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Entries for October 2018 (Archives)

 

Jet Li Turned Down The Matrix Because He Didn’t Want CGI Versions Of His Moves

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

Jet Li - Hero.jpg

In an interview with Chinese anchor Chen Luyu, actor and martial artist Jet Li revealed that he turned down the role of Seraph, guardian of the Oracle, in both sequels to The Matrix after the filmmakers made an unusual request.

“It was a commercial struggle for me,” Li said, “I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine. And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library.”

He added, “By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them.”

Li said back then, he was already worried that future technology would allow US filmmakers to digitally reproduce his moving body and superimpose the face of any actor onto it.

“I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older. Yet they could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that,” Li said.

Instead, Li made Hero, which was probably the right call. Still, I wonder whether who else has been in Li’s position, and how often we’ve seen one actor’s face in pantomime over another actor’s body? Or whether requests like these helped kill the short-lived boom in big budget martial arts movies we saw in the late 1990s/early 2000s?

The Library of Congress’s Collection of Early Films

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

National Screening Room, a project by the Library of Congress, is a collection of early films (from the late 19th to most of the 20th century), digitized by the LOC for public use and perusal. Sadly, it’s not made clear which of the films are clearly in the public domain, and so free to remix and reuse, but it’s still fun to browse the collection for a look at cultural and cinematic history.

There’s a bunch of early Thomas Edison kinetoscopes, including this kiss between actors May Irwin and John C. Rice that reportedly brought the house down in 1896:

Or these two 1906 documentaries of San Francisco, one from shortly before the earthquake, and another just after (the devastation is really remarkable, and the photography, oddly beautiful):

There’s a silent 1926 commercial for the first wave of electric refrigerators, promoted by the Electric League of Pittsburgh, promising an exhibition with free admission! (wow guys, thanks)

There’s also 33 newsreels made during the 40s and 50s by All-American News, the first newsreels aimed at a black audience. As you might guess by the name and the dates, it’s pretty rah-rah, patriotic, support-the-war-effort stuff, but also includes some slice-of-life stories and examples of economic cooperation among working-to-middle-class black families at the time.

I hope this is just the beginning, and we can get more and more of our cinematic patrimony back into the public commons where it belongs.

How Precision Engineering Made Modernity Possible

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

Antikythera-Mechanism-Exploded.jpg

Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman, has a new book out called The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. It’s the history of a concept, which makes it tricky to write about, but it’s an uncommonly generative and illustrative concept. James Gleick shares this anecdote in his book review.

North Wales, “on a cool May day in 1776.” The Age of Steam was getting underway. So was the Industrial Revolution—almost but not quite the same thing. In Scotland, James Watt was designing a new engine to pump water by means of the power of steam. In England, John “Iron-Mad” Wilkinson was improving the manufacture of cannons, which were prone to exploding, with notorious consequences for the sailors manning the gun decks of the navy’s ships. Rather than casting cannons as hollow tubes, Wilkinson invented a machine that took solid blocks of iron and bored cylindrical holes into them: straight and precise, one after another, each cannon identical to the last. His boring machine, which he patented, made him a rich man.

Watt, meanwhile, had patented his steam engine, a giant machine, tall as a house, at its heart a four-foot-wide cylinder in which blasts of steam forced a piston up and down. His first engines were hugely powerful and yet frustratingly inefficient. They leaked. Steam gushed everywhere. Winchester, a master of detail, lists the ways the inventor tried to plug the gaps between cylinder and piston: rubber, linseed oil-soaked leather, paste of soaked paper and flour, corkboard shims, and half-dried horse dung—until finally John Wilkinson came along. He wanted a Watt engine to power one of his bellows. He saw the problem and had the solution ready-made. He could bore steam-engine cylinders from solid iron just as he had naval cannons, and on a larger scale. He made a massive boring tool of ultrahard iron and, with huge iron rods and iron sleighs and chains and blocks and “searing heat and grinding din,” achieved a cylinder, four feet in diameter, which as Watt later wrote “does not err the thickness of an old shilling at any part.”

By “an old shilling” he meant a tenth of an inch, which is a reminder that measurement itself—the science and the terminology—was in its infancy. An engineer today would say a tolerance of 0.1 inches.

This corresponding concept of “tolerance” turns out to be equally important. The ancient world was certainly capable of creating complex machinery (see the Antikythera Mechanism above), and the early modern period was able to put together the scientific method and new ways of conceptualizing the universe. But it’s the Industrial Revolution that created — or was created by — this notion that machines could be made in parts that fit together so closely that they could be interchangeable. That’s what got our machine age going, which in turn enabled guns and cars and transistors and computers and every other thing.

In Praise of Oscar the Grouch

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 19, 2018

Oscar.png

Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney is retiring after almost 50 years, and everybody is leading with the fact that he played and voiced everybody’s favorite, Big Bird. And then, if they get a chance, they might get around to mentioning that other iconic character he gave a voice and a soul, one of my favorites, Oscar the Grouch.

Karen Zraick writes about Oscar and his origins in the New York Times:

In his book “The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch),” Mr. Spinney wrote that he based Oscar’s voice on a surly cabdriver from the Bronx who took him to a meeting.

“He was the stereotypical cabby of the time — a guy in his 40s from the Bronx wearing a tweed cap with a little brim — and he kind of growled out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Where to, Mac?’” Mr. Spinney wrote.

He had found “the ideal model” for his new character, and he marveled as the driver “went on and on, colorfully expressing his opinion of Mayor Lindsay with a lot of four-letter words.”

Travis Andrews does the same in the Washington Post:

The purpose of Oscar, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s description of the character, is to teach “the importance of understanding, tolerance, and diversity.” According to Robert W. Morrow’s book “‘Sesame Street’ and the Reform of Children’s Television,” Oscar acted differently and lived in a different kind of home as a metaphor, “to dramatize tolerance for those who are different. … In segments about conflicts between Oscar and the others on the street, the show taught how children might cope with diversity in the context of school desegregation.”

Ok, sure. Ariane Beeston at Essential Kids more thoroughly spells out Oscar’s character, and its effect and appeal:

1. It’s okay to be different;
2. One man’s trash is another grouch’s treasure;
3. Embrace who you are and be yourself;
4. Just because you’re grouchy, doesn’t mean you can’t also be kind;
5. Emotions can be confusing.

Almost everyone gives credit to Spinney for giving Oscar his emotional complexity, with a simple mandate: Oscar is always grouchy and contrarian, but Oscar is never mean or cruel. In short, Oscar always has a heart. Let’s hope Spinney’s successor can continue to thread that needle. The kids of the present and the future deserve an Oscar who can be everything that he is.

The Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2018

I don’t know how many people under the age of 35 know about the Chicago Tylenol murders, but for a few weeks in 1982, it was a national news sensation. Seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. Retro Report took a look back at this episode, with a focus on how Johnson & Johnson and other drug companies modified their packaging to prevent in-store tampering.

The company considered renaming Tylenol, a word that incorporates some of the letters from 4- (aceTYLamino) phENOL, a chemical name for acetaminophen, the drug’s active ingredient. But a name change was rejected.

Instead, a mere six weeks after the crisis flared, the company offered a different solution, a new bottle with the sorts of safety elements now familiar (if at times exasperating) to every shopper: cotton wad, foil seal, childproof cap, plastic strip. Capsules began to be replaced with caplets the following year.

Johnson & Johnson was viewed as an exemplar of corporate responsibility, and enjoyed what some people described as the greatest comeback since Lazarus. Nowadays, all sorts of products come in containers deemed tamper-proof, or at least tamper-evident, meaning that consumers can readily tell if a seal has been broken or something else is amiss.

Incredibly, the case is still unsolved…no one knows who did it or why. Thinking about the amount of in-store surveillance that we have, it seems unlikely that such a crime would go unsolved for long today.

The World Needs More Moral Heroism Like This

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

For the NY Times, rabbi David Wolpe writes about the moral courage of Chiune Sugihara, The Japanese Man Who Saved 6,000 Jews With His Handwriting.

In 1939 Sugihara was sent to Lithuania, where he ran the consulate. There he was soon confronted with Jews fleeing from German-occupied Poland.

Three times Sugihara cabled his embassy asking for permission to issue visas to the refugees. The cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read: “Concerning transit visas requested previously stop advise absolutely not to be issued any traveler not holding firm end visa with guaranteed departure ex japan stop no exceptions stop no further inquires expected stop.”

He wrote the visas anyway…thousands of them.

Day and night he wrote visas. He issued as many visas in a day as would normally be issued in a month. His wife, Yukiko, massaged his hands at night, aching from the constant effort. When Japan finally closed down the embassy in September 1940, he took the stationery with him and continued to write visas that had no legal standing but worked because of the seal of the government and his name. At least 6,000 visas were issued for people to travel through Japan to other destinations, and in many cases entire families traveled on a single visa. It has been estimated that over 40,000 people are alive today because of this one man.

What moral heroism. Fred Rogers often quoted his mother as saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” That message was directed at young children who he wanted to help feel secure. For us adults, Rogers might have encouraged us to exercise more moral courage and become those helpers, not just look for them. The world today could use more of that.

Stephen Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away back in March, but left us with a final book that just came out this week: Brief Answers to the Big Questions. There are 10 questions asked and answered in the book:

Is there a God?
How did it all begin?
Can we predict the future?
What is inside a black hole?
Is there other intelligent life in the universe?
Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?
How do we shape the future?
Will we survive on Earth?
Should we colonize space?
Is time travel possible?

Here are a couple of reviews from Physics World and NPR.

Take the chapter on “Can we predict the future?”. Starting with regular astronomical events, it swiftly moves on to scientific determinism, quantum physics, hidden variables and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Under the guise of a simple question, Hawking has managed to take the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the quantum world (bottom line: no we can’t predict everything). It’s a clever ruse. Ask a simple question and you’ll draw in readers who might otherwise not know they’d be interested in complex science.

P.S. The UK cover of this book is so much better than the US cover. Why?? (via open culture)

Vermont Foliage 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

It’s snowing right now in Vermont, but fall was extra lovely this year, so I’m sharing some foliage shots I’ve taken over the past month or so.

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

Vt Foliage 2018

All photos taken with the iPhone XS. I’ve previously shared some of these on my Instagram account, where you can see, for instance, that my 11-year-old goes the extra mile to get the good photo by polishing the apples on the orchard tree.

Update: For some other views of fall, try this photo series from In Focus: part 1, part 2.

How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

One answer to the question of “How do I help a grieving friend?” is to acknowledge their circumstances…to “join them in their pain” instead of trying to take it away from them. As Megan Devine says in this video:

Cheering people up, telling them to be strong and persevere, helping them move on…it doesn’t actually work. It’s kind of a puzzle. It seems counterintuitive, but the way to help someone feel better is to let them be in pain.

One of the odd things about getting older (and hopefully wiser) is that you stop chuckling at cliches and start to acknowledge their deep truths. A recent example of this for me is “the only way out is through”. As Devine notes, in this video and her book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, there’s no shortcut for dealing with pain…you have to go through it to move past it.

In a new TED podcast, writer Elizabeth Gilbert talked about the grief she felt when her partner and longtime best friend Rayya Elias was diagnosed with and died from cancer.

Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you. There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself. And it has its own timeframe, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes. And when it comes, it’s a bow-down. It’s a carve-out. And it comes when it wants to, and it carves you out — it comes in the middle of the night, comes in the middle of the day, comes in the middle of a meeting, comes in the middle of a meal. It arrives — it’s this tremendously forceful arrival and it cannot be resisted without you suffering more… The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you. And it will be done with you, eventually. And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself.

The only way out is through.

Update: When Gary Andrews’ wife Joy died, he documented his pain and his family’s grief through a daily doodle posted to Twitter. (thx, matt)

The Typographic Ticket Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

Type Ticket Book

Hoefler & Co are selling copies of The Typographic Ticket Book for type nerds on the go. The idea is that when you’re out and about, you can issue citations for “use of display font at text size” or “unironic use of Helvetica” to people and businesses misusing type.

Contains fifty tickets, each neatly perforated for a satisfyingly loud rip prior to presentation. Bound in soul-deadening municipal pressboard, with a heavy-duty 100pt millboard backing, and foil stamped with an official-looking clip art emblem in gold. Police uniform not included, nor recommended. For novelty use only.

Looks like the book contains a few in-jokes as well…I spotted “” as the fine for “failure to replace dummy copy” and the kerning on the fine for “improper kerning” looks a liiittle tight to me.

Seven Square Miles

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

Seven Sq Miles

Seven Sq Miles

Seven Sq Miles

Over at In Focus, still the world’s best photoblog (remember those!?), Alan Taylor is looking at different parts of the world from the same height.

Spending time looking at the varying and beautiful images of our planet from above in Google Earth, zooming in and out at dizzying rates, I thought it would be interesting to compare all of these vistas at a fixed scale-to see what New York City, Venice, or the Grand Canyon would look like from the same virtual height.

Each of the 38 images selected by Taylor shows about seven square miles of the Earth’s surface. The three images I’ve excerpted here are, from top to botton, Venice, Wisconsin farmland, and Manhattan. This planet really is dizzyingly beautiful.

This reminds me of The Jefferson Grid project (showing 1 sq mile satellite photos of the US). There’s another project which I swear I’ve seen recently that shows the grids of streets in cities from around the world and how they vary widely, but I can’t find it. Anyone?

Update: Re: the other project I couldn’t remember, several people sent in Geoff Boeing’s city street orientation project (which I posted about here) but it was probably another project of Boeing’s that I was thinking of: Square-Mile Street Network Visualization. He based the project on the work of Allan Jacobs in Great Streets. (thx, @simiasideris)

Take the Ball, Pass the Ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2018

In his four seasons as manager for FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola led the club to 14 trophies, including winning the Champions League twice and La Liga 3 times. Sure, he had players like Messi, Eto’o, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Alves, Henry, and Ibrahimović, but as the trailer says, he also knew exactly what to do with them. Take the Ball, Pass the Ball is an upcoming documentary about the Guardiola years at Barca. I’m excited for this…Pep’s first year was right around when I started watching the team in earnest.

Embroidery that Breaks the Fourth Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2018

Sheena Liam

Sheena Liam

Oh, I love this embroidery art by Sheena Liam that leaps off of the fabric and out of the hoop. Great name too: Times New Romance. (via colossal)

RIP Paul Allen

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Tech titan Paul Allen died yesterday at the age of 65 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates remembered his friend in a short piece called “What I loved about Paul Allen”.

Paul foresaw that computers would change the world. Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.

In fact, Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area — he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.

Gates also noted Allen’s love of music. In an interview earlier this year, legendary producer Quincy Jones said Allen “sings and plays just like Hendrix”.

Yeah, man. I went on a trip on his yacht, and he had David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Sean Lennon — all those crazy motherfuckers. Then on the last two days, Stevie Wonder came on with his band and made Paul come up and play with him — he’s good, man.

Here’s a short clip of Allen melting some faces:

The Wrong Color Subway Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Wrong Color Subway Map

From the orange 123 line to the green ACE to the purple 456, the color designations on the NYC subway lines on the Wrong Color Subway Map will mess with your head. Get the print here. From the folks who brought us the One-Color Subway Map. (via @khoi)

The Death of a Loved One from Opiate Addiction, Plainly & Honestly Told

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

From an independent newspaper here in Vermont, the heartbreaking and brutally honest obituary of Madelyn Linsenmeir, a 30-year-old mother who died from a drug addiction to opiates that lasted for more a decade.

When she was 16, she moved with her parents from Vermont to Florida to attend a performing arts high school. Soon after she tried OxyContin for the first time at a high school party, and so began a relationship with opiates that would dominate the rest of her life.

It is impossible to capture a person in an obituary, and especially someone whose adult life was largely defined by drug addiction. To some, Maddie was just a junkie — when they saw her addiction, they stopped seeing her. And what a loss for them. Because Maddie was hilarious, and warm, and fearless, and resilient. She could and would talk to anyone, and when you were in her company you wanted to stay. In a system that seems to have hardened itself against addicts and is failing them every day, she befriended and delighted cops, social workers, public defenders and doctors, who advocated for and believed in her ‘til the end. She was adored as a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend and mother, and being loved by Madelyn was a constantly astonishing gift.

This is powerfully straightforward writing by Linsenmeir’s family…my condolences are with them. They devoted a few paragraphs at the end of her obit to address addiction and its place in our society:

If you are reading this with judgment, educate yourself about this disease, because that is what it is. It is not a choice or a weakness. And chances are very good that someone you know is struggling with it, and that person needs and deserves your empathy and support.

If you work in one of the many institutions through which addicts often pass — rehabs, hospitals, jails, courts — and treat them with the compassion and respect they deserve, thank you. If instead you see a junkie or thief or liar in front of you rather than a human being in need of help, consider a new profession.

As in many other states, more and more people are dying of opiate overdoses in Vermont even as doctors cut the number of opioid prescriptions they write faster than other areas of the country.

Update: On Facebook, Burlington, VT’s chief of police Brandon del Pozo wrote a response to Linsenmeir’s obituary that is very much worth reading.

Why did it take a grieving relative with a good literary sense to get people to pay attention for a moment and shed a tear when nearly a quarter of a million people have already died in the same way as Maddie as this epidemic grew?

Did readers think this was the first time a beautiful, young, beloved mother from a pastoral state got addicted to Oxy and died from the descent it wrought? And what about the rest of the victims, who weren’t as beautiful and lived in downtrodden cities or the rust belt? They too had mothers who cried for them and blamed themselves.

She died just like my wife’s cousin Meredith died in Bethesda, herself a young mother, but if Maddie was a black guy from the Bronx found dead in his bathroom of an overdose, it wouldn’t matter if the guy’s obituary writer had won the Booker Prize, there wouldn’t be a weepy article in People about it.

Why not?

But if there had been, early enough on, and we acted swiftly, humanely, and accordingly, maybe Maddie would still be here. Make no mistake, no matter who you are or what you look like: Maddie’s bell tolls for someone close to you, and maybe someone you love. Ask the cops and they will tell you: Maddie’s death was nothing special at all. It happens all the time, to people no less loved and needed and human.

(thx, caroline)

The Twerking Robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Hot off the heels of their video showing a humanoid robot casually doing parkour, Boston Dynamics has made a clip of their robot dog doing a hip hop dance routine to Uptown Funk.

While the robot in the parkour video looked distinctly un-human at times, I have to say that this dog robot is a much better and more fluid dancer than I expected — it’s got better moves than most of the people I’ve seen dancing at Midwestern weddings. The robot does what looks like the running man and then twerks while mugging for the camera. I don’t know what level of cultural appropriation this is and Boston Dynamics is probably just doing this to distract from the whole Terminator narrative, but was anyone else the tiniest bit jealous of and turned on by (and then deeply ashamed of those feelings) the robot’s moves?

The Gerontocracy is Driving America into the Ditch

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

As Eric Levitz writes in a piece called Millennials Need to Start Voting Before the Gerontocracy Kills Us All, younger Americans are under-represented in American political life.

The United States, circa 2018, looks like a place run by people who know they’re going to die soon.

As “once in a lifetime” storms crash over our coasts five times a year - and the White House’s own climate research suggests that human civilization is on pace to perish before Barron Trump — our government is subsidizing carbon emissions like there’s no tomorrow. Meanwhile, America’s infrastructure is already “below standard,” and set to further deteriorate, absent hundreds of billions of dollars in new investment. Many of our public schools can’t afford to stock their classrooms with basic supplies, pay their teachers a living wage, or keep their doors open five days a week. Child-care costs are skyrocketing, the birth rate is plunging, and the baby boomers, retiring. And, amid it all, our congressional representatives recently decided that the best thing they could possibly do with $1.5 trillion of borrowed money was to give large tax breaks to people like themselves.

See also Dear Young People: Don’t Vote. As Levitz says though, one of the reasons that young people don’t vote is that it’s often more difficult for them than for older people. Making it easier for everyone to vote would alleviate many of these concerns and result in higher turnout, more political engagement, and better representation for young Americans.

Millennials in the U.S. are more underrepresented than their peers in most other developed countries. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with our nation’s political parties, which have made America an exceptionally difficult place to cast a ballot. If Democrats wish to increase turnout among the young, they’d be well advised to implement automatic voter registration, a new Voting Rights Act, and a federal holiday on the first Tuesday in November, when and if they have the power to do so.

Inflexible work schedules, lack of transportation, voter ID laws, fewer polling places, etc…it amounts to voter suppression of young people.

Voter suppression is often, correctly, viewed through a racial or class-based lens — however, these same laws also target younger people. A group that tends to vote more often for third-party and Democratic candidates.

For example, states such as Texas and Ohio require voter identification at the polling place — a college or university ID doesn’t qualify. In Wisconsin, voter ID laws permitted college IDs but not out-of-state drivers licenses, which, local news reported, resulted in many university students getting turned away in the April 2016 primary. In North Carolina, another key state in the Electoral College, hundreds of students cast provisional ballots in 2016, unsure whether their vote would even count because of their strict voter ID laws — which were struck down this year by the Supreme Court, but not before disenfranchising potentially thousands of American citizens.

(thx kate & @lauraolin)

How the Sears Catalog Undermined White Supremacy in the Jim Crow South

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Sears Catalog

Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to close hundreds of stores in an effort to keep the company afloat. The Sears catalog is perhaps one of the most important and under-appreciated innovations in American life. Starting in 1888 with a mailer advertising watches and jewelry, Sears introduced millions of Americans to in-home shopping by using the growing networks of the railroad and US Postal Service, much like Amazon and other retailers would using the internet decades later.

The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.

As historian Louis Hyman explained on Twitter, the way Sears sold goods to their customers also provided new opportunities for black Southerners living under the Jim Crow system.

Every time a black southerner went to the local store they were confronted with forced deference to white customers who would be served first. The stores were not self-service, so the black customers would have to wait. And then would have to ask the proprietor to give them goods (often on credit because…sharecropping). The landlord often owned the store. In every way shopping reinforced hierarchy. Until Sears.

The catalog undid the power of the storekeeper, and by extension the landlord. Black families could buy without asking permission. Without waiting. Without being watched. With national (cheap) prices!

This excellent piece by Antonia Noori Farzan has more info. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of blind auditions, the practice of auditioning orchestra musicians behind a screen to help cut down on gender bias during the hiring process. While not entirely free of bias — opportunities for discrimination by postal workers and Sears employees were still possible — the Sears ordering process was essentially a blind retail transaction, a screen placed between the store and black customers. (The catalog also advertised racist costumes so obviously Sears wasn’t some bastion of social progressivism…they simply wanted to sell more goods to more kinds of people.)

According to Sears historian Jerry Hancock, Sears also developed a policy to help those who couldn’t read or write that well to be able to place orders:

One of Hancock’s discoveries was Sears’ response to the needs of a rural South in which literacy was rare. For someone who could neither read nor write, placing orders and following written protocols were problematic. Richard Sears responded with a policy that his company would fill any order it received, no matter what the medium or format. So, country folks who were once too daunted to send requests to other purveyors could write in on a scrap of paper, asking humbly for a pair of overalls, size large. And even if it was written in broken English or nearly illegible, the overalls would be shipped.

Music scholar Ted Gioia notes that blues musicians were able to buy instruments from Sears that were unavailable to them from local retailers.

With Sears declaring bankruptcy, it’s worth remembering how much impact this company had on American music. In my research into blues and other traditional styles, I found that many, many musicians started out on Sears instruments.

Even under Jim Crow, music was an avenue for upward mobility for African Americans, and Sears and other mail-order retailers were more than happy to provide them with instruments.

The Microscopic Fabric of Butterfly Wings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Chris Perani

Chris Perani

Chris Perani takes macro photographs of the delicate microscopic makeup of butterfly wings. When you look at the thumbnails on his site, you almost can’t tell they aren’t woven rugs. The detail on these are incredible…here’s a closeup of the top photo:

Chris Perani

(via colossal)

Keep Going, a Guide to Staying Creative in Chaotic Times

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Keep Going Book

Austin Kleon, whose previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work you may have seen prominently displayed in book shops around the world, is coming out with a new book this spring: Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad.

The world is crazy. Creative work is hard. Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How do you keep going?

In my previous books — the New York Times bestsellers Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! — I showed readers how to steal their way to a more creative life and then share their creativity to get discovered. In Keep Going, I show you how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself in the face of personal burnout and external distractions.

The book is based on a talk he gave earlier this year. Here’s the timeline of the book’s production. If you read Kleon’s blog, you know that he has expansive definition of who is and can be creative. This sounds like a book we could all use right about now…I’m excited to read it.

How the Mercator Projection Distorts the True Sizes of Countries on Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Data scientist Neil Kaye made this map to show how much the popular Mercator projection distorts the sizes of many countries, particularly those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Mercator Adjusted

The distortion in the animated version is even clearer. Key takeaway: Africa is *enormous*.

See also the true size of things on world maps.

True Size Map

Nationalism Isn’t Patriotism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Nationalism Patriotism

At a time when fascism & authoritarianism are creeping into the global politics of the developed world, it’s useful for us to reacquaint ourselves with the difference between nationalism and patriotism. In the wake of World War II, George Orwell wrote an essay called Notes on Nationalism (available in book form here). The first two paragraphs define nationalism and contrast it with patriotism:

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

The whole essay is worth a read; you’ll find yourself nodding in recognition at many points. More succinctly, Jen Sorensen’s Patriotism vs. Nationalism comic (excerpted above) and Zach Weinersmith’s An Important Distinction comic (below) cover some of the same ground.

Nationalism Patriotism

See also a more progressive definition of freedom.

The Bounty of the Public Library

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Wonderful writer Susan Orlean1 is out with a new book called The Library Book, which is specifically about a 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library and more generally a love letter to libraries. The New Yorker recently published an excerpt.

Our visits were never long enough for me — the library was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the shelves, scanning the spines of the books until something happened to catch my eye. Those trips were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I desired and what she was willing to buy me; in the library, I could have anything I wanted. On the way home, I loved having the books stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read.

Like Orlean and probably many of you readers, I loved the library when I was a kid. Browsing the shelves, I felt like any and all knowledge was literally at my fingertips. My sister and I would each check out a mess of books, read them all in like a day and a half, and then we’d switch and read each others’ — I have read at least the first dozen of The Baby-Sitters Club books and a lot of Nancy Drew as well as all of Judy Blume’s pre-1990 oeuvre. Our family didn’t have a lot of money growing up and Orlean is spot-on with how wonderful & transformative the infinite library felt compared to the fraught retail environment of forbidden Pac-Man notepads, Bazooka Joe gum, and baseball cards.

  1. I am a little biased here (aren’t I always though?) — I designed Susan’s website back in the day…and the design is still hanging in there!

Two Great Podcasts About Inanimate Objects

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

Articles of Interest - Plaid.jpg

I love things, material objects in all their haecceity, or irreducible thingness. I also love how inanimate things can unspool whole histories of entire worlds.

There are two podcasts I’ve been enjoying that each take things as their focus, but come at them in strikingly different ways. They’re each (so far) just six episodes long.

The first, Articles of Interest, hosted/created by Avery Trufelman, is an offshoot of 99 Percent Invisible, the design podcast. Articles of Interest (or AOI) is all about clothing, with episodes on plaid, pockets, denim, Hawaiian shirts, kids’ clothes, and punk rock. Each episode digs into the history and social fabric (sorry) of the item(s) in question. From the description to the “Pockets” episode:

Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women’s clothes have pockets at all, they are often and smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely.

The other podcast, Everything Is Alive, hosted/created by Ian Chillag, takes the form of fictional interviews with each show’s object of choice: a can of cola, a lamppost, a pillow, an elevator, a bar of soap, or a loosened tooth.

INTERVIEWER: What do you imagine an elevator who’s working in the tallest building, what do you imagine they feel?
ANA (an elevator): Probably tired. I mean, I’m tired after a day of work, and I’m just going to 17. But I see all the other buildings they’re making are getting higher and higher…. You know, Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to make a building that was a mile high.
INTERVIEWER: A mile?!
ANA: Yeah, and it was going to have 76 elevators. And they were going to be nuclear powered. But it never got built.
INTERVIEWER: That’s… it’s terrifying in like, every way.
ANA: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: It’s too tall. It is powered by the most destructive force man has ever known.
ANA: One elevator mishap and that building is gone…. That kind of danger is, like… to be honest, I’m glad it didn’t get built. Also, I think a lot of people would be scared to use me. So… everything happens for a reason, and some things don’t happen for a reason.

So, if you’re looking for a charming podcast that explores history by way of everyday things, you’ve got multiple good options. To each their own taste.

How A 1979 Email Chain Letter Helped Give Birth to Our Social Internet

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

Spocks-death.jpg

The Internet connects various bodies of knowledge and enables all sorts of private communication and coordination. It’s also clear in 2018, and has been for twenty-five years, that the Internet supports a variety of social media: public and semi-public communication for entertainment and cultural purposes.

Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol and general internet pioneer, traces the emerging social use of the Internet to an unlikely candidate: a 1979 chain email from MIT’s Artificial Intelligence labs, titled “SF-LOVERS,” that asked Cerf and his colleagues at DARPA and elsewhere in the network of networks called ARPANET to weigh in on their favorite science fiction authors.

Because the message had gone out to the entire network, everybody’s answers could then be seen and responded to by everybody else. Users could also choose to send their replies to just one person or a subgroup, generating scores of smaller discussions that eventually fed back into the whole.

About 40 years later, Cerf still recalls this as the moment he realized that the internet would be something more than every other communications technology before it. “It was clear we had a social medium on our hands,” he said.

The thread was a hit. It also created what might be thought of as the first online social network. Though individuals had been connected via this internet before, this was the first time they were using it for social interactions and, importantly, building a larger community identity through these personal connections. After SF-LOVERS came YUMYUM, another chain email that debated the quality of restaurants in the new Silicon Valley. (In-house gourmet chefs were still decades away.) Then WINE-TASTERS appeared, its purpose self-evident. The socialization also inspired more science with HUMAN-NETS, a community for researchers to discuss the human factors of these proto-online communities.

In the 1980s, these chain emails saw the first use of spoiler alerts, for the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan (oops, sorry if I spoiled that for you), and emoticons: “:-)” to indicate a joke and “:-(” to indicate a non-joke. (I’d say the semantics of those has drifted over the years.)

And here we are, almost forty years later, still doing the same shit, only with slightly more sophistication and bandwidth, on the commercial successors to those early email threads.

Contemporary Versions of WPA Public Service Announcement Posters

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

For Topic, MGMT. Design created a series of 2018 updates to the iconic WPA public service announcement posters from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the posters are directly imitating specific WPA posters; others have a looser inspiration.

For example, here’s a “Don’t Mix ‘Em” WPA poster:

WPA-1934-1.jpeg

And here’s the corresponding 2018 version:

WPA-2018-1.jpeg

And the rest of the contemporary series:

WPA-2018-2.jpeg

WPA-2018-3.jpeg

WPA-2018-4.jpeg

WPA-2018-5.jpeg

In the accompanying essay, the designers write that “we noticed that the advertising of the 1930s and ’40s seemed far less cynical or manipulative than it is today… Today’s distribution methods have created a relentless flood of messages, putting a torrent of information in the palm of your hand. How the public values, rejects, or embraces this version of public information is up to them.”

The other obvious difference is the overall mood of the messages. The WPA posters are direct, imperative, and point towards solutions, even when they’re being particularly grim about it. The contemporary versions are ironic, diffident, and uncertain about solutions — or at least, uncertain about solutions that can be reduced to a bold-type message across a poster. (Except “Don’t Send Dick Pics.” That one, they’ve got nailed.)

At the same time, there’s a yearning for that level of clarity, aesthetically if not intellectually. All of this seems frustrating but basically honest about the mood and limitations of this political moment.

Jackson Pollock 51

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2018

In 1950, Swiss photographer Hans Namuth took some photos of Jackson Pollock painting some of his drip paintings, which were used to illustrate a 1951 article in ArtNews. Along with photos published alongside a piece in Life in 1949, they made Pollock and his unusual technique famous.

Namuth returned with a film camera and captured the artist painting in full color motion in a short film called Jackson Pollock 51.

In the film, you can see the physicality and performative aspect of Pollock’s work, the near repetition, the footwork, the precise imprecision of his arm movements, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Pollock narrates part of the film:

I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in the big area. Having the canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way, I can walk around it, work from all four sides, and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West.

At one point, Pollock paints on glass and Namuth shoots from underneath, so you can see how it looks from the point of view of the canvas. A 1998 NY Times piece by Sarah Boxer has an account of how the photos and film were captured, including a series of incidents that brought the Namuth/Pollock collaboration (and, some say, Pollock’s life six years later) to an end:

When Pollock and Namuth came in from outside, blue from the cold, the first thing Pollock did was pour himself a tumbler of bourbon. It was the beginning of the end. Pollock had been sober (some say) for two years. Soon Namuth and Pollock got into an argument — a volley of “I’m not a phony, you’re a phony.” Then Pollock tore a strap of cowbells off the wall and started swinging it around.

With the dinner guests seated and food on the table, Pollock and Namuth continued to argue. Finally Pollock grabbed the end of the table, shouting “Should I do it now?” to Namuth. “Now?” Then he turned over the whole table, plates, glasses, meat, gravy and all. (There is a scholarly disagreement about whether it was turkey or roast beef.) The dogs lapped at the glassy gravy. Krasner said, “Coffee will be served in the living room.”

After that night, Pollock never stopped drinking. He didn’t bring in the glass painting (“No. 29, 1950”) until it was covered with rain and leaves. He returned to a more figurative style of painting. Six years later, bloated, depressed and drunk, he drove his car into a tree, killing himself and a friend.

(via open culture)

Oh, the Boston Dynamics Robot Can Do Parkour Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

I’ve watched this a dozen times now and it looks fake and I can’t figure out quite why. Is it the uncanny valley at work? This thing moves mostly like a human would…but not entirely. Look at the robot when it hops over the log. It appears too effortless…not enough recoil on the landing or something. And going up the steps, it looks like it’s levitating, like how CG characters sometimes move, unaffected by actual contact with surfaces. See also the robot’s casual gymnastics.

A Brief History of America’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Vox has updated their video on how US politicians talked about climate change over the past 12 years. Until recently, climate change was more or less a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike publicly acknowledged that climate change was happening, that humans were at least partially responsible, and that we needed to do something about it. Perhaps Republicans were a little less sincere in their desire for action and all politicians were not as urgent in their response as the situation required, but at a minimum, they all believed what scientists were saying.

Then, as this video shows, after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, things shifted. Republicans increasingly came out saying, well, the science isn’t settled on this, we don’t know what is causing climate change, so we’re not going to do anything about it. They did this in part because their big political donors wanted them to.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

I posted about the first installment of this video last year and watching it again hit me about as hard as it did the first time around. The amount of cynicism and lack of integrity & sense of duty here is staggering. What tiny tiny minds. [Insert a lot of swearing about Republicans here that I will get email about so I’ll just save us all some time and skip it. But seriously, fuck these assholes.]

Trippy Geometric Illustrations by Andy Gilmore

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

The NY Times article about the Event Horizon Telescope that I wrote about here introduced me to Andy Gilmore’s geometric illustrations.

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Really lovely stuff. More on his Instagram.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Role of Artists in Society

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

In times of turmoil, it can be tough to feel like the work you do to support you and your family is also nourishing to society, if you’re doing “enough”. For artists and writers at least, Kurt Vonnegut had a compelling call to duty as messengers from the near future. As part of an address to the American Physical Society published as “Physicist, Heal Thyself” in the Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1969, the author wrote:

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

He said something similar in a 1973 interview in Playboy:

Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society — just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. But it made no difference whatsoever. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists — all artists — should be treasured as alarm systems.

(via nitch)

Fly Me to the Moonmoon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Moonmoon

In a paper called “Can Moons Have Moons?”, a pair of astronomers says that some of the solar system’s moons, including ours, are large enough and far enough away from their host planets to have their own sizable moons.

We find that 10 km-scale submoons can only survive around large (1000 km-scale) moons on wide-separation orbits. Tidal dissipation destabilizes the orbits of submoons around moons that are small or too close to their host planet; this is the case for most of the Solar System’s moons. A handful of known moons are, however, capable of hosting long-lived submoons: Saturn’s moons Titan and Iapetus, Jupiter’s moon Callisto, and Earth’s Moon.

Throughout the paper, the authors refer to these possible moons of moons as “submoons” but a much more compelling name has been put forward: “moonmoons”.

Moonmoon is an example of the linguistic process of reduplication, which is often deployed in English to make things more cute and whimsical. In the pure form of reduplication, you get words like bonbon, choo-choo, bye-bye, there there, and moonmoon but relaxing the rules a little to incorporate rhymes and near-rhymes yields hip-hop, zig-zag, fancy-shmancy, super-duper, pitter-patter, and okey-dokey. And with contrastive reduplication, in which a word repeats as a modifier to itself:

“It’s tuna salad, not salad-salad.”
“Does she like me or like-like me?”
“The party is fancy but not fancy-fancy.”
“The car isn’t mine-mine, it’s my mom’s.”

Fun! And astronomy should be fun too. Let’s definitely call them moonmoons.

Miniature Replicas of Japanese Kodokushi (“Lonely Deaths”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Dying alone in Japan is so common that they have a term for it: kodokushi (“lonely death”). Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up apartments after people die and for awhile now, she’s been creating miniature replicas of some of the rooms that she’s cleaned. Note: some of these images might be a little disturbing.

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kojima has been working for the clean-up company for about 4 years and explains that she cleans on average 300 rooms per year. To preserve and document the scene, the company always takes photographs of the rooms in case relatives want to see them. However, Kojima noticed that the photographs really don’t capture the sadness of the incident. And while she had no formal art training, she decided to go to her local craft store and buy supplies, which she used to create her replicas. She sometimes uses color-copies of the photographs, which she then sculpts into miniature objects. Kojima says that she spends about 1 month on each replica.

Pantsdrunk, the Finnish Art of Relaxation

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Kalsarikanni

You’ve likely heard of hygge, the Danish word for a special feeling of coziness that’s been productized on Instagram and elsewhere to within an inch of its charming life. The Finns have a slightly different take on the good life called kalsarikännit, which roughly translates to “pantsdrunk” in English. A promotional site from the Finnish government defines it as “the feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear — with no intention of going out”. They made the emoji above to illustrate pantsdrunkenness.1

Finnish journalist Miska Rantanen has written a book on kalsarikännit called Päntsdrunk (Kalsarikänni): The Finnish Path to Relaxation.

When it comes to happiness rankings, Finland always scores near the top. Many Finnish phenomena set the bar high: the best education system, gender equality, a flourishing welfare state, sisu or bull-headed pluck. Behind all of these accomplishments lies a Finnish ability to stay calm, healthy and content in a riptide of endless tasks and temptations. The ability comes from the practice of “kalsarikanni” translated as pantsdrunk.

Peel off your clothes down to your underwear. Place savory or sweet snacks within reach alongside your bed or sofa. Make sure your television remote control is nearby along with any and all devices to access social media. Open your preferred alcohol. Your journey toward inner strength, higher quality of life, and peace of mind has begun.

Kalsarikännit isn’t as photogenic as hygge but there is some evidence of it on Instagram. As Rantanen explains, this lack of performance is part of the point:

“Pantsdrunk” doesn’t demand that you deny yourself the little things that make you happy or that you spend a fortune on Instagrammable Scandi furniture and load your house with more altar candles than a Catholic church. Affordability is its hallmark, offering a realistic remedy to everyday stress. Which is why this lifestyle choice is the antithesis of posing and pretence: one does not post atmospheric images on Instagram whilst pantsdrunk. Pantsdrunk is real. It’s about letting go and being yourself, no affectation and no performance.

I have been off alcohol lately, but kalsarikännit is usually one of my favorite forms of relaxation, particularly after a hard week.

  1. That’s right, the Finnish government made emoji of people getting pantsdrunk. Americans are suuuuuper uptight.

The Best Obituary Ever?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

A Wilmington, Delaware man named Rick Stein recently died and his obituary is one of the most unique and entertaining I have ever read.

Stein’s location isn’t the only mystery. It seems no one in his life knew his exact occupation.

His daughter, Alex Walsh of Wilmington appeared shocked by the news. “My dad couldn’t even fly a plane. He owned restaurants in Boulder, Colorado and knew every answer on Jeopardy. He did the New York Times crossword in pen. I talked to him that day and he told me he was going out to get some grappa. All he ever wanted was a glass of grappa.”

Stein’s brother, Jim echoed similar confusion. “Rick and I owned Stuart Kingston Galleries together. He was a jeweler and oriental rug dealer, not a pilot.” Meanwhile, Missel Leddington of Charlottesville claimed her brother was a cartoonist and freelance television critic for the New Yorker.

One thing is certain: Stein and his family have a good sense of humor. My condolences to them on their loss. (via @mkonnikova)

Music Can Save Lives: A Playlist for Perfect CPR Chest Compressions

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

If you’re ever called on to perform CPR in an emergency but you don’t have training, the American Heart Association recommends performing “Hands-Only CPR”. There are two easy steps: you call 911 and then you press hard and fast in the center of the person’s chest 100-120 times per minute. As their fact sheet explains, familiar music can help maintain the proper tempo.

Song examples include “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira” or “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. People feel more confident performing Hands-Only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct rate when trained to the beat of a familiar song.

When performing CPR, you should push on the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute, which corresponds to the beat of the song examples above.

New York Presbyterian Hospital maintains a Spotify playlist of “Songs to do CPR to” that hit that 100-120 bpm sweet spot.

The playlist includes songs familiar to lifesavers of all generations, from Book of Love by the Monotones to Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd to Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles to Sorry by Justin Bieber. Stayin’ Alive or Justin Timberlake’s Rock Your Body are probably more appropriate to the situation, but should the need arise, my go-to CPR song is now Crazy in Love. Who knows, Beyoncé might help save someone’s life someday. (via @juliareinstein)

Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2018 Underwater Photo Contest Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Scuba Diving magazine has announced the winners of their 2018 Underwater Photo Contest. The whale photo above is by Rodney Bursiel (see more of his whale and dolphin photos) and the one below is by Cai Songda.

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Earth-Sized Telescope Aims to Snap a Photo of Our Galactic Black Hole

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Astronomers behind the Event Horizon Telescope are building a virtual telescope with a diameter of the Earth to photograph the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The idea is that different observatories from all over the surface of the Earth all look at the black hole at the same time and the resulting data is stitched together by a supercomputer into a coherent picture. Seth Fletcher wrote a great piece about the effort for the NY Times Magazine (it’s an excerpt from his new book, Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable):

Astronomical images have a way of putting terrestrial concerns in perspective. Headlines may portend the collapse of Western civilization, but the black hole doesn’t care. It has been there for most of cosmic history; it will witness the death of the universe. In a time of lies, a picture of our own private black hole would be something true. The effort to get that picture speaks well of our species: a bunch of people around the world defying international discord and general ascendant stupidity in unified pursuit of a gloriously esoteric goal. And in these dark days, it’s only fitting that the object of this pursuit is the darkest thing imaginable.

Avery Broderick, a theoretical astrophysicist who works with the Event Horizon Telescope, said in 2014 that the first picture of a black hole could be just as important as “Pale Blue Dot,” the 1990 photo of Earth that the space probe Voyager took from the rings of Saturn, in which our planet is an insignificant speck in a vast vacuum. A new picture, Avery thought, of one of nature’s purest embodiments of chaos and existential unease would have a different message: It would say, There are monsters out there.

A video by the EHT team says that imaging the black hole is like trying to count the dimples on a golf ball located in LA while standing in NYC.

EHT team member Katie Bouman also did a TEDx talk on the project.

P.S. There’s a cloud near the center of the galaxy that tastes like raspberries and smells like rum.

Daniel Radcliffe, Checker of Facts

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

As research for a role in a Broadway play, Daniel Radcliffe recently did a stint as a fact-checker for the New Yorker. They had him fact-check a piece on a NYC restaurant called Oxomoco.

“Hi, Justin. I’m Dan, at The New Yorker,” Radcliffe began, twiddling a red pencil. “Some of these questions are going to feel very boring and prosaic to you,” he warned. “So bear with me. First off, your surname: is that spelled B-A-Z-D-A-R-I-C-H?” (It is.) “Does the restaurant serve guacamole?” (Yes.) “In the dip itself, would it be right to say there are chilies in adobo and cilantro?” (No adobo, but yes to the cilantro.) “Is there a drink you serve there, a Paloma?” (Yes.) “And that’s pale, pink, and frothy, I believe?” (Correct.) “Is brunch at your place-which, by the way, sounds fantastic-served seven days a week?” (Yes.) “That’s great news,” Radcliffe said, “for the accuracy of this, and for me.”

Joan Jett Rocks “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at Nirvana Reunion

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

The surviving members of Nirvana (minus Kurt Cobain, of course) held a six-song reunion at the Cal Jam festival with a couple of special guests, including Joan Jett taking over vocal duties on Smells Like Teen Spirit, and All Apologies, and Breed. The video above captures the whole thing from the crowd…here’s another view of just Smells Like Teen Spirit:

Time Lapse of a SpaceX Launch Looks Like a UFO

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Sunday night, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The nighttime launch created what looked like a nebula in the sky, prompting LA mayor Eric Garcetti to tweet that his city was not being visited by a flying saucer. This 4K time lapse of the launch is only 13 seconds long and is worth watching about 40 times in a row.

Banksy Painting Shreds Itself After Selling for $1.4 Million

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

A few years ago, the artist Banksy built a shredder into the frame of one of his paintings “in case it was ever put up for auction”. On Friday, that painting came up for auction at Sotheby’s and after selling for ~$1.4 million, the shredder in the frame activated and cut the painting into little strips. The video of the sale and subsequent shredding is amazing:

View this post on Instagram

. "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge" - Picasso

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

Fantastic. I imagine Banksy meant this as a commentary on the ridiculous prices people pay for art, but as this is the art world, the shredding will likely increase the value of the piece as well as the artist’s other pieces. As @Limericking said:

A painting by Banksy was smart;
At auction, it shredded apart.
Now tattered, in pieces,
Its value increases,
For such is the market for art.

Update: The winning bidder for the shredded Banksy says she’s going to keep it.

Update: Here’s a longer video of the stunt from Banksy…”The Director’s Cut”.

The shredder malfunctioned at the auction…it was supposed to eat the entire print. On Instagram, Banksy says:

Some people think it didn’t really shred. It did. Some people think the auction house were in on it, they weren’t.

Climate Scientists: Humans Have Only 12 Years to Limit Devastating Climate Changes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In a 700-page report detailing the latest research on climate change, a UN panel of scientists strongly warns that unless we make “massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels” to limit the world’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be widespread coastal flooding, food shortages, wildfires, and other issues related to climate change. If you are 60 or under, these changes will occur in your lifetime. From the NY Times:

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

And from the Washington Post:

The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

If you’d like to dive into the report itself, two good places to start are the headline statements and the summary for policymakers.

Not Voting Doubles the Value of Someone Else’s Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In his Rolling Stone article on John McCain’s failed campaign for the 2000 Republican nomination for President, David Foster Wallace wrote about how not voting is like shooting yourself in the foot.

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

Please check your registration status and register to vote…it takes two minutes. Voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many US states — there are deadlines tomorrow in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas. If you don’t see your state in that list, don’t assume you have all the time in the world…check your status and register to vote anyway.

See also Dear Young People: “Don’t Vote”. (via nitch)

Rethinking American History on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2018

In most parts of the United States, the holiday listed on the calendar today is Columbus Day, which was designed to celebrate Italian-American heritage in America. However, there is a growing movement to replace the holiday commemorating the genocidal Cristòffa Cómbo with one that honors the original human inhabitants of the Americas, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In the forefront of the minds of many Native people throughout the Western Hemisphere, however, is the fact the colonial takeovers of the Americas, starting with Columbus, led to the deaths of millions of Native people and the forced assimilation of survivors. Generations of Native people have protested Columbus Day. In 1977, for example, participants at the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas proposed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day replace Columbus Day.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas, including the lands that later became the United States of America. And it urges Americans to rethink history.

Join me in supporting the Native American Rights Fund today.

A history of video game speed runs

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 05, 2018

If you’ve never seen a video game speed run before, a decent place to start is this computer-assisted Metroid run, completing the game in less than ten minutes through an artful mix of exploiting glitches and improbably precise movement, shooting, and jumping.

Or, if you want to see a speed run broken down piece by piece, try this half-hour video where speedrunner Bismuth breaks down how his fellow runner Kosmic broke the world record for the fastest unassisted Super Mario Bros. run. As Jason wrote:

If you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before.

But if you want to understand how speed run culture got going? Ah, for that you need this document by Kat Brewster. While people always gunned for high scores and world records, almost as long as we’ve had games of any sort, speed run culture as it exists today starts with Usenet forums and obsessive players of the first-person shooters Wolfenstein 3D and especially Doom, which introduced the innovation of making it easy for players to record their gameplay.

Doom also posted a “par time” statistic on its end-of-level screens, taking the best time of designer John Romero and challenging players to beat it.

This is a theme which comes up again and again from speedrunners. ‘It’s a challenge,’ they say. ‘How fast can I get it?’ It’s a natural question to ask. When it comes to speedrunning games, there is no rulebook, no guide. There’s simply one possible way to do it, or one route which might be better than another. The game ceases to be the game it was authored to be, and becomes the landscape and language for an entirely separate practice. Players take what is given, and build something else out of it. It’s a kind of subversion, a subtle power play of guerrilla game design.

Now, there are whole companies built on sharing video game play results, from the dedicated platform Twitch to a not insignificant corner of YouTube.

My favorite part of Brewster’s story is her contrast between Doom (mostly glitchless, which makes speedruns both more constrained and more accessible — there’s no secret knowledge or special tricks) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is full of glitches. Documenting all these potential shortcuts was an obsession of the Zelda community in the mid-2000s, centering around the Speed Demos Archive forums, and a brand-new video sharing site called YouTube.

With both a community and the capability for easy video sharing in hand, folk experimentation could begin. Narcissa [Wright] credits the inspiration for early experimentation in the game to Kazooie’s videos, and specifically, certain jumps. Narcissa describes this period of time from 2006 to 2008 as one of rich experimentation. Few speedruns were actually attempted in this two year period, opting instead for creating a catalog of glitches from hours of chipping away at the game environment, or planning possible routes with what they knew already. “In fact,” she said in a video commentary, “it felt more like we were doing science than anything else.”

From an initial glitchless runthrough of about five hours in 2006, speedrunners can now exploit these built-in accidental hacks to finish the game in less than 17 minutes. That’s a different kind of fun.

The split-second choreography of a long one-shot

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 05, 2018

The Showtime series Kidding did something quite clever (really, two things): for a scene showing one of its characters’ transformation over the course of a year, it compressed multiple discordant events into a long, cut-free, panoramic photography shot of a single room. Outfits change, actors come and go, furniture, props, and lighting are moved in and out of the room, all without cuts.

Now, while the main camera shoots all around the increasingly unrecognizable room, a second camera, shooting from above the set, shows how they did it. A mix of body doubles, quick outfit changes, and grips and crew working furiously to move the entire set around just outside the camera’s field of vision.

It’s worth watching a couple of times. It’s a little like one of Penn and Teller’s bits where they show you how they pulled off the magic trick. You see everything they needed to do to do what they did, but you still don’t entirely believe they pulled it off.

One way the universe might end

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 05, 2018

My favorite astrophysicist Katie Mack recently reposted a Cosmos article she wrote about a relatively obscure model for the total annihilation of the universe, called “vacuum decay.”

Essentially, what vacuum decay relies on is the fact that we don’t know for sure whether space is in the lowest energy, most stable possible state (a true vacuum) or at an adjacent, slightly higher energy level (a false vacuum). Space could be only metastable, and a random quantum fluctuation or sufficiently high level energy event could push part of the universe from the false vacuum to the true one. This could cause “a bubble of true vacuum that will then expand in all directions at the speed of light. Such a bubble would be lethal.”

It’s compellingly badass, and as Mack notes, frightfully efficient. First, it’s not the slow petering out that is heat death. Also, it wouldn’t just eliminate our current universe, but all possibility of a universe anything like ours. Vacuum decay destroys space like Roman generals salting the earth at Carthage.

The walls of the true vacuum bubble would expand in all directions at the speed of light. You wouldn’t see it coming. The walls can contain a huge amount of energy, so you might be incinerated as the bubble wall ploughed through you. Different vacuum states have different constants of nature, so the basic structure of matter might also be disastrously altered. But it could be even worse: in 1980, theoretical physicists Sidney Coleman and Frank De Luccia calculated for the first time that any bubble of true vacuum would immediately suffer total gravitational collapse.

They say: “This is disheartening. The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has never been a cheering one to contemplate. Vacuum decay is the ultimate ecological catastrophe; in a new vacuum there are new constants of nature; after vacuum decay, not only is life as we know it impossible, so is chemistry as we know it.

“However, one could always draw stoic comfort from the possibility that perhaps in the course of time the new vacuum would sustain, if not life as we know it, at least some creatures capable of knowing joy. This possibility has now been eliminated.”

Dynasties, a New Nature Documentary Series from BBC & David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2018

After the triumphs of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, 92-year-old David Attenborough is back with a new BBC nature series called Dynasties. The five-part series will follow five “celebrated, yet endangered” groups of animals — emperor penguins, tigers, lions, painted wolves, and chimpanzees — as they fight for survival. From the trailer, it looks as though Dynasties will be heavily narrative, perhaps even more so than Planet Earth and Blue Planet. No word on when this is airing yet.

See also 10 hours of extremely relaxing ocean scenes and 40 hours of relaxing Planet Earth II sounds.

The Alternative Limb Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

Alternative Limbs

Alternative Limbs

Founded by Sophie Oliveira Barata, The Alternative Limb Project makes stylish & artistic prosthetic limbs for people who want to express their personality through those items.

As with fashion, where physical appearance becomes a form of self-expression, Sophie sees the potential of prosthetics as a extension of the wearer’s personality. Merging the latest technology with traditional crafts, Sophie’s creations explore themes of body image, modification, evolution and transhumanism, whilst promoting positive conversations around disability and celebrating body diversity.

See also Izzy Wheels, stylish wheelchair wheel covers.

Teenage Dolphins Get High on Puffer Fish Toxin

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

In 2014, BBC aired a two-part documentary that featured intimate and close-up footage of dolphins using remote-controlled cameras disguised as sea creatures like turtles and fish. In one of the scenes, a group of adolescent dolphins captures a puffer fish and passes the ball-shaped little guy around. But as narrator David Tennant explains, what the dolphins really appear to be after is the toxin released by the puffer.

When attacked, puffer fish release a neurotoxin. In high doses, it can kill, but in small doses, it has a narcotic effect. It seems to be affecting the dolphins. They appear totally blissed out by the whole experience. And remarkably, all take turns in passing the puffer around.

Puff, puff, pass. Puff, puff, pass. Look at these blissed-out young’uns!

Dolphins High

The dolphins were filmed gently playing with the puffer, passing it between each other for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, unlike the fish they had caught as prey which were swiftly torn apart.

Zoologist and series producer Rob Pilley said that it was the first time dolphins had been filmed behaving this way.

At one point the dolphins are seen floating just underneath the water’s surface, apparently mesmerised by their own reflections.

Ice Fishers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

Ice Fishers

Ice Fishers

Ice Fishers

For a recent project, Aleksey Kondratyev captured the ice fishers of his native Kazakhstan sheltering themselves from the brutal cold. He wrote about the project for LensCulture.

Many of these fishermen venture onto the ice, braving temperatures that often reach -40 degrees celsius. After Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, north-central Kazakhstan is the second-coldest populated region in the world. While they fish, the fishermen protect themselves from the harsh weather with salvaged pieces of plastic, patched together from discarded packaging or rice bags that you can find outside markets selling western, Chinese and Russian goods.

I was interested in examining the aesthetic forms of these improvised protective coverings and the way in which they function as inadvertent sculptures.

Remembering Apollo 8’s Iconic Earthrise Photo

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

Earthrise Apollo 8

In 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first ever humans to leave the cozy confines of Earth orbit. From Wikipedia:

The three-astronaut crew — Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders — became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit; see Earth as a whole planet; enter the gravity well of another celestial body (Earth’s moon); orbit another celestial body (Earth’s moon); directly see the far side of the Moon with their own eyes; witness an Earthrise; escape the gravity of another celestial body (Earth’s moon); and re-enter the gravitational well of Earth.

That’s a substantial list of firsts. But before setting out on the mission, neither the crew or anyone else at NASA gave much thought to perhaps the most significant and long-lasting achievements on that list: “see Earth as a whole planet” and “witness an Earthrise”. In this gem of a short film by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Anders, Borman, and Lovell recall what it was like for them to be the first of only 24 people to see, with their own eyes, the Earth from that distance, a blue marble hanging in the inky blackness of space.

What they should have sent was poets, because I don’t think we captured the grandeur of what we’d seen.

The day after Apollo 8 orbited the Moon, a poem by Archibald Macleish published on the front page of the NY Times tried to capture that grandeur: Riders on Earth Together, Brothers in Eternal Cold.

Men’s conception of themselves and of each other has always depended on their notion of the earth. When the earth was the World — all the world there was — and the stars were lights in Dante’s heaven, and the ground beneath men’s feet roofed Hell, they saw themselves as creatures at the center of the universe, the sole, particular concern of God — and from that high place they ruled and killed and conquered as they pleased.

And when, centuries later, the earth was no longer the World but a small, wet spinning planet in the solar system of a minor star off at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy in the immeasurable distances of space — when Dante’s heaven had disappeared and there was no Hell (at least no Hell beneath the feet) — men began to see themselves not as God-directed actors at the center of a noble drama, but as helpless victims of a senseless farce where all the rest were helpless victims also and millions could be killed in world-wide wars or in blasted cities or in concentration camps without a thought or reason but the reason — if we call it one — of force.

Now, in the last few hours, the notion may have changed again. For the first time in all of time men have seen it not as continents or oceans from the little distance of a hundred miles or two or three, but seen it from the depth of space; seen it whole and round and beautiful and small as even Dante — that “first imagination of Christendom” — had never dreamed of seeing it; as the Twentieth Century philosophers of absurdity and despair were incapable of guessing that it might be seen. And seeing it so, one question came to the minds of those who looked at it. “Is it inhabited?” they said to each other and laughed — and then they did not laugh. What came to their minds a hundred thousand miles and more into space — “half way to the moon” they put it — what came to their minds was the life on that little, lonely, floating planet; that tiny raft in the enormous, empty night. “Is it inhabited?”

The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere — beyond the range of reason even — lost in absurdity and war. This latest notion may have other consequences. Formed as it was in the minds of heroic voyagers who were also men, it may remake our image of mankind. No longer that preposterous figure at the center, no longer that degraded and degrading victim off at the margins of reality and blind with blood, man may at last become himself.

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold — brothers who know now they are truly brothers.

Lots and Lots of Control Panels

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

Control Panels

Control Panels

Control Panels

This blog collects examples of control panels, analog and digital. The site’s tagline reads “in praise of dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs”.

Pictured here from top to bottom are a photo of a Berlin power station in 1928 by E.O. Hoppé, typography samples from Hoefler & Co, and the steering wheel from a Formula 1 car. (thx, paul)

This Stumbling Deer’s Hooves Sound Like Phil Collins’ Drum Fill on “In the Air Tonight”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

This deer stumbling through a children’s play set sounds just like the drums in In the Air Tonight (you know the ones).

This might be the best things that sound like other things yet, although the falling shovel that sounds like Smells Like Teen Spirit will always occupy the top spot in my heart. (Thx to the many people who sent this in knowing that I would love it. I feel very heard right now.)

Vice

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

The trailer for Adam McKay’s upcoming movie about Dick Cheney and the Bush administration just came out this morning. The movie promises an “untold story” and the casting is kind of amazing: Christian Bale as Cheney, Steve Carell plays Donald Rumsfeld, Amy Adams plays Lynne Cheney, and Sam Rockwell is pretty spot on as George W. Bush.

VICE explores the epic story about how a bureaucratic Washington insider quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice-President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

I loved McKay’s The Big Short, so despite never wanting to think about any of those horrible men ever again, I am looking forward to watching this.

The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Isle Of Dogs Book

From a visual design standpoint, Isle of Dogs might be my favorite Wes Anderson movie yet. Each frame of the film is its own little work of art — I could have watched a good 20 minutes of this guy making sushi:

The Wes Anderson Collection: Isle of Dogs offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Anderson and his collaborators made the film.

Through the course of several in-depth interviews with film critic Lauren Wilford, writer and director Wes Anderson shares the story behind Isle of Dogs’s conception and production, and Anderson and his collaborators reveal entertaining anecdotes about the making of the film, their sources of inspiration, the ins and outs of stop-motion animation, and many other insights into their moviemaking process. Previously unpublished behind-the-scenes photographs, concept artwork, and hand-written notes and storyboards accompany the text.

The introduction is written by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou of the dearly missed Every Frame a Painting.

See also the other books in this series: The Wes Anderson Collection, The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Wes Anderson Collection: Bad Dads: Art Inspired by the Films of Wes Anderson.

If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, then What’s the Point of Capitalism?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

In a thought-provoking essay, Umair Haque asks the question If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, Then What’s the Point of Capitalism?

Some systems are self-perpetuating. Like a forest. Like a river. Like an ocean. But some systems are self-annihilating. Like a fire. Like a storm. Like an epidemic. They burn themselves out. We tend think of capitalism as the former — but we are wrong. It is the latter — a self-destroying, not a self-sustaining, system. If we’re all really just trying to escape it — then what else could it be? After all, that means there will probably come a day when we do make our escape — and on that day, poof! — capitalism, at least in the sense above, winks out, like a storm, or a fire. So if we see for a moment through the great lens of human history — first there was tribalism, and we escaped it, then feudalism, and we escaped that — today now there’s capitalism, which we’re currently trying to escape, all over again. But while kings and knights might have not been so keen on escaping feudalism, what’s striking about capitalism is that we’re all trying to escape it — even most of the capitalists — because it makes us so miserable, mean, and foolish.

Humans don’t want money — that’s never been the goal — they want freedom from exploitation and the freedom to pursue meaningful lives free from fear and anxiety. Haque then argues that given humanity’s current levels of wealth, technology, and social structures, it is not only possible to provide everyone with those freedoms without the need for capitalism but it’s inevitable.

These three things, technology, finance, and public goods, have finally matured and developed to a degree that freedom from capitalism isn’t just possible. It’s becoming inevitable. What’s really happening as these three forces intersect? Society’s surplus is being reinvested back in precisely the very things we are really after — instead of being skimmed off by predatory elites. Freedom from exploitation, freedom from control, freedom to find, realize, and develop ourselves. We haven’t had the means, mechanisms, or tools, in the long history of humankind, to ever really achieve those on a mass scale yet. But we have them now.

Read the whole thing — it’s not that long and it’ll give you something to think about as you work.

Oddly Satisfying Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

I feel like maybe I’ve posted these before but I’m not even going to check because I am so damn soothed by the workings of Andreas Wannerstedt’s clever animated mechanisms. I have been looped into sweet oblivion.

Oh, the way this swinging bar slides along the edges of the green plastic with putting any load on it or catching. Sublime.

And the way the ball skids slightly after dropping off the top prong in this one. An ecstasy of friction.

Good sound design on these too. You can follow Wannerstedt’s work on Vimeo and Instagram. (via colossal)

New York City Street Tree Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Nyc Street Tree Map

The NYC Parks department maintains an online map of the city’s street trees — currently 678,674 mapped trees from 422 different species.

Our tree map includes every street tree in New York City as mapped by our TreesCount! 2015 volunteers, and is updated daily by our Forestry team. On the map, trees are represented by circles. The size of the circle represents the diameter of the tree, and the color of the circle reflects its species. You are welcome to browse our entire inventory of trees, or to select an individual tree for more information.

The map only shows trees that grow on land under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks. This includes trees planted along sidewalks or other public rights-of-way. You might not see trees that are planted on rights-of-way maintained by the NYC Department of Transportation, or by the state or federal government. You will also not see trees planted on private property.

Each tree on the map is clickable; when you do so, you can see the tree’s species, diameter, and the ecological benefits. (For example, this large oak tree along Central Park West provides $540 of ecological benefits each year…from capturing storm runoff to removing air pollutants.) You can also keep track of your favorite trees, join a tree care group to help take care of the city’s trees, or record activities you’ve done to care for trees in your neighborhood.

It’s easy to become a tree steward! We host volunteers all year long. We can train you in basic activities such as watering trees, adding mulch and soil, and removing weeds and litter; as well as advanced activities such as installing a tree guard, expanding tree beds, and installing or removing stone or brick pavers.

When Melbourne, Australia assigned each of their trees an email address to report problems, people started writing love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Each of NYC’s trees has a ID number too…let’s give them email addresses! (via @halobrien_wa)

Why The Night Watch Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2018

Ok folks, it’s time for some game theor- I mean, art history. In this video, Evan Puschak explains what makes Rembrandt’s The Night Watch so compelling from both a historical and artistic perspective.

Rembrandt Night Watch

When I was in Amsterdam last year, I saw The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum. As Puschak notes, it’s an impressive painting — for one thing, it’s more than 12 feet tall and weighs more than 740 pounds. However, I was even more keen on a nearby early self-portrait though.

Rembrandt Self Portrait 1628

Rembrandt painted this when he was 22 and while it lacks the subtle mastery of his later work, I couldn’t stop staring at it and kept looping back for one more view. If you look at a larger view of the painting, you can see where Rembrandt used the butt of his brush to scratch the wet paint to accentuate his curly hair. Something about seeing those tiny canyons on the canvas…I could almost see the young artist standing right where I was, flipping his brush around to scrape those marks before the paint dried, making his dent in the universe.

P.S. My absolute favorite piece at the Rijksmuseum was Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. Holy moly, what a painting.

Michael Lewis’ New Book: Trump vs. the Federal Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

At this point, reading about how incompetent the Trump campaign and White House have been and continue to be — perhaps knowingly, given the viewpoint of some of his advisors and backers about wanting to weaken the federal government — is getting tiring, but Michael Lewis is always worth paying attention to. His newest book, The Fifth Risk, is about how unprepared the incoming Trump administration was to govern the country, to “take control of the portfolio of existential risks managed by the US government” as he puts it. The Guardian has an excerpt:

Chris Christie was sitting on a sofa beside Trump when Pennsylvania was finally called. It was 1.35am, but that wasn’t the only reason the feeling in the room was odd. Mike Pence went to kiss his wife, Karen, and she turned away from him. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she said. “Now leave me alone.” She wouldn’t so much as say hello to Trump. Trump himself just stared at the TV without saying anything, like a man with a pair of twos whose bluff has been called. His campaign hadn’t even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? Why take the risk of discovering you might, at your very best, be a C student? This was the real part of becoming president of the US. And, Christie thought, it scared the crap out of the president-elect.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy — the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain — but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

Ho. Ly. Shit. Incredibly, Lewis’ very next line is: “That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble.” — which makes Chris Christie the most tone-deaf individual in the world? (Probably…Christie was fired the next day, a complete surprise to him.)

The book comes out tomorrow…you can pre-order from Amazon here.

“I Know That Place, It Sounds Like Vermont.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

Adam Driver hosted the premiere episode of the newest season of Saturday Night Live this weekend and one of the sketches featured a Neo-Confederate meeting where a group of white nationalists debated setting up a “Caucasian paradise” free from minorities and immigrants. They settled on Vermont.

This place sounds nice! Pancakes on the porch, spiced apple compote, the leaves change colors but the people never do.

As the saying goes, it’s funny cause it’s true. Although famously liberal — Trump’s support in VT was even lower than in California in the 2016 election — Vermont is also the second whitest state in the US (more than 94% white according to a 2017 estimate) and it shows.

Earlier this week, I drove past a house with the Confederate flag hanging on a flagpole in the front yard, right below the American flag. It’s not something you see super-often, but you do see it, along with Blue Lives Matter bumper stickers, Take Back Vermont signs painted on barns, and the perhaps well-intentioned older white couple holding up “We Believe Black Lives Matter Because All Lives Matter” signs on a small town sidewalk after the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. Last year at the Champlain Valley Fair, there were multiple vendors selling Confederate flags, shirts, bandanas, and the like.

Last week, Kiah Morris resigned from her seat in the VT State House of Representatives due to racial harassment and threats.

Kiah Morris, the only African-American woman in the Vermont House of Representatives, announced her resignation on Tuesday, a month after she ended her re-election bid because of what she described as a yearslong campaign of racially motivated harassment and threats.

The harassment happened on social media and offline:

“There was vandalism within our home,” she said. “We found there were swastikas painted on the trees in the woods near where we live. We had home invasions.”

“It has come and gone and in different waves, but then it picked back up again and of course we are back in an election season so there’s always more,” she said.

Why Meat is the Best Worst Thing in the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

For hunter gatherers living 10,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals converted spare land and vegetation humans couldn’t eat into caloric energy, creating a surplus & stability that led to more trade possibilities and capabilities for human groups. But as the world’s population speeds past 7.4 billion, land and water use has become more and more constricted. The production of meat and dairy is inefficient, so that’s created a lot of problems and shortcuts: factory farming, huge land & resource use, oversized contribution to climate change. In this video, Kurzgesagt examines the cons (and pros) of meat and dairy consumption:

If you’d like to read more about the moral implications of our food chain, more than one friend has referred to reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as “life-changing”.

The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” Scene But With The Dinosaurs Digitally Removed

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2018

Even though you knew going into Jurassic Park that they had somehow brought dinosaurs back to life, you don’t actually see any of the prehistoric creatures until the “Welcome to Jurassic Park” reveal more than 20 minutes into the film. The scene features a Brachiosaurus eating from a tall tree and many dinosaurs flocked around a watering hole. William Hirsch edited that scene, digitally removing the dinosaurs so that Dr. Sattler, Dr. Malcolm, and the others are gawking in wonder at empty forests and a lonely lake.

Trees and lakes are pretty amazing though…we just don’t notice that often. I imagine if you took someone who grew up in the Arctic or in a desert without access to any media or photography and plopped them without explanation on a tropical island, they would flip out.

See also Jurassic Park but with the dinosaurs from the 90s TV show Dinosaurs. (via open culture)

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