Entries for July 2009 (August 2009 »    September 2009 »    October 2009 »    Archives)


The end of The Matrix

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Usually MMO games that reach the end of their usefulness are ungracefully shut down. The Matrix Online has cleverly built the closing of the game into the narrative of the world.

Ashes to ashes, decompiling sky to deletion. The Matrix Online is reminding us all that it's slowing coming undone as the system becomes more and more unstable with each passing day. Ashes raining from the sky, eyes being seen in the clouds, zombies, agents, angels, and demons all appearing out of the system's corruption to wreak havoc across the Mega City.

(thx, david)

Ben Franklin did everything

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Maira Kalman posts another one of her wonderful illustrated stories, this time about Ben Franklin and the nature of invention.

I don't think he was ever bored. He saw a dirty street and created a sanitation department. He saw a house on fire and created a fire department. He saw sick people and founded a hospital. He started our first lending library. He saw people needing an education and founded a university.

Kalman Tesla

Who's up for a little Microsoft vs. Apple?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

From John Gruber, an Apple booster, an essay on Microsoft's Long, Slow Decline. And, is if in reply, an essay called Apple: Secrecy Does Not Scale from Anil Dash, Microsoft enthusiast. A perhaps unsubtle reply to both essays might be "I can't hear you over the continual sounds of the cash register"...MS and Apple continue to be enormously profitable doing business the way they do.

Making the web faster

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Lots of resources from Google on making your web site faster.

Eight hours of Bach for three bucks

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Amazon's mp3 store has another one of those deals today where you can get hours and hours of classical musics for pennies a song: 99 Bach masterpieces (8+ hours!) for $2.99. Even though Bach's works preceded copyright protection, this is a good example of how our culture benefits from sensible copyright term limits: eight hours of some of the finest music ever composed for about the price of a Happy Meal. More good classical music mp3 deals here.

Insect flight patterns

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Video composed of long-exposure photos of bugs buzzing around a streetlight.

(via snarkmarket)

Traffic and the price of anarchy

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

The collective optimization of individual driving routes by drivers using realtime traffic maps slows everyone down. That is, everyone picking the "fastest" route on the map results in overall slowdowns. Interestingly, the solution to this problem may be to remove some roads so that drivers have fewer options for route optimization.

The authors compared the Nash equilibrium time to the socially optimal travel time, and dubbed the ratio between the two "the price of anarchy." In their study of the Boston area, which looked at travel times from Harvard Square to Boston Common, the price of anarchy at peak traffic times made for a journey that is 30 percent longer.

But the price of anarchy drops if you close a few roads, because individual drivers are less able to selfishly optimize their routes. In their analysis, the authors identified six streets in Boston and Cambridge: By closing those streets, they say, the optimal collective travel time would decrease between the two points.

(via migurski)

Makes you not want to eat

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 31, 2009

Even though Michael Ruhlman had heard it all before, Food Inc. packed a powerful punch for him and his son.

Indeed his response will mirror that of most other people who see this movie. Upon leaving the theater, James said, "That was a really good movie, Dad. (pause) Kind of makes you want to be a vegetarian. (pause) Kind of makes you not want to eat."

Here's the trailer for Food, Inc.

Updates on previous entries for Jul 30, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

NY transit and traffic status on Twitter orig. from Jul 27, 2009
The Times really really really regrets the error orig. from Jul 28, 2009
911 call from baby and other adventures orig. from Jul 28, 2009
The face of child beauty pageants orig. from Jul 28, 2009

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours. You can find past updates here.

Guitar Hero 5 playlist

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

Amazon has a mp3 listing of all the songs that will be included in the upcoming Guitar Hero 5. Lots of great stuff in there.

Lower the drinking age

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

John McCardell: get rid of the federally mandated drinking age in the US to make way for more creative and useful solutions.

The way our society addresses this problem has been about as effective as a parachute that opens on the second bounce. Clearly, state laws mandating a minimum drinking age of 21 haven't eliminated drinking by young adults — they've simply driven it underground, where life and health are at greater risk.

Fantastic Mr. Fox trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

Wonder no more what an animated Wes Anderson movie might look like: the trailer for Fantastic Mr. Fox is out. Scroll a bit for the HD links. This looks *great*. (thx, dain)

The decline of cooking and the rise of watching people cook

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

In his latest long piece for the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan explores the reasons for the simultaneous decline of people cooking and the popularity of food shows.

Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that's less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our television screens. It's also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of "Top Chef" or "Chopped" or "The Next Food Network Star." What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.

One of the things that food/cooking shows do — particularly the dump-and-stir programs like Rachael Ray — is to give the viewer the impression that by watching, they have cooked a meal. (Mirror neurons, anyone?) Perhaps that's a small factor contributing to cooking's decline in the American home.

Angels in Amazon

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

The Kindle version of the Koran lists Gabriel as a co-author...you know, the angel who revealed the Koran to Muhammad. (via the browser)

Food allergies

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

An article in New Scientist discusses the current state of food allergy research.

Perhaps most striking are the regional differences. "Peach and melon allergy is particularly common in the Mediterranean - in Spain and Greece," says Fern'andez Rivas. Reports from clinics suggest that Iceland is a hotspot for fish allergy and Switzerland has a higher rate of celeriac allergy than elsewhere.

These regional variations are likely to be due in part to differences in eating habits, causing people to be exposed to different allergens. But that alone cannot explain a pronounced north-south divide in the type of apple allergy people experience. In northern Europe, people react to the uncooked flesh of apples, whereas in the south it's the skin that sets them off, whether it's cooked or not. What could be the cause of this strange invisible dividing line that skims across south-west France, cuts through Italy close to Florence, and continues eastwards through the middle of the Black Sea?

Significantly, this line marks the southern limit of the birch tree, a plant whose pollen is one of the causes of hay fever in northern Europe.

Update: Are we being too tolerant of gluten-intolerance?

A Serious Man trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

The trailer for A Serious Man, a new film from the Coen brothers. According to Wikipedia:

The film is set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota in the year 1967, and is intended in some ways to reflect the childhood of the Coen brothers as they recall it.

This is their first film in quite awhile with no big-name actors...Alan Adam Arkin is the only name I recognize among the cast. I wonder if that contributed to the filming wrapping "ahead of schedule and within budget". (thx, david)

The Steve Ward Diet

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 30, 2009

From an article by Philip Greenspun illustrating how the web allowed writers to find an audience for things that are too long for magazines yet too short for books, a simple and effective method for dieting developed by Steve Ward.

"All that you need for my diet is graph paper, a ruler, and a pencil," Steve would explain. "The horizontal axis is time, one line per day. The vertical axis is weight in lbs. You plot your current weight on the left side of the paper. You plot your desired weight on a desired date towards the right side, making sure that you've left the correct number of lines in between (one per day). You draw a line from the current weight/date to the desired weight/date. Every morning you weigh yourself and plot the result. If the point is below the line, you eat whatever you want all day. If the point is above the line, you eat nothing but broccoli or some other low-calorie food."

The resulting graph would look something like this:

Steve Ward Diet

No faith in science

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died of undiagnosed diabetes as the family prayed for her to get better testified Tuesday that she believes sickness is caused by sin and can be cured by God.

Leilani Neumann told the jury in her husband's trial that she thought her daughter's March 2008 illness was a test of her religious faith and she didn't take the girl to a doctor because that would have been "complete disobedience to what we believe."

There isn't enough hard drive space on my server to record all the Fuck Yous I'd love to direct at Mrs. Naumann and her husband in this post. I hope the judge's god is telling him to sentence these two monsters to forever in prison. (via cyn-c)

Vollmann = Robert Caro raised by feral raccoons (and more!)

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Sam Anderson wins the 2009 award for the best paragraph of a book review with his opening to a review of William T. Vollmann's 1300-page book, Imperial.

I was sitting on the train one day chipping away at William T. Vollmann's latest slab of obsessional nonfiction when my friend Tsia, who incidentally is not an underage Thai street whore, offered to save me time with a blurby one-sentence review based entirely on the book's cover and my synopsis of its first 50 pages. "Just write that it's like Robert Caro's The Power Broker," she said, "but with the attitude of Mike Davis's City of Quartz." This struck me as good advice, and I was all set to take it, but as I worked my way through the book's final 1,250 pages, I found I had to modify it, slightly, to read as follows: Imperial is like Robert Caro's The Power Broker with the attitude of Mike Davis's City of Quartz, if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee's cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote seance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau's great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac. With photographs by Dorothea Lange. (Viking has my full blessing to use that as a blurb.)

Wow. And if you gave me a thousand chances to draw Vollmann's portrait, I wouldn't have come up with anything close to reality. (via more intelligent life)

I'm pretty sure I had neurons devoted to this guy

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Our brains have Oprah neurons, Aniston neurons, Eiffel Tower neurons, and Saddam neurons that fire when we see pictures or hear the names of these people and places.

Yet "Oprah neuron" might be a misnomer. The same neuron also fired, albeit much more weakly, to Whoopi Goldberg in one patient. Similarly, Luke Skywalker neurons also responded to Yoda, and those famous Jennifer Aniston neurons flashed to her former Friends co-star Lisa Kudrow. Such connections could explain how our brain relates two abstract concepts, Quian Quiroga says.

And then the Skywalker neurons said, "these aren't the memories you're looking for". Ba doomp.

Vol Libre, an amazing CG film from 1980

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

In 1980, Boeing employee Loren Carpenter presented a film called Vol Libre at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference. It was the world's first film using fractals to generate the graphics. Even now it's impressive to watch:

That must have been absolutely mindblowing in 1980. The audience went nuts and Carpenter, the Boeing engineer from out of nowhere, was offered a job at Lucasfilm on the spot. He accepted immediately. This account comes from Droidmaker, a fascinating-looking book about George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Pixar:

Fournier gave his talk on fractal math, and Loren gave his talk on all the different algorithms there were for generating fractals, and how some were better than others for making lightning bolts or boundaries. "All pretty technical stuff," recalled Carpenter. "Then I showed the film."

He stood before the thousand engineers crammed into the conference hall, all of whom had seen the image on the cover of the conference proceedings, many of whom had a hunch something cool was going to happen. He introduced his little film that would demonstrate that these algorithms were real. The hall darkened. And the Beatles began.

Vol Libre soared over rocky mountains with snowy peaks, banking and diving like a glider. It was utterly realistic, certainly more so than anything ever before created by a computer. After a minute there was a small interlude demonstrating some surrealistic floating objects, spheres with lightning bolts electrifying their insides. And then it ended with a climatic zooming flight through the landscape, finally coming to rest on a tiny teapot, Martin Newell's infamous creation, sitting on the mountainside.

The audience erupted. The entire hall was on their feet and hollering. They wanted to see it again. "There had never been anything like it," recalled Ed Catmull. Loren was beaming.

"There was strategy in this," said Loren, "because I knew that Ed and Alvy were going to be in the front row of the room when I was giving this talk." Everyone at Siggraph knew about Ed and Alvy and the aggregation at Lucasfilm. They were already rock stars. Ed and Alvy walked up to Loren Carpenter after the film and asked if he could start in October.

Carpenter's fractal technique was used by the computer graphics department at ILM (a subsidiary of Lucasfilm) for their first feature film sequence and the first film sequence to be completely computer generated: the Genesis effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The sequence was intended to act as a commerical of sorts for the computer graphics group, aimed at an audience outside the company and for George Lucas himself. Lucas, it seems, wasn't up to speed on what the ILM CG people were capable of. Again, from Droidmaker:

It was important to Alvy that the effects support the story, and not eclipse it. "No gratuitous 3-D graphics," he told the team in their first production meeting. "This is our chance to tell George Lucas what it is we do."

The commercial worked on Lucas but a few years later, the computer graphics group at ILM was sold by Lucas to Steve Jobs for $5 million and became Pixar. Loren Carpenter is still at Pixar today; he's the company's Chief Scientist. (via binary bonsai)

Cheating on the Rorschach test

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Rorschach inkblot

After someone posted all ten of the Rorschach inkblots to Wikipedia along with the most common responses to them, some psychologists cried foul, saying that the responses could be used by people to "cheat" on the tests.

"The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it," said Bruce L. Smith, a psychologist and president of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods, who has posted under the user name SPAdoc. He quickly added that he did not mean that a coached subject could fool the person giving the test into making the wrong diagnosis, but rather "render the results meaningless."

To psychologists, to render the Rorschach test meaningless would be a particularly painful development because there has been so much research conducted - tens of thousands of papers, by Dr. Smith's estimate - to try to link a patient's responses to certain psychological conditions. Yes, new inkblots could be used, these advocates concede, but those blots would not have had the research - "the normative data," in the language of researchers - that allows the answers to be put into a larger context.

I was not aware that the inkblot tests were even in use anymore...seems like an antiquated technique.

Synchronized blinking during movies

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Due to blinking, viewers of a 2.5 hour-long film like the latest Harry Potter will have their eyes shut for up to 15 minutes. But researchers have found that movie goers synchronize their blinks:

The synchronised blinks occurred at "non-critical" points during the silent movie — at the conclusion of an action sequence or when the main character had disappeared from view. "We all commonly find implicit breaks for blinking while viewing a video story," Nakano says.

In In the Blink of an Eye, film editor Walter Murch wrote about the blink as a natural place to cut between scenes, a marker of the boundary between two ideas.

Unhappy Mac

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Unhappy Mac


posted by Jason Kottke Jul 29, 2009

Flarf is a form of poetry made by combining together phrases from random web searches. Here's an early example:

"Yeah, mm-hmm, it's true
big birds make
big doo! I got fire inside
my 'huppa'-chimp(TM)
gonna be agreessive, greasy aw yeah god
wanna DOOT! DOOT!
Pffffffffffffffffffffffffft! hey!"

Flarf started off as a joke but then these joke poems that people were coming up with "evolved from 'bad' to 'sort of great'".

Edge Books publisher Rod Smith, a poet himself, says he feels the [Flarf] collective is prompting a bit of anarchy in the poetry world by widening the vocabulary of what is permissible. "Aesthetic judgments about what's bad in a very hierarchal society are usually serving upper-class people with a certain amount of privilege," he says. "So for a bunch of poets who are very well schooled in a variety of traditions of American poetry to take what's considered bad and throw that at people is a very interesting maneuver. It's not simply bad poetry; it's quote-unquote bad poetry written by people who know how to write poetry."

My home is my home

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

I often enjoy what Christopher Hitchens says and how he says it. Here he wades smartly into the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest.

It is the U.S. Constitution, and not some competitive agglomeration of communities or constituencies, that makes a citizen the sovereign of his own home and privacy. There is absolutely no legal requirement to be polite in the defense of this right.

(via gruber)

Increasing creativity and psychological distance

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

Social psychologists have discovered in recent years that one way to increase creativity is by inducing a state of psychological distance.

This research has important practical implications. It suggests that there are several simple steps we can all take to increase creativity, such as traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality. Perhaps the modern environment, with its increased access to people, sights, music, and food from faraway places, helps us become more creative not only by exposing us to a variety of styles and ideas, but also by allowing us to think more abstractly.

Cory Arcangel's atonal YouTube cat video mashup

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

Drei Klavierstücke op. 11 is a set of pieces written for the piano by Arnold Schoenberg in 1909, some of the first western music to written in an atonal style. Cory Arcangel took a bunch of YouTube videos of cats playing the piano and fused them together into a performance of op. 11.

This project fuses a few different things I have been interested in lately, mainly "cats", copy & paste net junk, and youtube's tendency in the past few years to host videos that are as good and many times similar to my favorite video artworks. I think all this is somehow related.

Cory's no-bullshit statements about his art are just as entertaining as the work itself:

So, I probably made this video the most backwards and bone headed way possible, but I am a hacker in the traditional definition of someone who glues together ugly code and not a programmer. For this project I used some programs to help me save time in finding the right cats. Anyway, first I downloaded every video of a cat playing piano I could find on Youtube. I ended up with about 170 videos...

You can catch Cory's project in-person at Team Gallery in NYC and at Kunsthaus Graz in Austria.

The face of child beauty pageants

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

High Glitz

High Glitz is Susan Anderson's portrait series depicting "the extravagant world of child beauty pageants".

Hours of preparation are spent on each child's appearance, and her camera records it all in graphic detail. Children's pageants are a fascinating subculture, but more than anything they represent a strange microcosm of America itself. Our own values of beauty, success and glamour reflected in the dreams of thousands of young girls...

Sweet Jesus, I'm gonna have some nightmares tonight. Can't sleep, clown'll eat me, can't sleep, clown'll eat me... (via conscientious)

Update: Colby Katz has done a similar project. (thx, chris)

911 call from baby and other adventures

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

My mom recently sent me a copy of a small town newspaper from near where I grew up. Here is a sampling from the police log section of calls made to the local police dispatch center. The writer's combination of straightforward recording of facts and colloquial embellishment is awesome.

1:38 am: Caller wants to speak to officer about being assaulted by a piece of paper thrown at caller by landlord, who is evicting him. Dispatcher ascertained no injuries and will log for information.

2:44 am: Guy is trying to get vomiting drunk woman into her vehicle. Officer advised.

3:02 am: Officer is en route to jail with above drunken driver who said people in high places will get her off and that she's talking to the media.

10:05 am: Officer checked on report of moaning coming from area which turned out to be pigeons in vacant building.

11:44 am: Caller's wife is throwing things around the house. Officer responded and the two are going their separate ways for now and will see how that works.

12:34 pm: 911 call from baby. Called back and mom will lock the numbers.

5:33 pm: Officer is responding to report of belligerent hitchhiker at Hwys. O and 53.

5:44 pm: Above officer reports that belligerent hitchhiker will be moving along.

8:12 pm: Hitchhiker is lying in ditch by car dealer and roundabout. Officer drove by, and formerly belligerent hitchhiker waved at him, is fine and is just resting.

9:16 pm: Trees on fire at Bone Avenue and Humbird Street. Officer responded and reports that trees were lit tiki torches.

9:45 pm: Caller suspects tenents were smoking marijuana, sprayed air freshener and now are coughing. Officer responded and reports negative for marijuana.

Update: See also The Arcata Eye Police Log. (thx, joe)

The case for Arab democracy

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

The governments of the Arab world have failed to make their people free, rich, and safe.

As the decades roll by the excuses wear thin. Islam has not prevented democracy from taking root in the Muslim countries of Asia. Even after its recent flawed election, Iran, a supposed theocracy, shows greater democratic vitality than most Arab countries. As for outside intrusion, some of the more robust Arab elections of recent years have been held by Palestinians, under Israeli occupation, and by Iraqis after America's invasion. When they are given a chance to take part in genuine elections — as, lately, the Lebanese were — Arabs have no difficulty understanding what is at stake and they turn out to vote in large numbers. By and large it is their own leaders who have chosen to prevent, rig or disregard elections, for fear that if Arabs had a say most would vote to throw the rascals out.

The Times really really really regrets the error

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

A piece on Walter Cronkite by Alessandra Stanley was corrected to within an inch of its life.

An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite's career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite's coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. "The CBS Evening News" overtook "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents' reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of "The CBS Evening News" in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.

Balloon Juice notes that this isn't the first time that Stanley has been corrected. (via unlikely words)

Update: Katie Couric took Stanley to task for her article...perhaps because Stanley wrote unfavorably about Couric in the pages of the Times in 2005. That article was also corrected. (thx, michael)

Updates on previous entries for Jul 27, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 28, 2009

Renting books on the Kindle orig. from Jul 17, 2009
Scott Adams hacks brain, restores speech orig. from Oct 25, 2006

* Q: Wha? A: These previously published entries have been updated with new information in the last 24 hours.

Mad Men Yourself

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Pick out a suit, light a cigarette, slick back your hair, and download the result as a Twitter icon or desktop wallpaper: Mad Men Yourself. Here's what I would look like as a Sterling Cooper junior account executive.

Kottke Mad Men

Illustrations by Dyna Moe, who worked her way into the hearts and minds of the Mad Men folks with her wonderful illustrations.

And PS to AMC: What, no season three press kit to send along to kottke.org? Almost 20 posts in the past year not enough for you?

Update: The Bygone Bureau has a short interview with Dyna Moe about her involvement with the show.

NY transit and traffic status on Twitter

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Get traffic and transit updates for NY on Twitter...including NYC subway lines! There are separate accounts for the 123, ACE, JMZ, 456, BDFV, LS, 7, G, and NQRW. (via @bobulate)

Update: @NYCtrains also does NYC subway updates. (thx, pierre)

The VCs' upper hand

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Cameron Lester, a partner at a VC firm, on A Golden Age for Venture Capital:

For 14 months, we at Azure Capital tried to invest in companies but could not reach an agreement with entrepreneurs and existing investors on valuation and terms — the gap was too great. Despite meeting with hundreds of companies and reaching the point of discussing terms with a few, we did not make a single new investment.

That gap no longer exists. We recently invested in a company called BlogHer in May. It is an exciting company, whose team and investors were wise enough to realize that taking money now would give them a competitive advantage. And last week we invested in SlideRocket, our second new investment in less than two months.

It is as if the venture-funding environment has finally hit the reset button.

Translation: Now that money is tight, venture capital firms are able to fully dictate the terms of their investments. Entrepreneurs, prepare to part with more of your companies than you wanted to and receive less for the pleasure. Lester goes on to hand-wavingly assert that this is a good thing for entrepreneurs.

Core human skills

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Riffing on Robert Heinlein's ode to generalization:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Josh Kaufman offers a list of twelve skills that you should focus on developing to improve "the quality of your life and work".

Information-Assimilation - how to find, consume, and comprehend information and identify what's most important in the face of a problem or challenge. A person who is highly skilled in Information-Assimilation is able to process information quickly and apply it to the situation at hand, with consistently high levels of comprehension and retention.

(via lone gunman)

Apple tablet out in Sept?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

The Financial Times says that the rumored Apple tablet is due out sometime in "September or October".

Book publishers have been in talks with Apple and are optimistic about being included in the computer, which could provide an alternative to Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader and a forthcoming device from Plastic Logic, recently allied with Barnes & Noble.

And if it runs apps from the App Store ("yes" seems to be the general consensus), you'll be able to read books in the Apple tablet format *and* in Amazon's Kindle format (with the Kindle app), which can't be happy news for Amazon, hardware-wise.

Scheduling: makers vs. managers

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Paul Graham on the difference between the "maker's schedule" and the "manager's schedule".

When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

Graham is right on about this.

Update: Gina Trapani adds:

As a freelancer, I get lots of requests to "grab coffee" (as Graham describes) with folks who are just interested in seeing if working together is a possibility. Whenever that happens, my heart sinks. If I'm on deadline or deep in a programming project, grabbing coffee midday with someone I don't know and might not have any good business reason to talk to changes the tenor of the entire day. When I can, I usually I turn down these types of speculative meetings because the costs are too high-but I always feel bad about it, and never know how to word my response. (Generally I say, "Sorry I'm just too busy.")

A common misconception about freelancers is that they can do whatever they want whenever they want, but that's not actually true if you want to get anything done. Large chunks of uninterrupted time is the only thing that works.

Alice in Wonderland trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

First trailer for the Tim Burton & Johnny Depp version of Alice in Wonderland.

Bacterial computing

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Scientists have created a really fast bacterial computer that can solve, among other things, a specialized case of the travelling salesman problem.

Programming such a computer is no easy task, however. The researchers coded a simplified version of the problem, using just three cities, by modifying the DNA of Escherichia coli bacteria. The cities were represented by a combination of genes causing the bacteria to glow red or green, and the possible routes between the cities were explored by the random shuffling of DNA. Bacteria producing the correct answer glowed both colours, turning them yellow.

But just as vacuum tube and silicon chip-based computers became capable of more abstract calculations, perhaps the bacteria computer will follow the same developmental trajectory.

Bill Simmons done with ESPN Magazine

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 27, 2009

Bill Simmons is retiring from his Page 2 duties at ESPN Magazine.

I'm retiring from this space in ESPN The Magazine after seven happy years. Like my father and his superintendency, The Magazine was never an ideal match for me — I hate advance deadlines and word counts — and yet, I couldn't be happier with how it all turned out. It's just time for me to try some new things, that's all. And you have to know when it's time. I learned that from my father.

But he's staying at ESPN.

Tron Legacy trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

They're making a new Tron movie. And it looks like it might not suck! (via @dburka)

Update: The Tron Legacy trailer and Michael Jackson's Beat It match up pretty well, don't they?

Yogurt container typologies

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

A pair of photographers have photographed all sorts of different yogurt containers in the style of Bernd and Hilla Becher's typologies.


100 years of design manifestos

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

John Emerson has collected a number of design manifestos dating back to 1909.

Since the days of radical printer-pamphleteers, design and designers have a long history of fighting for what's right and working to transform society. The rise of the literary form of the manifesto also parallels the rise of modernity and the spread of letterpress printing.

On the inevitability of Moore's Law

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

Kevin Kelly has written a really interesting piece about Moore's Law, which is the tendency for the number of transistors on an integrated circuit to increase exponentially. In it, Kelly explores what drives Moore's Law and what it means for the future.

Since the rate of these explosions of innovation can be varied to some degree by applying money or laws, their trend lines cannot be fully inherent in the material itself. At the same time, since these curves begin and advance independent of our awareness, and do not waver from a straight line under enormous competition and investment pressures, their course must in some way be bound to the materials.

The only slightly disappointing aspect of the article is that he stops short of speculating about what it is about these materials that generates Moore's Law-like growth...the geometry, chemistry, and physics involved.

Observation of death

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

Over the course of my life, I've probably seen 10,000+ people die, right in front of me. Ok, sure, they all died on TV & movie screens — never in real life. But after you've seen so much fake dying, you start to wonder: how realistic are these deaths? Hence my interest in this report from a Dr Beaurieux who witnessed the execution by decapitation of a man named Languille in 1905. The article and excerpt below are graphic, so tread lightly if you're bothered by that sort of thing.

It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: "Languille!" I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions — I insist advisedly on this peculiarity — but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts. Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me.

(via constant siege)

The computer of 2010 as imagined in 2000

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

In August of 2000, Forbes speculated on the computers we would be using in 2010. They made some good predictions and some really really bad ones. For instance, this describes the MacBook Air or netbooks pretty well.

The result is a computer that is far more reliable, cheaper, and more compact — the entire thing, believe it or not, is about the size of a Frisbee...

But we're still struggling with battery life.

A long, sticklike lithium battery, bent into a doughnut and installed in the periphery of the computer, will run it for a couple of weeks. But fresh power is as close as the charging cradle on the nearest wall, which resembles the one for today's cordless or cellular phones.

The thin island of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

According to a recently released study, 42% of Manhattan dwellers are overweight or obese, compared to 67% nationally.

Manhattan is the national capital of disparate subcultures of the skinny: Aspiring models. Nightclubbing hipsters. Gay men with the time and money to chisel their physiques at the gym. Park Avenue society matrons who remain preternaturally slender into their 70s, the "social X-rays" satirized by Tom Wolfe.

When 2/3 of the American population is considered outside the normal range when it comes to their BMI, how long will it be before the standards are modified to reflect the new norms?

Inglourious Basterds trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

Somehow this slipped past me recently: there's a full trailer out for Inglourious Basterds, the new Tarantino flick starring Brad Pitt.

Living without money

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 24, 2009

Daniel Suelo, who lives in a cave near Moab, Utah, has gone without using money since 2000.

"When I lived with money, I was always lacking," he writes. "Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present."

The idea started to take shape when Suelo was on a Peace Corps mission to Ecuador. As he monitored the health of the population of the village he was staying in, he noticed that their health declined as they made more money — "It looked like money was impoverishing them." You can find out more about Suelo's philosophy on his web site and follow his adventures on his blog, both of which he updates at the public library.


posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's piece in this week's New Yorker about the psychology of overconfidence is pretty much a transcript of the speech he gave at the New Yorker Summit a couple of months ago. Gladwell's thesis is that the overconfidence of experts caused the current financial crisis.

"I'm good at that. I must be good at this, too," we tell ourselves, forgetting that in wars and on Wall Street there is no such thing as absolute expertise, that every step taken toward mastery brings with it an increased risk of mastery's curse.

Facebook = lobster trap

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

I love a good analogy:

Facebook is basically designed like a lobster trap with your friends as bait.

(via migurski)

2-D lovers

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Nisan is a balding 37-year-old man with gray hair and Nemutan is his girlfriend, a video game character printed on a pillow.

When I joined the couple for lunch at their favorite all-you-can-eat salad bar in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, he insisted on being called only by this new nickname, addressing his body-pillow girlfriend using the suffix "tan" to show how much he adored her. Nemutan is 10, maybe 12 years old and wears a little blue bikini and gold ribbons in her hair. Nisan knows she's not real, but that hasn't stopped him from loving her just the same. "Of course she's my girlfriend," he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. "I have real feelings for her."

2-D love has similarities to objectophilia. (via waxy)

Steroid users as sports pioneers

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Baseball historian Bill James makes a compelling argument that steroids will eventually become an accepted aspect of sports (and society as a whole) and that baseball players who are now more or less banned from entering the Hall of Fame (though not officially) will eventually be elected to Cooperstown.

If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.

How, then, are those people of the future — who are taking steroids every day — going to look back on baseball players who used steroids? They're going to look back on them as pioneers. They're going to look back at it and say "So what?"

(via hello typepad)

You Are There

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

First broadcast on the radio in 1947, You Are There presented historic events as they would have been reported by modern news broadcasters. In 1953, the program jumped to television with Walter Cronkite as the host, who also hosted a brief revival of the show in the 70s.

The series also featured various key events in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations, with one addition — CBS News reporters, in modern-day suits, would report on the action and interview the characters. Each episode would begin with the characters setting the scene. Cronkite, from his anchor desk in New York, would give a few words on what was about to happen. An announcer would then give the date and the event, followed by a bold, "You Are There!"

Cronkite would then return to describe the event and its characters more in detail, before throwing it to the event, saying, "All things are as they were then, except... You Are There."

At the end of the program, after Cronkite summarizes what happened in the preceding event, he reminded viewers, "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times... and you were there."

Here's a clip from an episode from the 70s version of the show about the siege of the Alamo. Cronkite reports and Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) plays Davy Crockett.

What a fantastic idea for a show...I'd love to see a contemporary version of this. Well, not too contemporary; watching a CNBC-style presentation of the 1929 stock market crash wouldn't really be that fun.

New rules for behavior

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Wired magazine has collected a bunch of rules for "highly evolved humans"...Emily Post 2.0 I guess. Brad Pitt suggests that not only can you look at pornography at work, you should bring your porno magazines in to scan on the office scanner.

The best film titles ever made

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Perhaps someday I'll get tired of posting links to lists of good movie title sequences, but today is not that day. (via quipsologies)

What's On Earth Tonight?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 23, 2009

Strange Maps has a map of What's On Earth Tonight, basically a TV Guide for the Milky Way. The map is not that big yet because TV signals have only been sent out from Earth since the late 1920s.

The first tv images of World War II are about to hit Aldebaran star system, 65 light years [ly] away. If there's anybody out there alive and with eyes to see it, the barrage of actual and dramatised footage of WW2 will keep them shocked and/or entertained for decades to come. Which is just as well, for they'll have to wait quite a few years to catch the first episodes of such seminal series as The Twilight Zone and Bonanza (both 1959), just about now hitting the (putative) extraterrestrial biological entities of the Mu Arae area (appr. 50 ly). The Cosby Show, Miami Vice and Night Court (all 1984) should be all the rage on Fomalhaut (25 ly). Meanwhile, the sentient, tv-watching creatures near Alpha Centauri (4.4 ly), our closest extrasolar star, are just recovering from the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's halftime show during the 2004 Superbowl.

See also the opening scene from Contact.

50 reasons to be optimistic about 2010

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

Sounds like an interesting list, right? I like lists and since 95% of the news coverage out there is about bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people, I enjoy reading stuff that swims against that tide, so when this came up in my newsreader just now, I got a bit excited to see if this particular effort was worth a damn. But if you actually click through, it's just 50 women in bikinis. Don't get me wrong, I like women in bikinis, but as G.O.B. would say, "Come on!"

Old cities, still kicking

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

The 10 oldest cities which are still inhabited. Includes a few you've probably heard of (Damascus, Jericho, Jerusalem) and a couple of surprises. (via that's how it happened)

How to be a regular at a restaurant

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

Ben Leventhal on how to become a regular at a restaurant.

Restaurants may be the only place on earth where the last impression is the most important. Admit it: Your opinion can be swayed, or at least rescued, by excellent desserts. Similarly, it's true for the house, and if you make a strong exit, they'll remember you next time on the way in. So, in addition to the aforementioned good tip, this means a few things: When you sense the restaurant wants the table back, give it to them (once you're a Regular, you'll have the corner booth for as long as you need it). Thank your server by name if he or she is in earshot when you get up to leave.

As noted in the comments, it's best not to try all of these at once, but this is pretty solid advice.

Gambling your money away to a safe place

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

Eight Michigan credit unions are offering an unusual way to save: putting $25+ into a one-year CD comes with an entry to a raffle with a monthly prize of $400 and a yearly grand prize of $100,000.

This unusual CD is federally guaranteed by the National Credit Union Administration and pays between 1% and 1.5% annual interest, a bit lower than conventional rates. In 25 weeks, the program has attracted about $3.1 million in new deposits, often from people who have never been able to set money aside.

This reminds me of a recent observation by Sam Arbesman:

An intriguing coincidence: The repayment rate of individual loans in Kiva (a broker for individual loans around the world) is 98.50%, which is quite similar to the payback percentage of Las Vegas slot machines.

Why not put the lottery effect to work with Kiva? Instead of straight-up loans, enter lenders in a raffle and slightly decrease the return rate to account for the prize money. I bet (ha!) the lending rate would increase accordingly. (via waxy)

Update: Several people pointed out that British Premium Bonds have worked this way for decades. (thx, christopher)

Virtually delicious

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

Simple video of a burger, fries, and a drink, right? Well, just watch until about 28 seconds in.

Food stylists, your days are numbered...some intern at Pixar is gunning for your job. (via red)

Watching them swim

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 22, 2009

Get your Wednesday started off on the right foot: load this video up in HD, full-screen, let it buffer, and then just watch for awhile. You'll feel right as the mail.

The main tank [at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan] called the "Kuroshio Sea" holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world's second largest acrylic glass panel, measuring 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters with a thickness of 60 centimeters. Whale sharks and manta rays are kept amongst many other fish species in the main tank.

This tank is the second largest aquarium tank in the world.

Update: From the same aquarium: Jellyfish.

Essential postmodern books

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

An annotated list of 61 essential postmodern reads. I've read only five — Heartbreaking Work..., House of Leaves, Infinite Jest, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hamlet (??) — and started (but didn't finish) another — 2666.

Fast food mafia

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

Fast food spokespersons as mob bosses.

Fast Food Mafia

Bloggers and press passes in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

Gothamist's Jake Dobkin attended a public discussion of "Rules for City Issued Press Credentials" in NYC today and took some good notes. The proposed new rules address some inconsistencies in the city's issuing process...in particularly the denial of press passes to bloggers and other online publications.

Restrictions limiting press passes to certain mediums will be removed — in the future, online, offline, on-air, etc. will all be treated equally. To qualify for a press pass, the journalist or journalism organization will need to provide six clips from the last 24 months showing news-gathering activity that would merit a press card — that would include live reportage from police and fire scenes, public assemblies, government press conferences, or similar events.

Out with Central Park, in with an airport

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

This is amazing (or an elaborate joke)...a group of crackpots called The Manhattan Airport Foundation want to replace "underutilized" Central Park with an international airport.

Central Park Airport

Public dollars helped create Central Park in the 1850s. And public responsibility dictates that we transform this underutilized asset into something we so desperately need today. Manhattan Airport will prove New York City no longer allows it's vestigial prewar cityscape to languish in irrelevance but instead reinvents these spaces with a daring and inspired bravado truly befitting one of the world's great cities. The moment is now.

And about those special Central Park landmarks?

Under the current plan the Imagine mosaic and Strawberry Fields will be preserved however they will be located indoors within the main terminal concourse. Tavern on the Green will be given the option of applying for a franchisee lease in the concourse food court.

Update: Perhaps this is from the same people who brought you the Golden Gate Tunnel. (thx, kevin)

Cronkite in pictures

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

Photographer Jill Krementz has some nice photos up in remembrance of Walter Cronkite. I love the ones of him playing his daily tennis match with Andy Rooney.

Update: Esquire reprinted a 2006 interview with Cronkite.

I grew my mustache when I was nineteen in order to look older. I never shaved it off even though it overran its usefulness many, many years ago. Once you get started in television, people associate you with your physical appearance — and that includes the mustache. So I can't shave it off now. If I did, I'd have to answer too much mail.


posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

This was one of my favorite talks at PopTech in 2004: Janine Benyus on biomimicry. From her web site:

In Biomimicry, she names an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's designs and processes (e.g., solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that models a prairie, businesses that run like redwood forests).

CBS News Coverage of Apollo 11

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 21, 2009

For those of you who missed the show last night or if you just want a replay, the CBS News footage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and Moon walk, presented by Walter Cronkite, is available on YouTube. The Moon landing video is here and the first of 7 videos of the Moon walk is here.

T-shirt designs on cakes

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 20, 2009

Threadcakes is a contest that turns Threadless t-shirt designs into cakes. Ooh, do this one. (via waxy)

Update: Yes! (thx, andy)

Not-so-good great books

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 20, 2009

Fired from the Canon is a collection of well-regarded books that perhaps shouldn't be so revered. Includes White Noise, One Hundred Years of Solitude, On the Road, and A Tale of Two Cities.

Best correction ever?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 20, 2009

On July 17, 1969, The New York Times issued a correction related to an editorial the paper published in 1920 that dismissed the idea of rocket travel in the vacuum of space. The editorial read, in part:

That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high school.

The correction stated:

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Issac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.

The Times regrets the error! Wish I'd written that next to a few muffed physics exam questions. Here's a pretty good explanation of why rockets work in vacuums. (via @davidfg)

Apollo 11 landing on TV as it aired 40 years ago

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 20, 2009

Inspired by the ApolloPlus40 Twitter account and We Choose the Moon, both of which are tracking the Apollo 11 mission as it happened 40 years ago, I've built a page where you can watch the CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first moon walk, 40 years to the second after it originally happened.

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

Just leave this page open in your browser and at the appointed times (schedule is below), the broadcast will begin (no manual page refresh necessary).

Moon landing broadcast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 am EDT on July 21

If you've never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I've watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I'm struck by two things: 1) how it's almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

Thanks to Meg for her JS help...any errors or sloppy code are mine. Please note that schedule times are approximate, based on your computer's clock, and that the syncing of the videos might not be perfect. You need to have JS and Flash 8+ to view. This is just like real TV...if you miss the appointed time, there's no rewind or anything...the video is playing "live". I have not done extensive browser testing so it may not work perfectly in your browser. Bug reports are welcome and I will try to fix things as they crop up. If you run into any problems, just reload the page. To ensure that you have the latest (hopefully bug-free) version before the broadcast begins, reload the page. Other than that, if you leave it open, the broadcast will happen automatically.

Update: If you missed the "live" show, you can watch all of the clips on YouTube.

Update: The Apollo broadcast no longer requires Flash. Big thanks to Geoff Stearns for helping me with the upgrade.

The most trusted man in America

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite has died; he was 92. CBS News has a nice remembrance.

Renting books on the Kindle

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

If you still need proof that electronic media that continually phones home — DRM'd and otherwise — cannot be owned and is actually just rented, read on. Due to a publisher change of heart, Amazon went into some of their customers' Kindles and erased "purchased" books written by an author with a certain familiarity with similar actions (click through to see who).

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is "rare," but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we've been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we've learned that they're not really like books, in that once we're finished reading them, we can't resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

This stinks like old cheese. I wish they'd just call these Kindle book transactions what they are, but I guess "Rent now with 1-Click® until we decide to take it back from you or maybe not" doesn't fit neatly on a button.

Update: I got quite a few emails about how I over-reacted about this but apparently Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos disagreed.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

Update: Cory Doctorow to Amazon: please tell your customers what you can and cannot do with the Kindle. In an article for this week's New Yorker, Nicholson Baker takes a crack at what buying a Kindle books means.

Here's what you buy when you buy a Kindle book. You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon.

Rationing healthcare

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

Can you put a dollar value on a human life? Peter Singer writes that the US needs to do just that if we're serious about making our healthcare system work.

You have advanced kidney cancer. It will kill you, probably in the next year or two. A drug called Sutent slows the spread of the cancer and may give you an extra six months, but at a cost of $54,000. Is a few more months worth that much?

If you can afford it, you probably would pay that much, or more, to live longer, even if your quality of life wasn't going to be good. But suppose it's not you with the cancer but a stranger covered by your health-insurance fund. If the insurer provides this man - and everyone else like him - with Sutent, your premiums will increase. Do you still think the drug is a good value? Suppose the treatment cost a million dollars. Would it be worth it then? Ten million? Is there any limit to how much you would want your insurer to pay for a drug that adds six months to someone's life? If there is any point at which you say, "No, an extra six months isn't worth that much," then you think that health care should be rationed.

Cool photos of the Apollo landing sites from low Moon orbit

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

I said yesterday that NASA would be taking some new photos of the Apollo landing sites with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Turns out that happened pretty quickly...they just released photos of the Apollo 11, 14, 15, 16, and 17 sites. Here's the Apollo 11 site:

Apollo 11 LRO photo

The lunar module is the small white bit in the middle casting the long shadow. The Apollo 14 site is the coolest...you can see the path the astronauts took out to some scientific instruments. The LRO hasn't reached its final orbit yet so future images "will have two to three times greater resolution". !!! See also my giant Apollo 11 post.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

I didn't know The Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, was scheduled to come out so soon...IMDB says it'll be out on November 13 of this year. Here's a screenshot:

Fantastic Mr Fox

It's a stop-motion animation film based on a story by Roald Dahl. The main character is voiced by George Clooney, with Michael Gambon, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Anjelica Huston, Brian Cox, Roman Coppola, Jarvis Cocker, and Mario Batali providing some of the other voices. According to Wikipedia, a trailer will be out on July 31.

The giant Apollo 11 post

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 and Monday is the same for both the first Moon landing and the first walk on the surface. In this entry, I've collected some of the best resources on the web related to the anniversary...articles, historical documents, audio, video, transcripts, photos, and the like. Enjoy.

We Choose the Moon is tracking the activities of the Apollo 11 mission as it happened 40 years ago. Very nicely done.

Housed on NASA's history site is a ton of resources about the Apollo 11 landing, including an annotated transript of the landing, which makes for really interesting reading. MP3 files are also available as are many, many video clips of the landing at the astronauts' time on the surface. Highlights: this video was shot out of the window of the lunar module from a height of 50,000 feet until one minute after touchdown and I've never seen Armstrong's first step on the Moon from this angle before.

For its July 21, 1969 issue, The NY Times used 96 pt. type to declare that MEN WALK ON MOON.

The landing was made four miles west of the aiming point, but well within the designated area. An apparent error in some data fed into the craft's guidance computer from the earth was said to have accounted for the discrepancy.

Suddenly the astronauts were startled to see that the computer was guiding them toward a possibly disastrous touchdown in a boulder-filled crater about the size of a football field.

Mr. Armstrong grabbed manual control of the vehicle and guided it safely over the crater to a smoother spot, the rocket engine stirring a cloud of moon dust during the final seconds of descent.

Apollo 11

The Onion used larger type and took a more unadulterated and profane approach (love the video version).

John Noble Wilford, the Times journalist who wrote the front page story underneath the 96 pt. type — "the biggest single story of my career" — recounts his Apollo 11 experience and ponders the Apollo program's legacy in a great piece for the Times.

It then occurs to me that if Columbus and Capt. James Cook were alive, they might be less astonished by two men landing on the Moon than by the millions of people, worldwide, watching every step of the walk as it happens. Exploring is old, but instantaneous telecommunications is new and marvelous.

In just 1.3 seconds, the time it takes for radio waves to travel the 238,000 miles from Moon to Earth, each step by Armstrong and Aldrin is seen, and their voices heard, throughout the world they have for the time being left behind. In contrast to exploration's previous landfalls, the whole world shares in this moment.

Apollo 11

The Apollo 11 mission in photographs: NASA Images is the comprehensive source for NASA photos of the Apollo 11 mission; the always excellent Big Picture has photos of the mission from a variety of sources; David Burnett shot photos of people watching the launch; Time looks at Apollo astronauts Now and Then; the NY Times collected photos from readers of their Apollo 11 moments; Life has several photo galleries: Buzz Aldrin Looks Back, Scenes From the Moon, Up Close With Apollo 11 (rare and never-published photos), and The World Watches; and Google's archive of Life magazine's Apollo 11 images.

A map of where Armstrong and Aldrin walked during their 2+ hours on the surface. That same map superimposed on a soccer pitch and on a baseball field. They didn't walk that far at all.

Apollo 11

Explore the Apollo 11 landing site on Google Moon.

In piece published on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, Buzz Aldrin advocates not a return to the Moon but a mission to Mars with the objective of establishing a colony on the red planet.

Let the lunar surface be the ultimate global commons while we focus on more distant and sustainable goals to revitalize our space program. Our next generation must think boldly in terms of a goal for the space program: Mars for America's future. I am not suggesting a few visits to plant flags and do photo ops but a journey to make the first homestead in space: an American colony on a new world.

Robotic exploration of Mars has yielded tantalizing clues about what was once a water-soaked planet. Deep beneath the soils of Mars may lie trapped frozen water, possibly with traces of still-extant primitive life forms. Climate change on a vast scale has reshaped Mars. With Earth in the throes of its own climate evolution, human outposts on Mars could be a virtual laboratory to study these vast planetary changes. And the best way to study Mars is with the two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first at a moon orbiting Mars and then on the Red Planet's surface.

Video of John F. Kennedy's "we choose to go to the Moon" speech given at Rice University on September 12, 1962. Fewer than 7 years later, Apollo 11 achieved the goal that Kennedy laid out in that speech.

In a piece for New Scientist, Linda Geddes writes about possible future lunar parks and how they might be preserved.

Around these [landing sites] are scattered smaller artefacts and personal items, such as Neil Armstrong's boots and portable life-support system, scientific instruments and their power generators — and, of course, the iconic US flag which remains planted in the moon's surface. Then there are the footprints and rover tread paths. Despite the passing of the years, these remain carved into the dust because the moon has no wind or rain to wash them away.

Anthropologist P. J. Capelotti of Penn State University in Abington has mapped out five "lunar parks". These cover the areas where the majority of the artefacts are concentrated and could be used as a basis for future preservation efforts. "Nobody's saying that the whole moon has to be off limits, but as people are starting to make plans for tourism and mineral extraction, or for putting a base there, they just need to be aware of them and work around them."

Since returning from the Moon, Neil Armstrong has been less and less willing to speak in public about his Apollo 11 experience. For the 40th anniversary, Armstrong will not take part in the NASA event to commemorate the landing. His only appearance related to the anniversary will be a 15-minute lecture at a Smithsonian Institution event on Sunday night. I found this event on the National Air and Space Museum site...maybe that's it? If so, then Armstrong's lecture will be webcast live on the NASA TV site that evening.

Popular Science shares a list of ten things you didn't know about the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

7. When Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on the surface, he had to make sure not to lock the Eagle's door because there was no outer handle.

Moonwalk One is a documentary film about Apollo released in 1970 to little fanfare, even though it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was commissioned by NASA but with so much Apollo activity and information happening in the late 60s and early 70s, no one was interested in distributing or seeing the film and it was soon forgotten. Recently, the only remaining 35mm print of the film was located under the director's desk, restored, and offered for sale on DVD in time for the 40th anniversary.

To get a feel of what it was like in the Soviet Union during the Apollo 11 mission, Scientific American interviewed Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev. The reaction was somewhat more subdued than in other parts of the world.

Of course, you cannot have people land on the moon and just say nothing. It was published in all the newspapers. But if you remember [back then] when Americans spoke of the first man in space, they were always talking of "the first American in space" [not Yuri Gagarin]. The same feeling was prevalent in Russia. There were small articles when Apollo 11 was launched. Actually, there was a small article on the first page of Pravda and then three columns on page five. I looked it up again.

Eat Me Daily explores the food consumed on the mission.

The Apollo crew even dined on thermo-stabilized cheddar cheese spread and hot dogs during the moon mission, bringing at least a bit of America in July to the sterile flight craft. And yes, there was bacon - foreshadowing the current bacon craze, the first meal eaten by man on the moon was none other than bacon cubes, coated with gelatin to combat crumbs.

Apollo 11

The issue of the New Yorker published just after the Moon landing is worth a look: much of the Talk of the Town section is devoted to the landing and there's also a Letter from the Space Center. (Subscribers only.)

The main NASA site has an interactive feature to explore the landing site and Eagle (Eagle was the name of the lunar module).

Finally, there's still some good stuff to be had on the old telly on Monday. The History Channel has As It Happened: Man on the Moon at 8pm ET:

This special takes viewers back to July 1969 to experience the actual CBS News/Walter Cronkite coverage of man's first lunar landing. Using minimal editing and leaving the original footage untouched viewers will feel as if they are watching the CBS coverage in July of 1969. While today we know the outcome of Apollo 11's mission it was not a given then. This will become evident watching Walter Cronkite and his colleagues as they watch the historic lunar mission unfold before them.

and Moonshot, a two-hour documentary about Apollo 11, at 9pm ET. Turner Classic Movies is airing a bunch of Moon-related movies all day, including A Trip to the Moon (a 12-minute film from 1902) at 8pm ET and the excellent For All Mankind (newly out on Criterion Blu-ray) at 8:15pm ET. The Discovery Channel has When We Left the Earth, a one-hour documentary on the mission, at 10pm ET. If none of that tickles your fancy, try episode 6 of the excellent From the Earth to the Moon (available for the insanely low price of $12 on Amazon) or In the Shadow of the Moon on DVD.

[If you enjoyed this post, you should post it to Twitter.]

Update: Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, writes that landing on the Moon killed NASA.

Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But then, on the morning after, congressmen began to wonder about something that hadn't dawned on them since Kennedy's oration. What was this single combat stuff — they didn't use the actual term — really all about? It had been a battle for morale at home and image abroad. Fine, O.K., we won, but it had no tactical military meaning whatsoever. And it had cost a fortune, $150 billion or so. And this business of sending a man to Mars and whatnot? Just more of the same, when you got right down to it. How laudable ... how far-seeing ... but why don't we just do a Scarlett O'Hara and think about it tomorrow?

July Moon is a forthcoming documentary about some lost NASA tapes. Surely not these NASA tapes?

The computer source code that ran Apollo 11's Command Module and Lunar Module has been released.

A recently discovered photo clearly shows Neil Armstrong's face on the Moon through his visor.

He was the first man to walk on the moon, taking that one giant leap for mankind — yet most of the famous shots are of his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin, as it was Armstrong who manned the stills camera.

New Scientist overlaid the Apollo lunar excursion maps on top of cities in Google Earth. Neil and Buzz didn't even leave Trafalgar Square on their trip to the Moon.

On her overlap

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 17, 2009

Stephanie Brown

There's a dynamic quality to this Moleskine sketch by Stephanie Brown that you don't often see with such spare illustration. The rest of her stuff is worth a look as well...Flickr too. Somewhat NSFW. (via sex in art)

New photos of the Apollo landing sites

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

Hmm, I was just wondering about this the other day: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is going to take photos of some of the Apollo landing sites, including where Apollo 11 landed.

Lunar archaeologists, interested in making the Apollo 11 site a National Historic Landmark, hope the planned photos will answer some of these longstanding questions: What is the condition of Tranquility Base after 40 years? Was the American flag blown over on the Eagle's ascent and is it now a bleached skeleton? What are the relatively long term effects of the lunar environment on human artifacts?

This should quiet the people who still think it was all a hoax...although NASA could be faking these photos as well.

Wes Anderson's perfect mixtape

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

Wes Anderson shares his favorite music from his movies.

World changing ideas

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

Here are 20 bold/crazy ideas that could save the world...most of them related to energy and climate change.

A relatively small piece of the Sahara could theoretically provide electricity for the entire planet if it were covered in solar thermal mirrors. Plus think of all those jobs to build a solar plant the size of Britain. The new transmission grid would be quite a project as well...

Update: Hmm, the site appears to be down and redirected to same squatter spam thing. I'll put the link back up when the site (hopefully) returns.

Update: The Infrastructurist site is still down but I found the original link on the Guardian.

Autism an advantage, not mental retardation

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tyler Cowen argues that society in general and academia in particular is prejudiced with respect to people with autism and that autism in the academy can be an advantage.

Autism is often described as a disease or a plague, but when it comes to the American college or university, autism is often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved. One reason American academe is so strong is because it mobilizes the strengths and talents of people on the autistic spectrum so effectively. In spite of some of the harmful rhetoric, the on-the-ground reality is that autistics have been very good for colleges, and colleges have been very good for autistics.

Tectonic plate timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

Timelapse video of the shift of the Earth's tectonic plates from 400 million years ago to 150 million years into the future. (via kk)

NASA releases restored Apollo 11 moon walk video

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

NASA is restoring and improving the video footage of the Apollo 11 mission and this morning they released some of those videos, including Neil Armstrong's first step on the Moon, Aldrin's first step, and the raising of the American flag.

Update: The tapes containing the original footage were erased to record satellite data. The restorations are being sourced from broadcast TV footage.

Apollo 11 lift-off

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 16, 2009

Today is the 40th anniversary of the liftoff of Apollo 11. You can follow along on We Choose the Moon, on Twitter, and with a NASA audio program. (Is there a video launch being broadcast anywhere?)

NASA is also releasing "greatly improved video imagery" of the Apollo 11 moon walks. !!! So look for that later today.

Update: Someone should have synced up this video footage of the launch so that people could watch it in realtime.

Historical Thesaurus of The Oxford English Dictionary

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

The folks at Oxford University Press have finally finished their Historical Thesaurus of The Oxford English Dictionary after more than 40 years of effort. The book contains 4448 pages and nearly every word in the English language (according to the OED). I like that the synonyms are listed chronologically but this thing is crying out to be put online (or in some electronic format)...what a boon it would be for period novelists to able to press the "write like they did in 1856" button. Available for pre-order at Amazon for $316. (via long now)

Update: There will be an online version of the thesaurus...at some point.

Consider the gyro

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

Those spinning meat cylinders and the sandwiches that emerge from them...where did they come from? From something like this factory in Chicago.

The process starts with boxes of raw beef and lamb trimmings, and ends with what looks like oversized Popsicles the shade of a Band-Aid. In between, the meat is run through a four-ton grinder, where bread crumbs, water, oregano and other seasonings are added. A clumpy paste emerges and is squeezed into a machine that checks for metal and bone. ("You can never be too careful," Mr. Tomaras said.) Hydraulic pressure — 60 pounds per square inch — is used to fuse the meat into cylinders, which are stacked on trays and then rolled into a flash freezer, where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero.

But forget how they're made...how do you pronounce the damn word? The article gives what I would guess is the proper pronounciation of gyro: YEE-ro. I've ordered gyros using this pronounciation and have sometimes gotten confused looks in return. Alternate pronounciations that have worked in various situations include YUR-o, GEE-ro, JI-ro, and GUY-ro. The last pronounciation somehow seems the least correct to me but yields the best results. Somehow tzatziki is a lot easier.

How to read Infinite Jest

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote the foreword for Infinite Summer, a summer-long collective read of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's big-ass novel and one of my favorite books. That piece was actually my second draft. My first attempt was a list of advice on reading the novel...the submission of which prompted InfSum's dungeon master, Matthew Baldwin, to write back with a frowny face and a pointer to this piece published — unbeknownst to me (I have the Time Machine backups to prove it!) — the day before I submitted my draft.

Anyway, here's that first draft on how to read Infinite Jest:

1. If you haven't already, buy the book, get it from your local library, or download to your Kindle. I got my copy in 2001 at a local San Francisco bookstore; I bought it used along with a used copy of Don DeLillo's Underworld (which I started but never finished). I was upset at something that day and purchased the books as a sort of Fuck You to whatever it was that was pissing me off. "Oh yeah? Well, I'm gonna read both of these huge books. Fuck You!" Best $10.80 I ever spent.

2. Warning! This book contains several footnotes. Hundreds, in fact. They run on, at a very small point size, for almost 100 pages at the conclusion of the main text. One of the footnotes, which contains the complete filmography of a fictional filmmaker, goes for more than 8 pages and itself has 6 footnotes. Every single oh-my-God-this-thing-is-a-doorstop review of IJ since 1996 has trumpeted this fact so you're probably already up to speed re: the footnotes but I didn't want you to be caught unawares or pants down.

3. You're going to want to but don't skip the footnotes. They are important. Yes, even the filmography one.

4. Physically, Infinite Jest is a large book: 2.2 inches thick and, according to Amazon.com, has a shipping weight of 3.2 pounds. Some readers have found it useful to rip the book in half for easier reading on the subway or on the beach. If you do this, you also need to tear the footnotes from the back half and tape them to front half. This technique has the side effect of giving you the appearance of A Very Serious Reader of Infinite Jest, which will either keep onlookers' questions to a minimum or maximum, depending on the onlooker.

5. If you opt not to destroy your copy of IJ, you should use the three bookmark method. One bookmark for where you are in the main text, another for your current footnote location, and a third for page 223, which lists the years covered by the novel in chonological order, from the Year of the Whopper (which corresponds to 2002) to the Year of Glad (2010). To say that IJ skips around quite a bit chronologically is an understatement, so keeping the timeline straight is important.

6. Along with the footnotes, another thing that most reviews mention w/r/t Wallace is his use of words that appear rarely outside of dictionaries. If you get stuck, keep a dictionary handy or consult one of the following online collections: the David Foster Wallace Dictionary, Words I Learned From Reading David Foster Wallace, and the Infinite Jest Vocabulary Glossary.

7. Get a copy of Greg Carlisle's Elegant Complexity, *the* reference book for Infinite Jest. Reading EC's notes for each IJ section after you finish will greatly increase your understanding and enjoyment of the book. Here's an informative review of the guide. As a bonus: "The book is 99% spoiler-free for first-time readers of Infinite Jest."

8. Finally, you may have heard or read that Wallace committed suicide last year. He was 46 and left a wife and dogs and at least one unpublished novel and a vast literary legacy. This will be difficult, but try not to think too much about the suicide and Wallace's life-long struggle with depression while reading Infinite Jest. The book is undoubtably autobiographical in some aspects — tennis: check; addiction: check; depression: check; grammar: check — but a strict reading of IJ as a window into Wallace's troubled soul is a disservice to its thematic richness.

The great thing about Infinite Jest is that it begins at the end, so even though you're only a few pages in at this point, you already know how the whole thing is going to end. So get to it, it'll be easier than you think. I wish you way more than luck.

Seven hours of Feynman lectures online

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

With a little help from Bill Gates (who secured the rights using personal funds), Microsoft is presenting a series of lectures on physics by Richard Feynman. The lectures, shown in seven hour-long segments, were recorded by the BBC at Cornell University in 1964. Lecture titles are as follows:

Law of Gravitation - An Example of Physical Law
The Relation of Mathematics and Physics
The Great Conservation Principles
Symmetry in Physical Law
The Distinction of Past and Future
Probability and Uncertainty - The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature
Seeking New Laws

(thx, dan)

You should follow me on Twitter

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

Using a link to his Twitter account from his blog, Dustin Curtis tested the effect of language on clickthrough rates.

Making the phrase more direct and personal by adding the words "you should" increased the clickthrough rate by 38% to 10.09%.

Curtis started out with "I'm on twitter" and eventually increased the clickthrough rate by more than double by changing the wording to "You should follow me on Twitter here." (And Jesus, gorgeous site design too.)

Happy birthday, Metafilter

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

Matt Haughey reflects on running MetaFilter for ten years. MeFi in the early-to-mid 00s was a cesspool; Matt deserves several gold stars for pushing through, somehow making the site better than it ever was in the early days, and turning the site into a thriving business. Over the years as community fads have changed online, people moved from wanting to build their own Slashdot to Gawker to Digg to Facebook to Twitter, but MeFi as a model of online community deserves more scrutiny...people should be trying to make their own MetaFilters but nobody really does.

Anyway, here's to you and The Blue, Matt. Congrats!

Gradient jeans

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 15, 2009

Jak & Jill Raven

I love this photo from JAK & JIL BLOG. The lighting, the clothes, and the person wearing them are all perfect. Do click through to see it larger.

What fast looks like

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

People like to go fast and film themselves doing so. Modern technology offers a variety of ways to both go faster than ever before and record that speed for posterity. But for something to look fast on video, there needs to be a frame of reference for the viewer — something to hurtle past or whoosh by — and maybe even a hint of danger. Here are a selection of videos of people doing just that: traveling at high speeds in cars, on train tracks, through the air, and down mountains in close proximity to traffic, large rocks, and thin atmospheres. Most of these videos are filmed from a first-person perspective so that when you watch them, you can imagine that you're the one zooming along.

In 1976, Claude Lelouch mounted a camera on the front of his Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 and drove through the streets of Paris — running red lights, jumping curbs and possibly reaching speeds upwards of 120 mph — before reaching his date near the Sacré Coeur. The result is the film C'était un rendez-vous, 8 uncut minutes of insane urban driving.

Base jumpers equipped with wingsuits can glide very fast very close to the ground. Perhaps the most insane videos on the page...they're not doing 1200 mph or anything, but they are awfully close to the ground with few safety options if they slip up.

The lads at Top Gear took the Bugatti Veyron to its top speed of 253 mph on a test track. The test driver seems to have had what I would term a religious experience at the top speed.

Two gents in powder-blue suits speed down a California hill on skateboards. Holy crap!

240 mph on a Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle. Oh, and he does a wheelie from 70 to 140 mph. (Note: Wikipedia says the bike has an "electronically restricted" top speed of 188 mph. Either the owner a) removed the restriction, or b) tweaked the speedometer to display higher than normal speeds.)

In 1960, Joseph Kittinger reached a speed of 714 mph after jumping from a helium balloon at an altitude of 102,800 feet.

A French TGV train reaches a top speed of 357 mph in a 2007 test.

A camera mounted on the external tank records the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2009. There's not a lot to whoosh past here, but at an eventual 18,000 mph, the pace at which the Shuttle leaves the Earth behind is astounding.

While skydiving, both of Michael Holmes' chutes failed as his helmet camera recorded his crash landing into some thick bushes. (He lived.)

Footage of Alex Roy and David Maher on the road as they sped across the entire United States in just over 32 hours, an unofficial world record. There is a book and a blog of the experience.

Passenger seat and road-side views of a Lamborghini Murcielago doing 219 mph on the 202 freeway in Mesa, Arizona.

Hannah's helper heart

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

At six, Hannah Clark received a heart transplant...but they kept the second heart in her chest as well. Ten years later, her new heart failed and they were able to remove it because her old heart had mended itself in the meantime.

For the first few months, the new heart did nearly all the work, but this "rest" gave Hannah's own heart a chance to begin recovery. By the time of the second heart was finally removed, Hannah's heart was doing virtually all the work itself.

It's amazing what doctors can entice the human body to do.

Typography reference for the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

The Typography Manual looks like a nice little iPhone app for designers.

The Typography Manual has several useful features and resources for designers, including a visual type anatomy glossary, a font size ruler, an em calculator, and a enough content to fill a 60 page book. It has the all the essentials of a desk reference in a regularly updated pocket resource.

(via quips)

An intuitive expression of liquid intelligence

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

Photographer Paul Graham writes about what's so easy:

It's simply a way of recording what you see — point the camera at it, and press a button. How hard is that? And what's more, in this digital age, its free — doesn't even cost you the price of film. It's so simple and basic, it's ridiculous.

and difficult about photography:

It's so difficult because it's everywhere, every place, all the time, even right now. It's the view of this pen in my hand as I write this, it's an image of your hands holding this book, Drift your consciousness up and out of this text and see: it's right there, across the room — there... and there. Then it's gone. You didn't photograph it, because you didn't think it was worth it. And now it's too late, that moment has evaporated.

Graham also describes photography as "an intuitive expression of liquid intelligence", which seems an apt expression of creativity in general. (via noah kalina)

Cheap Trick on 8-track

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

Cheap Trick's new album, The Latest, is due out this month and is available on 8-track.

Cheap Trick 8 Track

Your move, Meat Loaf. (via things magazines, which is still rocking the web equivalent of the 8-track, the .htm file extension)

Last Year at Marienbad

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2009

Several times in Last Year at Marienbad, the characters play a game called Nim. The gameplay is simple: a) players take turns removing objects from rows, b) they can remove as many objects as they want from a single row in one turn, and c) the player who removes the last object loses. The strategy is somewhat more difficult to understand, even though the player who goes first and follows the optimal strategy will always win. Although somewhat less glamourous than the film version, a Flash version of Nim is available to play.

I'm here to interview you, who are you?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 14, 2009

For an interview with Gerard Butler (aka the head Spartan in 300), Esquire sent Cal Fussman in cold. He was given an address and a first name and told to go get the story.

We agree that the balcony upstairs is the best spot. There's a magnificent view of L. A. Gerry hits a button and an awning lowers. His assistant, who has the aura of someone who could be running a Fortune 500 company, sets down a fruit plate and some water.

"Whatever you do, I get the impression that you do it well."

Gerry seems not to comprehend that I truly don't know what he does.

"I went more for the energy than for something big and bombastic. It was great when my mom came over and stood on the balcony. The boy did good."

Just then, a small gift balloon that says MOM rises directly in front of us, out above the trees.

"Where the fuck did that balloon come from?" he says. "I've had some of the craziest synchronicities in my life."

"Where are you from?"

"You don't even know where I'm from. This is unbelievable."

By his own admission, Fussman "really hadn't seen many movies" before six months ago. There's something a touch New Journalism about this interview...or perhaps it's just the opposite.

We Choose the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

We Choose the Moon is a site that tracks the activities of the Apollo 11 mission as it happened 40 years ago. Nice work. The transmissions from the spacecraft, CAPCOM, and the lunar lander are cleverly published to and pulled in from Twitter.

With all this 40th anniversary stuff, I'm having trouble getting my mind around that the first Moon landing is as far removed from the present as the low point of The Great Depression was from my birth (i.e. the Moon landing, culturally speaking, is Ollie's Great Depression). See also timeline twins. (via jimray)

World's fastest

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

Video that showcases the world's fastest people in several disciplines: clapping, sprinting, undressing, Rubik's Cubing, gun shooting, and stamping.

The stamping champ is kind of incredible and if you haven't seen the cup stacker, check her out and here's one that's even faster. Stacking gear is available if you'd like to join in.

How to get The Sartorialist to shoot you

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

A handy flowchart: how to get your photo taken by The Sartorialist. If you're a man and you have pants: "cuff 'em, roll 'em, make 'em too short".

Why are we so fat?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

In an attempt to answer that question, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews a gaggle of books in this week's New Yorker. (This is only part of the answer.)

According to what's known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man's cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power. The result of this self-reinforcing process was a strong taste for foods that are high in calories and easy to digest; just as it is natural for gorillas to love leaves, it is natural for people to love funnel cakes.

Kolbert's article is a good overview of the current popular views on obesity. Related: Scientists Discover Gene Responsible For Eating Whole Goddamn Bag Of Chips.


posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

How do you follow up a kooky-titled bestseller like Freakonomics? With a book called SuperFreakonomics. It's due out on October 20 and has a subtitle of "Tales of Altruism, Terrorism, and Poorly Paid Prostitutes".

The New York Review of Ideas

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

An interesting new publication: The New York Review of Ideas.

In bad times and in good, New York City is the idea capital of the world. Here is where commerce intersects with what Lionel Trilling described as "the bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet." The New York Review of Ideas will report on that intersection, telling the stories that will shape the future of American culture.

Ooh, and check out that ever-present blue border. (via snarkmarket)

Good food at The Cheesecake Factory?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

Challenged to enjoy the food at The Cheesecake Factory, Michael Ruhlman finds some good dishes and a not so good overall impression.

The fact that any of the 146 [Cheesecake Factory restaurants] around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency.

How to disappear

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 13, 2009

Frank Ahearn used to be a private investigator but now uses his PI experience to charge up to $30,000 to help people disappear.

There are three key steps to disappearing. First, destroy old information about yourself. Call your video store or electricity company and replace your old, correct phone number with a new, invented one. Introduce spelling mistakes into your utility bills. Create a PO Box for your mail. Don't use your credit cards and the like.

Then, create bogus information to fool private investigators who might be looking for you. Go to one city and apply for an apartment. Rent a car in another one.

The next, final step is the most important one. Move from point A to point B. Create a dummy company to pay your bills. Only use prepaid mobile phones and change them every month. It is nearly impossible to find out where you are unless you make a mistake.

Mad Men season two out on DVD

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 11, 2009

The Mad Men season two DVDs (and Blu-ray) are out on July 14; both are deeply discounted for pre-order at Amazon.

Eternal Moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 11, 2009

This is pretty awesome: a bunch of videos strung together to make it seem like one long moonwalk. In tribute to Michael Jackson, of course. What's amazing is that for the 4-5 minutes I watched, there was not a single decent moonwalk...just people shuffling backwards. (via vsl)

Update: Matt Zoller Seitz analyzes Eternal Moonwalk and finds much to love about it.

Eternal Moonwalk is also an incidental tutorial in the basic properties of cinema. It returns motion pictures to their origin point, when the medium's core appeal was the chance to watch strangers performing, their bodies moving from Point A to Point B, their familiar or amusing actions serving as an emotional connection point, a reminder that we're members of the same species inhabiting the same small world.

Zoning out may be good for you

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

Humans spend a large amount of time not paying attention to what they are supposed to be doing. This might not be such a bad thing.

The fact that both of these important brain networks become active together suggests that mind wandering is not useless mental static. Instead, Schooler proposes, mind wandering allows us to work through some important thinking. Our brains process information to reach goals, but some of those goals are immediate while others are distant. Somehow we have evolved a way to switch between handling the here and now and contemplating long-term objectives. It may be no coincidence that most of the thoughts that people have during mind wandering have to do with the future.

This jibes well with the picture of the absentmindedness typical of some brilliant people.

The Electronic Ruler

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

The Electronic Ruler measures the length of drawn lines no matter where on the ruler you start and stop drawing. (via the excellent today and tomorrow)

Gay Talese interview

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

The Paris Review has posted an extensive excerpt of an interview with writer Gay Talese from their summer issue. Wonderful stuff, ranging from his unusual writing process to how he got his start to a brief behind-the-scenes about writing Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.

All the other reporters of my generation would come back from an assignment and be done with their piece in a half hour. For the rest of the afternoon they'd be reading books or playing cards or drinking coffee in the cafeteria, and I was always very much alone. I didn't carry on conversations during those hours. I just wanted to make my article perfect, or as good as I could get it. So I rewrote and rewrote, feeling that I needed every minute of the working day to improve my work. I did this because I didn't believe that it was just journalism, thrown away the next day with the trash. I always had a sense of tomorrow. I never turned in anything more than two minutes before deadline. It was never easy, I felt I had only one chance. I was working for the paper of record, and I believed that what I was doing was going to be part of a permanent history.

It had better be good too, because my name was on it. I've always thought that. I think this came from watching my father work on suits. I was impressed by how carefully he would sew, and he never made much money, but I thought he was the real thing. His name was on those suits-the buttons couldn't fall off tomorrow. They had to look great, had to fit well, and had to last. His business wasn't profitable, but from him I learned that I wanted to be a craftsman.

Don't miss the piece of shirt board that Talese used to outline the Sinatra story. (via submitted for your perusal)

Update: Who else used shirt boards? Robert Rauschenberg.

Light tests

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

Light Test is a collection of light test snaps from photographers...most of them feature an assistant standing in for the actual subject.

Light Test

Oddly compelling, perhaps because they're so candid in relation to the finished product.

Update: Obama!

Most anticipated books of (the rest of) 2009

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

The Millions recently posted a round-up of the most anticipated books for the second half of 2009. Among the boldface names are Dave Eggers (The Rumpus has an excerpt from his forthcoming Zeitoun), Thomas Pynchon, William T. Vollman, and Dan Brown.

The September Issue trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

The September Issue is the much-anticipated documentary that follows Anna Wintour and her staff at Vogue through the process of creating the magazine's September issue, AKA the world's thickest magazine issue.

An apt demonstration that an editor/curator's main job is saying no to almost everything.

Moneyball movie back on again

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

Let's take a look at who's still alive here. Brad Pitt: yes. Aaron Sorkin: yes. Steven Soderbergh: no. Expected soon: Michael Bay, Alan Ball, Sam Mendes, McG, and M Night Shamalamadingdong. (thx, david)


posted by Jason Kottke Jul 10, 2009

Rollie Free

His first attempt shattered the record with a speed of 148.6mph. Rollie wasn't satisfied. Convinced his safety leathers were creating unnecessary drag, he stripped down to nothing but a pair of swim trunks and goggles.

That's Rollie Free breaking the world speed record for motorcycles in 1948.

Jane Jacobs Way

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

The block of Hudson St between Perry and W 11th will be co-named "Jane Jacobs Way" in honor of the influential urban thinker.

GVSHP first proposed the street co-naming in 2006 shortly after Jacobs' death; the proposal was approved by the local community board and the City Council, and then sat in limbo for 2 1/2 years.

Also, the townhouse that Jacobs lived in on the street is for sale. (thx, meg)

HomeSite, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

Adobe has discontinued HomeSite. Nick Bradbury, HomeSite's creator, has some parting thoughts.

Sometimes in this blog I've made disparaging remarks about HomeSite, but that's not because I disliked it. It's just that it's hard to look at something you created so long ago without seeing all the mistakes that you've learned not to make since then. I'm actually very proud of HomeSite, and very thankful that it enabled me to quit my job and work at home. And, funny enough, HomeSite is also what paid for the home I'm living in now.

All of my web stuff up until mid-2002 was done in HomeSite...it's where 0sil8 thrived and kottke.org was born. I still haven't found a piece of web authoring software that feels as comfortable as HomeSite did back then.

Incandescent bulbs not dead yet

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

Driven by US government efficiency standards due to take effect in 2012, innovation in incandescent light bulbs is booming.

"There's a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly," said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. "There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades."

The economics of Flash games

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

As an avid player of Flash games (when I've got time), I found Dan Cook's post on the economics of the Flash game platform really interesting and applicable to anyone who is offering content online and wants to get paid for it.

Flash games are currently the ghetto of the game development industry. Compared to the number of players it serves, the Flash game ecosystem makes little money, launches few careers, and sustains few developer owned businesses. Despite the vast potential of the ecosystem, Flash games contribute surprisingly little to the advancement of game design as an art or a craft.

This is just the first installment...two or three more are yet to come. (via @anildash)

No one knows how to make a pencil

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

I, Pencil is a 1958 ode to mass production, industrial specialization, commodity economics, and the invisible hand using the manufacture of a simple graphite pencil as an example.

Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill's power!

Really great. A nice illustration of embodied energy to boot.

Update: A old Cardigan article by Dean Allen shares a certain kinship with I,Pencil.

First, you need some water. Fuse two hydrogen with one oxygen and repeat until you have enough. While the water is heating, raise some cattle. Pay a man with grim eyes to do the slaughtering, preferably while you are away. Roast the bones, then add to the water.

Update: From Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here's the tree! This particular pine! It Is cut down. Only the trunk is used, stripped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here's the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes.

Thus the entire little drama, from crystallized carbon and felled pine to this humble implement, to this transparent thing, unfolds in a twinkle. Alas, the solid pencil itself as fingered briefly by Hugh Person still somehow eludes us! But he won't, oh no.

(thx, matthew)

Weight loss tips for geeks

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

Matt Haughey shares some of his favorite weight loss advice for geeks. The moving average advice is particularly useful.

There are many explanations of why one would use a moving average, but I'll just say that it covers your weight trends and lessens the daily fluctuations. This means if you drop 0.1 pounds every day for a week then one morning you weigh in at one full pound heavier than the previous day, your entire week wasn't shot that morning because you'd still be trending downwards. If you stick to your plans you'll often see weight continue to go down even with the occasional hiccup.

Two things of which you should not fret the daily movement: the stock market and your weight.

Sixty Symbols videos

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

From the folks who brought you The Periodic Table of Videos, Sixty Symbols is a series of videos on the symbols used in physics and astronomy. (via snarkmarket)

No one dies in GI Joe

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

Did you notice that no one ever died in the GI Joe animated series? Slate's Adrian Chen presents the video evidence.

The first war between G.I. Joe and Cobra (1985-86), as documented in the G.I. Joe animated series, was the most violent conflict in history never to result in a single casualty. Through a combination of terrible aim, superhuman jumping ability, and impossibly reliable parachutes, every combatant escaped even the most dire of situations without so much as the angle of his beret askew.

The Invention Of Lying trailer

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 09, 2009

The trailer for The Invention of Lying, an upcoming flick written by, directed by, and starring Ricky Gervais.

The world of the movie is one in which everyone tells the truth all the time...until Gervais invents lying. It also stars every other Hollywood actor and comic in the world, including Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Patrick Stewart, Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., and John Hodgman. (You know it's quite an august list when you have to stick "and John Hodgman" on the end of it.)

Usain Bolt still fast

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

Yesterday he ran 200m in 19.59s on a wet track with a headwind, winning by an absurd margin. (via biancolo)

Of two minds on the pitcher's mound

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

If I ever write a book, it might have something to do with the two minds that govern creative expertise: the instinctual unconscious mind (the realm of relaxed concentration) and the thinking mind (the realm of deliberate practice). The tension between these two minds is both the key to and fatal flaw of human creativity. From the world of sports1, here's Rockies pitcher and college physics major Jeff Francis describing the interplay of the minds on the mound:

Even though I do understand the forces and everything, there's a separation when I'm pitching. If I throw a good pitch, I know what I did to do it, but there has to be a separation between knowing what I did and knowing why what I did helped the ball do what it did, if that makes any sense at all. If I thought about it on the mound, I'd be really mechanical and trying to be too perfect instead of doing what comes naturally.

But you don't need to be a physics major to wrestle with the consequences of the conflict between the two minds. After an injury and subsequent surgery, Francis' instinctual mind works to protect his body from further injury:

Francis repeatedly pulled the ball back in preparation to throw. But as he flashed his arm forward, his hand would, mind unaware, bring the ball back toward his ear rather than at full extension. It was his body essentially shortening the axis of his arm to decrease the force on his shoulder, protecting him from pain. And Francis could not stop it.

After his 10th pitch and first muffled groan of pain, he stopped.

"It's hurting you?" Murayama said.

"Yeah," Francis said.

"I can tell. You're getting out ahead of your arm. Slow down, stay back a little more."

"Does it look like I'm scared to throw a little?"

"Are you scared?"

"Not consciously."

To fully recover and regain his former effective pitching motion, Francis will utilize his thinking mind to retrain his unconscious mind through deliberate practice to ignore the injury potential. (thx, adriana)

[1] Most of the examples I've cited over the years deal with sports, mostly because professional athletes are among the most trained, scrutinized, studied, and optimized creative workers in the world. For a lot of other professions and endeavors, the data and scrutiny just isn't as evident.

Smelting iron ore in a microwave

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

Holy crap, did you know that you can smelt iron ore with a microwave?

This video shows part of an attempt to build a toaster from scratch.

Finding ways to process the raw materials on a domestic scale is also an issue. For example, my first attempt to extract metal involved a chimney pot, some hair-dryers, a leaf blower, and a methodology from the 15th century — this is about the level of technology we can manage when we're acting alone. I failed to get pure enough iron in this way, though if I'd tried a few more times and refined my technique and knowledge of the process I probably would've managed in the end. Instead I found a 2001 patent about industrial smelting of Iron ores using microwave energy.

Microwaves, as we all know, are just so much more convenient — and so I tried to replicate the industrial process outlined in the patent using a domestic microwave. After some not-so-careful experimentation which necessitated another microwave, followed by some careful experimentation, I got the timing and ingredients right and made a blob of iron about as big as a 10p coin.

(via mr)

No more edge cases

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

I don't think I've ever worked on a project of this magnitude before so this was a bit of a revelation to me: when your customer base reaches a certain size, you stop having edge cases.

Mistakes, bugs, incompatibilities, and related issues that used to affect a handful now affect hundreds. 1% is real number now. This requires some organizational change. More caution, more testing, more contingency planning, more disaster planning.

This is likely the reason why customer service for large services is so difficult (to the point that almost no one gets it right): every little problem is actually a big problem. See also why writing software is easy but writing stable, scalable, engaging, polished software is not something for a weekend hack and Too Big to Succeed.

On Robert McNamara

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

Errol Morris' discussion of Robert McNamara's legacy nails why McNamara was such a compelling figure.

His refusal to come out against the Vietnam War, particularly as it continued after he left the Defense Department, has angered many. There's ample evidence that he felt the war was wrong. Why did he remain silent until the 1990s, when "In Retrospect" was published? That is something that people will probably never forgive him for. But he had an implacable sense of rectitude about what was permissible and what was not. In his mind, he probably remained secretary of defense until the day he died.

One angry person once said to me: "Loyalty to the president? What about his loyalty to the American people?" Fair enough. But our government isn't set up that way. He was not an elected official, he said repeatedly. He served at the pleasure of the president.

Morris was also interviewed about McNamara on Here and Now. (thx, patricio)

Tyler Cowen also has a short appreciation of McNamara's efforts with the World Bank.

McNamara also had a huge influence on the economics profession, most of all through his 13-year presidency at the World Bank. He focused the Bank on poverty reduction, he brought Communist China into the Bank, he introduced the practice of five-year lending plans, he significantly increased the Bank's budget, he grew staff from 1600 to 5700, he favored sector-specific research, he raised money from OPEC, he strongly encouraged "scientific project evaluation," and he started a largely successful program to combat "river blindness"; the latter may have been his life's achievement.

Google Chrome OS and GooOS

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

Google announced last night that they are building a lightweight operating system based on Google Chrome:

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

This seems a little like something I wrote in April 2004 about the GooOS:

Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.

But in many important ways, the GooOS I was talking about is largely already here and has little to do with Google Chrome OS. The underlying assumption in that post (stated more clearly in this post from Aug 2005) is that all of these apps are running in the browser. Which they now do: Gmail, Google Reader, Google Apps (word processing, spreadsheets), Aviary, Flickr, Pandora, YouTube, IM, etc. There are even online storage and backup mechanisms...do you even need local file storage? Hell, you can even use powerful apps like Mathematica in a browser. With little effort, many people can do 95% of their daily work entirely within a web browser. That's the real GooOS/WebOS, the important GooOS/WebOS.

Sure, GooOS is not an operating system as a programmer would define it but it's an OS from the perspective of the user — "An operating system...is an interface between hardware and user" — the browser is increasingly the sole point of interface for our interaction with computers. In a way, real operating systems are becoming irrelevant. Google's got it exactly right with Google Chrome OS: a browser sitting on top of a lightweight Unix layer that acts as the engine that the user doesn't need to know a whole lot about with the browser as the application layer. OS X might be the last important traditional desktop operating system, if only because it runs on desktops, laptops, the iPhone, and the inevitable Apple netbook/tablet thingie. But even OS X (and Windows and Google Chrome OS and Gnome and etc.) will lose marketshare to the WebOS...as long as users can run Firefox, Safari, or Chrome on whatever hardware they own, no one cares what flavor of Unix or tricked-out DOS that browser runs on.

If DVDs were books, you'd need secret decoder glasses

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 08, 2009

Steven Garrity lists a short selection of metaphors related to technology freedoms. Like:

If Twitter were a phone company, you could only call people who used the same phone company as you.

Got any good ones to add to the list?

Fixing Twitter's suggested followers list

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Dave Winer has been irritated for some time at Twitter's suggested users list. I don't like the list either...it steers Twitter in a direction I don't care for. Winer suggests several ways in which Twitter can address the problems with the list but there's a really good simple solution:

Make the list entirely random consisting of selections from the entire Twitter userbase. After signing up, each new user sees 100 recommended accounts randomly chosen out of a HUGE pool of non-spam accounts (where HUGE = hundreds of thousands) that have been active for more than 3 months, tweet more than 5 times a week & fewer than 10 times a day, and have 2 times as many followers as followees (or something like that). Twitter has to be doing similar calculations to find spam accounts...just reverse it and whitelist accounts for the recommended list. That way, Twitter gets what they want (new users following people) and the super-user & conflict of interest problems are eliminated.

NYC subway prewalking aid

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Exit Strategy NYC is an iPhone app that tells you where to get on the subway train so as to be in an optimal position when you get off.

Taking the 1 train uptown to 28th street? Get on right behind the middle conductor. Need to transfer to the L at Union Square from the N downtown? Ride in the 1st car. Detailed diagrams eliminate the guesswork and frustration from your ride, making your subway trip easier and faster.

See also prewalking. (via @dens)

Update: The Times writes 650+ words on an app that calculates prewalking coordinates but doesn't use the word "prewalking".

Update: Exit Strategy NYC has been updated to include every stop in the subway system and subway entry points.

New Liberal Arts book out

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

New Liberal Arts, the aforementioned book by Snarkmarket, is out and available for purchase. Here's a chapter listing:

Attention Economics
Coding and Decoding
Home Economics
Myth and Magic
Reality Engineering
Video Literacy

Update: All sold out. But starting tomorrow, a PDF of the whole thing will be available for free.

LP by Discovery

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

I'm sure the nearest college student can tell you what "an electro-pop project from members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot" means, but I can tell you that I'm really enjoying this album by Discovery (on sale at Amazon for $3.99 today only). I almost want to say that it reminds me of The Postal Service except 1) that would be wrong and 2) someone could get themselves slapped around for saying something like that.

Are you moving to San Francisco?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

If so, Mat Honan has some expectation-adjusting advice for incoming residents.

If you're moving 3,000 (or even 300) miles to live in San Francisco; live in San Francisco. And by I don't simply mean that you should not live in the East Bay or the Peninsula or Marin. I mean live in a part of the city that your great-grandparents would recognize as being San Francisco. Somewhere that was entirely residential, and all of the homes in your neighborhood existed, prior to 1915. If you've only lived in SoMa, you haven't lived in San Francisco.

I'm not a fan of SF, but Mat does a nice job in highlighting the aspects of the city that are difficult to beat.

Update: Alex Payne has some advice for those moving to SF.

For a first world city, San Francisco is dirty. No, filthy. No, disgusting. Whenever I travel outside of San Francisco, I'm amazed at what a disastrous anomaly it is. Sidewalks are routinely covered in broken glass, trash, old food, and human excrement. The smell of urine is not uncommon, nor is the sight of homeless persons in varying states of dishevelment. I frequented tough neighborhoods in DC and Baltimore — then the murder capital of the nation — and only in San Francisco have I been actively threatened on the street.

Nailed it. Payne's points are exactly why I didn't like SF at all.

Nice custom lettering

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Lettercult has a round-up of some notable "custom letters" from the first half of 2009...hand lettered type, calligraphy, sign painting, graffiti....stuff like that. This is one of my favorites:

Custom Letters

(via do)

Ghostbusters the best movie ever?

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Forget Star Wars. Caitlin Moran says that Ghostbusters is the greatest movie ever made.

The Great Ghostbusters Campaign must start today. Here. Starting with this inarguable, scientific fact: Ghostbusters is still the most successful comedy film of all time, with a 1984 box-office return of $229.2 million. But this, of course, in turn, makes it the most successful film OF ALL TIME, FULL STOP — given that comedy is the supreme genre, and rules over every other format, such as "serious", "foreign" or "black and white".

(via @anildash)

Chip Kidd's favorite covers

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Chip Kidd shares his seven favorite book cover designs (that aren't his). (via do)

Feynman on Trains

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 07, 2009

Richard Feynman explains how trains stay on their tracks. Hint: it's not the flanges. (via jb)

Four Fucking Dinners

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

David Chang and Wylie Dufresne will be hosting a series of dinners at their restaurants featuring the talents of some of France's up-and-coming chefs. It's part of a number of events put on by Omnivore, a French restaurant guide.

There will also be one large meal, a free picnic in Central Park where eight chefs will each contribute a dish to what Luc Dubanchet, the founder of Omnivore, calls a "bento box performance." Then there will be a series of demonstrations at the Alliance Francaise, master classes held by an impressive roster of French and American chefs (the final program is still being decided).

Blue and green optical illusion

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

This amazing optical illusion was everywhere last week, but if you didn't see it, you should check it out.

Top 50 movie trailers

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

IFC lists the 50 greatest trailers of all time. Trailers are like episodes for Law & Order for me — ten minutes after viewing and I can't remember a thing about them — so I don't really have any favorites, but this list seems like a solid collection.

Update: They also polled a number of experts to weigh in on their favorites. The article led me to the Golden Trailer Awards, an annual awards show for the best movie trailers and posters. This year's winner was the trailer for Star Trek (I'm guessing it's trailer 1).

Fancy Fast Food

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

Love this: the chefs at Fancy Fast Food take fast food items and reformulate them into more delectable looking dishes. Here is just a portion of the directions for turning a White Castle meal into a tasty looking assortment of tapas.

Next, deconstruct everything and separate them into separate plates: french fries, onion rings, fried clams, beef patties, buns, cheese, bacon, and chicken. Using a paper towel, squeeze and dab each bun dry of its oil and ketchup. Then place all the buns on a baking sheet and bake them for ten minutes in a pre-heated oven at 400° F.

Meanwhile, using a food processor, blend the french fries into a pulp with a little water. Do the same with the beef (no water necessary) until it's ground and moldable. Hand-roll the ground beef into meatballs, then pan-fry them until they start to brown.

(thx, paul)

Robert McNamara dead at 93

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense during a large portion of the Vietnam War, died early today at 93. Errol Morris' documentary on McNamara, The Fog of War, is well worth checking out if you haven't seen it.

Capturing Reality

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary is a documentary film about documentary films.

Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and over 30 of today's top documentary filmmakers provide an in-depth look at non-fiction filmmaking and the steps to making a documentary. These masters of the craft reflect upon the nature of documentary as a form of storytelling and offer insight into their approach to the 'truth.'

The trailer is here and there are lots of clips up on the site; here are two featuring Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. (Man, I could listen to Herzog talk all day long.)

Loose tweets sink fleets

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

If World War III started tomorrow, these would be the propaganda posters.

Someone Tweeted

Uncanny babies

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 06, 2009

The only thing creepier and more irritating than those E*TRADE babies are these Evian rollerskating babies. (thx, bb)

Moneyball movie dead for now

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 02, 2009

The combination of Pitt and Soderbergh and Lewis wasn't enough to keep the Moneyball movie afloat...Sony canceled it "days before shooting was to begin".

Accounts from more than a dozen people involved with the film, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging professional relationships, described a process in which the heady rush toward production was halted by a studio suddenly confronted by plans for something artier and more complex than bargained for.

Sony was probably looking for something more BIG RED TEXTish.

Salary vs performance in baseball

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 02, 2009

Ben Fry just updated his interactive salary vs performance graph that compares the payrolls of major league teams to their records. Look at those overachieving Rays and Marlins! And those underachieving Indians, Mets, and Cubs!

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