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Entries for March 2009

The Spaghetti Book Club

A review of Cinderella, by Shanie, age six:

One day there was going to be a fancy ball. Cinderella wasn’t going to get to go, but then something very exciting happened. I liked to read this book because I like fairy tales. I also like to read about evil people. It’s exciting and a little scary. I would recommend this book about Cinderella to my mom because she likes to do chores.

The Spaghetti Book Club provides book reviews “by kids, for kids.” It’s incredible. The kid-crafted illustrations that accompany the reviews are just as fridge-worthy.

Tilt-shift my heart

Peculiar little video by Keith Loutit for a song called “Clementine.” Utilizes tilt-shift photography to achieve its miniature look.

via Nothing for X

Chick click

I’m a classy roustabout, but I’m not sure I’d want to accessorize my computer with the pink-accented Swarovski Crystal mouse.

By manipulating the design of an item used everyday into a sensual, feminine form, we have created a personal gesture for the urban lifestyle of the working woman.

Kind of the opposite of the more organic, but equally impractical Mouse Mouse.

via design bloom

Typo/graphic posters

A directory of typographic and graphic posters.

via Arkitip

Found underground

A family in Porterville, California recently discovered that their new home has an unmapped addition. An underground lair.

They noticed what they suspected was a small sink hole at the corner of a concrete patio slab. As they checked on the hole, Edwards was pulling some weeds nearby.

“His foot just sunk,” Barton said, “and that’s when we thought we saw a dead body.”

Turns out it wasn’t a dead body, but some foam insulation. Beneath it, a large space. Everybody thinks it’s a subterranean grow room. They’re afraid their four-year-old son Ethan will want to play down there.

Also recently unearthed, tunnels belonging to crusaders were found under Malta. Unlike the marijuana-propagating sanctum, these structures are believed to have been designed to facilitate Crusades-era sanitation and to bolster the water supply for the Knights of Malta. Ethan, play here instead.

Giant fire-breathing robot

Sure, it looks like Astro Boy with heartburn, but Kenji Yanobe’s Giant Torayan is not the kind of toy you leave with just any kid.

This GIANT TORATAN doll is the ultimate child’s weapon, as it sings, dances, breathes fire, and follows only those orders given by children.

Masterminded at Nagoya Institute of Technology, its Command Device uses voice-recognition technology to differentiate between instructions given by adults versus those given by younger evil geniuses.

Half-dragon, half-Mary Poppins, all awesome.

Bite right

Sea urchins have teeth so powerful they can munch through limestone. These teeth are composed of calcite, a form of calcium carbonate, which happens to be the same material in the limestone they’re snacking on. So how do they chomp through the rock without grinding down their tusks? By aligning the calcite crystals that make up their teeth.

The structure and composition of the tip, particularly the orientation of the calcite crystals, is exquisitely controlled.

Maybe as dentists investigate how to spur humans to generate teeth like sharks, they can devise a way to make them as strong as those of a sea urchin. A scary prospect when you think about playing hockey.

Nothing but pet

A list of the Top 10 Mascots of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Though not completely relevant to March Madness, here’s a list of the worst mascots in college sports.

Stuff about Fluff

Archibald Query was the inventor of the pasty, sticky, somewhat offensive “creme spread” known as Marshmallow Fluff. The sugar shortage during World War I cost Query his confection. He sold the recipe to H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, two candymakers who quickly figured out that combining it with peanut butter creates the “Fluffernutter,” which in turn creates sandwich-obsessed mobs of thieving children. The Fluffernutter may soon be the state sandwich of Massachusetts, even though it was almost legally banned from school lunches back in 2006.

Marshmallow was originally used as a throat-coating precursor to the lozenge, but these days it’s molded into everything, from cereal squares to baby chickens and moon pies.

This Croque Madame is a fancy, sweet version of a fried ham-and-cheese, made with Nutella and Fluff on cinammon-raisin bread. Yum.

Subprime rib

Barclay Prime, home of the notorious $100 cheesesteak, says that there’s no evidence of the recession hitting their sandwich sales.

Kermit mourns

Australia celebrated Toad Day Out this past weekend, resulting in the deaths of thousands of toxic cane toads.

Cane toads were introduced to north Queensland canefields from South America in 1935 to eat pest beetles. The slimy interlopers couldn’t jump high enough to reach the beetles at the top of the cane stalks and, instead, rapidly spread in search of food. Millions of them now threaten many local species and spread diseases such as salmonella across northern Australia.

Ick. The hallucinogenic amphibians were profiled in the documentary Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. Ribbit in peace.

A business card with teeth

Pull one of these out at a bar and jaws will start wagging.

Designed by Michael Häne & Remo Caminada.

Two-piece suit

A Las Vegas Weekly article about the realities of the fantasy job search for a model/bartender in Sin City highlights the hurt felt by those other sectors of the American Dream. For one, choosing what to wear to a job interview can be especially challenging when the uniform is a bikini.

After much deliberation, I chose a minimalist (cloth-wise) brown dress that matched my brown bikini and stilettos. To bring the look together, I chose a business jacket. Unfortunately, I only had non-matching black business jackets. My second choice, a leather jacket, made the outfit look oddly slutty. So I went with my jean jacket, which gave the ensemble a wholesome all-American look, but didn’t do much to make me look like a businesswoman.

Nomi Malone wouldn’t have survived an instant in this economy.

On Crayon Physics

Petri Purho, the rapid-prototyping enthusiast and mastermind behind Crayon Physics Deluxe, talked to The Onion’s A.V. Club about the puzzle’s point, the process, and winning the prize.

“I didn’t want to do a cheery kids game, where you’d have bright colors and cheerful music.”

thx john

Sea lilies

Crinoids, or sea lilies, are marine animals that resemble plants. Unlike its garden namesake, the sea lily doesn’t stay still, but creeps along to avoid becoming prey for sea urchins and other predators.

It seems they’ve also developed the ability to “shed” their stalk-like appendages.

“It’s the lizard’s tail strategy,” said Baumiller, who is also a curator in the UM Museum of Paleontology. “The sea lily just leaves the stalk end behind. The sea urchin is preoccupied going after that, and the sea lily crawls away.” And the speed at which they move—-three to four centimeters per second—-suggests that “in a race with a sea urchin, the sea lily would probably win.”

When on the move, they resemble graceful spiders in a hurry.

Crinoids are also the state fossil of Missouri, and inspired the design of Pokemon characters Lileep and Cradily.

Number eighty

80. Wear a sportcoat when traveling by plane. It has easily accessible pockets.

1001 Rules For My Unborn Son is a poignant idea that’s well-executed.


Related to ginger, galangal has been used since medieval times to spice food and quell digestive issues, but it doesn’t taste like your friendly, corner-store ginger candy.

If you were to bite into this tuberous rhizome, you would be very surprised at the slightly sweet, “perfumy” taste and scent of it, not to mention the spiciness factor. While not exactly “hot” like a chili, galangal has a sharp pungency to it that will make you gasp and perhaps cough a little.

Galangal’s role outside the kitchen includes a place in folk medicine and hoodoo magic, where it’s called “Chewing John.” If you’re entering litigation and require a favorable verdict, you’re supposed to chew it thoroughly before spitting it onto the floor of the courtroom.

If only Blake Griffin of the Sooners had hocked a ginger loogie yesterday, North Carolina would have been sent packing.


An excerpt from one of Galileo Galilei’s letters to Don Virginio Cesarini:

Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.

Want more Galileo? The Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence is loaning out their exhibit, Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy to The Franklin in Philadelphia. It features one of the last two telescopes belonging to the astronomer, as well as his notes, paintings, and other instruments, including the cylindrical sundial and Michelangelo’s compass.

Your better half

A gallery of not-famous twins and their celebrity siblings.

It must suck so much to have to explain that, no, really, you’re not that guy from Napoleon Dynamite.

Art made from old cassette tape

Ian Curtis is as haunting made of tape as he is on tape.

The artist, known as iRI5, is in her mid-twenties and lives in Georgia. Her work features found objects like old magazines, books, playing cards, and trash that she turns into treasure.

via Noise Addicts

Sea monsters

The coelacanth, a 400 million year old prehistoric fish once thought to be extinct, has undergone a CT scan. Forty eggs were found inside of the large, frozen bodies of the two coelacanth tested, originally caught off the coast of Tanzania and then shipped to Japan for study.

The coelacanth young are thought to hatch inside of the mother and grow to 30cm before their live birth, when they swim outside of her body, looking identical to their parents, only tiny and cute. The discovery of the eggs could contribute to evidence that the ancient ocean dweller is the missing link between fish and amphibians:

Many scientists believe that the unique characteristics of the coelacanth represent an early step in the evolution of fish to terrestrial four-legged animals like amphibians. The most striking feature of this “living fossil” is its paired lobe fins that extend away from its body like legs and move in an alternating pattern, like a trotting horse.

As far as fish go, it’s just a shade prettier than the sea wolf.

Happy hour

Just in time for Friday afternoon, a cedar beer cozy and a collection of beer sweaters. Wash it down with some beer soap.

Staring contest

Love at first sight apparently applies to men only:

Researchers believe that this difference between men and women can best be explained by the fact that the former use eye contact to seek fertile and fit mates. Meanwhile, the latter shy from making eye contact or drawing unwanted attention onto themselves for fear of unwanted pregnancies and single parenthood, it has been said.

The same study found that it takes approximately 8.2 seconds of eye contact for a man to decide if a woman is attractive. It’s hard not to stare at the eyes of photographer Rankin’s hypnotizing Eyescapes for a whole lot longer, but that’s a different type of beauty.


From the YesButNoButYes Guide to Dutch Women:

Yfke Sturm - It must have been hard for Yfke growing up. With a name that sounds like it came from Return of the Jedi, she was probably the subject of ridicule and name-calling. I too had those evils done to me, and I’d be happy to console her.


Shot clock reads 60 Minutes

Lebron’s full-court shot on 60 Minutes makes me grin like a 4-year-old with a fistful of candy.

Dairy airs

Attention milk product enthusiasts: The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais has been released, and it won the dubious distinction of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The benefits of winning the award appear to be few. According to Philip Stone, The Bookseller’s charts editor:

“What does the future hold for these items?” Mr. Stone asked, speaking of fromage-frais cartons. “Well, given that fromage frais normally comes in 60-gram containers, one would assume that the world outlook for 0.06-gram containers of fromage frais is pretty bleak. But I’m not willing to pay £795 to find out.”

For those of you who are more into designer accessories than dairy almanacs, the Calf & Half pitcher lets you pour with udder abandon.

And if you’re looking for more clandestine cream, bring your own containers. Raw milk, once our only option, then treated as a potential health hazard, now finds itself on the black market.

Drive under elephants

From Schott’s Vocab: A Miscellany of Modern Words and Phrases:

Elephant Flyovers - Elevated crossings designed to protect Indian elephants from road and rail accidents.

While you’re there, be sure to check out Schott’s entries for Daggering and Fire Fatigue. Actually, they’re all fantastic.

You’re toast

Eno is an antacid produced by GlaxoSmithKline. It’s globally distributed, mainly across South America, India, and the Middle East, and it’s available as sachets and tablets in both Lemon and an ambiguous “Regular” flavor.

Ogilvy & Mather produced a stunning print advertisement for the company, featuring a gun made of food. Quite an improvement over Eno’s commercial from the 80s, although if the packets made me seem as effervescent as the actor, perhaps I’d take some on my down days.

via Coloribus

Crayon compendium

From a post that includes all 120 crayon names, codes, and trivia:

The name Crayola was coined by Alice Binney, wife of company founder Edwin, and a former school teacher. She combined the words craie, which is French for chalk, and ola, for oleaginous, because crayons are made from petroleum based paraffin.

I don’t remember ever having scribbled with sticks of Manatee or Jazzberry Jam, but I do distinctly recall meticulously practicing my hearts and starts with the dulled point of Carnation Pink.

via Colour Lovers

“Thank You, Vocoder”

“Vocoders are an instantly recognizable synthesizer sound, having been used in popular music since the 1960s. They allow you to ‘talk like a robot’, which while fun, is often not musically useful.”

This from “Introduction to Vocoders,” proves the point that the vocoder does not, in fact, turn a song into music. The voice analyzer/synthesizer system that was originally developed in the 1930s to facilitate early telephony has now become a seemingly inescapable accessory to popular music.

Rapper Ice Cube also awkwardly reflected on the negative effects of vocoders on rap:

“Records sales really not concerned to me as much as doing it my way. And doing the kind of records I want to do. Without some A&R dude trying to tell me to go find T-Pain and get you a voice box. Ya know, all this stupid stuff that they do that mess up a lot of records, mess up a lot of artists.”

This clip of T-Pain v. His Vocoder is the audio equipment equivalent of Stephen King’s Christine, and it certainly backs up Mr. Cube’s claim.

Update: Turns out that the actual device Mr. Pain uses to alter his voice box is referred to as an Auto-Tune, and it’s the weapon of choice for Cher, Kanye, and T-Pain, who seems just as oblivious as this author was. The two machines are entirely different.

Thx jason freeman

Playing with food

Biogen is an art installation by Hanna von Goeler that’s inspired by the genetic engineering of tomatoes. Consisting of oil paintings, sculptures, a mobile made of tomato skin, and a model of a “tomato six pack,” von Goeler’s work is striking, and notably unappetizing.

Food Fray offers an equally fascinating, though less creative case against GM fruits and veggies. Both the art and the argument raise questions about the dangers of chewing with an open mind.

Coloring without the lines

Brooke Inman’s Everything Color Circle is mesmerizing. As somebody with limited organizational skills, I find it mind-boggling that she was able to put this together. And to think that it could be destroyed in a nanosecond if a sugar-addled kindergartner armed with construction paper wandered into the room. (via design milk)

Education in 140 characters or less

In response to a push for more tech literacy, British primary schools have proposed a new set of academic standards, including plans to study Twitter.

It seems to be going over fairly well with those at the head of the class. According to John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers:

“Computer skills and keyboard skills seem to be as important as handwriting in this. Traditional books and written texts are downplayed in response to web-based learning.”

Let’s hope that history lectures don’t devolve into presentations on now-defunct MySpace pages and AOL screen-names.

via CNET

Refresh (p)age

A refreshing take on aging, from across the pond, as expressed by 74-year-old Agnes McGroarty:

When Agnes - who already has an MP3 player - went into a music shop to ask about iPods, a young sales assistant couldn’t have been more helpful.

She joked: “It may come as a surprise to some that someone my age has a Bose sound system and MP3 player instead of a gramophone. I think older people should challenge attitudes and we should all have respect for individuals, whatever their age.”

Nowadays, it’s quite likely that grandma and grandpa will be updating their status updates on Facebook during their games of Bingo. There are even email services available to connect tech-savvy seniors with Internet penpals across the globe.

A less friendly view comes from Tremendosaur, who believes that it’s win, lose, or draw when it comes to Old People vs. Technology.

Medicina Statica

Santorio Santorio was an Italian physician in the 1700s who performed experiments so precise, they named him twice. He’s best known for Medicina Statica, a collection of research which, among other things, details his experiments with “insensible perspiration.” Santorio would weigh what he consumed both before and after it was digested. The results concluded that a fair amount of what he put into his body was lost through his skin.

Fascinating stuff from the University of Virginia’s vault of historical collections:

“Santorio made more than theoretical contributions to science and medicine. He is credited with inventing a wind gauge, a water current meter, the “pulsilogium” to measure the pulse rate, an instrument to remove bladder stones, and a trocar to drain fluid from cavities. Both he and his friend Galileo mentioned the thermoscope, a precursor to the thermometer. There is debate over the actual inventor, but it is known that Santorio was the first to add a numerical scale to the instrument.”

And putting him soundly in the “mad scientist” category is the fact that he invented a precursor to the waterbed. It’s unclear whether or not it was filled with insensible perspiration, but it was probably hard to hump on.

via Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

A side of pay-o

The winner of Jif’s Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Contest this year was the Po’ Boy Peanut Butter Chicken Cheese Steak, created by Jordyn Boyer, age 10. Featuring ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, mozzarella, a hoagie bun, and chicken, that jar of strawberry jelly might find itself collecting dust in the pantry for quite some time.

Jordyn won a $25,000 college scholarship fund, and a lot of respect from Southern chefs everywhere.

One of the entries in the competition was called The Happy Hedgehog. I wonder how happy that hedgehog would be to find itself on Scanwiches.

Quick soil

Metafilter feeds our needs for time-lapse photography and nutrition by linking to a full plate of time-lapse vegetation growth. Beans may be good for the heart, but pepper plants know how to shake it.

More than meets the I-beam

The Prada Transformer building in Seoul was designed to accommodate events in the spheres of art, architecture, film, and fashion, and it does so in a wholly unusual way: the entire structure somersaults.

From the site’s press release:

The Transformer combines the four sides of a tetrahedron: hexagon, cross, rectangle and circle into one pavilion. The building, entirely covered with a smooth elastic membrane, will be flipped using cranes, completely reconfiguring the visitor’s experience with each new programme. Each side plan is precisely designed to organize a different event installation creating a building with four identities. Whenever one shape becomes the ground plan, the other three shapes become the walls and the ceiling defining the space, as well as referencing historic or anticipating future event configurations.

The building was designed by cranium-cracking architect Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. No word on whether the company that manufactures Dramamine was an investor.

[via Inhabitat]

Lush flush

Remember the gilded age before The Recession? Well, for those of you still untouched by the meltdown, there’s always the $75K rhinestone toilet by designer Jemal Wright.

Thanks to Luxury Property Blog, you can peruse a list of the Most Expensive Luxury Interiors to aid you in the always-fashionable sport of conspicuous consumption. My personal favorite is from designer Andre Kim: a garish Samsung washing machine featuring baroque paneling and a gilded thingamajig on the door.

For the more utilitarian aristocrat suffering from paranoia, or those who have committed investor fraud and fear angry mobs seeking money for better torches, why not build a panic room for your palace? Constructing a basic model in your home should only cost you about $50K, which is chump change compared to the price tag on the aforementioned sparkly loo.

Thanks, Jason

Thanks for the introduction, Jason. It’s likely I’m not going to be able to fill your shoes with anything but pools of Love’s Baby Soft scented sweat, but I appreciate the opportunity. This is like rope climbing in junior high PE, in a good way.

These days, kids can choose between rope climbing and Dance Dance Revolution. Where’s the humiliation in that?

Guest editor: Ainsley Drew

I’ll be putting in overtime on some other projects for the next week, so I’ve arranged for Ms. Ainsley Drew to edit the site while I’m away. You may know Ainsley from her entertaining Twitter account — she’s AinsleyofAttack, or her Jerk Ethic blog. She is also a partner in a two-person copywriting company called Ministry of Imagery and the assistant editor at The Rumpus, where she’s interviewed Mary Roach, Andrew W.K., and some schlub named Jason Kottke and failed to interview Susannah Breslin.

Welcome, Ainsley!

The most stylish men

GQ slideshow of their picks for the 50 most stylish men.

How to become Jason Bourne

Timothy Ferris has some excerpts from a new book by Neil Strauss called Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life. The book is an “encyclopedia for those who want to disappear or become lawsuit-proof global citizens”.

I couldn’t believe classes like this even existed. In the last forty-eight hours, I’d learned to hotwire a car, pick locks, conceal my identity, and escape from handcuffs, flexi-cuffs, ducttape, rope, and nearly every other type of restraint.

The course was Urban Escape and Evasion, which offered the type of instruction I’d been looking for to balance my wilderness knowledge. The objective of the class was to learn to survive in a city as a fugitive. Most of the students were soldiers and contractors who’d either been in Iraq or were about to go, and wanted to know how to safely get back to the Green Zone if trapped behind enemy lines.

Like Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week, Emergency sounds both exhilarating and preposterous. I wonder if these folks might have been helped by such a book.

Where the Wild Things Are trailer

First trailer for Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Scrabble points inflation

Recent additions to the official Scrabble dictionary — like za, qi, and zzz — have upset the letter distribution balance of the game, causing high scoring letters like z & q to become overvalued. The three-point line in college basketball and Monopoly’s Vermont Ave. are similarly mispriced.

Alternate futures: the expressways of Manhattan

The architect Robert Stern once remarked, “Can you imagine an elevated expressway at 30th Street just so Long Island guys could get to New Jersey?” Robert Moses could. A pair of Google Maps of Manhattan were redrawn to include the Lower Manhattan Expressway and Mid Manhattan Expressway, two highways masterminded by Moses that would have cut across Manhattan through Soho and at 30th St., respectively.

Lower Manhattan Expressway

This was true for me, at least, while I was making these; Hand erasing buildings through SoHo, TriBeCa, and the LES was an eery experience as I tried to imagine what these places would really look like if my brush was a bulldozer.

More information on the Mid-Manhattan Expressway and the Lower Manhattan Expressway on NYCroads. (via migurski)

Game (almost) Neverending

Even after two weeks of letting Tetris HD play by itself, the screen is only about 2/3rds full. It’s a fun image to see but the browser chrome is perhaps just as interesting…the Google search for “fuck fuck fuck” and a tab containing the Wikipedia page for “Anal sex” for example. (thx, my main man dj jacob)

Ansel Adams’ key to photography

In a short video clip, Ansel Adams explains that visualization is the key to making photographs. (via lens culture)

Sabbath Mode

Some appliances are sold with a Sabbath Mode for those who observe the Jewish day of rest. Here are the notes for a Sub-Zero refrigerator:

- The door can be opened/closed at any time without concern of directly turning on or off any lights, digital readouts, solenoids, fans, valves, compressor, icons, tones or alarms.

- Any defrost cycle that becomes active will not be a function of the number of times or the length of time that the door is opened.

- The ice maker is disabled automatically. Ice cubes can then be made manually (using a standard ice cube tray) as needed for that Sabbath/Holiday.

- All dispenser functions are deactivated.

There are also special Shabbot elevators that stop on each floor so that no buttons need to be pushed. One could imagine a Sabbath Web Browser that would require no button pushing…it would just browse through a list of your favorite web sites automatically and you could dip in and read when you wanted.

Internet blowhards

Here’s a handy flowchart to figure out which new media blowhard you are. I am “Try Again”.

Solitary social animals

Atul Gawande branches out from his usual excellent writing on medicine and turns his attention to solitary confinement in America’s prison system. Gawande likens extended solitary time to torture.

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement-on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.

This likely will not change until Americans start to believe that rehabilitation and not punishment is the primary goal of prisons. So, probably never.

Tournament of meat

Bracket featuring the tournament of meat. The winner, hailing from the Beef Region, is deserved but bacon fans aren’t going to like it. (thx, liz)

What Is the What movie

According to this interview, Tom Tykwer, director of Run Lola Run and the recent The International, is working on a film version of Dave Eggers’ What Is the What, his semi-biographical novel about Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng. (via crazymonk)

Making a font

Jeremy Mickel shares the story of making his first font, which took him about a year and a half.

But then a funny thing happened. I kept correcting and correcting, and all of a sudden I had sanitized the font and there was almost no personality left in it. What I was left with might as well have been VAG Rounded. In a very early draft, I had played with the idea of exaggerating the swellings in the strokes from the original sign. Now I resurrected that, and found the true character of the font.

The result was Router. I also liked this bit:

It’s been said that type design is the art of making unequal things appear equal. Noordzij’s theory of the Stroke of the Pen is apparent even in monoweight sans-serifs. Flip Helvetica’s A, V, or W sideways, and you’ll see that the diagonal strokes are slightly unequal. Rotate the O in Futura, which I was always told was a perfect circle, and you’ll see why that’s not true.

(via shaun inman)

Modern food mythology

Several food experts share their favorite misconceptions about what and how we eat.

One big myth is that fruit juice is a healthy part of our diet. Wrong. Drinking a glass of fruit juice a day — which is the equivalent of one soft drink of 110 to 180 calories — has been linked in the U.S., Australia and Spain to increased calorie intake and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease.

Also: kosher != quality.

Where’s “sudo make me a sandwich”?

Command-Line-Fu is an archive of the “best UNIX commands on the Web”. The “sort by votes” page is a trove of what the community there thinks are the best commands. (via paul)

Cold fusion?

Cold fusion is back in the news.

After two to three weeks, the team found a small number of “triple tracks” in the plastic — three 8-micrometre-wide pits radiating from a point (see diagram, top right). The team says such a pattern occurs when a high-energy neutron strikes a carbon atom inside the plastic and shatters it into three charged alpha particles that rip through the plastic leaving tracks.

It’ll be interesting to see if this can be replicated and the source of the neutrons verified.

Design a NYC mini golf course

An organization called FIGMENT is building an 18-hole mini golf course on Governors Island and they are accepting design proposals through March 31 from artists, designers, and other would-be mini golf course builders.

The Challenge: Design and construct a single hole for this mini golf course, following the theme “City of Dreams.” Designs will be judged and selected on creativity, structural integrity, playability, feasibility, adherence to theme and budget.

(via hustler of culture)

The $2000 car

The Nano, the new $2000 car from India’s Tata Motors, goes from 0 to ~60 mph in 23 seconds (and even slower with the A/C on) and has the simplest dashboard I’ve seen on a car. For reference, the Honda Accord goes 0-60 in 6-9 seconds, depending on the model. (via snarkmarket)

My God, it’s full of tabs

Rod McLaren tracked every browser tab he closed for more than a month. The total: 1725 tabs, an average of nearly 50 a day. I would be hesitant to undertake a similar tabulation for fear of learning the answer.

Some answers to the disappearing honeybee problem

In an article for Scientific American, two scientists who are working on the causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD) say that they and other researchers have made some progress in determining what’s killing all of those bees.

The growing consensus among researchers is that multiple factors such as poor nutrition and exposure to pesticides can interact to weaken colonies and make them susceptible to a virus-mediated collapse. In the case of our experiments in greenhouses, the stress of being confined to a relatively small space could have been enough to make colonies succumb to IAPV and die with CCD-like symptoms.

It’s like AIDS for bees…the lowered immunity doesn’t kill directly but makes the bees more susceptible to other illness. One the techniques researchers used in investigating CDD is metagenomics. Instead of singling out an organism for analysis, they essentially mixed together a bunch of genetic material found in the bees (including any bacteria, virii, parasites, etc.) and sliced it up into small pieces that were individually deciphered. They went through those pieces one by one and assigned them to known organisms until they ran across something unusual.

The CSI-style investigation greatly expanded our general knowledge of honeybees. First, it showed that all samples (CCD and healthy) had eight different bacteria that had been described in two previous studies from other parts of the world. These findings strongly suggest that those bacteria may be symbionts, perhaps serving an essential role in bee biology such as aiding in digestion. We also found two nosema species, two other fungi and several bee viruses. But one bee virus stood out, as it had never been identified in the U.S.: the Israeli acute paralysis virus, or IAPV.

Michael Lewis telling fish tales?

Jonas Moody, who has lived on Iceland for the past seven years, takes Michael Lewis to task for some inaccuracies and other odd things in his Vanity Fair piece about the country’s economic crisis.

5. “Icelanders are among the most inbred human beings on earth — geneticists often use them for research.”

Now this is insulting. Icelanders’ DNA shows their roots to be a healthy mix between Nordic Y chromosomes and X chromosomes from the British Isles. The reason genetic-research company deCODE uses Icelandic genes for its research is not because the codes are so homogeneous, but because the population has kept excellent genealogical records dating back thousands of years.

I sort of shrugged my shoulders at this stuff when I read the piece and forged ahead for the financial meat and potatoes, but it doesn’t read so well when collected all in one place like this. Was the piece supposed to be a farce? If not, it doesn’t reflect well on Lewis or his editors at VF. (thx, micah)

Cosmos on Hulu

The entire Cosmos series is available for free on Hulu, in 480p no less (US only). From the Wikipedia:

[Cosmos] covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe. The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, and was the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until 1990’s The Civil War. It is still the most widely watched PBS series in the world. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 600 million people, according to the Science Channel.

(thx, sam)

Da Truth, Superstar, Big Dog, the Chosen One

Allonzo Trier is the top-ranked basketball player in his class. As such, he gets flown around the country for games, is provided with shoes and clothes with his own logo on them, and his private school tuition, academic & basketball tutors, and dental care is paid for by a foundation started by a current NBA player.

What accrues to Allonzo because of his basketball exploits leaves Marcie feeling dazzled, bewildered, seduced and wary. “They’re doing nice things for my son, things that he needs and I can’t afford,” she told me. “So how can I say no?” But she knows the reason for the largesse. “If his game falls off, they will kick him to the curb. That’s what makes me nervous, and I don’t want it to happen.”

Oh, BTW, Trier is a sixth-grader. I always get depressed when reading about kids and athletics in the US and this article is no exception.

Forever young

Known as The Great Zucchini, Eric Knaus makes $100,000 a year with a two-day work week entertaining children in the Washington DC area. He’s got a knack with kids.

The Great Zucchini actually does magic tricks, but they are mostly dime-store novelty gags — false thumbs to hide a handkerchief, magic dust that turns water to gel — accompanied by sleight of hand so primitive your average 8-year-old would suss it out in an instant. That’s one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers’ world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can’t find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

He’s also got a gambling problem and can’t keep anything else in his life organized. I know it’s long, but this article is fascinating.

Planet Earth on Discovery now

Tonight on Discovery HD: Planet Earth marathon until 3am ET. If you haven’t seen it, now’s your chance.

Twins commit perfect crime

Twin brothers are suspected of stealing millions in jewelry and watches from KaDeWe in Berlin. DNA from the crime scene matches the brothers’ DNA. But their DNA is too similar to match either brother individually so the police have to let them go.

German law stipulates that each criminal must be individually proven guilty. The problem in the case of the O. brothers is that their twin DNA is so similar that neither can be exclusively linked to the evidence using current methods of DNA analysis. So even though both have criminal records and may have committed the heist together, Hassan and Abbas O. have been set free.

How long before this shows up on CSI?

Noriko Ambe

Noriko Ambe cuts marvelous shapes into books and stacks of paper. This particular image is gonna stick with me.

Noriko Ambe

The eyes! (via today and tomorrow)

Last 100 posts, part 10

This is the tenth installment in an occasional series of updates to recent posts. The previous installment was posted last April. I should do this more often.

Several scholars contacted me to say that Dr John Casson’s “discovery” of six new works by William Shakespeare is not really all that notable, the consensus being that Casson is a hack with little credibility among serious researchers. Wikipedia has a good page on the Shakespeare Apocrypha, “a group of plays that have sometimes been attributed to William Shakespeare, but whose attribution is questionable for various reasons”. (thx, jeffrey & nick)

Obviously the walking tour map of some of NYC’s independent bookstores was incomplete. A more comprehensive list is available here. (thx, margaret)

More on Detroit and visuals of the recession. The Big Picture collects some Scenes from the Recession (this cluster of unused newspaper racks is the best metaphor for the current state of the print media industry I’ve seen). Vice has a slideshow of photos of abandoned schools in Detroit. Sweet Juniper’s thoughts on and photographs of Detroit (also at Flickr). Can Detroit wean itself away from the car as a method of urban transportation? Daily oil paintings of Detroit. (thx, kathy, linda, jennifer, cathy & er, jennifer)

And Iceland, seemingly the Detroit of the North Atlantic these days. In addition to Michael Lewis’ piece in Vanity Fair, there’s Ian Parker’s for the New Yorker (full piece, reg. req.), and Joshua Hammer in Portfolio. And from August 2007, this piece by Max Keiser on Al Jazeera highlights the kind of trade that got Iceland into trouble. (thx, oliver, jennifer & david)

Getting into character discussed how people in different professions (athletics, business, acting) become different people when they are at work. Here are three more examples: Kobe Bryant, Brian Dawkins (as a player, he models himself after the X-men’s Wolverine and speaks in tongues before games…the first five minutes of the video are amazing), and Jonathan Papelbon. See also: The Inner Game of Golf. (thx chris, noah, david, and unlikely words) has a mobile site at

HD Tetris. It took 42 minutes for someone to complete four lines and they received only 160 points. And every once in awhile, the game throws out a piece that’s 8 units tall. (thx, jared)

Regarding 50 reasons why Jedi totally sucks, at the bottom of this copy is also 10 reasons why Jedi doesn’t totally suck. (thx, marcus)

Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace was a popular post this week.

Lots of good ideas in the things needing a redesign thread.

Hidden in a late paragraph of the WSJ piece on Reagan’s possible attempt to convert Gorbachev to Christianity is that Jimmy Carter did the same thing with South Korea’s leader Park Chung Hee. (thx, martin)

Nine years earlier, Reagan’s predecessor Jimmy Carter had stunned his aides when he asked the South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee about his religious beliefs and then told Park, “I would like you to know about Christ.”

If you’re interested in the goings-on in the global economy,’s 2008recession tag is shaping up quite nicely.

Stuff I’m still thinking a lot about: amortality, how originality and innovation might be a dead end, the ecosystem metaphor, saving my childish things for my child, if I need to develop a character, nightclub hand signals, and The Pale King.

Google and design

How should a company like Google approach design? By the numbers?

A designer, Jamie Divine, had picked out a blue that everyone on his team liked. But a product manager tested a different color with users and found they were more likely to click on the toolbar if it was painted a greener shade.

As trivial as color choices might seem, clicks are a key part of Google’s revenue stream, and anything that enhances clicks means more money. Mr. Divine’s team resisted the greener hue, so Ms. Mayer split the difference by choosing a shade halfway between those of the two camps.

Her decision was diplomatic, but it also amounted to relying on her gut rather than research. Since then, she said, she has asked her team to test the 41 gradations between the competing blues to see which ones consumers might prefer.

Or in the hands of artist practitioners?

Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

In many cases, I’d trust a good designer with 10 years of experience over The Numbers™. That 10 years represents an internalization of thousands of instances of The Numbers across a broad range of experience. At other times, the quantitative approach is useful. Part of being an effective designer (or an auto mechanic or an engineer or programmer etc.) is learning to recognize the right mixture of the two approaches.

Google’s Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my favorite books when I was a kid and I’ve loved reading it to Ollie over the past few months. So of course, Google’s logo today is aces.

Google Hungry Caterpillar

Now do Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs!

In praise of boredom

In an excerpt from a Dartmouth College commencement address, Joseph Brodsky argues that boredom is a “natural condition of modern life” and should be embraced in order to realize your proper place in the world.

The other trouble with originality and inventiveness is that they literally pay off. Provided that you are capable of either, you will become well-off rather fast. Desirable as that may be, most of you know firthand that nobody is as bored as the rich, for money buys time, and time is repetitive. Assuming that you are not heading for poverty, one can expect your being hit by boredom as soon as the first tools of self-gratification become available to you. Thanks to modern technology, those tools are as numerous as boredom’s symptoms. In light of their function — to render you oblivious to the redundancy of time — their abundance is revealing.

(thx, conley)

Was this review helpful to you?

Jared Spool reveals that a simple yes/no question added to Amazon’s site brought in an additional $2.7 billion in revenue.

Amazon had reviews from the very first day. It’s always been a feature that customers love. (Many non-customers talk about how they check out the reviews on Amazon first, then buy the product someplace else.) Initially, the review system was purely chronological. The designers didn’t account for users entering hundreds or thousands of reviews.

For small numbers, chronology works just fine. However, it quickly becomes unmanageable. (For example, anyone who discovers an established blog may feel they’ve come in at the middle of a conversation, since only the most recent topics are presented first. It seems as if the writer assumed the readers had read everything from the beginning.)

The reviews of reviews are really helpful when buying. Personally, I always check out four types of reviews on Amazon in roughly this order:

1) most helpful/highest rated, 2) most helpful/lowest rated, 3) least helpful/highest rated, 4) least helpful/lowest rated

Sometimes reading a really negative review which many people think is spectacularly wrong can help make a useful buying decision.

See also the $300 million button and Cynical-C’s new series on one-star reviews of classic books, movies, and music: To Kill a Mockingbird and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (via designnotes)

Update: There is also the Billion Dollar HTML Tag.

This phenomenon is best illustrated by a single design tweak to the Google search results page in 2000 that Mayer calls “The Billion Dollar HTML Tag.” Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page asked Mayer to assess the impact of adding a column of text ads in the right-hand column of the results page. Could this design, which at the time required an HTML table, be implemented without the slower page load time often associated with tables?

Mayer consulted the W3C HTML specs and found a tag (the “align=right” table attribute) that would allow the right-hand table to load before the search results, adding a revenue stream that has been critical to Google’s financial success.

Michael Kontopoulos

From artist Michael Kontopoulos, a video of machines that almost fall over.

A system of sculptures that is constantly on the brink of collapse. My intention was to capture and sustain the exact moment of impending catastrophe and endlessly repeat it.

I do this too, only I use chairs and my own body and frequently tip over and hurt myself. Anything for my art.

Kontopoulos also did something called Conversation Piece, inspired by legendary film editor Walter Murch.

Film editor Walter Murch, who edited many of Francis Ford Copolla’s films, developed a theory about edits while working on The Conversation (1974). He noticed that in many cases, the best place to make a cut was when he blinked. Subsequently, Murch wrote about the human blink as a sort of mental punctuation mark: a signifier of a viewer’s comfort with visual material and therefore, a good place to separate two ideas with a cut.

Fascinating. (via this is that) for the iPhone

I built a stripped down version of for mobile devices. It’s located at:

It’s optimized for the iPhone but will work with Blackberrys, etc. as well. Here’s the icon on the iPhone home screen and what it looks like in MobileSafari: mobile

The mobile site is just the front page for now (the last 30 posts or so). Should make reading the site fast and convenient when you’re out and about.

Ancient fish weir discovered

Archeologists studying aerial photos of the coast of Wales found a 1000-year-old fish trap lurking beneath the waves.

The unique shape of the rock structure helped the Normans trap fish without boats or anything at all. All they had to do was wait for the tide to go out and hundreds of fish would be trapped behind the rocks.

Nets were placed at a narrow exit to catch the fish on their way out. Fish weirs were so effective that overfishing led to a provision in the Magna Carta banning them in rivers.

All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

New Shakespeare plays?

Dr John Casson claims to have discovered six new works which he attributes to William Shakespeare.

He added: “What we thought were the first plays by Shakespeare appeared anonymously in the early 1590s. It is inconceivable, however, that his first plays were the massive trilogy of Henry VI. Writers develop over time from simpler beginnings.”

DFW questions answered

DT Max answers readers’ questions about his long article on David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker. (thx, ben)

Walking tour of NYC’s indie book shops

The Millions has created a map for a walking tour of NYC’s independent book stores. The good news is the walk won’t take you too long. (This is also the bad news.)

8-bit hip hop

Rap and hip hop tunes played with sounds from 8-bit Nintendo games. Ocarina of Rhyme is a similar effort with a better name but not as good, IMO.

Up in a down market

Mother Jones magazine has a list of ten people who have profited from the current financial crisis.

[John] Paulson is a hedge fund manager who has been ridiculously successful betting against banks and other entities that had exposure to the subprime crisis: In 2007, his funds were up $15 billion. In 2008, he didn’t do as well: His main fund rose 38 percent in a year when the S&P 500 fell almost 40 percent. His 2007 earnings were in the neighborhood of $3.7 billion. According to Forbes, while 656 billionaires lost money last year, Paulson was one of the 44 who added to their fortunes.

This is the peculiar thing about financial markets: if you know something bad is going to happen (you know, like the global collapse of the financial markets), you can either sound the alarm and save a lot of people a lot of grief or you can make a billion dollars.

Quadruple transit of Saturn

The Hubble Space Telescope captured four of Saturn’s moons crossing its face at the same time. (via cyn-c)

Playboy and Deep Zoom

The new version of Microsoft Silverlight (their answer to Flash, a question that no one asked) has a feature called Deep Zoom that Playboy is going to use to provide free access to 54 full issues of Playboy magazine.

After EXTENSIVE testing, I have determined that Silverlight’s Zoom isn’t nearly so Deep as one can imagine. (via jimray)

Americans can’t answer rudimentary science questions

The results of a survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences reveals that Americans don’t know a whole lot about science.

- Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
- Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
- Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.*
- Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

I bet this got cumulatively 10 seconds of coverage on the major “news” networks, if that. Compare with the endless airtime given to this AIG business and then pull your hair out until you resemble Bruce Willis. (via clusterflock)

Quick client-side searching with JavaScript

Flickr’s developer blog has a pretty interesting post about how they built a fast client-side search that worked equally well for data sets of 10 people and 10000 people. Ajax with XML & JSON was too slow and using dynamic script tags was too insecure so they rolled their own format and used split to quickly parse it.

Subway art gallery opening

Improv Everywhere turned the 23rd Street C/E subway platform into an art gallery opening, complete with a cellist, sparkling drinks, signs explaining the “art”, and a coat check. An explanatory sign placed near a drain read:

Drain (1975)
MTA and unknown artists
Mixed Media on Metal and Concrete

Describing the irresistibility of natural urges, and situated thematically near the restroom, this drainage grate offers deliverance. Consequently, here lies an indeliable yellow nitrogen stain, as evidence of the passings of hundreds, if not thousands of strained commuters. Each straphanger, surreptitiously seeking relief, has helped create this totally organic, revolutionary art piece.

Things needing a redesign

A couple of months ago, Jessica Helfand posted a list of 10 things that needed to be redesigned. Her list included the hearse, plastic packaging, and IRS forms. Fast Company recently asked a few other designers what they thought was in need of fixing.

How about it? What would you like to see redesigned? (More than one-line answers appreciated.)

World of GOOP

Gwyneth Paltrow runs an online lifestyle site/newsletter called GOOP. It has both been widely panned by snarky news outlets and proved successful at attracting subscribers who would otherwise shy away from such things. (Hello, A & M!)

Anyway, the most recent GOOP newsletter shares DVD rental picks from some of Gwyneth’s friends…you know, Sofia Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson. The inexplicable crush I have on Gwyneth was only strengthened by this bit of her introduction:

I’m not one of those film people who can tell you who the cinematographer was on On The Waterfront or who most influenced Truffaut. When it comes to knowledge of film history, I’m semi-rubbish (a friend of mine once left the dinner table when I admitted I had never seen one of the most famous and most well-regarded films of all time). I can do the whole rap at the end of The Revenge of the Nerds and all of Jeff Spicoli’s dialogue, but sadly, my expertise ends there.

Like I said, inexplicable. If you could only see the fun time she and I are having in my head as we quote memorable Fast Times at Ridgemont High moments to each other. She loves my Spicoli impression!

What We Do conference at RISD

What We Do is a one-day ad hoc conference being held at RISD on April 11.

On Saturday, April 11th, 100 members of the RISD community (students, faculty, staff, and alums) will share something that they do with the rest of the RISD community and the larger surrounding community of Providence.

Leading up to the day of the event, 8 site-specific “spaces” will be created by members of every department at RISD; majors paired up to encourage cross-departmental collaboration. The spaces that they build will house the day’s events creating a street-fair environment for the open sharing of how people at RISD spend their time and energy.

What we do might include studio work, performance pieces, what you did last summer; anything and everything that RISD does in any manner of presentation.

Announced topics include cartooning, disaster simulations, typography, GPS poetry, and cars that run on vegetable oil. Oh, and the whole thing is free and open to the public.

Google Reader hacks

After using Newsfire for many years, I recently switched to Google Reader for reading RSS feeds. I’m not sold on Reader yet, but I’m going to give it a solid chance. After poking around online and leaning on my Twitter pals (thanks!), I’ve come up with a system that seems to work for me on OS X, at least for extensive testing purposes.

1. Download Fluid. Fluid creates standalone desktop apps out of web pages. After installing, paste in Google Reader’s URL, name the app “Google Reader”, and use a pretty icon (or two). Launch your new app…voila, Google Reader as a standalone app.

2. Install the Helvetireader theme for Google Reader. To do this, go to the Scripts menu in your Google Reader Fluid app (it’s the scroll graphic to the left of the Window menu) and select “New UserScript”. Name your script “helvetireader”. At the prompt, select “Override” and then close that window. From the Script menu, select “Open Userscripts Folder”…this will open the ~/Library/Application Support/Fluid/SSB/Google Reader/Userscripts folder in the Finder. Download the Helvetireader UserScript from the web site and save it over the file of the same name in that Userscripts folder. Go back to the GR Fluid app and select “Reload All Userscripts” from the scripts menu. You should be seeing something that looks like this.

3. Make Google Reader your default RSS reader. In Safari, go to Preferences / RSS / Default RSS Reader, choose “Select…” and find the GR Fluid app in your Applications folder. In Firefox, go to Preferences / Applications, scroll down to Web Feed, choose “Use other…” and find the GR Fluid app in your Applications folder. Now clicking on RSS icons and feeds in these browsers will open an “add this feed” page in the GR Fluid app.

If you don’t want to go the Fluid route, you can also use Reader Notifier to let you set Google Reader as your default RSS reader in Safari.

The ruins of Detroit

The ruins of Detroit, a series of photos by Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre documenting vacant buildings in Detroit. Some of the photos are repeated with useful annotation in this Time photo gallery. (See also Brian Ulrich’s Stores That Are No More.)

On the other hand, some are arguing that there is great opportunity in Detroit right now.

Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished.

Away We Go trailer

Vendela Vida, Dave Eggers, Sam Mendes, John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Allison Janney, Catherine O’Hara. Movie. Trailer.

Wired diamond heist piece optioned

So of course the diamond heist piece I linked to a few days ago is going to be made into a movie. Directed (maybe) by JJ Abrams, no less. The same author, Joshua Davis, also wrote High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace, which has also been optioned for film.

iPhone 3.0

Land sakes, with all the hustle and bustle around here lately, I plumb forgot that Apple had an event today to announce the newest version of the operating system for their interactiveTelePhone. Engadget has the details. The iPhone 3.0 highlights so far:

Embeddable Google Maps within applications.
Same apps of two phones can talk to each other (gaming!).
Turn-by-turn directions available.
Push notifications finally coming. (They retooled after hearing all sorts of feedback from App Store developers.)
Streaming audio and video.
MMS support.
Better searching, like in email and calendars.

Objectified review

Allan Chochinov has an early review of Objectified, the film about industrial design from Gary Hustwit.

Hustwit has said that the key to interviewing people is “not to ever interview them,” and, like Errol Morris, he’s pretty damn good at (not) doing it. Nobody hangs themselves here, but they’re presumably given a ton of rope with which to construct bridges between disparate ideas, wrap up gifts, or tie Gordian knots.

(via design observer)

US migration maps

Pew Research Center’s interactive maps of migration flows in the US are pretty interesting. The region map makes it seem as though the Northeast is rapidly losing population to the South but the states map clarifies the picture…the flow looks to be hundreds of thousands of retirees moving to Florida and Georgia.

Old school films

A/V Geeks have put online dozens of videos copied from old 16mm school films they rescued from dumpsters. Some of the titles include:

Alcohol Is Dynamite (1958)
Appreciating Our Parents (1950)
Bookkeeping and You (1947)
Case of the Missing Magnets, The (1960)
Destruction: Fun or Dumb? (ca. 1970s)
Food Doesn’t Fly - Lunchroom Manners
Great Annual Bathtub Race (1970)
Nuclear War - A Guide To Armageddon (BBC, 1982)
Shake Hands With Danger (1980)

From Porch to Patio

From Porch to Patio, a 1975 piece by Richard Thomas, discusses the transition in American society from the semi-public gathering place in front of a house to the private space in the back.

When a family member was on the porch it was possible to invite the passerby to stop and come onto the porch for extended conversation. The person on the porch was very much in control of this interaction, as the porch was seen as an extension of the living quarters of the family. Often, a hedge or fence separated the porch from the street or board sidewalk, providing a physical barrier for privacy, yet low enough to permit conversation.

When people started moving out to new buildings in the suburbs, the patio emerged to provide the privacy for these urban refugees.

The patio was an extension of the house, but far less public than the porch. It was easy to greet a stranger from the porch but exceedingly difficult to do so from the backyard patio. While the porch was designed in an era of slow movement, the patio is part of a world which places a premium on speed and ease of access. The father of a nineteenth-century family might stop on the porch on his way into the house, but the suburban man wishes to enter the house as rapidly as possible to accept the shelter that the house provides from the mass of people he may deal with all day.

(via front porch republic)

Field trip to Darwinism

Every year, a professor from Liberty University takes his Advanced Creation Studies biology class to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to check out the opposition.

“There’s nothing balanced here. It’s completely, 100 percent evolution-based,” said DeWitt, a professor of biology. “We come every year, because I don’t hold anything back from the students.”

Creationists, who take their view of natural history straight from the book of Genesis, believe that scientific data can be interpreted to support their idea that God made the first human, Adam, in an essentially modern form 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

A 2006 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 42 percent of Americans believe humans have always existed in their present form. At universities such as Liberty, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, those views inform the entire science curriculum.

(via clusterflock)

Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace

A Primer for Kicking Ass
Being the Result of One Man’s Fed-upped-ness With ‘How to Write’ Books Not Actually Showing You How to Write
By James Tanner. Reprinted with permission.

0. Begin with an idea, a string of ideas.

Ex: Mario had help with his movie. He did a lot of the work himself.

1. Use them in a compound sentence:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, But…Mario did the puppet work, And…It was his shoes on the pedal.

2. Add rhythm with a dependent clause:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work, and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal.

3. Elaborate using a complete sentence as interrupting modifier:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work — his arms are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal.

4. Append an absolute construction or two:

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the puppet work — his arms are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops moved out of frame.

5. Paralell-o-rize your structure (turn one noun into two):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and the puppet work — his arms and fingers are perfect for the puppets — and it was, without question, his shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and buckets moved out of frame.


6. Adjectival phrases: lots of them. (Note: apprx. 50% will include the word ‘little’):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet work — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the standard big-headed political puppets — and it was, without question, his little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets moved out of frame.

7. Throw in an adverb or two (never more than one third the number of adjectives):

It’s obvious someone helped with the script, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet work personally — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the standard big-headed political puppets — and it was, without question, his little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out of frame.

8. Elaboration — mostly unnecessary. Here you’ll turn nouns phrases into longer noun phrases; verbs phrases into longer verb phrases. This is largely a matter of synonyms and prepositions. Don’t be afraid to be vague! Ideally, these elaborations will contribute to voice — for example, ‘had a hand in’ is longer than ‘helped’, but still kinda voice-y — but that’s just gravy. The goal here is word count.

It’s obvious someone else had a hand in the screenplay, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet-work personally — his little S-shaped arms and curved fingers are perfect for the forward curve from body to snout of a standard big-headed political puppet — and it was, without question, Mario’s little square shoes on the pedal, the camera mounted on a tripod across the over lit closet, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out past the frame’s borders on either side of the little velvet stage.


9. Give it that Wallace shine. Replace common words with their oddly specific, scientific-y counterparts. (Ex: ‘curved fingers’ into ‘falcate digits’). If you can turn a noun into a brand name, do it. (Ex: ‘shoes’ into ‘Hush Puppies,’ ‘camera’ into ‘Bolex’). Finally, go crazy with the possessives. Who wants a tripod when they could have a ‘tunnel’s locked lab’s tripod’? Ahem:

It’s obvious someone else had a hand in the screenplay, but Mario did the choreography and most of the puppet-work personally — his little S-shaped arms and falcate digits are perfect for the forward curve from body to snout of a standard big-headed political puppet — and it was, without question, Mario’s little square Hush Puppies on the H^4’s operant foot-treadle, the Bolex itself mounted on one of the tunnel’s locked lab’s Husky-VI TL tripods across the over lit closet, mops and dull-gray janitorial buckets carefully moved out past the frame’s borders on either side of the little velvet stage.

10. Practice. Take one sentence — any sentence — and Wallacize it. Turn ten boring words into a hundred good ones.

Ex: “John wanted to play ball, but he sat on the couch.”

Or did John _________________________________ ?

[Ed note: I saw this on a mailing list a few weeks ago, really liked it, and asked permission to reprint it here. Thanks for sharing, James.]

Did Reagan Try to Convert Gorbachev?

One of the many things on Ronald Reagan’s mind during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s was the nature of Mikhail Gorbachev’s religious beliefs. Some recently declassified notes taken during a summit meeting in Moscow in 1988 indicate that Reagan went so far as to attempt to convert Gorbachev to Christianity.

Gorbachev tried to switch the subject. Perhaps the United States and the Soviet Union might open the way for greater cooperation in space, he told the president. But the president wasn’t to be diverted. According to the transcript, Reagan told Gorbachev that space was in the direction of heaven, but not as close to heaven as some other things that they had been discussing.

As the meeting ended, Reagan became even more direct and personal. He noted that his own son Ron did not believe in God either. “The President concluded that there was one thing he had long yearned to do for his atheist son. He wanted to serve his son the perfect gourmet dinner, to have him enjoy the meal, and then to ask him if he believed there was a cook.”

The weight of shame

A bus stop ad for a fitness company in The Netherlands uses an LCD display to show the weight of the person sitting on the bench…with the idea that the public shame of your weight would entice you to sign up for the gym.

Michael Lewis on Big Think

Speaking, as we briefly were, of Big Think, they have several short video interviews of Michael Lewis about the current financial crisis and other things. Worth a look see.

Ten world-changing ideas

Time has a list of ten ideas that are changing the world right now. This is not a typical mindless list (e.g. green energy! um…more green energy)…there’s some good stuff here. Jobs Are The New Assets asserts now that making money with money (i.e. stocks and property) while you sit on your ass all days doesn’t fly, your job is your main source of income and financial stability.

All the while, we blissfully ignored a little concept economists like to call human capital. The cognition you’ve got up there in your head — your education and training — it’s worth something. We can extract value not just from our homes and our portfolios but from ourselves as well. The mechanism for extracting that value? A job. “The income you earn from working is like the stream of interest income you might get from owning a bond,” says Johns Hopkins University economist Christopher Carroll. “Think of it as a dividend on your human wealth.”

Michael Lewis recently said something similar in an interview for Big Think.

When you think of making money, think of what you do for a living, not the financial markets.

Amortality is my favorite entry on the list. It’s a more general version of the Grups theory put forth in New York magazine three years ago. An amortal person is someone who lives a similar lifestyle all throughout their life, from their teens to their 80s.

For all the optimism about how science may prolong life, mice and humans keep turning up their toes. No matter how much the government bullies and cajoles, amortals rarely make adequate provision for their final years. Yet even as faltering amortals strain the public purse, so their determination to wring every drop out of life brings benefits to the private sector. They prop up the tottering music industry, are lifelong consumers of gadgets and gizmos, keep gyms busy and colorists in demand. From their youth, when they behave as badly as adults, to their dotage, when they behave as badly as youngsters, amortals hate to be pigeonholed by age.

More Manhattan

Five ways to add real estate to Manhattan without tearing down existing buildings.

5. Fill in the Harlem River, which separates Manhattan and the Bronx. The Harlem River did not become a navigable waterway until 1895, when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged a shipping canal that provided direct passage for vessels from the East River to the Hudson. Nineteen years later, the creek that had served as the northern boundary of Manhattan was filled in, leaving the neighborhood of Marble Hill, still technically part of Manhattan, physically attached to the Bronx.

The future news ecosystem

Steven Johnson takes on the future of journalism and newspapers using the ecosystem metaphor that he successfully deployed in The Invention of Air. Johnson argues that journalism in the future will look a lot like how technology and politics are covered now because those two topics are the “old growth forests of the web”, i.e. they’ve been covered long enough on the web that old media has had time to adjust, react, and in many cases, go out of business in the face of that coverage.

The funny thing about newspapers today is that their audience is growing at a remarkable clip. Their underlying business model is being attacked by multiple forces, but their online audience is growing faster than their print audience is shrinking. As of January, print circulation had declined from 62 million to 49 million since my days at the College Hill Bookstore. But their online audience has grown from zero to 75 million over that period. Measured by pure audience interest, newspapers have never been more relevant. If they embrace this role as an authoritative guide to the entire ecosystem of news, if they stop paying for content that the web is already generating on its own, I suspect in the long run they will be as sustainable and as vital as they have ever been. The implied motto of every paper in the country should be: all the news that’s fit to link.

You may also enjoy Clay Shirky’s take on the same subject.

The McGangBang

The McGangBang has to be one of the more American things I’ve ever seen. It’s a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger with a McChicken sandwich crammed into it.

Let that soak in a bit before you actually view this piece of hideous gorgeousness. The best part is that it only costs $2.16.

They couldn’t have done it without them

Although I’m increasingly appreciative of books that don’t contain extensive acknowledgement sections, that section is often the first thing I read in books that have them. I find that who someone thanks provides a meaningful context for the rest of the book.

How to write like an architect

How to hand print letters like an architect (with a pen). It’s a little different if you’re using a pencil. (via rebecca’s pocket)

Quantum of Solace, Blu-ray

Finally, Quantum of Solace is out on Blu-ray in about a week (March 24). One-click only please, Vasili.

Lying about books

From the Guilty Secrets survey by Spread the Word, the top ten books that people say that they’ve read but haven’t.

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42%)
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31%)
3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25%)
4. The Bible (24%)
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16%)
6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15%)
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14%)
8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9%)
9. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6%)

I’ve read 1, 6, bits of 4, and started on 10 but didn’t get more than 20 pages in. (Sorry, Dawkins!) This is a UK-centric list…I wonder what the US list would look like.

Old school web design

The Vintage Web blog consists of screenshots of sites whose current design appears to have not been updated since the 1990s.

How to steal $100 million in diamonds

Wired has a great account of what some have called “the heist of the century”, the robbery of an Antwerp diamond vault thought to be impenetrable. The story was pieced together by reporter Joshua Davis from police reports and from talking to the thief who coordinated the whole thing. True or not, this is a fascinating read.

The Genius led them out the rear of the building into a private garden that abutted the back of the Diamond Center. It was one of the few places in the district that wasn’t under video surveillance. Using a ladder he had previously hidden there, the Genius climbed up to a small terrace on the second floor. A heat-sensing infrared detector monitored the terrace, but he approached it slowly from behind a large, homemade polyester shield. The low thermal conductivity of the polyester blocked his body heat from reaching the sensor. He placed the shield directly in front of the detector, preventing it from sensing anything.

With the benefit of hindsight and after watching too many heist movies, the vault security is hilariously inadequate. Both the magnetic security system on the door and the main alarm system were both easily defeated by essentially short circuiting them with bits of metal, just as MacGyver might fool a window alarm with an aluminum chewing gum wrapper. (via waxy)

Flocking birds

Beautiful video of birds flocking on and around some power lines.

It’s worth clicking through to view it in HD. (via siege)

Harry Beck Paris Metro map

Harry Beck, designer of the iconic London Tube map, once took a crack at a map for the Paris Metro, but his effort was rejected for being too geometric.

So why did the Paris Metro (now operated by the RATP) reject Beck’s clear simplification of their beloved system? One reason is visible at each station entrance; Parisians use the maps here as a free public service to help them find their way round the city - the ubiquitous geographic wall map is more than just a Metro plan.


People on the internet seem to be enjoying a game for the iPhone called Eliss. Offworld:

It was exactly one week ago last night that I fell in love, and to be quite honest I’m still at a little bit of a loss for words. The new object of my desire? She’s Eliss, an iPhone game, and I say that only slightly facetiously, because I’m not entirely exaggerating when I admit to getting goosebumps every time I even just see her in the video above.

And Touch Arcade:

Simply stated, Eliss perfectly demonstrates what iPhone gaming can be. It’s a highly challenging game that’s near impossible to put down and it could not exist on any other platform.

I just d/led it and have only played it a little. The aesthetic is great…it feels more like art than a game. The game’s developer, one Steph Thirion, is up for an award for Innovation in Mobile Game Design for Eliss.

A house floats near Brooklyn

Here’s an unusual bit of NYC sightseeing for tomorrow morning. Between 7:30 and 8:30am tomorrow, a house designed by influential architect Robert Venturi will be floating under the Brooklyn Bridge.

In a bid to avoid the wrecking ball, Venturi’s Lieb House is traveling by barge from the New Jersey coast to the north shore of Long Island. During the two-day trip, the house will journey through the Atlantic Ocean, across New York Harbor, up the East River, and into Long Island Sound — a distance of about 75 miles, as the seagull flies.

The floating house will be shown in an upcoming documentary about Venturi, his wife, and their architectural practice. (thx, ed)

Newspaper front pages

NEWScan is kind of like The Big Picture for newspapers…it shows the front pages of 14 major newspapers all on one page and big enough so you can read the text. This is a neat way to skim the news of the day. (thx, eric)

What happened to Iceland?

Michael Lewis, who is seemingly cranking out 10,000 words a day about finance and sports these days, writes in the pages of Vanity Fair about the Icelandic financial collapse. It’s an amazing story.

That was the biggest American financial lesson the Icelanders took to heart: the importance of buying as many assets as possible with borrowed money, as asset prices only rose. By 2007, Icelanders owned roughly 50 times more foreign assets than they had in 2002. They bought private jets and third homes in London and Copenhagen. They paid vast sums of money for services no one in Iceland had theretofore ever imagined wanting. “A guy had a birthday party, and he flew in Elton John for a million dollars to sing two songs,” the head of the Left-Green Movement, Steingrimur Sigfusson, tells me with fresh incredulity. “And apparently not very well.” They bought stakes in businesses they knew nothing about and told the people running them what to do — just like real American investment bankers!

But it was all essentially make-believe.

A handful of guys in Iceland, who had no experience of finance, were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then re-lending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets — the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising — thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them — they appeared to be making money. Yet another hedge-fund manager explained Icelandic banking to me this way: You have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that they are each worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners, but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets. “They created fake capital by trading assets amongst themselves at inflated values,” says a London hedge-fund manager. “This was how the banks and investment companies grew and grew. But they were lightweights in the international markets.”

Jimmy Fallon mines the web

Being that Jimmy Fallon is a big nerd and his show’s producer is Gavin Purcell (formerly of TechTV, G4, and Attack of the Show), I knew it was only a matter of time before The Late Show started featuring more online stuff than its predecessor. But I didn’t know it would happen so soon. So far Jimmy has welcomed Kevin Rose & Alex Albrecht (of Diggnation) and Josh Topolsky (of Engadget). On last night’s show, they turned a Twitter user with 7 followers into an instant Twitter celeb. The show’s web site is mainly a blog staffed by full-time editors.

Jedi sucks

Fifty reasons why Return of the Jedi sucks. Number one with a bullet is “Ewoks, Ewoks, Ewoks”.

But aside from what we see onscreen, the Ewoks are miserable little creatures for a completely different reason: they are the single clearest example of Lucas’ willingness to compromise the integrity of his Trilogy in favor of merchandising dollars. How intensely were the Ewoks marketed? Consider this: “Ewok” is a household word, despite the fact that it’s never once spoken in the film.

When I was a kid, I had a friend who knew all the names of even the most minor characters from the Star Wars movies and had no idea where he got that information. Was there a fourth movie I didn’t know about? It wasn’t until much later that I realized his extensive collection of SW action figures had filled in all the blanks for him.

BTW, the current definition of an Ewok on Wikipedia reads:

Ewoks are a fictional species of teddy bear-like hunter-gatherers that inhabit the forest moon of Endor and Settlement operations at Goldman Sachs.

Goldman, you’ve been burned!

Reality TV cliches

We get it, you’re not here to make friends.

Google Voice

After almost two years, Google finally does something with GrandCentral: Google Voice (announcement). David Pogue raves about it in the Times.

From now on, you don’t have to listen to your messages in order; you don’t have to listen to them at all. In seconds, these recordings are converted into typed text. They show up as e-mail messages or text messages on your cellphone. This is huge. It means that you can search, sort, save, forward, copy and paste voice mail messages.

GrandCentral was amazing enough…Google Voice really sounds spectacular.

Panoramas from the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of panoramic photographs dating from 1851-1991. As with all of the LOC stuff, I wish it were easier to browse through these. Guess I’ll wait until they add everything to Flickr. (via design observer)

When Keds ruled the Universe

Photos of people in Brooklyn in the 1970s. (thx, paolo)

Recession cocktails

The New Yorker shares some cocktail recipes for the recession.

BlackBerry Sling
Discover that your BlackBerry doesn’t work because you haven’t paid the bill. Sling it against the wall, then buy a pre-paid phone and make some rum in your toilet.

I LOL’d at Nasdaiquiri.

Grown-up Calvin and Hobbes

A collection of drawings of Calvin and Hobbes featuring a grown-up Calvin.

The 15 Strangest College Courses In America

The Online Colleges blog has collected a list of the oddest college courses in the US, including Arguing with Judge Judy: : Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows, The Science of Superheroes, and The Strategy of StarCraft.

I’m sure that in South Korea one could major in StarCraft, but it’s a bit strange seeing a college course about the game here in the US. The class uses StarCraft to teach the art of war, discussing strategy and tactics in the famous game.

Got to. This America, man.

Some think it’s unfair that the former president of Countrywide Financial, a mortgage company that played a big (and negative) role in the subprime mortgage debacle, is now the head of a company making big money buying troubled mortgages from the US government for cheap and then refinancing with the owner, making big money in the process.

But as a Baltimorean explains to McNutty in the very first scene of the first episode of The Wire, that’s how America works.

McNulty: Let me understand. Every Friday night, you and your boys are shootin’ craps, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snot Boogie… he’d wait til there’s cash on the ground and he’d grab it and run away? You let him do that?
Suspect: We’d catch him and beat his ass but ain’t nobody ever go past that.
McNulty: I’ve gotta ask you: if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away… why’d you even let him in the game?

(thx, aaron)

Foursquare is the new Dodgeball

Dennis Crowley is making a successor to Dodgeball called Foursquare. It’s an iPhone app that treats nightlife like a video game.

Users rack up points based on how many new places they visit, how many stops they’ve made in one night and who else has been there. You become a “mayor” of a hot spot if you’re there often. […] “People get kind of competitve about this.” There’s a “Leaderboard” which lists the most adventurous users with the most points.

(via fimoculous)

Bidding on Gandhi

Last week, five personal items owned by Mahatma Gandhi were auctioned off in New York. Oliver Broudy reports from behind the scenes when the seller tried to withdraw the items due to threats and the Indian government’s strenuous objections.

“My suggestion is this,” the CG’s friend said. “You can preemptively beat Maron over the head, OK? It is now quarter to 12. If you want, call a press conference in front of the place, in front of his location-not on the second floor or whatever floor he’s on, but in front of his building.” A public denunciation of the auction by the owner of the items, he prophesized, combined with the Indian high court’s injunction, however questionable, couldn’t fail to have a chilling effect on the bidding.

How the Crash Will Reshape America

Right or wrong, How the Crash Will Reshape America, Richard Florida’s analysis of how different areas of the United States are going to be affected by the current financial crisis, is full of fascinating bits.

The University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate Robert Lucas declared that the spillovers in knowledge that result from talent-clustering are the main cause of economic growth. Well-educated professionals and creative workers who live together in dense ecosystems, interacting directly, generate ideas and turn them into products and services faster than talented people in other places can. There is no evidence that globalization or the Internet has changed that. Indeed, as globalization has increased the financial return on innovation by widening the consumer market, the pull of innovative places, already dense with highly talented workers, has only grown stronger, creating a snowball effect. Talent-rich ecosystems are not easy to replicate, and to realize their full economic value, talented and ambitious people increasingly need to live within them.


But another crucial aspect of the crisis has been largely overlooked, and it might ultimately prove more important. Because America’s tendency to overconsume and under-save has been intimately intertwined with our postwar spatial fix — that is, with housing and suburbanization — the shape of the economy has been badly distorted, from where people live, to where investment flows, to what’s produced. Unless we make fundamental policy changes to eliminate these distortions, the economy is likely to face worsening handicaps in the years ahead.

Others have written about it elsewhere, but the few paragraphs Florida devotes to Detroit are stunning. (thx, peter)

Tetris HD

Who knew that radically expanding the size of the game board in Tetris makes the game almost completely unplayable, unless the object is to die in the least amount of time possible. Reports, which I have sadly corroborated with my own play, say that it take 15 minutes to complete one line. OCD, anyone? (via waxy)

Getting into character

Yesterday I wondered if athletes see themselves as two separate entities (the person and the player) like the actors that Mike Leigh works with.

For actors to be able to differentiate between themselves and the characters they are playing while at the same time remain in character and spontaneous requires a sophisticated combination of skills and spirit.

Nelson, commenting on Wreck & Salvage, is a pro basketball player in the Netherlands:

I do have an on the court persona, without a doubt, that has been cultivated throughout the years, like a character, and it’s extremely easy to slip into. There are definitely times when I don’t feel like playing/performing, but when the ball goes up a switch gets turned on. We do watch a ton of video and analyze what we could do better, or what we’ve done wrong. I guess the point is, one runs on instinct, the other is a learned/cultivated behavior, and a great performance is a mixture of the two, which exists not as a duality, but combined in one person, expressed easily from a lifetime of dedication and practice.

A more extreme case involves Herschel Walker, who has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder):

Walker and Mungadze believe the disorder actually helped Walker — who started for a number of NFL teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys — succeed on the gridiron. Mungadze offered a theory about the subconscious logic in Walker’s head. “Since people are laughing at you, we’re going to make you so strong, so fast, so talented, that you’re going to be above everyone. And that is what went into building this super athlete.”

Getting into character extends into other professions as well. In Pulp Fiction, before they go into an apartment to retrieve a briefcase for their boss, Jules tells Vincent to “get into character” after a conversation about foot massages.

In this Vogue profile of Melinda Gates, she describes her husband Bill’s transformation when he went to work.

Lately, they have begun to edge into each other’s territory. “I hope that one of the things about a great marriage is that you bring out the best in each other,” she says. “Look, I dated Bill for a long time before we got married, and I knew where his heart was. But I also knew that not many people saw it. The wall would go up the minute he stepped into Microsoft. Sometimes he would come into the foundation with the wall up. I would even tease him about it. He would be talking to me in the car, and by the time we got to the elevator I would be like, Whoa, where did he go?”

When my dad ran his own business back in the 70s/80s, he deliberately cultivated a “business voice” that he used on the telephone, a voice that was quieter, deeper, calmer, and more serious than his regular voice. The transformation when he got on the phone was pretty amazing. (thx, pavel)

Map of NYC discontent

The NY Times has a nice interactive map showing the results from a city-wide poll that asked New Yorkers to evaluate how they feel about crime, education, the 311 service, and dozens of other things. Correlation is not causation but you can almost see the broken windows theory in effect here…high crime areas generally seem to correlate with neighborhoods that have graffiti, subpar trash pickup, and are unclean.

The state of cycling in NYC

Long-time NYC cyclist Robert Sullivan writes that the city is a much better place for biking than it used to be and that the number of cyclists on the street are way up.

Today, the Transportation Department has gotten serious about biking, and in just three years, the agency has painted bike lanes (good), constructed bike lanes separated by parked cars (great) and bike lanes separated by medians or barriers (the best) and installed bike signals, bike signs and many bike symbols painted on the street.

Sullivan also notes that because of this increased use, pedestrians and car drivers (usually natural enemies) now share a dislike of bikers who run red lights, ride on sidewalks, weave through traffic, and blow through busy crosswalks. He offers four ways that bikers can improve their perception with the public.

NO. 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic intersections, let’s at least stop and go.

Suggestions for pedestrians (don’t cross against the light when a bike is coming, don’t stand in the bike lane while waiting to cross the street, etc.) and cars (don’t park in the bike lane, don’t wait to turn in the bike lane, etc.) would be helpful too.

Only portrait of Shakespeare found

A painting that has been hanging in the home of the Cobbe family for 300 years is now believed to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted in his lifetime.

For many people he is the round-headed bald man seen on the First Folio of his collected works but evidence was presented yesterday arguing that we should rethink this. Instead we should visualise Shakespeare as a rosy-cheeked, long-nosed man who was something of a looker.

The portrait appear to be in good condition and Shakespeare looks a lot like Joseph Fiennes, who played the Bard in Shakespeare in Love.

Modern love

A touching story about how a couple learned to live a full life together after the wife was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident.

We began to think of what we could do to replace playing tennis, walking on the beach, working in the garden. Since Linda loves the ocean, a friend found a specially designed beach chair made of PVC tubing with wide inflated tires that allow it to be pushed across the sand. It’s yellow and white with a big red umbrella.

The first time I saw Linda sitting atop those tubes and under the red umbrella, I told her she looked like Ronald McDonald’s homecoming queen. She laughed like crazy, then repeated it to everyone she knew.

New Roberto Bolano (again)

Two more new novels by Roberto Bolaño were recently found among his papers.

It follows the discovery of another novel, entitled The Third Reich, which was shown to publishers at the Frankfurt book fair in October. Publication of the books would add to the number of works by Bolaño due to appear over the next few years; the English translations of three novels and four collections of stories are already scheduled for the end of 2011.

I’m currently working my way through 2666 and enjoying it so far. (thx, david)

Infographic bloopers

I believe these are the first infographic bloopers I’ve ever seen.

A collection of accidents that happened while working on maps and other graphics.

From the NY Times.

Nerd Boyfriend

Nerd Boyfriend breaks down the wardrobes of the fashionably nerdy male, including those of Peter Sellers, Alistair Hennessey (from The Life Aquatic), Buster Bluth, and Sir Edmund Hillary. (via lonelysandwich)

The auteurs of comedy

Famous directors takes on famous comedy routines. Wes Anderson does Who’s on First, Michael Moore does The Ministry of Silly Walks, and Tarantino does the I’m Crushing Your Head bit (the best one).

The unobserved tree makes noise

Two independent groups of scientists have recently confirmed that the universe does exist when we are not observing it.

The reality in question — admittedly rather a small part of the universe — was the polarisation of pairs of photons, the particles of which light is made. The state of one of these photons was inextricably linked with that of the other through a process known as quantum entanglement. The polarised photons were able to take the place of the particle and the antiparticle in Dr Hardy’s thought experiment because they obey the same quantum-mechanical rules. Dr Yokota (and also Drs Lundeen and Steinberg) managed to observe them without looking, as it were, by not gathering enough information from any one interaction to draw a conclusion, and then pooling these partial results so that the total became meaningful.

That’s a relief, although the head of one of the group called their results “preposterous”, so perhaps we’re still not really here.


Retronovation n. The conscious process of mining the past to produce methods, ideas, or products which seem novel to the modern mind. Some recent examples include Pepsi Throwback’s use of real sugar, Pepsi Natural’s glass bottle, and General Mills’ introduction of old packaging for some of their cereals. In general, the local & natural food and farming thing that’s big right now is all about retronovation…time tested methods that have been reintroduced to make food that is closer to what people used to eat. (I’m sure there are non-food examples as well, but I can’t think of any.)

Drinking bird = heat engine

Note: the drinking bird is not a perpetual motion machine. But it is a heat engine. Here’s how it works:

The water evaporates from the felt on the head (Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution). Evaporation lowers the temperature of the glass head (heat of vaporization). The temperature’s drop causes some of the dichloromethane vapor in the head to condense. The lower temperature and condensation together cause the pressure to drop in the head (ideal gas law). The pressure differential between the head and base causes the liquid to be pushed up from the base. As liquid flows into the head, the bird becomes top heavy and tips over during its oscillations. When the bird tips over, the bottom end of the neck tube rises above the surface of the liquid. A bubble of vapor rises up the tube through this gap, displacing liquid as it goes. Liquid flows back to the bottom bulb, and vapor pressure equalizes between the top and bottom bulbs. The weight of the liquid in the bottom bulb restores the bird to its vertical position. The liquid in the bottom bulb is heated by ambient air, which is at a temperature slightly higher than the temperature of the bird’s head.

Also, it’s drinking the water!

Mike Leigh’s creative collaborators

Filmmaker Mike Leigh’s description of how he works with his actors in movies reminds me of (unsurprisingly) relaxed concentration and deliberate practice.

When it comes to the crunch it really is about having actors who are totally able to think deeply about their characters while at the same time, once we developed those characters, for them to be absolutely organic and able to respond emotionally to anything that comes their way. When it comes to thinking about how a character talks, there are literary and language considerations. For actors to be able to differentiate between themselves and the characters they are playing while at the same time remain in character and spontaneous requires a sophisticated combination of skills and spirit. The bottom line is this: For those that can do it, it’s a natural combination and they don’t think twice about it. For those that can’t do it, they can bang their heads against a brick wall from now till kingdom come and they still won’t get there.

Leigh’s acting example — that there are two distinct people at work, the actor and the character — is interesting to think about in the context of sports. I wonder if any athletes approach working on their games in this way, differentiating between the player who performs and the person who analyzes the playing. Plenty of athletes refer to themselves in the third person (Rickey Henderson!), I wonder if that’s why.

Licence to Ill, $1.99

You’ve had 22 years to get this album, but just in case you haven’t, The Beastie Boys’ License to Ill is available in mp3 format on Amazon for only $1.99. Today only.

The Roku adds support for Amazon

The Roku is a wee box that hooks up to your internet and TV over which you can stream movies and TV shows. Until recently, the Roku only worked with Netflix (the streaming is free and unlimited with your Netflix acct) but the Roku added support for Amazon’s Video On Demand service the other day, bringing Amazon’s 40,000+ movie titles into the mix. I have friends that love this thing.

BTW, Amazon is getting good at closing the loop on this stuff. Like Apple (Apple TV / iTunes Store), they’re not only selling the media but also the device.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

A tantalizing 10-minute clip of an hour-long video called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

The clip shows an analysis of the plaza of the Seagram Building in NYC and what makes it so effective as a small urban space.

A busy place for some reason seems to be the most congenial kind of place if you want to be alone. […] The number one activity is people looking at other people.

The video was adapted from a book of the same name by William H. Whyte, who is perhaps most well known as the author of The Organization Man. The video is largely out of print — which is a shame because that clip was fascinating — but I found a DVD copy for $95 (which price includes a license for public performance). (via migurski)

2009’s emerging photographers

PDN recently posted their list of 30 emerging photographers to watch in 2009. Go here to access the photos without popups. Some nice stuff in there, including a couple photographers featured previously on (thx, youngna)

The Tao of War Photography

Bruce Haley shares his Tao of War Photography.

11. Do you believe in a personal, loving God who really cares about us mortals down here…? Go to a few war zones and famine areas and watch all those innocent children die, then answer this question………..

61. Yes, those really are gruesome hacked-up snake parts in that big glass of homebrew you’re expected to chug down, and YES, your hosts will be extremely dishonored and upset if you try to weasel out of it (or if they catch you dumping it under the table when they look away)… quit being such a pussy and just drink the damn thing…..

Daily truck tsunami

Due to the quirks of the NYC-area bridge toll system, truckers traveling between New Jersey and Long Island often take the Verrazano Bridge on the way into town (for free) but cut across downtown Brooklyn and lower Manhattan and out via the Holland or Lincoln Tunnels (for free) on the way out of town to avoid the steep toll on the Verrazano, creating a daily truck tsunami in areas of the city that aren’t equipped to handle it. (thx, david)

Is two steps really traveling?

TrueHoop recently investigated a seemingly simple aspect of the NBA game: the traveling violation.

The question is basic: If you’re dribbling the ball in the NBA, and you pick up your dribble … how many steps can you take before you have broken the traveling rules? It’s a fundamental part of the game. But I asked several NBA players, and the answers were far from simple.

In addition to asking the players, TH’s Henry Abbott also talks with some NBA officials, gets the low-down on how the call is really made, and makes an argument that the rule should be rewritten. The intro to the series is here.


Liz Danzico turned a malapropism into a useful word. Mentornship, n.

Internship for the bright or advanced individual under guidance of a more senior practitioner. No making copies or coffee.

I love this idea, although I’ve never been a believer in interns fetching coffee or doing the shopping at Staples. The bright-but-junior person sees obvious educational benefits from the arrangement but so does the senior practitioner; they get high quality work and access to a sharp beginner’s mind. With the right people, the mentornship would likely morph into a collaboration before too long.

Update: Mentornship technically isn’t a malapropism, it’s a portmanteau word. (thx, dave)

Andreas Gefeller photography

Andreas Gefeller makes some really nice (and abstract and surreal) aerial photos.

World building

Nice short film of a man building a Matrix-like world with a tool resembling Google SketchUp and a Minority Report interface. (via waxy)

YouTube, remixed

Thru You is a site that showcases remixed YouTube videos…the singing from one video combined with the drums from another and the piano from a third and so on. I was skeptical but these are really well done. Do I even need to say that this reminds me of Christian Marclay’s Video Quartet? (via sfj)

Pepsi Natural

Ok, wait, stop the internet for a second. Last month, reports popped up on the web that Pepsi Throwback would be released in the US with real cane sugar in place of the hated HFCS. Now comes a report of a Pepsi Natural product also hitting the shelves in select cities…with sugar and in a glass bottle. Glass bottle! Here’s a review:

While the regular version had a biting, acidic feel, the natural felt smoother and more mellow. The regular mouthfeel was inferior, being somewhat astringent. There was a grittiness on my tounge and teeth with the regular version that seemed absent with the other. Overall, the taste profile was very similar. I think that the natural version had hints of cognac, but even in the non-blind test the two drinks were difficult to distinguish. Later, a couple of my friends also used the adjective “smoother” when describing Pepsi Natural versus regular Pepsi.

It’s like Pepsi Island has time-shifted back to 1974 and I couldn’t be happier.

New MoMA site

New MoMA web site is launching tomorrow…here’s the preview.


The Big Picture collects a number of photos of robots…particularly robots interacting with humans. (The third one is particularly freaky/awesome.) I’m wondering how these photos will look 50/60/70 years from now when (presumably) robots are smart & capable enough that they are thought of a new sentient life form (rather than as machines) and are entitled to the rights that humans have.

That’s no moon, it’s a seamount

There’s a fascinating tidbit in this Google blog post about the non-discovery of Atlantis in Google Earth. It concerns how the depth of the ocean floor is measured.

Now you’re probably wondering where the rest of the depth data comes from if there are such big gaps from echosounding. We do our best to predict what the sea floor looks like based on what we can measure much more easily: the water surface. Above large underwater mountains (seamounts), the surface of the ocean is actually higher than in surrounding areas. These seamounts actually increase gravity in the area, which attracts more water and causes sea level to be slightly higher. The changes in water height are measurable using radar on satellites.

Wow! (via ben fry)

For money or for love?

Several authors share what they like and dislike about writing for a living.

I wouldn’t be the first writer to point out that doing something so deeply personal does become less jolly when you have to keep on at it, day after cash-generating day. To use a not ridiculous analogy: Sex = nice thing. Sex For Cash = probably less fun, perhaps morally uncomfy and psychologically unwise. Sitting alone in a room for hours while essentially talking in your head about people you made up earlier and then writing it down for no one you know does have many aspects which are not inherently fulfilling.

The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick is supposedly working on a new film with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn called The Tree of Life. It’s a movie about time but the Wikipedia page doesn’t say anything about the dinosaurs.

Synchronized bridge jumping

Synchonized jumping from bridges is a thing in Russia now.

It’s new fun in some Russian cities, to jump from the bridge with the rope in a big group, when there is no water under the bridge but raw firm ice, also they use to jump at that same moment when the train is going thru the bridge — just imagine what the machinist could think when he sees a bunch of people standing on the rails just before the moving train, so he probably starts slowing down and then all those people jump out of the bridge…

No free throw improvement

As athletes get bigger, stronger, faster, and more well-trained and records repeatedly fall in other sports, the percentage of free throws made in college and NBA games has largely stayed the same.

The consistency of free-throw percentages stands out when contrasted with field-goal shooting over all. In men’s college basketball, field-goal percentage was below 40 percent until 1960, then climbed steadily to 48.1 in 1984, still the highest on record. The long-range 3-point shot was introduced in 1986, and the overall shooting percentage has settled in at about 44 percent.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s amazing that with so much at stake in the NBA game (wins, money, championships, glory), there are still players whose FT% is in the 50-60% range over the course of a season…for a shot that undefended and never changes! I wonder how the putting percentages have changed over the years in golf (if they even keep such statistics). The Times’ Room for Debate blog has a related discussion on unbreakable sports records.

Photos of the recession

Slate is organizing its readers in an effort to photographically document the current recession/depression/economic crisis. The 30s had photos of people in soup lines and the 70s had gas lines but what does the economic crisis look like when everyone is online?

You can’t take a picture of the unemployed if they never leave the house.

Interested photographers can upload their photos to Slate’s Shoot the Recession group on Flickr.

The time loop theory of Lost

Your Lost prep for the evening: The Time Loop Theory. Spoilers.

All of the “werid” things that we see happen in seasons 1 & 2 of LOST are a result of the Losties now existing in the year 1996 on the island. This is why Locke can walk, and why Rose is Healed — their bodies are now existing in a time prior to them contracting their illnesses. This is also why some characters, such as Walt, have extraordinary perception — because they’re technically from the future.

This is Lost as Primer (note the Primer timeline map).

Kindle for the iPhone

Now you can go to the iTunes Store to buy the Kindle app from Amazon that lets you read ebooks made for the Kindle device on the iPhone. Yes, it’s that confusing! Maybe they shouldn’t have called the app the same name as the device…I thought “Kindle” was the device? A noun and a verb form of the same proper name is ok (e.g. “I googled you on Google” or “Please digg my link on Digg”) but two nouns seems like a no-no.

Terminator Salvation trailer

In this trailer for Terminator Salvation — more like salivation, which is what I’m doing waiting for this movie to come out, amiright? — we’re led to believe that perhaps Christian Bale turns out to be a Replicant or a Mecha. (via fimoculous)

David Simon, back on the beat

David Simon, formerly of The Wire and The Baltimore Sun, noticed an underreported Baltimore shooting involving a police officer and decided to investigate it himself. What he found is not good news for the citizenry.

Well, sorry, but I didn’t trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick’s identity and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn’t anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

I didn’t trip over a herd of hungry Sun reporters either, but that’s the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.

In other Simon news, apparently he’s doing a pilot for HBO for a show called Treme, “post-Katrina-themed drama that chronicles the rebuilding of the city through the eyes of local musicians”. The cast will include Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce, who played Lester and Bunk on The Wire.

And speaking of The Wire, the latest issue of Film Quarterly has several articles devoted to the show. Only one article is online so you best send Lamar out to the newsstand for a paper copy. (thx, david & walter)

U2’s newest: $3.99

Today only: U2’s new album in mp3 format on sale for $3.99.

Greek to me but not to you

When confronted with an incomprehensible language, an English speaker might say “it’s all Greek to me” while a French or Finnish speaker might say that it sounds like Hebrew. Here’s a flowchart that illustrates the different incomprehensibility relationships (discussion here). The most stereotypical incomprehensible language appears to be Chinese. (via strange maps)

Auto polo

A photo of some fellows playing polo with horseless carriages.

Auto Polo

Looks like someone depressed their halting caliper a bit too quickly.

Update: From the NY Times, a report from 1912 on auto polo. The same page of the newspaper also contains a report of two gentleman who crossed the United States in a car without getting a single flat tire.

The two front tires contained Oregon air when they reached Massachusetts.

(via harrisj)

The Lone Gunman is one

The Lone Gunman is one of my favorite new sites. Proprietor Lloyd Morgan doesn’t update super often but each post is solidly within the 40- and 50-point zones of my interests (this is likely the first and last skee ball metaphor you’ll read today). Morgan celebrated the site’s first anniversary with an entry reviewing the last year of posts…lots of good liberal arts 2.0 stuff in there.

Nightclub Hand Signals

A Continuous Lean found some great Life magazine photos of Sherman Billingsley, the owner of a famous NYC nightclub called The Stork Club, which club was frequented by celebrities, artists, and the well-to-do from 1929 to 1965. In the photos, Billingsley is pictured at his club giving secret hand signals to his assistant while sitting with guests.

Stork Club Hand Signals

Closeup of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley [with his] palm up on table, one of his signals to nearby assistant which means “Bring a bottle of champagne,” while sitting w. patrons over his usual Coca Cola, in the Cub Room.

Billingsley’s signals cleverly allowed the club to provide seamless good service to his favored patrons while also letting him be the bad guy with less favorable customers without them knowing it. Billingsley went on to be the third base coach for the Yankees in the late 60s. (Untrue.)


Arc90 has released a nifty little bookmarklet called Readability, which strips away all the extra stuff (nav, ads, Digg buttons, etc.) from news article pages, leaving you with some nicely formatted text to read. It’s a “peace & quiet” button for your web reading. Get the bookmarklet here. I tried it on a bunch of open articles I’ve got up in tabs and it worked pretty well.

Update: It’s on! Michael Donohoe has whipped up some Javascript that blocks the Readability bookmarklet from doing its thing.

Odd software bugs

Wikipedia has a listing of unusual software bugs — “mostly named after scientists who discovered counterintuitive things” — that are difficult to identify or fix.

A mandelbug (named after fractal innovator Benoit Mandelbrot) is a computer bug whose causes are so complex that its behavior appears chaotic. This word also implies that the speaker thinks it is a bohrbug rather than a heisenbug. Some use mandelbug to describe a bug whose behavior does not appear chaotic, but whose causes are so complex that there is no practical solution. An example of this is a bug caused by a flaw in the fundamental design of the entire system.

My all-time favorite bug is still the 500-mile email. (thx, jake)

One for you, one for me

This clever bread cutting board has a crumb tube down to a bird feeder. (via monoscope)

Flickr, HD

Flickr has HD video now (for pro accounts only). Also, those with free accounts can now upload two videos a month.

Dinner with the mob

After that great piece about how The Godfather got made was published, Vanity Fair got a call from the daughter of a reputed mobster who wanted to tell the magazine about the time the cast of The Godfather came over to her house for supper and some cultural exchange.

The doorbell rang at seven p.m. at the family house in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. “I opened the front door and there was Marlon Brando, James Caan, Morgana King [who played Don Corleone’s wife], Gianni Russo [who played Don Corleone’s son-in-law, Carlo], Al Ruddy [the film’s producer], and my uncle Al [Lettieri],” recalls Gio. “We all went downstairs into the family room, where the table was set and where we had the pool table and the bar.”

Design writing awards

The 2009 Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism are now open for entries until June 1.

The Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism seek to increase the understanding and appreciation of design, both within the profession and throughout American life. A program of AIGA, these annual awards have been founded by Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel of the Winterhouse Institute to recognize excellence in writing about design and encourage the development of young voices in design writing, commentary and criticism.

The main award is $10,000 with a student award of $1000.

Warren Buffet’s letter to shareholders

Warren Buffet has published his latest annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, the giant holding company of which he is CEO and chairman. His letters are always a fun read.

The table on the preceding page, recording both the 44-year performance of Berkshire’s book value and the S&P 500 index, shows that 2008 was the worst year for each. The period was devastating as well for corporate and municipal bonds, real estate and commodities. By year end, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game.

As the year progressed, a series of life-threatening problems within many of the world’s great financial institutions was unveiled. This led to a dysfunctional credit market that in important respects soon turned non-functional. The watchword throughout the country became the creed I saw on restaurant walls when I was young: “In God we trust; all others pay cash.”

Paging through, I was surprised at how much stock Berkshire owns in some major companies, including 13.1% of American Express, 8.6% of Coca-Cola, 8.9% of Kraft, and 18.4% of The Washington Post. Berkshire’s stock price is of interest as well; the stock has never split and the current price for one share is more than $73,000.

The miracle liquid

Electrolyzed water (salt water that has been run through an electrolytic process) is gaining acceptance in the US as a replacement for many cleaning agents.

At the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso — the miracle liquid. That’s as good a name as any for a substance that scientists say is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.

A food science professor says that electrolyzed water is “10 times more effective than bleach in killing bacteria” and it’s safe to drink. (Although maybe it would kill all the bacteria in your stomach?) But beware the phony health claims.

Pseudodoxia Epidemica

A full version of Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica is available online. First published in 1646, the book refutes errors and superstitions common to the 17th century. For instance:

That Crystall is nothing else but Ice strongly congealed.
That a Diamond is made soft, or broke by the blood of a Goate.
That a Bever to escape the Hunter bites off his testicles or stones.
Concerning the beginning of the world, that the time thereof is not precisely knowne, as commonly it is presumed.

(thx, julian)

She jogged out of her life

Hannah Emily Upp suffers from dissociative fugue, “a rare form of amnesia that causes people to forget their identity, suddenly and without warning, and can last from a few hours to years”, which caused her to disappear from her usual life for three weeks until she was found floating, alive, in New York Harbor.

Its most famous sufferer is the fictional Jason Bourne, the secret agent made flesh on film by Matt Damon. The Bourne character takes his name from Ansel Bourne, a Rhode Island preacher who suffered the earliest recorded case of the condition when he was en route to Providence in 1887. The preacher continued to Norristown, Pa., where he opened a store and lived with another family, until one day he “woke up.”

The Pale King, David Foster Wallace

Many of the readers of David Foster Wallace have been waiting for The New Yorker to cover the writer’s life since his death last September, something more than the quick Talk of the Town piece by the fiction editor published shortly after his death, some of that “sprawling New Yorker shit” that possessed a certain kinship with Wallace’s work. The March 9 issue follows through with two articles, one by Wallace and one on Wallace. The piece by Wallace is a chunk of the novel he left unfinished when he died. (More on that below.) The novel, entitled The Pale King, is about the transcendence that comes through boredom. I don’t think Lane Dean is quite there yet:

Then he looked up, despite all best prior intentions. In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn’t allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he’d have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he’d really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.

The Lane Dean character was featured once before in the New Yorker’s pages, a second chunk of the novel published in 2007 as Good People.

The second piece, a profile of Wallace by D.T. Max that focuses on his writing, especially his struggles in pulling the fragments of The Pale King into something finished, is long and difficult to read at times. It’s intimate; Max relies on interviews with Wallace’s wife, family & editors, private correspondence between Wallace and his friends, and passages from this unfinished novel that, for a long time, Wallace didn’t want anyone to read. It seems that anyone with $20 or a library card will get to read at least some of it after all.

From 1997 on, Wallace worked on a third novel, which he never finished — the “Long Thing,” as he referred to it with Michael Pietsch. His drafts, which his wife found in their garage after his death, amount to several hundred thousand words, and tell of a group of employees at an Internal Revenue Service center in Illinois, and how they deal with the tediousness of their work. The partial manuscript — which Little, Brown plans to publish next year — expands on the virtues of mindfulness and sustained concentration. Properly handled, boredom can be an antidote to our national dependence on entertainment, the book suggests.

The magazine also has an online feature that includes two scanned pages from The Pale King manuscript and some artwork from Karen Green, Wallace’s wife, which is obviously biographical in nature. Hard to Fill, indeed.

Archives · February 2009