Entries for October 2009 (November 2009 »    December 2009 »    January 2010 »    Archives)


Updates on previous entries for Oct 30, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 31, 2009

Free Philip Glass mp3s orig. from Oct 27, 2009
Complete DVD set of The Wire on sale for $82 orig. from Jan 22, 2009
One-handed computing with the iPhone orig. from Oct 29, 2009
Bang Bang Diet iPhone app orig. from Aug 20, 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.

Haystack, new from 37signals

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

A big thanks to this week's kottke.org RSS sponsor, Haystack, a new site from 37signals that allows designers to put up a quick portfolio and for those in need of web design help to browse by style, location, or budget. Designers can list themselves for free or pay $99/month for a bigger listing, prime placement, and more portfolio images. There's no charge for browsing or hiring via Haystack.

I get asked for web designer recommendations all the time and never know what to tell people. I think I'll just point them to Haystack from now on.

Would you like a chance to let kottke.org's smartypants readers know about your wonderful new thing? iPhone app? Great old thing? Sponsor the kottke.org RSS feed for a week!

Techno Tuesday

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

This installment of Techno Tuesday is particularly relevent to the one-handed iPhone post from the other day.

Techno Tuesday

(thx, andy)

Newspapers: not dead yet

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

Daniel Gross looks at the numbers and concludes that newspapers aren't doing as badly as you think.

This is the new emerging model — cutting costs, raising prices. It may still fail in the end. But we shouldn't act as if the online-only crowd has it all figured out. Every month, several million Americans pay to have newspapers and magazines delivered to their homes-a trick most online publications have yet to pull off.

The shrinking circulation while raising prices reminds me of Apple's strategy in the mobile phone and personal computing space: they have less market share but they make more money on each sale than their competitors by offering a premium product.

99 Vivaldi mp3s for $2.99

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

Today only on Amazon: 99 Vivaldi masterpieces on mp3 for $2.99. (US only.) See also other great Amazon music deals.

Alternate post title: I've got 99 Vivaldis but a Bach ain't one.

Restaurant server don'ts

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

On the NY Times small business blog, Bruce Buschel shares 50 things restaurant servers and staff should never do. The next 50 will follow next week.

Update: Aaaand here's the second 50.

Banner ads on flies

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

A company at a German trade show tied tiny banner ads to flies as a promotional stunt. This video footage is weee-eird.

The banners, measuring just a few centimetres across, seem to be causing the beleaguered flies a bit of piloting trouble. The weight keeps the flies at a lower altitude and forces them to rest more often, which is a stroke of genius on the part of the marketing creatives: the flies end up at about eye level, and whenever a fly is forced to land and recover, the banner is clearly visible. What's more, the zig-zagging of the fly naturally attracts the attention because of its rapid movement.

One marketing creative's stroke of genius is another person's animal cruelty.

Overloaded truck

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

Speaking of, here's another good one:

It's full of people. People!

Took me awhile to realize that truck is carrying more than just baggage.

On their way

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

This is a good image to formalize a new kottke.org tag: this is a metaphor for something.

Donkey Car

(via shorpy)

Updates on previous entries for Oct 29, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 30, 2009

Powers of Ten orig. from Jun 09, 2006

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

One-handed computing with the iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

The easy single-handed operation of the iPhone1 is not one of its obvious selling points but is one of those little features that grows on you and becomes nearly indispensable. A portable networked computing and gaming device that can be easily operated with one hand can be used in a surprising variety of situations.

Eating is the most obvious potentially one-handed activity most of us engage in. If you must do something other than just enjoy your food ferchristsake, you can answer emails, read Twitter, or catch up on the latest at nytimes.com while munching on that salad.

People carry things. Coffee, shopping bags, books, bags, babies, small dogs, hot dogs, water bottles, coats, etc. It's nice to be able to not put all that crap down just to quickly Google for the closest public restroom (aka Starbucks).

It is very occasionally necessary to use the iPhone while driving. No, not for checking your stock portfolio, you asshole. For directions. Glance quickly and keep your thoughts on the road ahead.

My wife spends about five hours a day breastfeeding our daughter and has only one hand available for non-feeding activities. That hand is frequently occupied by her iPhone; it helps her keep abreast (hey'o!) of current events, stay connected with pals through Twitter & email, track feeding/sleeping/diaper changing times, keep notes (she plans meals and grocery "shops" at 3am), and alert her layabout husband via SMS to come and get the damned baby already.

Straphangers in NYC and elsewhere know what a great one-handed device the iPhone is. Riding the subway and reading has never been so easy, especially during rush hour when pointy hardcovers become weaponized. (Getting shived by a hardbound Harry Potter on the 6pm 5 train is no joke.)

Tim Carmody, one of the shopkeeps over at Snarkmarket, recently broke his arm but is getting plenty of use out of his iPhone: "They should have an ad — 'If you've got a broken arm, this is the perfect phone for you!'" Broken arms are uncommon, but plenty of people have more permanent physical conditions necessitating one-handed interaction with the world.

And a list of one-handed computing activities wouldn't be complete without at least quickly mentioning, well, you know. It rhymes with "whacking off". I think I've said enough.

Two areas where the iPhone really shines in its one-handedness are gaming and typing. One-handed gaming is pretty much impossible with the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP, but the App Store is full of games that require only your thumb for input. I've been playing lots of Shake & Spell and Strategery lately. Typing with one hand on the iPhone is almost as easy and fast as with two. You can actually *write* on this thing with one hand; not just SMS messages and tweets but also blog posts, emails, meeting minutes, and the like.

Update: Tim Carmody, he of the broken arm above, makes a couple of key observations about the one-handedness of the iPhone:

I think it's fairly easy to dial and answer any cell phone with one hand. It's the fact that you can almost perfectly use smartphone functions with a single hand that set the iPhone apart. I used to have a Blackberry Bold - it bit the dust around the same time my arm did — and while I really liked a lot of things about the hardware, you really couldn't use it well with one hand


Your cheerfulness about [being injured or handicapped] varies almost directly with your autonomy — and the iPhone is GREAT at making you feel autonomous. Innovation in interface design isn't just about creating a cooler experience. It's about giving more and more people a shot at that experience to begin with.

And this is exactly how I use my iPhone 95% of the time (except I am left-handed).

[1] This footnote still applies. (Yes, that was a reference to a footnote within another footnote. (And that was a parenthetical within a footnote. (...)))

Update: One-handed iPhone? That's nothing. Check out this guy using the iPhone with his feet.

I met Keith on the Red line, heading to Cambridge from Boston. We had a nerdy conversation about the new iPhone, which he swears by. He operates his with his feet because a disability limits the dexterity of his hands. He said his kid is nuts for the games on the iPhone, but that he prefers more functional aspects which would be harder for him to use on any other mobile device.

Strange Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2009

The Strange Maps book is out today. The book is based on the awesome Strange Maps blog, one the very few sites I have to exercise restraint in not linking to every single item posted there. The content of the book is adapted from the site, so of course it?s top shelf.

My only reservation in recommending the book is the design. When I cracked it open, I was expecting full-bleed reproductions of the maps, large enough to really get a detailed look at them. The maps *are* the book, after all. But that?s not the case?only a few of the maps get an entire non-full-bleed page and some of the maps are stuck in the corner of a page of text, like small afterthoughts. The rest of the design is not much better, cheesy at best and distracting at worst. I wasn?t expecting Taschen-grade production values, but something more appropriate to the subject matter would have been nice.

The long zoom of cells

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

Awesome zoomable demonstration of the scale of cells, book-ended from macro to nano by a coffee bean and a carbon atom. See also Powers of Ten.

Little boxes, all the same?

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

Julia Baum took photos of suburban homes in Santa Clara, CA that were all built from the same architectural plan.

As I take a second look at these neighborhoods, I've found vast differences in what was once a uniform typology. Over the past 50 years these Houses have transformed from modest white cubes into a vibrant display of personality and present a rebellion against conformity.

Julia Baum Houses

This one is *really* happy. (via conscientious)

New Chris Ware strip in the New Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

Chris Ware has a two-page spread (+ the cover) in this week's New Yorker.

Chris Ware Halloween

Ware doesn't seem like an iPhone kind of guy to me, but I guess you don't need to be to show how disconnective these seemingly connective technologies can be.

The World's Best Pancake Recipe

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

After discovering the recipe for Robie's Buttermilk Flapjacks in a magazine a year or two ago, my wife has been making them for breakfast most Saturdays and they are, no foolin', the best pancakes I've ever eaten. They are fluffy and moist and delicious. Here's what you do.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, whisk, set aside:

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine salt

Combine the wet ingredients in a second bowl — add the butter last, slowly while whisking:

2 cups buttermilk
4 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 beaten eggs

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk until just combined. Fry in a pan with butter. Top with maple syrup and devour.

Don't skimp on the ingredients here. Use real butter and real vanilla extract, but especially real maple syrup and real buttermilk. Depending on where you live/shop, actual buttermilk might be difficult to find. The term "buttermilk" formerly referred to the liquid left behind after churning butter but nowadays refers to a cultured milk product not unlike drinkable yogurt. The only real buttermilk we've been able to find (in VT and MA) is Kate's Real Buttermilk; even at the NYC Greenmarket, the best you can find is cultured buttermilk made with whole milk. At least attempt to avoid most grocery store buttermilk; it's made from skim milk with added thickeners and such, basically buttermilk without any richness, which is, like, what's the point? Oh, and no powdered buttermilk either...it messes with the texture too much. The point is, these are buttermilk pancakes and they taste best with the best buttermilk you can get your mitts on.

Living on $500,000 a year

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

Who knew that a long article about F Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns could be so interesting?

The five months of furious short-story writing in 1923-24 had left him with a stake of $7,000. In Great Neck, that would only cover two and a half months of expenses. How could he stretch the $7,000 to gain the time to finish Gatsby? Earlier, as he was struggling to save, a friend wrote from France to suggest that Fitz-gerald join the many Americans living well in Europe on the strong American dollar. The friend wrote that it cost one-tenth as much to live in Europe: he had just finished "a meal fit for a king, washed down with champagne, for the absurd sum of sixty-one cents." Fitzgerald thought, based on the friend's recommendation, living expenses on the off-season Riviera would be low enough to let him finish Gatsby without any short-story interruptions.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 28, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 29, 2009

Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculus orig. from Oct 12, 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.

Toddler science

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

Once a month, Maggie Koerth-Baker will answer a science question from a toddler. First up: Do turtles have eyelashes?

Levi's (sponsored by America)

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

This is a 36-second wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reading a few lines from his poem, America. You may recognize the recording from its use in Levi's new ad campaign:

I thought for sure that Ryan McGinley had directed this and the O Pioneers! commercial but it turns out he just (just!) did the photos for the print campaign. (via slate)

Update: The audio clip used in that commercial might not be Whitman after all. From the inbox:

The Walt Whitman recording that is being used by the Levi's commercial that you posted on the 28th is actually not Whitman, and is now considered by most audio archivists to be a hoax.

More information about this most interesting recording can be found in Vol. X, No. 3 of Allen Koenigsberg's Antique Phonograph Monthly magazine from 1992, pages 9-11.

Among things pointed out, one is that the speech on the soundtrack ends with the quote, "Freedom Law and Love," whereas the original printed version of the poem ends with "Chair'd in the adamant of Time."

Koenigsberg also points out that Whitman's last years were chronicled on a daily basis by his personal secretary, and being wheelchair-bound, such a visit for Whitman would have been difficult, unprecedented, and undoubtedly noted.

(thx, jack)

Get ahead by living in the past

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

It seems to me that the best way to instantly raise your standard of living is to live in the past. If you subsist entirely on two-year-old entertainment, and the corresponding two-year-old technology used to power it, you're cutting your fun budget in half, freeing up that money for more exciting expenditures like parking meters and postage.

Welcome to the Cult of the Somewhat Delayed. Don't go to first-run movies in the theater; catch them nine months later on Netflix. Get on the waitlist for new books at the library. Buy used, used, used. This approach dovetails nicely with Last Year's Model.

Live re-broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

Inspired by my Apollo 11 broadcast, the folks behind Me and Orson Welles (dir. by Richard Linklater) have arranged for a "live" broadcast of Welles' War of the Worlds 71 years after it originally aired. The broadcast begins on Oct 30 at 8pm EST. (thx, jake)

Momofuku book

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

I was all fired up to make eight from-scratch servings of ramen last night after looking through the Momofuku book, but ulitmately the book is a Trojan horse for enticing people into the restaurants. As in: "Konbu? 5 pounds of meaty pork bones? Fuck that, let's just go to Noodle Bar."

Seven questions that keep physicists up at night

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

At a recent conference, a group of physicists talked about the biggest answered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions in physics. Three of the questions are:

What is everything made of?
Will string theory ever be proved correct?
How far can physics take us?

Artificial glaciers

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

To combat receding Himalayan glaciers caused by man-made climate change, Indian Chhewang Norphel has been building his own glaciers.

Here, Norphel is using what is abundant — stone — to conserve what is precious — water. The idea is simple: Divert the unneeded autumn and winter runoff into a series of large, rock-lined holding ponds. As the days grow colder, the ponds freeze and interconnect into a growing glacier. He has built 10 glaciers across the region. His largest stretched more than a mile before an unusual week of rain wiped it out in 2006.

Norphel says that a good artificial glacier costs about $50,000.

Thomas Keller cooks his dad's last meal

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

The NY Times has a really sweet story about Thomas Keller and the rekindling of his relationship with his father.

Mr. Keller ate many of the dishes in the book with his father at Ad Hoc. Even after the accident they would go, despite the physical challenges of getting his father out of the house. Ms. Cunningham said she used to worry about how customers might feel watching the famous chef feed his father. "Here he was taking care of his father just like a baby," she said. "For Thomas, it didn't make the slightest difference. Whatever he could do to make his dad comfortable he did."

The chef as caretaker, literally feeding a loved one...I don't see anything unusual about that at all. Isn't that what all chefs should aspire to? (thx, andy)

Updates on previous entries for Oct 27, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 28, 2009

Killer vaccines and the killers who kill with them orig. from Oct 27, 2009
Walter Miller's Home page orig. from Oct 27, 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.

Free Philip Glass mp3s

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Amazon has a sampler album of music from Philip Glass available right now for free. Not sure how long that will last so snap it up. See also lots of inexpensive classical music on Amazon.

Update: Here's a list of all the free mp3 albums on Amazon, 141 in all.

More about e-readers

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Marco Arment posted a thoughtful reply to my off-the-cuff post about e-readers and I wanted to respond to a couple of things.

Most people won't instantly jump to buy ebook readers after seeing them in TV commercials or liveblogged keynotes. They need to be experienced in person. (The ability to do this easily will give Barnes & Noble a huge advantage over Amazon.) And they'll spread via good, old-fashioned, in-person referrals from friends and coworkers.

I want a good e-reader more than anything...I instantly fell for the screen when I saw the Sony Libre a few years ago. I do a *ton* of reading, upwards of 100-150 pages a day when I'm working full-time. About 0.5% of those pages are from books. But the Kindle? I tried it and didn't like it. The screen is still great...the rest of it didn't work at all for me. And this is what is frustrating for me...the Kindle seemed right for buying books but not for what I want it for: reading all that other stuff. I know the functionality exists on these devices to read blogs, magazines, newspapers, etc., but they're marketed as book readers (Arment even calls them "ebook readers" instead of "e-readers"), the user experience is optimized for book reading, and the companies (esp. Amazon and B&N) view them as portable bookstores.

But there are a lot of people — including, significantly, most people over age 40 - who don't like reading tiny text on bright LCD screens in devices loaded with distractions that die after 5 hours without their electric lifeline.

Agreed. I don't particularly enjoy reading text on the iPhone; I'd prefer a larger e-ink screen. Instapaper support on the Kindle was almost enough to make me get one...but not quite yet.

Most of Kottke's problem with ebook readers can be solved in software

The problem isn't that you can't route around Amazon's design decisions with clever hacks, but that Amazon chose to optimize the device for reading (and buying) books. I.e. the software *is* the problem. That is not so easily solved...to do so, Amazon has to address it. And maybe they will. I hope they do.

I'm not including RSS feeds or PDFs in the discussion. RSS feeds aren't reading: they're alerting, discovering and filtering.

Off-topic, but this isn't my experience. I'd say about 30-50% of my reading is done directly in my newsreader...there are plently of blogs out there that aren't link blogs or Tumblrs.

Killer vaccines and the killers who kill with them

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Wired has a long piece by Amy Wallace about the anti-science anti-vaccine crowd.

Ah, risk. It is the idea that fuels the anti-vaccine movement — that parents should be allowed to opt out, because it is their right to evaluate risk for their own children. It is also the idea that underlies the CDC's vaccination schedule — that the risk to public health is too great to allow individuals, one by one, to make decisions that will impact their communities. (The concept of herd immunity is key here: It holds that, in diseases passed from person to person, it is more difficult to maintain a chain of infection when large numbers of a population are immune.)

Update: I am on Team Tom Scocca on this issue:

Anti-vaccine activists are degenerate idiots who deserve to get polio and live out their days in iron lungs while Child Protective Services takes away their children to be properly raised. Or tetanus. Get lockjaw and shut up and die. What's the point of living in 21st-century America if not to avoid dying of stupid, easily preventable disease?

And Slate has an article about the effects of unvaccinated children on those with weak immune systems.

Ordinarily I wouldn't question others' parenting choices. But the problem is literally one of live or don't live. While that parent chose not to vaccinate her child for what she likely considers well-founded reasons, she is putting other children at risk. In this instance, the child at risk was my son. He has leukemia.

(thx, cedar)

Update: Ben Goldacre on anti-vaccine scares as a cultural thing, not a science thing:

There's something very interesting about vaccine scares. These are cultural products. They're not about evidence. If vaccine scares were about genuine scientific evidence showing that a vaccine caused a disease, then the vaccine scares would happen all around the world at exactly the same time, because information can disseminate itself around the world very rapidly these days. But what you find is that vaccine scares actually respect cultural and national boundaries.

(via lined and unlined)

Walter Miller's Home page

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Classic Geocities site: Walter Miller's Home page. Suck featured the site back in Jan 1996 when it was on Prodigy. According to Ready Steadman Go, Suck co-founder Carl Steadman was rumored to be behind Miller's site. Ready Steadman Go was run by Ben and Mena Trott, who also formed a little company called Six Apart which makes the software on which kottke.org runs.

Anyway, Walter's Home page will soon be gone. Looks like Cartoon Girls I Wanna Nail has already been banished to the land of wind and ghosts. Oh, and whatever happened to Carl? Plastic is still going but is he still at the helm? (via waxy)

Update: Geocities is now dead, and Walter Miller's Home page with it. Here's an archived version. (thx, tim)

The New York Yankees, the Microsoft of baseball

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Greg Knauss on how the New York Yankees are like Microsoft.

But, wait... Two-thousand was — the last time the Yankees managed to win a championship. And it was awfully close to the last time that that Microsoft managed to produce a version of Windows that anybody cared about. And, hey, both the Yankees and Microsoft have long histories of dominating their professions, and of using that dominance to run up huge payrolls with — let's be honest here — a near-decade of lackluster results.

It's an uncanny resemblance.

Kanye is dead

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead? Is Rapper Kanye West Dead?

Star Guitar

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Star Guitar music video. Music by The Chemical Brothers. Video directed by Michel Gondry.

The making of the Star Guitar music video.

Ever since this video blew my mind when I first watched it, I've wondered how it was made. Turns out Gondry tested the concept out on a sidewalk with oranges, shoes, videotapes, and drinking glasses. Alas, the making of doesn't cover the three months of post production required by the finished product, although the video isn't completely digital as you might expect:

The video is based on DV footage Gondry shot while on vacation in France. They shot the train ride 10 different times during the day to get different light gradients.

Still love that video.

Delaunay images

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

Using a scripting plug-in for Illustrator, Jonathan Puckey creates triangular portraits he calls Delaunay Rasters.


The images are based on Delaunay triangulation:

Delaunay triangulations maximize the minimum angle of all the angles of the triangles in the triangulation; they tend to avoid skinny triangles.

Tron anyone?

Tron triangles

(via waxy)

It's Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 27, 2009

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I'm about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables.

I love fucking fall.

People read more than books

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Sure, fine, make your single-use devices. But all these e-readers — the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, et al — are all focused on the wrong single use: books. (And in the case of at least the Nook and Kindle, the focus is on buying books from B&N and Amazon. The Kindle is more like a 7-Eleven than a book.) The correct single use is reading. Your device should make it equally easy to read books, magazine articles, newspapers, web sites, RSS feeds, PDFs, etc. And keep in mind, all of these things have images that are integral to the reading experience. We want to read; help us do it.

Christopher Hitchens vs.

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Christopher Hitchens has travelled the world debating religious people. Here's what he has learned.

I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.

How to write badly well

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Writer Joel Stickley keeps a blog about how best to write badly. Here's a snippet from a recent entry titled "Describe every character in minute detail, taking no account of narrative pacing":

Terrence Handley shifted his weight, the weight that had been steadily increasing for the last ten years and showed no sign of diminishing, at least while his wife Marie continued to excel as she did at the design and production of delectable gourmet meat pies, and shuffled his feet restively as he waited.

What startups are like

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Paul Graham asked the founders of the startups he's funded what they know now that didn't going in. Here's what they said.

I've been surprised again and again by just how much more important persistence is than raw intelligence.

Schott covers Single Serving Sites

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Schott's Vocab blog covers Single Serving Sites today.

Music videos of the decade

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Antville has a list of the 100 best music videos of the decade, the first 50 or so are embedded right on the page. (via fimoculous)

Lost issue of Vice from 1994

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

Vice Magazine's 1994 issue was presumed lost but they found it and put it up online. Chloe Sevigny, My So-Called Life, Evan Dando, Lisa Loeb, Kato Kaelin, and more!

What the brain looks like

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 26, 2009

100 years of visualizing the brain, from the discovery of neurons in the 19th century to MRI investigations in the 1990s.

1899 neurons

This decade's lost species

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

From the Guardian, a list of species that became extinct or critically endangered during the 2000s. (via @ettagirl)

Healthcare in early America

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

In the early days of the United States (and even in the colonial days), there were struggles about how to handle healthcare. Was it the responsibility of the federal government, the state government, or the individual?

Health care in Colonial America looked nothing like what we'd consider medicine today, but the debates it triggered were similar. The danger of smallpox and the high cost of its prevention led to divisive questions about who should pay, whether everyone deserved equal access, and if responsibility lay at the feet of the individual, the state, or the nation. Epidemics forced the early republic to wrestle with the question of the federal government's proper role in regulating the nation's health.

A recent blog post by Roger Ebert shows that more than 200 years later, we're still having this same basic argument.

I am told we cannot trust the government. I believe we must trust it, and work to make it trustworthy. We are told the free enterprise system will sort things out, but it has not. When insurance companies direct millions toward lobbying and advertising against a health care system, every dollar is being withheld from sick people. When it goes to salaries, executive jets, corporate edifices and legislative manipulation, it isn't going to Amy Caudle.

1984 review of original Mac

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

Larry Magid reviewed the original Macintosh in the LA Times in 1984. Here's his original review.

Like the Lisa, it uses a hand-held "mouse" — a small pointing device which enables the user to select programs, and move data from one part of the screen to another. Also like the Lisa, Macintosh uses a black and white display screen whose resolution is so high that it can quickly draw detailed pictures while at the same time display crisp and readable text.

Peter Paul Rubens, painter, designer, and diplomat

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

In addition to being a painter of some repute, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat:

In Master of Shadows, Mark Lamster tells the story of Rubens's life and brilliantly re-creates the culture, religious conflicts, and political intrigues of his time. Commissions to paint military and political leaders drew Rubens from his Antwerp home to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome. The Spanish crown, recognizing the value of his easy access to figures of power, enlisted him into diplomatic service. His uncommon intelligence, preternatural charm, and ability to navigate through ever-shifting political winds allowed him to negotiate a long-sought peace treaty between England and Spain even as Europe's shrewdest statesmen plotted against him.

and a graphic designer.

Moretus was Rubens's most frequent design client. To save his friend money, Rubens generally did his work for Plantin on holidays, so he would not have to charge Moretus his rather exorbitant day rate (Rubens was notorious for his high prices), and even then he agreed to be paid in books.

Human space exploration map

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

Beautiful map by National Geographic of human exploration of the solar system.

Human exploration of the solar system

See also Race to the Moon at HistoryShots and Bryan Christie's Mission(s) to Mars. (thx, byrne)

Watch PopTech 2009 online for free

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

The PopTech conference is going again in Camden, Maine, but you can watch the whole thing online for free from the comfort of your desk, blogging couch, or podcasting lair.

Twins triptych

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

Twins Olsen

Twins Arbus

Twins Kubrick

T to B: The Olsen twins (photographer unknown), Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 by Diane Arbus, the Grady twins from The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. (via hysterical paroxysm)

Updates on previous entries for Oct 22, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 23, 2009

A three-year-old's view of the NYC subway orig. from Oct 22, 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.

The rise and fall and rise of the Roman Empire

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

David Galbraith graphs the population of Rome from 300 BC to the present.

The population [of Rome] during the Renaissance was miniscule (yet it was still a global center), when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel it was considerably smaller than a town like Palo Alto is today (60K); Rome at its nadir was about the size of Google (20K employees); the growth of Rome during the Industrial era is much greater than the rise of Ancient Rome.

David, you should check out The Inheritance of Rome; I'm about 100 pages in and pretty interesting so far. Also, it would be instructive to do the same graph but Rome's population as a percentage of world population.

My So-Called Life on Hulu

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

All 19 episodes of My So-Called Life are available on Hulu for free. (US only.) My huge crush on Claire Danes persists into the present. I've seen this Soul Asylum video about 5 kajillion times and even liked her in Terminator 3. (I know, I know.) (via andrea inspired)

How to shoot an anvil 200 feet into the air

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

If you've ever wanted to see someone shoot an anvil 200 feet into the air, you should watch this video. (And not just someone...a world champion anvil shooter.)

With gunpowder and a fuse. Just like Wile E. Coyote! (thx, rob)

A three-year-old's view of the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

Simple NYC subway map

This was my present to my nephew for his 3rd birthday. He loves, loves, loves the subway so my sister asked me if I could make a custom map with all the places that mean something to him on the poster.

Best viewed a bit large.

Update: There's been a bit of confusion...this is not something that I made. I don't even have a nephew.

Update: The subway map was made by Erin Jang.

First video from a plane, 1909

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

This short film was made in 1909 and depicts Wilbur Wright flying one of his airplanes around an open field. At 1:38, they attach the camera to the plane and shot what is thought to be the first video footage shot from a powered flying machine.

Then the plane started up again, followed a launching pad and took off: the camera was fixed for the first time on the ground that gave way...and the emotion was there, so great you could almost touch it! The image was as unstable as the cabin of the plane flying at low altitude, flying over the countryside and gradually approaching a town.

(via @ebertchicago)

Get high on deprivation

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

Participants in a sensory deprivation experiment reported having hallucinations after just fifteen minutes.

They then put the participants, one by one, in a dark anechoic chamber which shields all incoming sounds and deadens any noise made by the participant. The room had a 'panic button' to stop the experiment but apparently no-one needed to use it.

(via wired)

Flickr is made of people

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 22, 2009

You can tag people directly in Flickr photos now.

The glittery Big Bang

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

You say to me "light photos" and I say "zzzzz", but Alan Jaras' light patterns captured on film are probably what the universe looked like at an early age.

Alan Jaras

(via justin blanton)

The Bold Italic

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

Really inspiring design by the folks at the newly launched The Bold Italic. It's webby and magazine-y at the same time, but not overly so. Looks great on the iPhone too. Jealous. (via @timoni)

VC funding for 20x200

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

Congrats to Jen Bekman on getting funding for 20x2001.

"I love the idea of taking the friction out of the art world," said Mr. Conrad. "A lot of people want to buy nice things, but don't know how. Jen has built a business from that, which is growing very nicely and has a lot of repeat customers."

[1] In light of the new FTC guidelines for disclosure by bloggers2, a few somewhat relevent statements. 1. 20x200 has in the past paid $1200 to sponsor the kottke.org RSS feed. 2. I have linked to 20x200 and Jen Bekman's gallery several times on kottke.org, for which Jen Bekman has thanked me, which is a good feeling, to be thanked, and perhaps that subconsciously predisposes me towards future linking because who doesn't like to be thanked? 3. Jen Bekman is a friend. 4. I also know Caterina Fake, Zach Klein, and Scott Heiferman socially; they are a few of 20x200's angel investors. 5. I am a resident of New York City, in which 20x200 is headquartered. 6. I have purchased art from 20x200 in the past. 7. I may have received a 20x200 print from Jen Bekman herself, either as a straight-up gift or as a promotional item. Honestly, I can't remember if she gave me anything, what it was, or the circumstances of the giving. 8. I have received 20x200 prints as gifts from others. They are thanked. 9. I know my wife and my wife knows Jen Bekman. 10. I may have unwittingly posed for photos next to 20x200 artwork hanging in my residence or in the residences of others, giving the impression that I am endorsing said artwork. Apologies. 11. I have agreed to, at some point in the future, curating a selection of artworks for 20x200 and then chatting casually with Jen Bekman about my choices, an edited transcript of which will appear on the 20x200 web site. As far as I know, no payment for this service is forthcoming and if it was, I would refuse it politely. 12. Jen Bekman's dog's name is Ollie. So is my son's.

[2] Why just for bloggers? Do New York Times book, music, and movie reviewers disclose that they received review copies for free?

Write different

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

At 70, writer Charles Bukowski started using a computer — a Macintosh IIsi that his wife gave him for Christmas — and was so taken with it that he never went back to the typewriter.

There is something about seeing your words on a screen before you that makes you send the word with a better bite, sighted in closer to the target. I know a computer can't make a writer but I think it makes a writer better. Simplicity in writing and simplicity in getting it down, hot and real. When this computer is in the shop and I go back to the electric, it's like trying to break rock with a hammer. Of course, the essence of writing is there but you have to wait on it, it doesn't leap from the gut as quickly, you begin to trail your thoughts — your thoughts are ahead of your fingers which are trying to catch up. It causes a block of sorts indeed.

j/k paging Javascript

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

Javascript code for navigating between posts using the j and k keys, just like on ffffound and The Big Picture. (via 37s)

The Higgs boson and the Enchantment Under the Sea dance

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

Are the problems that have plagued the Large Hadron Collider and previous high-energy efforts (SSC, I'm looking at you here) a result of the Higgs boson travelling back from the future to meddle in its own discovery? A pair of scientists think it's a possibility.

"It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck," Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, "Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God." It is their guess, he went on, "that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them."

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an "anti-miracle."

That's heavy, Doc.

Update: Bread from the future halted operation of the LHC again.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 20, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 21, 2009

Vivian Maier, recently discovered street photographer orig. from Oct 14, 2009
From the desk of Mr. Jagger orig. from Oct 15, 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.

Those great (staged?) Great Depression photos

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

In his newest multipart essay for the NY Times, Errol Morris examines evidence of photo manipulations by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, including Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, and Dorothea Lange. Were they dispassionate observers of American life in the 1930s or employees after a certain type of story?

If one can imagine the political animosity that would have been generated if, as part of the current stimulus package, President Obama introduced a national documentary photography program, then it is possible to understand the opposition that the F.S.A. faced. Fiscal conservatives did not want to see their hard-earned tax dollars spent on relief, let alone a government photography program, of all things.


posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

Not every magnetic substance has a north and a south pole...some are monopolar.

The work is the first to make use of the magnetic monopoles that exist in special crystals known as spin ice.

Spin ice! Also I guess they went with the awkward magnetricity name because electromagnetism was taken. (via mouser, who says "Suck it, Maxwell")

LAPD stolen art poster show

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

Stolen art in the Los Angeles area results in some unorthodox art posters. Here's a missing Warhol print of Mick Jagger:

Stolen Warhol

Looks like something Warhol himself might have come up with.

Mr Eaves

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

Emigre has released a sans serif companion for Mrs Eaves, Mr Eaves.

Mr Eaves was based on the proportions of Mrs Eaves, but Licko took some liberty with its design. One of the main concerns was to avoid creating a typeface that looked like it simply had its serifs cut off. And while it matches Mrs Eaves in weight, color, and armature, Mr Eaves stands as its own typeface with many unique characteristics.

Very handsome. I've always liked the attitude and flourishes of Emigre's typefaces. (via quips)

Consider the razor

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

Interesting article about the technology behind the 4- and 5-bladed disposable razors.

Down the hall from the high-speed video lab is the room where they do three-dimensional motion analysis using infrared cameras: "It's the same system they use in some of the latest blockbusters, like Spider-Man or Lord Of The Rings." The changing positions of markers that reflect infrared light are triangulated by the cameras, so the movements of the razor and the shaver's arm can be recreated in a virtual 3D space on a computer. "The way in which you hold that handle and you rotate that handle, if you watch men do it, it's quite amazing. You think they could all be cheerleaders," Stewart says. High-speed infrared cameras, running at around 2,000 frames a second, are also used to measure skin deformation and strain. A similar technique is used in the car and aeroplane industries, though Gillette have patented it for shaving research. Next door, sensors in a specially adapted razor measure the forces different men put on it while shaving.

(via justin blanton)

Google's page turners

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

This is page 471 of The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code book (previously mentioned here).

Google Books Fingers

Looks like the scanner caught one of Google's pink-fingered elves at work. A quick search reveals several other such errors.

Iconic photos

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 20, 2009

The Iconic Photos blog reminds me a bit of Letters of Note (and Footnotes of Mad Men). It's one notable photo per post plus some context.

Exporting "likes" data from Google Reader

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

There's no official API, but GReader's Atom feeds include the likes data.

This means that as a publisher you can extract this information and see which of your items Reader users find interesting.

Photographer's venn

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

A diagram that shows the overlap of street photography, fine art photography, and photojournalism.

The Shake Shack burger recipe

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

With a bit of research and social engineering, an enterprising burger enthusiast has figured out the recipe for the infamous Shake Shack burger.

Exclamation point interlude: !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Upon tasting it, my immediate thoughts are mayo, ketchup, a little yellow mustard, a hint of garlic and paprika, perhaps a touch of cayenne pepper, and an elusive sour quality that I can't quite pinpoint. It's definitely not just vinegar or lemon juice, nor is does it have the cloying sweetness of relish. Pickle juice? Cornichon? Some other type of vinegar? I can't figure it out. This was going to take a little more effort.

Totally doing this for dinner one of these nights. We'll probably cheat on the ground beef...we've got some Pat LaFrieda patties stockpiled in the freezer.

Those big bank earnings explained

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

Phil Greenspun's finance buddy explains how JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs made $6.8 billion in profit last quarter. Basically they borrowed money from the US Govt at 0% and then bought bonds from the US Govt that paid 2-3%.

What kind of bonds are they buying? Are they investing the money in American business? "No, they are mostly buying Treasuries." So the money is just being shuffled from one Federal bank account to another, with each Wall Street bank skimming off $1 billion per month for itself? "Pretty much."

(via @linklog)

Sand animation of Germany invading Ukraine

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

Kseniya Simonova won Ukraine's Got Talent 2009 competition with her dramatization of Germany's invasion of Ukraine during WWII, performed with sand on a giant lightbox. Sounds like the cheesiest thing, but this performance is amazing.

Watch until at least 1:06...that's when my mouth dropped open a bit. The entire audience was in tears by the end. (via @jessicadeva)

Mad Men, the megamovie of the moment

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

Writing for The Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz says we've got it all backwards regarding Mad Men: January Jones is a bad actress and the show's appeal lies not in the accuracy of the production details but in the emotional intelligence.

Then there is the miraculous Hamm, playing the lead character, Don Draper. Here is an actor who at once projects sexual mastery and ironic intelligence, poise and vulnerability. That alchemy has created the greatest male stars, from Gable to Grant to Bogart to McQueen to Clooney, because it wins for them both the desire of women and the fondness of men.

For my money, Jones is just as good at Hamm in portraying her character's multitudes.

Life Magazine archive, online for free

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

Every issue of Life Magazine until the end of 1972 is available on Google Books for free. This archive joins Google's already impressive archive of millions of photos from Life. (via footnotes of mad men)

A case of the Mondays

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 19, 2009

A pair of McSweeney's lists to brighten this sleepy Monday morning. 1. YouTube Comment or e.e. cummings?

1. loog a his lirow nose
2. there is some shit I will not eat
3. LISN bud LISN

2. What to Expect: The Third Decade

Your thirty-year-old adult may be able to...

Make a martini (vodka)
Refrain from discussing college
Get married
File his taxes (EZ form)
Remember 5-10 friends' birthdays
Acknowledge other viewpoints (political)

Most read and liked posts for the week

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

Here's what everyone has been most interested in on kottke.org this week:

The best flag in the world (#1 by a wide margin)
From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome)
Bullets are slow
The Rape Tunnel: FAKE
The most beautiful suicide
Beyonce's Single Ladies covered by Pomplamoose
Cool cats
Carl Sagan Auto-Tune (feat. Stephen Hawking)
Parkour on a bicycle
From the desk of Mr. Jagger
Inventing the past
Minna Kottke
Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculus
The no control cafe
Drinking like Mad Men
George Saunders plays house(less)
Airlines nickel and diming themselves to death
Are you moving to San Francisco?
Wooden skyscraper
Huge Pepsi Throwback news
Rare hour-long Alfred Hitchcock interview
Popes, they don't make 'em like they used to
The most famous unkindness
Pizza pi

Again, the data is from Google Analytics and only includes URLs that were directly accessed...no search or referral traffic. Compare those to the most liked posts in the kottke.org RSS feed from roughly the same period of time, data courtesy of Google Reader:

The best flag in the world (174 likes)
From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome) (150 likes)
The no control cafe (98 likes)
Beyonce's Single Ladies covered by Pomplamoose (84 likes)
Carl Sagan Auto-Tune (feat. Stephen Hawking) (81 likes)
Bullets are slow (71 likes)
Michael Pollan's food rules (43 likes)
From the desk of Mr. Jagger (38 likes)
Pizza pi (37 likes)
Vivian Maier, recently discovered street photographer (37 likes)
The most famous unkindness (35 likes)
Airlines nickel and diming themselves to death (30 likes)
The vomitorium myth (29 likes)
Totally not burying the lede (29 likes)
Drinking like Mad Men (25 likes)
Thirty dumb inventions (25 likes)
Rare hour-long Alfred Hitchcock interview (24 likes)
Complaining about the inevitable (23 likes)
Glaciers from space (23 likes)
Cool cats (22 likes)

This only includes posts from the past week so the older stuff isn't represented. Interesting differences. The stuff with images or videos tends to do better with likes on Google Reader than just text. If Google Reader had an API, you could use that and the Analytics API to make a pretty decent "here's what's popular on the site" sidebar thingie a la the NY Times and most other publications.

The sorta kinda maybe legal child snatcher

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

Gustavo Zamora Jr., a former Army ranger, has retrieved more than 50 children for parents left behind when someone else takes the kid to another country. Nadya Labi tags along as Zamora attempts to recover a boy from Costa Rica for Florida lawyer Todd Hopson.

If your ex-spouse has run off and taken your children abroad, and the international legal system is failing to bring them back, what are you to do? One option is to call Gus Zamora, a former Army ranger who will, for a hefty fee, get your children back. Operating in a moral gray area beyond the reach of any clear-cut legal jurisdiction, Zamora claims to have returned 54 children to left-behind parents. Here's the story of number 55.


posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

10/GUI is a new proposal for a way of interacting with personal computers using all ten fingers in a multitouch scheme. Very Minority Report.

(thx, david)

Concerning the films of Errol Morris

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

A long and meaty conversation about the work of Errol Morris.

The thing is, truth is always at the center of Morris' films, as you'd expect of a documentary filmmaker, but he also acknowledges that truth is a complicated thing; he's always toying with questions of truth and fiction. Morris' films aren't about The Truth; they're about our personal, private truths, as well as the lies and rationalizations we create for our actions. So fiction and lies and manipulation are also at the center of Morris' films. Fiction is as much the spine of his work as truth.

The making of Fantastic Mr. Fox

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

A short video about the making of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

In it, you can see a brief glimpse of one of the emailed videos that Wes Anderson sent his London-based crew from Paris.

As well, for reference, the director would send short films of himself enacting certain scenes. "It's kind of embarrassing," Anderson said, laughing. "For most of these things, the performance is just a few seconds. Somebody hearing a noise and looking at their watch. The simplest way to relate how to do it is to make these little movies."

The making of video is from a site called, uh, Making Of, which was co-founded by Natalie Portman and contains a bunch of interesting stuff: a bunch of on-the-set stuff from A Serious Man, Where the Wild Things Are, The Lovely Bones, etc., director interviews from the likes of Aronofsky, Neill Blomkamp, Michel Gondry, Mira Nair, etc., and all sorts of other stuff. (via @akstanwyck)

150 Different Pasta Shapes

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 16, 2009

From alfabeto to zitoni, here are over 150 illustrations of pasta shapes, a visual pasta encyclopedia, if you will.

Hiding at the very end of the listing is a pasta shape called Marille, which is unusual in that a) it's a recent shape, b) its designer is known, and c) it is no longer available. Marille's designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, previously had designed some of the most distinctive cars in the world and in 1999 was named Car Designer of the Century. (via @nicolatwilley)

The McSweeney's newspaper

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

The NY Times has more information on the one-off newspaper that McSweeney's is putting together.

Called San Francisco Panorama, the editors say it is, in large part, homage to an institution that they feel, contrary to conventional wisdom, still has a lot of life in it. Their experience in publishing literary fiction is something of a model.

"People have been saying the short story is dying for a lot longer than they've been saying newspapers are dying," Jordan Bass, managing editor of the quarterly, said in an interview on Tuesday. "But you can still put out a great short-story magazine that people want to grab. The same is true for newspapers."

(via romenesko)

Alex Ross on the move

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

Alex Ross has moved his blog from The Rest is Noise to the New Yorker site. It's now called Unquiet Thoughts.

Go to film school with Werner Herzog

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

Werner Herzog is doing something called The Rogue Film School.

The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature. The focus of the seminars will be a dialogue with Werner Herzog, in which the participants will have their voice with their projects, their questions, their aspirations.

Drinking like Mad Men

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

Some folks from the web magazine Double X wondered what it would be like to drink as much in the workplace as the characters do on Mad Men. So they spent the day getting hammered and tried to do some work. The results are somewhat different than on the show.

From the desk of Mr. Jagger

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

You are still reading Letters of Note, yes? A couple of recent letters include Bill Gates' infamous An Open Letter to Hobbyists — "most of you steal your software" — and a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol about the design of an album cover in which Jagger gives the impression of being the perfect client...do whatever you want and let me know how much to pay you.

Jagger letter to Warhol

Update: Jagger's letter to MC Escher didn't work out quite as well.

By the way, please tell Mr. Jagger I am not Maurits to him, but
Very sincerely,
M. C. Escher.

(thx, @pjdoland)

Pizza pi

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

A round pizza with radius 'z' and thickness 'a' has the volume pi*z*z*a. That and other math jokes are available on Wikipedia. Don't you love it when people explain jokes:

In this case, DEAD refers to a hexadecimal number (57005 base 10), not the state of being no longer alive.

High larious. (via reddit)


posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

Spacewar was one of the first video games and in 1972, Rolling Stone sent a 33-yo Stewart Brand to document the early days of computing as entertainment. The photographs were taken by a 23-yo Annie Leibovitz.

"We had this brand new PDP-l," Steve Russell recalls. "It was the first minicomputer, ridiculously inexpensive for its time. And it was just sitting there. It had a console typewriter that worked right, which was rare, and a paper tape reader and a cathode ray tube display, [There had been CRT displays before, but primarily in the Air Defense System.] Somebody had built some little pattern-generating programs which made interesting patterns like a kaleidoscope. Not a very good demonstration. Here was this display that could do all sorts of good things! So we started talking about it, figuring what would be interesting displays. We decided that probably you could make a two-Dimensional maneuvering sort of thing, and decided that naturally the obvious thing to do was spaceships."

You can play the original version of Spacewar in your Java-enabled browser.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 14, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 15, 2009

Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculus orig. from Oct 12, 2009
Puddleblog orig. from Mar 12, 2008
The Rape Tunnel: FAKE orig. from Oct 14, 2009
Are you moving to San Francisco? orig. from Jul 07, 2009
The baked bean index and other economic indicators orig. from Sep 21, 2009
Inventing the past orig. from Oct 13, 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.

The Botany of Desire documentary

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

PBS will be airing a two-hour-long documentary based on Michael Pollan's excellent The Botany of Desire (previously recommended here).

The tulip, by gratifying our desire for a certain kind of beauty, has gotten us to take it from its origins in Central Asia and disperse it around the world. Marijuana, by gratifying our desire to change consciousness, has gotten people to risk their lives, their freedom, in order to grow more of it and plant more of it. The potato, by gratifying our desire for control, control over nature so that we can feed ourselves has gotten itself out of South America and expanded its range far beyond where it was 500 years ago. And the apple, by gratifying our desire for sweetness begins in the forests of Kazakhstan and is now the universal fruit. These are great winners in the dance of domestication.

A five minute preview of the show is available on YouTube:

I've watched the whole program and it's a worthy companion to the book.

Update: PBS has put the whole thing online for free. (via unlikely words)

Rare hour-long Alfred Hitchcock interview

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

In 1973, Tom Snyder interviewed Alfred Hitchcock for the Tomorrow Show. Thought to be lost, the whole thing is now up on YouTube after being transferred from a VHS tape. Here's part one:

To follow: part two, part three, part four, part five, and part six.

The Rape Tunnel: FAKE

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

That's the name of Ohio-based artist Richard Whitehurst's latest work.

The artist plans to place himself in a room, the only entrance or exit being a 22 ft long plywood tunnel constructed by Whitehurst himself. Then he says that for the duration of the gallery's opening (from 7:00 p.m. to midnight) he will rape anyone who travels through the tunnel into that room.

Whitehurst prototyped the idea with a previous project called The Punch-You-In-The-Face Tunnel.

As it turns out, I ended up breaking the nose of the third person to crawl through the tunnel, an aspiring model. She went to the hospital and eventually sued me. Her modeling career was put on hold. The civil case was long and drawn out and the matter still hasn't been resolved. To this day she still has unpaid medical bills. The point of this long aside is that all this took place two years ago, and I'm still having an impact on this young lady's life, something not many other artists could claim about their work.

Rape seemed like the next logical step.

Me? I would have built The Tickle Tunnel. I guess that's why I'm not an artist. (via mxml)

Update: Oh, hell, it's fake. (thx, dozens of people who aren't saps like I am)

The Referendum

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

Tim Kreider muses on people's changing relationships to each other as they grow older, specifically related to the choices that we've made in comparison to those around us.

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers' differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home.

This article resonated with me to an uncomfortable degree, especially this line from a James Salter novel:

For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox.

Vivian Maier, recently discovered street photographer

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

Vivian Maier was a street photographer from the 1950s-70s in Chicago whose extensive body of work (40,000 negatives) was recently discovered at an auction. This blog is presenting that work to the public for (I think) the first time.

Vivian Maier

(thx, frank)

Update: Blake Andrews discusses some other photographers who came late to the public eye.

The other X factor in recognition is a curatorial champion. Bellocq had Friedlander. Atget had Abbot. Disfarmer had Miller. Without their discoverers, these photographers might still be anonymous. For Maier it's been John Maloof. An interesting mental experiment is to wonder what would've happened had Maier posted her own photos on a blog while still alive. Would they have the same impact? Or would they just be another series of old images from some self-promoting has-been?

Complaining about the inevitable

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 14, 2009

Nate Anderson of Ars Technica collected a bunch of responses from copyright owners over the last 100 years about new technology (photocopiers, record players, mp3s, VCRs, etc.) that would ruin their livelihoods and/or culture. Here's John Philip Sousa on the gramophone and player piano:

Under such conditions, the tide of amateurism cannot but recede until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant. Singing will no longer be a fine accomplishment; vocal exercises so important a factor in the curriculum of physical culture will be out of vogue. Then what of the national throat? Will it not weaken? What of the national chest? Will it not shrink?

Airlines nickel and diming themselves to death

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

The airlines that added the most fees (for food, to check bags) in the past few months saw their revenues decline the most.

I thought about his rant this week as the nation's largest carriers reported first-quarter earnings. Or, more accurately, first-quarter losses. Except for AirTran and JetBlue, they all lost money. The legacy airlines — Delta/Northwest, American, United, Continental and US Airways — lost a lot of money. Collectively about $1.9 billion, in fact. Their revenue plummeted, too.

And do you know what most of them wanted to talk about? You guessed it. The baskets of ancillary revenue they're harvesting by charging us fees for checking bags, choosing coach seats or whatever. Forget that their houses are burning down. They found a tap in the bathtub with some water leaking out, so they're thrilled.

(via @kyleridolfo)

Inventing the past

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

As stated previously, I love this kind of thing:

If you were to travel 2000 years into the past, how useful would you be in jumpstarting technological advancements? This 10 question quiz will help you figure out your technological usefulness.

I got a 6/10, which is probably more than I deserved...the invention of "new" technologies is not multiple choice. I wouldn't have the faintest clue where to begin in actually making concrete or steel from scratch. (via ettagirl)

Update: Phew, I'll just wear this shirt when I go back. (thx, runyon)

Beyonce's Single Ladies covered by Pomplamoose

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

A good example of what Robin Sloan calls the production-as-performance video.

What I love about the approach is that it's showing us a complicated, virtuoso performance, but making it really clear and accessible at the same time. It's entertaining, but it's also an exercise in demystification — which of course is exactly the opposite objective of every music video, ever. Their purpose has been to mystify, to masquerade, to mythologize in real-time.

How to design a flag

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

Ted Kaye has compiled some advice for designing flags.

1. Keep it simple.
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use 2-3 basic colors
4. No lettering or seals
5. Be distinctive or be related

In a nutshell:

The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.

The best flag in the world follows all of these rules.

When stop-motion meets the auteur

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

After doing the script, working with the actors, and supervise the set design, Wes Anderson directed Fantastic Mr. Fox over email. He also didn't want to use many contemporary stop-motion animation techniques. Both of these decisions ruffled some feathers.

"It's not the most pleasant thing to force somebody to do it the way they don't want to do it," Anderson said. "In Tristan's case, what I was telling him was, 'You can't use the techniques that you've learned to use. I'm going to make your life more difficult by demanding a certain approach.'

"The simple reality is," Anderson continued, "the movie would not be the way I wanted it if I just did it the way people were accustomed to doing it. I realized this is an opportunity to do something nobody's ever seen before. I want to see it. I don't want afterward to say, 'I could have gone further with this.'"

(via @WaitingCasually)

Glaciers from space

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

Wired has a nice look at some glaciers as seen from space.

Cool glacier

From the ground, glaciers can look like the Moon. And I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't tell you that: It's very cold. In spaaaace.

The value of time off

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 13, 2009

Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister closes his design studio for a year of focused R&D.

Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired by his time in Bali.

Huge Pepsi Throwback news

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 12, 2009

It's coming back around the holiday time.

Due to all the Throwback tweets, Facebook fan pages, videos, blog posts, pics & pleas, Pepsi Throwback is coming back!! Starting December 28th Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwback will be available again for 8 weeks with the same formula and natural sugar, but this time with an even more rad vintage look!

An even more rad vintage look, you say? Rad!

Larry PageRank, not Web PageRank

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 12, 2009

By mapping, among other variables, how many people click on a link, and how long they linger there, Google assigns it a value, known as PageRank, after Larry Page.

That's from Ken Auletta's article about Google in the New Yorker last week. Didn't know that PageRank was named after Larry Page. (via @dens)

Bullets are slow

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 12, 2009

You're going to spend the next 10 minutes watching bullet impacts in super slow motion.

The really amazing part — nope, not the instant bullet liquification (!!!) — is how quickly other things happen after the bullet hits something. Glass seems to crack almost instantly, even at a million fps, making the bullets seem pokey in comparison.

Dogfighting vs. football in moral calculus

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 12, 2009

Using Michael Vick as a pivot, Malcolm Gladwell compares professional football with dogfighting and asks if the former is just as morally unacceptable as the latter. This is former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley:

I remember, every season, multiple occasions where I'd hit someone so hard that my eyes went cross-eyed, and they wouldn't come uncrossed for a full series of plays. You are just out there, trying to hit the guy in the middle, because there are three of them. You don't remember much. There are the cases where you hit a guy and you'd get into a collision where everything goes off. You're dazed. And there are the others where you are involved in a big, long drive. You start on your own five-yard line, and drive all the way down the field-fifteen, eighteen plays in a row sometimes. Every play: collision, collision, collision. By the time you get to the other end of the field, you're seeing spots. You feel like you are going to black out. Literally, these white explosions-boom, boom, boom-lights getting dimmer and brighter, dimmer and brighter.

Perhaps this is what Gladwell will be talking about at the upcoming New Yorker Festival?

Update: From Stephen Fatsis, a list of improvements for the NFL players union to consider to protect the health of the players.

N.F.L. players often get excellent medical treatment, but the primary goal is to return them to the field as quickly as possible. Players are often complicit in playing down the extent of their injuries. Fearful of losing their jobs — there are no guaranteed contracts in the N.F.L. — they return to the huddle still hurt.

And from GQ comes a profile of Bennet Omalu, one of the few doctors investigating the fate of these NFL players.

Let's say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let's say the scientific community — starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country — comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?

Update: Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the NFL's handling of head trauma in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today.

Goodell faced his harshest criticism from Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, who called for Congress to revoke the league's antitrust exemption because of its failure to care adequately for injured former players. "I believe you are an $8 billion organization that has failed in your responsibility to the players," Waters said. "We all know it's a dangerous sport. Players are always going to get injured. The only question is, are you going to pay for it? I know that you dearly want to hold on to your profits. I think it's the responsibility of Congress to look at your antitrust exemption and take it away."

Update: The NFL will soon require players with head injuries to receive advice from independent neurologists.

Ainsley, etc.

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 11, 2009

A quick but big-time thanks to Ainsley Drew for helping me out here for the past couple of weeks. Again, you can find Ainsley at Jerk Ethic personally and Ministry of Imagery professionally.

Me? I'm still operating at half speed due to the new little one. But hopefully things won't be too sporadic around here for too much longer.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 9, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 10, 2009

Cool cats orig. from Oct 07, 2009
George Saunders plays house(less) orig. from Oct 08, 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.

The no control cafe

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 09, 2009

In Kashiwa, Japan, there was briefly an unusual cafe where you recieve whatever the person in front of you ordered...and you're ordering for the person behind you.

The Ogori cafe was an unforgettable travel moment, and an idea that has stuck with me: It was a complete surprise in our day. It encouraged communication between total strangers or, in this case, members of the Kashiwa community and a couple of weird guys from Oregon. It forced one to "let go", just for a brief moment, of the total control we're so used to exerting through commerce. It led you to taste something new, that you might not normally have ordered. It was a delight.

(via mr)

Literary stocking stuffer

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 09, 2009

One of the items in this year's Christmas catalog from Neiman Marcus is a dinner for the buyer and a guest with "the brightest minds of modern literature, journalism, and the arts". Among those who may be in attendance at said dinner are George Stephanopoulos, John Lithgow, Nora Ephron, and Malcolm Gladwell.

The price: $200,000.

In recent years, the gifts on offer have grown increasingly extravagant and ridiculous: a modern Zeppelin for $10 million, a 3-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus for your back yard for $1 million, and a private concert with Elton John for $1.5 million. (via girlhacker)

Thirty dumb inventions

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 09, 2009

Life has a list of 30 dumb inventions, including the Hubbard Electrometer (invented by L Ron Hubbard to measure pain in tomatoes), the fast-draw robot, TV glasses, and the rainy day cigarette holder.

Rainy day cigarette holder

Popes, they don't make 'em like they used to

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 09, 2009


Used to be, back in my day, that new Popes were elected by a conclave of cardinals holed up in the Sistine Chapel burning unsuccessful ballots with a chemical compound that produces black smoke until a two-thirds majority is achieved, at which point the ballots are pierced with a needle and thread and burned, producing white smoke that the assembled masses take as a sign that the cardinals have chosen, and the Pope-elect is asked if he wants to be the Pope and, if so, what his Pope-name will be and then he chooses his papal garments from a selection of small, medium, and large — *not* tall, grande, and venti as you might expect, that being Italy and all — dons a ring, and is announced to the crowd in St. Peter's Square.

This new way seems much simpler.

Creepy carrying

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 09, 2009

From an article on Movie Morlocks regarding B -movie posters:

The classic rescue pose gets perverted into a monstrous abduction — and possibly worse! — scenario, all the better to get movie audiences, especially impressionable teens and thrill-seekers, into the seats. Beautiful women apparently were in constant danger from a steady stream of robots, aliens, mummies, and the occasional mutant human who were ready to snatch these lovelies up, once they had fainted dead away, of course.

It's true. There's well-documented evidence that between the 1930s and the 1960s, monsters were picking up women like they were moonlighting at a firehouse. This has morphed into the horror movie poster of today, which usually features a grouping of the young, attractive cast from the bust up, half-shrouded in shadows and looking perturbed.

Wooden skyscraper

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 09, 2009

Nikolai Sutyagin decided to build himself a home befitting the owner of a lumber and construction company. This resident of Archanglesk, Russia, built a regular Izba, or wooden country dwelling, that was the standard two stories, because anything higher is considered a fire hazard by law. Once complete, he began to add to the roof bit by bit, using leftover lumber from his company. Eventually his home teetered at an unbelievable 12-15 stories, tall enough to view the White Sea from the top. Though Nikolai ran into some trouble with an embezzling employee and jail time for beating up said employee, he and his family are rumored to still dwell in the timber tower, which looks like something out of an Edward Gorey etching.

The death of the universe

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 09, 2009

As black holes evaporate, they release Hawking radiation. Named after the legendary Stephen, who first argued for its existence in 1974, Hawking radiation emitted is measured by the mass, angular momentum, and charge of the black hole. Hawking radiation has been predicted to be part of the eventual catalyst for the heat death of the universe, and recent findings suggest that it's possibly closer than astronomers originally calculated. Don't max out your credit cards or adopt a Twinkie diet just yet. Scientists believe that it takes roughly 10^102 years for a supermassive black hole to evaporate, and chances are that global warming, war, or Twinkies will have done in humanity long before then.

Pulsing parasites

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 09, 2009

A video of the Leucochloridium parasite infecting a snail.

The worm is consumed by the snail, and begins its development in the snail digestive tract. Once it grows and matures, it moves into the snail's optical tentacles, where it will pulsate and writhe as an example of aggressive mimicry, turning the tentacle into a dead-ringer for a caterpillar larvae, and making the snail a visible snack to a passing bird. The worm's dance is also deadly because it renders the snail insensitive to light, making it incapable of shielding itself from predators. After the bird eats the infected snail, the worm matures fully inside the bird's digestive tract, there it reproduces and lays eggs. Once the bird excretes the Leucochloridium larva, it is consumed by snails, thus continuing its life cycle.

Dump the ump

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 09, 2009

Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus: use pitch tracking technology to call strikes in pro baseball games.

If a breaking ball crosses the plate at a point between a batter's knees and the midpoint between his shoulders and pants, it's a strike, no matter what the anachronism behind the plate thinks he sees. In eighteendicketysix, a human being was state-of-the-art technology for making these decisions. Now, you can get better information — we do get better information — by using better technology. Championships should be decided by the players and by what actually happened, not by what somebody thinks happened.

Heh. Dickety. (via david)

Carl Sagan Auto-Tune (feat. Stephen Hawking)

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 08, 2009

Maybe you're tired of un-pop-music-like things being run through Auto-Tune, but I'm not quite there yet. This Auto-Tuned Carl Sagan mix is very nearly sublime.

Michael Pollan's food rules

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 08, 2009

Michael Pollan asked his readers for suggestions for food rules, and condensed all the answers down to 20. Here are my three favorites:

Never eat something that is pretending to be something else.
Don't yuck someone else's yum.
If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.

Totally not burying the lede

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 08, 2009

Here's the first sentence of an article that must have been fun to write.

A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbours by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat.

Oh humanity, what will you think of next? (via @ettagirl)

The most famous unkindness

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 08, 2009

A group of ravens is referred to as a congress or an unkindness. The most famous unkindness of six ravens at the Tower of London are employees, kept on staff at the expense of the British government. There are claims that the ravens were decreed to be kept by King Charles II to prevent disaster, or that they had been placed near the Tower in order to dramatize execution proceedings. These days they're kept around for tourists, and they are fed well (for ravens) on a diet consisting of raw meat, bird formula biscuits soaked in blood, whole rabbit, eggs once a week, and occasional pieces of fried bread.

Ravens are fairly vicious by nature, so the Tower's Ravenmaster must bond with them over a period of six weeks when they are fledglings. These birds are so vital to the Tower's image that several fledglings are kept as understudies for the six working birds as they die, even though the average raven lifespan is twenty-five years. The current raven roster at the Tower consists of Gwylum, Thor, Hugin, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, Baldrick, Fleur, and Colin.

Update: The legend is that the decree from King Charles II stemmed from the prophecy that if the ravens are removed from the tower, the monarchy will fall. It is believed that John Flamsteed, who was a prominent astronomical observer, complained to the king that ravens were getting in the way of his observations at the Royal Observatory, which was located in the northeastern section of the White Tower. King Charles' solution to the complaint was to order all of the ravens killed. It was then that a mysterious oracle informed the king that if the ravens left the Tower of London, the White Tower would topple and the whole of England would be plagued by disaster. Superstitious, King Charles ordered that at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower at all times, and he moved the Observatory to Greenwich. It's rumored that this decree still stands today.

(thx, adam)

George Saunders plays house(less)

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 08, 2009

George Saunders (aka The Principal Researcher or PR) travelled to Fresno, California and set up a tent in a tent city (aka The Study Area) for the purposes of observing the inhabitants and reporting back for GQ. This story is a pain in the ass to read (28 pages with no "single page" option) but it's worth wading through for Saunders' observations.

Sometimes it seemed unimaginable that such poverty could exist in America and that the residents accepted it so passively. Why didn't the place explode? Other times — when, for example, the PR had been out driving around the pleasant neighborhoods of Fresno — the Study Area seemed like a tiny blip on the radar, the necessary detritus of an insanely affluent country. The presence of 300 losers in a city of winners seemed not like a crisis, but rather a reasonable embodiment of Christ's admonition that the poor would always be with us.

And then:

The Study Area presented a unique and vexing case: With all basic needs (food, shelter, laundry, etc.) met, did all suffering vanish? Based on the observations made during the Study, it did not. The well-fed homeless of Fresno, it was observed, suffered considerably.

They suffered with feeling inadequate and left behind. They spent considerable time and energy telling and retelling the story of their lives, as if looking for the place where things had gone astray. They were lonely and seemed to long for the better things in life: ease, property, companionship. Perhaps not surprisingly, this longing sometimes manifested as anger; also impatience, derision, a tendency to gossip ungenerously. In this the Study Area was similar to any other human community, but with the endemic poverty serving as a kind of process accelerator.

(thx, sean)

Update: Some kind soul has posted the whole thing on one page for easy reading. Hey, GQ! This is what your web site should look like. (thx, rakesh)

Glow-in-the-dark ground-cover

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 08, 2009

Seven new species of phosphorescent mushrooms have been discovered, bringing the grand total of documented glowing fungi species to 71. The new discoveries join the ranks of the other luminous mushrooms that produce light as a result of a chemical reaction. Although easily noticeable at night, phosphorescent mushrooms glow all day long. Ten new fungi species were documented between 2002 and 2006, which is surprising considering how difficult it is to write in the dark.

The vomitorium myth

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 08, 2009

The ancient Roman vomitorium, or vomitoria, were supposedly places where diners could go and void their stomachs during a meal, in order to make room for more delicacies. There are even detailed descriptions of the rooms, stating that they had large slabs or pillars to lean over that would better facilitate voiding the stomach. Though it might come as a disappointment to preteen boys studying Latin, the vomitorium of such lore is a myth. A true vomitoria is actually a well-designed passage within an ampitheater that allowed large numbers of Romans to file in and out of large spaces quickly. The root of the word, vomere, translates to "spew out," which makes sense when applied to hurried exits.

A bathroom in a box

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 08, 2009

One of the finalists in the Roca's bathroom-related design contest, Jump the gap, was Spanish design studio Yonoh's "box." It's a self-contained, customizable modular bathroom that features enough room for a toilet, wash-basin, shower, seat, two shelves, a towel rack, and a section for extra space and storage. All of the faucets are electronic, with displays indicating the temperature and the amount of water consumed. This "box" requires hookups for water and electricity, and after water is used by the sink or the shower, it's stored in a conservation-friendly water tank where it supplies the toilet. It remains to be seen if the eco-friendly "box" will compete with other cubic commodes. Regardless, it's quite a leap from the Port-a-Potty.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 7, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 08, 2009

Tugboat limbo orig. from Mar 14, 2002
From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome) orig. from Oct 06, 2009
Uberorgan orig. from Oct 06, 2009
A holiday on the George Lucas coast orig. from Oct 06, 2009
Candy-craving criminals orig. from Oct 06, 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.

Cool cats

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 07, 2009

Francis Wolff was an executive at Blue Note Records who also took tens of thousands of photos of the label's musicians.

Max Roach

A selection of Wolff's photos are available here and here.

Update: More photos.

Michelle Obama's family tree

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 07, 2009

The NY Times traced Michelle Obama's family tree back to Melvinia, a slave girl who lived in rural Georgia.

"[Michelle] is representative of how we have evolved and who we are," said Edward Ball, a historian who discovered that he had black relatives — the descendants of his white slave-owning ancestors — when he researched his memoir, "Slaves in the Family."

"We are not separate tribes of Latinos and whites and blacks in America," Mr. Ball said. "We've all mingled, and we have done so for generations."

I wonder how much of this Obama was aware of before being contacted by the Times for comment (she declined):

The findings — uncovered by Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist, and The New York Times — substantiate what Mrs. Obama has called longstanding family rumors about a white forbear.

The best of Worldchanging

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 07, 2009

If you haven't had occasion to dip into the Worldchanging site, they've compiled a list of their favorite/best/most popular articles from the past on the occasion of their sixth anniversary.

Twitching party guts

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 07, 2009

For those of you who are both creepy and crafty, a website specializing in Halloween prop projects and related antics has documented how they created a set of severed, twitching legs. There's even a video of the finished product in action. It's how a pair of pants can scare the pants off of partygoers.

Calculate the cost of your sandwich

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 07, 2009

From Rob Cockerham's sandwich calculations:

Dijon mustard is to yellow mustard as a Rolls Royce is to your Honda. A 454 gram bottle sells for $6.99, and that is 5 cents per serving.

He adds up exactly how much homemade sandwiches cost based on the amount of ingredients and their correlating prices. The results are revealing: 98 cents for a processed turkey sandwich, 48 1/2 cents for a grilled cheese, and 64 cents for a pb&j. If you'd like to figure out how much bread you'll need for your picnic, try out Cockerham's sandwich calculator. For more dizzying and delicious equations, cut the corners off the drool-inducing Scanwiches.

Getting a rise out of getting a rise

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 07, 2009

Scientists discovered that it's likely that some individuals with high testosterone actually perceive other people's anger as a reward. Researchers tested the subjects' testosterone levels and assigned them "learning tasks" where images of faces were subliminally flashed in response to their performance. Participants who had higher testosterone levels responded better to angry faces than to neutral ones, even though the faces were on screen too briefly to identify. Michelle Wirth, who led the study, explained how this can possibly be correlated to other testing methods:

"Better learning of a task associated with anger faces indicates that the anger faces were rewarding, as in a rat that learns to press a lever in order to receive a tasty treat. In that sense, anger faces seemed to be rewarding for high-testosterone people, but aversive for low-testosterone people."

So the next time it seems like that person is trying to piss you off, reward them with a knuckle sandwich.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 6, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 07, 2009

Uberorgan orig. from Oct 06, 2009
A holiday on the George Lucas coast orig. from Oct 06, 2009
Candy-craving criminals orig. from Oct 06, 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.

George Plimpton in orbit

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 07, 2009

From an article in The Boston Globe by Samuel Arbesman, about his quest to name an asteroid after author George Plimpton:

There is a whole group of asteroids named after rock stars. Each member of Rush has a minor planet. Fantasia, Hammurabi, and Jerrylewis are all out there. While Goldfinger is not named after the Bond film (it's named after an astronomer), Vespa is named after the motor scooter. Here is where we find the asteroid named Qwerty, and even an asteroid named ASCII.

While the author was on his mission to get Mr. Plimpton's name on a piece of space real estate, he discovered some of the intricacies of naming objects up there. For example, the moons of Uranus have all been named after characters from works by Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Also, those "name a star" advertisements on the radio are bunk. Although you get a certificate claiming your star has been named, the monikers aren't recognized by the International Astronomical Union, the one organization that has authority in the matter.

You can look up tributes to George Plimpton on the Plimpton Project. To locate 7932 Plimpton, look up.

Working hard is overrated

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 07, 2009

So says Caterina Fake:

We agreed that a lot of what we then considered "working hard" was actually "freaking out". Freaking out included panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, fearing failure, worrying about things we needn't have worried about, thinking about fund raising rather than product building, building too many features, getting distracted by competitors, being at the office since just being there seemed productive even if it wasn't — and other time-consuming activities. This time around we have eliminated a lot of freaking out time. We seem to be working less hard this time, even making it home in time for dinner.

I would likely give the same advice, but I wonder if it's actually true. Perhaps working hard/freaking out was exactly what was needed at the time, whether or not it seems efficient or correct in retrospect. You need to travel that road so you can find a better way the second time around.

Best NBA players of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 06, 2009

I'm not exactly sure what I expected from such a list, but this wasn't quite it. Kobe at #3 and Shaq is #6? Hrm.

Futuristic fashion, as predicted

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 06, 2009

A video clip of what fashion designers in the 1930s predicted that people would be wearing in the year 2000. While the predictions for the women only accurately depict Lady GaGa's wardrobe, the designers of the past were slightly closer to the mark when it came to men's fashion:

"He'll be fitted with a radio, telephone, and containers for coins, keys, and candy for cuties."

By which they must have meant credit cards.

Update: FASHION magazine responded to this video. It turns out that it was eerily accurate, with designs like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs parading futuristic wares that are perfectly current.

(thx, gary)

From sketch to photo instantly (this is insanely awesome)

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 06, 2009

Wow. With PhotoSketch, you just draw a sketch, label each item, like so:

Photosketch before

and then the system goes out, finds photos that match the sketched items and their labels, and automatically pastes it all together into one composite image:

Photosketch after

The site is down right now but the paper is available for download and this video gives you a taste of how it works:

Again, wow. (via migurski)

Update: I've seen many references to Photosketch saying that it has to be fake (here's a sampling). But it's pretty obviously real. For one thing, here's the source code; try it out (Windows only). It was presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2009; here's the listing of papers presented. The authors all have web pages on university sites and have published work using similar techniques and technology (Ping Tan and Ariel Shamir for example). And is what it does really that unbelievable? At the most basic level Photosketch is just find me a man that's sorta shaped like this, a dog that looks like this, and paste them together with a background that looks like this. That the results are so impressive (especially for a demo) is a testament to the team's execution and attention to the small details. Even if it turns out to be an elaborate hoax, I have no doubt that someone could actually build a working version of Photosketch...I mean, look at TinEye and Photosynth.

The best flag in the world

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 06, 2009

Benin Empire

That's the flag of the Benin Empire, a pre-colonial African state situated in modern Nigeria that lasted from 1440 until 1897. (via andre)


posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 06, 2009

In 2001, Tim Hawkinson created Uberorgan for the gallery at MassMOCA.

Several bus-size biomorphic balloons, each with its horn tuned to a different note in the octave, make up a walk-in self-playing organ. A 200 foot-long scroll of dots and dashes encodes a musical score of old hymns, pop classics, and improvisational ditties. This score is deciphered by the organ's brain - a bank of light sensitive switches - and then reinterpreted by a series of switches and relays that translate the original patterns into non-repeating variations of the score.

Part sculpture, part giant musical instrument, Hawkinson's installation was a loose interpretation of the human body's organ systems. Uberorgan conducted itself for five minutes every hour, on the hour. The exhibition traveled from MassMOCA to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where it graced the museum's entrance hall during the exhibit of Hawkinson's work called Zoopsia, a name that means "visual hallucinations of animals."

You can hear a minute long sample of the Uberorgan on the Getty Center website. To me it sounds like a duet between a three-year-old jamming out on a bass saxophone and an elephant in a good mood.

Update: Tim Hawkinson and the Uberorgan are featured the Art:21 episode,"Time." Seeing and hearing the piece, even on the small screen, is impressive, and Hawkinson explains how he came about creating such a voluminous, volume-driven work of art. (thx, cliff)

Candy-craving criminals

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 06, 2009

Just in time for Halloween: a new study theorizes that eating too many Pez will land children in the pen. Researchers believe that using candy as a reward for a chore such as homework drives children to have difficulty handling anything but immediate gratification. The dopamine release that is caused by consuming sugar, and the inherent "addiction" that it causes, can lead to impulsive behavior when treats are withheld from kids. It's the inability to successfully cope with delayed gratification that has doctors concerned, since rash behavior in children can be linked to criminal acts and violence in adults. The British study, which followed 17,000 children over four decades, found that, by the age of 34, 69% of daily candy eaters were apprehended for violent acts. Perhaps it's the prevalence of penny candies that leads people to the penitentiary.

Update: It's all in the subtleties. The article reads:

"The October 2009 study revealed that 69 per cent of those with a criminal record of violence consumed candy daily as children."

This means that it can be inferred that those who have committed crime had sweet teeth as kids, but not that children who eat candy every day will therefore be predisposed to criminal behavior. Moreover, there are so many variables and unobserved factors that if you eliminated the sugary rewards, it wouldn't necessarily mean a correlated drop in crime. It isn't the candy that's causing the trouble, it's just that trouble-making and candy seem to be bedfellows. So much for trick or treat. (thx, neil and scott)

A holiday on the George Lucas coast

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 06, 2009

An article in Forbes postulates which countries billionaires could purchase, factoring in their estimated worth and the countries' GDPs. On the list: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, George Lucas, Zambia, Haiti, and Belize.

Update: A valid point to make here is that a billionaire's income isn't an accurate measure of their ability to "purchase" a country based on their GDP, especially if you think of the GDP as the equivalent of rental income. For instance, if a person's net worth is $9 billion, which is equivalent to the Bahamas' GDP, that doesn't mean the billionaire could buy the islands. He or she could only rent it for a year, theoretically. Then again, the idea of countries being up for sale, and individuals purchasing (or renting) them, is a somewhat silly premise. (thx, ian)

Update: Perhaps purchasing countries isn't such a silly premise after all. In 2003, the entire principality of Liechtenstein was up for rent. The tiny country, which borders Switzerland and Austria, attempted a "rent-a-state" program sponsored by Xnet. The idea was to draw attention to the tourist-friendly charms of Liechtenstein by essentially "renting" the country's hotels, restaurants, and sports stadiums en masse. (thx, colin)

Updates on previous entries for Oct 5, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 06, 2009

The original IBM ThinkPad orig. from Oct 02, 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.

Vonnegut's rules for short story writing

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 05, 2009

One of Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules for writing short stories:

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Ayup. See also How to Write With Style.

Philip Glass on Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 05, 2009

Loved this when I was a kid; all those shapes right there in those circles.

The top 200 albums of the 2000s

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 05, 2009

Pitchfork continues their look back at the 2000s with the top 200 albums of the decade. Here are the top 20.

A fourth Bourne film

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 05, 2009

This will be old news for some, but I totally missed that Universal is making a fourth Bourne movie with Matt Damon.

Though the series is based on the Robert Ludlum novels, the new film won't be based on a Ludlum title, but rather an original story.

The most difficult photographs in nature

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 05, 2009

Outside magazine recently asked a handful of nature photographers to discuss the most difficult shots they ever captured. Philipp Engelhorn selected a photograph taken on the frozen tundra of China:

Winters in northern Xinjiang, China, rival those in Siberia: Forty below zero is normal. We'd gone in the fall to find an eagle hunter and make a handshake deal to follow him. But when we actually showed up two months later, he told us he never expected us to return and had no time for us. So we did the worst thing ever and set out by horse-drawn sleigh across the frozen countryside to find an eagle hunter.

The images that accompany the article are incredible and make most day jobs look like an all-day pancake buffet.

Forecast by Shya Scanlon

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 05, 2009

Forecast is a novel by Shya Scanlon being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast. Chapter 23 can be found at SoMaLit.


The city looked even more spectacular from below. Open markets, store-lined streets, apartment complexes looking out over six story canyons carved into the earth; there was even a full scale amusement park-something long since banned above ground due to a series of weather-related accidents (the spontaneous freezing of gears, toddler-sized cyclones)-there were, in short, several areas obviously above-ground grade and legitimate, simple extensions of the city and catering to the well-intentioned classes. It was quite a surprise, Helen wasn't sure what she'd expected. Darker streets, perhaps. And filth. But it all looked very similar to what was happening topside, only without the weather.

Busy seemed to read her mind. "There's actually a major shift takin' place," he said thoughtfully. "We've been watching it for about a year now, but of course no one's talking about it."

Helen staggered around beneath the mirage in the wavy patterns people make while walking looking up. "You mean about how underground there's no..." She tried, stupidly, to think of something delicate. "There's no..."

"Bad guys?" Busy grinned. "Well, I wouldn't go that far, but yeah, something like that." He shuffled around, made his own wavy lines. "Yep. The city is actually flipping itself over." The city churned above them like a maggoty carcass; they spun slowly beneath it like flies.

"Let me guess: the weather."

"You got it, Miss H. Or at least that's what everybody around here thinks."

"Right. Well you'd assume."


But it didn't take too long to discover that the reversal, if one was indeed underway, was incomplete. Her eyes just hadn't adjusted. It was like a first glance at the patch of picnic grass, when all you see is green, before you see the ants and the insects and all the little movements that together conspire to create an illusion of stasis, to lull you into sitting, laying out your food. Helen looked closer and longer and finally she found what, without having fully articulated it to herself, she'd been looking for: a bum bumming change on a street full of trash; a man being beaten outside a bar, broken glass from the window he'd been thrown through alive like sparks on the ground around him. Flashing lights, in several parts of the burrowing city, indicating alarms. Indicating crime. Busy came up beside her and they watched, together, as a woman's purse was pulled from her arm with such force that she crumpled onto the sidewalk, banging down first on her knees and then full forward, arms splayed out to either side having been too weak to break her fall.

"Ouch," Busy said.

As the purse snatcher ran Helen followed along with a middle finger posed to flick, and when he paused at a corner a high-gloss, manicured fingernail the size of a two story building plowed through him.

"Atta girl," Busy said. The thief chose a direction and kept running. "Wanna see where we're going?"

"Oh, right." She'd almost forgotten. "Of course."

"Well then!" Busy the dandy tour guide. "Well if I could, ah, direct madam's attention to the far side of the room." He did a little awkward jig and offered his arm with faux-gentlemanly suggestion.

Did he think, I found myself wondering at the time, that he had a chance with Helen? There were times when it seemed like he was distinctly trying to win Helen's affection, to flirt. I bristled. There was no way in hell that Helen would stoop to that level, was there? She may have been below ground, but she was above its symbolic import. This man was just a means to an end. I comforted myself with small thoughts.

The unlikely pair walked the length of the city to Georgetown-once the industrial district and now the most fashionable part of town, teeming with glamorous tight-skinned items. The swirling mass swelled and swirled above them like an enormous upset stomach, and Rocket, still on their heels, nipped and yapped at its ironic bowels-those basements of the basements of the basements whose placement might normally indicate extreme old age, but which were instead the most recent additions to this backwards, unplanned project. They stopped in front of an above ground building no more than 10 stories. It was a classic post-modern job, with all the utilities on the outside: plumbing, ventilation, electric, all coursing down the unpolished metal structure like strangling vines. It was atrocious, really, but obviously expensive. The first floor of the building was home to a club called The Gamble, and a long line of people waiting to get in crowded the sidewalk out front.

"I thought we were going to visit the Muslim first," said Helen, half-hoping that another decision had been made, that a decision had been made for her.

"Yep," said Busy. He was absently staring at the people in front of the club. They were too small to see faces, but as Helen's attention was drawn back to the crowd she realized that it wasn't a typical club scene. Everyone was in sweatpants and sweaters, casual bags that turned their lithe bodies into lumps. A limo pulled up to the curb and a couple emerged from the vehicle in what looked like bathrobes, bumped through the crowd, and disappeared inside The Gamble.

"What is this," Helen asked, "some kind of slumber party?"

"REMO," said Busy dully.

Helen stared. "REMO," she repeated.

"Yeah, these fuckin' people," he said, "these rich people just sit around and do REMO all night and, well, put it this way: ain't no point in looking good if nobody's looking, right? Plus, if you're squirming around on the floor, or whatever you decide to do when you get remotional, you don't wanna be wearing your Sunday best."

"So this is a club where people just come to-"


"But I thought REMO was-"

"It is."

"But so how do they-"

"Helen, dollface, you really gotta ask that?"

Helen felt dumb. In a city where cops visit a car-jacking operation just so they'll be able to deny it for a high personal Buzz yield, what's a little harmless REMO abuse among the rich?



They stared longer at the line. The people didn't seem to be interacting at all, just standing there patiently. No one was let in.

"So why 'The Gamble'?"

Busy shrugged.

"And you're sure this is where the Muslim lives."

"I double checked. I really don't know the deal, Miss H. We'll just hafta go take a look."

Rocket brushed up against Helen's leg, and whined.

"Besides," Busy continued, "it looks like your friend here's either hungry or needs to be let out, or both." He bent down and gave Rocket a rough but loving rub. "That right, Rocket? You ready to go?" The dog's tail went to work. "Yes you are. Yes you are." He stood back up. "First thing we gotta do," he said as he started back for the lift that had brought them to the room's lower level, "is go meet Blain." Helen followed close behind. "He's been looking into that warrant of yours so we know what we're up against."

"I'm really grateful," began Helen, but Busy raised his hand without looking back.

"Helen, there ain't no use being grateful. Like I said, if there weren't something in it for me, I wouldn't be doing it."

"Right," she said.

Helen couldn't help but wonder if this, like the fake-not-fake fear of heights, wasn't another instance of Busy trying to please his wife with extra Buzz production on the side, but she didn't question it too far. Helpful or selfish, some friendly fate was obviously shining favorably on her small adventure, and she didn't want to tempt or tease it. She'd come here on the strength of forces outside herself, and she'd come peacefully, releasing herself into the situation's momentum with either trust, resignation, or both. To begin struggling now would upset the rhythm of her journey, would jinx it. She followed Busy back into and down the hallway, not wondering whether he'd led her that way before, just watching his interaction with Rocket, the muted movements of the two seeming almost abstract without sound. Their playful shapes had little rhythm, tumbled together and apart unpredictably, their collisions alternately slowing them down and speeding them up. She thought of the broiling image of Seattle she'd seen, and of the transition Busy claimed was taking place. Would people truly sacrifice the sky for safety, she wondered? Would they give up sunsets for their fear of storms? She had to admit that she didn't find it altogether unpleasant underground. The stillness was profound. Words that when spoken above ground would scatter like they'd been waiting to be released were down here content to hang about one's own head, or fall softly to the floor. Everything seemed more personal, intentional. If above ground was a handshake, being underground was a hug. Helen thought of her house, the metal shutters on the windows. She realized that she could barely picture it from the outside. She'd memorized the roof from above, satellite imagery having replaced her own ground-level view some time ago, but what it looked like from, say, the side, or the backyard, was a mystery. She seemed to recall a red front door. But it could just as well have been brown. It was a fucking door.

They'd been walking for perhaps five minutes when Busy stopped at a spot midway down a completely bare hallway, and pushed his fingers into the wall. Helen watched the tendons on the top of his hand dance under visible veins, and he glanced up at her, smiled, and stood back, brushing his arm well into the wall until it disappeared to just above his elbow.

"After you," he mouthed.

Not quite used to this, Helen bent down, locked a finger around Rocket's collar, then closed her eyes as she stepped through the wall. When she opened them she was standing in a large, open room with a hardwood floor filled with people sitting behind big wooden desks. It was nothing like any of the other rooms she'd seen in the shop, and in fact unlike any room she'd seen for years. It reminded her of high school, a little, the large columns throughout the room holding up a ceiling much higher than she could see reason for. The desks had each their own area, complete with a rolling chair on one side, a stationary chair on the other, a floor lamp, and a coat rack. There were green metal machines in the middle of each desk that looked like typewriters, but smaller, each one with a long thin arm that ran front to back. The people at the desks were rapidly typing into the machines, and at odd intervals pulling the handle toward them and letting it spring back to its rest position. Helen took her earplugs out, letting the racket of keys enter, and gazed across the open space, trying to take it in, until her eyes found what was undoubtedly the strangest thing about the room. The wall opposite her was home to a series of floor to ceiling windows so big she hadn't noticed them at first. She could see that out beyond them was another wall of windows she couldn't see beyond. Helen bent down to take out Rocket's earplugs and turned up to Busy with a look of huh?

Busy gave the room an important look. "This is where we do the math," he said heavily.

"Oh," said Helen, "the math. I was wondering where that was done."

Everywhere people sat and stood, walked across the room, descended a staircase to one side and brushed past others coming up. The people behind the desks-mostly men-accepted paperwork from people they barely glanced at, and handed them back small tabs-receipts?-which were taken, pocketed, and packed back down the stairs. The stream of people was constant, the number high, and the process seemingly quite efficient. No one sat for long. No one waited. Business was good.

"It's also the legitimate side of the business," Busy added.

"So these people are..."

"Just normal folks that need a good, old-fashioned accountant."

They began walking down the side of the room and Helen saw that Blain was walking toward them. He appeared more relaxed than he'd been the last time she'd seen him, but he still wore a stern look that made Helen hope he wasn't bearing any more bad news.

Blain started speaking just on the inside of earshot, his low but loud voice crawling under the high-pitched jitter of the adding machines. "We're all set," he began. He didn't look at Helen. "You wanna..."

"Yeah," said Busy.

"Then let's go to the, ah," Blain turned to Helen, "you got your mask?"

"Yes," she said. She felt her bag for the object. "Yes," she repeated.

Blain looked at her a moment, then turned and led them farther along the wall.

"So what can you tell us about Helen's little legal problem?" Busy asked as they walked.

Helen stared out the enormous windows and tried to remind herself that she was still underground. It was light outside, though it was obviously not sunlight. It had a bluish tint which, though bright, had no warmth.

"Well, not much," Blain said.


"Meaning, I guess, that there was either some sloppy paperwork behind the order, or someone doesn't want people to know who's behind it."

"So everyone's just following orders, in other words."

Blain paused and looked back at Busy. "Guess so."


"Good news is," Blain continued, "it's just a normal warrant, looks like. Nothing weird."

"So the cops'll-"

"Yeah, they won't give a shit."

They started to make for the middle of the room where the stairs were.

"Helen," Busy said. He was walking behind her and to the side. She turned her head in acknowledgement. "I'm wondering if you want to bring Rocket along with you or not." He let the statement sit for a second. "He'd be perfectly safe here with us if you wanna leave him."

"Huh," she said. Helen hadn't even thought about the option of leaving Rocket. She'd assumed he'd come along. She thought about it as Blain guided them toward the stairs, and down. The lower level was a fraction of the size of the floor they'd been on, and looked more like a waiting room. There were couches along either wall, empty, and directly before them two large revolving doors that spun with people coming and going, fake palms to either side. She followed him to the foot of the stairs, Rocket at her feet and Busy close behind. She watched as the dog trotted around the room, sniffing things and glancing back to her after visiting each corner like a bomb-dog saying all clear. She didn't want to leave Rocket anywhere.

"Rocket's with me," she said, turning to Busy and looking him in the eye.

Busy nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "It's just that-"

"You're gonna halfta keep him on a leash," Blain said.

Helen looked at Rocket, who wasn't paying any attention.

"I don't have one," she said.

"Well then-"

"Well then we'll have to lend you one," Busy bent in, warm.

It was clear which was the good cop. She wasn't sure what Blain had against her, and frankly I don't think it had anything to do with Helen. I think it was just a matter of inconvenience. Blain went along with this with a tired acceptance; he knew it would cause more trouble to fight it but he wasn't therefore going to expend any more energy than necessary on the project, and was rather on the hunt for a good, sound reason to abandon it.

"You gonna let her use yours?" Blain asked.

"Yes," Busy said, flatly.

"What about-"

"What about him?

"Well he'll-"

"He'll be okay is what he'll be." Busy turned to Helen. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a coiled line with a leather handle. He handed it to her. "Helen, what's going to happen here is that Blain's going to-"

"Blain?" Helen said, despite herself. She knew immediately that she shouldn't have said it, that she sounded startled and upset.

"Helen, it's okay," Busy said. "Blain knows where you're going, and he'll take you there. He's knows this city better than anyone I know."

"Of course," Helen avoided eye contact with Blain, but nodded in what she hoped was a humble way.

"I've got to take care of some things, but I'll be meeting you out front of The Gamble in an hour or so and we'll see if this Asseem's the guy you're looking for."

Helen forced herself to look at Blain, who was looking at her dully. "Okay," she said.

Though I had of course no way to know for certain, I liked hearing that Busy would meet back up with them. Blain's apparent distaste for the whole errand made me itch. I'd never tracked anyone underground before, and if Blain short-cut them through any unpleasantness I was in for a long shift. Besides, the paperwork involved after even the most routine intervention is unbelievable.

Sometimes I wish I could drop the "job" part of watchjob, and just watch. No connection, no responsibility, nothing but me and Helen.

They took one step closer to the revolving doors, and Busy leaned down to give Rocket another rub. It was good to see Busy and Rocket get along. Helen considered it the most reliable sign that he was, in fact, on their side. How could he let anything happen to Rocket?

"You're gonna want to put that mask on now, Helen," Blain said.

She looked over at him and straight into the blank almond eyes of an AS-Mask, the forehead just beginning to disappear above his hairline. She nodded, and reached into her bag, pulling hers out too. She looked at Rocket.

"Rocket doesn't like them," she said, not expecting anything to change because of it.

Busy was still crouching beside the animal, and gave him a small squeeze. "He'll get used to it, won't you boy. Won't you." He nodded for her to put it on. "Yes you will. Yes you will." Rocket's tail wagged and he let out a brief, encouraging bark.

"It's okay, Rocket," she said in her most dog-optimistic tone. She grabbed the AS-Mask with both hands, and put it up to her face.

Read on to chapter 25...

International space cuisine

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 05, 2009

Borsch, sticky rice with sweet bean paste, duck cassoulet, and tvorog (Russian cottage cheese and nuts) are just a smattering of the culinary variety served up in space. On board the Discovery Space Shuttle, the various offerings reflect the amalgamation of nations that make up the ships temporary inhabitants. Recent Discovery visitor Danny Olivas brought a little American fare to the deck, perfecting the zero-g breakfast burrito. If you're looking to spice up your food between the stars, be warned: salt and pepper are only available in liquid form.

Update: Nuts aren't an essential ingredient of tvorog, and it's actually not cottage cheese at all. The thickened dairy treat is a relative of German quark, and is consumed throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Its add-ins vary depending on location, but vanilla and fruit are popular additives in both the Netherlands and Germany.

(thx tomek)

A tray for tea and tomes

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 05, 2009

Yu Hun Kim's reading tray prevents coffee stains and crumb-filled spines. Part of a series called "Aids for Multi-Tasking," the transparent, acrylic tray covers your magazine or book and features an indentation for your coffee mug. Imagine covering the surface in food and gradually eating your way through an article. But how do you turn a page?

The flight patterns of geese

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 05, 2009

Flying in the shape of a "v" allows geese to have an equal field of vision while conserving energy, using wingtip vortices to decrease any drag in flight. The bird in the front is working the hardest, but when the leader grows weary it rotates to a position farther back and allows another feathered pilot to take its place. This formation is so successful in conserving energy that birds who fly in "v" formations have been recorded to have lower heart rates than those who do not. If one of the birds flies out of formation, they will feel the increase in drag nudging them back into position. Perhaps most impressive, if a bird in the formation falls ill or is shot, two other birds will accompany it on the descent, aiding and protecting the injured bird until it either recovers or dies. The two helpful geese will then rejoin the formation.

Updates on previous entries for Oct 2, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 03, 2009

The original IBM ThinkPad orig. from Oct 02, 2009
Legos becoming just another single-use plastic toy orig. from Sep 08, 2009
The most beautiful suicide orig. from Jul 16, 2008

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

The giant pool of money, an update

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 02, 2009

This American Life recently aired a follow-up to their well-received program about the recent financial crisis called Return To The Giant Pool of Money.

We catch back up with the people we met in 2008, to see how they've fared over the last 18 months. We talk to Clarence Nathan, who in 2008 received a half million dollar loan that he said he wouldn't have given himself; Jim Finkel, a Wall Street finance guy, who put together and managed complicated mortgage-based financial securities; Richard Campbell, the Marine who was facing foreclosure; and Glen Pizzolorusso, the mortgage company sales manager who led the life of a b-list celebrity.

Bad words in the dictionary

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 02, 2009

Over the centuries, vulgar words like fuck and cunt have been included dictionaries, then cast out, then in again, then out, in, out, and so on.

One major problem dictionary editors face in defining sexual terms is deciding how explicit to be. Defining coitus as "an act of sexual intercourse" but leaving sexual intercourse undefined, for example (on the grounds that a reader could figure it out from the definitions of sexual and intercourse), would be a problem, not only because it makes the reader do too much page-flipping but also because the definitions probably still won't be sufficiently clear.

The rest of the article, by Jesse Sheidlower, the editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is deliciously vulgar and informative so be wary if you're easily offended and don't like information.

The original IBM ThinkPad

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 02, 2009

A promotional notepad given away by IBM was the inspiration for the computer giant's popular ThinkPad.

Think. Pad.

Update: And inspired directly by the brown leather cover of the notepad, the ThinkPad Reserve collection. (thx, saket)

8-bit trip

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 02, 2009

8-Bit Trip is the result of two brothers spending 1,500 hours moving LEGO bricks and taking pictures. An homage to 1980s video-games, it's considered by many to be the greatest among the micro-genre of LEGO music videos, sometimes known as brickfilms. Originally made famous by director Michel Gondry for his work with the White Stripes, these block-by-block masterpieces are now being put to more use than just trippy visuals for killer beats, recently there was a LEGO PSA for bicyclists, warning against the dangers of running red lights.

Food phobia

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 02, 2009

Dave Nunley is a food phobic in the UK who has primarily subsisted on grated cheddar cheese since birth. Although he's eating up to three times the amount of fat recommended for the average diet, he seems to be in fairly good health, save for a vitamin B deficiency.

This isn't as uncommon as you might think. Unlike fad diets that eschew one corner of the food pyramid for another, food phobia is an actual fear-based aversion to a particular kind of vittle, either due to taste, association, or texture. The disorder, which psychologists believe has links to obsessive compulsive disorder, can lead to nutritional deficits, a compromised immune system, and a lot of awkwardness at dinner parties. Orthorexia, a similar condition, is an obsession with healthful eating that can at times become so severe that it leads to anorexia, but food phobics find their meals dominated by their fear. Ironically, legendary egg-shaped director Alfred Hitchcock was an admitted ovophobe, and was "revolted" by eggs.

Update: It seems the Brits have cornered the market on uncovering food phobias. The show Freaky Eaters on BBC Three documents individuals with such severely restricted eating that they avoid certain food groups altogether. The show aims to help each person overcome their aversions and adopt a healthy diet.

(thx jodi)

Update: Another British export is the website Adult Picky Eaters, which aims to provide a forum and self-help information for those struggling with food issues. The author also documents her struggle with picky eating, and the comments on the site are pretty revealing.

(thx rob)

Beep baseball

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 02, 2009

Beep baseball is the classic American pastime adapted for the blind and visually impaired. In order to appreciate the athleticism of the game, and the fun that most sighted folks are missing, here's a video of beep baseball in action.

The ball used contains a beeping device that is loud enough to aid in sightless location. The six players on the field are helped by a sighted pitcher, who announces "pitch" or "ball" as they toss to a sighted catcher. Batters are allowed four strikes and one pass, but the fourth swing must be a clear, defined miss. The game has six innings, the standard three outs per inning, and two bases, not three. Baseball's traditional tile-like bases are replaced with padded cylinders that stand four feet tall and give off a distinct buzz once activated. The batter doesn't know which base will be activated, but must run to whichever sounds, tackling the base before defense has a chance to field the ball. If the runner makes it in time, a run is scored. Two sighted "spotters" also play the field and call out which direction the ball has headed using a system based on numbers assigned to each outfielder. Spotters can only announce one number, and the outfielders must communicate with each other to locate the ball. Cheering is discouraged because it interferes with play.

Update: A recent article from the Wall Street Journal documented the West Coast Dogs and their quest to win the World Series of beep baseball.

(thx jesse)

Amazing avalanche rescue video

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 02, 2009

A skier with a video camera on his helmet gets caught in an avalanche and then, four and a half minutes later, gets rescued. The good stuff starts around one minute in.

This was a decent sized avalanche. 1,500 feet the dude fell in a little over 20 seconds. The crown was about 1 - 1.5m. The chute that he got sucked through to the skier's right was flanked on either side by cliff bands that were about 30m tall. He luckily didn't break any bones and obviously didn't hit anything on the run out.

I had always assumed — and this is likely based almost entirely on an episode of The Simpsons — that you had options when buried by an avalanche...like digging yourself out or at least being able to move. Not so says the Utah Avalanche Center FAQ:

It doesn't matter which way is up. You can't dig yourself out of avalanche debris. It's like you are buried in concrete. Your friends must dig you out.

The FAQ contains a story by the director of the UAC about surviving an avalanche of his own; he confirms the concrete-like hardness of post-avalanche snow.

But after a long while, after I was about to pass out from lack of air, the avalanche began to slow down and the tumbling finally stopped. I was on the surface and I could breathe again. But as I bobbed along on the soft, moving blanket of snow, which had slowed from about 50 miles per hour to around 30, I discovered that my body was quite a bit denser than avalanche debris and it tended to sink if it wasn't swimming hard. [...] Eventually, the swimming worked, and when the avalanche finally came to a stop I found myself buried only to my waist, breathing hard, very wet and very cold.

I remembered from the avalanche books that debris instantly sets up like concrete as soon as it comes to a stop but its one of those facts that you don't entirely believe. But sure enough, everything below the snow surface was like a body cast. Barehanded, (the first thing an avalanche does is rip off your hat and mittens) I chipped away at the rock-hard snow with my shovel for a good 5 minutes before I could finally work my legs free.

Hammer vs. feather on the Moon

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 02, 2009
Nothing like a little science on the Moon, I always say.

Astronaut David Scott in 1971, from the Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Journal. Scott was part of the Apollo 15 crew, and applied Galileo's findings about gravity and mass by testing a falcon feather and a hammer. The film, shown in countless high school physics classes, is the nerdy, oft-neglected cousin of Neil Armstrong's space paces.

Bringing the oyster back to New York

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 01, 2009

Michael Osinski grows oysters out on Long Island, now an unusual pursuit in an area that used to support dozens of oyster companies...New York used to be the place for oysters (see also).

If you'd like to try them out, Widow's Hole sells their oysters to several NYC restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and Bouley. Osinski achieved a bit of notoriety earlier this year when he wrote an article about his experience writing software for Wall Street firms called My Manhattan Project: How I helped build the bomb that blew up Wall Street. (via serious eats)

Hide and go fetch

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 01, 2009

A new study concludes that babies and dogs do not have an advanced ability to read social cues, but that wolves do. Using a hiding-and-finding game, scientists at University of Iowa and Indiana University have concluded that babies and dogs are distracted by social cues such as adults' facial expressions and vocal interactions, and that they don't have a unique or enhanced ability to recall where an object is hidden simply based on social cues alone. Wolves, and older babies, performed better in the study, and were more capable of remembering where the object was hidden. Professor John Spencer, who was at the helm of the research, understands that this could be a difficult fact for parents and pet owners to accept.

"In our view, this is something to celebrate — that we can bring social cognition together with basic cognitive processes. The downside, of course, is that infants, and by analogy dogs, don't have a special mind-reading ability. For some people, that's an unpleasant pill to swallow."

The study was in direct response to one from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences last year, which had found that babies were quite apt at object recall based when the experimenters interacted with them. The oppositional findings raise an interesting question when it comes to our newest arrivals' cleverness. It remains to be seen how good wolves are at Memory.

Ardi, oldest known skeleton of a human ancestor

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 01, 2009

Internet, meet Ardi, the newest member of the human branch of the primate family tree.


Or rather, the oldest. Discovered in Ethiopia in 1994, Ardi is a 4.4 million-year-old partial skeleton of a female Ardipithecus ramidus.

The fossil puts to rest the notion, popular since Darwin's time, that a chimpanzee-like missing link — resembling something between humans and today's apes — would eventually be found at the root of the human family tree. Indeed, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior — long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors — is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings.

Ardi instead shows an unexpected mix of advanced characteristics and of primitive traits seen in much older apes that were unlike chimps or gorillas. As such, the skeleton offers a window on what the last common ancestor of humans and living apes might have been like.

This is a major discovery; Science is devoting a special issue to the find with 11 detailed peer-review papers and general summaries. I expect we'll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks as all that science filters through the lay media. (thx, jeff)

A unified theory of Superman's powers

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 01, 2009

Here's the abstract of a new paper seeking to explain Superman's powers.

Since Time immemorial, man has sought to explain the powers of Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman. Siegel et al. Supposed that His mighty strength stems from His origin on another planet whose density and as a result, gravity, was much higher than our own. Natural selection on the planet of krypton would therefore endow Kal El with more efficient muscles and higher bone density; explaining, to first order, Superman's extraordinary powers. Though concise, this theory has proved inaccurate. It is now clear that Superman is actually flying rather than just jumping really high; and His freeze-breath, x-ray vision, and heat vision also have no account in Seigel's theory.

In this paper we propose a new unfied theory for the source of Superman's powers; that is to say, all of Superman's extraordinary powers are manifestation of one supernatural ability, rather than a host. It is our opinion that all of Superman's recognized powers can be unified if His power is the ability to manipulate, from atomic to kilometer length scales, the inertia of His own and any matter with which He is in contact.


posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 01, 2009

Livermush is a combination of pig scraps and cornmeal, and inhabits some culinary purgatory between meatloaf and corndog. Brought to the South in the 1700s by resourceful German immigrants who migrated from the Northern colonies, true livermush contains at least 30% pig parts and uses cornmeal as the binding ingredient. It is often fried like a patty and served in sandwich form, with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Many people confuse livermush with liver pudding, and although the distinction between the two is somewhat vague, it's generally accepted that liver mush is the meal to the west of the Yadkin River, while liver pudding is the staple snack of the east.

Once a cornerstone of North Carolinian cuisine, there are signs that this "working man's staple" is dropping off menus. It appears that only five commercial producers are still churning out the meat mixture all of them family-owned and operated, all of them in North Carolina. Jerry Hunter, a livermush manufacturer in the town of Marion, laments the recent downturn.

"We're still running a fairly good volume, but a whole lot of us wish we could see better times. It's not just livermush. All of us is struggling to stay in existence."

Not everyone is forgetting about livermush. Areas like Marion have begun hosting livermush festivals, hoping to create a resurgence. Perhaps it just needs a few high-profile sponsors to bolster its gustatory delights. To start, the wife of former Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome was asked what he was going to miss most after being acquired by Philadelphia, and she answered, "Livermush."

Update: Liver lovers rejoice, various forms similar to the 'mush are alive and well. Goetta is a German ground meat and oat loaf that is also referred to as "Cincinnati caviar," due to its popularity in the area.

(thx alex)

Update: And Mr. Thorme hopefully discovered the Philadelphia equivalent of livermush, known as scrapple. A mixture of pork bits and cornmeal, this combination is enhanced with flour, buckwheat, and spices.

(thx tim)

Update: In Northwest Ohio they have a livermush-like mixture that's sold in brick form. It's called grits, though it's different from the corn-based breakfast porridge that's also known as southern, or hominy, grits.

(thx jeff)

How to rob a bank

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 01, 2009

A quick how-to summary of the daring and thus-far successful robbery of a Stockholm cash depot by helicopter last week. Sounds like something out of a movie. From the CNN report, this is the best part:

Swedish police couldn't pursue the thieves because a bag marked "bomb" had been placed outside the police heliport, and officers had to deal with the bag before they could enter the heliport. It is unclear whether the bag contained a bomb.

Unclear? Really? I'm surprised the bag didn't say ACME on the side of it.

Junk mail portrait artist

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 01, 2009

The art of Sandhi Schimmel Gold is junk. The artist uses junk mail to create semi-mosaic'ed handmade portraits. Using advertising ephemera and all kinds of textures and colors, she's constructed representations of Frank Sinatra, Kurt Vonnegut, Jackie O, and Audrey Hepburn, among others. She combines painting with collage to render faces that are unbelievably detailed and realistic. If you want to see what Schimmel would do with your visage you can commission a piece. I'd like to see my neighbor's mug constructed from of all of his Cabela's catalogs that find themselves in my mailbox.

Sweater tree

posted by Ainsley Drew Oct 01, 2009

A tree in Baltimore recently was bestowed with its sweater for the colder months. Local knitters constructed a garment specifically for the tree, with the only restriction being that they had to use white, green, and purple yarn. The latest sweater replaces last year's style, which was removed for the dog days.

"We actually made a little bikini for it for the summer, but it fell apart."

The sweater tree is an example of a growing urban phenomenon called yarn bombing, aka yarnstorming or graffiti knitting. Yarn bombing is believed to have its roots in Texas, where it was invented as a way for knitters to creatively utilize their unfinished knitting projects. Common targets are telephone poles, trees, and banisters, but in Mexico City, yarn bombers aimed their knitting needles at a more ambitious endeavor: a yarn-covered bus.

Update: It appears that yarnbombing has reached the streets of Dunsborough, a fairly rural area of Western Australia. Wrapped, a collective of knitters between the ages of 8 and 87, has taken over the streets with their purled pieces. In September, the group got together and crafted wraps, pom-poms, and finger knittings that are being placed on signs, trees, and poles by a group of "knitting taggers" during the month of October. Their goal is to promote knitting events in the area, and to make a difference in the community by spreading woolly good will. The sweater swaths have tags affixed that direct the viewer to their website where they outline the project.

(thx dave)

Updates on previous entries for Sep 30, 2009*

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 01, 2009

Missed connections, illustrated orig. from Sep 25, 2009
Compubeaver orig. from Sep 30, 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.

Archives    September 2009 »    August 2009 »    July 2009 »