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Entries for July 2017 (August 2017 »    September 2017 »    October 2017 »    Archives)

 

The most beautiful shots in film of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Ignacio Montalvo compiled a list of the most beautiful scenes pulled from dozens of movies from the first part of this century and edited them into a succinct video less than 3 minutes long. He included scenes from movies like Spirited Away, Kill Bill, Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moulin Rogue, Children of Men, Wall-E, Melancholia, and Interstellar.

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.

The infinite auditory illusion that makes the Dunkirk soundtrack so intense (and good)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

I remarked on Twitter recently that “Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Dunkirk is outstanding”. The music blends perfectly with the action on the screen without being overbearing; it’s perhaps the best marriage of sound and visuals I’ve experienced in a movie theater since Mad Max: Fury Road or even Tron: Legacy.1

Zimmer and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan achieved that effect by utilizing an auditory illusion called the Shepard tone, a sound that appears to infinitely rise (or fall) in pitch — the video above refers to it as “a barber’s pole of sound”. From a Business Insider interview with Nolan:

The screenplay had been written according to musical principals. There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a “Shepard tone” and with my composer David Julyan on “The Prestige” we explored that and based a lot of the score around that. And it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals. Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking and we started to build the track out of that sound and then working from that sound we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there’s a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve before.

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this — because it fits somewhere between “unpopular opinion” and “embarrassing admission” on the scale of things one doesn’t talk about in public — but seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D IMAX was one of the top 5 movie-going experiences of my life. The Light Cycle battle was 80 feet tall and because of the 3D glasses, it looked like it extended out from the screen to immediately in front of my face, to the point where I actually reached out and tried to touch it a couple times. And all the while, Daft Punk was pounding into my brain from who knows how many speakers. I was not on drugs and hadn’t been drinking, but it was one of the most mind-altering experiences of my life.

An unusual take on the M.C. Escher cube optical illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

This impossible M.C. Escher-esque cube broke my brain a little bit. And you might get some ASMR tingles when the cube snaps back into place right at the end. Mmmmmm.

Here’s what’s wrong with the “relax, the world is better than ever” arguments

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

In recent years, commentators like Max Roser, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, and Matt Ridley have argued contrary to the prevailing mood that our world increasingly resembles a dumpster fire, things have actually never been better. Here’s Kristof for instance arguing that 2017 will likely be the best year in the history of the world:

Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.

In a long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman does not dispute that the world’s population is better off than it was 200 years by any number of metrics. But he does argue that this presumably bias-free examination of the facts is also a political argument with several implications and assumptions.

But the New Optimists aren’t primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago. (Even if you’re a card-carrying pessimist, you probably didn’t need convincing of that fact.) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further — though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists — that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than just believing that things aren’t as bad as you imagined: it means having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon.

What things are like right now are the result of past actions. But the world to come is the result of what’s happening right now and what will happen in the next few years. Momentum (mass times velocity) is a powerful thing in a big world, but it’s not everything. It’s a bit like saying “ok, we’ve got the car up to speed” then letting up on the gas and expecting to continue to accelerate.

The New Optimists “describe a world in which human agency doesn’t seem to matter, because there are these evolved forces that are moving us in the right direction,” Runciman says. “But human agency does still matter… human beings still have the capacity to mess it all up. And it may be that our capacity to mess it up is growing.”

And just because things are good now doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better or start heading in the other direction soon.

But after steeping yourself in their work, you begin to wonder if all their upbeat factoids really do speak for themselves. For a start, why assume that the correct comparison to be making is the one between the world as it was, say, 200 years ago, and the world as it is today? You might argue that comparing the present with the past is stacking the deck. Of course things are better than they were. But they’re surely nowhere near as good as they ought to be. To pick some obvious examples, humanity indisputably has the capacity to eliminate extreme poverty, end famines, or radically reduce human damage to the climate. But we’ve done none of these, and the fact that things aren’t as terrible as they were in 1800 is arguably beside the point.

Read the whole thing…it’s a solid defense against a sentiment I find increasingly irksome.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

From an excerpt of Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Those two sentences are a pretty good way to sum up the human experience. As an exercise, think about how the world’s major religions and philosophies are attempts to help people manage these desires and acceptance.

A big list of the best feminist children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

Feminist children's books

Buzzfeed recently asked their readers for their favorite feminist children’s books. Their responses included Matilda by Roald Dahl, Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, and, of course, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Harry Potter is also on the list because Hermione Granger is amazing.

Beautiful time lapse storm footage from spring 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

Stormchaser Mike Olbinski is back with his latest time lapse video of clouds and storm footage he shot this spring.

The work on this film began on March 28th and ended June 29th. There were 27 total days of actual chasing and many more for traveling. I drove across 10 states and put over 28,000 new miles on the ol’ 4Runner. I snapped over 90,000 time-lapse frames. I saw the most incredible mammatus displays, the best nighttime lightning and structure I’ve ever seen, a tornado birth caught on time-lapse and a display of undulatus asperatus that blew my mind. Wall clouds, massive cores, supercell structures, shelf clouds…it ended up being an amazing season and I’m so incredibly proud of the footage in this film.

The lightning storms and undulatus asperatus clouds at the end of the video are just flat-out spectacular.

The voices in your head don’t tell the truth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

A recent job loss left Byrne Reese feeling depressed. He sought advice from his stepfather, who has struggled with depression for much of his life.

The voices in your head don’t tell the truth. They are determined to be heard, revered, awed; to get you to hear them at all times — to take them very seriously. They want to be looked upon as the voice of God. Nothing modest about them.

To achieve their goals they lie like crazy. They know you — have been around you a long, long time.

They know the lies you will buy, the ones you cannot dismiss — they know all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and they are going to work on you as only a great Pro can.

Remember they have your brain so finely tuned, and aware of all your knowledge and insight. They are going play the whole shebang against you.

They are going to lie to you as you’ve never been lied to before. It’s a crisis and they know how to savage you. This is their chance to take you over, to ground you down into fine nonexistence. To powder.

Gorgeous trees on display at the 2017 World Bonsai Convention

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

Bonsai 2017

Bonsai 2017

The 8th World Bonsai Convention was recently held in Saitama, Japan. Billed as “the Olympics of the bonsai world”, over 300 trees were on display and one of them sold for ¥100,000,000 ($900,000). Japanistry and Bonsai Tree have some photos of the outstanding trees shown at the event. Bonsai Tonight also has some photos and descriptions of the trees from the convention, but I wish the photos were bigger. (via @sluicing)

Update: Bonsai Tonight made some larger photos available, so I couldn’t help including this one, from a post on the satsuki azalea bonsai, many of which were in full bloom.

Bonsai 2017

Beautiful. (thx, Bonsai Tonight

A timeline of women’s fashion from 1784-1970

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

Fashion Plates 1784-1970

Part of the appeal of watching period shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey that happen over the course of many years is observing how fashion changes. Collected from a number of fashion plates, this image shows what a woman might have worn each year from 1784 to 1970. (I’m guessing the image only goes up through 1970 because photography made fashion plates increasingly irrelevant.)

Fashion plates do not usually depict specific people. Instead they take the form of generalized portraits, which simply dictate the style of clothes that a tailor, dressmaker, or store could make or sell, or demonstrate how different materials could be made up into clothes. The majority can be found in lady’s fashion magazines which began to appear during the last decades of the eighteenth century.

The above-the-knee dress makes its first appearance in the late 1920s (and then not again until the 60s) and everything is a dress or a skirt until the pantsuit in 1970.

During the 1960s trouser suits for women became increasingly widespread. Designers such as Foale and Tuffin in London and Luba Marks in the United States were early promoters of trouser suits. In 1966 Yves Saint-Laurent introduced his Le Smoking, an evening pantsuit for women that mimicked a man’s tuxedo. Whilst Saint-Laurent is often credited with introducing trouser suits, it was noted in 1968 that some of his pantsuits were very similar to designs that had already been offered by Luba Marks, and the London designer Ossie Clark had offered a trouser suit for women in 1964 that predated Saint Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’ design by two years. In Britain a social watershed was crossed in 1967 when Lady Chichester, wife of the navigator Sir Francis Chichester, wore a trouser suit when her husband was publicly knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The last item about Lady Chichester was marked with a “citation needed” on Wikipedia, but I found a YouTube video of Chichester’s knighting and sure enough, his wife is wearing a bright red pantsuit (and he’s wearing what looks like a baseball cap (but is likely a sailor’s cap)).

A visual explanation of quantum mechanics

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

From the ViaScience YouTube channel comes this 31-part video explainer of quantum mechanics. As the introduction video notes, there is a fair bit of math in these videos presented at a quick pace, but if you took calculus in high school or college and remember the notation, that (and the pause button) should get you through this pretty well. (via @jsonpaul, who calls the series “fantastic”)

One way to deconstruct a movie, using There Will Be Blood as an example

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Evan Puschak takes us behind the curtain at the Nerdwriter a little bit and shows us that one way to deconstruct a movie is by counting the number of cuts. If you do this with PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood for example, you’ll notice that the average scene is quite long compared to most contemporary movies, which makes the viewer pay more attention to each cut.

Minimalist geometric animated GIFs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Vayssouze-Faure

Vayssouze Faure

I love all these simple geometric animations by Frédéric Vayssouze-Faure. (via colossal)

A subway-style map of the Roman roads of Britain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Trubetskoy Britain Map

After completing his subway-style map of the roads of the entire Roman Empire, Sasha Trubetskoy began work on a highly requested follow-up: a similar map of the Roman roads in Britain.

This was far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. Not only were there way more Roman Roads in Britain than I initially thought, but also their exact locations and extents are not very clear. In a few places I had to get rather creative with the historical evidence.

As Wikipedia notes, most of the roads were completed by 180 AD and many of them are still in use today.

After the Romans departed, systematic construction of paved highways in the UK did not resume until the early 18th century. The Roman road network remained the only nationally-managed highway system within Britain until the establishment of the Ministry of Transport in the early 20th century.

The Shape of Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) is out with a new movie this fall called The Shape of Water.

…an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda discover a secret classified experiment.

As the trailer reveals, the secret is a merman, who Elisa befriends and attempts to help. Pan’s Labyrinth was a masterpiece and this trailer has me hoping that The Shape of Water is in that same zip code.

What is it like to be white?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2017

Here’s Fran Lebowitz talking about race in the US in a 1997 Vanity Fair interview:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common — and I use the word “common” in its every sense — to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at — or actually in — their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like — other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

(via @amirtalai)

Pablo Escobar’s hippos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2017

At the height of his power and wealth in the 1980s, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was one of the richest men in the world. On one of his many properties, Escobar built a private zoo, complete with animals from around the world, including zebras, rhinos, ostriches, and hippos.

As Escobar’s power waned and he was eventually killed, the animals in his zoo were transferred to proper zoos…except for four hippos that escaped into the wilderness. Nature did its thing and now the Colombian wild hippo population stands at nearly 40 and could rise to 100 in the next decade.

The winners of the Magnum Photography Awards 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

The legendary Magnum Photos agency has announced the winners of their second annual Magnum Photography Awards. You can peruse the full selection of the winners, finalists, and juror’s picks on Lens Culture. The photos above are by (respectively) Nick Hannes, MD Tanveer Rohan, and Antonio Gibotta.

How did you know you’d found your person?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

Laura Olin recently asked the readers of the Everything Changes mailing list how they knew they’d found the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with. Some of the responses might, well, is anyone chopping onions in here?

I first began dating my now husband back in the fall of 2008. It was only a couple of years after my father had passed away from lung cancer and the anniversary of his death was particularly difficult in those early years of heart aching loss as one might imagine. I warned him when the date was nearing because I wouldn’t be myself in the undertow of sadness that would take me. Fast forward a couple of years into our relationship, we had moved in together and shared our Google calendars with each other to make making plans and tracking things easier for the both of us (I would make plans without consulting him or have dinner with friends and forget to tell him and he’d have no idea where I was…whoops!). I was scrolling through into June to make some camping reservations and came across a note on June 26th on his calendar. He had made a note that just had my name and the words “Dad day”. That’s when I knew he was my person. He had marked down my sad day to be there for me. He has shown me in the almost 9 years we’ve been together so many other thoughtful ways he cares about me, but that was the moment.

I was only going to share one story but:

I have had two persons in my life; my late husband, and my best friend. I met my best friend one day in college; I hardly knew her, though I knew of her. For some reason, she wandered into my dorm room one afternoon, and burst into tears. She’d just had an abortion. I remember that I looked at her and thought, she’s my best friend forever. It was like a thunderbolt. She says something similar happened to her. We later discovered our dads had gone to the same high school in Cleveland, and that she and I had been born in the same hospital in Columbus, two months to the day apart, even though I then moved 2500 miles away from that town. We now work together and have for ten years. I think we’ll probably form a commune in Maine in twenty years and be together till the end.

My late husband…well, I was in Chicago, and struggling with whether to move to New York. I liked Chicago and didn’t want to leave, but my boyfriend at the time really wanted to go. But I woke up one more morning and just knew: If I move to New York, my life will change. So I did, and eighteen months after that, I got a call from a man named Peter, who needed to make a hire at his newspaper. We met at Grand Central and while I didn’t yet know he was going to be my husband, while I wasn’t even especially attracted to him physically, I was crazily attracted to him as a human being. I came home that night and told myself: I have to find a way to work for this man. I did. Two years later we were together, and we belonged to each other for 17 years. He died four years ago. His last week in the hospital, he held my hand and said, “You’re my person.”

So many onions.

40 hours (and counting) of relaxing Planet Earth II sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

The producers of Planet Earth II (aka probably the best thing I’ve watched in the past year) shot a loooooot of footage for the program. Most of it got cut, but they’ve cut some of it together into these 10-hour videos of relaxing sights and sounds. So far, they’ve done mountains, the jungle, island, and desert.

A timeline map of the massive increase in human-caused earthquakes in Oklahoma

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

In just the past 10 years, the number of earthquakes in the central US (and particularly Oklahoma) has risen dramatically. In the 7-year period ending in 2016, there were more than three times the number of magnitude 3.0+ earthquakes than in the previous 36 years. Above is a video timeline of Oklahoma earthquakes from 2004-2016. At around the midpoint of the video, you’ll probably say, “wow, that’s crazy”. Keep watching.

These earthquakes are induced earthquakes, i.e. they are caused by humans. Fracking can cause induced earthquakes but the primary cause is pumping wastewater back into the ground. From the United States Geological Survey’s page on induced earthquake myths & misconceptions (a summarized version of this paper):

Wastewater disposal wells typically operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than hydraulic fracturing, making them more likely to induce earthquakes. Enhanced oil recovery injects fluid into rock layers where oil and gas have already been extracted, while wastewater injection often occurs in never-before-touched rocks. Therefore, wastewater injection can raise pressure levels more than enhanced oil recovery, and thus increases the likelihood of induced earthquakes.

Of course, this wastewater is a byproduct of any oil & gas production, including fracking. But specifically in Oklahoma’s case, the induced earthquakes have relatively little to do with fracking:

In contrast, in Oklahoma spent hydraulic fracturing fluid represents 10% or less of the fluids disposed of in salt-water disposal wells in Oklahoma (Murray, 2013). The vast majority of the fluid that is disposed of in disposal wells in Oklahoma is produced water. Produced water is the salty brine from ancient oceans that was entrapped in the rocks when the sediments were deposited. This water is trapped in the same pore space as oil and gas, and as oil and gas is extracted, the produced water is extracted with it. Produced water often must be disposed in injection wells because it is frequently laden with dissolved salts, minerals, and occasionally other materials that make it unsuitable for other uses.

The 12 signature characteristics of a Christopher Nolan film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

This short video from ScreenPrism details the 12 things you’ll find in a Christopher Nolan film, from non-linear storytelling to moral ambiguity to ambiguous endin…

My favorite observation in the video is that Nolan films his movies from the subjective point of view of his characters, so that the viewer often only knows as much as a characters know, which turns the audience into detectives, trying to unravel mysteries alongside the characters.

If you enjoyed that, ScreenPrism has also made a longer video that takes a more extensive look at Nolan’s career patterns and influences.

A photo appreciation of trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

Trees

Trees

I’ve been on a bit of a tree bender lately (see wolf trees and one tree, one year), so I really enjoyed Alan Taylor’s recent A Walk in the Woods: A Photo Appreciation of Trees.

The top photo was taken by Clément Bucco-Lechat in Hong Kong. And the bottom photo was taken by Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi of Reuters:

Dragon’s Blood trees, known locally as Dam al-Akhawain, or blood of the two brothers, on Socotra island on March 27, 2008. Prized for its red medicinal sap, the Dragon’s Blood is the most striking of 900 plant species on the Socotra islands in the Arabian Sea, 380 km (238 miles) south of mainland Yemen.

I love how the roots of one tree and the branches of another resemble one another.

Young Explorers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

Young Explorers is a wonderful series of short films by Jacob Krupnick that follow toddlers who have recently mastered walking as they explore the wide world on their own. Fair warning: as a parent, the solo NYC street crossing scene gave me a heart attack!

Kids do not want to be contained — they are built for adventure. As a culture, we are wildly protective of our little ones, often to the point of protecting them from happy accidents and mistakes they might learn from. “Young Explorers” is a series of short films about what happens when you allow kids who are very young — who have just learned to walk by themselves — to explore the world completely on their own.

There are ten films in all so far, two of which are available on Vimeo (embedded above). They are on display outside the ICP Museum in NYC until July 23.

Why is the upcoming total solar eclipse such a big deal?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Well, the short answer is that they don’t happen all that often and when they do, they’ve visible from only a small bit of Earth. Joss Fong elaborates in a video for Vox.

The next total solar eclipse to visit the US will be in 2024. If an eclipse happens to come to your town, you’re lucky. Any given location will see a total solar eclipse only once in more than 300 years, on average. The vast majority of us will have to travel to an eclipse path if we want to see a total eclipse in our lifetimes.

I’m off to Nebraska in August to meet up with some friends and see the eclipse. (And that 2024 eclipse Fong mentions? The path of totality goes right over my damn house. Woooo!) But no matter where you are in North America, you can enjoy the eclipse…just make sure you buy some safety glasses (and other supplies) if you want to look directly at the Sun. (via @veganstraightedge)

Your world just keeps expanding (if you want it to)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Moon landing, but it’s also my pal Mike Monteiro’s birthday. He wrote a really moving essay on what turning 50 means to him, and how he’s expanded his personal definition of “us” and “we” along the way, moving from his family, to his immigrant community, to a group of punk art school outcasts, to a wider and wider world full of people who are more similar than different.

When we arrived in the United States in 1970, we settled in Philadelphia because it was the home of a lot of Portuguese immigrants from the small town my parents (and I guess me) came from. And so the we grew from a family unit to a community of immigrants who looked out for each other. We shopped at a Portuguese grocery store because they gave us credit. We rented from a Portuguese landlord because he wasn’t concerned about a rental history. And my parents worked for Portuguese businesses because we didn’t come here to steal jobs, but to create them.

This same community also looked out for each other. When there was trouble, we were there. When someone was laid off a construction job for the winter, we cooked and delivered meals. When someone’s son ended up in jail, we found bail. And when someone’s relative wanted to immigrate, we lined up jobs and moved money to the right bank accounts to prove solvency.

But as anyone who has ever grown up in an immigrant community knows, we also demands a them. They were not us. And they didn’t see us as them either. And at the risk of airing immigrant dirty laundry in public, I can attest that immigrant communities can be racist as fuck. We hated blacks. We hated Puerto Ricans. (It wasn’t too long ago I had to ask my mom to stop talking about “lazy Puerto Ricans” in front of her half-Puerto Rican grandchildren.) We hated Jews. In our eagerness to show Americans we belonged, we adopted their racism. (We also brought some of our own with us.)

I cried about three times reading this. Happy birthday, Mike.

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

48 years ago today, the lunar module from the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. Later that same day, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the module, set foot on the surface, and went for a walk. And the entire world watched them do it. Live.

For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project:

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

This is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done, and it almost didn’t happen this year. I woke up this morning assuming it was just going to work again, just like it had the previous 8 years, but a bit of testing revealed that YouTube had discontinued the API I was using to display and time the videos. I wasn’t sure I had the JavaScript chops to fix it in time for the big show this afternoon. Luckily, I was able to solicit some help on Twitter and as the internet continues to be absolutely amazing, Geoff Stearns fixed the problem. As he said in his tweet, Stearns works for Google and wrote the YouTube API that had been discontinued, which is a bit like Marshall McLuhan popping out from behind a poster in Annie Hall, but instead of saying “you know nothing of my work”, he says “I’m gonna fix this up real quick”. Reader, it took him 14 minutes from saying “I’ll help” to posting the solution, and I’d bet half of that time was spent running to the fridge for a LaCroix and selecting the proper coding playlist on Spotify. So big thanks to Geoff for making this happen today! And thanks also to Brian Seward, who landed a solution in my inbox a bit after Geoff’s.

Oh, and no more Flash! So it’ll work on any modern browser with no plugins. But I tested it on my phone and it still doesn’t seem to work properly there…the video loads but doesn’t autoplay. Something to improve for next year!

Fictional names for British towns generated by a neural net

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Dan Hon recently trained a neural net to generate a list of fictional British placenames. The process is fairly simple…you train a program on a real list of placenames and it “brainstorms” new names based on patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable”…and often hilarious. Here are some of my favorites from his list:

Heaton on Westom
Brumlington
Stoke of Inch
Batchington Crunnerton
Salt, Earth
Wallow Manworth
Crisklethe’s Chorn
Ponkham Bark
Buchlingtomptop
Broad Romble
Fuckley

See also auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds.

Update: Tom Taylor did a similar thing last year using Tensorflow. Here are a few of his fictional names:

Allers Bottom
Hendrelds Hill
St Ninhope
Up Maling
Firley Dinch

There’s also an associated Twitter bot. (via @philgyford)

Also, Dan Connolly had a look at the etymology of the names on Hon’s list.

Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.

I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!

Mad Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

On the 10th anniversary of the premiere of Mad Men, Caroline Framke wrote about how the the women on the show changed a great deal (in contrast to the men).

When we first meet Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway, they’re secretaries who know they’re smart, but are also staring down an endless row of grinning frat-guy superiors and trying to be realistic about their chances of success beyond their assigned desks. Betty Draper is barely a blip on the radar, only appearing in the final minutes of the episode as the twist of Don’s suburban life. And while Peggy’s storyline in season one develops into an obvious parallel to Don’s as she reveals a knack for advertising, Joan was never supposed to become the powerhouse she became down the line. In fact, as per creator Matthew Weiner, Joan’s original purpose was just to be a “courtesan” who taught people the ways of the office. Eventually, all three women reveal rich inner lives their male counterparts never bothered to consider were there, and create the kind of lives they once assumed they never could have.

I rewatched the entire run of Mad Men a few months ago and what moves the show from “really good” territory to “all-time great” territory is the emphasis on the women. As Framke notes, Don Draper pretty much ends up where he starts off while the real hero’s journey in the show is undertaken by Betty, Joan, and especially Peggy. Had they stayed on the sidelines, the show would have been far less interesting.

Beating cancer is a team sport

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The tumor has been removed and McCain is recovering at home with his family. I wish Senator McCain well and hope for a speedy recovery.

In the wake of his diagnosis, many of those expressing support for McCain reference his considerable personal strength in his fight against cancer. President Obama said:

John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.

McCain’s daughter Meghan references his toughness and fearlessness in a statement released yesterday. Vice-President Joe Biden expressed similar sentiments on Twitter:

John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong — and he will beat this.

This is the right thing to say to those going through something like this, and hearing this encouragement and having the will & energy to meet this challenge will undoubtably increase McCain’s chances of survival. But what Biden said next is perhaps more relevant:

Incredible progress in cancer research and treatment in just the last year offers new promise and new hope. You can win this fight, John.

As with polio, smallpox, measles, and countless other diseases before it, beating cancer is not something an individual can do. Being afflicted with cancer is the individual’s burden to bear but society’s responsibility to cure. In his excellent biography of cancer from 2011, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee talks about the progress we’ve made on cancer:

Incremental advances can add up to transformative changes. In 2005, an avalanche of papers cascading through the scientific literature converged on a remarkably consistent message — the national physiognomy of cancer had subtly but fundamentally changed. The mortality for nearly every major form of cancer — lung, breast, colon, and prostate — had continuously dropped for fifteen straight years. There had been no single, drastic turn but rather a steady and powerful attrition: mortality had declined by about 1 percent every year. The rate might sound modest, but its cumulative effect was remarkable: between 1990 and 2005, the cancer-specific death rate had dropped nearly 15 percent, a decline unprecedented in the history of the disease. The empire of cancer was still indubitably vast — more than half a million American men and women died of cancer in 2005 — but it was losing power, fraying at its borders.

What precipitated this steady decline? There was no single answer but rather a multitude. For lung cancer, the driver of decline was primarily prevention — a slow attrition in smoking sparked off by the Doll-Hill and Wynder-Graham studies, fueled by the surgeon general’s report, and brought to its full boil by a combination of political activism (the FTC action on warning labels), inventive litigation (the Banzhaf and Cipollone cases), medical advocacy, and countermarketing (the antitobacco advertisements). For colon and cervical cancer, the declines were almost certainly due to the successes of secondary prevention — cancer screening. Colon cancers were detected at earlier and earlier stages in their evolution, often in the premalignant state, and treated with relatively minor surgeries. Cervical cancer screening using Papanicolaou’s smearing technique was being offered at primary-care centers throughout the nation, and as with colon cancer, premalignant lesions were excised using relatively minor surgeries. For leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer, in contrast, the declining numbers reflected the successes of chemotherapeutic treatment. In childhood ALL, cure rates of 80 percent were routinely being achieved. Hodgkin’s disease was similarly curable, and so, too, were some large-cell aggressive lymphomas. Indeed, for Hodgkin’s disease, testicular cancer, and childhood leukemias, the burning question was not how much chemotherapy was curative, but how little: trials were addressing whether milder and less toxic doses of drugs, scaled back from the original protocols, could achieve equivalent cure rates.

Perhaps most symbolically, the decline in breast cancer mortality epitomized the cumulative and collaborative nature of these victories — and the importance of attacking cancer using multiple independent prongs. Between 1990 and 2005, breast cancer mortality had dwindled an unprecedented 24 percent. Three interventions had potentially driven down the breast cancer death rate-mammography (screening to catch early breast cancer and thereby prevent invasive breast cancer), surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy after surgery to remove remnant cancer cells).

Understanding how to defeat cancer is an instance where America’s fierce insistence on individualism does us a disservice. Individuals with freedom to pursue their own goals are capable of a great deal, but some problems require massive collective coordination and effort. Beating cancer is a team sport; it can only be defeated by a diverse collection of people and institutions working hard toward the same goal. It will take government-funded research, privately funded research, a strong educational system, philanthropy, and government agencies from around the world working together. This effort also requires a system of healthcare that’s available to everybody, not just to those who can afford it. Although cancer is not a contagious disease like measles or smallpox, the diagnosis and treatment of each and every case brings us closer to understanding how to defeat it. We make this effort together, we spend this time, energy, and money, so that 10, 20, or 30 years from now, our children and grandchildren won’t have to suffer like our friends and family do now.

Darkest Hour

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Gary Oldman stars as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, a historical drama about the legendary Prime Minister’s efforts to lead Great Britain to victory in World War II.

A thrilling and inspiring true story begins at the precipice of World War II as, within days of becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill (Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman) must face one of his most turbulent and defining trials: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation. As the unstoppable Nazi forces roll across Western Europe and the threat of invasion is imminent, and with an unprepared public, a skeptical King, and his own party plotting against him, Churchill must withstand his darkest hour, rally a nation, and attempt to change the course of world history.

Before watching John Lithgow playing him in The Crown, I’d thought Churchill was too much of his own character to be played by a well-known actor, but Lithgow was amazing…and it looks as though Gary Oldman, looking every bit his surname, will be similarly outstanding.

Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

A bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

You know when you’re watching a fan or a wheel or something else quickly spinning and it seems to stop spinning and even looks like it’s spinning backwards? And you blink your eyes and remind yourself you’re not on drugs and haven’t been drinking heavily but it’s still somehow simultaneously spinning and not? This optical illusion occurs most commonly with video cameras (but can also occur looking through your normal eyeballs) when the frame rate of the camera matches some multiple of the rate of the thing being filmed, as with this magically levitating helicopter.

Since each frame has to ensure the blade is in the same position as the last it therefore needs to be in sync with the rpm of the rotar blades. Shutter speed then needs to be fast enough to freeze the blade without too much motion blur within each frame.

Here the rotor has five blades, now lets say the rpm of the rotor is 300. That means, per rotation, a blade is in a specific spot on five counts. That gives us an effective rpm of 1500. 1500rpm / 60secs = 25.

Therefore shooting at 25fps will ensure the rotor blades are shot in the same position every frame. Each frame then has to be shot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blade for minimal motion blur.

In the video above, a home security camera catches a bird flying with a wing speed matching the frame rate of the camera, which makes it look like the bird is just magically hanging in the air, like some sort of avian wizard.

Radiohead hid an old school computer program on their new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

As if you already didn’t know that Radiohead are a bunch of big ole nerds, there’s an easter egg on a cassette tape included in the Boxed Edition of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. At the end of the tape recording, there are some blips and bleeps, which Maciej Korsan interpreted correctly as a program for an old computer system.

As a kid I was an owner of the Commodore 64. I remember that all my friends already were the PC users but my parents declined to buy me one for a long time. So I sticked to my old the tape-based computer listening to it’s blips and waiting for the game to load. Over 20 years later I was sitting in front of my MacBook, listening to the digitalised version of the tape my favourite band just released and then I’ve heard a familiar sound… ‘This must be an old computer program, probably C64 one’ I thought.

The program turned out to run on the ZX Spectrum, a computer the lads would likely have encountered as kids.

An alphabet made from classic rock band logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Alphabet Of Rock

Dorothy has designed a pair of posters of alphabets fashioned from rock band logos: one for classic rock and one for alternative rock. How many of the band names do you know? Me? Fewer than I would like.

These reminded me of Evan Roth’s Graffiti Taxonomy prints.

Update: See also the ABCs of Heavy Metal poster by Aye Jay. (via @thoughtbrain)

Awaken, a documentary full of arresting imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

This might be the most beautiful three minutes of your day. Director Tom Lowe is making a feature-length documentary “exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and the natural world” called Awaken. This trailer is stuffed with some of the most arresting imagery I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps most striking is the moving time lapse footage, which was shot from a helicopter using equipment of Lowe’s own design…I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

Awaken will be out next year and, unsurprisingly, is being executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).

Free diving the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Watch as champion free diver Guillaume Néry dives to the bottom of the world’s deepest indoor pool (131 feet deep!) while holding his breath. The dive was filmed by Julie Gautier, who was also holding her breath while working.1

And about that pool…it’s part of the Hotel Terme Millepini in Italy. From Wikipedia:

Y-40 “The Deep Joy” pool first opened on 5 June 2014 and was designed by architect Emanuele Boaretto. It is 40 metres (131 ft) deep, making it the deepest pool in the world. It contains 4,300 cubic metres (1,136,000 US gal) of thermal water kept at a temperature of 32-34 °C (90-93 °F). The pool features underwater caves and a suspended, transparent, underwater tunnel for guests to walk through. It includes platforms at various depths, ranging from 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) to 12 metres (39 ft), before the walls of the pool narrow into a well-like funnel which plunges straight down to 40 metres (131 ft). The hotel offers tickets to freedive and scuba dive.

That’s pretty cool.

  1. What’s that phrase? Behind every successful man is a woman who is holding her breath even longer while filming a video?

Wolf trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Wolf Tree

I took this photo of a wolf tree over the weekend. When thick forests were cleared for pasture and farming by settlers to colonial America, single trees were sometimes left by design or accident. In the absence of competition for light and space, these trees were free to branch out and not just up. They grew tall and thick, providing shade for people & animals and some cover for predators like wolves. Being the lone tree in an area, wolf trees were often struck by lightning or afflicted by pests that had nowhere else to go, contributing to their grizzled appearance.

In some cases, they grew alone like this for hundreds of years. Then, as farming moved to other places in the country, the pastures slowly turned back into forests, the new trees growing tall and straight with an old survivor in their midst. Wolf trees often look like they’re dead or dying, partially because of their age and all the damage they’ve taken over the years but also because the newer trees are crowding them out, restricting their sunlight and space. But they still function as a vital part of the forest, providing a central spot and ample living space for forest animals, particularly birds.

More reading on wolf trees, including the possible etymology of the phrase: Wolf Trees: Elders of the Eastern Forest, the Public Land Journal, and What’s up with the “Wolf Tree” at Red Rocks Park? (specifically about the tree in my photo, which might date from the 1700s). I’ll leave any possible metaphorical meaning of the wolf tree as an exercise to the reader.

Hummingbirds flying in slow motion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Slow Mo Hummingbird

National Geographic photographer Anand Varma recently took some slow motion videos of hummingbirds in flight. Incredible footage. It always amazes me how still their heads and bodies are while their wings beat furiously. Here’s National Geographic’s feature on using high-speed cameras to uncover the secrets of hummingbird flight.

World’s smallest birds is just one of several distinctions that hummingbird species claim. They’re the only birds that can hover in still air for 30 seconds or more. They’re the only birds with a “reverse gear”-that is, they can truly fly backward. And they’re the record holders for the fastest metabolic rate of any vertebrate on the planet: A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast. Small wonder that these birds will wage aerial dogfights to control a prime patch of nectar-laden flowers.

Fun facts: some hummingbirds can beat their wings 100 times in a second and can sip nectar 15 times per second. I also like the locals’ name for the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird: zunzuncito (little buzz buzz).

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

One tree, one year

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

In a film shot by Bruno D’Amicis & Umberto Esposito, a normal tree in a forest is kept under observation for an entire year. A surprising number of animals were seen in that time, including boars, wolves, foxes, badgers, deer, and bears.

Four seasons unfolding around a crossroad of smells, signals and messages left behind by the extraordinary wildlife of the Apennines. What you see here is just a small part of this incredible experience.

In the past two years, we have understood that in the vastness of the forest each tree is unique. There are trees where to lay your eggs or where to find a safe cover; trees on which to look for food or, simply, to scratch your back and thus leave behind a trace of your passage. Who knows how many of such trees are around…

A quiet reminder that the world goes on without us.

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

A bunch of libraries and museums have banded together for the Color Our Collections campaign, offering up free coloring books that let you color artworks from their collections. Participating institutions include the NYPL, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Smithsonian, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

Throwback: LA roller rink still has a weekly organ night

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Moonlight Rollerway

Lisa Whiteman has a lovely story and photos about the Moonlight Rollerway, a roller rink near LA that still hosts a weekly night of skating with live organ accompaniment. One of the skaters, Lillian Tomasino, is 86 years old and has been coming to the Moonlight to skate since it opened in the 50s.

Lillian has now outlived two of her long-term skating partners. Frank, with whom she had skated since the ’80s, passed away in 2012, and Dave, whom she had known since they were teenagers, died in late 2016. Although these days skating can cause Lillian significant pain, she has no intention of hanging up her skates anytime soon. After her spinal surgery in October 2016, she was back on her skates within six weeks. “My friends talk about [me skating at my age], and they think it’s great. I don’t give up too easy. As long as I can do it, and I can get out in public. That’s the main thing — ‘cos I’m at home a lot. The senior centers are too tame for me.”

Marching band plays Daft Punk at Bastille Day parade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

At the Bastille Day parade in Paris, with Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron looking on, a marching band played a medley of hits from Daft Punk. Macron gets it pretty quickly while Trump looks confidently clueless as usual.

The United States of Food Puns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Each of the 50 US states made of food and named accordingly, e.g. Arkanslaw, Pretzelvania, Tunassee, Mississippeas. Maps? Food? Language? How many more of my boxes could this project possibly check? Oh, this was a kid’s idea and his dad went over the top in helping him achieve it? CHECK.

Oh, and to teach the kid about capitalism, of course there are t-shirts and posters available.

Where do ideas come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

In this video, creators like David Lynch, Susan Orlean, Tracy Clayton, and Chuck Close share their thoughts on the creative process and where new ideas come from. For some, inspiration strikes. For others, new ideas come from copying someone else’s old ideas imperfectly. For artist Chuck Close, ideas are generated through the process of working:

I always said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Every great idea came out of work. Everything. If you sit around and wait for a bolt of lightning to hit you in the skull, you may never get a good idea.

The top 10 movie crimes of all time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

From the always entertaining and informative Cinefix, a list of the best crimes depicted in movies. The list is broken down by the typical elements of a cinematic crime: the motive, the team, the plan, the getaway, the cover-up, and so on. The video features Dog Day Afternoon, Ocean’s Eleven, Chinatown, Se7en, and Reservoir Dogs. Would loved to have seen a tiny mention of Bottle Rocket in there, but nope!

Magical realist transportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

Argentine filmmaker Fernando Livschitz recently made a short film called Perspective, featuring dream-like scenes of altered forms of transportation like shortened planes & buses and invisible bicycles. I really liked one of Livschitz’s previous films, Rush Hour. (via colossal)

Startup idea generator: find spreadsheet tasks and build something better

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

Need an idea for a viable startup company? Try this:

1) Pick an industry
2) Ask someone in that industry what they use spreadsheets for
3) Build something better

To which I would add:

4) Charge for it

You could even modify #2 slightly and replace “spreadsheets” with “email”…Slack did that generally and is reaping the benefits.

This reminds me of Marc Hedlund’s advice for entrepreneurs from 2007:

One of my favorite business model suggestions for entrepreneurs is, find an old UNIX command that hasn’t yet been implemented on the web, and fix that. talk and finger became ICQ, LISTSERV became Yahoo! Groups, ls became (the original) Yahoo!, find and grep became Google, rn became Bloglines, pine became Gmail, mount is becoming S3, and bash is becoming Yahoo! Pipes. I didn’t get until tonight that Twitter is wall for the web. I love that.

To which I added:

A slightly related way of thinking about how to choose web projects is to take something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.)

The distribution of letters in English words

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

David Taylor analyzed a corpus of English words to see where each letter of the alphabet fell and graphed the results.

Letter Distribution

No surprise that “q” and “j” are found mostly at the beginnings of words and “y” and “d” at the ends. More interesting are the few letters with more even distribution throughout words, like “l”, “r”, and even “o”. Note that this analysis is based on a corpus of words in use, not on a dictionary:

I used a corpus rather than a dictionary so that the visualization would be weighted towards true usage. In other words, the most common word in English, “the” influences the graphs far more than, for example, “theocratic”.

Taylor explained his methodology in a second geekier post. (via @tedgioia)

An appreciation and reevaluation of Contact, 20 years after its theatrical release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, is on its face a movie about science vs. religion. On the 20th anniversary of its release, Germain Lussier rewatched the film and came away with a different impression: director Robert Zemeckis wanted viewers to think about our relationship to media and technology.

Once Ellie and her team discover the signal from Vega, seemingly every scene in the film features a monitor or some kind of television-related paraphernalia. Whether that’s unpacking a TV to unveil the Olympic footage, people watching news reports on CNN, a terrorist videotaping himself, or multiple scenes in the screen-filled Mission Control, Contact is filled with monitors, forcing both the characters and the audience to watch them. Full scenes of the film are made up of fuzzy TV footage. There are numerous press conferences on TV. The selection of the Machine representative unfolds via the news. Ellie’s interactions with Hadden are almost entirely done over a monitor. Even in scenes where the camera is in a room with the characters, Zemeckis often films them watching TV, or simply puts TV monitors in the frame to constantly remind us they’re there.

But that’s not it. People video chat regularly, which was not common in 1997. The terrorist attack on the Machine is first discovered on a TV monitor and subsequently played out there too. Then, finally, what’s the smoking gun of Ellie’s whole trip at the end of the movie? Eighteen hours of video footage. I could go on and on with examples where Contact uses television and monitors, but once you start seeing the film’s obsession with video, it’s almost comical how often it’s used. Which poses the obvious question, “Why?”

In this light, the organized religion & organized science depicted in the film are just other forms of mediated experience, separate from the personal experience of seeing something with your own eyes.

Contact is one of my favorite movies — I watch it every 12-18 months or so — and this makes me appreciate it all the more. And I had forgotten how good the trailer was:

It’s dead simple: that amazingly resonant Vega signal sound over a series of quickly cut scenes that tells the story in miniature. Surely this belongs on best movie trailers lists as much as any of these.

Oh, and while I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I would love to see what Denis Villeneuve could do with Sagan’s story. I’m also not crazy about Jodie Foster — I find her less and less tolerable as Arroway with each viewing — so it would be cool to see another actress in the role. Arrival’s Amy Adams is almost too on the nose…how about Lupita Nyong’o, ?Emma Watson, Janelle Monáe, Brie Larson, or Emma Stone?

How to safely enjoy the 2017 solar eclipse, a buyer’s guide for normal people

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Solar Eclipse Illo

Important update: Since I published this guide a month ago, NASA and the AAS have updated their recommendation on buying solar safety glasses due to reports of counterfeit eclipse glasses. They no longer recommend looking for the ISO rating alone but only buying from a recommended manufacturer. If you have purchased glasses or are going to purchase glasses, read this page carefully before using them, paying particular attention to this bit:

Unfortunately, you can’t check whether a filter meets the ISO standard yourself — doing so requires a specialized and expensive piece of laboratory equipment called a spectrophotometer that shines intense UV, visible, and IR light through the filter and measures how much gets through at each wavelength. Solar filter manufacturers send their products to specialized labs that are accredited to perform the tests necessary to verify compliance with the ISO 12312-2 safety specifications. Once they have the paperwork that documents their products as ISO-compliant, they can legitimately use the ISO logo on their products and packaging.

Even more unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors can grab the ISO logo off the internet and put it on their products and packaging even if their eclipse glasses or viewers haven’t been properly tested. This means that just seeing the ISO logo or a label claiming ISO 12312-2 certification isn’t good enough. You need to know that the product comes from a reputable manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers.

Amazon recently sent out emails to the buyers of the plastic-framed glasses I bought and linked to here (“habibee 4-Pack Black Plastic Eclipse Glasses CE & ISO Certified 2017 Safe Solar Eclipses Viewing Shades Block Sun Ultraviolet UV Lights Goggles”), saying that they have “not received confirmation from the supplier of your order that they sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer” and, to their credit, have automatically issued refunds to those buyers. They also appear to have removed any products from their site that aren’t sourced from a recommended manufacturer. This doesn’t necessarily mean the glasses are faulty…it just means the solar filter paper used for the lenses can’t be sourced. Again, read this page carefully before deciding to use any glasses you may have purchased. I tested a pair this morning, looking at bright light bulbs and they seem appropriately dark, but as noted by the AAS, who knows about the UV and IR filtering? I’m throwing mine out.

The cardboard-framed glasses I linked to (while currently sold out) are manufactured by American Paper Optics, which is on the AAS’s list of reputable vendors. Also on the list is the manufacturer of the solar filter sheets, Thousand Oaks Optical. The two cardboard camera lens covers I linked to have been deleted from Amazon, a sign that their sourcing cannot be verified. I’ve updated the links and text below to only include links to products on the list of reputable vendors. Most are sold out at this point anyway, so…

I wish I’d had these new NASA and AAS recommendations a month ago…I obviously would have followed them closely in making buying choices & recommendations. That some unscrupulous manufacturers are using people’s enthusiasm for science and viewing the eclipse to sell potentially harmful products makes me angry and sick to my stomach. Luckily Amazon is doing the right thing here with refunds and safety notices. And thanks to NASA and the AAS for their guidance…again please read this before using your eclipse glasses, even ones you may have gotten free from your public library or through other organizations. /end update

On August 21, 2017 across the entire United States, the Moon will move in front of the Sun, partially blocking it from our view. For those on the path of totality, the Moon will entirely block out the Sun for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been looking forward to seeing a total solar eclipse since I was a little kid, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on what to buy to enjoy the eclipse safely. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

I’ve oriented this guide toward the enthusiastic beginner, someone who’s excited about experiencing the wonder of the eclipse with their friends & family but isn’t interested in expensive specialty gear or photography (like me!). And, again, since you will be able to see this eclipse from everywhere in North America to some degree, this guide applies to anyone in the US/Canada/Mexico.

In planning for eclipse viewing, please check out NASA’s safety notes for more information. Make sure that whatever you buy, it’s properly rated for naked eye solar viewing. Looking directly at the Sun without a proper filter can cause permanent damage, particularly through binoculars, a camera lens, or a telescope.

Note: If you’re going to get eclipse supplies, now is the time. Some of this stuff will probably be very difficult to find (or very expensive) as we approach August 21 — for instance, shipping estimates on Amazon for some of the glasses are mid-August already.

Solar eclipse glasses are essential. Right up until the Sun goes completely behind the Moon (if you’re on the path of totality), you will want to look at the crescent-shaped Sun and you’ll need certified safety glasses to do so. Regular sunglasses will not work! Do not even. There are several options…find some in stock that ship soon. Note: If you have young kids, splurge for the plastic framed glasses (if you can find them…most are sold out now)…my testing indicates the cardboard ones don’t stay on smaller heads as well.

Make a pinhole viewer. A pinhole viewer will let you see the shape of the eclipsed Sun without having to look directly at it. This Exploratorium guide should get you started. All you need in terms of supplies you probably have lying around at home: aluminum foil, paper, cardboard, etc. I suspect Kelli Anderson’s This Book is a Camera ($27) might also work if you play with the exposure times?

Apply good sunscreen. You’ve got your eye protection down, now for the rest of yourself. The eclipse is happening in the middle of the day in much of the country, in what you hope will be complete sunshine, so bring some sunscreen. The Sweethome recommends this SPF 70 Coppertone for $9. Wear a cap. Stay in the shade. Bonus for shading yourself under trees: the gaps between the leaves will form little pinhole lenses and you’ll see really cool patterns:

Solar Eclipse Leaves

A nice pair of binoculars. If you’re in the path of totality, you might want a pair of binoculars to look more closely at the totally eclipsed Sun (after checking that it’s safe!!). I’m guessing you don’t want to buy a pair of specialty astronomy binoculars, so the best binoculars are probably ones you already own. If you don’t already have a pair, The Wirecutter recommends the Midas 8 x 42 binoculars by Athlon Optics ($290) with the Carson VP 8x42mm ($144) as a budget pick. (For solar filter options, see below.)

A solar filter for your camera. If you have a camera, they might make a solar filter for whatever lens you want to use. Hydrogen alpha filters will allow you to see the most detail — “crazy prominences and what-not” in the words of a photography pal of mine — but are also pretty expensive. You can buy solar filter sheets ($29) to make your own lens coverings for your camera, binoculars, or telescope. Quality will likely not be fantastic, but you’ll get something. Safety warning: place any filters in front of lenses or it can burn a hole in the filter (and then into your eye); i.e. don’t use binoculars in front of safety glasses!!

Note for budding solar photographers: Shooting the eclipse will be challenging. First there’s too much light and you’ll need a filter. Then when totality occurs, you’ll be in the dark needing a tripod and a fast lens. Plan accordingly…or leave it all at home and look at the thousands of photos taken by pro photographers after the fact.

Ok, that’s it. Have a good eclipse and stay safe!

Update: I removed a reference to the plastic-rimmed safety glasses I ordered because the image has changed on this item since I ordered them and published this guide…it’s now a wire-rimmed pair of glasses. I would recommend getting something else instead, just to be safe. (thx, @kahnnn)

Update: NASA has been alerted that some of the paper glasses being sold are not safe for viewing the eclipse. When buying, look for the ISO icon (referencing 12312-2) and for glasses made by these recommended manufacturers: American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, or TSE 17. (via @ebellm)

Update: The Wirecutter has released their guide to The Best Solar Eclipse Glasses and Filters and they recommend the Celestron EclipSmart 2x Power Viewers (2-pack for $10), which provide not only certified eye protection but a nice 2X zoom.

This guy has an A+ Sports Announcers Voice

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Bob Menery is an actor who has a perfect voice for sports announcing. Not only is his voice expressive, but he’s got the cadence and patter down as well.

This video is going a little viral right now. I couldn’t track down Menery’s original upload, but I did find a little-seen video he did four years ago, messing around with the same voice in his car:

See also the homeless man with a golden voice.

How Eminem was discovered by Dr. Dre

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

In an extended clip from the HBO series The Defiant Ones, this is the story of how a white rapper from Detroit and rap’s best producer got together to start one of the decade’s signature musical collaborations. It’s evident from how Eminem and Dre tell the story that their first session in the studio was like falling in love…you only click like that with something a few times in a lifetime and then you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to that feeling.

This isn’t an official clip from HBO (they uploaded a much shorter segment) but after seeing it, I am definitely watching the whole series.

time for sushi

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

I love that the internet still has its pockets of weirdness. You might remember this video from a few years ago of a floppy guy going to the store…it’s one of my favorite YouTube videos ever.

Well, it looks like that video’s creator, David Lewandowski, got himself a faster computer because his latest video features several hundred floppy naked dudes and gals rendered into street scenes and other places (I won’t spoil the surprise).

Note: this is vaguely NSFW but not really…it’s mannequin nudity, essentially.

The stories behind the 100 most iconic props in movie history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

Movie Props

Movie Props

Thrillist has a great feature on 100 of the best props in movie history and how the directors, production designers, and artists found, chose, designed, bought, borrowed, or stole them to be a part of their films. About the plastic bag from American Beauty:

“It was a very low-budget movie. A tiny budget, and I had a tiny portion of the tiny budget. When I talked to Sam [Mendes, director] about the shopping bag, he was very specific about it not having markings on it. No store name, no ‘thank you, have a nice day’ — he wanted a plain, white plastic bag.

“Back in 1998, it was the early days for internet shopping. Now I do most of my prop shopping online, but back then it was yellow pages and finding things. I made calls to various manufacturers but the only way I could get one unmarked plastic bag was to buy 5,000 unmarked plastic bags. Even though it didn’t seem like a lot at the time, it was still in the range of $500. Which with my $17,000 budget or about that, I couldn’t afford it.

“The bag was always going to be filmed separately. Sam was going to take the video camera [that Wes Bentley used] and go out with the special effects guys with lawn blowers. It wasn’t slotted in the schedule. So I started my prep and I said, I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. Towards the end of my prep, my assistant and I were in downtown LA and we’re buying all sorts of stuff from all sorts of stores for all the characters. We came back to my house, and we’re unloading my car, and we’re piling all these bags on to the table, and right in the middle of the pile, is this white plastic bag with no markings. And I’m like, THAT’S THE BAG. We didn’t know where it came from — we’d been to 55 different places. The receipts just say ‘item number whatever.’ I have no idea where that bag came from, but it came to me. It came from the prop gods who knew I’d never find one otherwise.”

The cup of water in Jurassic Park:

“I was at work and Steven [Spielberg] calls into the office. He goes, ‘I’m in the car, I’m playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking. That’s what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror and I want to do something with the water.’ The mirror shaking was really very easy — put a little vibrating motor in it that shook it. The water was a another story. It was very difficult thing to do. You couldn’t do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.”

Oh, and the red stapler from Office Space!

“I wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and the color scheme in the cubicles was sort of gray and blue-green, so I had them make it red. It was just a regular off-the-shelf Swingline stapler. They didn’t make them in red back then, so I had them paint it red and then put the Swingline logo on the side.

“Since Swingline didn’t make one back then, people were calling them trying to order red staplers. Then people started making red Swinglines and selling them on Ebay and making lots of money, so Swingline finally decided to start making red staplers.

“I have the burnt one from the last scene. Stephen Root has one that was in his cubicle. There were three total that we made. I don’t know where the third one is.”

Ahhh, I could read these all day. Wait, the horse head in that scene in The Godfather was real?!

“John Marley, the guy who played the movie producer, was a pain in the ass because he was a complainer every time he was on screen. Now, we go to shoot the famous scene. We’re shooting out on Long Island on a winter day, which is cold, dark, and rainy outside. We’re down at an elegant old stone mansion, and John is wearing his silk coat and his pajamas, standing by the bed. Now, four grips walk in carrying this huge metal case. He has no idea what the hell’s inside. I’m not exaggerating — it was probably about 6 to 8-ft square with the latches on each corner. He stands by the bed, and they lower this thing on the floor. They take off the four latches, and he almost faints. He sees this fucking horse’s head with the tongue hanging out. Oh, Jesus Christ!

“The next thing we know, the head is on the bed, on the yellow sheets. So you know, the horse’s head was frozen with dry ice, so it was fucking cold. Francis figures, ‘This is my shot to get him.’ They put all the phony blood. John refuses to stretch his legs out. He’s got his legs pulled in so it doesn’t hit the horse’s head. Francis kept telling him to straighten out. His scream was blood-curdling. What you hear in the movie was not done later on. We were laughing at a certain point. We were fucking howling. He was freaking out. When that scene was over, he ran off the set, throwing the bloody shit on the floor. He was gone for the rest of the day.”

Ok, that’s enough, go read the whole thing already.

Eclipse maps of the US, from 2000 BC to 100 years into the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

Eclipse Map USA 2017

The Washington Post has a cool series of maps related to the total solar eclipse happening in August. The one above is a one-shot view of what the Sun will look like across the US on August 21 and there are other maps with captions like “The last eclipse over these areas occurred before Columbus’s arrival in 1492” and “Total solar eclipse paths over the continental U.S. since 2000 B.C.”

In the last 100 years, some areas have been in the paths of multiple eclipses: New England, for example, saw four. (During its World Series dry spell from 1918 to 2004, the greater Boston area alone saw two.)

Others weren’t so lucky. Just 200 miles away in New York, construction on the Empire State Building had not started yet the last time the city saw a total solar eclipse (1925). San Diego had a population of less than 100,000 the last time it was eclipsed (1923), and Chicago hasn’t seen a total eclipse at all in the last 100 years. An area near Tucson has the longest dry spell in the Lower 48: The last total solar eclipse it saw was in the year 797.

The U.S. mainland has averaged about seven total solar eclipses per century since 2000 B.C. Some areas have seen as many as 25 eclipses, while others, such as spots west of Minneapolis, have seen only four in the last four millennia.

2017 Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Prime Day, a holiday1 invented by Amazon to sell more stuff and sign up Prime members, is upon us once more. I know you don’t need more stuff, but if you do, there are some good deals to be had.

Many of the Echo/Alexa devices are available at their lowest prices ever. The flagship Echo is $90 (50% off), the Dot is $35, and the Tap is $80. (I actually have no idea what those last two things are.) The Dash Wand (which I have and have used sparingly so far…the kids use it mainly to hear jokes) is back in stock and is still essentially free (it’s $20 with a $20 credit after activation).

Amazon is also offering special deals for items ordered with Alexa devices, I guess to get people used to ordering with their voice from their electronic butlers?

The Kindle Paperwhite, still my favorite gadget, is $30 off.

Use the code PRIMEBOOKS17 to get $5 off book purchases over $15.

Exploding Kittens is $14, the 23andMe DNA testing kit is 50% off, this 4TB external hard drive is $110, and these All-Clad cookware sets are 40% off at checkout (All-Clad is amazing).

Update: Everyone’s favorite pressure cooker is on sale: the 8-qt Instant Pot is $90 (30% off).

  1. You laugh at me calling this a holiday, but someday Prime Day will be a bank holiday and members will have the day off. As my pal Matt Webb tweeted recently: “It’s 2047. Amazon Prime membership is now paid as a percentage of your income and includes healthcare”.

Letters & Liquors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Letters Liquors

Letters Liquors

For his Letters & Liquors site, Matthew Wyne is profiling more than 50 classic cocktails accompanied by a type-driven design specific to each drink’s era.

As a graphic designer, my specialty is lettering, and the spirits world is replete with lettering styles. This blog is an attempt to merge my knowledge of cocktail history with the developments in lettering that accompanied it. There will be 52 cocktails in all, one for each week of 2017, and each one will be represented by a piece of lettering inspired by the design of that era. I have selected these drinks specifically because they tell the story of why people drank what they did when they did.

I really don’t like Wyne’s use of “she” as a cocktail’s pronoun, but everything else about this is great. (via df)

Three synched performances of Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Radiohead has performed Fake Plastic Trees at the Glastonbury Festival three times: in 1997, 2003, and 2017. This video synchs all three performances into one, with the audio switching between the three. (via web curios)

Short answers to hard questions about climate change

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

From Justin Gillis at the NY Times, some succinct answers to frequently asked questions about climate change, including:

Is there anything I can do about climate change?
Will reducing meat in my diet really help the climate?
Will a technology breakthrough help us?
Why do people question the science of climate change?
Is crazy weather tied to climate change?

And “How much is the planet warming up?”:

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or more than 1 degree Celsius, since 1880, when records began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The number may sound low. We experience much larger temperature swings in our day-to-day lives from weather systems and from the changing of seasons. But when you average across the entire planet and over months or years, the temperature differences get far smaller — the variation at the surface of the Earth from one year to the next is measured in fractions of a degree. So a rise of 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century is actually high.

I think part of the problem, at least for Americans, is that the temperature numbers typically bandied about — the magic number of two degrees above pre-industrial levels — are in Celcius, not Fahrenheit. That 2°C is 3.6°F…the entire Earth warming up by 3.6°F is a tremendous amount of heat.

Climate change: a plausible worst-case scenario for humanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Climate Worst Case

After talking with dozens of climatologists and related researchers, David Wallace-Wells writes about what will happen to the Earth and human civilization without taking “aggressive action” on slowing climate change. It is a sobering piece.

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe. Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.” The high-end IPCC estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

Carbon is not only warming the atmosphere, it’s also polluting it.

Our lungs need oxygen, but that is only a fraction of what we breathe. The fraction of carbon dioxide is growing: It just crossed 400 parts per million, and high-end estimates extrapolating from current trends suggest it will hit 1,000 ppm by 2100. At that concentration, compared to the air we breathe now, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.

Our climate is supposed to move slowly, in concert with many other slow moving things like ecosystems, evolution, global economies, politics, and civilizations. When the pace of climate change quickens? A lot of those slow moving things are going to break. Heat, drought, famine, coastal flooding, pollution, disease, war, forced migration, economic collapse…humanity will survive, but the worst case scenario is not pretty. And of course, the most vulnerable among us — the poor, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, and the otherwise disadvantaged — will undergo the most suffering.

Update: And once again, addressing climate change isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about preserving humanity and preventing human suffering. As Seth Michaels tweeted: “‘the planet’ will be fine. the patterns and structures that determine where we live, what we eat, how we get along? *that’s* what’s at stake”. (via @lauraolin)

Update: A piece like this was going to be controversial and some of the responses are worth reading.

Climate scientist Michael Mann:

I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.

The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.

Eric Holthaus: Stop scaring people about climate change. It doesn’t work.

The real problem is that time and time and time again, psychology researchers have found that trying to scare people into action usually backfires. Presented with the idea that the planet that gives us life might be dying, parts of our brain shut down. We are unable to think logically.

Our brain’s limbic system is hard-wired to prioritize these kinds of threats, so we shift into fight-or-flight mode. And because the odds look stacked against us, most choose to flee. If anything, strategies like this make the problem worse. They take people willing to read something like “The Uninhabitable Earth” and essentially remove them from the pool of people working on real-world solutions.

Robinson Meyer: Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?

Many climate scientists and professional science communicators say no. Wallace-Wells’s article, they say, often flies beyond the realm of what researchers think is likely. I have to agree with them.

At key points in his piece, Wallace-Wells posits facts that mainstream climate science cannot support. In the introduction, he suggests that the world’s permafrost will belch all of its methane into the atmosphere as it melts, accelerating the planet’s warming in the decades to come. We don’t know everything about methane yet, but the picture does not seem this bleak. Melting permafrost will emit methane, and methane is an ultra-potent greenhouse gas, but scientists do not think so much it will escape in the coming century.

Andrew Freedman: Do not accept New York Mag’s climate change doomsday scenario.

In several places, the story either exaggerates the evidence or gets the science flat-out wrong. This is unfortunate, because it detracts from a well-written, attention-grabbing piece. It’s still worth reading, but with a sharp critical eye.

In recent years, scientific evidence has solidified around central findings, showing that sea level rise is likely to be far more severe during the rest of this century than initially anticipated, and that key temperature thresholds may be crossed that make life difficult for some kinds of plants and animals to survive in certain places.

A 2017 summer reading list from TED speakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Back in May I shared a list of books that TED speakers had mentioned on Twitter. That list was a little uneven because a mention isn’t necessarily a recommendation and some speakers aren’t on Twitter while others tweet books constantly. This list of 101 books to dive into this summer compiled by TED is much more cohesive and useful. Among the picks that sounded interesting:

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky.

The Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky’s beautiful and deeply personal account of the islands that have held a place in her heart throughout her lifelong love of cartography, has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. Using historic events and scientific reports as a springboard, she creates a story around each island: fantastical, inscrutable stories, mixtures of fact and imagination that produce worlds for the reader to explore.

The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson.

There’s a lot of talk about the opioid crisis these days, but what’s missing from the statistics is the human story, the understanding of why people are making the choices they do. This novel, which focuses on Kentucky in the 1990s, gave me that understanding. After I finished it — which didn’t take long because I couldn’t put it down — I felt like I had physically been transported to that time and place.

Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds by Lisa Messeri.

In Placing Outer Space Lisa Messeri traces how the place-making practices of planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos filled with worlds that can be known and explored. Making planets into places is central to the daily practices and professional identities of the astronomers, geologists, and computer scientists Messeri studies.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky.

Due to my work filming with former jihadis, I’ve become very interested in understanding more about human interaction. Behave explores human nature, from the firing of a synapse all the way to the broader effects of culture. Based on a wide and multidisciplinary knowledge of science, this book provides a fascinating exploration of humanity, which might give us some important information on how we can work towards a better future for us all.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.

I recently reread this children’s classic. It’s surprisingly relevant now, and shows us the irrational fears we can have of various groups.

The rolling shutter effect explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

When your phone takes a photo of something, it scans the frame of view line-by-line from top to bottom quickly. But, if you’re photographing an object like a fan or plane’s propellor that’s moving very quickly, the scanning exposure can warp the final image. That’s the rolling shutter effect. Using high-speed camera footage to simulate the warping, Smarter Everyday shows us exactly how the rolling shutter effect occurs. The guitar strings are the coolest; more of that in this video:

P.S. Here’s the behind-the-scenes for Smarter Everyday’s rolling shutter video.

The US far right’s game plan? A suppression of the majority.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Rebecca Onion recently interviewed Nancy MacLean, who has written a book about economist James McGill Buchanan, whose work MacLean believes is the origin of the ideas & strategy of the far right in America (most notably represented by the Koch brothers). As told by MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of this coalition is to switch the US to a “totally new vision of society and government, that’s different from anything that exists anywhere in the world”.

When the Supreme Court decided, in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Tennessee-born economist James McGill Buchanan was horrified. Over the course of the next few decades, the libertarian thinker found comfortable homes at a series of research universities and spent his time articulating a new grand vision of American society, a country in which government would be close to nonexistent, and would have no obligation to provide education-or health care, or old-age support, or food, or housing-to anyone.

This radical vision has become the playbook for a network of people looking to override democracy in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few.

I suspect MacLean’s argument is much more fleshed out in her book than in the interview and criticisms are easy to find (although I don’t know how ideologically motivated they are), but what she says could explain what’s happening in our government right now. As I wrote back in December:

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws.

In the interview, McLean says that Buchanan advised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the structure of his country’s constitution:

This document was later called a “constitution of locks and bolts,” [and was designed] to make it so that the majority couldn’t make its will felt in the political system, unless it was a huge supermajority.

That feels like where we’re heading in this country right now. Perhaps slowly and perhaps it won’t come to that, but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion these days that Republicans (or at least the ascendant far right arm of the party) want anything less than to rule the US no matter what the majority of its citizens might want.

The hypnotic illustrations of Visoth Kakvei

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Visoth Kakvei

Visoth Kakvei

Visoth Kakvei

Artist Visoth Kakvei makes these intricately patterned illustrations and posts them to his Instagram account. Lately, he’s been playing with faux 3D illusions and augmented reality, which pairs really well with his illustration style.

Prints of his illustrations are available, but sadly not of his newer stuff.

The Sesame Street version of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage music video

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

I mean, this is pretty good, but the original Sesame Street rap mashup is hard to top:

Respect.

Trump’s disturbing appeal for personal loyalty from gov’t officials

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Noah Kunin has been working for the US government since 2010 and right after the election, he wrote a short post as to why he was staying on even though he did not support Trump.

My oath to this country was not to a particular office, or person, and certainly not to a political party. It was to the Constitution and to the people (emphasis added).

More recently, he wrote a post on why he is now leaving government service, again citing his duty to the Constitution and the people:

The first thing that happened was the release of the written testimony of the former FBI Director, James Comey. While many focused on the potential obstruction of justice detailed within Comey’s notes, I was immediately drawn to a different issue. According to Comey, the President clearly asked, repeatedly, for his personal loyalty.

I think this is even more dangerous and shocking than the potential for obstruction of justice. Even though I intellectually knew that most of Trump’s decisions are based on personal politics, seeing it in writing, under oath, and from the FBI Director at the time no less, had an unexpectedly massive emotional impact on me.

My previous post put the oath all federal public servants take at its center. Pledging our faith, allegiance, our loyalty not to a person, but to the Constitution and to the people as a whole is absolutely fundamental to our form of government. We cannot even pretend to function as a republic without it.

For anyone in public service to ask for the personal loyalty of anyone else in government is an affront to our core values. For the President to ask it of the FBI Director is beyond “not normal.”

It is an immediate and complete revelation that the President is unfit for the office, and has been from the start.

I think Kunin’s right about Trump’s demand for personal loyalty over loyalty to duty or to county…it’s as disturbing as anything else that Trump has done.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Lots of music & TV and fewer movies & books this time around.

Enemy of the State. Ripe for a remake. (B-)

Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg is the worst version of Woody Allen yet. (C+)

Behave. I’ve barely started reading this (and then stopped because I was in the mood for fiction instead) but aspire to finish because I’ve heard really great things from a diverse array of trusted sources. (n/a)

Narcos. Season 2 is less compelling than the initial season, but Wagner Moura as Escobar is flat-out amazing. If you skipped this show, do yourself a favor and try season 1. (B+)

My Struggle: Book 2. I generally don’t find myself in characters in books, historical figures, or working artists, but the degree to which I identify with Karl Ove Knausgaard as depicted in the first two My Struggle books scares the shit out of me. On practically every page, he writes something that resonates with me and how I approach the world. I’m not sure any other book has helped me identify and understand the good and bad parts of myself as much as this one. (A+)

Zen Shorts. A recommendation by several kottke.org readers after the story of the Chinese farmer post. (A-)

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. The only Dave Eggers book I’ve read in recent years. Sparked an interest in Art Deco in my kids a couple years ago. (A-)

Melodrama. After such a strong debut, it’s great to see Lorde come back with such a strong sophomore effort. (B+)

It Will Be Forever. Recommended by a friend who never gets it wrong. (He also put me onto this.) Tycho-esque. (B+)

Ctrl. Haven’t listened to this much but want to give it more attention. (B)

Cars 3. Way better than the deplorable Cars 2 but it felt very much like a sequel in a way that the Toy Story movies didn’t. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire. Rewatching from season one, which ppl will tell you to skip, but they’re wrong. I had forgotten how good it is, right away. Looking forward to their final season starting in August. (A-)

GLOW. Enjoyable television: really fun and just a little meaty. (B+)

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. A reissue of one of the best albums of all time? Sure. (A+)

Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen all of these multiple times, and I just love them. Even the ones where Troi is possessed and Geordi falls in love with Holodeck characters. (A)

Iteration. If you love Com Truise, you will love this. (B+)

Big Fish Theory. The album of the summer? I haven’t been able to stop playing this in the car. (A-)

Okja. I wanted to like this way more than I did. Felt muddled. Never a good sign when you stop a movie halfway through to go to bed. (C+)

4:44. But I liked this way more than I thought I would. It’s no Lemonade (the fingerprints of which are all over 4:44), but Jay-Z has reminded everyone that he’s still a formidable artist. And the way he says “okay” after “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” is pitch perfect. Further reading: ‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. Jay-Z is dead., ‘4:44’ Producer No I.D. Talks Pushing Jay-Z, Creating ‘500 Ideas’, and Jay-Z’s Pitch for Generational Wealth. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The potent combination of individual freedom and collective action

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

As part of a longer post on the role of capitalism in bringing about gay rights in America, staunch libertarian and Cato Institute executive VP David Boaz writes:

All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen in American history — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — stem from our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The emphasis on the individual mind in the Enlightenment, the individualist nature of market capitalism, and the demand for individual rights that inspired the American Revolution naturally led people to think more carefully about the nature of the individual and gradually to recognize that the dignity of individual rights should be extended to all people.

This passage has been bugging me ever since I saw a link to it on Marginal Revolution in a post titled “Independence Day”. There’s this undercurrent in libertarian writing that suggests that if we just let capitalism rip, unfettered, unregulated, everyone will be automagically free. Independence Day, amirite?!

What’s interesting is that the way all of those freedoms Boaz talks about — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — were attained is through collective action that resulted in government protection. Capitalism is not Miracle Grow for individual rights. People organized and fought for their freedoms. Economic activity is taxed in order to protect our freedoms. Unchecked capitalism led to slavery, child labor, unfair labor practices, monopoly, and the ruin of the environment. Gosh, it’s almost like a system of capitalism combined with liberal democracy would be a fairly good way to both gain and protect individual freedoms. Yes, harness the incredibly useful engine of capitalism but make sure it doesn’t grind humanity up in the process.

Can you draw all 50 states from memory?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

Time State Map

Per Betteridge’s law of headlines and also the map above, my answer is clearly no. You can try it yourself here…you draw them one at a time and it adds them to the map automagically. I’m going to blame my trackpad use a little, but I’m not sure I would have done much better had I drawn with a pencil and looked a map beforehand.

Update: Your periodic reminder that Senator Al Franken can draw all 50 US states from memory with astonishing accuracy.

(thx, eric)

Check It, a documentary about a black LGBT+ gang in DC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

Check It is a documentary film about a Washington DC gang with an all-LGBT+ membership.

At first glance, they seem unlikely gang-bangers. Some of the boys wear lipstick and mascara, some stilettos. They carry Louis Vuitton bags, but they also carry knives, brass knuckles and mace. As vulnerable gay and transgender youth, they’ve been shot, stabbed, and raped.

Once victims, they’ve now turned the tables, beating people into comas and stabbing enemies with ice picks. Started in 2009 by a group of bullied 9th graders, today these 14-22 year old gang members all have rap sheets riddled with assault, armed robbery and drug dealing charges.

Led by an ex-convict named Mo, Check It members are now creating their own clothing label, putting on fashion shows and working stints as runway models. But breaking the cycle of poverty and violence they’ve grown up in is a daunting task.

Louis CK is one of the films executive producers and he has put the film up on his site as a $5 download. In a recent newsletter, he explained why:

Look, I know this isn’t what you’re expecting from me. Nor am I the guy you’re expecting to get this film from. I guess that’s why I’m doing this. When I saw this film, I knew that no one I know will ever see it. Documentaries are MUCH harder to make than the things that I do and they are FAR more expensive to the filmmakers in terms of their time and their lives and their emotional energy. And nobody much watches them. Those who do watch documentaries are usually people who are likely to be interested in the subject they cover already. But what a great value there is in showing people films about something that just isn’t on their radar. So that’s why I asked Steve, and Wren Arthur, who produced the film, if I could host “Check It” on my site so that lots of people can see it who may not have had it put in front of them.

Firebase, a short film by Neill Blomkamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

Neill Blomkamp has released a second short film through Oats Studios. Firebase is set in Vietnam in 1970 and follows a group of American soldiers trying to make sense of the so-called River God and the strange phenomena that arise around him. Just as with the previous film, Rakka, they are selling some of Firebase’s assets on Steam. I found this one less compelling than Rakka, by YMMV.

Note: if you are at all squeamish, heed the warning at the beginning of the film…it’s super gory at times.

Impeachment and its misconceptions explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, legal scholar and former Obama advisor Cass Sunstein shared some views on his understanding of and some misconceptions about impeachment, namely that it doesn’t need to involve an actual crime and “is primarily about gross neglect or abuse of power”. Or as he put it more formally in a 1998 essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review:

The simplest is that, with respect to the President, the principal goal of the Impeachment Clause is to allow impeachment for a narrow category of egregious or large-scale abuses of authority that comes from the exercise of distinctly presidential powers. On this view, a criminal violation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for impeaching the President. What is generally necessary is an egregious abuse of power that the President has by virtue of being President. Outside of this category of cases, impeachment is generally foreign to our traditions and is prohibited by the Constitution.

The “distinctly presidential powers” bit is a high bar to clear. Examining the case for Nixon on that basis, and only some of the reasons for wanting to impeach him hold up.

Richard Nixon nearly faced four counts. One failed count, for tax evasion, was completely inappropriate, Sunstein argued: Though an obvious violation of law, it had no bearing on Nixon’s conduct of the presidency. A second charge, for resisting subpoena, is possibly but not necessarily valid, since a president could have good reasons to resisting a subpoena. A third is more debatable: Nixon was charged with covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon might have been more fairly prosecuted for overseeing the burglary, Sunstein argued, but nabbing him for trying to use the federal government to commit the cover-up was “probably good enough.” Only the fourth charge, of using the federal government’s muscle to prosecute political enemies, is a clear slam-dunk under the Founders’ principles.

Clinton’s impeachment, argued Sunstein in that same Penn Law Review essay, was less well-supported:

I suggest that the impeachment of President Clinton was unconstitutional, because the two articles of impeachment identified no legitimate ground for impeaching the President.

Sunstein explained the intent of the members of the Constitutional Convention in a Bloomberg article back in February. It’s interesting in the light of the Russian collusion investigation that the debate about impeachment at the convention centered around treason.

James Madison concurred, pointing to cases in which a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Gouverneur Morris added that the president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

So what about Trump? Sunstein doesn’t offer much (no apparent mention of collusion with Russia):

Sunstein, having scolded legal colleagues for playing pundit, was reluctant to address the question directly. Setting aside the impossibility of impeaching Trump under the present circumstances of GOP control of Congress, Sunstein said he was wary of trying to remove the president simply for being bad at his job. Nonetheless, he said Trump’s prolific dishonesty might form a basis for trying to remove him.

“If a president lies on some occasions or is fairly accused of lying, it’s not impeachable — but if you have a systematic liar who is lying all the time, then we’re in the ballpark of misdemeanor, meaning bad action,” he said.

If I were a betting person, I would wager that Donald Trump has a better chance of getting reelected in 2020 than he does of being impeached (and a much better chance than actually being removed from office through impeachment) if the Republicans retain their majority in Congress. Although their healthcare bill has hit a hiccup due to public outcry (and it’s only a hiccup…it will almost surely pass), Congressional Republicans have shown absolutely no willingness to do anything not in the interest of their agenda…so why would they impeach a Republican President who is ticking all of the far right’s action items thus far?

The origin of the 80s aesthetic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2017

A little-known Italian design & architecture group called the Memphis Group was responsible for the dominant aesthetic of the 80s.

Memphis Design movement dominated the ’80s with their crazy patterns and vibrant colors. Many designers and architects from all around the world contributed to the movement in order to escape from the strict rules of modernism. Although their designs didn’t end up in people’s homes, they inspired many designers working in different mediums. After their first show in Milan in 1981, everything from fashion to music videos became influenced by their visual vocabulary.

Or were they? What’s interesting, in terms of the timeline of influence, is that MTV debuted before that September 1981 show in Milan. Here’s the first MTV broadcast in August 1981, featuring the brightly colored logo:

Made In Iowa, a Rust Belt comeback story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2017

Produced by Square, Made In Iowa tells the story of what happened after the Electrolux plant closed in the small town of Webster City, Iowa in 2011. The company had decided to move those jobs to Mexico and in the years after the closing, the unemployment rate in the town rose from about 3% to 10%. The video shows how the town rallied around the reopening of the movie theater and pursued an entrepreneurial strategy of revitalizing downtown through opening a number of small businesses. That approach brought the town’s unemployment rate back up to 3%.

But that’s not the entire story. The new jobs are mostly non-union and pay less than Electrolux jobs did. The town’s pivot was not entirely a bootstrap effort…the former workers had the government’s assistance and the advantage of their union’s negotiation of benefits. From a 2013 NPR story about the plant closure:

On March 31, 2011, Electrolux shut its washer-dryer plant in Webster City and sent the jobs to Juarez, Mexico. The employees were warned more than a year in advance of the closure, and many used the time to pay off debt and begin thinking about a new career.

Because their jobs had left the country, the laid-off workers qualified for federally funded retraining. A large number enrolled in two-year programs at community colleges and have been living off unemployment benefits as they learn new skills.

And those new businesses downtown are possible in part because people have access to healthcare through the ACA.

It seems relevant at this point to mention that in the 2016 election, the county in which Webster City is situated went for Trump 58.6% (to Clinton’s 35.8%). I mean, bootstrap all you want, but just don’t forget the massive governmental safety net that makes it possible for communities to recover when shit like this goes down and which party wants to dismantle it.

15 years of Radiolab

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2017

Radiolab recently turned 15 years old and to celebrate, they made an episode that replayed portions of the very first show (when it was called The Radio Lab) and a podcast from the first season (which was about time and featured Oliver Sacks).

15 years ago the very first episode of Radiolab, fittingly called “Firsts,” hit the airwaves. It was a 3-hour long collection of documentaries and musings produced by a solitary sleep-deprived producer named Jad Abumrad. Things have changed a bit since then.

Kudos to them for 15 years…I had no idea it had been that long.

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