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Entries for September 2018 (October 2018 »    November 2018 »    Archives)

 

Do Me a Favor: Register to Vote.

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2018

Hello everyone. Today is my birthday, and I’m taking the day off. My pal Tim will be here tomorrow to share some knowledge and perspective with you.

Since it’s my birthday, I think the rule is that I get to ask you a favor. If you’re an eligible US citizen, please take just two minutes to register to vote in the November elections. If you believe you’re already registered, please check your status because some areas of the country are aggressively removing people from electoral rolls. If you’re all set, please reach out to a friend, family member, or coworker to make sure they’re registered. In conclusion:

Fucking Vote

Thank you.

Conserve the Sound, an Online Museum for Old Technology Sounds

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

Conserve the Sound is a project aimed at the preservation of sounds from old technologies.

»Conserve the sound« is an online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds. The sound of a dial telephone, a walkman, a analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a cell phone keypad are partially already gone or are about to disappear from our daily life.

Accompanying the archive people are interviewed and give an insight in to the world of disappearing sounds.

The project originated in Germany, so the sounds of many of the gadgets might not be super familiar to those who grew up elsewhere, but everyone (of a certain age) can recognize the sounds of a Walkman, a folding map, a car’s manual window crank, putting a cartridge into an NES, a typewriter, and manually spooling a cassette tape.

Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

The old white people of America have a message for the young adults of America: we’ll be dead soon but if you don’t vote, you’re letting us determine what kind of world you’ll live in.

Everything’s fine the way it is. Trump…that was us. He’s our guy. Tax cuts for the rich? Hell yeah, I’m rich as fuck. Climate change? That’s a “you problem”…I’ll be dead soon. Sure, school shootings are sad, but I haven’t been in a school for 50 years.

A look at the voter participation rates in Presidential election years confirms that the 65 and older cohort votes at a much higher rate than the 18-29 group.

Voting By Age

If young people voted at a higher rate, our government would look a lot different. (via df)

What If… Movies Reimagined for Another Time/Place

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

Illustrator Tom Stults imagines what the posters of popular movies would look like in an alternate universe…if they’d been made earlier or later or in a different setting. He’s done dozens of these…the latest “What If…” set is here with links you can follow to his past sets. I could caption these but they’re pretty self-explanatory.

What If Posters

What If Posters

What If Posters

What If Posters

What If Posters

What If Posters

Some of these are ridiculously spot-on, revealing Hollywood’s casting tropes and near-impressions some actors make of older actors’ careers (intentional or not). And that Mad Max / Buster Keaton thing works really really well actually.

I featured Stults’ first series of these several years ago…I’m glad he’s continued making them.

Hand-Pulled Noodle School

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2018

Lanzhou, a city in northwestern China, is well-known for its beef noodle soup…and the shops serving them. In order to keep those shops well-stocked with chefs who can produce perfect hand-pulled noodles at a fast pace, the Gansu Dingle Noodle School offers training to people from all walks of life in the art of noodle making. This short film by Jia Li profiles a group of students at the school as they learn their new trade.

For Vice’s Munchies series, Clarissa Wei travelled to Lanzhou to visit another noodle school there and found out just how difficult it is to learn noodle-making.

Noodle school holds classes three times a day, seven days a week. You stand there with your classmates and pull dough, at least 100 times a day. Students aren’t given recipes; the secret to success lies in rote repetition. There are three different course lengths: 15 days, 30 days, and 40 days. Tuition includes housing and food. Most people are Chinese nationals, though Li says that in recent years an influx of foreigners have come in pursuit of the perfect noodle. The school also teaches soup basics, pickling, and beef stewing techniques.

“We’ll have over 20 different types of herbs in the broth,” he says. “And our flour is custom-made and imported in from Henan. They have different levels of elasticity depending on what we request.”

Making a Murderer, season two

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

In season one of Making a Murderer, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos profiled Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were convicted for murdering Teresa Halbach in 2005, following the process of the police investigation, the trials, and how their families and the family of the victim reacted to everything.

In season two, which starts on Netflix on October 19, Demos & Ricciardi return to Wisconsin as the two men fight to get released from prison. Here’s the teaser trailer:

I thought the first season of the show was excellent, perhaps the best of the recent crop of true crime stories that includes Serial, S-Town, and the like.

Update: Here’s the full trailer.

I could have done without all the ham-fisted dramatic music and cuts…in my recollection, the series isn’t like that at all.

No Jail Time: The Movie

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

This short film by Lance Oppenheim is uncomfortably fascinating. It’s about sentencing mitigation videos, short films produced by defense attorneys to help sway judges into giving their clients lighter sentences than the guidelines suggest. Oppenheim’s subject is Doug Passon, an attorney who helps “lawyers incorporate powerful and persuasive moving pictures into the litigation process”.

Lance Oppenheim’s short documentary, No Jail Time: The Movie, profiles Passon and his controversial practice in all its variegated shades of gray. In the process, the film offers a meta-analysis of objectivity in the realm of narrative nonfiction. “Passon treats sentencing videos in an artful manner nearly indistinguishable from narrative-driven, fictional films,” Oppenheim recently told The Atlantic. According to Oppenheim, defense attorneys and sentencing video makers are increasingly drawing inspiration from true-crime entertainment, such as The Jinx and The Thin Blue Line, “to bend the rules of reality in the courtroom with visual storytelling.”

There’s even a film festival for sentencing mitigation videos. (!!!) You can view a few examples of Passon’s videos on his site.

P.S. You may remember Oppenheim as the director of this short film, Meet the Happiest Guy in the World, which is about a man who has lived on a cruise ship for the past 20 years.

A Self-Solving Rubik’s Cube

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

For those of us who have never quite gotten the hang of solving the popular puzzle, some wonderful genius has constructed a self-solving Rubik’s Cube. There don’t seem to be any details available about how it works, but based on the videos, it seems likely the electronics inside record the moves when the Cube is mixed up and then simply performs them in reverse. (via fairly interesting)

Update: If you read the comments at Metafilter, it appears my speculation about how the Cube works is wrong…it appears to actually be solving itself, not just reversing moves.

Instagram Founders Resign from Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2018

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the two co-founders of Instagram, have resigned from Facebook.

Mr. Systrom, Instagram’s chief executive, and Mr. Krieger, the chief technical officer, notified Instagram’s leadership team and Facebook on Monday of their decision to leave, said people with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In a press release, the pair explained their decision a little:

We’re planning on taking some time off to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.

Facebook released a statement from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter (for some weird reason):

Kevin and Mike are extraordinary product leaders and Instagram reflects their combined creative talents. I’ve learned a lot working with them for the past six years and have really enjoyed it. I wish them all the best and I’m looking forward to seeing what they build next.

Sarah Frier’s piece at Bloomberg suggests the pair left because Zuckerberg and the mothership were meddling more and more with Instagram:

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who have been at the company since Instagram’s acquisition by Facebook in 2012, had been able to keep the brand and product independent while relying on Facebook’s infrastructure and resources to grow. Lately, they were frustrated with an uptick in day-to-day involvement by Zuckerberg, who has become more reliant on Instagram in planning for Facebook’s future, said the people, who asked not to be identified sharing internal details.

Without the founders around, Instagram is likely to become more tightly integrated with Facebook, making it more of a product division within the larger company than an independent operation, the people said.

For years, Systrom and Krieger were able to amicably resist certain Facebook product initiatives that they felt went against their vision, while leaning on Facebook for resources, infrastructure and engineering talent. A new leader may not be able to keep the same balance, or may be more willing to make changes that help the overall company at the expense of some of Instagram’s unique qualities.

Instagram is my favorite app by a mile — it eclipsed Twitter some time ago in that category — and might be the best mobile-native app ever. It is also, I believe, the future of Facebook Inc., a better product with a more favorable trajectory than the sprawling (and now heavily tainted) main FB service. I think Facebook would be doing Instagram and its users a real disservice if they folded it into the mothership instead of giving Instagram room to be the best service it can be on its own terms. This is a strangely conservative move on Zuckerberg’s part, an optimization where a higher degree of freedom and experimentation is called for. I guess we’ll see how this plays out.

Update: Ben Thompson at Stratechery has a keen take on why the Instagram founders left: ultimately, Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Instagram and has been since the acquisition.

This is the context for whatever dispute drove Systrom and Krieger’s resignation: not only do they not actually control their own company (because they don’t control monetization), they also aren’t essential to solving the biggest issue facing their product. Instagram Stories monetization is ultimately Facebook’s problem, and in case it wasn’t clear before, it is now obvious that Facebook will provide the solution.

My take is still that FB shouldn’t lean so heavily on Instagram for monetization. Even after many years, the service still has some growth and evolving to do to develop into the heir apparent Zuckerberg & his executive team is looking for. (thx, david)

The 2018 Fall Foliage Prediction Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

Foliage Map

Well, I really can’t ignore it any longer. Here in Vermont, we’ve paid our last visit to the swim hole, the heat is on in my house, and the leaves on the trees have started changing. Autumn has arrived. If you’re into peeping some leaves in your neck of the woods, SmokyMountains.com has the best foliage prediction map on the web.

The 2018 Fall Foliage Map is the ultimate visual planning guide to the annual progressive changing of the leaves. While no tool can be 100% accurate, this tool is meant to help travelers better time their trips to have the best opportunity of catching peak color each year.

Compared to the past two years, it looks like the leaves are changing a little later this year.

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

In Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited, Rob Weychert extends a 1974 project by Sol LeWitt called Variations on Incomplete Open Cubes that displayed 122 different ways that cubes with one or more edges missing could be depicted. Weychert’s project expands the number of incomplete cube possibilities to 4,094 by challenging LeWitt on three aspects of the original: dimensionality, contiguity, and rotation. See the about page for the explanation.

All of LeWitt’s cubes are contiguous; each part is connected to at least one other part. Since the cubes were intended to be physically fabricated, this appears to be a logistical concern: In the physical world, a detached part floating in space would be impossible. (It’s not clear, however, why detached, grounded parts were not permitted.)

Here’s how Weychert did it, complete with downloadable source code.

Notable Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

As Treasurer of the United States in the Obama administration, Rosie Rios pushed hard for the inclusion of more women on US currency, culminating in the selection of Harriet Tubman for the new $20 bill. But with many more amazing women left on the list for inclusion on currency, Rios partnered with Google to create Notable Women, an augmented reality app that puts an historic American women on any US bill you hold up to your phone’s camera. Here’s how it works:

The app’s tagline is “swapping out the faces we all know for the faces we all should” and is available on iOS and Android. You can also view the modified notes on the website, like Sojourner Truth, Madam C.J. Walker, Margaret Bourke-White, and Maria Mitchell.

Notable Women

Notable Women

Notable Women

See also The Harriet Tubman Stamp.

A Fan-Made Trailer for an Anime Version of Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2018

Dmitry Grozov is a Russian comic artist who has made a trailer for an anime version of Star Wars: A New Hope. This treatment of Star Wars is fitting given the Asian, and particularly Japanese, influence on the film.

I would watch the hell out of a full-length version of this.

Riemann Hypothesis proved?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2018

Mathematician Michael Atiyah claims that he’s solved the Riemann hypothesis, one of the great unsolved problems in math, and will deliver a talk about the proof on Monday.

In it, he pays tribute to the work of two great 20th century mathematicians, John von Neumann and Friedrich Hirzebruch, whose developments he claims laid the foundations for his own proposed proof. “It fell into my lap, I had to pick it up,” he says.

The Riemann hypothesis, which is one of the $1 million Millennium Prize problems, deals with prime numbers. Even though it was suggested back in 1859 and “has been checked for the first 10,000,000,000,000 solutions”, no one has yet come up with a proof.

Here’s an educated guess about a part of Atiyah’s proof.

Update: For the hard-core mathematicians in the audience, here is a video of Atiyah’s lecture and a paper containing what looks like a very high-level overview of his solution.

Update: Several people wrote in wanting me to highlight the skepticism that surrounds Atiyah’s Riemann claims.

A giant in his field, Atiyah has made major contributions to geometry, topology, and theoretical physics. He has received both of math’s top awards, the Fields Medal in 1966 and the Abel Prize in 2004. But despite a long and prolific career, the Riemann claim follows on the heels of more recent, failed proofs.

In 2017, Atiyah told The Times of London that he had converted the 255-page Feit-Thompson theorem, an abstract theory dealing with groups of numbers first proved in 1963, into a vastly simplified 12-page proof. He sent his proof to 15 experts in the field and was met with skepticism or silence, and the proof was never printed in a journal. A year earlier, Atiyah claimed to have solved a famous problem in differential geometry in a paper he posted on the preprint repository ArXiv, but peers soon pointed out inaccuracies in his approach and the proof was never formally published.

Science contacted several of Atiyah’s colleagues. They all expressed concern about his desire to come out of retirement to present proofs based on shaky associations and said it was unlikely that his proof of the Riemann hypothesis would be successful. But none wanted to publicly criticize their mentor or colleague for fear of jeopardizing the relationship

Update: Some final thoughts on Atiyah’s failed proof:

Firstly, it’s become clear that the work presented by Atiyah doesn’t constitute a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, so the Clay Institute can rest easy with their 1 million dollars, and encryption on the internet remains safe. The argument Atiyah put forward rests on his function 𝑇(𝑠) having certain properties, and many have concluded that no function with such properties can exist, including in a comment on our own post from an academic who’s written about the Riemann Hypothesis extensively. Dick Lipton and Ken Regan have written a blog post looking at the detail of how 𝑇 is supposed to behave. According to some sources, Atiyah has stated he’ll be publishing a more detailed paper shortly, but not many are holding their breath.

This is not easy mathematics, and even top-level mathematicians sometimes find their proofs don’t hold together; it’s no surprise that a solution to this problem wouldn’t be found in a few lines of mathematics, and it’s just a shame that this was so built up and sensationalised when it’s becoming obvious that Atiyah didn’t consult with anyone else about his proof before presenting it in a public forum.

And with that, Betteridge’s law of headlines holds up yet again. QED.

Putting the Talmud online

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 21, 2018

Babylonian_Talmud,_Seder_Zera'im.jpg

Sefaria is a free online resource for Jewish texts, specifically the Talmud, which (amazingly) wasn’t previously easily available online. This Washington Post article describes the effort behind getting the texts and their translations up and on the web.

The Talmud is notoriously hard to follow, even if you understand Aramaic. For most readers, a straight translation will not be useful, as additional, contextualizing information, based on expertise with the tradition and text, is necessary to follow the arguments.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz created one of the three seminal works in this regard, but it was under copyright and being published by Koren Publishers.

After a prolonged negotiation process, and a substantial gift from the William Davidson Foundation, Sefaria was able to secure the copyright. Then, they ceded their rights and made it available free to the public, a move common to nature conservancies but vanishingly rare in the publishing world, since copyright and exclusivity are major guarantors of revenue.

“Sefaria argues that these texts are our collective heritage; therefore they should be available to everyone for free,” Sarna said.

“You have access to something that Jews, for hundreds of years did not, whether it was banned, or they didn’t understand, or they couldn’t buy books,” said Rabbi Levitansky.

Making the texts available in digital form, for free, enables a lot of new use cases for the Talmud, from using code to find “fuzzy links” between different bits of the texts, to democratizing the audience. Younger, less observant readers now have access to a wider range of textual material and discussion than they did before. The text also serves as a discussion platform: its most-viewed “source sheet” is called “Is One Permitted to Punch a White Supremacist in the Face?

I don’t know whether, as Joshua Foer has it, a digital version of the Talmud is an “advance akin to the writing down of the oral tradition after the fall of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 and the advent of the printing press.” It is, however, a very welcome transformation of a text that’s accustomed to great transformations.

And it also gets back to something I remember from the great In Our Time episode on the Talmud: that Talmud isn’t a book you read so much as a thing you do — or as Foer says, a “giant, unending conversation that spans millennia, continents, and is very much still going on to this day.”

The oral history of OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 21, 2018

On Sunday, September 23, OutKast’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will be fifteen years old. About ready for a learner’s permit. Damn.

Okayplayer assembled an short oral history of both albums, with fresh input from contributors like Cee-Lo Green and engineer Neal Pogue as well as digging into the archives for commentary from Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Just like the albums, it’s a lot of fun.

Cee-Lo Green: They don’t make physical copies of physical CDs anymore. So basically, streaming is just like, “We like this a lot” It’s like analytics. I don’t know what else actually did Diamond or better. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below will probably be one of the last albums in history that will have moved physically over 10 million copies. That ain’t never gonna happen again.

Khujo Goodie: That was the biggest thing it Atlanta, man, because along with Goodie Mob, those guys are the pioneers of Atlanta, Georgia music! They’re the pillars. Just to have some guys representing where you stay, it wasn’t nothing but love when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below dropped, man. And you got a double album, that was just icing on the cake right there!

Big Boi [via MTV News, 2017]: When you’re inside of [the creative process], you don’t know [the impact], you know what I mean? You just go in and try to create something new. One thing that we do is never revisit what we’ve done, although we stand on it and we know it’s there.

I would never go back and try to create a song like “The Rooster”, or “Unhappy”, or “The Way You Move” — That’s too easy, you know what I’m saying? That’s what I could dig about the younger generation. I like to see who’s gonna play it safe and who’s gonna evolve into that other thing.

We really could use a full documentary about OutKast, digging into each of their albums, both principals, and the development of the scene/family around them. Someone should make that happen.

The geometric zen of solving Rubik’s Cubes

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 21, 2018

rubik's cube.jpg

I’ve never been a great fan of Rubik’s Cubes (or chess, or crossword puzzles, or Scrabble, or most obsession-rewarding, intelligence-test-ish popular puzzle games), but it is rewarding for me to read about the cubes and the people who find themselves in solving the puzzle. (It’s still a $250-million-a-year product! The greatest selling single toy of all time.)

Once you’ve defined your goal—“I want to align this orange face with this other orange face”—you can follow a series of steps to accomplish it. An ease with algorithms, they note, is increasingly important in a world dominated by science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. The logic of the Rubik’s cube has, after all, been used by software developers to craft encryption schemes for software for decades. It has 43 quintillion possible combinations—and only one solution.

Puzzling out this 3-D game can also help students hone their spatial thinking skills, according to the presenters. And spatial thinking skills are intimately connected to success in any STEM field. “To think spatially,” the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine write, “entails knowing about” space, representation, and reasoning. This is the kind of knowledge we tap into every day, when timing our commutes or taking detours, reading maps, and, yes, solving Rubik’s cubes.

Maybe I should give that old cube another try.

Google Pays Tribute to Mister Rogers with an Animated Short

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2018

In partnership with Fred Rogers Productions and The Fred Rogers Center, Google is honoring Mister Rogers today with a stop motion animated short as part of their Google Doodle program.

On this date, September 21, 1967, 51 years ago, Fred Rogers walked into the television studio at WQED in Pittsburgh to tape the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which would premiere nationally on PBS in February 1968. He became known as Mister Rogers, nationally beloved, sweater wearing, “television neighbor,” whose groundbreaking children’s series inspired and educated generations of young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty.

What’s interesting is that on his show (unlike his stop motion counterpart in the short), Rogers deliberately didn’t show himself travelling to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe because he didn’t want his young viewers to confuse reality and fantasy. He wanted kids to know he and the people he visited with were in the real world, dealing with real situations.

P.S. And a further interesting tech note: this is the first YouTube video I’ve seen where the number of views isn’t displayed. I’m assuming that’s a Google-only God Mode feature?

The Fish Copter, Cactus Binky, and Other Clever Visual Mashups

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

Visual Mash

I love these fun visual mashups created by French creative agency Les Créatonautes. (via colossal)

First Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

I don’t know why I’m so skeptical about First Man, the upcoming biopic about Neil Armstrong and the first Moon landing. Oh wait, yes I do: Apollo 11 holds a special place in my heart, as does Armstrong and his role in the historic landing, and I’m very protective of it. It would be so easy and, in my opinion, wrong to load this story up with unnecessary drama when there’s already so much there in the story, even though it might not be naturally cinematic.

On the other hand, the trailer looks great, Ryan Gosling is a terrific actor, director Damien Chazelle’s previous films are really good (Whiplash and La La Land), and the film is based on the authorized and well-received biography by James Hansen. Ok fine, I just talked myself into it!

What Would a Truly Representational US Congress Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Even though the diversity of the US Congress has increased in recent years, a trend that looks to continue after the midterm elections in November, overall the 538 people who serve in Congress are not actually that representative of the US population as a whole. Congress is still way more white, male, and Christian than the US as a whole.

In 2016, Ken Flerlage looked at the gender, religious, and racial diversity of the United States and compared it to that of Congress.

Congress has 104 women (19%) and 431 men (81%) while the United States population is 51% female and 49% male. In order to be truly representative, in terms of gender, 168 seats currently held by men would need to be won by women (taking the number to 272 women and 263 men). It is also worth noting that, of the 104 women, 76 are Democrat (73%), while only 28 are Republican (27%).

And here is the visualization for religion:

Religion Diversity Congress

7.1% of the population are atheist or agnostic and 2.4% ascribe to “other” religions (this includes “don’t know”, other world religions, Pagan, Wiccan, Native American religions, and numerous others), yet not a single member of Congress falls into any of these categories.

When you hear people saying that America is still largely a patriarchal & white supremacist society, this is what they are talking about. It’s not just people being hyperbolic.

You could easily expand on this analysis by breaking it down by age, income, education, urban vs rural, sexual orientation, and occupation. You could guess that a truly representational Congress would be younger, waaaay more poor, less accredited, more urban, less straight, more working class, and, when you consider the gender & racial factors, much more politically progressive, but it would be illuminating to see the actual numbers. I’d love to see the NY Times (maybe The Upshot?), FiveThirtyEight, or The Pudding tackle this analysis.

P.S. It’s also worth noting a truly representational Congress would include full voting members from Puerto Rico and Washington DC as well as from other US territories. And maybe separate Native American representation?

Meet Feng E, an 11-Year-Old Taiwanese Ukulele Prodigy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Feng E started playing the ukulele when he was just five years old. His father pushed him into it by saying that he wouldn’t play Legos with the boy unless he took up the instrument. Six years later, he can casually slay Zombie by The Cranberries in the back of a car:

Or Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the streets on London:

Or Classical Gas in the park:

Ok, get this kid a duet with this guy’s washing machine.

Stan & Ollie

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Stan & Ollie is an upcoming film about the legendary comedy duo of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the twilight of their career, starring Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy. I would not necessarily have picked those two actors — I’m not sure who I would have picked instead…perhaps the latter day Stan and Ollie (Tucci & Platt) — but damned if they don’t fill out those roles well.

I’m excited for this one. As kids, we didn’t watch a lot of TV aside from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, but we did watch all sorts of stuff from the black & white era that my dad was into: Abbott & Costello, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Buster Keaton, The Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd. But my favorite was always Laurel and Hardy. I don’t remember laughing harder at anything as a kid than The Music Box:

A Short Tour of the Manufacturing Might of China

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

“Commodity City” is a short documentary directed by Jessica Kingdon about a huge wholesale market in China with 75,000 vendors selling everything from flowers, pens, and clocks to dolls, rope, and Santas.

Ultimately, Kingdon decided to focus on what she describes as “the quieter, more subtle moments” amidst the chaotic atmosphere of the five-mile-long consumer metropolis. Comprised of mostly static shots, her short observational documentary, Commodity City, is a mesmerizing window into the daily lives of some of the 75,000 individual vendors who exhibit more than 400,000 products at Yiwu.

“I saw directly how lives are built around market forces,” Kingdon said of her experience shooting the film. “It’s similar to most other places in the world participating in global capitalism, but in China, it’s more obvious right now.”

I know this is pretty slow in spots — It’s meditative! Why are you in such a dang hurry? — but there are great little moments sprinkled in here and there (at 7:10 for one). It also weirdly reminded me of Koyaanisqatsi.

Law & Order: Martian Victims Unit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I loved this imaginative and clever piece by Geoff Manaugh called How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars? about how a future human settlement on Mars would handle matters of law and order. For one things, crimes might be more difficult to investigate.

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

At a broader level, what sort of political system develops because of the Martian environment might shape how law enforcement happens.

In the precarious Martian environment, where so much depends on the efficient, seamless operation of life-support systems, sabotage becomes an existential threat. A saboteur might tamper with the oxygen generators or fatally disable a settlement’s most crucial airlock. When human life is so thoroughly entwined with its technical environment, we should not consider these sorts of acts mere petty crimes, he explained to me. In a literal sense, they would be crimes against humanity-even, on a large enough scale, attempted genocide.

“I think the fact that tyranny is easier in space is a foregone conclusion,” he explained to me, precisely because there is nowhere to escape without risking instant death from extreme cold or asphyxiation. In other words, the constant presence of nearly instant environmental lethality will encourage systems of strong social control with little tolerance for error. Orders and procedures will need to be followed exactly as designed, because the consequences of a single misstep could be catastrophic.

A few paragraphs after this, the terrifyingly wonderful phrase “politically motivated depressurization” is used. I don’t think we’re super close to the colonization of Mars, but Manaugh says, better to think about it now before we “unwittingly construct an interplanetary dystopia run by cops who shoot first and ask questions later”.

Shoreline Maps of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

In a book called Atlas of the World with Geophysical Boundaries, scientist Athelstan Spilhaus published a series of world maps that emphasized the Earth’s oceans over the continents. The maps turn our familiar continental view of the world inside out. Check out this rendering of one of Spilhaus’ maps by Le Cartographe:

Spilhaus Map

Takes a second to get your bearings on that, right? One big ocean with Antarctica in the middle, surrounded by the stretched-out landmasses of Asia and the Americas. Jason Davies recreated some of the other Spilhaus maps and so did Mike Bostock.

Spilhaus Map

You can see a bunch of Spilhaus’ other shoreline maps by flipping through the pages of his book on Google Books.

Some Cool Projects I’ve Noticed on Kickstarter Recently

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

I seem to have a bunch of links to Kickstarter campaigns up in browser tabs right now so instead of dripping them out over the next few days as Quick Links, I thought I’d do a mini roundup here.

Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders: Geology & Evolution. The latest in the Stardust series of books authored by 12-year-old Bailey Harris and her father, Douglas. Harris got the idea for the first book watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and she was off to the races. Both of her previous books have been enjoyed in our household.

Alexander von Humboldt - Illustrating Nature. This is a reissue of a book from a previous successful campaign. I have a couple of Kronecker Wallis’ beautifully designed books about science, including this one — they do good work.

I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions. We’re massive fans of the Rebel Girls books and podcast in our house, so this is a no-brainer.

DRYP - an app that keeps your plants alive & happy. DRYP is an iOS app that “tells you when to water your plants AND helps you cure them when they’re sick”. Yes, please.

4-Mation: The Interactive 3D Zoetrope. A little tough to explain…watch the first few seconds of the video to get it.

THE SONGULARITY. From Botnik Studios, this is “an impending full-length pop album co-created by humans and machines” with lyrics generated by a predictive text program seeded with “Scottish folk ballads, Amazon reviews, Carrie Underwood, The Elements Of Style and more”.

Our President Was Called Barack. This children’s book about Barack Obama was funded on Kickstarter in 2017 and they still have a few copies left for sale.

What’s My Name?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

What’s My Name? is an upcoming HBO documentary about Muhammad Ali. This is a teaser trailer so there’s not much to go on but LeBron James and Maverick Carter are executive producing and the director is Antoine Fuqua, who directed Training Day in 2001. What’s My Name? will air in two parts in early 2019.

The Harriet Tubman $20 Stamp

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Frustrated that the US Treasury Department is walking back plans to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, Dano Wall created a 3D-printed stamp that can be used to transform Jacksons into Tubmans on the twenties in your pocketbook.

Tubman $20 Stamp

Here’s a video of the stamp in action. Wall told The Awesome Foundation a little bit about the genesis of the project:

I was inspired by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, and subsequently saddened by the news that the Trump administration was walking back that plan. So I created a stamp to convert Jacksons into Tubmans myself. I have been stamping $20 bills and entering them into circulation for the last year, and gifting stamps to friends to do the same.

If you have access to a 3D printer (perhaps at your local library or you can also use a online 3D printing service), you can download the print files at Thingiverse and make your own stamp for use at home.

Wall also posted a link to some neat prior art: suffragettes in Britain modifying coins with a “VOTES FOR WOMEN” slogan in the early 20th century.

Votes For Women Coin

Update: Several men on Twitter are helpfully pointing out that, in their inexpert legal opinion, defacing bills in this way is illegal. Here’s what the law says (emphasis mine):

Defacement of currency is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code. Under this provision, currency defacement is generally defined as follows: Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, Federal Reserve Bank, or Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The “with intent” bit is important, I think. The FAQ for a similar project has a good summary of the issues involved.

But we are putting political messages on the bills, not commercial advertisements. Because we all want these bills to stay in circulation and we’re stamping to send a message about an issue that’s important to us, it’s legal!

I’m not a lawyer, but as long as your intent isn’t to render these bills “unfit to be reissued”, you’re in the clear. Besides, if civil disobedience doesn’t stray into the gray areas of the law, is it really disobedience? (via @patrick_reames)

Update: Adafruit did an extensive investigation into the legality of this project. Their conclusion? “The production of the instructional video and the stamping of currency are both well within the law.”

Alexa Meade’s Living Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Artist Alexa Meade paints right on the bodies and clothes of living models to create the illusion that they’re in 2D paintings. It’s not body art…it’s like living trompe-l’œil in reverse.

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Alexa Meade

Yeah, those are all actual people painted and posed in front of painted backdrops. Here’s Meade posing with one of her models:

Alexa Meade

Meade did a TED talk about her work and also recently collaborated with Ariana Grande for her God is a woman video.

I first featured Meade’s work more than 8 years ago, so I figured it was time for a revisit. You can keep up with her stuff on Instagram or her website.

A New Twitter Feature: Smart Accounts

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Last night, Twitter gave its users the option to switch back to a purely chronological timeline.

Meanwhile, today we updated the “Show the best Tweets first” setting. When off, you’ll only see Tweets from people you follow in reverse chronological order. Previously when turned off, you’d also see “In case you missed it” and recommended Tweets from people you don’t follow.

That’s good! Most users probably benefit from the algorithmic timeline, but not everyone wants to use the service that way (I certainly don’t).

Whenever Twitter changes their mind like this, it always reminds me of a missed opportunity by the company to give people more ways to discover new things on Twitter while keeping the service simple. They’ve tried the Discover feature, sticking likes from friends in the timeline, “in case you missed it”, recommended followers, Moments, Trends, etc. etc. And despite these things being at least somewhat interesting some of the time, many people freak out because they don’t have any control over whether this stuff pops up in their timelines.

What Twitter should do instead1 is use the same simple mechanism people already use to control their timelines: following and unfollowing. Instead of adding tabs to the interface or throwing random stuff into everyone’s timeline for the greater good, those things should be accounts you can follow. Call them Smart Accounts because they would be based on each user’s particular activity. Then users would be able to have a fully chronological timeline but also see tweets from their Smart Accounts according to their particular preferences.

Here’s an example. Seeing likes from people you follow is fun and interesting…the serendipity and relevance factors are high.1 The “Likes from Friends” Smart Account would post tweets that your friends have liked recently and you could set how many you wanted to see each day.

More examples:

- In Case You Missed It. Just like the current feature, except you can follow/unfollow and control the frequency.

- Trends. An account that posts tweets related to trending stories…or maybe it just alerts you that “Mario Kart” is trending. You can see global trends, location-based, or tailored just for you.

- Threads. See X number of the most popular threads posted in my extended network each day.

- Who to Follow. Every day (or X number of times/day), this account would suggest an account to follow.

- Moments. I never ever go to the Moments tab but I would definitely follow an account that periodically tweeted out the five best Moments from my extended network each day.

- Promoted Tweets. This is a Smart Account everyone would have to follow. But maybe you could pay a subscription fee to be able to unfollow?

I would pretty much follow all of those accounts in some way…and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Twitter has all kinds of interest data that you could slice up in interesting ways and feed back into the system. A “Longreads” account that tweets out a long magazine or newspaper article that’s bubbling up in your network each day before your commute home? A “Book Stack” account that recommends books that people in your network have tweeted about recently. A “Smart Smart Accounts” account that recommends new Smart Accounts to follow (*Inception Horn*). A “Random Follow” account that automagically follows a different recommended account each day…then unfollows them and follows a new account the next day. Likes from My Friends’ Friends. Trending Videos. Meme Factory. Check Out My Soundcloud. So many possibilities.

Twitter wouldn’t want these accounts to get lost in the shuffle — they need to keep that engagement high — so maybe they’d have special status in the app somewhere: a tab that replaces Moments and they’re listed first on the Following page? Perhaps a few Smart Accounts are turned on by default when you make a new account. Maybe users could pin the tweets from select Smart Accounts to the tops of their timelines (much like Twitter was forcing on people with the algorithmic timeline).

But the point of all this is that Twitter would have a way to deliver new & engaging features powered by their algorithmic special sauce to their users in a very familiar and simple way without always mucking up people’s expectations: by simply clicking the follow button.

  1. I mean, besides banning Nazis.

  2. I should know, I ran a beloved service called Stellar for a few years where people could follow each others likes. Many people miss it and I really do too. In fact, the whole Smart Accounts idea came from Stellar. There were “house” accounts you could follow that fed interesting posts and links back into the system. It kept things simple — every feature is just a followable account — but also gave everyone controlled access to different interesting parts of the data set, increasing the level of serendipity. If I’d had the time and the money and a more stable Twitter API, Stellar would have been very Smart Accounts-driven. And it would have been fucking amazing. (Can you tell how much I like this idea?!)

Wes Anderson’s Movies, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2018

Rushmore List

For NME, Sophie Charara ranks Wes Anderson’s nine feature films in order of greatness. Her top 3 picks are correct, I think, but I’d shift the order a little. Here’s my list, which is a tiny bit objective but mostly really really subjective.

1. Rushmore
2. The Royal Tenenbaums
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Fantastic Mr Fox
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Isle of Dogs
7. Bottle Rocket
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. The Darjeeling Limited

Honestly, 4-8 could have gone in any order for me and The Darjeeling Limited is not that far off.

Jamie Lee Curtis Recreates the Psycho Shower Scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Jamie Lee Curtis Psycho

For an episode of a TV show called Scream Queens, Jamie Lee Curtis recreated the shower scene from Psycho performed by her mother, Janet Leigh, with a shot-for-shot homage. Even though they had limited time to shoot, Curtis and the crew took the recreation very seriously.

Falchuk began contemplating having Munsch in the shower as an homage to Curtis’ mother. “I thought, ‘Can I do this? Do I need to ask her?’ I didn’t want to offend her but at the same time this would be so awesome,” remembers Falchuk. “So then I wrote it and then got a text from her very quickly after she read the script. Her text was, ‘We need to do this shot-for-shot.’ Then, typical Jamie Lee, she started sending me all the websites and Tumblrs that have each shot laid out and storyboarded.”

What a photo! Curtis’ scene is not quite shot-for-shot, but you can see a screencapped video of it on YouTube and compare to the original.

A List of the 100 Most Important Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

After consulting dozens of authors, critics, and voracious readers, Vulture has come up with A Premature Attempt at the 21st Century Canon, aka a list of the 100 most important books of the 21st century (so far).

Any project like this is arbitrary, and ours is no exception. But the time frame is not quite as random as it may seem. The aughts and teens represent a fairly coherent cultural period, stretching from the eerie decadence of pre-9/11 America to the presidency of Donald Trump. This mini-era packed in the political, social, and cultural shifts of the average century, while following the arc of an epic narrative (perhaps a tragedy, though we pray for a happier sequel).

The top vote-getter is somewhat surprising: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt. Also represented high on the list are The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Novels, and Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. I spotted a bunch of my other favorites on the list as well: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, My Struggle: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and The Harry Potter books. You can imagine the rest of the list as well: Roth, Franzen, Jesmyn Ward, Didion, Atwood, Marlon James, etc.

Would love to see a similar non-fiction list. Off the top of my head: The Warmth of Other Suns, 1491, Sapiens, The Emperor of All Maladies, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, The Black Swan, The Sixth Extinction, The Devil in the White City, Between the World and Me, and Moneyball would all deserve consideration.

Seven Species So Endangered that Their Remaining Members Could Fit in a Single NYC Subway Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

Some animals are so endangered that fewer than 100 members of their species remain in the world. For The Guardian, Mona Chalabi depicted the remaining members of seven of those species fitting into their own NYC subway car.

Subway Species

The data was taken from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

For Sale: Han Solo’s Jacket & Indiana Jones’ Fedora

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

A huge cache of rare Hollywood memorabilia is up for sale at a London auction on September 20. The catalog includes over 600 items from movies like Back to the Future, Blade Runner, Batman, Blues Brothers, Die Hard, Goonies, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, Terminator, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and X-Men.

Among the most valuable and unique items are the iconic Indiana Jones hat worn by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (estimate £200,000-£300,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 01

They’re also selling Indy’s bullwhip from Temple of Doom (estimate £50,000-£70,000).

The most expensive item is Han Solo’s jacket from Empire Strikes Back (£500,000-£1,000,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 02

Pairs nicely with this stormtrooper helmet from the first film (estimate £40,000-£60,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 03

Marty McFly’s hoverboard from Back to the Future II (estimate £30,000-£50,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 04

They’re also offering the DeLorean’s OUTATIME license plate from the first film (estimate £10,000-£15,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 05

A Wonka Bar from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (estimate £8,000-£10,000), a rare item because most props from the film were “destroyed at its Bavarian film studio to allow production to wrap quickly, making way for the immediate filming of Cabaret”:

Hollywood Auction 2018 06

Captain Picard’s uniform from the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (£10,000-£15,000):

Hollywood Auction 2018 07

And a bunch of other stuff, including John McClane’s radio from Die Hard, Edward Scissorhands’ costume, Mikey’s doubloon from The Goonies, a T-800 exoskeleton from Terminator 2, Tom Hanks’ helmet from Saving Private Ryan, a THX 138 license plate from American Graffiti, and a full-size drivable replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future.

If you want to bid on any of this stuff, either in person, via the phone, or online, check out the info page on how to register.

How We Could Build a Moon Base Today

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2018

This video explores how humans could begin to colonize the Moon today, using currently available technology.

We actually do have the technology and current estimates from NASA and the private sector say it could be done for $20-40 billion spread out over about a decade. The price is comparable to the International Space Station or the budget surplus of Germany in 2017.

That’s also only 12-25% of the net worth of Jeff Bezos. I don’t know whether that’s more an illustration of the relative affordability of building a Moon base or of Bezos’ wealth, but either way it’s a little bit crazy that the world’s richest man can easily afford to fund the building of a Moon base and somehow it’s not happening (or even close to happening).

How Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

Dwayne Johnson The Rock.jpg

My friend, the novelist/fabulist/media inventor Robin Sloan, has a charming new short story that imagines how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President, first by playing the role in an imaginary movie. Along the way, there are some poignant thoughts about the nature of our political imaginations, the role of new media like Instagram in shaping public perception, and the ways leadership can, spell-like, be brought into being.

Here is the meager gift tucked into the disaster that is Donald Trump: now, anyone can be elected president, so anyone will be elected president. We might never have another lawyer in that office again. Donald Trump broke the seal, but Dwayne Johnson will fulfill the prophecy.

Can you imagine him on the debate stage? The way he’ll look alongside his opponents in the primary? A line of normal, rumpled humans, and then this towering figure. A political revolution: his suit will fit.

If he runs, he will win, and he will run, so the question isn’t, will Dwayne Johnson be president; rather, it’s: what kind of president will Dwayne Johnson be?

“Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth,” said Archimedes, maybe. With this book, we’ll set our feet and push.

The story and its narrator are so cynical and idealistic at once that it’s hard to characterize. Wasn’t the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” a self-invention of sorts? the story’s narrator asks. Couldn’t a new myth, a new colossus, reanimate that central idea, that openness to all peoples and possibilities, again?

The fact that on the one hand, America is “a nation of Presidents,” creating its own institutions, rules, and leaders, and a nation that could swoon for The Scorpion King because his Instagram videos are just so damned good, just illustrates one of hundreds of central contradictions about this place.

Are those contradictions hindrances to us? Do they fuel us? Or are they just unavoidable, constituent elements to the place and its peoples?

I don’t know. But I’m glad this story is poking those contradictions with a stick.

Rituals of democracy

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

At The Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum argues that a decline in democracy isn’t just about voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and radical inequality, but also the decline of smaller civic institutions. The 19th century saw a boom in democratic governance of public/private associations, not just local and federal government:

By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more of these associations mirrored the federal government in form: Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies. “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.

The model proved remarkably adaptable. In business, shareholders elected boards of directors in accordance with corporate charters, while trade associations bound together independent firms. Labor unions chartered locals that elected officers and dispatched delegates to national gatherings. From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives…

This nation of presidents—and judges, representatives, and recording secretaries—obsessed over rules and procedures. Offices turned over at the end of fixed terms; new organizations were constantly formed. Ordinary Americans could expect to find themselves suddenly asked to join a committee or chair a meeting. In 1876, an army engineer named Henry Robert published his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, and it improbably became a best seller; within four decades, more than 500,000 copies were in print. It was, a Boston newspaper declared, “as indispensable as was the Catechism in more ecclesiastical times.”

We were, as the University of Georgia’s Walter Hill said in 1892, “a nation of Presidents.” And the decline of those traditions, those rituals of democracy, tracks a corresponding decline in respect for and interest in political democracy. That, at least, is Applebaum’s take.

I’m less sure. I think the history and sociology of these voluntary associations is fascinating, and deserves to be part of what we talk about when we talk about democracy writ large. But I think (and I would guess this would probably be taken as a friendly amendment) we also have to think about the transformations in other institutions we know are connected to democracy, like the media, public schools, and public institutions like libraries. Places that don’t necessarily have elected officers, but likewise help preserve certain rituals of democracy that we all have to learn in order to interact in a democratic society. How we read, how we think, how we share space — all of this matters, the anthropology as much as the law.

In other words, there’s a formal and informal side to democracy, and neither one of them is necessarily more important than the other. Not to mention that elections and officers are features of only a certain kind of democracy, and there are other, more radical forms of democracy that are available to us — all of which were experimented with in the 18th and 19th centuries too, by anarchists, socialists, and other people who didn’t take the US’s electoral model has having definitively solved the question of what a democratic society might look like.

The broader truth I take from this is that, to borrow from Aristotle, we are what we do repeatedly. If we’re not a nation of Presidents any more, it means we’ve become a different kind of democracy, not necessarily an un-democracy. And that’s significant. We’ve mutated into something else: a different kind of mass democracy, linked together by a different set of institutions with a different set of principles, leading to a different set of possibilities.

Making useful three-dimensional maps

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

I’ve often said that every two-dimensional map is a lie; a perfect map would be able to show a city in three dimensions. (Or four, to show how they’ve changed over time.)

Height tells you so much; the steepness of streets, where water tends to flood, even often class distinctions, at least traditional ones. Try walking around San Francisco sometime, or Gloucester, Massachusetts, following a map that tells you take a left turn, straight uphill. Better still, try this in a wheelchair.

Toby Eglesfield, a graphic designer working in New Zealand, took this challenge seriously. After some aborted attempts with arrows, he settled on a trimetric projection (it’s like isometric, but slightly different), with different colored wedges to indicate the relative steepness of a street. Here’s the basic idea:

DRCMap-WorkInProgress.jpg

And here’s the completed product:

Queenstown 3d Map (large).png

Created for the disAbilities Resource Centre in Queenstown, the map includes marks for accessible toilets, car parks, etc. I’d love to see a version for Manhattan, San Francisco — anywhere, really, but especially older cities with varied topography.

Finalists in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2018

Each year to promote wildlife conservation, the folks behind The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards select the funniest photos of animals doing goofy things from hundreds of entries from around the world. The Guardian has a selection of photos from 2018’s finalists.

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

The galleries of finalists & winners from past years is also worth looking through. So many good ones in there, but this particularly caught my attention:

Wildlife Comedy

Update: There’s a book featuring photos from the contest.

Theo Jansen’s New Wind-Powered “Strandbeest” Is Super Fast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

Earlier this summer, Theo Jansen released an improved iteration of his strandbeests, wind-powered machines that walk along the beach. The newest version doesn’t have any joints, so it doesn’t need lubrication or protection from the sand to keep it from moving. As a result, it zips along at a pretty good clip down the beach. I first ran across Jansen’s work at a conference more than a decade ago.

It’s hard to know where to begin in talking about what’s so cool about Jansen’s beach animals. They’re evolved for one thing; he worked out the optimal 11-piece leg using evolutionary algorithms on a computer but now prefers to race his animals on the beach and “breed” the most successful ones together, taking the best bits from each to make their offspring better. His animals have legs, muscles (pneumatic pistons within the plastic tubing), stomachs (plastic bottles for storing air), and nerves (collections of on/off values that work pretty much like logic gates).

The kids have one of these built-your-own mini-strandbeests and it’s really neat to see how it all works up close.

How Cookie Cutters Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

Cookies shaped like Christmas trees are made by pressing a tree-shaped cookie cutter into dough. But how are cookie cutters made? Like this:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Cookiecutter.com (@otbp_cookiecutters) on

I love how the machine’s little hands come together like in a Little League huddle just before the team takes the field. Aaaaaand, BREAK! Let’s get out there and make some cookies! (via colossal)

Now Online in Its Entirety: The First Episode of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

To mark the 25th anniversary of its airing, the very first episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brien has been made available online in its entirety. His guests that evening were John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall.

O’Brien says this initial video will be joined by a “complete online archive of Conan’s 25 years in late night” in January 2019. (via anil dash)

A Map of the World Where the Sizes of Countries Are Determined by Population

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

World Map Population

Max Roser has constructed a cartogram of the world where the size of the countries are determined by their populations (big version of the image here). He refers to it as “the map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing”.

The cartogram is made up of squares, each of which represents half a million people of a country’s population. The 11.5 million Belgians are represented by 23 squares; the 49.5 million Colombians are represented by 99 squares; the 1.415 billion people in China are represented by 2830 squares; and this year’s entire world population of 7.633 billion people is represented by the total sum of 15,266 squares.

As the size of the population rather than the size of the territory is shown in this map you can see some big differences when you compare it to the standard geographical map we’re most familiar with. Small countries with a high population density increase in size in this cartogram relative to the world maps we are used to — look at Bangladesh, Taiwan, or the Netherlands. Large countries with a small population shrink in size — talking about you Canada, Mongolia, Australia, and Russia.

Some observations (Roser has many more if you click through):

1. Look at how teeny Russia is. (So is Canada.)

2. Seriously, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil all have larger populations than Russia. Japan, Ethiopia, and Mexico are very close.

3. 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia.

4. 5 times as many people live in Madagascar as do Ireland. The populations of Ireland + the Scandinavian countries = the population of Peru.

5. Europe is tiny. Guns, Germs, and Steel, yo.

6. India and China. Damn.

I would love to see an animated version of this cartogram from like 1950 to 2100 (like this one of the US).

Update: Jakub Nowosad built an animated map of the world’s population changes from 1800-2100 and documented the steps so you can make your own variation.

How Did “OK” Become One of the Most Popular Words in the World?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2018

Where did the word “OK” come from and how did it become so popular?

Young Boston intellectuals in the early 1800s used a humorous code of abbreviated phrases, like “KC,” or “knuff ced”; “KY,” “know yuse”; and “OW,” “oll wright.” And while most of them eventually fell out of fashion, one abbreviation persisted: “OK,” or “oll korrect.”

OK started off as the LOL of its time. Then Martin Van Buren’s presidential campaign popularized it and its brevity proved useful for sending telegraph messages. You can read more about the history of the word in Allan Metcalf’s book, OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word.

Dark Matter: Looking for Whispers in the Cosmic Silence

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2018

For Motherboard’s The Most Unknown series, physicist Davide D’Angelo and geomicrobiologist Jennifer Macalady travel to Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso to see one of the latest efforts to detect dark matter, the SABRE detector.

As with the search for neutrinos, looking for dark matter needs to happen under conditions of “cosmic silence” — in this case, beneath a mountain in Italy. D’Angelo, who is a collaborator on the project, likens the search to “hunting ghosts”.

In Praise of Public Libraries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2018

Eric Klinenberg recently wrote an opinion piece for the NY Times called To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library.

Libraries are an example of what I call “social infrastructure”: the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto child care for busy parents, language instruction for immigrants and welcoming public spaces for the poor, the homeless and young people.

I recently spent a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.

For older people, especially widows, widowers and those who live alone, libraries are places for culture and company, through book clubs, movie nights, sewing circles and classes in art, current events and computing. For many, the library is the main place they interact with people from other generations.

For children and teenagers, libraries help instill an ethic of responsibility, to themselves and to their neighbors, by teaching them what it means to borrow and take care of something public, and to return it so others can have it too. For new parents, grandparents and caretakers who feel overwhelmed when watching an infant or a toddler by themselves, libraries are a godsend.

Khoi Vinh, who until fairly recently had taken public libraries for granted, followed on with some additional thoughts.

Even more radically, your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you even transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in.

This rare openness and neutrality imbues libraries with a distinct sense of community, of us, of everyone having come together to fund and build and participate in this collective sharing of knowledge and space. All of that seems exceedingly rare in this increasingly commercial, exposed world of ours. In a way it’s quite amazing that the concept continues to persist at all.

How Do We Know Recent Climate Changes Are Caused By Humans?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2018

One of the ways that climatologists know that the dramatically increasing amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (and corresponding temperature increase) is caused by human activity is by measuring changing land use and how much fossil fuel has been burned over the last few hundred years. From a 2004 RealClimate article:

One way that we know that human activities are responsible for the increased CO2 is simply by looking at historical records of human activities. Since the industrial revolution, we have been burning fossil fuels and clearing and burning forested land at an unprecedented rate, and these processes convert organic carbon into CO2. Careful accounting of the amount of fossil fuel that has been extracted and combusted, and how much land clearing has occurred, shows that we have produced far more CO2 than now remains in the atmosphere. The roughly 500 billion metric tons of carbon we have produced is enough to have raised the atmospheric concentration of CO2 to nearly 500 ppm. The concentrations have not reached that level because the ocean and the terrestrial biosphere have the capacity to absorb some of the CO2 we produce. However, it is the fact that we produce CO2 faster than the ocean and biosphere can absorb it that explains the observed increase.

That was back when the CO2 concentration was ~380 parts per million…it’s now ~407 ppm. That is pretty convincing evidence all by itself…the inputs match the outputs.

But there is also extremely compelling corroborating evidence that has to do with what kind of carbon is being released into the atmosphere — the smoking gun of anthropogenic climate change, if you will. For several hundred years before the start of the 19th century, the CO2 in the atmosphere contained a more-or-less consistent ratio of two carbon isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13 (which contains one more neutron than carbon-12 and is therefore heavier). Plants prefer consuming the lighter carbon-12 over carbon-13 and since fossil fuels are ultimately made from decayed plants, when you burn them, they disproportionately produce carbon-12 (when compared to atmospheric CO2).

So if you’re burning a bunch of oil and coal, you’d expect to see carbon-12 levels in the atmosphere go up…and that’s exactly what scientists have found. If you graph the amount of carbon-12 present in the atmosphere over time, you can see very clearly that it begins rising in lockstep with CO2 concentration right around when people began burning a lot of fossil fuels circa 1800.

Light Carbon Graph

You can read more about how scientists took these measurements in the 2004 RealClimate article I mentioned above. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus says learning about these measurements “propelled me to a career in climate” and I can totally see why — this is really persuasive.

The Antisocial Nature of Wireless Telegraphy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2018

Telegraph Antisocial

Ah, these kids today and their addiction to wireless telegraphy!

Every Owen Wilson “Wow” In Chronological Order

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Yeah, I’m not sure what else needs to be explained here, it’s what it says on the tin, etc. Owen Wilson likes saying “wow” in movies, people like pointing out that Owen Wilson likes saying “wow” in movies, and this is a collection of those moments. Purple monkey dishwasher.

Photographing the Biggest, Oldest, and Rarest Trees on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Beth Moon

Beth Moon

Beth Moon

Photographer Beth Moon travels the globe documenting some of the biggest, oldest, and rarest trees in the world — dragon blood trees in Yemen, massive English oaks, giant sequoias, baobabs in Madagascar, and ancient bristlecone pines in California.

I’d like to keep a clear picture, so if a tree is destroyed by storm, disease, greed, or lack of concern, I will have a record of its power and beauty for those who were not able to make the journey. I photograph these trees because I know words alone are not enough, and I want their stories to live on. I photograph these trees because they may not be here tomorrow.

Moon has collected her tree photos into two books: Ancient Trees: Portrait of Time and Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees.

An Ultra-High Resolution Map of Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Antarctica Detailed Map

Antarctica Detailed Map

Antarctica Detailed Map

Using years of satellite data and photography, researchers have constructed an extremely detailed terrain map called the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica that maps 98% of the continent down to a resolution of 8 meters. That makes it the most detailed terrain map of any continent. The NY Times has the skinny on the new map.

Previous maps of the continent had a resolution similar to seeing the whole of Central Park from a satellite. With this new data, it is now possible to see down to the size of a car, and even smaller in some areas. The data is so complete that scientists now know the height of every feature on the continent down to a few feet.

“If you’re someone that needs glasses to see, it’s a bit like being almost blind and putting on glasses for the first time and seeing 20/20,” said Dr. Howat.

The team used 187,585 images collected over six years to create the map.

“Until now, we’ve had a better map of Mars than we’ve had of Antarctica,” said Dr. Howat.

Sea Slugs Can Arm Themselves with Venom from Other Animals?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

These nudibranchs (sea slugs) are lit up like the midway at a county fair because they’re warning predators that they use stinging cells called nematocysts to defend themselves when attacked. But the nematocysts are not native to nudibranch physiology — they hoover them up from hydroids, a jellyfish relative, and distribute them around their bodies.

The nudibranch’s gut has fingerlike branches that extend up into the long cerata on its back. The unfired stingers travel up into the cerata and concentrate in little sacs at the tips, where they continue to develop.

If a fish or crab tries to bite the nudibranch, it squeezes those sacs and shoots out the stingers, which immediately pop in the predator’s mouth. It doesn’t take long for predators to avoid the brightly colored nudibranchs.

What a wild adaptation! (via the kid should see this)

“Final Offer”, a Sci-fi Short about Interstellar Negotiation

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

In Mark Slutsky’s short sci-fi film “Final Offer”, a traffic ticket lawyer awakens in a doorless room and discovers he’s there to make a deal with an interstellar attorney that could affect all life on Earth. I liked this…there was a tinge of My Cousin Vinny to it.

See also Slutsky’s “Never Happened” about a Black Mirror-esque business trip fling.

Some (Older, Whiter, More Conservative) Audiences React Negatively to Kaepernick’s Nike Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

A research company called Morning Consult had 1900 people watch the new Nike commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick and record their reactions in realtime. The video above shows the commercial and the graphed reactions of four age groups: Gen Z (18-21, white line), Millennials (22-37, teal line), Gen X (38-53, yellow line), and Boomers (54-72, red line). The report also has graphs showing results by race and political affiliation (the dashed line is when Kaepernick first appears on screen).

Nike Ad Graph

Nike Ad Graph

Gen Z & Millennials rated the ad higher than the older viewers throughout and had a less negative reaction to the polarizing parts. Now, the report only mentions the effect of Kaepernick appearing on the screen, but to my eyes, there are four distinct moments when the opinions of some viewers (white, older, Republican) turn negative:

1. Right before Kaepernick is shown for the first time, ratings start to decline when the ad refers to LeBron James as “the best basketball player on the planet” and “bigger than basketball” for recently opening his I Promise School.

2. Kaepernick’s first appearance in front of an American flag with his large Afro triggers a steep decline in favorability among older viewers, particularly Boomers and Republicans.

3. Serena Williams being billed as “the greatest athlete ever” results in the steepest decline during the entire ad…and this was before the controversy at the US Open. Across all groups, only black Americans had no problem with that characterization whatsoever (Gen Z & Millennials showed only slight declines).

4. Immediately after that, Kaepernick is shown again and there’s a continued follow-on decline from Serena.

So that’s interesting! What’s going on here? [insert an entire apologist NY Times Op-Ed piece here about how famous athletes are polarizing no matter what, particularly when accompanied by best-ever proclamations, etc. etc.] But of course, it’s probably racism with a side of sexism — three outspoken black athletes, one of them a woman, are uppity. That’s the simplest explanation.

A Shot-By-Shot Remake of Toy Story 3 by Two Teen Superfans

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

Since 2011, brothers Morgan and Mason McGrew have been working on a shot-by-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. They’ve built sets, borrowed garbage trucks for scenes, and spent hundreds and hundreds of hours shooting stop motion animation of their army of Toy Story dolls & action figures. They’ve made enough progress on the film to release a trailer and it looks great!

For way too many years now, my brother and I (with the support of our awesome family and friends) have been working on a shot-for-shot recreation of Toy Story 3. This project has been an incredible undertaking, and we’ve made the decision to have this complete by 2019. At this time, I’m not quite sure what a release will look like, but I do know that this has to be done by next year. We’re both pursuing college and full-time careers right now, and it’s time to wrap this side-project up.

It looks like the brothers were around 11 and 14 when they began filming. You can check out the project’s Facebook page for information and updates.

See also Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Color Palettes Through the Ages

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

Color Leap lets you time travel back through the color palettes of history, from colorful Egyptian sarcophagi circa 2000 BCE to stained glass windows circa 1000 CE to advertisements in the 1950s.

Color Leap 01

Color Leap 02

Clicking on the colors will copy the hex code for that color to your clipboard. (via design observer)

My Recent Media Diet, Special In Denial That Summer’s Over Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. This installment has a few things on it from a trip to NYC and is also very movie-heavy. In addition to the stuff below, I also finished Sharp Objects (HBO series, not the book) and Star Trek: Voyager, both of which I reviewed last time. I’m almost done with Origin Story…might do a whole separate post on that one. Up next in the book department: Now My Heart Is Full, The Good Neighbor, or Fantasyland.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout. I’m not a particular fan of the series, but this was so fun that maybe I should be? Love the practical effects. (B+)

Bundyville. This podcast came highly recommended by a reader but as soon as Cliven Bundy opened his mouth to speak I realized I did not want to spend a single second of my life in this asshole’s ville or town or mind or anything. Maybe this makes me intolerant or incurious? Not sure I particularly care…there are worthier things I can choose spend my time on. (-)

Radiohead at TD Garden, 7/29/2018. I somehow won the Ticketmaster lottery and got floor tickets, so we were about 35 feet from the stage. Cool to see my favorite band that close. (A)

MFA Pastels

French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault, MFA Boston. I don’t have much experience with viewing pastels but these seemed simultaneously alive and dreamy. (A-)

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. One of our culture’s recent great storytellers. It’s dated (and cringeworthy) in places, but that Bourdain voice and perspective is right there on the page, almost fully formed. In the chapter about Tokyo, you also get to witness the prototype for Bourdain’s third and, arguably, greatest career as a culinary and cultural observer of far-flung places. Pro tip: get the audiobook read by the man himself. (A)

My new electric toothbrush. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? My teeth feel (and probably are) so much cleaner now! (A-)

Holedown. I’ve spent too many hours playing this. It sucks I hate it it’s so good and I can’t stopppppppp. (A-/D+)

David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney. A strong show about an artist I didn’t know a lot about going in. (B+)

The Problem We All Live With

Celebrating Bill Cunningham exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition was in a small room and featured very few photographs, so I was a little disappointed. But I did get to see the Norman Rockwell/FDR exhibition, including this arresting painting. (B)

Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. Even though I have the book, the original photos were worth seeing in person. (B+)

Eighth Grade. The feelings generated by watching this film — dread, crushing anxiety — closely approximated how I felt attending 8th grade. Well played. (B+)

Sorry to Bother You. If you haven’t seen this, don’t watch or read anything about it before you do. Just watch it. (A-)

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. This had me thinking about all sorts of different things. Recommended. (A)

Succession. This wasn’t quite as good as everyone said it was, but I still enjoyed it. My tolerance for watching rich, powerful, white assholes, however entertaining, is waning though… (B)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly more spare than the TV series but still powerful and unsparing. (A-)

The Dark Knight. If not the best superhero movie ever, it’s close. (A-)

Crazy Rich Asians. A romantic comedy with a strong dramatic element rooted in family & cultural dynamics, women who are strong & interesting & feminine in different ways, and a wondrous setting. Also, put Awkwafina in every movie from now on. (A-)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Fred Rogers was a relentless person, a fantastic example of a different kind of unyielding masculinity. I sobbed like a baby for the last 20 minutes of this. (A)

BlacKkKlansman. Messy. I didn’t really know what to feel about it when it ended…other than shellshocked. Was that the point? (B+)

Tycho’s 2018 Burning Man Sunrise DJ set. Always an end-of-the-summer treat. (A)

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I watched this movie at least 100 times in high school. Despite not having seen it in probably 20 years, I still knew every single line of dialogue — inflections, timing, the whole thing. (A+)

Foggy hikes. (A+)

American Animals. This is like Ocean’s 11 directed by Errol Morris. Stealing things is more difficult than it seems in the movies. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Andy Warhol, Stoic?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

From The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again):

Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, “So what.” That’s one of my favorite things to say. “So what.” “My mother didn’t love me.” So what. “My husband won’t ball me.” So what. “I’m a success but I’m still alone.” So what. I don’t know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.

Warhol was channeling the Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wrote about this in Meditations:

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Not everyone has the privilege of saying “So what.” in every situation, but changing your perception about things you have little control over can be a powerful tool. I still struggle mightily to be mindful about my perceptions, but like Warhol, I wish I’d come to this realization sooner. Not having control over some outside events was a source of despair and anxiety for me. These happenings were facts, they had a “truth” that I perceived as immutable; everyone knows you can’t change facts! But human brains don’t work like that. Your perception of and emotional reaction to events *is* your reality. Sure, those things happened, that person is that way, the system will do its thing, but you don’t have to feel a certain way about any of it. (via nitch)

A Relaxing Acrobatic Performance to Debussy’s Clair de Lune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

Choreographer & acrobat Yoann Bourgeois and pianist Alexandre Tharaud have collaborated on a performance that combines a trampoline, a staircase, and Claude Debussy’s most famous composition, Clair de Lune. Even though I’ve seen a performance from Bourgeois before and knew what was coming, that first drop onto the trampoline was startling.

Three is a trend: slowly shredding some pow to classical music and Clair de Lune in the moonlight. (via @alexchabotl)

A Leonardo Codex from the V&A Museum Goes Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

Leonardo Forster

Leonardo Forster

A pair of notebooks kept by Leonardo da Vinci have been scanned and put online by the Victoria & Albert Museum. The notebooks, collectively known as Codex Forster I, are part of a set of five total notebooks that the museum plans to put online by 2019.

Leonardo seems to have begun recording his thoughts in notebooks from the mid-1480s when he worked as a military and naval engineer for the Duke of Milan. None of Leonardo’s predecessors, contemporaries or successors used paper quite like he did — a single sheet contains an unpredictable pattern of ideas and inventions — the workings of both a designer and a scientist.

This first Forster Codex joins other Leonardo notebooks available online: the Arudel Codex, the Madrid Codices, and Codex Trivulzianus. Bill Gates owns the Codex Leicester and has done high-res scans of it for a CD-ROM released in the 90s but hasn’t put it online anywhere. I asked Gates about it on Twitter and will let you know if I hear anything back… (via open culture)

The Web Design Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

Ok, if you started using the web 15-25 years ago, prepare yourself for the nostalgic blast of the Web Design Museum.

Web Design Museum

I remember all of these from back in the day — what a trip. Even kottke.org circa 1999 made it in there.

How Michael Jackson Made a Song

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

In Michael Jackson’s transition from child singer to the electrifying King of Pop, Evan Puschak argues that Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough from Off the Wall marked an inflection point. The song was a combination of the 70s sounds of funk & disco but mixed with other elements to make a pop hit that culturally belonged more to the 80s.

Busytown 2018 - Bitcoin Miners, Mansplainers, and Dog Whistlers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

In 2014, Ruben Bolling created an updated version of Richard Scarry’s Busytown (as seen in What Do People Do All Day? and Busy, Busy Town) populated with workers with job descriptions like climate change denier, content aggregator, and rage pundit. At Topic, Bolling has updated the activities of Busytown residents for 2018.

Busytown 2018

Busytown 2018 residents include gig economy worker, fake news troll, good guy with a gun, and swamp drainer. Still no Goldbug though…I thought he showed up just about everywhere? (via david jacobs)

Good movies are unspoilable

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

NY Times film critic A.O. Scott recently discussed the technology he uses to do his job. Near the end (spoiler!), he highlights something that I’ve been thinking about recently: movies worth watching are unspoilable.

Q: Hasn’t social media made it impossible to keep a lid on movie spoilers ahead of a film’s theatrical release?

A: Social media also amplifies the hysteria about spoilers, which I find kind of depressing. There is so much more to movies than plot, or at least there should be, but the studios have so little faith in their products that they mystify banal and obvious story elements. Rosebud is the name of a sled. “Citizen Kane” is still a great movie.

Still, I dislike hearing spoilers and lately have taken to ignoring everything about movies & TV I might want to watch. I’ll sometimes view trailers, but mainly I just pay attention to people I trust telling me to see stuff. Sorry to Bother You, Blackkklansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Eighth Grade, Succession, Sharp Objects, American Animals…I went into all of these without reading anything or even looking at trailers.

Would Sharp Objects have been as entertaining had I known the ending all along? Not quite. Ditto for Sorry to Bother You. I was told not to read anything about Boots Riley’s film before seeing it and I’m glad I listened…there was a scene in there that delivered a feeling of shock and delight that I would hate to have missed out on.

But the charms of Crazy Rich Asians, the creeping anxiety of Eighth Grade, and the dramatic ludicrousness of Succession all would have hit the same had I known all of the plot details beforehand. I’ve seen films like Dr. Strangelove, Ocean’s 11, and Raiders of the Lost Ark more than ten times apiece and rewatching them, while not quite like the first time I saw each, is still very worthwhile and entertaining for me.

Tom Clancy’s Jim Halpert

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

This is a pitch-perfect mashup by Funny Or Die of Amazon’s new series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (starring John Krasinski) and The Office (also starring John Krasinski).

P.S. I know Funny Or Die called this “Tom Clancy’s Jim Ryan”, but they should have called it “Tom Clancy’s Jim Halpert”. Hardass name + goofy creampuff name = Comedy 101, folks. (via anil dash)

Go Ahead, Play With This Trippy Animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Function Plot Observable

This is a fun thing to play around with: an animated function plot by Jeff Baumes at Observable. Everything at Observable is done in “notebooks” that can be changed by anyone viewing a page. The easiest thing is to modify the “value”…e.g. change “sin” to “cos” or “tan”, but you can also monkey with the scale. I dorked around with this for almost 20 minutes this morning…you’re welcome.

P.S. This pairs well with Tycho’s Burning Man DJ set.

Fear and Loathing in the Trump White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Bob Woodward’s much-anticipated book, Fear: Trump in the White House, comes out next week. The Washington Post somehow “obtained” a copy (did they swipe it off Woodward’s desk?) and provided a summary of some of the book’s main points.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

The degree to which the people around Trump handle and describe him like a small child is still, after more than a year and a half of this nightmare, completely batshit insane and unbelievable. Arrested development.

Update: All other considerations about the anonymous NY Times opinion piece written by “a senior official in the Trump administration” aside, it’s another example of Trump being treated like a toddler by his staff.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

“Half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back” … “literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next” — is he 3 or 72?

Tycho’s 2018 Burning Man DJ Set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Tycho just shared his sunrise DJ set from this year’s Burning Man.

This is going to be on repeat today and for the rest of the week. You can also check out his sets from 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014.

The trailer for HBO’s My Brilliant Friend miniseries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

I loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels so much that that I almost couldn’t bring myself to watch the trailer for HBO’s upcoming miniseries adaptation of the first book. But I did and I’m…cautiously optimistic? Eight episodes, premieres in November. Oh god, I hope this is good.

P.S. Seriously, this series is probably my favorite read from the last five years. Phenomenal. (via @rkgnystrom)

How to Make a Big Decision

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Gladiator Thumb

Steven Johnson’s new book comes out today. Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most details the relatively little-known science of making choices using the personal stories of great decision-makers to illustrate this “growing multidisciplinary field of research”. Johnson calls the book “an argument for diversity, deliberation, and long-term thinking in the choices we make, both public and private”. The NY Times published a quick but meaty excerpt of the book over the weekend.

Once you have your alternatives, how are you supposed to assess them? One approach, known as scenario planning, developed by a handful of management consultants in the 1970s, involves imagining three different future environments for each alternative: Concoct one story where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird.

Storytelling is something we instinctively do anytime we are contemplating a big decision. If you’re thinking of leaving the city and moving to the suburbs, you tell a story of family hikes through the trails behind your house, and better public schools, and a garden that you can tend in your backyard. The difference with formal scenario planning is twofold: First, we rarely take the time to do a deep analysis of all the forces that shape that story; and second, we rarely bother to construct multiple stories. How does the story unfold if your children don’t like their new classmates, or if one part of the family loves the new lifestyle but the other is homesick for the old friends and vitality of city life?

The psychologist Gary Klein has developed a variation on this technique. He calls it a “premortem.” As the name suggests, the approach is a twist on the medical procedure of post-mortem analysis. In a post-mortem, the subject is dead, and the coroner’s job is to figure out the cause of death. In a premortem, the sequence is reversed: “Our exercise,” Dr. Klein explains, “is to ask planners to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out. And it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.”

This is where my anxiety and tendency to overthink things really comes in handy1…when considering big decisions, I am constantly premorteming.

  1. If you’re interested in how you can begin to see “undesirable” behaviors like anxiety in a new light, I recommend reading The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Rest In Pancakes, Kenny Shopsin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2018

Shopsins

Word is filtering through the NYC food community that Kenny Shopsin has passed away. Together with his wife and children, Shopsin was the proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store, an iconic NYC restaurant, an establishment.

Calvin Trillin wrote a profile of Shopsin and the restaurant for the New Yorker in 2002.

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

“They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

“I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

Kenny’s daughter Tamara published a memoir recently called Arbitrary Stupid Goal…I read it last month and loved it. The book is not only a love letter to her family’s restaurant and the old West Village (which is now almost entirely gone), but also to her father, who is featured on nearly every page.

Shopsin published a cookbook back in 2008, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.

“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.” Thus speaks Kenny Shopsin, legendary (and legendarily eccentric, ill-tempered, and lovable) chef and owner of the Greenwich Village restaurant (and institution), Shopsin’s, which has been in existence since 1971.

Kenny has finally put together his 900-plus-item menu and his unique philosophy-imagine Elizabeth David crossed with Richard Pryor-to create Eat Me, the most profound and profane cookbook you’ll ever read. His rants-on everything from how the customer is not always right to the art of griddling; from how to run a small, ethical, and humane business to how we all should learn to cook in a Goodnight Moon world where everything you need is already in your own home and head-will leave you stunned or laughing or hungry.

Much love to the Shopsin family right now.

Update: Several people wrote in mentioning I Like Killing Flies, a 2004 documentary about Shopsin. There are a few clips of it floating around on YouTube. The NY Times filmed Shopsin making his macaroni and cheese pancakes, one of the hundreds of items on the restaurant’s menu.

Update: The NY Times has an obituary of Shopsin and Helen Rosner wrote Remembering Kenny Shopsin, the Irascible Chef-King of Lower Manhattan for the New Yorker. Yesterday, Kenny’s daughter Tamara posted a photo of her dad on Instagram with the following caption:

@shopsinsnyc will be open Wednesday. My dad won’t be there in body but he will be there. I love you dad.

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