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The People’s History of Tattooine

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 29, 2017

tusken raiders.jpeg

On May 17, 2014, a Saturday morning, a bunch of very bored, very geeky dads on Twitter spontaneously created something weird and fun. Jacob Harris kicked it off, I helped get it going, others joined in. Dan Sinker called it The People’s History of Tattooine, and that name has stuck.

Since Storify has announced that it’s shutting down, I’ve been looking for a permanent home for the People’s History. A lot of the tweets have been deleted, and threads have been broken. I also wanted something without the Twitter-y cruft, but that still preserved the back-and-forth, so I decided to format it kinda like a teleplay. Jason suggested posting it here at Kottke.org. I can’t think of a better home for it.

THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF TATTOOINE

starring
(in order of appearance)

JACOB HARRIS
TIM CARMODY
FRANCIS HWANG
AZIZ GILANI
JAMES SCHIRMER
SKOTT KLEBE
DAN SINKER
SCOTT KLEIN
ANIL DASH
TED HAN
MICHAEL DONOHOE
MIKE MONTEIRO
and
DARTH
(not pictured)

JACOB HARRIS
What if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?

TIM CARMODY
What do you mean, “these blaster marks are too precise to be made by Sand People?” Who talks like that?

JACOB HARRIS
also Sand People is not the preferred nomenclature.

TIM CARMODY
They have a rich cultural history that’s led them to survive and thrive under spectacularly awful conditions.

JACOB HARRIS
Mos Eisley may not look like much but it’s a a bedroom community with decent schools and affordable housing.

TIM CARMODY
You can just imagine Obi-Wan after years of being a Jedi on Coruscant being stuck in this place and just getting madder and madder.

JACOB HARRIS
yeah nobody cares that the blue milk is so much more artisanal on Coruscant

TIM CARMODY
Obi-Wan only goes to Mos Eisley once every three months to get drunk and he basically becomes like Byron.

JACOB HARRIS
so he clings to things like lightsabers and ancient Jedi religion…

“I’m just saying you can’t trust a man what plays in a cantina band. Not you, Figrin D’ith. You’re one of the good ones!”

I also imagine Tosche Station as some sort of affluent suburban mall where Luke just goes to loiter when bored.

TIM CARMODY
That’s totally true about dudes in cantina bands though

JACOB HARRIS
you don’t get to be Max Rebo overnight. Playing in the cantina is like their version of the Beatles in Hamburg, Tim.

TIM CARMODY
Luke is such a little shit. Imagine Lucas’s direction: “Mark, just reach out and grab the bartender by the sleeve.”

JACOB HARRIS
All I’m saying is that for a place he allegedly hates, Obi Wan sure knows exactly where the best cantina is. Maybe what Obi Wan really hates is himself for having a good time and enjoying the cantina scene

TIM CARMODY
he goes home with one of Jabba’s six-boobed dancers and hates himself for it

JACOB HARRIS
that Obi Wan thinks his little “put the hood over my head and make strange noises” is what scares Sand People is racist too. Maybe they just run because they don’t want to deal with the racist old man who gets violent and complains more will come back

FRANCIS HWANG
You can’t be mad at Obi Wan. That’s just how all the Jedi talked back then.

JACOB HARRIS
“more civilized time?” Check your privilege, Obi Wan

FRANCIS HWANG
“When I was growing up we called the Sand People ‘savage’, but we didn’t mean anything by it… The Sand People used to know their place until those Imperial carpetbaggers came here and started putting ideas in their heads.”

AZIZ GILANI
The ‘sand people’ were really just desert nomads emancipating the massive slave population. #Perspective

JACOB HARRIS
the Tusken People. “Raiders” presumes some malevolent intent. They are trying to preserve the desert habitat and Luke wants to race through it in his speeder. The Tusken are just trying to keep parts of Tatooine wild and undeveloped by heavy industry.

JAMES SCHIRMER
One could argue calling them “Tuskens” is little better than “Raiders.” See: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Fort_Tusken …

JACOB HARRIS
they use it to rob the slur of its power

SKOTT KLEBE
Belatedly realizing that in a crime scene distinguished by precise blaster marks, Storm Troopers are your last suspects. I mean, based on the rest of the movie, should say “These blaster marks are too precise to be made by Storm Troopers.” But who’s right there pawning the guilt off on the Empire? And who used to be a renowned Jedi marksman himself? Obi-wan!

Connect the dots, people! It was Obi-Wan from the beginning!

Face it - Obi-Wan killed Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in order to let Luke to sell his speeder for funds to leave the planet.

ELON GREEN
A small part of me wishes I understood this.

JACOB HARRIS
it’s a pretty obscure film

DAN SINKER
The People’s History of Tattoine that Jacob Harris and Tim Carmody wrote this morning is an essential document.

JACOB HARRIS
all I’m saying is that I don’t blame the Tusken People for steering clear of the racist, violent and armed old man

DAN SINKER
“he’s making those noises again, honey bring the kids inside.”

JACOB HARRIS
and the Greater Mos Eisley Business Improvement District doesn’t care about the rantings of a separatist hermit

SCOTT KLEIN
Actually they’re so offended by being called “sand people” that they beat up any outsider who wanders by.

DAN SINKER
think of the number of letters he wrote in to the Tattoine Times-Call

SKOTT KLEBE
But traveling in a straight line to conceal their numbers? That’s just plain deceptive.

DAN SINKER
THAT’S JUST HOW THEY *WALK* MAN.

JACOB HARRIS
it’s a nature preserve, Scott, and Luke just thinks he can drive his speeder through it. Like anybody forgets what Luke and his friends did to native womp rat populations at Beggars Canyon Park

SKOTT KLEBE
but how can you trust people who walk like that? They must be up to all kinds of stuff. Tricky walking, ew.

JACOB HARRIS
they’re only concealing their numbers if you have trouble telling them apart

SKOTT KLEBE
If they wanted us to be able to tell them apart, they shouldn’t conceal their faces. Their fault, not mine.

JACOB HARRIS
maybe those are their faces, Skott. Sheesh!

DAN SINKER
Jesus old man, aren’t you late for a pancake breakfast at the Jedi Knights Lodge?

SKOTT KLEBE
is it racist that I don’t think skin can be made out of canvas and metal?

DAN SINKER
Not *All* Jedi.

SKOTT KLEBE
if liking Jedi “no hands” pancakes is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

SCOTT KLEIN
And let’s face it, there’s good reason for them to distrust Skywalkers.

JACOB HARRIS
Child of known felon hanging out with a violent separatist and disturbing the peace of their home

DAN SINKER
it’s not like it was generations ago. The kid’s *dad* was The One Who Killed. Didn’t even change his name.

JACOB HARRIS
so it might seem extreme to knock Luke out and vandalize his annoying speeder, but they’d had enough.

SCOTT KLEIN
If c3po hadn’t fallen off that ledge he’d have translated Tusken. “You’re scaring us! We mean you no harm!”

TIM CARMODY
Luke and Obi-Wan don’t even stand up for their droids, man. Tattooine is so fucking racist.

JACOB HARRIS
no, it’s very diverse. Which is why Obi Wan hates it.

TIM CARMODY
That bartender is no prize either, is all I’m saying. And they let Threepio get kicked out like it’s nothing

SKOTT KLEBE
Now you’re just forcing your affluent Coruscantist cultural standards on them.

TIM CARMODY
My freedom is bound up with everyone’s freedom, whether they’re Jedis or Tuscans or droids or Hutts.

SKOTT KLEBE
You’re hurting the revolution with this talk.

TIM CARMODY
You can have your species-ist *Rebellion*; I’m talking about real revolution.

DAN SINKER
“Used to be that every kind of creature turned out for the podrace. Now we just keep to our own.”

JACOB HARRIS
the Tusken who scares Luke when he’s using his binoculars is just an old man with a walking stick

TIM CARMODY
Mos Eisley hasn’t been the same since the Spaceport Riots in ‘67. Then they built Tosche Station and…

DAN SINKER
can you blame them for rioting? I mean Anakin did come in and “slaughtered them like animals.” His words, man

ANIL DASH
You’re all talking small potatoes. Big story is Palpatine’s equity in Sienar Systems.

TIM CARMODY
Your “Big Story” of the military-imperial complex lets you ignore what’s right in your FACE

ANIL DASH
the economic system is predicated on turning a man born into slavery against persons of sand. NOT ALLDERAAN!

DAN SINKER
YOU GUYS this is the exact thing those crazy old wizards want us to do: fight against each other.

SCOTT KLEIN
I hear they recruited child soldiers to blow up a gov’t building on Endor.

DAN SINKER
don’t even get me started on what they did to the Hothian ice caps.

JACOB HARRIS
you’re walking single-file to avoid damaging gundark nests and some jerk in a speeder races in… of course you’re going to knock him and out and vandalize his speeder to warn him and friends

TED HAN
Hey the Jedi have a multi-generational history of child labor & gambling on children.

MICHAEL DONOHOE
Not fair - Jedi provided shelter, regular meals, education, social mobility

MIKE MONTEIRO
Say what you will about the Empire, but supply ships arrived on time.

TIM CARMODY
You can do a lot of things on time if you don’t even care about your own clones.

MIKE MONTEIRO
The clones knew what they were signing up for.

DAN SINKER
The Rebellion: they get their *one* Mon Calamari general to sell the world on a plan that was *clearly* a trap

TIM CARMODY
I think Akbar, Calrissian, and Mon Mothma were set up to take the fall, frankly.

DAN SINKER
let’s give the drug runner a medal, but have the Wookie that does everything stand around with the Droids.

TIM CARMODY
I was wondering when we’d get here. The clearest evidence racism isn’t just hearts & minds, but institutional. Offstage, R2 shouts “THIS IS SOME BULLSHIT,” and they just turn and laugh right in his face.

JACOB HARRIS
maybe Chewbacca didn’t want to take their bullshit medal. He doesn’t need their approval

DAN SINKER
meanwhile, Da Mayor is all, “Wookie, always do the right thing.”

ANIL DASH
Given the Mon Calamari tendency to treat Bothans as disposable, it’s no wonder why Akbar got to be the token.

TIM CARMODY
Another way the original trilogy is superior to prequels: its characters seem racist, rather than its author.

ANIL DASH
imagine an Ep 1 that was about Palpatine manipulating tensions between Amidala and the Gungans.

JACOB HARRIS
I think Lucas thinks he’s making a deep statement about racism using droids

ANIL DASH
except he never touches it again and they are never liberated. So.

TIM CARMODY
Droids in the OT are almost exactly slaves. Socially, they are treated precisely as slaves were treated. Especially classical slavery (Rome, etc.), the parallels are astonishing.

SKOTT KLEBE
Jawas drive Tuskens away from sustainable agriculture by creating a market for captured droids.

MICHAEL DONOHOE
agreed - attempts to disrupt Jawas crowdsourced droid marketplace point to old ways of thinking

ANIL DASH
and what do we know about environmental impact of extractive factory farming like water evaporation?

MIKE MONTEIRO
Fair. But what about the evaporation farmers? We need to teach that whole sector new job skills.

ANIL DASH
last time someone “disrupted” that sector, we ended up with a bunch of astromechs nobody can repair.

MIKE MONTEIRO
Because the Trade Federation was funding anything they could flip to the Empire. Remember Droidr?

ANIL DASH
well, if you make anything original, they’ll just rip it off on Kamino. In the new R2 units, they can only project holograms you buy from Industrial Automaton.

JACOB HARRIS
can we get back to the Rebellion exploiting native population as soldiers on Endor?

TIM CARMODY
First they totally underestimate them. Then they trick them. Then they send them to die.

JACOB HARRIS
in Clone Wars all Jedi are automatically Generals despite no experience. Clones die.

MIKE MONTEIRO
How did OUR moisture get under THEIR sand?

JACOB HARRIS
highest rank a clone could get was Commander. No wonder they fragged Jedi in the end

ANIL DASH
ORDER 66 WAS AN INSIDE JOB

JACOB HARRIS
Order 66 wasn’t brainwashing, it was the chickens coming home to roost

ANIL DASH
what are the odds the same guy survives Order 66 and *both* Death Stars exploding?

MIKE MONTEIRO
If @darth was awake we’d be looking at a gif of Admiral Akbar reading My Pet Goat right now

ANIL DASH
@darth WAKE UP GREEPLE

MIKE MONTEIRO
Follow the galactic credits. Who was awarded the Death Star contracts? Twice.

SKOTT KLEBE
how deep does the rabbit hole go?

SKOTT KLEBE
here I always thought Kenobi was playin cool, not recognizing R2 and C3PO in Ep 4. Now seems more likely R2 and C3PO were just two of the millions he’d betrayed in his life, and who can keep track?

JACOB HARRIS
“hello there friend” and “I don’t recall owning a droid” are subtle threats to R2 to shut up

SKOTT KLEBE
“And we are friends, right? You wouldn’t want _not_ to be friends, would you?”

MIKE MONTEIRO
Follow the death sticks and you get a death stick case, but follow the galactic credits…

TIM CARMODY
Never forget that the movies aren’t historical documents, but propaganda 1000s years later. If all this is IN legends Republic/Jedi use to justify Rebellion, imagine what’s left OUT.

Black superheroes and the secret history of a genre

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 29, 2017

blade-pop.jpg

In Februrary, BAMcinematek in Brooklyn will host a film series of black superheroes, ending with the opening of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

It’s an eclectic mix: Blade and Blade 2 are there (but not Blade 3) as well as Catwoman and Robert Townsend’s Meteor Man, but also Melvin van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, John Sayles’s The Brother From Another Planet, the alien invasion film Attack the Block and the alien cop story Men In Black.

Even Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Forrest Whitaker) and Strange Days are, in some sense, superhero films. More importantly, they’re part of the context for Black Panther just as much as Thor: Ragnarok or Iron Man 3, even if it’s along a different axis.

Hollywood is making enough “straight” superhero films that they’re metastasizing into the broader film culture. They’re not as readily a definable genre as they were from the Richard Donner Superman, through the Tim Burton Batman and Sam Raimi Spider-Man. Even the Blade movies, which really kicked off the current wave of superhero films, were coming at the genre from a different angle, in no small part because the protagonist and multiple leads were black.

Genre lines are always more imaginary than real. Samurai movies borrowed from westerns, who borrowed right back; our favorite space operas borrowed from adventure serials and swashbuckler epics. Now we have superhero thrillers, superhero love stories, superhero tween dramas, and superhero westerns. And other movies are borrowing pieces from superhero films in turn. So, too, our histories of those genres are getting scrambled all over again.

Black Panther is likely to push the genre boundaries further, into sci-fi, fantasy, and a thriving tradition of black superhero film. It’s just going to be bigger and better than all of them, is all. (Can you tell I’m excited about this movie?)

What is a freestyle?

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 29, 2017

Kool Moe Dee Purple Avatar.png

In swimming, “freestyle” means the swimmer can choose their own stroke; in biking or skating, “freestyle” is a kind of informal series of stunts on varied terrain. In rap, to freestyle at its limit means to improvise lyrics off the top of one’s head. But very few lyrical freestyles are actually done completely off the top; the more salient criteria seem to be that the lyrics are memorized, they’re not from a record, they don’t conform to a verse-chorus structure (or sometimes even a verse structure), and they’re meant to showcase an MC’s lyrical gifts. A little more like an orchestral jazz solo than something completely unstructured and improvisational.

The Roots’ Black Thought, who performed a highly acclaimed freestyle in this mode on Hot 97 earlier this month, explains the difference to Rolling Stone:

When I was coming up, a freestyle wasn’t a freestyle unless everything was completely improvised, in-the-moment and right there, and you had to incorporate various elements of what was going on in the room on the day. That’s still a part of it. But I feel like it’s evolved into something more, where you have to have the improv element, but you also have to have a certain script. As an actor, the theatrical side of me identifies with the concept of having a script, and memorizing the lines, and then being able to be “off book,” so to speak. If you know your lines and everybody else’s lines, and you have those beats in your muscle memory, then you can improvise and go off-script. And if you reach a point during the improvisation where you feel like you’re about to stutter or second-guess yourself, then you can immediately fall back on the part that you already know. So that’s what [freestyle] has evolved into. It’s like the new definition of freestyle. I mean, it still has to be witty, and you have to have punchlines. But in order to make it super dense, and incorporate all those layers of meaning and depth to the listener, it has to be both improv and muscle memory….

There has to be a research element involved. No public speaker or stand-up comedian, I mean, there’s no one who’s going to give a speech completely off the top without having worked on the beats, and how you’re going to say what it is that you’re saying, or worked on the tone.

This last bit about public speaking and performance reminds me of this anecdote J. Period’s told a few times about Tariq Trotter’s time at Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts:

Hip-hop vlogger Justin Hunte includes this anecdote as part of his case for Black Thought being considered one of the greatest MCs (if not the greatest) of all time.

The Most Beautiful Flowers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

Beautiful Flowers

Beautiful Flowers

Beautiful Flowers

Photographer Kenji Toma makes these hyperrealistic images of flowers that are so detailed that they almost look fake because every part of each flower is in sharp focus. Johnny of Spoon & Tamago explains:

To create photographs, which both hyper-realistic to the point of looking artificial, Toma utilized a process called focus-bracket shooting. It’s a method of photography often employed to shoot close-up, macro photos in which the final photograph is a composite of several images of the subject with each element in full focus. “Hyper-realism allows him to capture the specimen’s idealized beauty, creating a work that is deeply modern, yet in harmony with a rich Japanese history and tradition.”

Toma’s images are available in a book called The Most Beautiful Flowers.

Stop using Facebook and start using your browser

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

In “an open memo, to all marginally-smart people/consumers of internet ‘content’”, Foster Kamer has a small suggestion to those who care about the health and diversity of online media: stop reading what Facebook tells you to read and use your browser bar (or bookmarks) instead.

Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again.

Instead of reading stories that get to you because they’re popular, or just happen to be in your feed at that moment, you’ll read stories that get to you because you chose to go to them. Sounds simple, and insignificant, and almost too easy, right?

It’s only easy, and simple to do. As for why you should do it: It’s definitely not simple, nor insignificant. By choosing to be a reader of websites whose voices and ideas you’re fundamentally interested in and care about, you’re taking control.

And by doing that, you’ll chip away at the incentive publishers have to create headlines and stories weaponized for the purpose of sharing on social media. You’ll be stripping away at the motivation for websites everywhere (including this one) to make dumb hollow mindgarbage. At the same time, you’ll increase the incentive for these websites to be (if nothing else) more consistent and less desperate for your attention.

*head nodding vigorously* I mean, it’s a complicated situation. Facebook and Twitter are easily the best news/blog reading platforms ever invented, better than any RSS reader for most people. By putting most of the web’s information all in one place, they offer incredible speed and convenience, which is hard for people to ignore. I made this point in a footnote this morning: using Facebook instead of just bookmarks is compelling in the same way that shopping at Walmart instead of small-town shops was in the 80s. We blame Walmart for decimating small businesses, but ultimately, small town shoppers chose convenience and lower prices over the more local and diverse offerings from their neighbors. And for the past several years, readers have been doing the same thing in favoring Facebook. What Kamer is arguing is that readers who value good journalism, good writing, and diverse viewpoints need to push back against the likes of the increasingly powerful and monolithic Facebook…and visiting individual websites is one way to do that.

The art and science of carnival games and how to win them

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

Mark Rober and some friends staked out the carnival games at a local fair for the day in order to find the scams and the ones you can win…if you know how. Armed with info from their observations, Rober hit the fair with a Mets player who could dominate all the throwing games and cleaned them out.

I spent some time at a county fair this past summer and, if you’re with little kids, the carnies will sometimes show you how to win the games that are winnable (like the basket toss). But even after he was shown, my son still couldn’t get that damned wiffle ball in the basket on the two-out-of-three times needed to win a prize.

In tech and media, you can’t remain neutral on a moving train

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2017

In his review (finally!) of the iPhone X, John Gruber begins with a zoomed out view of how computer platforms face an adapt-or-die choice.

The more popular a computer platform becomes, the more of a bind in which it inevitably finds itself. A platform is only “finished” when it is abandoned. It needs to evolve to remain relevant, but it’s difficult to change in unfamiliar ways without angering the base of active users. Adding new features on top of the familiar foundation only gets you so far — eventually things grow too complex, especially when what’s needed now is in conflict with a design decision that made sense a decade (or more) prior.

I’d argue this applies equally well to cultural & scientific paradigms, media, companies, technology, and politics. And people too. Who you were in your 20s and the decisions you made for that person often don’t work that well for that same person at 40…which can make long-term relationships difficult to navigate.

It also applies to this here website. I’ve talked before about the changing landscape of web-based media from a revenue perspective, which is why I started the membership initiative.

As I hinted at in the announcement post, the industry-wide drop in revenue from display advertising was beginning to affect kottke.org and just a few months later, the site’s largest source of revenue (ads via The Deck) went from “hey, I can make a living at this!” to zero. Then Amazon slashed their affiliate percentages, resulting in a 30-50% drop for some sites in the network. I found a new ad network partner (with greatly reduced revenue) and my Amazon affiliate revenue didn’t fall as much as that of other sites, but together, those revenue sources would no longer be enough to support my full-time activities on the site.

But I’ve also been thinking a lot about how the information published here is delivered. I love the web and websites and believe the blog format is the best for the type of thing I want to communicate. But fewer and fewer people actually go to websites. I largely don’t. You can follow kottke.org on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and via RSS, but fewer people are using newsreaders and Facebook et al are trying their best to decrease visibility of sites like mine unless I pay up or constantly publish.1

So I’ve been considering other ways of producing content that don’t involve this website. (An experiment along those lines will be launching very soon…although if you’re reading the members-only newsletter, you already know all about it.) But I also know that if you’re reading this, you are likely reading it on the web, as intended, and likely for 8-10 years or more…my loyal base of active readers who I don’t want to alienate. But as Gruber says above, it’s a sticky wicket…adapt or die. kottke.org is a blog, but that’s only a means to an end: sharing information and ideas with other people. How do I continue to do that, stay true to a format that I & my loyal readers love, but also not end up like a vaudevillian in the 1940s, hoofing it on some dusty stage with no one in the audience while the movie houses are packed? All I can say for sure is that kottke.org is very much not “finished”. Stay tuned!

P.S. It’s perhaps not the perfect metaphor in this case, but the thing that always pops into my head when thinking about changing on the go is this clip from Mr. Bean. He’s late for the dentist and has to get ready in his tiny car. The whole thing is great, but the particularly relevant bit starts at ~3:30.

  1. Social media is disproportionally shitty for small media businesses that prioritize quality over quantity. It’s Walmart gutting small town downtowns all over again.

Visualizing things that happen every second around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

Every Second Mcdonalds

Every Second is a site that keeps track of various things that happen around the world by the second. For instance:

McDonald’s sells ~75 burgers, serves 810 customers, and makes about $800 every second of the day.

On Facebook, each second brings 52,000 new likes, 8500 new comments, and $261 in profit.

Apple sells 6.5 iPhones and handles 460,000 iMessages every second.

In 2016, Taylor Swift earned about $5 every second of the year. (via @daveg)

How to make Baltimore foods (pit beef, lake trout) featured on The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

For the holidays, the dusky-voiced gentleman behind Binging with Babish prepares some of the Baltimore specialties featured on The Wire…like pit beef and lake trout, which as Bunk says, features “no lake, no trout”. He even prepares the beer with an egg cracked in it enjoyed by the dock workers, although I didn’t appreciate his “kind of inferior season two” remark.

Speaking of inferior seasons of The Wire, I wonder if it’s time to go back to see how season five holds up in this current atmosphere of fake news. Maybe it wasn’t so outlandishly over-the-top after all?

Lost in Light: how light pollution obscures our view of the night sky

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2017

Because of light pollution from urban areas, many people around the world don’t know what the night sky actually looks like. Sriram Murali made a video to illustrate light pollution levels by shooting the familiar constellation of Orion in locations around the US with different amounts of light pollution, from bright San Francisco to a state park in Utah with barely any light at all. In SF, about all you can see are the handful of stars that make up Orion’s belt, arms, and legs. But as the locations get darker, the sky explodes in detail and Orion is lost among the thousands of visible stars (and satellites if you look closely).

This video is a followup to one Murali made of the Milky Way in increasingly dark locations, which is even more dramatic:

But he did the second video with Orion as a reference because many people had no concept of what the Milky Way actually looks like because they’ve never seen it before. Murali explains why he thinks light pollution is a problem:

The night skies remind us of our place in the Universe. Imagine if we lived under skies full of stars. That reminder we are a tiny part of this cosmos, the awe and a special connection with this remarkable world would make us much better beings — more thoughtful, inquisitive, empathetic, kind and caring. Imagine kids growing up passionate about astronomy looking for answers and how advanced humankind would be, how connected and caring we’d feel with one another, how noble and adventurous we’d be.

The measurement scale for sky darkness is called the Bortle scale, as explained by David Owen in his wonderful piece in the New Yorker:

In Galileo’s time, nighttime skies all over the world would have merited the darkest Bortle ranking, Class 1. Today, the sky above New York City is Class 9, at the other extreme of the scale, and American suburban skies are typically Class 5, 6, or 7. The very darkest places in the continental United States today are almost never darker than Class 2, and are increasingly threatened. For someone standing on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on a moonless night, the brightest feature of the sky is not the Milky Way but the glow of Las Vegas, a hundred and seventy-five miles away. To see skies truly comparable to those which Galileo knew, you would have to travel to such places as the Australian outback and the mountains of Peru.

Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh interviewed Paul Bogard, author of a book on darkness about light pollution and the Bortle scale:

Twilley: It’s astonishing to read the description of a Bortle Class 1, where the Milky Way is actually capable of casting shadows!

Bogard: It is. There’s a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That’s not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I’ve been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can’t have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.

A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it’s bright. That’s the great thing — the darker it gets, if it’s clear, the brighter the night is. That’s something we never see either, because it’s so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.

If you’d like to find a place near you with less light pollution, check out The Light Pollution Map. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with a Bortle class of 3 and I’ve visited class 2 locations before…visiting one of the class 1 parks out west is definitely on my bucket list.

Zines are the future of media

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 22, 2017

My favorite Nieman Lab prediction for journalism in 2018 (including this one I wrote myself) is Kawandeep Virdee’s “Zines Had It Right All Along.

kawandeep-zines.jpg

His actual prediction is that in 2018, digital media “will reflect more qualities that make print great.” Virdee distills a shortlist of qualities of zines and quarterly mags that he thinks are portable to digital:

“Most sites look the same,” Virdee writes. “It can be weird and wonderful.”

The positive example he gives isn’t a text feature, but the NYT video series “Internetting with Amanda Hess.” It’s an odd choice because digital video hasn’t had much of a problem picking up on a zine aesthetic or giving us that level of freshness and surprise; it’s digital text that’s been approaching conformity.

It’s also weird that Virdee works product at Medium, which is one of the sites that, despite or maybe because of its initial splash, is kind of the poster child for the current design consensus on the web. If Virdee is making the case that Medium (and other sites) should look a lot less like Medium, that would be the most exciting thing that Medium has done in a couple of years.

The other point I’d add is that zines and quarterlies look the way they do and feel the way they feel not because of a certain design aesthetic they share, or a design consensus they break from, but because of how they’re run, who owns them, and why they’re published. They look different because they are different. So maybe we need to look at the whole package and create an… oh, I don’t know, what’s the phrase I need… an “indie web”?

LeBron James and the Philly Beard Theory

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 22, 2017

LeBron James Beard.jpg

LeBron James, as a basketball player, is arguably better now than he’s ever been. More importantly, LeBron James’s beard is inarguably better now than it’s ever been.

Look at that fullness, that thickness, that beautiful roundness! That, my friend, is the beard of a man with a dietician, a dermatologist, and a barber on retainer.

It is the beard of a dad and a daddy both.

It is a beard fully realized. It is a Philly beard.

Here I need to explain. I was born in Detroit, but lived for many years in Philadelphia. The men of Philadelphia, and particularly the black men of Philadelphia, are known for their lustrous beards. Some of it is the influence of Islam; some of it may just be needing to be outdoors in cold weather. But it’s a source of civic pride and power.

This was the first video I ever saw on the Philly beard, made by the now-defunct Phillybeard.com in 2009:

The local PBS station made its own version, emphasizing some of the qualities needed for a proper Philly beard:

Even Al-Jazeera America got in on the action, with this excellent essay on the Philly beard by Hisham Aidi, tying to the city’s hip hop and jazz traditions as well as Islam:


But overseas the moustacheless, bushy beard is not so identifiably hip-hop and has caused considerable controversy, with security officials in Europe and the Middle East mistaking the Philly for a jihadi beard. In February 2014, for instance, Lebanese police arrested Hussein Sharaffedine (aka Double A the Preacherman), 32, a Shia rapper and frontman for a local funk band. Internal Security Forces mistook him for a Salafi militant and handcuffed and detained him for 24 hours. In Europe hip-hop heads such as French rapper Medine — a Black Powerite who wears a fierce beard that he calls “the Afro beneath my jaw” — complain of police harassment. French fashion magazines joke now crudely about “hipsterrorisme.” European journalists are descending on Philadelphia to trace the roots of what they call la barbe sunnah and Salafi hipsterism.

But just as not everyone who rocks a Sunnah is Sunni, it’s a mistake to conflate the moustacheless Sunnah with the Philly beard as such. For instance, check out Questlove and Black Thought, two classic examples of the Philly beard, avec une moustache:

roots-questlove-black-thought.jpg

These, I think, are the key criteria for a Philly beard:


  1. A full beard, trimmed only at the edges of the cheek and the neck;
  2. A trimmed moustache. The lips should be visible;
  3. That roundness. A Sunni muslim might grow out their beard long, so it gets that verticality. The Philly beard is round — as Medine says, it is an “afro beneath the jaw”;
  4. It has to be well-cared for. A Philly beard is not unshaven; a Philly beard is deliberate.

Even though LeBron James does not live in Philadelphia, nor has ever lived in Philadelphia, nor had anything to do with Philadelphia other than beating the Sixers and occasionally saying nice things about our rookie Ben Simmons, if I had to point to an example of a Philly beard, after the guys from The Roots? I would point to LeBron James.

This of course, leads to the obvious question: is LeBron, who has never before worn a beard quite like this, announcing without announcing, hiding in plain sight, via the medium of his face, his preferred free-agency destination in 2018?

The answer, for any fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, is clearly yes.

Naysayers, like my brother, would say the beard’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps it signals his intention to join James Harden with the Houston Rockets. But James Harden’s beard is not a Philly beard. Harden has to wear that thick moustache on top to hide his baby face. Harden’s beard is not round, but rectangular. It’s an impressive beard. But it is not the beard LeBron James is wearing. LeBron’s is a Philly beard.

Harden beard.jpg

Look: suppose you had to choose between playing in Los Angeles with Lonzo Ball (no beard, no hope of one), Brandon Ingram (sick, scraggly beard), Kyle Kuzma (my guy is from Flint, represent, but still), and maybe Paul George (who plays your position already) — OR you could play with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and MAYBE JJ Redick, for an equally storied franchise, but one that hasn’t won a title since 1983, AND you can stay in the Eastern conference and stick it to Dan Gilbert and Kyrie Irving forever — why would you not sign with the Sixers? Play in a city that would love you, love your children, is just a few hours away from home in Akron, and would love the hell out of that beard?

I think the choice is obvious. LeBron will be a Sixer in 2018. He’ll teach Simmons how to shoot, Embiid how to become indestructible, and be Magic Johnson and Dr. J rolled into one. I’ll make this promise now, with the web as my witness: I will move back to Philadelphia if this happens. And I will love every second of these young talents filling in around LeBron’s dad-game.

Trust the process; believe the beard.

LeBron James - Hat and Beard.png

The Jedi as samurai vs. the Jedi as ninja

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 22, 2017

ridley-hamill-last-jedi-luke-rey.jpg

What’s nice (if exhausting) about Star Wars is that you can never run out of Star Wars content, because you can talk about Star Wars forever. Maybe you can do this about anything, and in an alternate universe, we’re talking about the Rocky franchise like it’s Talmud. But I think Star Wars both gives you enough material and leaves you enough conceptual empty space that it’s possible to just generate talk and talk and talk.

In an ongoing franchise, this runs the risk of that empty space collapsing and fans feeling like their imaginations have been foreclosed. Again, this happens to every fandom, but Star Wars fans seem to take it pretty hard.

Consider the Jedi. Even if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, you know if you’ve seen The Force Awakens that characters in the new trilogy are using the Force to do things the Original Trilogy and prequels implied either required a lot of training or exceptional genetic gifts, and ideally both. In the new trilogy, the rules feel a little looser. Light sabers and force magic are things that some people are better at than others, sure, but they also can… kind of just do. And oh my, does this have people in their feelings.

Writing for The Week, Lili Loofbourow does a good job of explaining why:

The fact that Johnson’s Star Wars is more “democratic”… means, paradoxically, that it is also less interested in the rituals of samurai training that made Star Wars so satisfying. Becoming a great Jedi warrior used to be serious work; it demanded talent and skill and time. Later it seemed to require an aristocratic bloodline as well (what with the midi-chlorians, etc.). Now it just demands talent and no study… What was the point of Yoda? Do the sages have nothing to tell us? Did they ever?

See, there’s actually a three-part division here. The original trilogy emphasizes spiritual and physical training; the prequels, bloodline or origins; the new trilogy, being gifted and/or rising to the moment.

And actually, there are strands of all three theories in all three sets of movies. It’s just a question of relative weight. Training is important in the original trilogy; it’s also important in the prequels — they talk about it all the time! — and in the new movies (The Last Jedi is basically about Rey looking for a teacher from start to finish).

But training also became important to fans who rejected the introduction of midi-chlorians in the prequels. No, they said — the force isn’t about alien doodads in your bloodstream, it’s about training and discipline. It might be strong in families, but it’s available to anyone. So they leaned particularly hard on that crutch, only to see it (seemingly) kicked out of the way. And the fandom came crashing down.

One theory I really like comes from Abraham Riesman. It’s misleadingly titled “The Case for Midi-Chlorians.” What it really says, as I read it, is that the Jedi themselves do not fully understand what the Force is. Consequently, at different moments, and in response to different crises, they reinterpret it. They go into exile; they restore temples; they abandon them.1 They do not have it figured out, but are always refiguring it out for themselves, and for us.

Maybe midi-chlorians are as stupid an explanation of the Force as their real-world critics say they are. What if high midi-chlorian counts had a loose correlation to Force sensitivity, but weren’t actual causes of it, and the Jedi just misinterpreted their data? What if this was something like medieval doctors rambling on for centuries about humors and leeches — a faux-scientific delusion that was wholeheartedly embraced by a guild of people who loved to preach their own greatness to the hoi polloi? Perhaps the Jedi had thunk themselves into utter stupidity on an array of matters. Midi-chlorians were just one manifestation of their high-minded idiocy. From that point of view, the prequels are a tragedy about well-intentioned intellectuals whose myopic condescension led them onto a path of war and self-immolation…

So how do we explain the fact that Luke’s trainers don’t mention them?

I like to think it’s because they realized in their old age that midi-chlorians aren’t worth worrying about. Yoda and Obi-Wan had decades to ponder the nature of the Force and refine their conception of it down to its essence. Maybe, in looking back on the downfall of the Jedi, they realized that hewing too closely to specific explanations of the Force was a fool’s errand, a pseudo-intellectual distraction from what’s really important: spiritual contemplation and selfless deeds. As such, they may have thought Luke had the opportunity to build a future Jedi Order that wouldn’t repeat their mistakes. Like their decision to hide Leia’s familial relationship to him, they felt that Luke was better off without certain tidbits — and, unlike their dissembling about his sister, this was a worthwhile sin of omission. A condescending one, yes, but hey, old Jedi habits die hard.

Ultimately, both Riesman and Loofbourow come back to the same point: different people like Star Wars for different reasons, and we’re constantly jettisoning the bits we don’t like in favor of the ones we do. And the Jedi are doing that too.

This touches on my own personal fan theory, which is that the Jedi are better off and more interesting when they act less like samurai and more like ninja. Vader is 100 percent a samurai. He dresses like one, he acts like one: a loyal and noble retainer to state power. Obi-Wan in the original trilogy is not a samurai. He’s a trickster, a wizard, who uses misdirection and stealth rather than, well, force. He’ll throw down when he has to, but even his fight with Vader is more of a sleight-of-hand than an iron fist.

The Jedi should never have been the police force of the galaxy. They’re not Thors, but Lokis. They should have been rumors, legends. They don’t wear recognizable uniforms, but either simple robes or black cloaks. None but the initiated should have ever known they were real.

But maybe that is just the ethos of an order in exile, as the ninja were said to have been, scattered and displaced to the mountains of Japan.2

Maybe ninja is what you become when you can’t be samurai any more. When the old ways stop working, invent new old ways.

  1. See Babylonian Talmud, Book 10: History of the Talmud, tr. by Michael L. Rodkinson, [1918]:

    The sages, the commentators of the Talmud, differed in opinion as to the epoch when the Talmud began to be written down. The scholars of Spain, and their colleagues and disciples, said that it had been recorded from notes possessed since schools had begun in Israel, a long time before R. Jehudah the Nasi. The scholars of France, among them “Rashi,” however, declared that not a line was written till the completion of the Talmud, before which its study had been oral. Each school adduced proofs in behalf of its assertion. Modern scholars have made a compromise between these various versions, by asserting that during the first centuries the commentators of the Talmud in the beginning had taken notes of their studies, and later had written them out in a permanent form. It would seem that as the persecutions had at their commencement been very severe, and the sages felt that their lives were in peril, they decided to write its teaching in secret and to conceal it from its foes. No sooner had the Pharisees granted permission for this (for till then it was absolutely forbidden to put in writing oral law) than the number of manuscripts became very great; and when R. Jehudah the Nasi came to occupy the seat of his father and had been confirmed in authority (since he enjoyed the friendship of one Antonius, who was in power at Rome), he discovered that from the multitude of the trees the forest could not be seen; that is, from the multitude of the Mishnas the people had lost sight of the Talmud. He therefore resolved to compile, selecting out of all the written and the unwritten law, clear Mishnayoth, and to systematize them.


  2. From the Wikipedia entry on “Togakure-ryu”:

    According to Bujinkan researcher Glenn Morris, Togakure-ryu originated in the Mie Prefecture with its creator, Daisuke Nishina. Morris explains that it was started in 1162, as a way of fighting in the war between the Genji and Heike (Taira) clans. The style itself would go on to be known as the origination of ninjutsu and its various fighting styles. Nishina was a samurai and a member of the Genji clan, which had been staging a revolt against the Heike clan because of their oppression against the Genji people. The revolt, however, was crushed and Nishina fled his home village of Togakure in Shinano Province to save his children….

    Togakure-ryu’s ninpo taijutsu is described as being “fundamentally different” from other styles of Japanese martial arts that are currently taught in Japan and around the world. This is largely because, unlike these other styles, Togakure-ryu does not have a “tightly regimated (sic) organizational structure.” The Bujinkan teaches that while Togakure-ryu contains some “historical kata,” which are similar to the training in judo and aikido in that they require an attacker to attack to initiate the movements. Much of the “formality” that other styles contain is not present in modern Togakure-ryu. Stephen K. Hayes explained that it is likely this “freer, more flexible structure” that makes it different, as the style has an atmosphere where “questions are encouraged, but there isn’t one part answer for every question.”


Star Wars, from the perspective of C-3PO, is a relentless nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2017

Just before The Force Awakens came out two years ago, Alexandra Petri wrote a piece about how Star Wars looks from the perspective of C-3PO. Spoiler: not good.

Your master goes into a bar, where they refuse to serve you. Instead of leaving the bar in solidarity, he makes you wait outside.

Then you wind up in a giant space station. Your master leaves you behind with your eccentric colleague, who turns out to be carrying Very Important Information. You have no weapons. “What should he and I do if we’re discovered here?” you ask.

“Lock the door,” your new boss says, leaving nonchalantly.

“And hope they don’t have blasters,” adds his new friend, a jerk.

Reminds me of A People’s History of Tattooine, Howard Zinn-like take on Star Wars:

What if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?

What do you mean these blaster marks are too precise to be made by Sand People? Who talks like that?

Also Sand People is not the preferred nomenclature.

Both are good reminders that it matters from whose perspective stories are told. One of my favorite moments in The Last Jedi (spoilers!) is when Finn and Rose are warned that they’re traveling to a dangerous and terrible place — if I recall correctly, the exact wording was a riff on Obi Wan’s opinion of Mos Eisley: a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” — but then they cut to a luxe casino full of ultra-rich people. That felt like an explicit reference to current events as well as a sly nod to A People’s History of Tattooine (which director Rian Johnson may have come across in his internet travels).

Playing video games as meditation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

For GQ, Lauren Larson says that playing The Sims 2 is the closest thing she has to meditation.

Though I am a renowned fidgeter, I do not fidget. I am aware of the woke bikers who smoke below my window sharing their thoughts on “Cat Person,” but I feel no anger. I do not pause for snacks. I do not check my phone. I do not notice as day turns into night. My mind is clear. The Sims, agrees our photo editor Jared Schwartz, “is HELLA therapeutic.” It is the closest thing I have to meditation.

I’ve written before about how playing games on my iPhone, particularly Alto’s Adventure, has helped me through anxious times in my life.

I started playing the game when I was stressed or anxious. It became a form of meditation for me; playing cleared my mind and refocused my attention on the present. Even the seemingly stressful elements in the game became calming. The Elders, who spring up to give chase every few minutes, I don’t even notice anymore…which has become a metaphorical reminder for me to focus on my actions and what I can control and not worry about outside influences I can’t control.

I’ve also noticed this with Ski Safari, a game that came out more than 5 years ago that I still play when I want to relax. Which is funny because in the game, you control a skier trying to keep ahead of the constant avalanche following you, and if the avalanche catches you, you die. Sounds stressful, right? But as you get better at the game, the avalanche becomes less of a concern. You can’t do anything about it — as in life, the potentially crushing weight of something is always bearing down on you — so, you focus on being in the moment, controlling what you can control, and get on with your skiing.

For me, playing these games isn’t just meditative in the form of stress relief but also as a path to personal philosophical insight. The ideas of living in the present and emphasizing control over your reactions to external events (rather than to the events themselves) are found in ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Buddhism. It’s one thing to read about these things, but it was helpful to realize them on my own, in the simplified and sandboxed environment of video game play. And I keep going back to them because it reminds me to focus on practicing those things in the real world as well.

My recent media diet, special Star Wars edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I’ve been busy with work, so leisure reading time has been hard to come by…but I’m still working my way through Why Buddhism is True. Lots of great TV and movies though.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ve been watching Star Wars for almost 40 years, and I can’t tell if any of the movies are any good anymore. At this point, Star Wars just is. Even so, I really enjoyed seeing this and will try to catch it again in a week or two. This is a favorite review that mirrors many of my feelings. (A-)

Wormwood. Errol Morris is almost 70 years old, and this 6-part Netflix series is perhaps his most ambitious creation yet: is it a true crime documentary or a historical drama? Or both? Stylistically and thematically fascinating. See also Morris’s interview with Matt Zoller Seitz. (A)

Flipflop Solitaire. Oh man, this game sucked me waaaaay in. My best time for single suit so far is 1:25. (B+)

The Hateful Eight. I liked this way more than I expected based on the reviews, but it lacks the mastery of Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino at his self-indulgent best though. (B+)

Our Ex-Life podcast. A divorced couple, who live almost next door to each other in a small town, talks about the good old days, the bad old days, and co-parenting their three kids. (B+)

Paths of the Soul. A documentary about a group of Tibetan villagers who undertake a pilgrimage to Lhasa that has a genre-bending scripted feel to it. I’ve been thinking about this film since watching it…it’s full of incredible little moments. What do I believe in enough to undertake such a journey? Anything? (A)

Stranger Things 2. The plot of this show is fairly straight-forward, but the 80s vibe, soundtrack, and the young actors elevate it. (B+)

Stranger Things 2 soundtrack. As I was saying… (A-)

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. Huge Errol Morris fan (see above), but I was a bit bored by this. (C+)

The Crown, season two. This is one of my favorite new shows. I know she’s not the actual Queen, but I still want to have Claire Foy ‘round for tea. (A)

Blue Planet II. Just as good as Planet Earth II. Incredible stories and visuals. Premiering in the US in January. (A+)

The Moon 1968-1972. A charming little book of snapshots taken by astronauts on the Moon. (B+)

Donnie Darko. This one maybe hasn’t aged well. Or perhaps my commitment to Sparkle Motion is wavering? (B)

Part-Time Genius: Was Mister Rogers the Best Neighbor Ever? Yes, he was. (B+)

The Circle. This hit way way way way too close to home, and I couldn’t finish it. Also, not the best acting. (C)

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom. Really interesting, but I stopped listening to the audiobook because I wasn’t in the mood. (B)

A Charlie Brown Christmas. You know, for the kids. (B)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Charming, perhaps my favorite holiday short. (B+)

xXx. An un-ironic favorite. Sometimes, dumb fun is just the thing. (B)

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez. Tim’s recent post about smell reminded me of this book, which is a masterclass in criticism. (A-)

Young Frankenstein. I’d only seen this once before, but I wasn’t feeling it this time around. (B-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Slaughterbots: swarming killer drones powered by AI

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

We’ve seen autonomous swarming killer robots before (in Black Mirror and other places), but this video presents a particularly plausible scenario for their development: a venture-backed company led by a Travis Kalanick-style CEO combining tiny drones invented by a playful technologist, AI-powered facial recognition, and miniature explosives to make tiny killbots that will no doubt disrupt the world while creating a ton of shareholder value.

The video is produced by a group that wants to ban autonomous weapons, and I think these things will probably be banned in some form, possibly by banning drones and some kinds of consumer electronics altogether. What struck me most while watching this is that if guns were a new invention, they would most likely be banned in the US, just like lawn darts or explosive devices. A hand-held machine that can kill a person 1000 feet away and hides easily in a pocket? That sounds like a dangerous, litigious nightmare, just the sort of thing the US routinely regulates against for the safety of its people.

Would you rather be “smart and sad” or “dumb and happy”?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2017

National political opinion polls are usually fairly staid affairs involving Presidential approval ratings, healthcare, and religious beliefs. Over the course of a year in partnership with a professional research firm, Cards Against Humanity is running a different sort of opinion poll with more unusual questions. The early results are at Pulse of the Nation.

They asked people if they’re rather be “dumb and happy” or “smart and sad”. The “dumb and happy” respondents were more likely to say human-caused climate change is not real:

Pulse Nation Poll

The majority of black people surveyed believe a second civil war is likely within the next decade:

Pulse Nation Poll

65% of Democrats surveyed would rather have Darth Vader as President than Donald Trump:

Pulse Nation Poll

And one’s approval of Donald Trump correlates to a belief that rap is not music:

Pulse Nation Poll

And farts. They asked people about farting. Jokes aside, the results of this poll bummed me out. Many of the responses were irrational — Darth Vader would be much worse than Trump and Democrats believe that the top 1% of richest Americans own 75% of the wealth (it’s actually 39%)…and people with more formal education guessed worse on that question. The divide on rap music is racial and generational but also points to a lack of curiosity from many Americans about what is perhaps the defining art form of the past 30 years. But the worst is what Americans thought of each other…Democrats think Republicans are racist and Republicans don’t think Democrats love America. The polarization of the American public continues.

Mortal Engines

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

Mortal Engines is a forthcoming post-apocalyptic movie about giant mobile cities roaming the Earth in search of smaller cities to scavenge.

Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns.

The Lord of the Rings team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson wrote the screenplay, adapted from the first book in Philip Reeve’s series of the same name. Here’s concept of the book from Wikipedia:

The book is set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by a “Sixty Minute War”, which caused massive geological upheaval. To escape the earthquakes, volcanoes, and other instabilities, a Nomad leader called Nikola Quercus installed huge engines and wheels on London, and enabled it to dismantle (or eat) other cities for resources. The technology rapidly spread, and evolved into what is known as “Municipal Darwinism”. Although the planet has since become stable, Municipal Darwinism has spread to most of the world except for Asia and parts of Africa. Much technological and scientific knowledge was lost during the war. Because scientific progress has almost completely halted, “Old Tech” is highly prized and recovered by scavengers and archaeologists. Europe, some of Asia, North Africa, Antarctica, and the Arctic are dominated by Traction Cities, whereas North America was so ravaged by the war that it is often identified as “the dead continent”, and the rest of the world is the stronghold of the Anti-Traction League, which seeks to keep cities from moving and thus stop the intense consumption of the planet’s remaining resources.

This sounds like it could be great…if they don’t muck it up.

What would you save from a fire?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes due to the Thomas Fire in Southern California. The Nib asked some of them what they grabbed from their homes on the way out the door. Here are illustrations of some of their answers.

Thomas Fire Evac

Thomas Fire Evac

What would you grab? I just wandered around my house, and I’d probably reach for the art and drawings my kids have done as well as the first books I remember reading with them…some of which were mine when I was a kid. Oh, and a quilt I’ve had since I was 4 or 5. The rest is replaceable…which makes me think I have too much stuff.

How extensive editing rescued Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

The first version of Star Wars that George Lucas showed publicly (to Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma) was, as Spielberg later related, a mess. This video from RocketJump shows how Lucas and the film’s team of editors, particularly George’s then-wife Marcia Lucas, recut the film into the classic it is today. The beginning of the film was extensively reworked — some scenes were cut and others moved around to give the story more clarity. In other spots, small cutaway scenes were added to improve the flow, to explain plot details without expositional dialogue, and to smooth over rough transitions. And the drama of the end of the film was totally constructed in the editing phase by using off-screen dialogue and spliced-in scenes from earlier in the film.

There are greater examples of editing in other films, but Star Wars is such a known entity that this is a particularly persuasive take on just how important editing is in filmmaking. (via fairly interesting)

The Most 2017 Photos of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

Summer 2017 Fire

So 2017

So 2017

So 2017

I’m hoping to do my annual roundup of the photos of the year soon, but I wanted to separately highlight Alan Taylor’s list of The Most 2017 Photos Ever, “a collection of photographs that are just so 2017”. There’s distracted boyfriend, wildfires, fidget spinners, protestors, predatory men, the eclipse, kneeling, praying, shooting, and many photos of Trump looking dumb, bewildered, or both. Yeah, that about sums it up.

I am a little surprised though that the photo of the guy mowing his lawn with a tornado in the background didn’t make the cut…perhaps a little too metaphorically similar to the golfing photo above.

Man Mowing Lawn Tornado

A world that can’t learn from itself

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

From Umair Haque, a provocative question: Why Don’t Americans Understand How Poor Their Lives Are?

In London, Paris, Berlin, I hop on the train, head to the cafe — it’s the afternoon, and nobody’s gotten to work until 9am, and even then, maybe not until 10 — order a carefully made coffee and a newly baked croissant, do some writing, pick up some fresh groceries, maybe a meal or two, head home — now it’s 6 or 7, and everyone else has already gone home around 5 — and watch something interesting, maybe a documentary by an academic, the BBC’s Blue Planet, or a Swedish crime-noir. I think back on my day and remember the people smiling and laughing at the pubs and cafes.

In New York, Washington, Philadelphia, I do the same thing, but it is not the same experience at all. I take broken down public transport to the cafe — everybody’s been at work since 6 or 7 or 8, so they already look half-dead — order coffee and a croissant, both of which are fairly tasteless, do some writing, pick up some mass-produced groceries, full of toxins and colourings and GMOs, even if they are labelled “organic” and “fresh”, all forbidden in Europe, head home — people are still at work, though it’s 7 or 8 — and watch something bland and forgettable, reality porn, decline porn, police-state TV. I think back on my day and remember how I didn’t see a single genuine smile — only hard, grim faces, set against despair, like imagine living in Soviet Leningrad.

Haque places the blame on our inability as a society to look outward and learn from ourselves, from history, and from the rest of the world.

So just as Americans don’t get how bad their lives really are, comparatively speaking — which is to say how good they could be — so too Europeans don’t fully understand how good their lives are — and how bad, if they continue to follow in America’s footsteps, austerity by austerity, they could be. Both appear to be blind to one another’s mistakes and successes.

Reading it, I noticed a similarity to Ted Chiang’s essay on the unchecked capitalism of Silicon Valley (which I linked to this morning). Chiang notes that corporations lack insight:

In psychology, the term “insight” is used to describe a recognition of one’s own condition, such as when a person with mental illness is aware of their illness. More broadly, it describes the ability to recognize patterns in one’s own behavior. It’s an example of metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thinking, and it’s something most humans are capable of but animals are not. And I believe the best test of whether an AI is really engaging in human-level cognition would be for it to demonstrate insight of this kind.

Haque is saying that our societies lack insight as well…or at least the will to incorporate that insight into practice.

Sesame Street puppeteers explain how they play their characters

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

If you grew up watching Sesame Street but are now old enough to realize that Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, and Oscar aren’t actually real, this behind-the-scenes video about how the puppets are controlled is a must-see. What struck me most was that the puppeteers do both the movement and the voice for these characters…the guy inside the Snuffleupagus suit is actually speaking the lines. It would be so easy to separate the two activities with voiceovers added later, but I bet the final result wouldn’t be as good as using the on-set full-body performance.

See also Four things about Mr. Snuffleupagus, including the unusual reason his existence was finally revealed to the grownups on the show. (via @simplebits)

The death of an Alaskan glacier

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

Rick Brown owns an adventure tour company called Adventure Sixty North in Seward, Alaska, a small town on an inlet of the Kenai Peninsula. They offer guided hikes and kayaking tours of the surrounding country, including ice hikes on the Exit Glacier.

In this video, Brown talks very simply and powerfully about the changes that he’s witnessed in the glacier and in Alaska in his long career as a guide…like that the Exit Glacier is currently retreating 10 to 15 feet per day.

Normally I think the park will tell you that it retreats about 150 feet per year. Right now they’re looking at 10 to 15 feet per day. You’re seeing the big crevasses that used to be blue up on top of the compression zones now down in the toe of the glacier just falling over. Something that normally would take hundreds of years we’re seeing probably in a matter of a year or two.

You can see a map of how much the glacier has retreated since 1950. But it’s not just the glacier…other changes are occurring in Alaska.

We’re seeing a change in the wildlife. We have villages that are being relocated. We get storms up here that if they were happening down in the lower 48, we’d name them something. Our ten-year floods are happening every other year now. You can drive to our town and look at what’s going on, and if you can’t see what’s happening, then I think that you must be blind. Normally I would need a plow here in my office and we need a lawnmower.

While Seward is not quite so far north, I couldn’t help but think of Eric Holthaus’s recent piece on how the fundamental character of the Arctic has changed, possibly for good. Namely, that it won’t be frozen anymore:

Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more.

The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.

In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.”

What an astonishing thing. Perhaps in 20 years, when someone over the age of 35 uses a phrase like “Arctic cold” as a stand-in for extremely cold weather, their kids won’t know what the hell they’re referring to. (via @JossFong)

The creative process of the creative process

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

A good idea, persistence, the value of limits, the power of collaboration, turning weaknesses into strengths, procuring funding for creative projects…there’s a little bit of everything in this video on the creative process in action.

For years, Max Joseph had an idea: what if you could turn highway divider markers into an animation via the zoetrope effect? You know, Burma Shave by way of Eadweard Muybridge. He kept telling people about this idea until one day, someone agreed to fund it. He found some enthusiastic collaborators and started work. They soon reached a potential failure point — the project as originally conceived was logistically impossible — but quickly found a solution that made the project thematically stronger without straying too far from the initial concept. (via swissmiss)

Ted Chiang on the similarities between “civilization-destroying AIs and Silicon Valley tech companies”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

Ted Chiang is most widely known for writing Story of Your Life, an award-winning short story that became the basis for Arrival. In this essay for Buzzfeed, Chiang argues that we should worry less about machines becoming superintelligent and more about the machines we’ve already built that lack remorse & insight and have the capability to destroy the world: “we just call them corporations”.

Speaking to Maureen Dowd for a Vanity Fair article published in April, Musk gave an example of an artificial intelligence that’s given the task of picking strawberries. It seems harmless enough, but as the AI redesigns itself to be more effective, it might decide that the best way to maximize its output would be to destroy civilization and convert the entire surface of the Earth into strawberry fields. Thus, in its pursuit of a seemingly innocuous goal, an AI could bring about the extinction of humanity purely as an unintended side effect.

This scenario sounds absurd to most people, yet there are a surprising number of technologists who think it illustrates a real danger. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’re already accustomed to entities that operate this way: Silicon Valley tech companies.

Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism.

As you might expect from Chiang, this piece is full of cracking writing. I had to stop myself from just excerpting the whole thing here, ultimately deciding that would go against the spirit of the whole thing. So just this one bit:

The ethos of startup culture could serve as a blueprint for civilization-destroying AIs. “Move fast and break things” was once Facebook’s motto; they later changed it to “Move fast with stable infrastructure,” but they were talking about preserving what they had built, not what anyone else had. This attitude of treating the rest of the world as eggs to be broken for one’s own omelet could be the prime directive for an AI bringing about the apocalypse.

Ok, just one more:

The fears of superintelligent AI are probably genuine on the part of the doomsayers. That doesn’t mean they reflect a real threat; what they reflect is the inability of technologists to conceive of moderation as a virtue. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Elon Musk assume that a superintelligent AI will stop at nothing to achieves its goals because that’s the attitude they adopted. (Of course, they saw nothing wrong with this strategy when they were the ones engaging in it; it’s only the possibility that someone else might be better at it than they were that gives them cause for concern.)

You should really just read the whole thing. It’s not long and Chiang’s point is quietly but powerfully persuasive.

The first trailer & great poster for Ocean’s 8

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

Published just the poster last night and lo-and-behold, the first trailer is out this morning. Can’t wait for this.

Oceans 8 Poster

Oh don’t mind me, I’m just hyperventilating over this poster for Ocean’s 8. Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Cate Blanchett.

Update: A new trailer and a release date: June 8.

The rates of traffic flow on different kinds of 4-way intersections

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

This is an animation of traffic flows simulated on 30 different kinds of four-way junctions, from two roads intersecting with no traffic lights or signs to complex stacked interchanges that feature very few interactions between individual cars. It was recorded in a game called Cities: Skylines, a more realistic take on SimCity.

The developer’s goal was to create a game engine capable of simulating the daily routines of nearly a million unique citizens, while presenting this to the player in a simple way, allowing the player to easily understand various problems in their city’s design. This includes realistic traffic congestion, and the effects of congestion on city services and districts.

I don’t know how accurate the observed rates of flow are — where my transportation engineers at? — but it’s super interesting to watch the various patterns get increasingly complex and efficient, and how the addition of dedicated turn lanes, roundabouts, overpasses, and slip lanes affect the flow. Be on the lookout for the turbo roundabout, the diverging windmill (which, coincidentally, is the name of my signature dance move), and the incredibly complex pinavia,1 which can handle almost five times the traffic flow compared to a simple intersection with no lights.

  1. The pinavia interchange is apparently patented, which is a fascinating thing in its own right.

Endlessly zooming art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

DeepDream is, well, I can’t improve upon Wikipedia’s definition:

DeepDream is a computer vision program created by Google engineer Alexander Mordvintsev which uses a convolutional neural network to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic pareidolia, thus creating a dream-like hallucinogenic appearance in the deliberately over-processed images.

The freaky images took the web by storm a couple of years ago after Google open-sourced the code, allowing people to create their own DeepDreamed imagery.

In the video above, Mordvintsev showcases a DeepDream-ish new use for image generation via neural network: endlessly zooming into artworks to find different artworks hidden amongst the brushstrokes, creating a fractal of art history.

Bonus activity: after staring at the video for four minutes straight, look at something else and watch it spin and twist weirdly for a moment before your vision readjusts. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Dancing on roller skates with James Brown’s style

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

For the latest installment of the Dance In The Real World series, the NY Times visited a Chicago roller rink where people skate in a JB Style, named after the performer James Brown. I wanted to watch about 10 more minutes of that…and then go roller skating. See also Dancing on Skates.

Other videos in the Dance In The Real World series include stilt-dancing in Trinadad and the new vogueing scene in NYC. And they’re the perfect snackable size…I watched all five of them just now.

Deliverance from Mount Everest

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

Everest Deliverance

I meant to get an early start to the day this morning, but then I got stuck in bed for 30 minutes reading this completely engrossing story by John Branch about the recovery of the bodies of two Indian climbers near the summit of Everest.

Mount Everest occupies a rare spot in the collective imagination — a misty mix of wonder, reverence and trepidation. Hundreds of people successfully and safely reach the summit most years and return home with inspirational tales of conquest and perseverance. Other stories detail the occasional tragedies that leave a few people dead in a typical year. Those disaster stories are now their own genre in books and film.

Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home. The only search is for some semblance of closure.

That was why the Sherpas with their oxygen masks and ice axes had come this far, this high, more than a year later.

The four Indian climbers, from a vibrant climbing culture in West Bengal, were like so many others attempting Everest. They saw the mountain as the ultimate conquest, a bucket-list item that would bring personal satisfaction and prestige. They dreamed of it for years and made it the focus of their training. As motivation, they surrounded themselves with photographs of the mountain, from their Facebook pages to the walls of their homes.

In other ways, however, they were different. Climbing Everest is an expensive endeavor, something to be both bought and earned. Many climbers are middle-aged Westerners — doctors, lawyers and other professionals — with the kind of wealth that the group from India could not fathom. Some spend $100,000 to ensure the best guides, service and safety.

These four climbers measured monthly salaries in the hundreds of dollars. They borrowed money and sold off possessions simply for a chance. They cut costs and corners, because otherwise Everest was completely out of reach.

Personally, I’ll never understand people who take such risks with their lives.1 Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in reading articles like these…I get to put myself into that mindset for a little while, to awaken the small part of myself that might be open to doing something I normally wouldn’t for reasons I would typically dismiss. (via @DavidGrann)

  1. Although, if offered a one-way trip to Mars, I would be sorely tempted, so perhaps I’m being more than a little hypocritical in this regard.

Unlocking the commons: or, the psychoeconomics of patronage

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 15, 2017

Nieman Journalism Lab is running its annual predictions for the next year in journalism. I wound up pitching something about audio platforms that is weirdly optimistic about Spotify? but for a hot minute, I tried to talk Jason (and he tried to talk me) into writing something about the new patron economy.

It was too late to pitch it as a prediction, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I do what I do, which is to write as much of it down as I can. In the end, I couldn’t think of a better place to run it than right here at Kottke.org.

Here’s the picture as generally agreed upon: ads are still alive and well, but the collapse and consolidation of the ad market means ads alone can’t support media companies any more, whether they’re big like the New York Times or small like Kottke.org.

There’s a puritanical argument that says ads have failed media, they bring out media’s worse impulses, and might be inherently bad. The only way to break with the ad model is to break with it completely, and sell media like a product. Make readers pay for content. If they don’t pay for it, don’t give it to them. Only when media companies are wholly accountable to their subscribers can you fix what’s wrong with media. Big companies need paywalls: little ones need exclusive subscribers.

Kottke.org, obviously, does not work this way. It has ads, although those are a very small part of the site and a shrinking part of the revenue. It has members, but very, very little is directed only to them: right now, subscribers to the newsletters get some behind-the-scenes stuff and a few early previews and experiments. Stuff that only real fans even want. The site, the tweets, the RSS feed, and everything else the site’s produced or ever will produce is available to everyone, whether they’re a member or not.

I call this “unlocking the commons,” and it’s the same approach I’ve taken with my Patreon and newsletter. Fans support the person and the work. But it’s not a transaction, a fee for service. It’s a contribution that benefits everyone. Free-riders aren’t just welcome; free-riding is the point.

This, I think, is key to understanding the psychology of patronage. Normally, if you buy a product — let’s say you’re buying a book. Books aren’t perfect commodities, but they’re still commodities. As a shopper, you’re trying to get as much value for your book as you can for your money. If I can get the book cheaper and faster from retailer A(mazon) than retailer B(arnes & Noble), most of the time, that’s what I’m going to do.

If I’m skeptical of A, and prefer to support B or C(ity bookstore of my choice), I’m not strictly speaking in a purchasing relationship any more, but something closer to a patronage one. I don’t just want my money to buy an object; I want it to support institutions and individuals I like, and I want it to support the common good.

This is one of the weird things about patronage. As a consumer, your first thought is to your own benefit. As a patron, it’s to the good of your beneficiary. Likewise, as an artisan supported by patronage, you tend to think more about what’s best for your patrons and audience than you do yourself.

For instance, when Patreon recently changed its fee structure, I thought about it on two levels. First, it seemed really bad for patrons, slightly less bad for beneficiaries, and clearly helped out Patreon more than either group. As a customer of Patreon — they’re the ones I give my money to — I felt like I was being ripped off. I was being asked for more money without getting more in return. But as a patron, my first thought was, does this help the people I pledge money to each month? And as a beneficiary, I thought, how does this affect the people who pledge money to me?

In both cases, I wanted what was best for that other person. I wanted them to be getting the full value of the transaction. The only time it was about me was when I thought about my relationship with Patreon — which is completely different.

Please note that this is not fuzzy-headed idealism or just sentiment: this is as concrete and comprehensive as it gets. It’s economic thinking that recognizes that goods don’t just exist to be used up, but are objects of labor produced by and for members of a commonwealth. The truth of the transaction is in the whole.

The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world. This has always been the value proposition of journalism and art. It’s a nonexclusive good that’s best enjoyed nonexclusively.

Anyways. This is a prediction for 2018 and beyond. The most powerful and interesting media model will remain raising money from members who don’t just permit but insist that the product be given away for free. The value comes not just what they’re buying, but who they’re buying it from and who gets to enjoy it.

The bigger those two pools get — the bigger the membership, and the bigger the audience — the better it gets for everyone. This is why we need more tools, so more people can try to do it. PBS as a service.

It’s not quite socialized art. Mutualist art, maybe. Proudhon probably would have thought it was pretty cool. So would the Florentines, arch-capitalists as they were. And it might not work. But so far, it’s the only model I’ve found worth trying.

Writing for the smell of it

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 15, 2017

booksmell.jpg

Earlier this week, I wrote about how literature transforms text into voice and experience — the word made flesh, basically. But the examples I used of “experience” focused, as such discussions often do, on the image: in other words, vision. And it should be obvious that embodied experience is much richer than that. Experience is tactile and spatial, mental and auditory. It’s not photography; it has a taste and a temperature.

Smell might be the most ineffable feature of animal life. Words and food go through the mouth, so language and taste have a more intimate relationship than it does with smell, the seat of breath. The language of taste colonizes other experiences almost as much as vision does. The word “taste” alone testifies to this.

Smell is more delicate, and harder to explain or describe. In conversation, we have words, sure, but mostly communicate smell through grunts or exaggerated faces. Or again, through analogy with taste — with which it’s closely linked.

It’s probably safe to say that the deeper we move into language, especially the more cerebral side of language, the more alienated we become from smell. The world stops being beings among beings, and becomes res extensa.

Still, writers have to try to find a way to square this circle. How do you do it? Do you try to dominate the reader and go all pulpy, immersive, and visceral? Or do you write around it: using smell as a starting point for memory and sensibility, counting on readers to fill in the gaps?

Consider this passage from Helena Fitzgerald and Rachel Syme’s perfume newsletter, The Dry Down:

What we know as “leather” in scent is really an intellectual idea and not a true distillation of anything; it’s the ingenious concept of covering up the smell of dried-out skins with flowers so that these skins can be sold as luxury goods. The real story behind this idea is one of violence and hideous smells: many of the bloody, gut-strewn tanneries of 16th century France were located in close proximity to the Grasse perfume distilleries (where flowers were also sent to their deaths by hot steam or being suffocated in tallow), so close that the air in town became a heady melange of life and death, all mixed up; it must have smelled overwhelming and nauseating and murderous and terrifying (but then, that was the way most of Europe smelled before sewage systems were invented). Legend has it that this intermingling began when Catherine de Medici came over from Italy to rule France in 1547 and asked the Grasse tanners to start scenting their gloves with jasmine to rid them of the putrid scent of the kill; oiled gant then became de rigeur among aristocratic French try-hards…

It was all the rage to pretend that the dead thing you were wearing on your hands arrived to your palace smelling like a rose; and that’s still pretty much where we are with leather. When you close your eyes and think of what a pure leather smells like to you (a S&M dungeon? Frye boots crunching over autumn leaves? A tawny satchel worn down by years of use?), what you must know is that whatever you are imagining is an artificial smell, a clever creation passed down from some genius in post-classical Provence who conjured up a way to give a pushy queen exactly what she desired. That smell of suede, of the inside of a new handbag, that’s always a damn lie. Actual leather smells like rotting, like wretching, like rigor mortis. It’s not pleasant, but then, luxury is about high-stakes deceit, about playing hide-the-damage inside buttery language and astronomical price tags.

Later, Rachel writes about a perfumer she met names Stephen Dirkes:

When we first met, Dirkes brought me real ambergris to smell, waving an antique tin of pungent whale belly under my nose; I will never forget it. He also brought civet and castoreum, true animal secretions, to show me how very close to death we are at all times when we love perfume. These materials don’t smell fresh or vibrant, they smell like the other side of the bell curve, the decline, the decay. Stephen was the first person to tell me about the Grasse tanneries, and I remember he said something like “There is a death drive in these smells,” and that perfume is often an expression of self-loathing as much as it is of self-love. And that’s what leather is to me. You can’t wear it unless deep down, you loathe humanity as much as you love it, unless you acknowledge the gory hidden history of our hedonism, unless you know, in your heart, that opulence is a cover-up job.

Helena, in the same newsletter, writes the following beautiful observation about the smell of books:

What makes old book smell work as a scent that can be worn on the skin is a leather note, and the other smells that mingle in a university library, the kind of place where more hidden corners, more secret hide-outs, reveal themselves the longer you stay - the undercurrent of cooped-up people’s sweat, a hum of anxiety and ambition and want, the waft of the snacks that somebody snuck in, the sudden out-of-place hope when someone cracks a window, the residue of cigarettes clinging to people’s hair and clothes when they come back in from one more smoke break during a marathon study session. It smells like the gummy, self-satisfied leather of old book bindings and the grateful sinking feeling when you flop onto a broken-down Chesterfield sofa. Leather dominates New Sibet, but it is rounded out by notes of ash and carnation, iris and fur and moss, and it comes together to smell like a library not in the romantic Beauty and the Beast sense of a library, but the lived-in, slightly gross, sleep-deprived, buzzing all-too-human and really pretty rank smell of a college library. Old book smell made human is admittedly a little bit gross, in the way that even the fanciest college with the most prestigious pedigree, the most beautiful wrought iron gates and most gracious green quadrangles is still full of college students, and college students are inevitably kind of disgusting. But that human grossness is what’s missing from old book smell, and it’s what makes New Sibet into a wearable expression of old book smell. It smells not just like books but like their context, the people crowding in around them, the bodies sinking time as lived experience into the leather covers of old books through their human smell.

I’m not much of a perfume person. I am, however, a writing and smelling person. And I love the way Helena and Rachel write about smells.

Via Amanda Mae Meyncke, who adds:

This is the thing I’ve told more people about in 2017 than anything else — it is an utter delight. I never cared about perfume at ALL before this, and their writing is so good and so precise, so intelligent and so ACCURATE, that every suggestion they’ve made has smelled exactly like their descriptions — which are a mixture of memory, sense, history and more — and they’ve done the impossible, making this aloof-seeming shit absolutely accessible and delightful.

(This is also a relatively cheap, luxurious, happy-making hobby in the midst of perilous times.)

The pizza metaphor of net neutrality

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 15, 2017

green-lantern-pizza.jpeg

Net neutrality has been explained using pizza at least three times. Jason flagged this dead-to-rights analogy by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark from 2006:

Let’s say you call Joe’s Pizza and the first thing you hear is a message saying you’ll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That’s not fair, right? You called Joe’s and want some Joe’s pizza. Well, that’s how some telecommunications executives want the Internet to operate, with some Web sites easier to access than others. For them, this would be a money-making regime.

Recently, John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, brought the pizza metaphor back:

Here is a simple metaphor: The telephone system, which has long been regulated to protect the public interest. You probably wouldn’t like it if you tried to order pizza from your favorite local place and were connected to a Papa John’s instead because it had got some special deal. Or if a Verizon telephone only connected to other Verizon phones. Obviously, there are a lot of differences between internet access and the telephone and how they work and how they are built, but the basic principle that essential communication systems ought to be non-discriminatory is the same.

However, the most deliberate and thorough consideration of Internet-as-pizza came before either of these interventions, and it came from the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a dissent in 2005’s NCTA and FCC v. Brand X Internet Services’s decision, Scalia wrote:

If, for example, I call up a pizzeria and ask whether they offer delivery, both common sense and common “usage,” […] would prevent them from answering: ‘No, we do not offer delivery-but if you order a pizza from us, we’ll bake it for you and then bring it to your house.’ The logical response to this would be something on the order of, ‘so, you do offer delivery.’ But our pizza-man may continue to deny the obvious and explain, paraphrasing the FCC and the Court: ‘No, even though we bring the pizza to your house, we are not actually “offering” you delivery, because the delivery that we provide to our end users is “part and parcel” of our pizzeria-pizza-at-home service and is “integral to its other capabilities.”’… Any reasonable customer would conclude at that point that his interlocutor was either crazy or following some too-clever-by-half legal advice.

For Scalia, delivery is delivery. You buy the access to the internet — plus telephone, or cable, TV, or whatever it is you’re paying for — and you buy the access to the pipe. “It is therefore inevitable that customers will regard the competing cable-modem service as giving them both computing functionality and the physical pipe by which that functionality comes to their computer —both the pizza and the delivery service that nondelivery pizzerias require to be purchased from the cab company.”

Like so many things, it’s a fiction to avoid regulation:

The Court contends that this analogy is inapposite because one need not have a pizza delivered… whereas one must purchase the cable connection in order to use cable’s ISP functions. But the ISP functions provided by the cable company can be used without cable delivery — by accessing them from an Internet connection other than cable. The merger of the physical connection and Internet functions in cable’s offerings has nothing to do with the “inextricably intertwined” nature of the two (like a car and its carpet), but is an artificial product of the cable company is marketing decision not to offer the two separately, so that the Commission could (by the Declaratory Ruling under review here) exempt it from common-carrier status.

Of course, getting the pizza (or the Internet) delivered to your house is the whole point, as the telecommunications companies understood full well:

The myth that the pizzeria does not offer delivery becomes even more difficult to maintain when the pizzeria advertises quick delivery as one of its advantages over competitors. That, of course, is the case with cable broadband.

Scalia was a first-rate jerk, and often extraordinarily wrong, but was generally solid on tech issues. He understood them, not in a technical way, but in a practical one. He also understood how to reason about them, both from analogy and from principle. He was never bumfuzzled, and was rarely compromised. His conservative successors haven’t proved to have the same qualities.

It’s good to look back at this, though, because it shows that we’ve been in an endless tug of war over net neutrality for more than twenty years. Even in 2014, it looked like the Obama-appointed regulators were as likely to gut net neutrality as reinforce and codify it. The new deregulation of the internet is a loss, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one, unless we let it.

It also helps us to never forget that the FCC’s Ajit Pai danced with a Pizzagate conspiracy promoter before taking a dump all over the World Wide Web. I can’t say exactly how this ties into the pizza metaphor. But it’s in there somewhere, like a bad topping buried under too much cheese.

(via The Atlantic and Adrienne LaFrance)

Black Thought’s ten-minute freestyle

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 15, 2017

Warning: this is the best thing you’re going to see today, even if you already saw it yesterday.

In this clip, The Roots’ MC dishes out an album’s worth of rhymes from memory, while hardly stopping to breathe.

For once in his life, Sean Combs may not be exaggerating:

But as his bandmate Questlove pointed out, Black Thought has been doing this for years:

And Genius fulfilled its one true purpose, with fans getting the freestyle transcribed and available the same day.

Update: Aaaaand Genius took the post down, without explanation. So the quoted lyrics you’re about to get are as close to definitive as we have.

What I love about Black Thought’s freestyle is that it does everything hip-hop at its best does. He has the technical virtuosity and improvisation, both of which are first-rate. He toasts, boasts, and roasts. He plays with words, and the words play right back.

But he also tells stories, including this striking one about his mother:

My mother was a working class very lovin’ woman
Who struggled, every dinner could’ve been the last summer
I come home, chasing good-for-nothing half-cousins
And then walk in the crib to the smell of crack cookin’
She was introduced to that substance abuse
On some of the strongest drugs that the government produced

He gets philosophical and abstract. Like, real abstract.

I made the 21-pound for some a new found religion
When money’s put down, it’s only one sound to make
OGs and young lions equally proud to listen
The secret amalgam is an algorithm
Coming from where only kings and crowns permitted
The darkness where archaeologists found
My image in parchment rolled into a scroll
Holding a message for you, it says
“The only thing for sure is taxes, death, and trouble”
The anomaly swore solemnly, high snobiety
Freakonomics of war policy, dichotomy
That’s Heaven and Hades
Tigris and Euphrates
His highness
The apple of the iris to you ladies
As babies, we went from Similac and Enfamil
To the internet and fentanyl
Where all consent was still against the will

He pays homage to rap history:

Maybe I’m the new Rakim
Maybe I’m fat Pharaohe
Undergarments of armor be my intimate apparel
Pre-Kardashian Kanye
My rhyme-play immaculate
Same cadence as D.O.C Pre-accident
Maybe my acumen on par with Kool G Rap and them

And to his own discography:

I hate to say I told y’all, but I told y’all
Things fall apart when the center too weak to hold y’all
I’m just collecting what you owed to my old jawn
You ‘bout to get swooped down on and stoled on

He charms and disarms:

You in the residency of the one they call
King Dada
Ali Baba
The Talented Mr. Trotter
Inside of my right palm, the mark of the stigmata
Big Poppa wig chopper
Emperor Joffrey Joffer
Motherfucka, I’m stronger than the coffee out in Kaffa
All y’all niggas vagina-hop
Remind me of Icona Pop
I step in the booth, I’m a bull inside a China Shop
Mollywopper
Watch another cotton-pickin’ body drop
Every time we rock
Yo they actin’ like it’s Mardi Gras
‘Til the party stop
Skirt off like she that Ferrari drop
So psyched he pumpin’ that Earth, Wind and Fire body I
Cool a product doc
A la Marina, hard-body yacht
You seen another rapper cleaner? Mami, probably not

And sometimes, he just kills it:

How it feel to be the best that did it, I admit it
I’m visiting from planet bring these niggas death in minutes
And y’all know I’m exquisite
Wicked as Wilson Pickett
The sickness I exhibit
I’m too legit to quit it
I don’t fake it ‘till I make it
I take it to the limit, and break it
Never timid, what I’m about, I represent it
Infinite just like Chace is
Been a million places
Conversation is how beautiful my face is
People hating on how sophisticated my taste is
Then I pulled up on these motherfuckers in a spaceship

Even reading this, it’s just too good.

I am a walking affirmation
That imagination
And focus and patience
Get you closer to your aspiration
And just cuz they give you shit
Don’t mean you have to take it
My words capture greatness
Sworn affidavits

Meanwhile, the talented Tariq Trotter himself kept it humble:

How candles are made (from 1963)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

From British Pathé, a short video from 1963 on how candles are made.

Oh yes, candles make the whole of humanity into one big understanding family.

Candles! I can’t believe the answer has been staring us in the face this whole time. (via the morning news)

Common objects painstaking organized into patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

Adam Hillman

Adam Hillman

On his Instagram account, Adam Hillman arranges everyday objects into patterns. Prints are available. Related: Always. Be. Knolling. (via colossal)

The Fear Box (with John Boyega & Gwendoline Christie)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

Vanity Fair does this thing where they get people to put their hands into a box to touch an unknown object. They call it The Fear Box. The latest installment features John Boyega & Gwendoline Christie from Star Wars: The Last Jedi confronting their fear of snakes, lizards, BB-8s, and plush Chewie toys. If you need a pick-me-up today, this should do the trick.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, addiction, and being “all in”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

In the latest issue of Vogue, Mimi O’Donnell reflects on the death of her husband, Philip Seymour Hoffman, his addiction, and their family.

The first time I met Phil, there was instant chemistry between us. It was the spring of 1999, and he was interviewing me to be the costume designer for a play he was directing — his first — for the Labyrinth Theater Company, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Even though I’d spent the five years since moving to New York designing costumes for Off-Broadway plays and had just been hired by Saturday Night Live, I was nervous, because I was in awe of his talent. I’d seen him in Boogie Nights and Happiness, and he blew me out of the water with his willingness to make himself so vulnerable and to play fucked-up characters with such honesty and heart.

I remember walking into the interview and anxiously handing Phil my résumé. He studied it for a few moments, then looked up at me and, with complete sincerity and admiration, said, “You have more credits than I do.” I felt myself relax. He wanted to put me at ease and let me know that we would be working together as equals. After the meeting, I called my sister on one of those hilariously giant cell phones of the time, and after I had raved about Phil, she announced, “You’re going to marry him.”

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2017

In an episode of Pop Culture Detective, Jonathan McIntosh discusses The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander. Scamander is the hero of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie that takes place in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Many reviews of the film found Scamander to be a weak hero, but McIntosh argues that the character offers a view of masculinity that we don’t often see in movies, “a gentle empathetic version of heroic masculinity”. Scamander is not The Chosen One (like Harry or Luke Skywalker)…he’s a male hero who is emotional and nurturing and whose strengths are vulnerability, sincerity, and sensitivity.

It’s funny, when I was reading Harry Potter with my kids, we talked a lot about the flaws in Harry’s heroism, e.g. how his hotheadedness frequently put him and his friends into danger. But I didn’t notice how much of strong and vulnerable hero Scamander was. I’m gonna have to go back and watch this again.

Drone shots of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2017

Among Humza Deas’ hundreds of shots of NYC on his Instagram are a collection of drone shots of the city taken in the fall.

Humza Deas Drone

Humza Deas Drone

Humza Deas Drone

I know that last one has been filtered to within an inch of its life and I normally don’t cotton to those sorts of shenanigans, but this one makes me feel so fricking autumnal that I’ll allow it.

Sibilant Snakelikes

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2017

Sibilant Snakelikes

For his new game, Sibilant Snakelikes, Pippin Barr remade several games (Super Mario Bros, Missile Command, Ms Pacman, Minesweeper) using the gameplay mechanics from the classic cellphone game Snake. Says Barr about making the game:

Making the game has been a continuation of my interest in thinking about how the language of videogames works to express ideas. It strikes me that one useful experimental approach to understanding this is to “translate” one game’s expression into the language of another game. In trying to work out how the very simple mechanics and concepts of Snake can convey different sets of ideas (fighting a colossus, eating dots and running away from ghosts, playing soccer) I was forced to grapple fairly deeply with making reasoned design choices. The translation process doesn’t necessarily lead to “good games” and certainly not to games that are evocative in the same way as the originals, but I do think it shows us something about how a game like Snake can communicate more complex ideas without really changing it very much mechanically (there are exceptions to this of course). And then on the flip side it also shows us how moving the source games into the “Snake universe” alters those games and leads to new gameplay possibilities (or impossibilities, for that matter).

The code of the game is available on Github and is free to adapt and share for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons license. See also Snakisms, a philosophical take on Snake by Barr.

An interactive map of debt in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2017

Interactive Debt Map

The Urban Institute has built an interactive map for exploring debt in America.

Credit can be a lifeline during emergencies and a bridge to education and homeownership. But debt-which can stem from credit or unpaid bills-often burdens families and communities and exacerbates wealth inequality. This map shows the geography of debt in America at the national, state, and county levels.

I’d love to hear why the “share with any debt in collections” is so relatively low in the Upper Midwest, Minnesota in particular.

Update: Unsurprisingly, health insurance coverage is a significant factor in American debt…and Minnesota has a low rate of medical debt in collections along with a relatively low rate of uninsured. This 2016 press release from MN Department of Health provides some clues as to why the uninsured rate is so comparatively low. (via @yodaui)

The best design books that aren’t specifically about design

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2017

The other day, Google Ventures’ Daniel Burka asked his followers for suggestions on the best design books that aren’t about design. Burka offered up How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand as his selection. Agreed! Here are the responses I found most interesting (some of which actually are about design, more or less):

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, a reminder to put humans at the center of city planning.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. I read this ages ago and still think about it all the time.

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker, a book that takes place entirely on an escalator ride.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, about leadership, creativity, and storytelling at Pixar.

Read Burka’s summary of the thread at Medium (please clap).

The McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese is a lie. A delicious lie.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2017

McDonalds 1974

Some facts about the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese:

1. As you can see in the photo above, purportedly taken in 1974, there was originally a Quarter Pounder without cheese, which was scrubbed from the menu at some undetermined point (even though you can still order one sans cheese at the counter).

2. The patty on the Quarter Pounder with Cheese does not weigh a quarter of a pound. It weighs 4.25 oz after it was subtly micro-supersized in 2015.

3. The 4.25 oz is actually the pre-cooked weight anyway. The on-bun weight is more like 3 oz.

4. When I’m traveling a significant distance by car, on a trip that requires stopping for food, my go-to meal is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a Coke. Don’t judge.

5. The Quarter Pounder has been discontinued in Japan. No one knows why.

6. In the US, the Quarter Pounder comes with pickles, raw onion, ketchup, and mustard. But in NYC, they omit the mustard. That sound you heard was me slapping my forehead after learning this just now after years of not being able to figure out why my Quarter Pounders sometimes had mustard and sometimes didn’t. (I prefer them without.)

The Not Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2017

Not Yorker 01

Not Yorker 02

The Not Yorker is a blog collecting cover art rejected by the New Yorker. If you’re an illustrator who’s had a cover rejected, they’re soliciting submissions. (via the morning news)

This is an incredibly satisfying video

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2017

A wheel comes off of a car during a race and behaves in an amazingly tidy way until…well, I won’t spoil it for you but watch until the wheel stops. The polar opposite of this video of the most unsatisfying things in the world.

Life Advice from Teen Experts

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

The California Sunday Magazine gathered some advice from teens on topics like how to get people to care about something, how to cook with a blowtorch, and how to throw a good dance party. Here are excerpts from two of my favorites. How to meet new people:

If you’re trying to get into a new community, just fake it till you make it. Don’t have a mind-set of, Oh, I’m the new guy. No one’s going to want to be my friend. Fake a fun mind-set until you can be that fun, cool person without a second thought.

And how to organize a political rally (in one week):

I had to do most of the logistical planning during school. A lot of the people who were emailing me to help were from organizations, and they could only talk during their lunch breaks. Which would be right around 11:30, during math class. So I would be like, “Hey, can I go to the bathroom?” Then I’m in a bathroom stall on the phone — “Yeah, so can you bring, like, six cases of water and, like, two cases of granola bars?” At the end of the day, I would go home and do my homework, and the next morning, I would wake up and have a phone call at 7 before class.

The Dodge of the Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

For his work Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, William Forsythe sets in motion hundreds of pendulums in a room and invites people to walk among them, attempting to avoid collisions.

Suspended from automated grids, more than 400 pendulums are activated to initiate a sweeping 15 part counterpoint of tempi, spacial juxtaposition and gradients of centrifugal force which offers the spectator a constantly morphing labyrinth of significant complexity. The spectators are free to attempt a navigation this statistically unpredictable environment, but are requested to avoid coming in contact with any of the swinging pendulums. This task, which automatically initiates and alerts the spectators innate predictive faculties, produces a lively choreography of manifold and intricate avoidance strategies.

When I read the preview for the video at The Kid Should See This, I was expecting heavy brass pendulums cutting large swaths through the room, not unlike the first challenge in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where “only the penitent man will pass”. That would have been fun but perhaps too dangerous and not art.

A Bite of China

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

A Bite of China is documentary TV series on food and cooking in China. Writing for The Guardian, Oliver Thring called it “the best TV show I’ve ever seen about food” and one commenter called it “the Planet Earth of food”. While A Bite of China predates it by 3 years, Chef’s Table might be a better comparison. Here’s a trailer:

China has a large population and the richest and most varied natural landscapes in the world. Plateaus, forests, lakes and coastlines. These various geographical features and climate conditions have helped to form and preserve widely different species. No other country has so many potential food sources as China. By collecting, fetching, digging, hunting and fishing, people have acquired abundant gifts from nature. Traveling through the four seasons, we’ll discover a story about nature and the people behind delicious Chinese foods.

The first season is available on Amazon Prime (with English subtitles) but you can also find it on YouTube at varying levels of quality with and without subtitles and dubbed in English. (thx, seamus)

The 2017 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2017

Hubble Advent 2017

From Alan Taylor at In Focus, the 10th anniversary installment of the Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. One image taken by the Hubble for each day in December leading up to Dec 25th. Here’s Taylor’s caption for the image above:

A Caterpillar in the Carina Nebula. Scattered across the enormous Carina nebula are numerous dense clumps of cosmic gas and dust called Bok globules, including this one, which resembles a huge glowing caterpillar. First described by by astronomer Bart Bok, the globules are relatively small, dark, and cold regions made up of molecular hydrogen, carbon oxides, helium, and dust. The glowing edge of the caterpillar indicates that it is being photoionized by the hottest stars in the surrounding cluster. It has been hypothesized that stars may form inside these dusty cocoons.

The trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2017

The first full-length trailer for Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One is out. I enjoyed the book, but the teaser trailer was awful. This trailer’s much better and it’ll be interesting to see late Spielberg’s remix of early Spielberg in action.

A moment of silence, please

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2017

This morning, my friend Anil Dash tweeted this question out to his followers (here’s my incomplete answer):

Who is a person (not counting family) that opened doors for you in your career when they didn’t have to? Anytime is a good time to show gratitude!

Yesterday, I finished this podcast episode about Mister Rogers and they talked about when he made public appearances, either as an entertainer or a minister, he would often begin by asking the audience for a moment of silence to think about “the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life”. He even did it at the Emmys when accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award:

I’ve been thinking about Fred Rogers a lot lately…how much I miss him, how much I learned from him, and how much the world could benefit from his perspective and example right now. After this week/month/year, I think we could all use some of Mister Rogers’ radically compassionate humanism. So, if you wish, take a moment right now in silence to think about those who have cared about you and helped you become the person that you are.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a good weekend. I’ll see you back here next week.

The neon glow of Tokyo modified car culture

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2017

New Zealand drift racer Mike Whiddett recently travelled to Japan to explore Tokyo’s “extraordinary after-dark modified auto scene”. He found people making California-style lowriders, Dekotora (my favorite, if only for the sheer spectacle), illegally modified cars, and a man who says with a straight face that “driving an unmodified Lamborghini is boring”.

What’s interesting is that more than one of these guys in the video repeated some variation of “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me”. I….don’t believe you? If there’s one thing most humans care deeply about, it’s what other people think about them, particularly when you’re driving million-dollar, pulsing-neon supercars around the world’s most populous city.

Area man uses telephone to fight back against sleazy debt collectors

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2017

When Andrew Therrien told off a sleazy debt collector for calling about a debt he didn’t owe, the collector called back to threaten violence to Therrien and his wife. Therrien got mad and reached for the most potent weapon in his arsenal: the telephone. Over the course of the next two years, he charmed and bullied his way into the debt collection world in order to learn how it worked and how to take it down.

When the scammers started to hound Therrien, he hounded them right back. Obsessed with payback, he spent hundreds of hours investigating the dirty side of debt. By day he was still promoting ice cream brands and hiring models for liquor store tastings. But in his spare time, he was living out a revenge fantasy. He befriended loan sharks and blackmailed crooked collectors, getting them to divulge their suppliers, and then their suppliers above them. In method, Therrien was like a prosecutor flipping gangster underlings to get to lieutenants and then the boss. In spirit, he was a bit like Liam Neeson’s vigilante character in the movie Taken — using unflagging aggression to obtain scraps of information and reverse-engineer a criminal syndicate. Therrien didn’t punch anyone in the head, of course. He was simply unstoppable over the phone.

Great story…read the whole thing. This is perhaps not your takeaway from it, but reading this, I wonder how much different my life would be if I knew how to talk on the telephone 1/10th as effectively as someone like Therrien.

Leadership & business lessons gleaned from running an “open-source soccer” club

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2017

My pal Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, has somehow found the time to also co-found a NPSL soccer club in Kingston, NY called Kingston Stockade FC. The club is only two years old, but they won their division this year, energized a community around the team, and have nearly reached the financial break-even point for 2017…you can read all about it in Crowley’s recap of how the team did in 2017. (And you can read his past writing about building the club from scratch.)

According to another club owner, year two was supposed to be more difficult than the first year…but that was not Crowley’s experience:

About a year ago, I remember talking to another owner of another club and he said something along the lines of “I know you had a great first season, but the second season is the hardest” — e.g. the novelty will wear off, the crowds will thin, etc. I remember being scared shitless by this piece of advice but our club experienced quite the opposite. Our overall attendance numbers were up (despite us having one fewer match on the schedule) and our biggest crowds were considerably larger than last year’s bigger crowds (and we hit our goal of 1000+ fans/game… twice!)

That stuck with me as I read the rest of the piece (which is written in plain, straightforward prose that’s perfectly readable even if you aren’t into soccer or business). I began gathering reasons as to why Stockade FC has thrived when other clubs might how found it difficult and framed them as lessons for anyone who runs a business or is in a leadership position.

1. The first thing is Crowley’s obvious enthusiasm and passion for soccer, starting a business, and his Kingston community (he and his family split their time between Kingston and NYC). No specific excerpt for this one (aside from this photo)…it’s infused throughout everything he’s written about the experience.

2. Be relentless. Sweat the details. Track everything you can. Look for opportunities everywhere to increase revenue and decrease expenses. Be practical. This is just one example of many:

Our hotel costs were ZERO because we designed our schedule so that we would not have an overnight trip. If you remember from last year, we did a 3 day / 2 night / 2 match trip through New Hampshire and Maine (aka: 2 nights in a hotel + 3 meals * 14 rooms). Dropping this trip from the schedule saved us a fortune. To say this another way: Our current business model (tickets/sponsors/merch) supports “day-trips by bus” and not “overnight trips and/or flights”.

3. Look for opportunities to build and grow from above:

With that said, and before we get real deep into Stockade FC data, I’m happy to share that this past weekend I was elected to the NPSL’s Board of Directors at our league’s Annual Operating Meeting (AOM). I am now one of 12 Board Members (and one of 2 representatives of the Northeast Region) operating under a two-year term. The Board Seat gets me a little closer to the bigger-picture decision making and the longer-team strategic planning for our league. It is literally the “seat at the table” I was referring to above and I’m excited to get back to work helping to build from the bottom up.

4. Look for opportunities to build and grow from below:

This is important to the club because a break-even club can operate forever. And this is important to me because I know that if we we can keep Stockade FC going for 10 years, we will have the opportunity to see the kids that we have inspired this season & last season trying out for our squad in a few years time. The idea of a Stockade FC squad full of kids who have been cheering on our club since they were 8, 10, or 12 years old is one of the things that motivates and inspires me the most about this entire project.

5. Do the right thing and often you’ll notice it’s a good business decision as well.

Game Day expenses were down 15% because we stopped buying bottled water for every match and instead started used refillable 10 gallon Gatorade jugs. A win for Mother Earth is a win for Stockade FC! (Btw, getting off plastic bottles, and the waste they produced, was an explicit goal of ours for this season.)

6. Acknowledge that you cannot do it alone. Crowley and his team bring some serious leadership and expertise to the table, but Stockade FC runs on volunteers from the community. Embrace them and don’t take them for granted.

And it’s impossible to talk about Stockade FC without talking about our $0 “Staff” costs. Our entire club is run by volunteers — sometimes an army of 30+ people who show up on game days to help with everything from setup + take down + scoreboard + clock + merchandise + tickets + managing the crowd + leading the youth teams at halftime + emceeing the halftime show + singing the national anthem + announcing on the PA + doing color commentary on the live stream + 100 other tasks. Without you all none of this would come together in the way that it does, so thank you! #WeAreStockade

7. I don’t know what business lesson this holds, but this is the perfect little detail about the club:

Our ticket prices were designed so a family of four can attend for $20 ($8 + $8 + $2 + $2 = $20). This is one of the many things I’m *really, really* proud of.

8. Don’t skimp where it matters and give back. Too many comp tickets for player’s families or first responders isn’t going to make or break your season.

It’s worth noting that less than 10% of attendance for any given is from comp tickets. This year we gave comp tickets to (a) press, (b) players family (4 tix max), (c) ballboys and ballgirls, (d) Radio Woodstock contest winners, (e) First Responder & Military Appreciation Nights.

9. “Think globally, act locally” isn’t just for activism. Stockade FC streamed their games online and sold merch to people from around the world. Their story is resonating around the country and the world. Hell, I live 300 miles away and I’m gonna try my damnedest to make it to a Stockade FC home game this summer.

Streaming continues to be an important part of the Stockade FC story — we know our story is being followed by people outside the Hudson Valley (and outside the USA!) and so streamed matches that are *enjoyable to watch* are a core part of our story.

10. Small teams can act big. The same forces that allowed Instagram’s 13-person company to get acquired by Facebook for $1 billion enable small teams to produce, for instance, a live-streaming experience that rivals the big networks for not a whole lot of money and effort.

And this year, our rockstar team of tech-savvy volunteers has raised the bar for what it means to stream a 4th Division soccer game. Last year’s goals were about “consistency” — “we gotta stream every match”. This year’s goals were around “professionalism” — let’s work in on-air graphics, color commentary and multiple cameras. The team officially outdid themselves when we had live video streaming from a drone during our Conference Championship match (for serious!)

11. Have larger goals that are outside the strict purview of your business. The goal of the US men’s national team winning a World Cup in the next 30 years isn’t going to sell more tickets, but having that as part of your story is going to open up opportunities for your club and everyone else.

Do something to make USA soccer better, faster. We started our club because we ultimately want to make soccer in the United States better, faster. (My original back-of-a napkin goal was: “What can we as fans do to better the US Mens National Team’s odds of winning a World Cup in our lifetime”).

12. Get involved in your local community. But not just that, actually give a damn about your local community and the people and other businesses in it. With everyone working together, you raise all the boats. Non-zero sum games, yo!

On some level, we’ve done much much more than “create a soccer team” — we’ve built something that folks in Kingston have started to rally around and are proud of, and we’ve helped to leverage some of that momentum and excitement and energy into a mechanism that could transform parts of Kingston’s actual urban infrastructure (through this $10M grant). We’re just a tiny, tiny, tiny part of the grant… but, hey, we’re a part of it!

13. Celebrate when successful team members move on to bigger opportunities. Build a team that people want to be a part of because they can develop the skills to move up (either inside your team or outside of it).

Last season, Stockade FC midfielder Dylan Williams got picked up by Australian 2nd division club Launceston City FC. This year, goalkeeper David Giddings got picked up by Swedish 3rd division team Värnamo Södra. Two players from our 2016 squad (Matel Anasta & Matt Koziol) were invited to play in last year’s NPSL Showcase (aka: NPSL All-Star Game w/ scouts) and we’ve expecting 1 or 2 players from our 2017 team will be invited to play in next year’s Showcase.

14. Success begets success. Winning the league obviously helped attendance and raised the team’s profile locally and nationally. But winning the league started with hiring the right coaches and finding the right players…and that started with all the other things on this list. It all connects.

15. Share your knowledge with others. From the start, one of Crowley’s goals has been to run a completely transparent club. He shares every single detail and the club’s finances are an open book. He writes clearly and enthusiastically without a lot of jargon. Move past thinking that other teams are your competition and start thinking about how everyone can work together to achieve larger goals by sharing what works and what doesn’t with each other. Compete on the field but collaborate in the community.

As a tiny business owner without employees or a real-world presence, some of this doesn’t apply to me, but I’ve found Crowley’s posts about Stockade FC incredibly valuable not when thinking about kottke.org from a business perspective but also when considering larger questions about how I want to live my life. Thanks, Dennis!

Universal Basic Income explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2017

In their distinctive style, Kurzgesagt tries to explain the concepts behind and pros & cons of Universal Basic Income in just 10 minutes. In US, UBI would be a massive change to how our economy and society functions, so much so that it’s challenging to predict what the effects would be. Nonlinear systems, yo!

Update: Aw dammit… I totally forgot to connect the part of the video where they talk about the non-monetary value of work — which is a worry of UBI critics — to something that Ludicorp (the small company that built Flickr and sold to Yahoo! in the mid-2000s) had on the company’s about page. It was a passage from Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action and the Cultivation of Solidarity by Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores & Hubert Dreyfus:

Business owners do not normally work for money either. They work for the enjoyment of their competitive skill, in the context of a life where competing skillfully makes sense. The money they earn supports this way of life. The same is true of their businesses. One might think that they view their businesses as nothing more than machines to produce profits, since they do closely monitor their accounts to keep tabs on those profits.

But this way of thinking replaces the point of the machine’s activity with a diagnostic test of how well it is performing. Normally, one senses whether one is performing skillfully. A basketball player does not need to count baskets to know whether the team as a whole is in flow. Saying that the point of business is to produce profit is like saying that the whole point of playing basketball is to make as many baskets as possible. One could make many more baskets by having no opponent.

The game and styles of playing the game are what matter because they produce identities people care about. Likewise, a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

The 2017 kottke.org Holiday Gift Guide

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2017

Gift Guide 2017

For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. Like I wrote in 2016, this year has not been the easiest for many, making it difficult to muster a festive mood. But if you’re determined to give to your loved ones and to those in need, maybe this guide will help you. Let’s get to it!

Giving to charity and those in need is always first on the list here. Personally, this past year I’ve spread my giving out across the year with monthly recurring donations…mostly local stuff but also the ACLU and other national orgs that are fighting for the rights of women, people of color, and immigrants. If you’re looking for opportunities to give, you can check GiveWell and Charity Navigator so that you don’t end up sending your money down a hole (e.g. The Red Cross). VolunteerMatch has extensive listings of holiday volunteer opportunities in the US and you can directly help those in your community by donating your time and money to the local food shelf or contributing to holiday toy drives. This weekend, the kids and I are heading to the store to select some items for Toys for Tots.

Hands down, the best gift guide for kids is from the excellent The Kid Should See This. Like last year, I had my kids scroll through the list to look for favorites. My 10-year-old son selected this 20g sample of gallium and Space Racers: Make Your Own Paper Rockets. My 8-year-old daughter chose the littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit and the Kano Pixel Kit. Me? The Kano Computer Kit looks cool as hell.

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to on kottke.org. Lots and lots and lots of good stuff there.

If someone in your life somehow doesn’t have an Instant Pot or an Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker, now is your chance. I used my Instant Pot just the other day (in saute mode) to make this delicious chili. Or if those boxes are already checked, perhaps this small-but-powerful portable pizza oven from Uuni…it’s capable of heating to 932°F and can cook a pizza in 60 seconds!

The sequel to the awesome Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is out: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, “featuring the adventures of extraordinary women from Nefertiti to Beyoncé”.

My pal Austin Kleon recommends buying his books (Show Your Work! & Steal Like an Artist) but also this waterproof notepad for taking notes when in-shower inspiration strikes.

Whenever I need to buy something for my home, Wirecutter is always my first (and often only) stop. Their collection of gift guides is characteristically helpful. A couple of things that stood out to me: Tokaido, a Japanese board game with a relaxing concept: “whoever has the chillest vacation wins”, this wireless phone charger from Samsung (which works just fine with my iPhone X), and this Nickelodeon slime-making kit. Oh, and I’m coveting their pick for the best 4K TV…I really want to watch Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, Planet Earth II, and Blue Planet II in all their 4K glory at home.

Pixelated tea towels designed by the legendary Susan Kare? Ok, yes. More available here.

The 2017 Engineering Gift Guide from the engineering department at Purdue University is the only guide I’ve found that lists the research papers used when preparing the list (like “Gender Bias in the Purchase of STEM-Related Toys”, a paper presented at the 2015 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition in Seattle). They recommend Coding Farmers (a board game that teaches kids programming concepts) and Circuit Maze (a puzzle game using electric logic circuits).

From them, a list of gift recommendations from 12 queer influencers. Actress Ali Stroker recommends Bronx Greenmarket Hot Sauce and journalist Jenna Wortham recommends these pennants from goods with positive intent.

Gift Guide 2017

No further comment necessary: A Die Hard Christmas, “a delightful Christmas storybook for adults based on the action-packed Die Hard movie” and the Night Before Christmas poem. Pairs well with the authorized Die Hard coloring book.

Some use the holiday as an excuse to let their gifting freak flag fly. The Hidden Valley Ranch mini keg of ranch dressing is out of stock for the holidays but many other Hidden Valley products are available. Someone in your life needs an 8-foot-long gummy python…27 pounds of gummy goodness. And it wouldn’t be the holiday season without a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Buy in bulk and share with friends! Or get a ranch keg and a lube barrel and have a Dip-N-Slide party…just don’t get them mixed up!

One of the things I’m most thankful for this year is that I got to meet Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads in person and get to know her better (instead of just through email and her site). If you follow her site at all, you’ll already know that it’s been on hiatus for the past few months as she deals with a personal health crisis. As expenses related to her medical care mount (there’s a GoFundMe!), if you want to help Jodi out and get a cool gift for someone, check out the Legal Nomads store. I am particularly a fan of these food map posters.

It’s always worth paying attention to what the gadget-loving weirdos at Boing Boing put in their gift guide. This year, they’re featuring this airbag for motorcycle riders, miniature game system Arduboy, and an LP replica of the Voyager Golden Record. And OMG, the Intellivision Flashback console!

Beverage of the year: Male Tears flavored La Croix. Print by Kate Bingaman-Burt via Erika Hall’s gift list.

This holiday season’s worst gift is this fake surveillance camera that “reports bad behavior to Santa”. Santa knowing when you’re naughty or nice was always creepy, but this is some next-level BS. I posted this to Twitter last week though, and I should have not been surprised at how many people were into the idea of making their kids feel watched in order to keep them in line.

I have pals who do/make cool things for sale…like This Book is a Planetarium, Fat Gold, Tattly, Tinybop, Food52, SDR Traveller, Stowaway Cosmetics, Colossal, Google’s AIY Vision Kit, Kingston Stockade FC, Storyworth, Chris Piascik, Hoefler & Co, Wait But Why, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, 20x200, and Field Notes.

Life Haaaaaack: use these baby food freezer storage containers to make big cocktail ice cubes.

Quick hitters: The Millions has a gift guide for readers and writers that (mostly) aren’t books (licorice pipes). The Cup of Jo 2017 Holiday Gift Guide (kids’ knives). Engadget’s guide (NBA Connected Jersey, which interacts with your phone to push you exclusive info and deals, and the 20th anniversary Tamagotchi).

Books! There are tons of gift ideas in my best books of 2017 post. On her gift guide Erika Hall recommends Behave, which she’s been evangelizing all year. One of The Gannet’s top recs is Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. National Geographic has a gift list for maps lovers, including The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World. Fast Company recommends Made in North Korea. Master designers Jessica Helfand & Michael Bierut share a list of design and design-ish books at Design Observer (Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin).

And gosh if that’s not enough, you can look back at the lists for 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Update: A few more guides to add to the mix.

For the 2017 Good Gift Games list on The Morning News, Matthew Baldwin picks some recent board games that make good gifts, like The Fox in the Forest and game-of-the-year winner Kingdomino.

The Christmas Catalog from Tools & Toys is always worth a look. This year’s installment includes The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Box Set, the Teenage Engineering OP-1 Mini Synthesizer, and this cool duct tape keychain (a keychain that dispenses duct tape, not a keychain made out of duct tape).

Quartzy, which is associated with Quartz in a way I do not understand, has a couple of gift guides going. In The Ultimate Gift Guide for True TV Fanatics, they offer gift suggestions based on your favorite TV shows. So, fans of Breaking Bad might like Heisenberg’s Breaking Bad Crystal Meth Bath Salts while GoT viewers might find this Dinner is Coming cutting board amusing. And the other is Five Gift-Giving Philosophies to Help You Find the Perfect Gift. I’m personally a fan of The Fancy Candle Philosophy and The Pasta Class Theory strategies.

Dude, if your loved ones are into weed, The Cannabist has you covered.

The unofficial Goldman Sachs holiday gift guide for 2017 includes a complete Triceratops skull fossil, a $3.5 million Ferrari, and a $1 million global safari to visit some of the most endangered species on the planet.

In 90 seconds, Penn & Teller show why vaccination is great

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2017

In only 90 seconds with the use of a few props (and some profanity), entertainers Penn & Teller offer a succinct and compelling argument of the benefits of vaccinating our children.

So even if vaccination did cause autism, WHICH IT FUCKING DOESN’T, anti-vaccination would still be bullshit.

Along with “Vaccines. And now my kids don’t die.”, this might be my favorite anti-vaxxers broadside ever.

Google’s AI beats the world’s top chess engine w/ only 4 hours of practice

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2017

With just four hours of practice playing against itself and no study of outside material, AlphaZero (an upgraded version of Alpha Go, the AI program that Google built for playing Go) beat the silicon pants off of the world’s strongest chess program yesterday. This is massively and scarily impressive.

AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

That’s right — the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of “machine learning,” specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not “taught” the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns.

This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari. That’s all in less time that it takes to watch the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The program had four hours to play itself many, many times, thereby becoming its own teacher.

Grandmaster Peter Heine Nelson likened the experience of watching AlphaZero play to aliens:

After reading the paper but especially seeing the games I thought, well, I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know.

As I said about AlphaGo last year, our machines becoming unpredictable is unnerving:

Unpredictable machines. Machines that act more like the weather than Newtonian gravity. That’s going to take some getting used to.

Albert Silver has a good overview of AlphaZero’s history and what Google has accomplished. To many chess experts, it seemed as though AlphaZero was playing more like a human than a machine:

If Karpov had been a chess engine, he might have been called AlphaZero. There is a relentless positional boa constrictor approach that is simply unheard of. Modern chess engines are focused on activity, and have special safeguards to avoid blocked positions as they have no understanding of them and often find themselves in a dead end before they realize it. AlphaZero has no such prejudices or issues, and seems to thrive on snuffing out the opponent’s play. It is singularly impressive, and what is astonishing is how it is able to also find tactics that the engines seem blind to.

So, where does Google take AlphaZero from here? In a post which includes the phrase “Skynet Goes Live”, Tyler Cowen ventures a guess:

I’ve long said that Google’s final fate will be to evolve into a hedge fund.

Why goof around with search & display advertising when directly gaming the world’s financial market could be so much more lucrative?

“Stuntmen don’t get laughs”, the silent comedy of Jackie Chan

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

In this video, Bradley Dixon argues that Jackie Chan belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of silent comedy, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Like those three legends of the silent film era, Chan uses simple stories, stunts, visual humor, ordinary props, and practical effects to connect with his audience on a non-verbal level.

See also Every Frame a Painting on how to do action comedy, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, and silent film special effects revealed. Oh, and just for fun, Mad Max vs. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s time traveller.

NASA is reinventing the wheel

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

Imagine you’re sending a rover to Mars. The rover’s tires need to be light, durable, and also flexible enough to tackle a variety of terrain. NASA has spent decades trying to craft the perfect rover wheels, but something always comes up short in the pick-two situation…typically durability. Now researchers at the NASA Glenn Research Center have come up with a promising new rover wheel for the next generation of rovers.

The wheels are made from nickel titanium, a shape memory alloy that allows the tires to bounce back into their former shape even when they’re severely deformed.

The story of how the team stumbled upon this solution is a classic case of how important cross-disciplinary knowledge is for creation and invention. All it takes is one person in a different area of expertise to solve a seemingly intractable problem:

New extreme sport: Thomas the Tank Engine stunts

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

It is what it says on the tin: a toy Thomas the Tank Engine doing stunts on wooden tracks. My favorite part is that the slowed-down audio makes it sound somewhat like a skateboard.

A man turned his backyard shed into the top-rated restaurant in London

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

Having previously written fake reviews for restaurants on TripAdvisor for £10 a pop, Oobah Butler decided to go one step further. He listed his backyard shed on TripAdvisor, set up a dummy website (complete with appetizing food photos constructed from bleach tablets and shaving cream), and wrote a bunch of phony reviews.

The Shed at Dulwich

As the shed began climbing in the London restaurant ranking, Butler began to get more and more requests for reservations from actual people.

Emails? I check my computer: tens of “appointment” requests await. A boyfriend tries to use his girlfriend’s job at a children’s hospital for leverage. TV executives use their work emails.

Seemingly overnight, we’re now at #1,456. The Shed at Dulwich has suddenly become appealing. How?

I realise what it is: the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed’s phone rings incessantly.

And then, after it reaches #1, Butler actually opens The Shed at Dulwich for one night.

Update: When I initially posted this, I almost closed the post with something like “the best part of all this is that we don’t really know if any of this happened the way Butler says it did”. And indeed, Jonathan Power noticed that the URL for the restaurant’s website wasn’t registered until Oct 27, not in April as the article implies. Hmmm. The Facebook page for the restaurant has posts going back to June 30 (can you backdate FB posts?) & reviews back to April 5th. The listing appears to have been on TripAdvisor as of Dec 4 (Google cache) and was mentioned and screenshotted on Twitter in mid-November. Maybe Butler fudged the timeline slightly for the article…he used the Facebook page as the restaurant’s website until doing it up properly with its own URL in October? So, I dunno…is the joke on us, on Vice, on TripAdvisor, or…?

How Technicolor changed movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands after being brought to Oz by a tornado, she opens the door and, bang!, Technicolor. It’s a surprising transition, one of the most effective in film history. But it wouldn’t have been a complete shock for audiences in 1939 because Oz was not the first film to feature the color technology. In this video, Phil Edwards details the history of Technicolor, how it works, and how it changed movie making.

Many people recognize Technicolor from The Wizard of Oz, but the technology existed long before then. Two strip Technicolor and three strip Technicolor both revolutionized the film industry and shaped the look of 20th century film.

But Technicolor also influenced movies through its corporate control of the technology. People like Natalie Kalmus shaped the aesthetic of color films, and directors redesigned their sets and films based on the Technicolor look that the company — and viewers — demanded.

Edwards also did a “director’s cut” video with further information that wasn’t in the first video.

“Airport Novella? Sounds interesting,” he said with a nod.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

Airport Novella by Tom Comitta is what he calls a “literary supercut”. Constructed exclusively from the kinds of novels one normally finds in airport bookshops, the 48-page book contains four chapters, one each for the gestures most often found in airport prose: nodding, shrugging, odd looks, and gasps. An short excerpt from the shrugging chapter:

Jeremy was silent for a moment before finally shrugging.

She shrugged without answering. “Can I be frank now?”

He shrugged. “Anything that might help me with the history of the cemetery and the town.”

She shrugged. “Shows me what I know. Being that you’re a journalist from the big city.”

He shrugged, acting innocent.

She suddenly remembered that he’d been trying to guess her age yesterday. “Yep,” she said with a shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug, and she had a sudden vision of what he must have looked like as a small boy. “Hey, I know it’s none of my business, but how did it go with Rodney?”

She hesitated before finally shrugging. “You’re right. It is none of your business.” He could almost hear her shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug. “I suppose that depends on the perspective.”

For source material, Comitta used books like The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight series, and a novel commissioned by Donald Trump (tagline: “Leave your modesty downstairs. Trump Tower is the sexiest novel of the decade.”)

The making of Burial’s Untrue

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

Ten years ago, electronic musician Burial released his second album, Untrue, which went on to be quite influential.

Where would UK dance music be without Burial’s Untrue? The South Londoner’s second album, released ten years ago this month on Hyperdub, has arguably done more than any other record in recent history to shape electronic music, presenting not only novel production techniques but the power of rooting a record in a specific time, mood and place.

This video from Resident Advisor explores that influence and how Burial’s novel production methods contributed to the album’s success. For one thing, instead of using music software that everyone else used to build and layer beats, Burial used Soundforge, which only shows the waveforms.

So I thought to myself fuckit I’m going to stick to this shitty little computer program, Soundforge. I don’t know any other programs. Once I change something, I can never un-change it. I can only see the waves. So I know when I’m happy with my drums because they look like a nice fishbone. When they look just skeletal as fuck in front of me, and so I know they’ll sound good.

Basically, he eyeballed it, which makes the whole thing feel more natural (and makes it difficult for DJs to mix). (via @pieratt)

Dear catcallers, it’s not a compliment

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

To show how routine street harassment is, Noa Jansma took a selfie with every man who catcalled her for a month and posted the photos to Instagram.

Dear Catcallers

It’s fun1 to see how happy and pleased almost all of these men look having harassed this young woman on the street. (thx, joel)

  1. By which I mean the exact opposite of fun.

Inequality and America’s Lost Einsteins

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

In response to some poorly conducted and racist research attempting to correlate the size of people’s brains to their intelligence, science historian and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote in his 1980 book, The Panda’s Thumb:

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Gould’s assertion is echoed by this piece in the NY Times, in which David Leonhardt reports on the research of Stanford’s Raj Chetty. Chetty’s findings (unsurprisingly) show that financial inequality and differences in race & sex have a large effect on which Americans end up inventing things. Leonhardt calls this “a betrayal of American ideals”.

Not surprisingly, children who excelled in math were far more likely to become inventors. But being a math standout wasn’t enough. Only the top students who also came from high-income families had a decent chance to become an inventor.

This fact may be the starkest: Low-income students who are among the very best math students — those who score in the top 5 percent of all third graders — are no more likely to become inventors than below-average math students from affluent families.

In the article, AOL founder Steve Case says: “Creativity is broadly distributed. Opportunity is not.” The problem is even more severe when you consider differences in sex and race:

I encourage you to take a moment to absorb the size of these gaps. Women, African-Americans, Latinos, Southerners, and low- and middle-income children are far less likely to grow up to become patent holders and inventors. Our society appears to be missing out on most potential inventors from these groups. And these groups together make up most of the American population.

Because of survivorship bias, it’s tough to focus on the potential inventors, the lost Einsteins:

The key phrase in the research paper is “lost Einsteins.” It’s a reference to people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” if they had been able to pursue the opportunities they deserved, the authors write. Nobody knows precisely who the lost Einsteins are, of course, but there is little doubt that they exist.

52 things learned in 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists last year was Tom Whitwell’s 52 things I learned in 2016. An item from that list:

Instead of batteries, the ARES project in Nevada uses a network of train tracks, a hillside and electric trains loaded with rocks to store wind and solar power. When there is a surplus of energy, the trains drive up the tracks. When output falls, the cars roll back down the hill, their electric motors acting as generators.

Whitwell’s list for 2017 is similarly interesting:

In Silicon Valley, startups that result in a successful exit have an average founding age of 47 years. [Joshua Gans]

“Artificial intelligence systems pretending to be female are often subjected to the same sorts of online harassment as women.” [Jacqueline Feldman]

Dana Lewis from Alabama built herself an artificial pancreas from off-the-shelf parts. Her design is open source, so people with diabetes can hack together solutions more quickly than drug companies. [Lee Roop]

Amazon Echo can be useful for people suffering from Alzheimers’: “I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. And I can ask it what day it is twenty times a day and I will still get the same correct answer.” [Rick Phelps]

China opens around 50 high bridges each year. The entire rest of the world opens ten. [Chris Buckley]

Men travelling first class tend to weigh more than those in economy, while for women the reverse is true. [Lucy Hooker]

Facebook employs a dozen people to delete abuse and spam from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. [Sarah Frier]

Watch how smoke, dust, and salt circulate in the Earth’s atmosphere

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Using a combination of satellite data and mathematical weather models, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center made this simulation that shows how aerosols like dust, smoke, and salt were circulated in the atmosphere during the 2017 hurricane season. It’s amazing to see how far some of these things spread.

During the 2017 hurricane season, the storms are visible because of the sea salt that is captured by the storms. Strong winds at the surface lift the sea salt into the atmosphere and the particles are incorporated into the storm. Hurricane Irma is the first big storm that spawns off the coast of Africa. As the storm spins up, the Saharan dust is absorbed in cloud droplets and washed out of the storm as rain. This process happens with most of the storms, except for Hurricane Ophelia. Forming more northward than most storms, Ophelia traveled to the east picking up dust from the Sahara and smoke from large fires in Portugal. Retaining its tropical storm state farther northward than any system in the Atlantic, Ophelia carried the smoke and dust into Ireland and the UK.

I watched this several times to pick up on different things…the hurricanes of course, but also how smoke from the forest fires in the Pacific Northwest makes it all the way to Scotland (!!!) and dust from the Sahara desert makes it to the Caribbean (also !!!). (via phil plait)

Update: All that dust from the Sahara blowing across the ocean? Some of the dust, 27 million tons per year on average, is deposited in the Amazon basin in South America, providing the ecosystem there vital phosphorus:

This trans-continental journey of dust is important because of what is in the dust, Yu said. Specifically the dust picked up from the Bodélé Depression in Chad, an ancient lake bed where rock minerals composed of dead microorganisms are loaded with phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant proteins and growth, which the Amazon rain forest depends on in order to flourish.

(via tom whitwell)

The top 25 films of 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Nothing makes me want to quit my job and just watch movies all day than David Ehrlich’s annual video countdowns of the year’s best movies. Although I’m still a little irritated at him for leaving Arrival off of last year’s list, I’m looking forward to seeing Phantom Thread, The Post, Columbus, Lady Bird (which has been difficult to come by living in a rural area), and many others from this year’s list.

At Indiewire, Ehrlich explains his picks. I wasn’t as keen on Baby Driver and Get Out as Ehrlich and seemingly everyone else was, but here’s what he wrote about Dunkirk, one of my favorite films of the year:

“Virtual reality without the headset.” That’s what Nolan has called the experience of seeing this film’s aerial sequences in their proper glory, and he wasn’t kidding — “Dunkirk” is the ultimate fuck you to the idea of streaming a new movie to your phone. The director and his team customized an IMAX rig so the camera could squeeze into the cockpit of a WWII fighter plane, and the footage they captured from the sky is so transportive that every ticket should earn you frequent flier miles. One shot, in which we share a pilot’s POV as they make a crash landing on the water, singlehandedly justifies this entire portion of the film long before Nolan inevitably converges it with the other two for the rousing final act.

I might splurge on a bigger, better TV just to watch this one in 4K at home.

P.S. Also from Ehrlich: Wreath Witherspoons. LOL.

Voyager 1 just fired its trajectory thrusters for the first time since 1980

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2017

Nasa Voyager

The last time that the four trajectory thrusters on the Voyager 1 probe were fired, Jimmy Carter was still President of the United States. But with the main attitude control thrusters deteriorating from trying to keep the probe oriented correctly, the team thought they could keep the mission going using the trajectory thrusters. So they fired them up.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, is currently more than 13 billion miles from Earth, and is still functional and doing science. Incredible.

RIP Every Frame a Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2017

Sad but expected news: Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos have shut down their excellent video series on film, Every Frame a Painting. They wrote about their decision in the form of the script for a final episode that never got made:

(TONY) As many of you have guessed, the channel more or less ended in September 2016 with the release of the “Marvel Symphonic Universe” video. For the last year, Taylor and I have tinkered behind-the-scenes to see if there was anything else we wanted to do with this YouTube channel.

(TAYLOR) But in the past year, we’ve both started new jobs and taken on other freelance work. Things started piling up and it took all our energy to get through the work we’d agreed to do.

When we started this YouTube project, we gave ourselves one simple rule: if we ever stopped enjoying the videos, we’d also stop making them. And one day, we woke up and felt it was time.

I was a huge fan of the series and posted many episodes on kottke.org. Here are a few particular favorites:

Cheers to Tony and Taylor…you made a great thing and knew when to quit (unlike some people).

P.S. Poking around, I found a mini Every Frame a Painting that Zhou and Ramos did for Criterion about The Breaking Point, posted to YouTube back in August:

Gah, that just makes me miss it even more!

What’s under the trees? LIDAR exposes the hidden landscapes of forested areas.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2017

WA LIDAR Geology

The Washington State Geological Survey is using LIDAR technology to study the geology of the land hidden under forested areas of the state. LIDAR is like radar, but instead of bouncing radio waves off of objects to detect their distances, you use lasers. When you shoot laser light at a forested area, most of it is reflected back by the trees. But some of it reaches the ground, so by measuring the light that’s reflected back from the lowest point, you get a very accurate map of the bare earth, sans nature. Using the LIDAR maps, they can study the course changes in rivers, landslides, volcanic lava flows, earthquake faults & fault zones, tsunami inundation zones, and glaciers.

The beautiful photo at the top is a LIDAR image of the Sauk River and all its current and former channels…the bluish tint makes it look like an x-ray, which it pretty much is. It also reminds me of the meander maps of the Mississippi River made by Harold Fisk for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Here are two images of Bainbridge Island:

WA LIDAR Geology

WA LIDAR Geology

The LIDAR image clearly shows a horizontal earthquake fault scarp that’s completely hidden by the ground cover.

These two images are of drumlins left behind by a glacier:

WA LIDAR Geology

WA LIDAR Geology

Again, the LIDAR image shows the movement of a long-gone glacier with stunning clarity compared to the satellite photo with ground cover.

Interview with Mallory Ortberg

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 01, 2017

Hi everyone. Tim Carmody here. Jason and I are trying something new. I interviewed Mallory Ortberg, probably best known for the site she cofounded called The Toast, about her new subscriber-supported newsletter The Shatner Chatner. (It’s actually been in operation since March, but has a brand new home on the web.)

The full (well, fuller) interview is on my newsletter, which is called Backlight. Below, Kottke.org gets an exclusive, handcrafted, heavyweight gram vinyl excerpt, where Mallory describes what The Shatner Chatner is all about and its place in today’s simultaneously imploding and exploding media galaxy.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, check out my Tinyletter and keep coming back here to Kottke. It’s an experiment in collaboration we’re excited to try.

___________________

Mallory Ortberg: I love the Shatner Chatner. It feels very important to me that this newsletter always be in some way connected to… not necessarily Bill Shatner the man, but William Shatner the persona. That’s always super important, for me to distinguish between the two. People keep trying to say, “did you hear that thing that William Shatner said on Twitter?” I’m like, “no, I never want to know about Shatner.”

Bill Shatner is just the flawed material manifestation of the spirit of Shatner.

It’s a fact. It’s a red herring you know. Let it be what it is. I am trying to commune on a different level with with the Shatner… I feel like I have a running list of male fictional characters that weirdly drive the engine of the Shatner Chatner where I’m constantly trying to figure out, “what is my relationship to you? Why are we kind of the same?” And Niles Crane is also one of those people. And I again don’t know why. That’s what I’m still trying to use Shatner Chatner to figure out.

So Shatner has emanations and penumbras not just on this planet, but fictional ones too, in other characters.

There’s like one body, with multiple incarnations.

[The new site] is a little more professional, but it’s not the same - it’s not like The Toast Part 2, where I have to also run a whole website. They run the website. I just get to make jokes. And it’s not to say that it is The Toast 2.0, content-wise either. It’s very much just like Mallory’s weird thoughts and feelings, for however many folks would be interested. It may be, you know, a smaller crew, but I also want to make sure that it’s like a reasonable amount of money and not something that like only really well-off people will be able to afford.

I mean, I can’t always necessarily convince an editor to publish, “Hey, I wrote a bunch of stuff about my weird inability to love Stephen Sondheim but I really want to, because it helps me understand my best friend Nicole.” That can be the hard pitch to make when outlets are cutting their editorial teams. Whereas I’m like, “ah, but I’m pretty sure at least 5000 people would actually be super into learning more.”

That makes sense, especially when you have a track record of being able to bring your audience with you; they’re interested in going wherever you’re going.

Sure. And if they don’t, you know, then I’ll get to do that too. whatever the experience is going to be, it feels just like cool to get to try something that’s not the same as either, “OK it’s going to be a full time job. I have to run this website, I have to do a lot of behind the scenes stuff as well as write a lot, and I also have to make sure that on a daily basis the site is close to profitable, or else we’re going to run into trouble.” And then at the other end something like a free newsletter is really really fun, and then after like six months, it’s like, “oh, but this is how I make my living. I should probably at least try to not write for free all the time.” Even though, again it’s my choice, it’s not like somebody was trying to get me to publish a newsletter and then not pay me. It’s just more of a sense of what’s the right balance here between getting paid for my time and work versus not overworking myself.

I was pretty jazzed about the possibility that I won’t have to like answer any more e-mails than I do already which is great. Very hard time doing that. But I will get to write some more.

Will the newsletter still be published weekly?

So my hope is, with some money coming in, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to it than just once a week. For me, as somebody who has kind of a high natural tendency toward output, I really like to write kind of a lot. You know I took some time off after The Toast to write a little less and rest, and it was great. But I love to write and I love to come up with a bunch of dumb ideas and make jokes.

And you know again I would make it really clear: It’s not The Toast, the Sequel, because you can’t like promise anybody else’s involvement. “Don’t worry, I’m reuniting the gang, I’m back on the road.” Can’t do it. I mean, if anyone listening were to say, “I have ten million dollars and I want to make you restart The Toast,” I’m sure I could talk Nicole into it in a couple of years. This isn’t that.

So it’s a solo project?

I think it’s going to stay mostly solo. It would be so fun to periodically have like Nicole and some of my pals stop by. But I think especially because I’m charging individually, I don’t want to ask anybody to be a regular recurring feature if they’re not also making money. So I think it is going to be solo in that regard.

I’m still going to be writing books, and it’s not affecting other projects that I’ve got going on. But it’s nice, especially as a freelancer, you know - I freelance for Slate, I freelance my books (that’s probably not like the way to look at it). I have a lot of independent projects. I don’t have like a day job where I get benefits and health insurance. So part of what feels exciting about this is at least the opportunity to try to have that home base.

As grateful as I am for all the opportunities I’ve gotten over the last couple of years, I’m also very aware that, like The Toast, which is something that I loved and did well, that could go away. Not necessarily in the next five minutes, but in the next six months or the next year and the next two years. And so I always want to have at least one or two things that I feel like “OK, if everything else fell apart tomorrow, would I be able to pay my bills next month?” “How am I doing my best to make sure that I am taking care of myself financially in a really hot and cold field?” I’m a freelance writer. That’s means sometimes things are really flush and sometimes are really not.

I know I hope it works out. If it doesn’t at least I give it a shot. Like, I’m always a little bit anxious to think ahead to what my next thing with my backup with my third fallback plan. All the way down to, you know, let’s assume the entire industry craters tomorrow. “Where could I try to go get a job that would give me dental insurance?”

It’s funny because, I don’t at all think “oh, the future best response to that is everybody go start a newsletter and become like a freelancer!” It’s part of what’s just like really painful is just a reality of: people get fired for trying to unionize; people get fired for reporting sexual harassment at work; companies are laying off a lot of people both in my industry and in other industries. Just systematically we’re removing workers’ protections and making sure that people who have to work to live don’t have to work. There are a lot of people who work 40, 50, 60 hours a week and who do not have health insurance or retirement plan or unemployment and don’t know how they’re going to pay for food this month.

I’m really grateful that that right now, I’m making decent money. But also, you know, starting a newsletter is not the answer to the fact that we live in a society where workers are just not taken care of, not prioritized, not given a fair exchange for their work. Which of course every conversation I feel like that everyone has about work right now comes back to “we need unions,” “we need workplace protection,” and all that.

So I don’t want to pretend like this is the correct response to the world we live in. It’s just the project I’m excited about. And I’m anxious, and I call my representative in Congress all the time but it feels weird and threatening.

At the same time, I have so many people I know, not really like personal friends but just people I love on line, who have newsletters, and I love it so much, and I wish there were more ways for people to charge like a small amount for it. Right? I have so many people that I would love to pay, like, a couple of bucks a month to read their thoughts about food or movies or feelings or you know all of the above and anything that makes that easier. I’m kind of jazzed to at least explore.

I know I was thinking, if I were giving advice to someone who was like, “I used to do this job for money and now I do it for free,” it would be, try to make some money doing it. Because you know can you can do it.

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