. And the higher, civilizing impulse that kicks in after the fact is organization, or librarianship. You must keep tabs on everything you collect, somehow; a system must be had, and the system must be idiot-proof (that is to say, you should be able to look back on it six months for now and not be completely stymied as to why you’ve organized things that way — the present versions of ourselves are invariably the biggest idiots, and six months will make that clear).

An alternate and equally useful approach is just to start doing things without regard to their quality. Make 1000 mistakes but try not to repeat them. (via snarkmarket)

Criterion box art

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 01, 2008

Fifty favorite Criterion Collection DVD covers. Great work.

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