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Entries for June 2018 (Archives)

 

The chimeras of the NYC subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

The NYC subway is home to many interesting characters and creatures but perhaps none as delightfully weird as Matthew Grabelsky’s straphanger chimeras.

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

Matthew Grabelsky

(via colossal)

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

Artist, writer, and thinker James Bridle is an interesting fellow. He coined the term New Aesthetic in 2011. Dronestagram was a three-year project where he posted satellite photos of drone strike locations to social media. He built a trap for self-driving cars. Last year, he wrote a widely read essay on how YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are being used “systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale”.

New Dark Age

In his forthcoming book, Bridle argues that we’re living in a New Dark Age, where it’s not so much the lack of information as too much information that’s the issue.

In actual fact, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the accessibility of information, we’re living in a new Dark Age.

From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.

As I wrote recently, “we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason”.

Update: The Guardian has an extended excerpt of Bridle’s book.

Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something numinous, almost impossible to grasp. We work in it; we store and retrieve stuff from it; it is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is. But there’s a problem with this metaphor: the cloud is not some magical faraway place, made of water vapour and radio waves, where everything just works. It is a physical infrastructure consisting of phone lines, fibre optics, satellites, cables on the ocean floor, and vast warehouses filled with computers, which consume huge amounts of water and energy. Absorbed into the cloud are many of the previously weighty edifices of the civic sphere: the places where we shop, bank, socialise, borrow books and vote. Thus obscured, they are rendered less visible and less amenable to critique, investigation, preservation and regulation.

The Confederacy lives on in several official US state flags

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

According to Whose Heritage?, a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center on public symbols of the Confederacy, progress over the past two years on removing statues, flags, and other symbols from public places has been slow.

The 2015 massacre of nine African Americans at the historic “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston sparked a nationwide movement to remove Confederate monuments, flags and other symbols from the public square, and to rename schools, parks, roads and other public works that pay homage to the Confederacy. Yet, today, the vast majority of these emblems remain in place.

In this updated edition of the 2016 report Whose Heritage?, the SPLC identifies 110 Confederate symbols that have been removed since the Charleston attack — and 1,728 that still stand.

Still very much standing, for instance, the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy in Georgia, a massive stone carving featuring Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

And perhaps even worse, not represented on this map are Confederate symbols that are part of the official identities of many Southern states. Did you know Mississippi’s official state flag still contains the Confederate battle flag?

Mississippi Flag

As of the 2010 Census, ~37% of Mississippi’s population is African American and due to the relative youth of the state’s African Americans and the wealth of the state’s whites (who are able to send their kids to private school), most of the state’s public schools are majority black. That percentage would be much higher had not so many African Americans left the state during the Great Migration. The pledge to this flag, which is taught in public schools, reads “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.” Could you imagine being the descendant of a former slave being made to pledge allegiance to a symbol used by people who fought a war to deny the personhood of your ancestors?

Mississippi’s flag contains the most familiar reference to the Confederacy, but many other state flags have Confederate references. Georgia’s flag contained the Confederate battle flag from 1956 to 2003 and the current flag is modeled after the first national flag of the Confederacy. The flags of Florida and Alabama contain St. Andrew’s Crosses, thought to be references to the stars and bars of Confederate battle flag. The Arkansas state flag contains four stars on a white background, one of which represents the Confederacy, along with a deconstructed stars and bars pattern. North Carolina’s flag is based on a design adopted shortly after the state seceded from the United States. Residents of many states can also get official state license plates with Confederate symbols on them and some state seals have Confederate references.

Lots of progress still to go on that journey towards a post-racial America I guess…

Update: A new Confederate monument was just erected last week near Mobile, Alabama. Here’s what the plaque says about the Confederacy:

The northern Union aggressively prosecuted its war to subjugate the Confederate States. Union forces continued invading and waging war in the field, on cities, and on homesteads in the Confederacy causing more American deaths in both countries than the combined totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. About two-thirds of these deaths were Union military sent to kill Confederate Americans. The Union’s army was about 3 times larger and it possessed about 20 times the industrial arms capacity of the CSA. It succeeded in militarily prevailing over the Confederate forces after four years. The last major land battle occurred in April of 1865 here and at Ft. Blakeley. The elected government of the CSA was scattered, the American States of that country occupied by northern forces, and the citizens’ rights suppressed.

In April 1865, the Union President was shot watching a comedy play in his capitol of Washington City — almost exactly four years after he sent his warships into the CSA initiating the War Between the States. The Confederacy’s President was seized and imprisoned in May 1865 after he had to flee his capitol of Richmond, Virginia, due to the approach of invading Union forces.

For many, the Civil War never quite ended.

Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

In a review of William T. Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies, a two-volume set of books that the review calls “the Infinite Jest of climate books”, Wen Stephenson succinctly answers a question about our climate that is on many people’s minds: Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

Yes, of course, we’re fucked. (Though it’s important to specify the “we” in this formulation, because the global poor, the disenfranchised, the young, and the yet-to-be-born are certifiably far more fucked than such affluent, white, middle-aged Americans as Vollmann and myself.) But here’s the thing: with climate change as with so much else, all fuckedness is relative. Climate catastrophe is not a binary win or lose, solution or no-solution, fucked or not-fucked situation. Just how fucked we/they will be — that is, what kind of civilization, or any sort of social justice, will be possible in the coming centuries or decades — depends on many things, including all sorts of historic, built-in systemic injustices we know all too well, and any number of contingencies we can’t foresee. But most of all it depends on what we do right now, in our lifetimes. And by that I mean: what we do politically, not only on climate but across the board, because large-scale political action — the kind that moves whole countries and economies in ways commensurate with the scale and urgency of the situation — has always been the only thing that matters here. (I really don’t care about your personal carbon footprint. I mean, please do try to lower it, because that’s a good thing to do, but fussing and guilt-tripping over one’s individual contribution to climate change is neither an intellectually nor a morally serious response to a global systemic crisis. That this still needs to be said in 2018 is, to say the least, somewhat disappointing.)

I got this via Robinson Meyer, who calls it “as good an answer as I’ve seen”.

Who could jump higher on a trampoline, LeBron James or Simone Biles?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

Biles Vs Lebron

An interesting question, courtesy of Marginal Revolution:

Who could launch themselves higher on a trampoline? LeBron James or Simone Biles?

James has more mass & height and is stronger in an absolute sense but Biles is extremely strong for her size and is one of the world’s leading experts in launching herself of off trampolines (or more properly, vault springboards).

The answer would depend a great deal on what is meant by “launch themselves higher”. If the height is judged as a percentage of body weight or height, Biles wins easily. If you’re talking about absolute height (as measured from the lowest point on their body at the jump’s peak), James’ greater mass and absolute strength works for him but Biles’ ability to time her jumps to build momentum and her acrobatic skill in getting more of her body higher may put her ahead of James. If their bodies need to remain vertical at the highest point in the jump (think a basketball player’s form vs. a high jumper’s), perhaps that favors James, even though his legs are much longer than Biles’, measuring from their centers of gravity.

From a pure physics perspective, is the trampoline just a multiplier of a person’s max vertical? James’ max vertical is said to be around 40 inches. Biles’ max vertical is harder to determine because gymnasts jumps are measured differently, but she can get her body about 53 inches off the floor (according to this analysis). Can James get his entire body 53 inches off the floor? What’s his box jump height? I imagine with various slow-motion videos, you could figure out which of them can get their center of gravity furthest off the ground…but handspringing into a layout, dunking, and bouncing on a trampoline are still not equivalent activities. The only real way to settle this is clear: let’s get James and Biles together at a trampoline park and have them go at it. Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, or Twitter…make this spectacle happen!

A related question: Can Simone Biles dunk a basketball? A regulation hoop is 10 feet tall. I’m assuming she can’t palm a basketball but she might still be able to do a one-handed dunk with practice. Her height plus her floor exercise max height is 110 inches, about 9’2”. I don’t know how high her standing reach is, but assuming a similar ratio to mine (my reach is 25% of my height), that puts her theoretical maximum jumping reach, with many caveats, at about 124 inches (10’4”). A regulation WNBA ball has a diameter of about 9 inches. Soooooo….maybe but probably not? But if not, she could surely come closer than any other person in the world who is 4’9”.

How the Earth’s continents will look 250 million years from now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

Speaking of Pangaea, this video shows how the present-day continents came to be formed from the Pangaea supercontinent about 240 million years ago, then shows what the Earth’s surface might look like 250 million years in the future, if the tectonic plates continue to move in predictable ways.

I hope this explanation is helpful. Of course all of this is scientific speculation, we will have to wait and see what happens, but this is my projection based on my understanding of the forces that drive plate motions and the history of past plate motions. Remember: “The past reveals patterns; Patterns inform process; Process permits prediction.”

Look at how quickly India slams into the Asian continent…no wonder the Himalayas are so high.1 And it’s interesting that we’re essentially bookended by two supercontinents, the ancient Pangaea and Pangaea Proxima in the future.

  1. Though they may not be able to grow much more. Erosion and gravity work to keep the maximum height in check.

In Search of Forgotten Colors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

The Victoria and Albert Museum filmed this short four-part documentary about the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop near Kyoto, Japan. They make dyes using only natural materials, producing vibrant colors using little-used and often long-forgotten techniques.

Sachio Yoshioka is the fifth-generation head of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. When he succeeded to the family business in 1988, he abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of dyeing solely with plants and other natural materials. 30 years on, the workshop produces an extensive range of extremely beautiful colours.

Another great find from internet gem The Kid Should See This.

The comic tragedy of Balloonfest ‘86

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

In September 1986, as part of a United Way fundraiser, the city of Cleveland released 1.5 million balloons simultaneously in a bid to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. As this short documentary by Nathan Truesdell shows, things didn’t really go according to plan.

Nathan Truesdell’s short documentary, Balloonfest, depicts the helium-filled spectacle using archival news footage from local television stations. When the balloons are first released, they form a mass of colorful orbs that wraps around Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, by turns resembling a meteorological phenomenon, a mushroom cloud, or a locust infestation. The image is both awe-inspiring and haunting.

The local news footage is kind of amazing. One of the news reporters inexplicably kisses a woman goodbye he’d just interviewed on-air. When the balloons are released, another commentator screams that America doesn’t have crappy ol’ Cleveland to kick around anymore because baaaallllllloooooooooooons!!

I remember seeing this stunt when I was a kid, probably on Tom Brokaw on NBC’s Nightly News broadcast. This kind of ballooning was big in the mid-80s. Right around the same time, we did a balloon release at school. Each student tied a card with their name and the school’s address on it onto a helium balloon in the hope that whoever found the balloon would write back with their location, which locations would collectively be plotted on a map for unspecified learning purposes. I never heard back about my balloon, and I don’t think anyone else did either.

Balloon messaging turns out to be a very low bandwidth communications medium — and not very good for the environment either. Sometime after Balloonfest ‘86, mass balloon releases began to be discouraged as people realized it was actually just littering on a massive scale and harmful to wildlife. Fun while it lasted though, I guess.

“Today’s Masculinity Is Stifling”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

For The Atlantic, Sarah Rich writes about how stifling masculinity can be for some children and their parents.

As much as feminism has worked to rebalance the power and privilege between the sexes, the dominant approach to launching young women into positions that garner greater respect, higher status, and better pay still mostly maintains the association between those gains and masculine qualities. Girls’ empowerment programs teach assertiveness, strength, and courage — and they must to equip young women for a world that still overwhelmingly favors men.

Last year, when the Boys Scouts of America announced that they would begin admitting girls into their dens, young women saw a wall come down around a territory that was now theirs to occupy. Parents across the country had argued that girls should have equal access to the activities and pursuits of boys’ scouting, saying that Girl Scouts is not a good fit for girls who are “more rough and tumble.” But the converse proposition was essentially non-existent: Not a single article that I could find mentioned the idea that boys might not find Boy Scouts to be a good fit — or, even more unspeakable, that they would want to join the Girl Scouts.

If it’s difficult to imagine a boy aspiring to the Girl Scouts’ merit badges (oriented far more than the boys’ toward friendship, caretaking, and community), what does that say about how American culture regards these traditionally feminine arenas? And what does it say to boys who think joining the Girl Scouts sounds fun? Even preschool-age boys know they’d be teased or shamed for disclosing such a dream.

While society is chipping away at giving girls broader access to life’s possibilities, it isn’t presenting boys with a full continuum of how they can be in the world. To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication.

Rich talks about her young son’s current penchant for wearing dresses and wishes there was room in society for activity like that.

What I want for him, and for all boys, is for the process of becoming men to be expansive, not reductive.

Reading this, I thought about the amazing one-step process for getting a bikini body I read recently: “Put a bikini on your body.” It’s not perfect and this is a lot to ask of society, but perhaps an analogous definition for masculinity is that when a man or boy does something, that’s masculine.1 Chugging a beer is masculine. Wearing a dress is masculine. Being brave is masculine. Crying is masculine. Playing sports is masculine. Not playing sports is masculine. Comforting a friend whose team lost before celebrating with his team is masculine. Anything and everything is masculine. You might argue that broadening the definition of the word to this degree diminishes its power to denote anything meaningful. And you’d be right, that’s the point.

  1. Correspondingly, when a woman or a girl does something, that’s feminine. And when someone who identifies as, for instance, genderqueer does something, that’s genderqueer. Playing sports is feminine, wearing a dress is genderqueer, etc.

Country Time will cover illegal lemonade stand fines and fees this summer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

The makers of Country Time Lemonade are running a unique promotion this summer. If you’re the parent of a child 14 or younger who has incurred a fine for running an unlicensed lemonade stand or who has paid for a permit, Country Time will “cover your fine or permit fees up to $300”. This video explains (ok, I lol’d at “tastes like justice”):

Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. (including D.C.), who are the parents or legal guardians of a child 14 years of age or younger operating a lemonade stand. Program ends 11:59pm ET on 8/31/18 or when $60,000 worth of offers have been awarded, whichever comes first.

In a related promotion, Domino’s Pizza is working to fix potholes in streets around the US.

I guess it’s nice of these companies to step in here, but it’s sad that America’s crumbling infrastructure and antiquated legal system have become promotional opportunities for massive multinational corporations that spend millions each year trying to avoid paying local, state, and federal taxes that might conceivably go towards fixing problems like this in a non-ad hoc way. But hey, pizza and lemonade, mmmmmm.

Recommendation: Caliphate, the NY Times podcast about ISIS

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

For the past several weeks, I have been listening to the NY Times’ fantastic and unsettling podcast series Caliphate. The series follows Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi as she attempts to figure out the inner workings of ISIS. Callimachi and her producer & fellow reporter Andy Mills talk to an Islamic State member from Canada about how he was recruited, investigate the group’s organization, and dig through documents left behind by ISIS as they were driven out of Mosul in July 2017. The podcast is quite upsetting and tough to listen to at times, but I highly recommend doing so.

Here are a few things I kept thinking about while listening:

1. The recruitment process is fascinating. As Callimachi and the recruit talk about how he was persuaded to join up, you can see how young people are enticed by the promise of an Islamic state, of living an ideologically pure life according to one’s religion. What the ISIS recruiters tell them makes sense, it’s logical. (It’s all the things they don’t tell them…therein lies the rub.)

2. The eerie parallels between ISIS and an American business. They’ve got the onboarding process and the rapid expansion plan of a startup like Uber (down to the “ask forgiveness, not permission” tactics). They use tools like YouTube, Tumblr, and Twitter to market themselves with professionally produced videos and marketing materials. When they seized power in an area, ISIS kept much of the existing bureaucracy in place and set about winning hearts and minds by improving services for the people living there.

The world knows the Islamic State for its brutality, but the militants did not rule by the sword alone. They wielded power through two complementary tools: brutality and bureaucracy.

ISIS built a state of administrative efficiency that collected taxes and picked up the garbage. It ran a marriage office that oversaw medical examinations to ensure that couples could have children. It issued birth certificates — printed on Islamic State stationery — to babies born under the caliphate’s black flag. It even ran its own D.M.V.

The documents and interviews with dozens of people who lived under their rule show that the group at times offered better services and proved itself more capable than the government it had replaced.

In the podcast, they talked to residents living in ISIS-controlled areas who say that garbage collection and availability of electricity improved after ISIS took over.

As the group grew, they diversified their income:

One of the keys to their success was their diversified revenue stream. The group drew its income from so many strands of the economy that airstrikes alone were not enough to cripple it.

Ledgers, receipt books and monthly budgets describe how the militants monetized every inch of territory they conquered, taxing every bushel of wheat, every liter of sheep’s milk and every watermelon sold at markets they controlled. From agriculture alone, they reaped hundreds of millions of dollars. Contrary to popular perception, the group was self-financed, not dependent on external donors.

More surprisingly, the documents provide further evidence that the tax revenue the Islamic State earned far outstripped income from oil sales. It was daily commerce and agriculture — not petroleum — that powered the economy of the caliphate.

ISIS was in some ways a model business: adept at PR and marketing, focused on the financial bottom line, sweated the details, and they wanted to keep their “customers” happy.

3. The stated goal of ISIS in establishing a caliphate — to turn back the cultural clock to the time of Muhammad — reminded me slightly of similar efforts here in the US: MAGA, etc.

The podcast is available at Apple or on Spotify. If you are a NY Times subscriber, you get early access to episodes.

See also a 5-minute history of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS and my past recommendation of the Slow Burn podcast.

Flat Earthers and the double-edged sword of American magical thinking

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

Alan Burdick recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the “burgeoning” flat Earth movement, a group of people who believe, against simple & overwhelming evidence, that the Earth is not spherical1 but flat.

If you are only just waking up to the twenty-first century, you should know that, according to a growing number of people, much of what you’ve been taught about our planet is a lie: Earth really is flat. We know this because dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos describe the coverup. We’ve listened to podcasts — Flat Earth Conspiracy, The Flat Earth Podcast — that parse the minutiae of various flat-Earth models, and the very wonkiness of the discussion indicates that the over-all theory is as sound and valid as any other scientific theory. We know because on a clear, cool day it is sometimes possible, from southwestern Michigan, to see the Chicago skyline, more than fifty miles away — an impossibility were Earth actually curved. We know because, last February, Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics point guard, told us so. “The Earth is flat,” he said. “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.”

John Gruber remarked on Burdick’s piece by saying:

In recent years I’ve begun to feel conflicted about the internet. On the one hand, it’s been wonderful in so many ways. I’ve personally built my entire career on the fact that the internet enables me to publish as a one-person operation. But on the other hand, before the internet, kooks were forced to exist on the fringe. There’ve always been flat-earther-types denying science and John Birch Society political fringers, but they had no means to amplify their message or bond into large movements.

Another way to put this is that all the people who bought those News of the World-style magazines from the grocery checkout — UFO sightings! Elvis lives! NASA faked the Moon landing! new treatment lets you live 200 years! etc.! — were able to find each other, organize, and mobilize because of the internet. And then they decided to elect one of themselves President.

I recently downloaded the audiobook of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History and am looking forward to listening to it on my summer roadtrip. Here’s part of the synopsis:

In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today — this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through — is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.

Over the course of five centuries — from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials — our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we’ve never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies — every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody.

Gruber’s point about the internet being a double-edged sword appears to be echoed here by Andersen about American individualism. Sure, this “if people disagree with you, you must be doing something right” spirit is responsible for the anti-vaxxer movement, conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an inside job & Newtown didn’t happen, climate change denialism, and anti-evolutionism, but it also gets you things like rock & roll, putting men on the Moon, and countless discoveries & inventions, including the internet.

Update: The Atlantic published an excerpt of Fantasyland last year:

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books — they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen — the gut.”

Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s — the main decade of my childhood — I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

(thx, david)

  1. More properly, the Earth is an oblate spheroid.

Locate modern addresses on Earth 240 million years ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

Pangaea Addresses

Ian Webster built a tool to plot modern addresses on a map of the Earth from up to 750 million years ago. Just input an address and it’ll find where that spot of land was on the Earth at a given time. The tool defaults to a view from 240 million years ago, smack in the middle of the Pangaea supercontinent era, but you can select views from 750 million years ago right up to the present. Webster explained a bit about the project on Hacker News:

I built this by adapting GPlates (https://www.gplates.org), an academic project providing desktop software for geologists to investigate plate tectonic data. I’m amazed that geologists collected enough data to actually plot my home 750M years ago, so I thought you all would enjoy it too.

Even though plate tectonic models return precise results, you should consider the plots approximate (obviously we will never be able to prove correctness). In my tests I found that model results can vary significantly. I chose this particular model because it is widely cited and covers the greatest length of time.

The visualization is open source and Webster is working on integrating the plate techtonics and location data into that repo soon.

The Language of the Trump Administration Is the Language of Domestic Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

Jessica Winter writing for the New Yorker:

In the final scene of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary “Domestic Violence,” police in Tampa arrive late at night to the home of a man who is drunk and a woman who is sick. The man has called the police because he is angry that the woman, who is desperate to sleep, is “neglecting” him. Minute by minute, it becomes chillingly clear that the man wants her removed from the house before his anger turns into physical violence. In his mind, the woman’s misdeeds — to be ill; to need rest; to wish to remain in her own home — transform him into an instrument of pain, one that she is choosing to wield against herself. He raises his hands over his head in a gesture of surrender. It’s all her fault. He can’t help it. One of the abuser’s most effective tricks is this inversion of power, at the exact moment that his victim is most frightened and degraded: Look what you made me do.

Look what you made me do has emerged as the dominant ethos of the current White House. During the 2016 Presidential race, many observers drew parallels between the language of abusers and that of Trump on the campaign trail. Since his election, members of the Trump Administration have learned that language, too, and nowhere is this more vivid than in the rhetoric they use to discuss the Administration’s policies toward the Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border.

As Tim tweeted the day after Inauguration Day in 2017, “The President is an abuser. A lot of us are (re)discovering, and (re)deciding, how we react to being abused.”

Simple and dynamic typographic posters by Xtian Miller

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Xtian Miller

Xtian Miller

Xtian Miller

Xtian Miller

Designer Xtian Miller designs new posters “nearly every day”. You can see his prodigious output on Dribbble and Instagram. His website is worth a look as well. (via the outline)

The trailer for a HBO documentary on Robin Williams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

In mid July, HBO will premiere a 2-hour documentary about Robin Williams called, cheekily, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. Here’s the trailer:

The film explores his extraordinary life and career, revealing what drove him to give voice to the characters in his mind. With previously unheard and unseen glimpses into his creative process through interviews with Williams, as well as home movies and onstage footage, this insightful tribute features in-depth interviews with those who knew and loved him, including Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Pam Dawber and his son, Zak Williams.

Amazing geometric weathering on a chain link fence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Amateur photographer @Ben_On_The_Moon noticed some peculiar weathering patterns on a plastic-coated chain link fence.

Chain Link Fence Weathered

More views of the fence here, here, and here.

In the clumsy Hollywood reboot of Arrival starring Nicolas Cage, this would be the discovery that sets up the alien invasion of the Earth at the end of the first act.

Freddish, the special language Mister Rogers used when talking to children

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Maxwell King, the former director of the Fred Rogers Center and author of the forthcoming book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, shared an excerpt of the book with The Atlantic about how much attention Rogers paid to how children would hear the language on the show. For instance, he changed the lyrics on Friday’s installment of the “Tomorrow” song he sang at the end of each show to reflect that the show didn’t air on Saturdays.

Rogers was so meticulous in his process for translating ideas so they could be easily understood by children that a pair of writers on the show came up with a nine-step process that he used to translate from normal English into “Freddish”, the special language he used when speaking to children.

1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.

2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.

3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.

4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.

5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.

6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.

7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.

8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.

9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

These are boss-level communication skills. Steps 6 & 8 are particularly thoughtful. Using language like “your favorite grown-ups” instead of “your parents” is often decried these days as politically correct nonsense but Rogers knew the power of caring language to include as many people as possible in the conversation.1

You can also see Rogers’ care in how he went back and fixed problematic language in old shows.

But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent.

Fred Rogers understood more than anyone that paying attention and sweating the details is a form of love. It was never enough for him to let you know that he loved you. He made sure to tell you that he loved you “just the way you are” and that made all the difference.

  1. As opposed to those who, for instance, refuse to use people’s preferred pronouns or can’t bring themselves to use “they/their” instead of “he/his” in writing. Those refusals are also an exercise of power, against individuals or marginalized groups, based on fear, uncertainty, and hate.

Trombone + loop machine

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 08, 2018

The golden age of live looping (self-accompanying by performing with one or more instruments using a loop machine) was probably ten years ago or so. The first performer I saw use a loop machine live was Andrew Bird, opening for The Magnetic Fields in 2004. Starting around then, he became famous for them, and other groups (Feist, Pomplamoose, etc.) turned it into something of a middlehighbrow indie-twee staple.

But it’s still one of my favorite bits of musical wizardry, perfect not just for creating an illusion of a whole orchestra, but for making familiar instruments sound deeply unfamiliar. That’s what trombonist John Sipher does so well in this clip for Colorado Public Radio.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Wine and storytelling

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 08, 2018

At Vinepair, Felix Salmon waxes metaphysical on the value of mythology and narrative in shaping our experience of food and drink.

The amount that we enjoy a bottle of wine is a direct function of the stories we tell about it. Once you’re telling stories about the winemaker, about the soil, about the grapes, about the cool dog that patrols the vines, you’re invested.

If they’re personal stories then you’re even more invested. If you’ve met the winemaker, seen the grapes, had the dog cuddle up at your feet while you were tasting your fourth bottle, that’s going to further deepen your personal connection to the wine. But if you’re one degree of separation away, and that one degree of separation is an enthusiastic worker at Chambers Street Wines to whom you have some kind of personal connection, then that’s great, too.

It’s much better, in fact, than the kind of wine-snob knowledge that allows people to identify wines in blind tastings or wax authoritative on the subject of malolactic fermentation. Knowledge is a dispassionate, Apollonian thing; stories are where we find Dionysian pleasure.

One of the myths Salmon zeroes in on is terroir, which has functioned almost as a kind of auteur theory for wine, and (like auteur theory in cinema) is almost definitely more a 20th century French propaganda campaign than a demonstrable fact. But, Salmon also says, the fact that it’s propaganda doesn’t really matter: the stories add value to the experience beyond their demonstrable truth. And when we eat or drink, it’s the experience, not the demonstration, that matters most.

(Via @hels.)

In the dark

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 08, 2018

Rebecca Boyle writes about her daughter’s first power outage:

“It’s too dark in here. Mommy, I want you to turn my nightlight back on, please,” my daughter said matter-of-factly.

I realized I needed to explain. This was not her first power outage — ah, aging St. Louis utility lines — but it was the first one she would experience, as opposed to ignoring as an oblivious infant. I wondered what it must feel like to suddenly go without a thing you have never lacked. It would be weird to be bereft of something so ever-present, it is practically a nutrient. A thing you can’t really understand but have never been unable to access, since the second you arrived in your own skin.

On Twitter, Rebecca notes that her essay is also not-so-covertly about the tragic inevitability of death, and so forth. A power outage is definitely a strong metaphor for thinking about death: it happens suddenly, inevitably, disruptively, and repeatedly, but each time feels uncanny and fresh. And as much as you’d like to just wait it out, there’s always work to do: someone has to get the children to sleep, someone has to pump the water out of the basement.

10 hours of extremely relaxing ocean scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2018

From BBC Earth, the team behind Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, a 10-hour video of soothing oceanscapes: whales swimming, jellyfish pulsing, fish swarming, sharks circling, and rays swooping.

This is super chill, but if I were an EDM DJ, I’d put this up on the screen behind me during my shows and just go nuts with the music.

See also 40+ hours of relaxing Planet Earth II sounds.

Mister Rogers fixed old shows if he felt they were wrong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, is out tomorrow in select cities.1 Tim Grierson interviewed director Morgan Neville about the film for MEL magazine and Neville revealed this incredible story about how Rogers used to go back and edit some of his shows so they’d play better for children as times changed.

There’s one detail that I really liked that’s not in the film, which is he felt like the shows should be evergreen. As he often said, the outside world of the child changes, but the inside of the child never changes. So he thought his shows should play the same to two-year-olds now or 20 years ago. But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent. I’ve never heard of that happening — it’s kind of amazing.

Amazing. As someone who regularly goes back into my archive to append updates to old entries, I love this anecdote so much.

  1. I’m really trying to channel Mister Rogers right now because I won’t be able to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for a few weeks because it’s not playing anywhere near where I live and my schedule won’t allow for a roadtrip. I am frustrated and a little angry about this, Mister Rogers. What should I do?

Flowing portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

Lee K

Lee K

I really like these dynamic swirling drawings by artist Lee.k. They’re like a cross between van Gogh, DeepDream, and Wind Map. (via colossal)

Underwater surfing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

In this video, a duo using squirt boats surfs the underwater current in the New River Gorge. Squirt boats, which I just learned about, are low-volume flat kayaks optimized for performing tricks…sort of a cross between a kayak and a surfboard that you sit inside of.

Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever human

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

When I was a kid, I devoured books like locusts ravage crops on the plains. My sister and I would go to the library, get 5 or 6 books each, and when I was done reading all of mine, I’d read hers — Little Women, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club…I was not picky. I read Roald Dahl, all the Little House books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Encyclopedia Brown, E.B. White, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, all kinds of biographies of famous people, and almost everything else in our local library. Reading was how I learned about the world outside my tiny town. Reading was how I came to know about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man.

In 1981, when I was 8 years old, our household acquired two books that I would read more than any other during my childhood: a set of World Book encyclopedias and the Guinness Book of World Records.1 The encyclopedia, a prized family possession, sat on a shelf in the living room and one of my favorite things was to grab a random volume, crack it open to a random page, and start reading. The Guinness Book of World Records, in contrast, sat on a small table in the bathroom; I read it while sitting on the toilet.

The first few pages of the book, which I am pretty sure is still sitting on that table in my dad’s bathroom, contained records related to the human body. I particularly remember reading about Robert Earl Hughes, then the world’s heaviest human, and The McGuire Twins, the world’s heaviest twins; they liked to ride motorcycles:

Mcguire Twins

But most captivating part of that book was the section about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person: 8ft 11in tall, shoe size of 37AA, wingspan of 9.5 feet, and he could carry his father up the stairs at age 9, a feat unimaginable by a scrawny Wisconsin boy of the same age. The tallest person I’d ever seen up until then was probably like 6’3” — a man almost 9 feet tall was like something out of the stories I read from the library. Who needs fiction when you’ve got facts like these?

I hadn’t thought about any of this in years until I ran across a short video of Wadlow the other day (there’s more footage here, here, and elsewhere on YouTube):

Holy shit. Suddenly this almost mythical person from my childhood is walking across my screen! Digging a little, I found the Retronaut’s collection of Wadlow photos, only a couple of which were included in my Guinness book. Here’s Wadlow at 10 years old, when he was already 6’5”:

Robert Wadlow

And here are a couple more photos that show just how tall he was:

Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow

You can read more about Wadlow on Wikipedia, on Retronaut, or, yes, on the Guinness World Records site. I don’t care what anyone says…the World Wide Web is still a marvel. It brought Robert Wadlow alive for me, all these years later. What a thing.

  1. I will leave as an exercise to the reader how these books massively influenced my current choice of vocation.

An 11-foot long ribbon map of the Mississippi River from 1866

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

Ribbon Map Mississippi

The Mississippi River runs for more than 2300 miles straight through the heartland of America, more or less straight from north to south. Representing the river in any detail presented a challenge for mapmakers wishing to provide maps to those wanting to travel along the river. In 1866, Coloney & Fairchild solved the problem by producing the Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters, a 2-inch wide & 11-foot long map that spooled up into a carrying case via a hand crank. From Nenette Luarca-Shoaf’s description of the map:

Coloney and Fairchild’s patented apparatus required that the single sheet be cut into strips, attached end-to-end, mounted on linen, and then rolled inside a wooden, metal, or paper spool (fig. 4). The resulting portability of the map was crucial because, as advertisements indicated, it was intended for business travelers, steamboat navigators, and tourists.

You can explore larger images of the ribbon map at the David Rumsey Map Collection or the American Antiquarian Society.

See also the meander maps of the Mississippi River. And I would love to see a satellite photo trip down the Mississippi like Best of Luck With the Wall, Josh Begley’s video journey along the 2000 miles of the US/Mexico border. (via open culture)

Update: In the 1840s, John Banvard painted a “moving panorama” of the Mississippi that measured 1300 feet in length. (via @mattbucher)

A map of Chicago’s Gangland circa 1931

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

Chicago Gangland Map

This is A Map of Chicago’s Gangland from Authentic Sources published in 1931 by Bruce-Roberts, Inc.

Map of Chicago gang locations showing Little Italy, Little Sicily, Cicero, Capone Territory, Westside O’Donnell Territory, Stickney, Saltis Territory, Southside O’Donnell Territory, and Little Africa. “Designed to inculcate the most important principles of piety and virtue in young persons, and graphically portray the evils and sin of large cities.” Numbers in red circles give the sequence of important events in Chicago’s gangland war. Insets include: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, lawyer running to spring his client, an armored car, bootleggers stealing wheels from prohibition cars, machine gunners arriving from Detroit, World’s Fair grounds of 1933, police tipping over a speakeasy, and “gangland dictionary”.

Al Capone looms large over the map; he was arrested for tax evasion that year and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. There’s also a zoomable reproduction you can explore at the David Rumsey Map Collection.

A Summer 2018 reading list for America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

The other day, Erika Hall asked on Twitter: “If you could assign every American to read one book over the summer, what would it be?” I love these kinds of questions because it puts people into the shoes of teachers, curators, librarians, or, for the particularly strident, benevolent dictators. For many people, the question actually being asked is: “What do you want America to be? “Here are some of the answers worth mentioning:

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.
Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen.

When I first read this thread, someone gave an answer that I thought was pretty much spot on and now I can’t find it. They didn’t recommend a specific title but instead suggested that everyone read a simple book about kindness. I don’t know what that book would be, but in my imagination, it’s like a book version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I would totally read that this summer.

See also a reading list for the resistance.

Norman, the world’s first psychopath AI

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2018

A research team at MIT’s Media Lab have built what they call the “world’s first psychopath AI”. Meet Norman…it provides creepy captions for Rorschach inkblots. A psychopathic AI is freaky enough, but the kicker is that they used Reddit as the dataset. That’s right, Reddit turns mild-mannered computer programs into psychopaths.

Norman is an AI that is trained to perform image captioning; a popular deep learning method of generating a textual description of an image. We trained Norman on image captions from an infamous subreddit (the name is redacted due to its graphic content) that is dedicated to document and observe the disturbing reality of death. Then, we compared Norman’s responses with a standard image captioning neural network (trained on MSCOCO dataset) on Rorschach inkblots; a test that is used to detect underlying thought disorders.

Here’s a comparison between Norman and a standard AI when looking at the inkblots:

Norman AI

Welp! (via @Matt_Muir)

Update: This project launched on April 1. While some of the site’s text at launch and the psychopath stuff was clearly a prank, Norman appears to be legit.

Ten guidelines for nurturing a thriving democracy by Bertrand Russell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In December 1951, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a piece for the NY Times Magazine titled The Best Answer to Fanaticism — Liberalism with a subhead that says “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” At the end of the article, he offers a list of ten commandments for living in the spirit of liberalism:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Over the past few years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep an open mind about many issues, particularly on those related to politics. Remaining curious and generous about new & different ideas, especially in public, is perhaps more challenging than it was in Russell’s time. We are bombarded on all sides by propaganda, conspiracy theories, and broadly discredited theories from the past pushed upon us by entertainment news outlets and social media algorithms — we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason.

We can’t reasonably be expected to give serious consideration to ideas like “the Holocaust didn’t happen”, “the Earth is flat”, “the Newtown massacre was faked”, “let’s try slavery again”, “vaccines cause autism”, and “anthropogenic climate change is a myth” — the evidence just doesn’t support any of it — but playing constant defense against all this crap makes it difficult to have good & important discussions with those we might disagree with about things like education, the role of national borders in a extremely mobile world, how to address our changing climate, systemic racism & discrimination, gun violence, healthcare, and dozens of other important issues. Perhaps with Russell’s guidelines in mind, we can make some progress on that front.

Mythically massive and powerful waves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

Rachael Talibart

Rachael Talibart

Rachael Talibart

Are you a mountains or a beach person? I prefer the beach — the ocean in particular, even though it scares the hell out of me sometimes. Photographer Rachael Talibart captures the power of the sea with her photos of waves kicked up by storms. She spoke with Wired about the project and her healthy respect for the ocean.

Talibart still can’t help thinking of sea creatures when she looks at the photographs. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, she titled the series Sirens and gave each image the name of a mythological god or goddess. And although she avoids boats these days — she still gets seasick — Talibart credits her childhood sailing adventures with her ocean obsession.

“A part of me is still half-afraid of the sea,” she admits. “There’s a fascination and a love for it, but there’s also fear.”

(via robin sloan)

An AI learned to see in the dark

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

Cameras that can take usable photos in low light conditions are very useful but very expensive. A new paper presented at this year’s IEEE Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition shows that training an AI to do image processing on low-light photos taken with a normal camera can yield amazing results. Here’s an image taken with a Sony a7S II, a really good low-light camera, and then corrected in the traditional way:

AI image in the dark

The colors are off and there’s a ton of noise. Here’s the same image, corrected by the AI program:

AI image in the dark

Pretty good, right? The effective ISO on these images has to be 1,000,000 or more. A short video shows more of their results:

It would be great to see technology like this in smartphones in a year or two.

A supercut of unintentional ASMR moments from movies and TV shows

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

For these two videos, FunWithGuru collected scenes from movies & TV that can trigger ASMR. He featured movies like Phantom Thread (rustling cloth) and Amelie (whispering) as well as well as calmer moments from more unlikely fare like Inglourious Basterds, Edward Scissorhands, and The Office. The clips show ASMR staples like calm talking, people quietly performing tasks, whispering, hair brushing, pouring water, and rustling paper.

The problem with action scenes in DC movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In his latest video, Evan Puschak compares the action scenes from Marvel and DC superhero movies and shows how DC comes up short. Some don’t appreciate all of the humor packed into Marvel’s films, but the DC movies take themselves WAY too seriously. And don’t even get me started on Zack Snyder — outside of 300, his take on action is not good. It’s not a coincidence that Snyder didn’t direct Wonder Woman, the best of the DCEU films in terms of action (and everything else).

See also the problem with action movies today and why are action movie trailers sounding more musical lately?

A short dance performance, collaboratively illustrated by hundreds

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2018

Over 300 different people drew/illustrated moments from a real-life dance performance, which Kristen Lauth Shaeffer then assembled into one cool animated performance. This strongly reminds me of Oliver Laric’s clip-art animation.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2018

After the success of their book about the world’s most unusual places, Atlas Obscura is following up with an illustrated book aimed at kids showcasing “150 of the world’s most mesmerizing and mysterious wonders”: The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.

Atlas Obscura Kids

Travel the world through common points of interest, from strange skeletons (Trunyan Tree cemetery in Indonesia leads you to India’s Skeleton Lake, for example) to wild waterfalls (while in Peru visit the Gocta Waterfall — and then move on to Antarctica’s Blood Falls) to ice caves to bioluminescence.

The book comes out in September but you can preorder it here. The first Atlas Obscura book was my son’s favorite for several months…he must have read it 8 times cover-to-cover. (via @kathrynyu)

Super freaky recently declassified NSA security posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2018

These posters designed by the NSA emphasizing the importance of security and secrecy to their employees are amazing. Declassified in mid-April 2018, most of the posters were produced in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and look as though they were cooked up by Salvador Dali or the Dadaists. Or even Mad Magazine. I mean:

NSA Security Posters

NSA Security Posters

NSA Security Posters

NSA Security Posters

NSA Security Posters

NSA Security Posters

What fantastic design artifacts of that era. Many of them appear to be remixes/riffs of contemporary ad campaigns and messaging…you could easily imagine a security-themed distracted boyfriend or American Chopper poster hanging in today’s NSA offices.

I had a difficult time choosing just a few of these…many more are available in this PDF. (via hn)

Willpower, wealth, and the marshmallow test

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2018

The marshmallow test is a famous psychological experiment designed by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. Kids were given a single marshmallow but told they could have another if they refrained from eating the first one for 15 minutes. The results seemed to indicate a much greater degree of self-control amongst those children who were able to delay gratification, which led to better outcomes in their lives. From a New Yorker article about Mischel:

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

But Mischel only tested ~90 kids from a single preschool. Researchers from UC Irvine and NYU recently redid the test with more kids that were more representative of the general population and found that household income was a big factor in explaining both the ability to delay and outcomes.

Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background — and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success.

If you’re poor, you might look at the promise of future food somewhat dubiously…and not because of a lack of self-control:

The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

The end of the culture of the telephone

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 01, 2018

This is an excerpt from this week’s edition of Noticing, Kottke.org’s newsletter.

Alexis Madrigal wrote movingly about the death of 20th century telephone culture in “Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore.” A combination of more media options, a glut of robo-calls, and the transformation of the telephone technology itself, with caller IDs, individual rather than household numbers, and mutable ringtones have changed not just a communication medium, but a way of life. And it’s part of a pattern of shifting media use from real-time to my-time. (When this first emerged, I used to call it TiVo Time.)

I wonder though, whether telephone culture has died or it’s metastasized. Madrigal writes: “When you called someone, if the person was there, they would pick up, they would say hello. If someone called you, if you were there, you would pick up, you would say hello. That was just how phones worked. The expectation of pickup was what made phones a synchronous medium.”

Avital Ronell, a wonky writer/philosopher I read a lot back in my grad school days, writes in The Telephone Book (1989) about the always-on nature of the telephone as a key element of its mode of being. “Respond as you would to the telephone, for the call of the telephone is incessant and unremitting. When you hang up, it does not disappear but goes into remission…. There is no off switch to the technological.”

This is now basically our state all the time! Not exclusively on the telephone, but on at least one of the electrical vibrations of telecommunications, everywhere we go, every minute of every day.

So it’s almost as if we’re now always on the telephone. A ring is like a call waiting notification that we can acknowledge or ignore. And most of the time, now, many of us ignore it. But only on the rarest occasions do we ignore the entire electronic hum. That’s where most of us live now.

(See also: this 1927 documentary on how to use a dial telephone.)

The last survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 01, 2018

olivia-hooker_then.jpg

The history of the United States is a history of racial plunder, specifically whites plundering the property of nonwhites. It’s extremely difficult to build wealth across generations when gangs can burn down your farm or shoot up your banks without repercussions.

This is why the 1921 Tulsa Riots are so essential to American history, because it might be the starkest event of extralegal white plunder apart from the Trail of Tears. NPR managed to interview Olivia Hooker, who was six years old at the time of the riots. She is probably the last surviving witness.

In less than 24 hours, the white mobs destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses. They set fire to schools, churches, libraries, and movie theaters, leveling entire city blocks.

“My father’s store was destroyed,” Hooker says. “There was nothing left but one big safe. It was so big they couldn’t carry it away, so they had to leave it — in the middle of the rubble.”

“Fires had been started by the white invaders soon after 1 o’clock and other fires were set from time to time. By 8 o’clock practically the entire thirty blocks of homes in the negro quarters were in flames and few buildings escaped destruction. Negroes caught in their burning homes were in many instances shot down as they attempted to escape.”
— The New York Times, June 2, 1921

Reports varied wildly. Initial estimates put the death toll somewhere between 36 and 85. One report, released by Maurice Willows who directed the American Red Cross relief efforts, estimated that as many as 300 people were killed. Today, the Tulsa Race Riot is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history.

Hooker went on to get a doctorate in psychology and founded the Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997 to make a case for reparations. She’s now 103 years old.

How to make grilled cheese

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 01, 2018

best-ever-grilled-cheese.jpg

I’m a big fan of different recipes for simple food dishes — Jose Andres’s “The Perfectly Fried Egg” changed the way I cook just about everything — and this deconstructed-then-reconstructed take on grilled cheese fits right in with that glorious recipe.


  1. Heat a heavy pan over medium-low heat.
  2. Thinly spread one side of each bread slice with butter. Spread the other side of each slice with mayonnaise and place the bread, mayonnaise-side-down, in the pan. Divide the cheese evenly on top of the buttered slices. Adjust the heat so the bread sizzles gently.
  3. When the cheese is about halfway melted, use a spatula to flip one slice over on top of the other, and press lightly to melt. Keep turning the sandwich, pressing gently, until the sandwich is compact, both sides are crusty, and the cheese is melted.

Personally, I would omit the mayonnaise and brush the down sides of the bread with olive oil instead: it gives the bread a nice cripsyness and none of that mayonnaise flavor. (I’m cool with mayo most of the time, but not on my grilled cheese.)

Clickhole outdoes itself

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 01, 2018

I Am A Recently Divorced And Laid-Off Middle-Aged Man With A Lot Of Health Problems, And Everything I Say Is Incredibly Depressing. Ask Questions At Me” is one of the bleakest, funniest, most existentially absurd things I have ever read.

It’s structured like a Reddit AMA, so you have to read through the comments to get to the good bits, and the accumulative effect is bigger than any one punchline. A sample:

I got fired from my Pepsi job because one of my coworkers stuck a sign on my back that said “PROUD MURDERER OF JONBENET RAMSEY,” and the regional supervisor who was visiting that day took it at face value. I did not discover the sign until the following week, when I wore the same shirt again to a custody hearing and the judge cited it as justification for denying me visitation rights. Unfortunately, the sign on my back was perceived as a murder confession, and the company apparently reserves the right to withhold severance if termination comes as a result of criminal activity. So no severance for ol’ Ronald.

Sadly, the day I got fired was also the day of my 30th anniversary at Pepsi, and when my boss called me into his office I thought he was going to honor me. That was not the case.

Ronald also tries to get a dog to cheer himself up (he loses his beloved family dog in the divorce), but turns out to be allergic to it; the shelter refuses to take the dog back because “it they said ‘smelled too much like me.’” He chats up workers at the cellular phone stall so he can have human contact and reminisce about having a family plan. If this kind of black humor does anything for you, trust me, you should check this out.

As Matt Novak tweeted, “I’d just like to say that Nick Denton would be very proud if he had lived to see Kinja used like this. Clickhole is amazing. RIP Nick Denton.”

Through a Different Lens, a book of Stanley Kubrick’s photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2018

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

Kubrick Photo Book

There is much to admire in how Stanley Kubrick’s movies are constructed, but the director’s keen compositional eye is perhaps the most noticeable. Before becoming a filmmaker, Kubrick honed his observational skills as a photographer in NYC. Look magazine hired him when he was just 17 years old to fill the pages of the publication with photos of life in the city. A new book, Stanley Kubrick Photographs: Through a Different Lens, celebrates Kubrick’s photography, showcasing how that youthful talent would eventually translate into a great filmmaking career.

Through a Different Lens reveals the keen and evocative vision of a burgeoning creative genius in a range of feature stories and images, from everyday folk at the laundromat to a day in the life of a debutant, from a trip to the circus to Columbia University. Featuring around 300 images, many previously unseen, as well as rare Look magazine tear sheets, this release coincides with a major show at the Museum of the City of New York and includes an introduction by noted photography critic Luc Sante.

Kubrick’s photos are also on display at the Museum of the City of New York until late October 2018.

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