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Entries for January 2019 (February 2019 »    March 2019 »    Archives)

 

A Journey Along the Mekong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Niemann Cambodia

National Geographic sent illustrator Christoph Niemann to Cambodia and Vietnam and he returned with this series of drawings and observations. He talked about the trip in this behind-the-scenes video.

In a region with so much natural beauty, ancient architecture, and vibrant culture, travelers can easily get stuck behind their viewfinders — consumed with capturing the most vivid moments for their photo albums and Instagram feeds. But over the years, Niemann has developed a different method of documenting his trips.

“I always drew when I traveled … I draw just to calm down essentially, so I’m not constantly checking my phone,” he says.

Niemann believes that painting and drawing his experiences creates a dialogue between his mind and a place — this process ultimately allows him to turn the lens on himself. “Essentially the drawing is like a visual filter,” he explains. “You take the world — and you take it through the abstraction of your drawing — and you start seeing differently.”

Some my favorite posts I’ve written over the past few years have been about my travel: my western roadtrip, Berlin, Istanbul, the solar eclipse. Aside from the eclipse post (which gives me goosebumps every time I reread it), I hadn’t intended to start writing about travel. Ostensibly these trips are supposed to be vacations, my time off from constantly sifting through culture for observations. But Niemann is right…there’s something about applying the creative process to unfamiliar places that that makes the experience more worthwhile. For me, photographing and taking notes for a later post gives me a much better sense of a place, forces me to pay more attention & be more open, causes me to learn about myself, and produces a written document of my trip that I can go back to and experience again.

A Writing Shed of One’s Own

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

In the first couple of minutes of this video, Roald Dahl introduces us to the writing hut behind his house that he used to write all of his famed children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny the Champion of the World. Dahl describes his working routine and details how he’s designed his writing environment, his “nest”, to be as free from distraction as possible.

The Guardian used to run a series about writers’ rooms and in 2008, illustrator Quentin Blake, who worked with Dahl on many of his books, wrote a piece about Dahl’s shed.

The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn’t want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened.

I like that he tied the footrest to the chair to keep it from sliding away when he rested his feet on it.

As someone who sits down daily to write, nothing seems so luxurious to me as a separate writing hut that is off limits to everyone and everything else. George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain both had separate houses in which to write; Shaw’s shed could even rotate to catch the light throughout the day. Someday I’ll have one of my own…

P.S. Ernest Hemingway used a standing desk, as did Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, and Virginia Woolf, among others. I got this one a few weeks ago and am still getting used to it. (via @ftrain)

What Time Is the Super Bowl? (According to a Theoretical Physicist)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Ever since the Huffington Post struck SEO gold in 2011 with their post about what time the Super Bowl started, pretty much every online publication now runs a similar article in an attempt to squeeze some of Google’s juice into their revenue stream. My “attempt” from last year: What Time Isn’t the Super Bowl?

For this year’s contest, Sports Illustrated decided to ask theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time, his thoughts on time and Super Bowls.

6:30 p.m. is the time the Super Bowl will start in Atlanta. Most of us are not in Atlanta. So for us, the game will start later than that. You need the time for the images to be captured by the cameras, be broadcasted to air or cable, be captured by my TV screen, leave my TV screen, get to my eyes (not to mention the time my brain needs to process and decode the images). You may say this is fast — of course this is fast. But it takes some time nevertheless, and I am a physicist, I need precision. For most of us, the game will actually start some time later than the kickoff in Atlanta.

Not only that, but time moves at different speeds for each of us:

We have discovered that clocks run at different speed depending on how fast they are moved, and depending on how high they are positioned. That’s right, it is a fact: Two equal clocks go out of time with respect each other if one is moved and the other is kept fixed. The same will happen if one is kept, say, above your head, and the other lower, say, at your feet. All this was discovered by Einstein a century ago; for a while it was just brainy stuff for nerds, but today we are sure it is true. A good lab clock can check this, and it is truly true. Your head lives a bit longer than your feet (unless you spend a lot of time upside down).

So, the clock of the guy up in the high sections of the stadium runs faster than the clock of the referee on the field. And Tom Brady’s clock (if he were to wear one) runs slower, because Tom moves fast (okay, maybe not “fast,” but faster than the people sitting and watching him).

P.S. The Super Bowl starts at approximately 6:30pm EST on Feb 3, 2019. (via laura olin)

The Making of an Iconic Photograph: Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

At the end of a long day in March 1936, Dorothea Lange stopped in a migrant workers camp in California for just 10 minutes and took six photos of a woman and her children. The final photo, known as Migrant Mother, became one of the most iconic photographs of the Great Depression.

Migrant Mother

In this video, Evan Puschak details not only the context the photo was created under (FDR’s administration wanted photos that would shift public support towards providing government aid) but also how Lange stage-managed the scene to get the shot she wanted.

As Puschak notes, the photo we are all familiar with was retouched three years after its initial publication to remove what Lange saw as a detriment to the balance of the scene: the thumb of the woman’s hand holding the tent post in the lower right-hand corner.

It is easy to tell whether a print of “Migrant Mother” was made before 1939, because that year Ms. Lange had an assistant retouch the negative and remove Ms. Thompson’s thumb from the bottom right corner, much to the chagrin of Roy Stryker, her boss at the Farm Security Administration. While that was a fairly common practice at the time, Mr. Stryker thought it compromised the authenticity not just of the photo but also of his whole F.S.A. documentary project, Ms. Meister said. But Ms. Lange considered the thumb to be such a glaring defect that she apparently didn’t have a second thought about removing it.

Here’s what it looked like before the alteration:

Migrant Mother Unretouched

There are some other things about the photo that may prompt us to think about the objectivity of documentary photography. The cultural story of Migrant Mother is that this is a white woman who came west during the Great Depression for migrant work. The real story is more complicated. The woman was identified in the late 1970s as Florence Owens Thompson, and as she told her story, we learned some things that Lange didn’t have time to discover during her fleeting time at the camp:

1. Thompson was a full-blooded Cherokee born in Indian Territory (which later became the state of Oklahoma). As this NY Times review of Sarah Meister’s book on the photograph says, if people had known the woman wasn’t white, the photo may not have had the impact it did.

“We have never been a race-blind country, frankly,” Ms. Meister said. “I wish that I could say that the response would have been the same if everyone had been aware that she was Cherokee, but I don’t think that you can.”

2. The family were not recent migrants to California and had actually moved from Oklahoma in 1926, well before the Depression started. The family briefly moved back to Oklahoma because Thompson was pregnant and afraid the father’s family would take the baby from her, but returned to California in 1934.

3. Thompson’s first husband died in 1931 of tuberculosis while she was pregnant with her sixth child. A seventh child resulted from a brief relationship with the father mentioned above. An eighth child followed by a new husband in 1935. But it was Thompson who provided for the family while taking care of 8 kids:

By all accounts, Jim Hill was a nice guy from a respectable family who never could seem to get his act together. “I loved my dad dearly,” Norma Rydlewski said, “but he had little ambition. He was never was able to hold down a job.” The burden of supporting the family, and of keeping it together, fell on Florence.

4. The ultimate goal of Lange taking Thompson’s photo for the FSA was to stimulate public support for government aid to people who were out of work because of the Depression. But Thompson herself didn’t want any aid:

“Her biggest fear,” recalled son Troy Owens, “was that if she were to ask for help [from the government], then they would have reason to take her children away from her. That was her biggest fear all through her entire life.”

5. Thompson and her family weren’t actually living at the pea pickers camp when Lange photographed them there. They had just stopped temporarily to fix their car and were only there for a day or two.

In the field notes that she filed with her Nipomo photographs, Lange included the following description: “Seven hungry children. Father is native Californian. Destitute in pea pickers’ camp … because of failure of the early pea crop. These people had just sold their tires to buy food.”

Owens scoffed at the description. “There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell,” he told this writer. “The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.”

“Mother always said that Lange never asked her name or any questions, so what she [Lange] wrote she must have got from the older kids or other people in the camp,” speculates daughter Katherine McIntosh, who appears in the Migrant Mother photo with her head turned away behind her mother’s right shoulder. “She also told mother the negatives would never be published — that she was only going to use the photos to help out the people in the camp.”

So what are we to make of what we thought we knew about this photograph and what we know now? In 2009, Errol Morris wrote of the FSA photos:

Rothstein, Lange and Evans have been accused of posing their photographs, in short, of manipulating them to some end. And yet all photographs are posed. There is no such thing as pure documentary photography. The problem is not in what any of them have done, but in our misunderstanding of photography. No crimes were committed by the F.S.A. photographers. They labored as employees of an organization dedicated to providing propaganda for the Roosevelt administration. And they created some of the greatest photographs in American history. Photographs can be works of art, bearers of evidence, and a connection with the past for individuals, families and society as a whole. It should not be lost on any of us that these controversies are still with us. The Photoshop alteration of a photograph “documenting” the launching of Iranian missiles, the cropping of a Christmas get-together at the Cheney ranch. These are just the latest iterations. In 1936, Roosevelt was reelected in a contentious election. Photography played a controversial role, reminding us that wherever there are intense disagreements, particularly political disagreements, there will be disagreements about photography, as well.

The stories we tell about photographs change as we change and as our culture changes. Yes, Migrant Mother is a symbol of the hardship endured by many during the Great Depression. But Migrant Mother is also the portrait of a fiercely independent Native American single mother who fought to provide for her family and keep them together during the most difficult time in our nation. That’s a story worth hearing today.

Both prints above are courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division: with thumb and without. You can also explore the rest of the LOC’s FSA collection.

Creating Saturday Night Live’s Cue Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

As part of their YouTube series on how the Saturday Night Live sausage is made, this short video details how the cue cards that the actors read from during the show are made and used. There’s even a tiny little bit in there about how they use whitespace (between words and lines) to make sure the cards are readable from a distance.

I am kind of amazed that the cue card process is still done by hand. I don’t want to see any hard-working staffers or interns getting fired, but it seems like a couple of fast large-format color printers capable of printing on poster stock and a block letter handwriting font could dramatically streamline the workflow, particularly when late-stage changes are needed.

Scenes from the Anthropocene, an Earth Forever Changed by Humans

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

Burtynsky Anthropocene

Burtynsky Anthropocene

These are photographs by Edward Burtynsky from The Anthropocene Project, a multimedia undertaking that showcases the effect humans have had on our planet. Top: a palm oil plantation in Malaysia. Bottom: a coal mine in Germany.

In addition to the photographs, there’s also a book and a film among other things.

I’ve been a fan of Burtynsky’s photography for years and I’m hoping to see both the film and the photos somewhere soon.

El Chapo, Master of the Drug Tunnel (and Escape Tunnel)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In this video, Vox takes a look at how El Chapo leveraged his use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States and became one of the richest and most powerful drug lords of all time.

Throughout his career as a drug trafficker, tunnels have been the common theme in El Chapo’s story. When he gained control of a major drug trafficking corridor in the late 1980s, Joaquin Guzman Loera — then known as “el Rapido” — was the first to create super tunnels for transporting drugs across the border.

At the time, a crackdown by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) meant Colombian cocaine was in decline and the Mexican narcotrafficker saw an opportunity. By using tunnels to facilitate fast transport, El Chapo leveraged his role as a trafficker to claim new responsibilities as a cultivator and distributor of drugs.

El Chapo is currently on trial in the US and the proceedings thus far indicate that the Trump administration’s proposed border wall likely wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs into the US from Mexico. Most of the drugs shipped by El Chapo into the US went through regular old border crossings on trucks and trains, hidden in truck panels, packed into fake plastic bananas, or surrounded by food.

At one point, testimony at the trial has shown, Mr. Guzmán sent tons of cocaine across the border in cans of jalapeños marked with the label La Comadre chiles. The cans were stacked on pallets in the backs of commercial tractor-trailers, which simply drove through official border entry points. To protect his product from being found, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán often placed the cans filled with cocaine in the middle of the pallets, surrounded by cans with actual chiles.

The NY Times link is via Geoff Manaugh, whose take on this tunnelling I’d love to read.

“Closeness Lines”: Lovely Visualizations of Relationships Over Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

I *love* these simple visualizations of how different kinds of relationships change over time by writer and cartoonist Olivia de Recat.

Closeness Lines Over Time

My pal Jesse James Garrett called them “Feynman diagrams of the heart” that depict “the vast entanglement of humanity”.

The illustration is available as a print but currently sold out. :( Hopefully it’ll be back in stock soon? In the meantime, you can take a look at some of her other cartoons (mostly for the New Yorker), peruse her shop, or follow her stuff on Insta.

It’s So Cold Out! Where’s the Global Warming?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

Some time ago, Randall Munroe addressed what severe cold in the US has to do with climate change on XKCD: it used to be colder a lot more often but we don’t really remember it.

XKCD Cold Weather Global Warming

When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I recall experiencing overnight low temperatures in the -30°F to -40°F range several times and vividly remember being stranded in my house for a week in 1996 when the all-time record low for the state (-55°F) was established in nearby Couderay.

Munroe’s observation isn’t even the whole story. Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, writes that the polar vortex bringing cold air into the Midwest is connected to the rapidly warming Arctic.

Because of rapid Arctic warming, the north/south temperature difference has diminished. This reduces pressure differences between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, weakening jet stream winds. And just as slow-moving rivers typically take a winding route, a slower-flowing jet stream tends to meander.

Large north/south undulations in the jet stream generate wave energy in the atmosphere. If they are wavy and persistent enough, the energy can travel upward and disrupt the stratospheric polar vortex. Sometimes this upper vortex becomes so distorted that it splits into two or more swirling eddies.

These “daughter” vortices tend to wander southward, bringing their very cold air with them and leaving behind a warmer-than-normal Arctic.

(via @mkonnikova)

It’s Time for Some Queueing Theory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

Queueing theory is the scientific study of waiting in line. It can apply to familiar lines like those at the grocery store or bank but also to things like web servers, highway traffic, and telecommunications…basically any situation where you have things entering a system, being processed by a system for a certain period of time, and leaving the system.

The study of queueing is necessary because the effects of waiting in line often run counter to our intuition (which causes people to get cranky about it). Take this example from John Cook of tellers serving customers at a bank:

Suppose a small bank has only one teller. Customers take an average of 10 minutes to serve and they arrive at the rate of 5.8 per hour. What will the expected waiting time be? What happens if you add another teller?

We assume customer arrivals and customer service times are random (details later). With only one teller, customers will have to wait nearly five hours on average before they are served.

Five hours?! I would not have guessed anywhere close to that, would you? Now, add a second teller into the mix. How long is the average wait now? 2.5 hours? 1 hour? According to Cook, much lower than that:

But if you add a second teller, the average waiting time is not just cut in half; it goes down to about 3 minutes. The waiting time is reduced by a factor of 93x

Our lack of intuition about queues has to do with how much the word “average” is hiding…the true story is much more complex.

Aside from the math, designers of queueing systems also have to take human psychology into account.

There are three givens of human nature that queuing psychologists must address: 1) We get bored when we wait in line. 2) We really hate it when we expect a short wait and then get a long one. 3) We really, really hate it when someone shows up after us but gets served before us.

The boredom issue has been tackled in myriad ways — from the mirrors next to elevator banks to the TVs in dentist’s waiting rooms. Larson mentions a clever solution from the Manhattan Savings Bank, which once hired a concert pianist to play in its lobby as customers waited for tellers. “But Disney has been the absolute master of this aspect of queue psychology,” says Larson. “You might wait 45 minutes for an 8-minute ride at Disney World. But they’ll make you feel like the ride has started while you’re still on line. They build excitement and provide all kinds of diversions in the queue channel.” Video screens tease the thrills ahead, and a series of varied chambers that the queue moves through creates a sense of progress. Another solution: those buzzing pagers that restaurants in malls sometimes give you while you’re waiting for a table. Instead of focusing on the misery of the wait, you can go off and entertain yourself-secure in the knowledge that you’ll be alerted when it’s your turn.

Whole Foods had to work around our expectations when it switched to “serpentine” lines that seemed longer but actually served customers more quickly.

By 7 p.m. on a weeknight, the lines at each of the four Whole Foods stores in Manhattan can be 50 deep, but they zip along faster than most lines with 10 shoppers.

Because people stand in the same line, waiting for a register to become available, there are no “slow” lines, delayed by a coupon-counting customer or languid cashier. And since Whole Foods charges premium prices for its organic fare, it can afford to staff dozens of registers, making the line move even faster.

“No way,” is how Maggie Fitzgerald recalled her first reaction to the line at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. For weeks, Ms. Fitzgerald, 26, would not shop there alone, assigning a friend to fill a grocery cart while she stood in line.

When she discovered the wait was about 4 minutes, rather than 20, she began shopping by herself, and found it faster than her old supermarket.

See also How to Pick the Fastest Line at the Supermarket, Queue Theory and Design from 99% Invisible, and this paper from Bob Wescott, Seven Insights Into Queueing Theory. One of his insights:

It’s very hard to use the last 15% of anything. As the service center gets close to 100% utilization the response time will get so bad for the average transaction that nobody will be having any fun. The graph below is exactly the same situation as the previous graph except this graph is plotted to 99% utilization. At 85% utilization the response time is about 7x and it just gets worse from there.

For grocery stores or call centers, that means you’re going to have operators or cashiers sitting there “doing nothing” sometimes because if you don’t, you’re gonna be in trouble when a rush hits.

Update: John Frost shares an anecdote about his grandfather’s team designed the queueing system for the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland:

Another fun family story is the invention of the Matterhorn’s first of its kind switchback queue. Vic Greene and his team of Imagineers developed a system that would have the entrance to the switchback part of the queue be lower than the exit. When you stood at the entrance, the exit would appear closer to you in an optical illusion. The idea was to make your wait seem less cumbersome by visually shortening the queue.

In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

These visualizations of the speed of light I posted last week somehow demonstrate both how fast light speed is and how slow it is compared the vastness of the galaxy & universe. Science fiction often bends the rules of physics as we currently understand them, with fictional spacecraft pushing beyond the speed of light. In Star Trek, the measure of a ship’s velocity is warp speed. Warp 1 is the speed of light, Warp 6 is 392 times the speed of light, etc. In this Warp Speed Comparison video, EC Henry compares the top speeds of various Star Trek vessels (the original Enterprise, Voyager, the Defiant), racing them from Earth to the edge of the solar system.

Once again, you get a real sense of how fast these ships would be if they actually existed but also of the vastness of space. It would take 10 seconds for the fastest ship to reach the edge of the solar system at maximum warp and just over 6 hours to get to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Wikipedia lists a few dozen stars that are within a day’s journey at full warp…a trip that takes light more than 16 years. The mighty speed of light is no match for the human imagination. (thx, jim)

Trailer for “Apollo 11”, a Documentary Based on Pristine 65mm Footage of the Mission

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which means an increase in Apollo 11 media. This is a strong early entrant: “Apollo 11”, a feature-length documentary on the mission, featuring “a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage” of starting clarity.

Miller and his team collaborated with NASA and the National Archives (NARA) to locate all of the existing footage from the Apollo 11 mission. In the course of sourcing all of the known imagery, NARA staff members made a discovery that changed the course of the project — an unprocessed collection of 65mm footage, never before seen by the public. Unbeknownst to even the NARA archivists, the reels contained wide format scenes of the Saturn V launch, the inside of the Launch Control Center and post-mission activities aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier.

The find resulted in the project evolving from one of only filmmaking to one of also film curation and historic preservation. The resulting transfer — from which the documentary was cut — is the highest resolution, highest quality digital collection of Apollo 11 footage in existence.

The film is 100% archival footage and audio. They’ve paired the footage with selections from 11,000 hours of mission audio.

The other unexpected find was a massive cache of audio recordings — more than 11,000 hours — comprising the individual tracks from 60 members of the Mission Control team. “Apollo 11” film team members wrote code to restore the audio and make it searchable and then began the multi-year process of listening to and documenting the recordings. The effort yielded new insights into key events of the moon landing mission, as well as surprising moments of humor and camaraderie.

This. Sounds. Amazing. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Here’s David Erhlich writing for Indiewire:

It’s rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of “Apollo 11,” in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who’ve come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else. By tricking you at a base sensory level into seeing the past as though it were the present, Miller cuts away the 50 years that have come between the two, like a heart surgeon who cuts away a dangerous clot so that the blood can flow again. Such perfect verisimilitude is impossible to fake.

And Daniel Fienberg for The Hollywood Reporter:

Much of the footage in Apollo 11 is, by virtue of both access and proper preservation, utterly breathtaking. The sense of scale, especially in the opening minutes, sets the tone as rocket is being transported to the launch pad and resembles nothing so much as a scene from Star Wars only with the weight and grandeur that come from 6.5 million pounds of machinery instead of CG. The cameraman’s astonishment is evident and it’s contagious. The same is true of long tracking shots through the firing room as the camera moves past row after row after row of computers, row after row after row of scientists and engineers whose entire professional careers have led to this moment.

There will be a theatrical release (including what sounds like an IMAX release for museums & space centers) followed by a showing on TV by CNN closer to July.

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” Exhibition in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is “the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations”. Running from January 25 through May 12, the exhibition includes drafts, drawings, maps, and memorabilia related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, including hand-drawn maps done by Tolkien of Middle-earth.

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

I’m totally going to this the next time I’m in NYC.

Update: Note to those who are heading to exhibition: cosplaying your favorite LoTR character at the Morgan Library is totally permissible.

Tolkien Exhibit

But all Gimlis, Legolases, and Gandalfs, leave your weaponry at home. (via @arbesman)

“Ask a Native New Yorker” in Book Form

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

One of the most popular recurring features on Gothamist is Jake Dobkin’s “Ask A Native New Yorker” column (which I’ve mentioned here more than once). In the column, Dobkin gives advice related to NYC issues like cycling in the city, dealing with problematic roommates, coping with bedbugs, and strangers sitting on your stoop.

Now Dobkin has turned that column into a book with all-new material: Ask a Native New Yorker: Hard-Earned Advice on Surviving and Thriving in the Big City.

The book version features all original writing and aims to help newbies evolve into real New Yorkers with humor and a command of the facts. In 48 short essays and 11 sidebars, the book offers practical information about transportation, apartment hunting, and even cultivating relationships for anyone fresh to the Big Apple. Subjects include “Why is New York the greatest city in the world?,” “Where should I live?,” “Where do you find peace and quiet when you feel overwhelmed?,” and “Who do I have to give up my subway seat to?” Part philosophy, part anecdote collection, and part no-nonsense guide, Ask a Native New Yorker will become the default gift for transplants to New York, whether they’re here for internships, college, or starting a new job.

Instant pre-order.

American Football Commentary, Animated!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

For this video, freelance animator Nick Murray Willis took the audio from football commentators and made these little animated vignettes to go along with each line. Here’s a sample:

The Bears Have Won

My only complaint about this video is that it was over too quickly. Luckily Willis has done the same thing in videos for NBA, soccer, movie lines, etc.

The Lure of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

Meet the spider-tailed horned viper, native to western Iran. As the name suggests, the snake has a tail that, when moved about in the right way, looks like a spider crawling on a rock. The crawling “spider” attracts small birds who eat insects…and then the viper eats the birds:

Sweeeeeeet Fancy Moses! If an animal with venomous snake jaws on one end and a spider on the other isn’t everyone’s idea of a nightmare animal, I don’t know what is.

But what an incredible evolutionary adaptation. This mimicry is right up there with the bee orchid. (via @jasonfried)

The Amazon Chronicles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

My pal and collaborator Tim Carmody is launching a newsletter all about Amazon called Amazon Chronicles. You can subscribe here and read the statement of purpose here. I’m thinking of it as Daring Fireball but for Amazon instead of Apple.

There’s no shortage of good Amazon stories, and good Amazon coverage. I loved Kashmir Hill’s story for Gizmodo about trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to block Amazon from her life. I loved John Herrman’s exposé on Vine reviewers. I think stories like this are just as important and just as interesting (more so, actually) as the latest on Jeff Bezos’s sex life or speculation about Amazon’s earnings and stock price. I like stories that help me see how a company like Amazon, with its tangled web of services and products, entwines itself into our lives, both consumer and commercial.

But who is going to gather stories like these and help put them into context? Who, really, is able to take the time to get the big picture when it comes to what’s intermittently the biggest and most influential company in the world?

Tim has been covering the Amazon beat from all angles since before the company became one of the most valuable in the world (including recently on kottke.org), so he’s well-positioned to take up this gathering challenge.1 Tim is also applying the Unlocking the Commons approach that has worked well for the kottke.org membership program with a slight wrinkle:

So, here’s the deal. This newsletter — which I’m calling The Amazon Chronicles — will sell paid memberships. These will be $5/month, or $50/year. It will also offer free subscriptions. These will cost nothing.

As long as I get at least 200 paid subscribers (let’s call them “members”), free subscribers will get all the same newsletters members get (give or take housekeeping emails that will only make sense to folks who are paying money).

Essentially, the whole site will be free to anyone who signs up. That will be a newsletter a week, rounding up the biggest and best Amazon coverage, plus original reporting and analysis. The same newsletter, for everybody.

I just subscribed at the annual level…join me, won’t you?

  1. If you’ve been following his work on kottke.org and on Noticing, you know that this gathering will come with a heaping side helping of fresh and razor-sharp analysis about the company and media in general. In fact, the gathering will likely turn into the side helping over time as the newsletter gathers steam.

    (I also find it hilarious that Tim is currently writing two newsletters: one that aggregates the activities of one of the largest companies in the world and the other that aggregates the activities of a tiny independent media concern.)

Life Without the Everything Store

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 25, 2019

Kashmir Hill is a remarkable and inventive reporter. She came up with a great concept called “Goodbye Big Five”: one by one, she’d try to cut out the biggest digital companies in the world from her life (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft). She started with the toughest: Amazon.

Amazon is not just an online store—that’s not even the hardest thing to cut out of my life. Its global empire also includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), the vast server network that provides the backbone for much of the internet, as well as Twitch.tv, the broadcasting behemoth that is the backbone of the online gaming industry, and Whole Foods, the organic backbone of the yuppie diet.

Keeping myself from walking into a Whole Foods is easy enough, but I also want to stop using any of Amazon’s digital services, from Amazon.com (and its damn app) to any other websites or apps that use AWS to host their content. To do that, I enlist the help of a technologist, Dhruv Mehrotra, who built me a custom VPN through which to route my internet requests. The VPN blocks any traffic to or from an IP address controlled by Amazon. I connect my computers and my phone to the VPN at all times, as well as all the connected devices in my home; it’s supposed to weed out every single digital thing that Amazon touches.

How’d it work? Well, things got rough.

On the second morning of the block, I hear my daughter in the living room with my husband screaming “Alessa, Alessa!” They forgot that the voice of the Amazon Echo, Alexa, has been banished from the house. The block is especially tough on my one-year-old daughter, Ellev, both because the Echo provides the sole source of music in our household and because Ellev is obsessed with three movies (Coco, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles), all of which we usually watch either through Netflix or through videos purchased via Amazon.

Ellev is not happy about my experiment particularly because my long-winded explanations about why she can’t listen to “E-I-E-I-O” or watch “Incwedibles” make zero sense to her. The low point of the week is when she cries for the Incredibles for a solid five minutes one afternoon, though I manage to distract her, eventually, with puzzle pieces.

It’s not just entertainment, though; a good deal of fundamental communications tools run on AWS, including Signal and Slack. Hill soon discovers, though, that there are some benefits to being less online.

My husband and I break our habit of watching shows on Netflix at the end of the day, opting to read instead or indulge our newfound obsession with cribbage, a card game I had assumed was boring until I started playing it. Also, since we mostly use Signal to text each other, I find myself sending him fewer texts and instead talk to him about things IRL.

We also wean our daughter from much of her screen time, which means quality time playing with her or taking her to a playground rather than giving her a “movie treat.” I go running outside rather than doing my three miles on a treadmill watching Netflix. In general, having access to fewer parts of the internet makes me use technology less, which is increasingly my goal in life.

Less internet also means less surveillance—from coworkers (via Slack and other tools) and from Amazon itself, which could be mining the sheer amount of data it manages for insights into consumer and commercial usage, both individually and in the aggregate. In short, Hill concludes, Amazon’s indispensability is itself tremendously troubling.

Thirty Years of Spike Lee

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 25, 2019

Spike Lee - Black KKKlansman.jpg

Spike Lee’s first film, She’s Gotta Have It, came out in 1986, but the writer/director/actor’s best film, the one that made him famous, Do the Right Thing, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this summer. It’s worth reading contemporary reactions to Lee’s film—Joe Klein’s infamous “Spiked?” is the classic example—if only to see how terrified Lee made people.

Lee’s Q&A in Cannes in 1989 is also required viewing:

Lee still does should-be-shocking things—last year at Cannes, he repeatedly called Donald Trump a “motherfucker”—but the reaction to him is very different. He’s become an elder statesman, part of the fraternity, an academy nominee for Best Director and Best Picture thirty years after his best work got shut out from award consideration.

It’s all about timing. Lee thinks the Academy has come a long way from where it was thirty years ago, but warns against becoming complacent:

“Hollywood has really ramped it up,” he said. “They are making more diverse films. But in order to make sure this is something that is steady and not a trend is for us to see diversity among the gatekeepers, the rarified individuals that decide what we’re making and not making. That’s the only way to ensure against more cyclical droughts, that’s the new frontier. We’ve got a lot of stuff now, but what films are coming out next year? I’m not going to have a film. Who’s going to be there next in the marketplace? The only way to ensure this does not become a trend is that it should be commonplace.”

He used saltier language with the New York Times, but still suggested that the different treatment of his newer film is largely a matter of good timing:

Does any part of you feel like it’s overdue?

I mean, look, it’s no secret. 30 years is a long [expletive] time. But I’m not complaining! It’s a joyous day. I’m blessed for this day. Blessed for the recognition. And there’s a feeling that it’s not just the people that worked on this film [that have earned recognition], it’s the people that have been working on my films since 1986.

You’ve made all kinds of films — some independent, some with studios, some that you wrote, some that were written by others — was there anything about “BlacKkKlansman” that you thought had the potential to resonate in a different way?

Well, when Jordan Peele called me up and gave me the pitch “Black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan,” I was intrigued, because with the absurdity of that premise comes humor. Kevin Willmott [a co-writer of the film] and I knew that if we could use the movie to connect the past with the present, we could do something that connected with people. And it was a tough thing to do. But it was successful, and it speaks directly to the world we live in today with this guy in the White House. Today, when 800,000 Americans need a break as we go into another week of this temper tantrum about how this guy wants his money for his wall. A wall he wants to be built upon the border of a country that he says [is home to] rapists, murders and drug dealers. And that they’re gonna pay for! Which is not true.

This film deals directly with the madness and the mayhem of this Looney Tunes, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs world [laughs]. And I feel that many years to come, when historians search for a piece of art that clearly shows what is happening today, “BlacKkKlansman” will be one of the first things they look at. Because this film is on the right side of history.

But if you really want to use Do the Right Thing to understand contemporary film, the best example is this magisterial essay by Wesley Morris, “Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?

From Driving Miss Daisy (which won the Best Picture Oscar the year Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated) to the past year’s Green Book, pictures about race the Academy loves tend to have a common structure, where racism is somehow not enabled by capitalism (and vice versa) but abated by it:

The white characters — the biological ones and somebody supposedly not black enough, like fictional Don — are lonely people in these pay-a-pal movies. The money is ostensibly for legitimate assistance, but it also seems to paper over all that’s potentially fraught about race. The relationship is entirely conscripted as service and bound by capitalism and the fantastically presumptive leap is, The money doesn’t matter because I like working for you. And if you’re the racist in the relationship: I can’t be horrible because we’re friends now. That’s why the hug Sandra Bullock gives Yomi Perry, the actor playing her maid, Maria, at the end of “Crash,” remains the single most disturbing gesture of its kind. It’s not friendship. Friendship is mutual. That hug is cannibalism.

Do the Right Thing blows up that structure, which is why it was so threatening:

Closure is impossible because the blood is too bad, too historically American. Lee had conjured a social environment that’s the opposite of what “The Upside,” “Green Book,” and “Driving Miss Daisy” believe. In one of the very last scenes, after Sal’s place is destroyed, Mookie still demands to be paid. To this day, Sal’s tossing balled-up bills at Mookie, one by one, shocks me. He’s mortally offended. Mookie’s unmoved. They’re at a harsh, anti-romantic impasse. We’d all been reared on racial-reconciliation fantasies. Why can’t Mookie and Sal be friends? The answer’s too long and too raw. Sal can pay Mookie to deliver pizzas ‘til kingdom come. But he could never pay him enough to be his friend.

Roald Dahl: Not Vaccinating Your Kids Is “Almost a Crime”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2019

Roald Dahl’s oldest daughter Olivia died from the measles when she was seven years old. She died because there wasn’t a reliable measles vaccine then, and in this heartfelt letter he wrote years later, Dahl wants everyone to know that there is such a vaccine now.

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

‘Are you feeling all right?’ I asked her.

‘I feel all sleepy,’ she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

I feel so tired when I think about parents not vaccinating their children against easily preventable fatal diseases. It’s child abuse and the kids know better! Here’s a tweet from Erin Faulk sharing some screenshots of teens asking how they can get vaccinated over their parents’ objections.

Teen Vaccine Legal

“Vaccines. And now my kids don’t die.”

The World of Sneaker-Buying Bots

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 25, 2019

Air Jordan XI.jpg

Buying vintage and collectible sneakers online has become so complicated that a secondary industry has sprung up. Programmers create bots to outbid humans at auction. Initially, these were used just to snap up shoes to be sold at a markup on secondary markets. Eventually, though, enterprising botmakers realized they could avoid having to deal with shoes altogether by selling their bots to thirsty sneakerheads directly. At Complex, Tommie Battle breaks it down:

It’s now seen as a must that you need a bot. Copping “manually” is a risky endeavor—a misstep in entering credit card info or your address could mean that the item that was once on its way to being delivered to your door is now swept from under your virtual feet. That very sequence has happened to so many customers at this point that it’s now a part of the release date experience, and there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.

The exclusivity will always be there in the world of streetwear, and it’s quite possible that the exclusivity is what drives brands to stay the course in regards to how they handle not only the availability, but the probability of purchasing their product. After all, the hype doesn’t follow every sneaker. The issue remains that the playing field must be even, especially in the digital realm. The old phrase is that the customer is always right, but what happens if the customer is a mindless bot?

The main question I have is this: what other economies have been disrupted by bots? Presumably, the rest of the collectors’ markets haven’t been untouched by this. The fundamental technologies and principles are basically the same. Entertainment, too, in the form of tickets to events, anything else sold by auction or to the first bidder. But how deep does it go? How far has the rot spread?

Visualizing the Speed of Light

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2019

Light is fast! In a recent series of animations, planetary scientist James O’Donoghue demonstrates just how fast light is…and also how far away even our closest celestial neighbors are. Light, moving at 186,000 mi/sec, can circle the Earth 7.5 times per second and here’s what that looks like:

It can also travel from the surface of the Earth to the surface of the Moon in ~1.3 seconds, like so:

That seems both really fast and not that fast somehow. Now check out light traveling the 34 million miles to Mars in a pokey 3 minutes:

And Mars is close! If O’Donoghue made a real-time animation of light traveling to Pluto, the video would last over 5 hours. The animation for the closest undisputed galaxy, Seque 1, would last 75,000 years and 2.5 million years for the Andromeda galaxy animation. The farthest-known objects from Earth are more than 13 billion light years away. Light is slow!

See also The Leisurely Pace of Light Speed.

How the Relentless Robert Caro “Turns Every Page” in Pursuit of Powerful Prey

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2019

Since 1976, Robert Caro has been writing a multi-volume biography of former US President Lyndon B. Johnson — the first volume is called The Path to Power. In this absolutely fantastic piece he wrote for the latest issue of the New Yorker, Caro details some of his thoughts and strategies about writing and research that have served him well as he’s pursued the topic of power for more than 50 years. Here he writes about what his editor told him at an early stage in his career:

He didn’t look up. After a while, I said tentatively, “Mr. Hathway.” I couldn’t get the “Alan” out. He motioned for me to sit down, and went on reading. Finally, he raised his head. “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could do digging like this,” he said. “From now on, you do investigative work.”

I responded with my usual savoir faire: “But I don’t know anything about investigative reporting.”

Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. “Just remember,” he said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.” He turned to some other papers on his desk, and after a while I got up and left.

“Turn every goddam page.” Caro is a living national treasure and that’s as close to a superhero origin story as you’re going to get in journalism. Over and over, he applied that strategy to his later writing, first in the masterful The Power Broker and then in the pursuit of the truth about LBJ among the boxes and boxes and boxes of papers at the Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.

I had decided that among the boxes in which I would at least glance at every piece of paper would be the ones in Johnson’s general “House Papers” that contained the files from his first years in Congress, since I wanted to be able to paint a picture of what he had been like as a young legislator. And as I was doing this — reading or at least glancing at every letter and memo, turning every page — I began to get a feeling: something in those early years had changed.

For some time after Johnson’s arrival in Congress, in May, 1937, his letters to committee chairmen and other senior congressmen had been in a tone befitting a new congressman with no power — the tone of a junior beseeching a favor from a senior, or asking, perhaps, for a few minutes of his time. But there were also letters and memos in the same boxes from senior congressmen in which they were doing the beseeching, asking for a few minutes of his time. What was the reason for the change? Was there a particular time at which it had occurred?

Caro’s recounting of this tedious research is somehow thrilling, like a slow motion All the President’s Men, Spotlight, or The Post. Set aside some time to read the whole thing…it will be time well spent. I can’t wait for Caro’s Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing to come out in April.

The Evolution of the Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2019

Evolution Alphabet

From Matt Baker of UsefulCharts, this chart traces the evolution of our familiar alphabet from its Proto-Sinaitic roots circa 1850-1550 BC. It’s tough to see how the pictographic forms of the original script evolved into our letters; aside from the T and maybe M & O, there’s little resemblance. Prints are available. (via the morning news)

Update: Baker did a corresponding video on the history of the alphabet that explains where the characters in our familiar Latin alphabet came from.

(via @dokas)

Meet the Yamabushi Monks, Who Commune with Nature to Find Themselves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Mountain Monks is a short film by Fritz Schumann about a group of Japanese monks called the Yamabushi who regularly commune with nature to get in touch with their true selves.

The Yamabushi in northern Japan practice a once forbidden ancient religion. While their tradition is at risk of disappearing, it offers a way for those seeking a different path in Japan’s society.

Walking barefoot through rivers, meditating under waterfalls and spending the nights on mountaintops — that is the way of the Yamabushi. They walk into the forest to die and be born again.

You may remember another short film by Schumann that I posted last year about Hoshi Ryokan, a 1300-year-old family-run hotel in central Japan. (via laughing squid)

A Cyborg Artist Who Feels All of the World’s Earthquakes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Moon Rivas, a cyborg artist, has sensors implanted in her feet that vibrate whenever an earthquake is detected anywhere in the world. A dancer and choreographer, Rivas uses the randomly occurring vibrations to perform dance pieces like “Waiting for Earthquakes”. This video from Quartz gives a good overview of Rivas’ art and process (back when an implant was located in her arm instead of her feet).

CNN and Bloomberg both have recently updated reports on Rivas’ work.

Ribas then transforms that data into dance or music, often incorporating elements of spontaneity and uncertainty. For example, the movements in the dance “Waiting for Earthquakes,” in which the artist stands perfectly still until seismic activity occurs, can take many shapes.

“I’m a dancer and a choreographer, so I wanted to experience movement in a deeper way,” she explains. “Whenever there is an earthquake, I move according to the intensity of the earthquake. It’s a bit like a duet between the earth and myself. Earth is actually the choreographer of the piece and I’m just imitating the data that she gives.”

Her partner Neil Harbisson is also a cyborg. He was born colorblind but is outfitted with an antenna implanted in his head that vibrates when it detects colors. (via @boletrone)

Video: A Meteorite Hit the Moon During the Recent Eclipse!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Something incredible happened during the super blood wolf moon eclipse that took place on Sunday night: a meteorite struck the moon during the eclipse and it was captured on video, the first time this has ever happened.

Jose Maria Madiedo at the University of Huelva in Spain has confirmed that the impact is genuine. For years, he and his colleagues have been hoping to observe a meteorite impact on the moon during a lunar eclipse, but the brightness of these events can make that very difficult — lunar meteorite impacts have been filmed before, but not during an eclipse.

The 4K video of the impact above was taken by amateur astronomer Deep Sky Dude in Texas…he notes the impact happening at 10:41pm CST. I couldn’t find any confirmation on this, but the impact looks bright enough that it may have been visible with the naked eye if you were paying sufficient attention to the right area at the right time.

Phil Plait has a bunch more info on the impact. If the impact site can be accurately determined, NASA will attempt to send the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to get photos of it.

Interestingly, I talked to Noah Petro, Project Scientist for LRO, and he noted that the impact may have created secondary craters, smaller ones made by debris blown out by the main impact. Those will spread out over a larger area, and are easier to spot, so it’s possible that even with a rough location known beforehand the crater can be found. Also, fresh craters look distinct from older ones — they’re brighter, and have a bright fresh splash pattern around them — so once it’s in LRO’s sights it should be relatively easy to spot.

It’s not clear how big the crater will be. I’ve seen some estimates that the rock that hit was probably no more than a dozen kilograms or so, and the crater will be probably 10 meters across. That’s small, but hopefully its freshness will make it stand out.

Universe, a Short Documentary from 1960 that Inspired Kubrick’s 2001

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

In 1960, the National Film Board of Canada released a short documentary called Universe. The film follows the work of astronomer Donald MacRae at an observatory in Ontario, which is accompanied a special effects-heavy tour of the solar system, galaxy, and universe: “a vast, awe-inspiring picture of the universe as it would appear to a voyager through space”. Universe was nominated for an Oscar in 1961 and also caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick, who used it as inspiration for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Stanley had seen the National Film Board movie Universe.” Most of the crew on 2001 were familiar with the Canadian production, made by filmmakers Colin Low and Roman Kroitor, all having seen it at the early stages of 2001’s production, it being “required watching” at the insistence of Kubrick himself, who had seen the documentary “almost 100 times”, “until the sprockets wore out,” 2001 special effects supervisor Con Pedersen remembers.

Kubrick was so taken by the depiction of the celestial objects in the film that he hired the co-director and a special effects technician from Universe to work on 2001. The narrator of Universe, Douglas Rain, also became a integral part of Kubrick’s masterpiece. After ditching the idea that 2001 would be narrated by Rain — “as more film cut together, it became apparent narration was not needed” — Kubrick chose Rain as the now-iconic voice of HAL 9000.

After finally excising the narrator altogether, he simply made Rain the voice of HAL, liking his “bland mid-Atlantic accent”. The decision was entirely Kubrick’s, who had become concerned with the character of the computer. “Kubrick was having,” Rain says, “a problem with the computer. ‘I think I made him too emotional and too human,’ he said. ‘I’m having trouble with what I’ve got in the can. Would you consider doing his voice?’ So we decided on the voice of the computer.”

But back to Universe, which is a marvelous little film (even though it asserts at one point that “it is reasonably certain” that Mars contains vegetation). I love the early sequence of the astronomer setting up his telescope — the way he walks along inside of it and then casually lifts it up into place. It’s really just a bigger version of the small reflector that I have, not any more complicated than a couple of mirrors pointed in the right direction. It’s incredible what we humans have learned about the universe simply by collecting ancient starshine with polished lenses and mirrors. (via clayton cubitt)

AeroMexico Trolls Xenophobic Americans with “DNA Discounts” Commercial

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

This commercial from Mexican airline AeroMexico cleverly reminds some Americans of the melting pot nature of our nation, where even “white” folks living near the border share significant amounts of DNA with those in Mexico. According to this piece in Adweek, the ad features non-actors and their actual DNA test results.

For those wondering how legit the scenarios shown in the ad are, Agost Carreño says it’s all real and that each person featured in the video was a non-actor who did have a 23andMe DNA test done in advance of the reveal.

Update: A possible inspiration for the AeroMexico video is The DNA Journey commercial by travel search engine Momondo:

The folks in that commercial may seem a bit naive about how DNA and ancestry works, but I took the 23andMe DNA test many years ago and was also surprised to find a few significant possible geographic outliers (British/Irish, Dutch) that were not accounted for in the handed-down family genealogy. (via @rudhraigh)

The Layers of Motherhood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

In what she calls a “time-tunnel artwork”, photographer Annie Wang has been taking a periodic photo of herself and her son over the past 18 years, each time with the previous photo in the background.

Different layers of my son and I emerge on the same surface after a lengthy accumulation of detail and texture. Different stages of my son and I are overlaid; and from the different pictures we have created dialogue with each other in this dimension upon compressed dimension. From within these dimensions will emerge a new depiction/visualization of Motherhood.

Here are two consecutive photos in the series from when her son was young.

Annie Wang

Annie Wang

(via swissmiss)

A Brief History of Cheese (aka Immortal Milk)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Featuring the ideas of cheese expert Paul Kindstedt, this TED-Ed video is a quick animated look at the history of cheese and cheesemaking over the last 10000 years.

The best indication of ancient cheese-making lies in pottery fragments that migrating peoples left behind as they moved to new locations. Neolithic peoples sometimes stored cheese and butter in pottery vessels, which left embedded residues of milkfat in the pottery. Even after thousands of years, these ancient milkfat residues can be identified by sophisticated archaeochemical techniques. By following the pottery trail, it is possible to reconstruct the movement of Neolithic cheesemakers out of the Fertile Crescent into northwest Turkey, and then westwards to Europe, where cheese-making evolved into countless new varieties, and eastwards to the Eurasian steppes. With respect to Africa, it is still unclear whether cheese-making arrived from the Fertile Crescent or developed independently there.

Kindstedt is the author of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization and is based at the University of Vermont, not too far from where I live in VT, land of plentiful hyper-local cheeses…the nearest cheese-making dairy is 1/4 mile from my house. Some of Kindstedt’s recent research uses techniques like x-ray diffractometry to study stuff like crystal formation and packing density in cheeses, which takes me back to my research days in college studying the structure of glass. What a fun thing, to discover a whole new vector into cheese appreciation! (via open culture)

Swimming with the Largest Great White Shark in the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Great White Swim

A group of divers with One Ocean Diving recently swam with Deep Blue, a great white shark that is believed to be one of largest on Earth. Deep Blue is a female white shark that’s around 50 years old and 20 feet long.

Great White Swim

“Deep Blue came up and brushed up against the boat, maybe she’s pregnant, maybe she’s itchy?” Ramsey wrote, adding: “She swam away escorted by two rough-toothed dolphins who danced around her.”

Deep Blue is over 50 years old, and was caught on camera five years ago in a video that quickly went viral.

Ramsey said her team had been monitoring tiger sharks feeding when the legendary great white made her surprise appearance. The divers “spent the entire day with her till the sun went down,” Ramsey wrote.

Here’s a video of the group swimming with the shark. I had no idea that you could swim with great whites like that, outside of a cage. Wow.

A Delightfully Fourth-Wall-Breaking “Nancy” Comic from Olivia Jaimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Comics fans and the internet at large have been enchanted by the new author of the classic Nancy comic, Olivia Jaimes. This comic from Sunday shows why:

Nancy Recursive

If you check out the thread for the comic on Twitter, there are several instances of comics that mess with time and space like this, but the final panel by Jaimes is particularly strong. I definitely Laughed Out Loud.

How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 18, 2019

Not all hour-long podcasts are worthwhile, but I found this one by The Atlantic’s Matt Thompson and Alexis Madrigal to be pretty compelling. The subject: how to fix social media, or rather, how to create a variation on social media that allows you to properly pose the question as to whether or not it can be fixed.

For both Matt and Alexis, social media (and in particular, Twitter) is not especially usable or desirable in the form in which it presents itself. Both Matt and Alexis have shaped and truncated their Twitter experience. In Alexis’s case, this means going read-only, not posting tweets any more, and just using Twitter as an algorithmic feed reader by way of Nuzzel, catching the links his friends are discussing, and in some cases, the tweets they’re posting about those links. Matt is doing something slightly different: calling on his friends not to like to retweet his ordinary Twitter posts, but to reply to his tweets in an attempt to start a conversation.

Both Matt and Alexis are, in their own way, trying to inject something of the old spirit of the blogosphere into their social media use. In Alexis’s case, it’s the socially mediated newsreader function. In Matt’s, it’s the comment thread, the great discussions we used to have on blogs like Snarkmarket.

(Full disclosure: I was a longtime commenter on Matt and Robin Sloan’s blog Snarkmarket from 2003 to 2008, until I was elevated into a full third member of the site, where I posted pretty regularly until about 2013, when our blog, like so many others, began to wind down, replaced by both social media and professional news sites. I was also one of the early contributors to Alexis’s Tech section at The Atlantic starting in 2010, which is also held aloft as a blog standard during this podcast. So I have some skin in this game.)

Also worth reading into this discussion: Anil Dash’s 20th anniversary roundtable at Function with Bruce Ableson, Lisa Phillips, and Andrew Smales, which pretty explicitly (and usefully!) constructs the early blogosphere as the precursor to contemporary social media.

It’s easy to look at Twitter and look at Facebook, and look at the things that are happening, and how awful people are to each other, and say: the world would be better off without the internet. And I don’t believe that. I think that there’s still space where people can be good to each other.

So here’s the thing:

  1. The blogosphere was not always better than the contemporary social web;
  2. The blogosphere felt like it was getting better in a way that the contemporary social web does not.

And that turns out to make a huge difference! I mean, in general, the world was sort of a crummy place in the early 2000s. (The late 1990s were actually good.) But on the web side, especially, things in the early 2000s felt like they were getting better. Services were improving, more information was coming online, storage and computing power (both locally and in the cloud) were improving in a way that felt tangible, people were getting more connected, those connections felt more powerful and meaningful. It was the heroic phase of the web, even as it was also the time that decisions were being made that were going to foreclose on a lot of those heroic possibilities.

A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.

I feel like I can speak to this quite personally. Ten years ago, I was just another graduate student in a humanities program stuck with a shitty job market, layered atop what were already difficult career prospects to begin with. The only thing I had going for me that the average literary modernist didn’t was that I was writing for a popular blog with two very talented young journalists who liked to think about the future of media. That pulled me in a definite direction in terms of the kinds of things I wrote about (yes, Walter Benjamin, but also Google Books), and the places where I ended up writing them (Kottke.org, The Atlantic, and eventually Wired). So instead of being an unemployable humanist, I became an underemployed journalist.

At the same time, the blogosphere, while crucial, has only offered so much velocity and so much gravity. By which I mean: it’s only propelled my career so far, and the blogs I’ve written for (Kottke notwithstanding) have only had so much ability to retain me before they’ve changed their business model, changed management, gone out of business, or been quietly abandoned. They’re little asteroids, not planets. Most of the proper publications I’ve written for, even the net-native ones, have been dense enough to hold an atmosphere.

And guess what? So have Twitter and Facebook. Just by enduring, those places have become places for lasting connections and friendships and career opportunities, in a way the blogosphere never was, at least for me. (Maybe this is partly a function of timing, but look: I was there.) And this means that, despite their toxicity, despite their shortcomings, despite all the promises that have gone unfulfilled, Twitter and Facebook have continued to matter in a way that blogs don’t.

For good or for ill, Twitter lets you take the roof off and contact people you’d otherwise never reach. The question, I think, is whether you have to tack that roof back on again in order to get the valuable newsgathering and conversation elements that people once found so compelling about the blogosphere, or whether there’s some other form of modification that can be made to build in proper protections.

The other question is whether there can be anything like a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of social media. I suspect there isn’t, just because people are at different points on their career trajectories, which shapes their needs and wants vis-a-vis social media accordingly. Some of us are still trying to blow up, or (in some cases) remind the world what they liked about us to begin with. Others of us are just trying to do our jobs and get through the day. Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what was it that we wanted from the blogosphere in the first place? Was it a career? Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody? Was it a community? Maybe it began as one thing and turned into another. That’s OK! But I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.

The 1959 Project

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 18, 2019

kind+of+blue.jpg

1969 is getting all the attention right now, as huge historical landmarks celebrate their 50th anniversary. But what about 1959, and all those 60th anniversaries? 1959 was particularly a landmark year for jazz, and it’s those milestones that are celebrated by an amazing blog called The 1959 Project. Helmed by Natalie Weiner, a sportswriter and history-of-jazz superfan, the premise is simple: every day, a snapshot of the world of jazz sixty years ago.

In the 2 1/2 weeks since the site’s been active, it’s already overflowing with musical goodness. I especially love this deep dive on Ahmad Jamal, an artist I didn’t know much about until my 15-year-old son, a hip-hop head, turned me on to him. There’s also plenty of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, as well as vocalists like Muriel Roberts, Dakota Staton, Susan Hayward, and Lorez Alexandria.

It’s already one of the few sites that I read every day, and it only promises to get better as the year goes on.

Steven Adams is the Evolutionary Bill Laimbeer, and I Am Here For It

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 18, 2019

Steven Adams - Draymond Green.jpg

One of the best things about the contemporary NBA is that the league is overflowing with villains, great players that it’s easy to root against. It’s just as easy to love LeBron as to hate LeBron, to love or hate the Warriors, to love or hate James Harden or Kyrie Irving or John Wall. You could heat these guys’ guts, and love their entertainment value as heels at the same time.

One of the very best heels is Oklahoma City center Steven Adams, the New Zealand-born, ponytail-clad, Aquaman-resembling brute who sets screens and clears the boards for Russell Westbrook and Paul George. ESPN gave Adams a mostly sympathetic profile that at the same time made it clear why someone like Draymond Green would want to kick Adams in the nuts.

There’s no “NBA’s Strongest Man” contest where players lift Jumbotrons or heave backboards onto the upper concourse, but among peers and people around the league, Adams is widely considered the NBA’s strongman, a walking concrete wall of power and physicality.

“That guy is the strongest, most physical guy in the league,” says Wizards coach Scott Brooks, who coached Adams for two seasons in OKC.

Says teammate Jerami Grant: “He is for sure, definitely the strongest guy in the NBA.”

In a league trending toward speed, spacing, shooting and slashing, Adams is the counterpoint. Old school. A “throwback,” as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls him.

Adams is a bruising, physical relic of the past, a back-to-the-basket brute who will grind possessions in the post and overpower you to get there.

“That m——-f——- is strong. Like, I’m serious,” Philadelphia 76ers star Jimmy Butler said last season. “He hit me with one screen and I thought my life was over.

“He’s from Krypton or something.”

Wait: why don’t we have strongman competitions duringthe NBA All-Star weekend or something? That would be amazing! I would rather watch that than layup drills or half of the stuff they show. I want to see Marc Gasol and Boogie Cousins throwing barrels at each other.

Gradually, Then Suddenly

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2019

Using one of my recent favorite mental models,1Tim O’Reilly writes about some technology-related changes happening in the world where incremental advances in recent years are set to soon become pervasive.

2) The rest of the world is leapfrogging the US. The volume of mobile payments in China is $13 trillion versus the US’s $50 billion, while credit cards never took hold. Already Zipline’s on-demand drones are delivering 20% of all blood supplies in Rwanda and will be coming soon to other countries (including the US). In each case, the lack of existing infrastructure turned out to be an advantage in adopting a radically new model. Expect to see this pattern recur, as incumbents and old thinking hold back the adoption of new models.

  1. I’ve referenced “gradually, then suddenly” in recent posts about what living in a dictatorship feels like and climate change.

The Case for Impeaching Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

In the cover story for the March 2019 issue of The Atlantic, Yoni Appelbaum clearly and methodically lays out the case that Congress should begin the impeachment process against Donald Trump.

The oath of office is a president’s promise to subordinate his private desires to the public interest, to serve the nation as a whole rather than any faction within it. Trump displays no evidence that he understands these obligations. To the contrary, he has routinely privileged his self-interest above the responsibilities of the presidency. He has failed to disclose or divest himself from his extensive financial interests, instead using the platform of the presidency to promote them. This has encouraged a wide array of actors, domestic and foreign, to seek to influence his decisions by funneling cash to properties such as Mar-a-Lago (the “Winter White House,” as Trump has branded it) and his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Courts are now considering whether some of those payments violate the Constitution.

More troubling still, Trump has demanded that public officials put their loyalty to him ahead of their duty to the public. On his first full day in office, he ordered his press secretary to lie about the size of his inaugural crowd. He never forgave his first attorney general for failing to shut down investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and ultimately forced his resignation. “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Trump told his first FBI director, and then fired him when he refused to pledge it.

Trump has evinced little respect for the rule of law, attempting to have the Department of Justice launch criminal probes into his critics and political adversaries. He has repeatedly attacked both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. His efforts to mislead, impede, and shut down Mueller’s investigation have now led the special counsel to consider whether the president obstructed justice.

Appelbaum’s article has already swayed the impeachment opinions of James Fallows (“this piece…changed my mind”) and Stewart Brand. This short video is a good overview of the piece (which you should read in full anyway):

This, for me, is the critical part of Appelbaum’s argument (emphasis mine):

The fight over whether Trump should be removed from office is already raging, and distorting everything it touches. Activists are radicalizing in opposition to a president they regard as dangerous. Within the government, unelected bureaucrats who believe the president is acting unlawfully are disregarding his orders, or working to subvert his agenda. By denying the debate its proper outlet, Congress has succeeded only in intensifying its pressures. And by declining to tackle the question head-on, it has deprived itself of its primary means of reining in the chief executive.

With a newly seated Democratic majority, the House of Representatives can no longer dodge its constitutional duty. It must immediately open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and bring the debate out of the court of public opinion and into Congress, where it belongs.

Reading this, I was struck by a real sadness. What a massive waste of time the Trump presidency has been. America has urgent challenges to address on behalf of all of its citizens and they’re just not getting much consideration. Instead, we’ve given the attention of the country over to a clown and a charlatan who wants nothing more than for everyone to adore and enrich him. Meanwhile, the US government and a populace bewitched by breaking news is stuck in traffic, gawking at this continually unfolding accident. And we somehow can’t or won’t act to remove him from the most powerful job in the world, this person that not even his supporters would trust to borrow their cars or water their plants while on vacation. What a shame and what a waste.

Menendez Brothers Found Courtside on 1990 Basketball Card

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jan 17, 2019

About 30 years ago, the Menendez brothers of Beverly Hills murdered their parents, collected a hefty life insurance policy, and then went on an 8 month spending spree. The brothers bought cars, watches, opulent vacations, restaurants (what?!), and… courtside tickets to see the Knicks play. Incidentally, a photo of Mark Jackson from that game was used as his 1990 basketball card, and you’ll never guess who was in the background

Mark Jackson 1990 Basketball Card

The guy who found it, Stephen Zerance, isn’t an NBA fan but a fan of true-crime. He’d read in court documents the brothers had bought the tickets and went looking for proof. When archival photo and video searches were fruitless, he thought about basketball cards. After looking on eBay, Zerance found his match and announced it this past August, 29 years after the murders. It’s some sort of real-life Time Travelers in Historic Photos bananas coincidence.

As an aside, I learned while writing this post the Menendez brothers weren’t initially considered suspects and got caught after one of the brothers admitted the murders to his psychologist, who told his mistress (the psychologist’s, not the brother’s), who told the cops. Eventually, the affair between the mistress and the psychologist ended, perhaps on account of the stress related to being an ancillary part of a high profile murder case, and likely badly as evidenced by the fact the mistress attended the Menendez trial as a witness for the defense with the intention of impugning the character of the psychologist. What a ride.

How We Talk About Racism in America is Wrong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

For Vox, Jane Coaston writes about why Republicans took 15 years to act on House member Steve King’s racism. I found her point about how racism has become an insult to be wielded or avoided (depending on your perspective) rather than a useful descriptive term of behavior or views really interesting.

The way we talk about race and racism in the United States is wrong. In short, we think of “racist” as an insult rather than as an adjective. And we have narrowed down the concept of racism to an almost ludicrous extent, in effect often excusing real racism — such as that espoused by people like King — and its impact on nonwhite Americans because it is not literally wearing a hood or setting a cross alight on a lawn.

Later on in the piece, she quotes historian Ibram X. Kendi (who was a frequent guest on the excellent Seeing White podcast series) about this unhelpful shift.

“I think that the way a better part of America defines what a racist is someone who self identifies as a white nationalist or a white supremacist,” said Ibram X. Kendi, a historian at American University and author of Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. “Someone who is in the Ku Klux Klan, someone who says the n-word, someone who engages in racial violence. Anything else, according to them, is not racist.”

We tend to define racism in a way that will not implicate our own views or ideas. “I think people define racism in a way that exonerates them. If they can narrow [the definition of racism] as much as possible to things they are not saying or doing or are about, that leaves them off the hook,” Kendi continued.

In his view, rather than “racist” being “a descriptive term with a clear-cut definition,” we have turned it into a “fixed derogatory putdown,” an insult. He told me that “by conceiving it in this way, we create a culture of denial in which everyone denies being racist but very few people know what a racist is.”

In effect, the term “racist,” which has an actual meaning, has now been turned into a schoolyard insult.

Why Is the Night Sky Dark?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

I love how simple questions can reveal deep truths about how the universe works. Take “why is the night sky dark?” It’s a question a small child might ask but stumped the likes of Newton, Halley, and Kepler and wasn’t really resolved until Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the Big Bang theory rolled around. Here’s the paradox: if we live in a static infinite universe, shouldn’t the sky be unbearably bright?

Distant stars look weak, and very distant stars shine too dimly for you to see with your eyes. But when space telescopes like Hubble peer deep into the darkest spots of sky, they uncover bunches of incredibly faint galaxies. And the deeper they look, the more they find. If the universe went on forever with stars sprinkled evenly throughout — as many early stargazers assumed — the night sky would be full of so many points of light that it would never look dark.

“The fact that the stars are everywhere makes up for the fact that some of the stars are far away,” says Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University. No matter which way you look, in an endless universe your line of sight would always end smack on the surface of a star, and the entire sky would always blaze with the brightness of the sun.

The answer to this paradox is that the universe is both finite & unbounded (per Einstein) and the darkness we see is the Big Bang.

The mystery of the dark sky is solved by the fact that this history has a beginning — a time before stars and galaxies. Many cosmologists think the universe started out as a very small point, and then started inflating like a balloon in an event called the Big Bang. If you look deep enough, you can see so far back in time that you get close to the Big Bang. “You just run out of stars,” Kinney says. “And you run out of stars, in the grand scheme of things, relatively quickly.”

If you’re anything like me, you just had a Little Bang go off in your brain. (via laura olin)

A Stroke Gave This Doctor the Gift of Rhyme

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

The brain is a fascinating organ. If you’re lucky enough to wake up after having a stroke, there’s a chance you might have some new habits or a different personality.

Some patients become hypersexual or compulsive gamblers. Others have even woken up speaking in a fake Chinese accent. “There was a famous guy in Italy who had what they called ‘Pinocchio syndrome,’” said Dr. Alice Flaherty, a joint associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “When he told a lie he would have a seizure. He was crippled as a businessman.”

When he was in his 50s, Beverly Hills doctor Sherman Hershfield suffered a stroke, and in the aftermath he become obsessed with poetry and start speaking in rhyme. That let to an interest in rap music and he started competing at an open mic in South Central LA as Dr. Rapp. He even befriended legendary rapper KRS-One, who shared with Hershfield an interest in how rap music and science converged in the human brain.

During the Q&A, Hershfield grabbed the mic and started to tell his story.

He explained that he was getting his language back together after a stroke by listening to rap records. “One of which was one of my songs,” KRS-One recalled.

Hershfield couldn’t stop himself.

“I started to have a stroke,” he rapped. “Went broke.”

The room fell silent.

“I started to think and speak in rhyme. I can do it all the time. And I want to get to do the rap, and I won’t take any more of this crap.”

The crowd erupted.

When Hershfield rapped about his struggles, not history lessons, he inspired the audience.

“He got a standing ovation,” recalled KRS-One. He gave the doctor his telephone number and suggested they hang out.

(thx, mike)

Massive Naturally Occurring Ice Carousel

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

Spinning disks of ice can form naturally in slow-moving parts of streams and rivers. What happens is a large chunk of ice gets caught in a quiet part of the river and then is spun and shaped into a circle by the nearby current.

In the video above, Tina Radel captured a particularly huge ice circle in the Presumpscot River in Westbrook, Maine…it’s about 100 yards across!

A couple of years ago, a smaller ice circle was observed in Washington and “went viral”:

The Westbrook ice circle isn’t that much smaller than the world’s largest man-made ice circle, which was fashioned in Maine last year and turned into a carousel by attaching several outboard motors to it.

Tiny Paper Crane Masterpieces

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

Check out these elaborate and colorfully decorated origami creations by paper artist Cristian Marianciuc.

Cristian Marianciuc

Cristian Marianciuc

Cristian Marianciuc

To create these intricate artworks, Marianciuc folds traditional origami cranes and then adorns them with hand-cut paper and other materials. Some of his creations are available in his Etsy shop. (via @imperica)

Visualizing Dubious Spelling with Flow Diagrams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

Colin Morris recently analyzed a corpus of comments from Reddit for misspellings by searching for words near uncertainty indicators like “(sp?)”. Among the words that provoked the most doubt were Kaepernick, comradery, adderall, Minaj, seizure, Galifianakis, loogie, and Gyllenhaal. Morris then used a Sankey diagram to visualize how people misspelled “Gyllenhaal” in different ways (with the arrow thickness denoting the frequency of each spelling):

Sankey Chart Gyllenhaal

Tag yourself! (I’m probably on the yellow “LL” arrow.) Sankey diagrams are typically used in science and engineering to visualize flows of energy in and out of a system, but this is a clever adaptation to linguistics (sp?). I’d to see one of these for rhythm. (via @kellianderson)

One Film / One Shot

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

For more than a year now, Jon Lefkovitz has been making short videos of iconic scenes from films backed by the same musical score, a short clip of “Canis Lupus” from Alexandre Desplat’s Fantastic Mr. Fox score. Here’s Groundhog Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park (featuring a great example of the Spielberg Face), and the beautiful 2-minute shot from Big Night:

Each clip is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes 30 seconds long. Here’s the whole playlist.

The Incurable Disease vs the Relentless Couple

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

When Sonia Vallabh lost her mother to a rare disease called fatal familial insomnia, she soon found out that she had inherited the disease, that there was no cure, and that she’d be dead in “a decade or two”. Despite almost no scientific training, Vallabh and her husband both quit their jobs to work on a cure. Talk about going all-in.

Within a few weeks of the diagnosis, Sonia had quit her job to study science full time, continuing classes at MIT during the day and enrolling in a night class in biology at Harvard’s extension school. The pair lived off savings and Eric’s salary. Sonia had expected to take a temporary sabbatical from her real life, but soon textbooks and academic articles weren’t enough. “The practice of science and the classroom version of science are such different animals,” Sonia says. She wanted to try her hand in the lab. She found a position as a technician with a research group focusing on Huntington’s disease. Eric, not wanting to be left behind, quit his job too and offered his data-crunching expertise to a genetics lab. The deeper they dove into science, the more they began to fixate on finding a cure.

They’re now on the brink of getting their Harvard PhDs and are pushing ahead with a promising medical therapy.

As soon as the couple began their presentation, Lander says, there was a sense of “pushing on an open door” — quite a surprise, given the agency’s stodgy reputation. “People still flat-out don’t believe the FDA was cool with it,” Minikel says. Afterward, one of the 25 scientists in the audience pulled Lander aside and said, “That was one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen.” Schreiber agreed. He alluded to a pharmaceutical company he’d helped set up early in his career. “Twenty-four years into that company, there was nothing to show for it. Not one thing,” he says. “For two graduate students who are not trained in science to come in and do what they did? Absolute forces of nature, savants. They keep seeing things that other people don’t see.”

Update: D.T. Max wrote a book on prions and prion-based diseases called The Family That Couldn’t Sleep. I looked in the kottke.org archives and found a 2010 post on a National Geographic article Max wrote about sleep that specifically referenced fatal familial insomnia:

The main symptom of FFI, as the disease is often called, is the inability to sleep. First the ability to nap disappears, then the ability to get a full night’s sleep, until the patient cannot sleep at all. The syndrome usually strikes when the sufferer is in his or her 50s, ordinarily lasts about a year, and, as the name indicates, always ends in death.

(via @mattbucher)

Historic Topographic Maps Pushed Into 3D

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

Scott Reinhard

What really sells it is the shadows cast by the topological part of the map onto the borders; it’s particularly evident in the Teton and Acadia maps. I’d love to see an animated version of the mountains pushing up from the flatness of the map. (via the morning news and several emailers)

Update: FYI, if you want to buy prints of some of these maps, Reinhard has set up a shop selling prints.

The Art of Noticing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

Meet the Black Market Dropgangs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Ok, this is fascinating. In “dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets”, Jonathan Logan shares how vendors on the darknet have evolved in recent years. Instead of relying on markets like Silk Road to connect with customers and the post office to deliver, vendors have brought customer communications in-house and utilize public dead drop locations for delivery, just like espionage organizations.

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side - merchant and customer - employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

Logan expects this type of thing to become more widespread in the near future and it will be difficult to know what effect it will have on society. Maybe one of those effects is that being a corner hopper (like in The Wire) will be more widely available to young people (emphasis mine):

More people will find their livelihoods in taking part in these distribution networks, since required skills and risks are low, while a steady income for the industrious can be expected. Instead of delivering papers, teenagers will service dead drops.

(via @pomeranian99)

“All Truths in Roma Are Revealed by Water”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Yesterday on Twitter, Guillermo del Toro shared “10 personal musings about ROMA”, the film by Alfonso Cuarón that just won best film at the Critics’ Choice awards. It is also a tiny masterclass in how to watch a film.

1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined — momentarily — and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in ROMA are revealed by water.

2) These planes of existence, like the separation within classes in the household cannot be broached. The moments the family comes “closer” are fleeting… “She saved our lives” is promptly followed by “Can you make me a banana shake?”

This bit in particular makes me want to watch the whole thing again:

In every sense, ROMA is a Fresco, a Mural, not a portrait. Not only the way it is lensed but the way it “scrolls” with long lateral dollies. The audio visual information (context, social unrest, factions & politics / morals of the time) exists within the frame to be read.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Roma. It’s still showing in a few theaters but is also available on Netflix.

In a Nutshell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

In a Nutshell is a mesmerizing stop motion animation directed by Fabio Friedli that attempts to sum up the entire world in just five minutes, “from a seed to war, from meat to love, from indifference to apocalypse”. This is very very well done. (via waxy)

Is Eating Organic Food Better for Us? For the Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt asks: “Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam?” Using the results of dozens of studies (their extensive list of sources is here), they examine the evidence that organic food is better for our health and for the environment than food produced by conventional methods (with artificial pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). The result is pretty much a toss-up. Their ultimate conclusion: eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind and buying local food that is in season is a better option than eating organic. (Note: the video and studies they used seem to cover only organic produce and not meat. That comparison might have a different outcome.)

The World’s Fastest Human on a Bike

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

In 1995, Fred Rompelberg set the record for the fastest speed on a bicycle: 167 mph. In September 2018, drafting behind the same custom-made dragster that Rompelberg used to set his record, Denise Mueller-Korenek smashed that record by almost 17 mph.

Mueller-Korenek mounted a specially equipped bike with a massive gear and tethered it to a race car, which then accelerated to 100-plus mph-the velocity necessary for the rider to turn over the cranks on her own volition. Then she unhooked from the car and stayed in the slipstream, smashing the pedals around to hit the highest speed possible under her own power.

Her speed on her final mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats was 183.93 mph. This short film from WSJ shows how Mueller-Korenek became the world’s fastest human on a bike. The salty maelstrom whipped up as she pushed past 180 is incredible. Tough. As. Nails.

The Embroidered Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

Artists Irene Posch & Ebru Kurbak have built The Embroidered Computer, a programmable 8-bit computer made using traditional embroidery techniques and materials.

Embroidered Computer

Embroidered Computer

Solely built from a variety of metal threads, magnetic, glas and metal beads, and being inspired by traditional crafting routines and patterns, the piece questions the appearance of current digital and electronic technologies surrounding us, as well as our interaction with them.

Technically, the piece consists of (textile) relays, similar to early computers before the invention of semiconductors. Visually, the gold materials, here used for their conductive properties, arranged into specific patterns to fulfill electronic functions, dominate the work. Traditionally purely decorative, their pattern here defines they function. They lay bare core digital routines usually hidden in black boxes. Users are invited to interact with the piece in programming the textile to compute for them.

The piece also slyly references the connection between the early history of computing and the textile industry.

When British mathematician Charles Babbage released his plans for the Analytical Engine, widely considered the first modern computer design, fellow mathematician Ada Lovelace is famously quoted as saying that ‘the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.’

The Jacquard loom is often considered a predecessor to the modern computer because it uses a binary system to store information that can be read by the loom and reproduced many times over.

See also Posch’s & Kurbak’s The Knitted Radio, a sweater that functions as an FM radio transmitter.

Say “No” to Crack and Say “Yes” to Roller Skating!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

This gave me a solid laugh this morning: perhaps the most local local commercial I’ve ever seen. Jemele Hill called it “the worst-best commercial I’ve ever seen”.

The ad was filmed by comedy duo Rhett & Link for Roller Kingdom in Reno, NV, so the whole thing is definitely tongue-in-cheek…but still worth watching. (via @jemelehill)

The Colorful 80s Vibe of Blank VHS Tape Cases

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

I don’t know about you, but my house was blanketed with VHS tapes. The tapes were filled with episodes of Star Trek and movies meticulously taped from network TV without commercials — you had a to be a real Johnny-on-the-spot with the pause button or you’d miss a few post-commercial seconds of Chevy Chase’s antics in the G-rated version of National Lampoon’s Vacation. This video is a quick two-minute ode to the colorfully designed cases those tapes were sold in. Total memory bomb seeing these again.

Sunshine Considered Harmful? Perhaps Not.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

For Outside magazine, Rowan Jacobsen talks to scientists whose research suggests that the current guidelines for protecting human skin from exposure to the sun are backwards. Despite the skin cancer risk, we should be getting more sun, not less.

When I spoke with Weller, I made the mistake of characterizing this notion as counterintuitive. “It’s entirely intuitive,” he responded. “Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years. Until the industrial revolution, we lived outside. How did we get through the Neolithic Era without sunscreen? Actually, perfectly well. What’s counterintuitive is that dermatologists run around saying, ‘Don’t go outside, you might die.’”

When you spend much of your day treating patients with terrible melanomas, it’s natural to focus on preventing them, but you need to keep the big picture in mind. Orthopedic surgeons, after all, don’t advise their patients to avoid exercise in order to reduce the risk of knee injuries.

Meanwhile, that big picture just keeps getting more interesting. Vitamin D now looks like the tip of the solar iceberg. Sunlight triggers the release of a number of other important compounds in the body, not only nitric oxide but also serotonin and endorphins. It reduces the risk of prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. It improves circadian rhythms. It reduces inflammation and dampens autoimmune responses. It improves virtually every mental condition you can think of. And it’s free.

These seem like benefits everyone should be able to take advantage of. But not all people process sunlight the same way. And the current U.S. sun-exposure guidelines were written for the whitest people on earth.

Exposure and sunscreen recommendations for people with dark skin may be particularly misleading.

People of color rarely get melanoma. The rate is 26 per 100,000 in Caucasians, 5 per 100,000 in Hispanics, and 1 per 100,000 in African Americans. On the rare occasion when African Americans do get melanoma, it’s particularly lethal — but it’s mostly a kind that occurs on the palms, soles, or under the nails and is not caused by sun exposure.

At the same time, African Americans suffer high rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, internal cancers, and other diseases that seem to improve in the presence of sunlight, of which they may well not be getting enough. Because of their genetically higher levels of melanin, they require more sun exposure to produce compounds like vitamin D, and they are less able to store that vitamin for darker days. They have much to gain from the sun and little to fear.

A Year in Weather

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2019

This is mesmerizing to watch for a few minutes: a time lapse map of weather activity across the entire US in 2018. I was thinking it would be instructive to see this sped up a bit more, that perhaps different patterns might reveal themselves, and then I remembered that you can control the playback speed on YouTube videos…just click the gear icon. I think I like the 2X version better. (via @DesignObserver)

The Self-Domestication of Humans

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2019

In an essay adapted from his forthcoming book, The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution, anthropologist Richard Wrangham says that before humans domesticated dogs, cows, and pigs, we domesticated ourselves.

No other mammal has the brainpower to organize capital punishment. When language became sufficiently sophisticated, our ancestors’ ability to conspire led not only to a more peaceful species but also to a new kind of hierarchy. No longer would human groups be ruled by the physical force of an individual. The emergence of capital punishment meant that henceforth, anyone aspiring to be an alpha couldn’t get away with just being a fighter. He had to be a politician, too.

The result of generations of such selective pressure is that human beings are best understood as an animal species that has been domesticated — like dogs, horses or chickens. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that humans became increasingly docile and less reactively aggressive around the time of becoming Homo sapiens, a process that started about 300,000 years ago.

Markers of domestication show up in the fossil records of domesticated animals and they are present in human fossils too:

Dr. Leach listed four characteristics of the bones of domesticated animals: They mainly have smaller bodies than their wild ancestors; their faces tend to be shorter and don’t project as far forward; the differences between males and females are less highly developed; and they tend to have smaller brain cavities (and thus brains). As it turns out, all of these changes appear in human fossils. Even our brain size fits the pattern: While the human brain grew steadily over the last two million years, that trajectory took a sudden turn about 30,000 years ago, when brains started to become smaller.

The essay is from the WSJ and might be paywalled…here’s an article from Big Think early last year that goes over some of the same material. I couldn’t find a definitive paper that Wrangham has written on the topic…feel free to browse through his published papers on Google Scholar.

Why Video Games Are Made of Tiny Triangles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2019

For Vox, Cleo Abram explains why game designers use triangles when designing 3D animated games (and not, say, circles or rectangles).

Triangles are a key part of how these gorgeous, detailed games appear on your screen — the hidden heroes we should all thank as we play. This simple shape helps keep the number of computations needed for each detail as low as possible, allowing the player’s computer to process these elaborate games.

I like how the arms race among game developers to create more and more realistic objects out of smaller and smaller triangles mirrors the process in differential calculus of finding the slope of a curve by — wait for it — using smaller and smaller triangles. The game designers are going to have a problem truly getting to infinitesimally small triangles though…

The Inverted Grand Canyon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Inverted Grand Canyon

What would the Grand Canyon look like as a Grand Mountain, i.e. if its depth became its height? Not quite as Grand perhaps, but still pretty cool.

Some of my earliest memories of the place had to do with the trippy feeling of my eyes and mind trying to make sense of the scale. I had seen many mountain ranges and vistas, including some on the way, but the vast negative space played havoc with my perception of magnitude. I’ve felt it a few times since, but never like that first Grand Canyon overlook.

I wondered, then, if flipping the Grand Canyon into a Grand Mountain might in some way help me make sense of its scale. I’m much more accustomed to seeing the mass of something rather than the massive void of something. So, here’s what that looks like.

For reference, the depth at the deepest part of the canyon is ~6000 feet and the top of the canyon is between 6000 and 8000 feet above sea level, so the highest point of the Grand Mountains would be somewhere between 12,000 and 14,000 feet, in the ballpark of the Rocky Mountains. It would be fun to see what an inverted Kola Superdeep Borehole would look like: a 9-inch spire rising 40,000 feet into the air from a starting point very close to sea level, more that 10,000 feet higher than Everest.

If you want to dig into the details of how this visualization was made, check out this post on the ArcGIS blog. (thx, john)

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds

I love this photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds on a plume of smoke during its last launch in 2011. We are but infinitesimal specks on a tiny rock orbiting a small star in an ordinary galaxy among trillions in an endless universe. And yet we’ve pushed our way into that vastness, just a little bit. I wonder where we’ll end up?

Mongolian Heavy Metal Band Shreds with Traditional Instruments and Throat Singing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

For years, Mongolian folk metal band The Hu have been honing their distinctive brand of heavy metal, combining the Western musical form with traditional instruments and throat singing. From an NPR piece on the band:

Mongolian rock combines traditional Mongolian instruments, like a horsehead fiddle (morin khuur), Jew’s harp (tumur khuur) and Mongolian guitar (tovshuur) with the pounding bass and drums of rock.

It also involves singing in a guttural way known as throat singing while throwing heads back and forth reminiscent of the headbanging of ’80s heavy metal bands like Metallica. Those who study Mongolian music believe one reason The Hu has proved so popular with outsiders is this combining of modern and historical and Eastern and Western elements.

The group’s music videos take a bit to get going, but once the music starts, it’s pretty cool. (via open culture)

The Flag of the Popular Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Flag Of The Popular Vote

Toph Tucker has designed an algorithmic version of the US flag called the Flag of the Popular Vote, where the size of the stars and stripes are proportional to the current populations of the original 13 colonies (stripes) and current 50 states (stars). There’s also an animated version with tiny new stars appearing when new states are admitted into the union and the stars & stripes shift in size as populations grow. This New Aesthetic flag reminds me a bit of Rem Koolhaas’ proposed EU flag.

Creating Livable City Streets

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

In 1981, a Berkeley urban design professor named Donald Appleyard published a book called Livable Streets (now out of print). In it, he described the results of research he’d done in the late 1960s about the effects of car traffic on the people who live in cities. For the study, he selected three similar residential streets in San Francisco that only differed in the amount of street traffic and then measured how the residents used their streets.

To illustrate his findings, Appleyard used these simple and revealing maps of the data he collected. The first map shows gathering spots on the streets and the friendships made amongst neighbors:

Livable Streets

The second map shows what residents considered their “home territory” on their street:

Livable Streets

What Appleyard found was that the amount of car traffic on the street dictated how friendly neighbors were with each other, how “at home” people felt in their neighborhood, and how familiar they were with their surroundings.

In the late 1960s Appleyard conducted a renowned study on livable streets, comparing three residential streets in San Francisco which on the surface did not differ on much else but their levels of traffic. The 2,000 vehicles per day street was considered Light Street, 8,000 traveled on Medium Street and 16,000 vehicles passing down Heavy Street. His research showed that residents of Light Street had three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on Heavy Street.

Further, as traffic volume increases, the space people considered to be their territory shrank. Appleyard suggested that these results were related, indicating that residents on Heavy Street had less friends and acquaintances precisely because there was less home territory (exchange space) in which to interact socially.

Light Street was a closely knit community. Front steps were used for sitting and chatting, sidewalks for children to play and for adults to stand and pass the time of day, especially around the corner store, and the roadway for children and teenagers to play more active games like football. Moreover, the street was seen as a whole and no part was out of bounds.

Heavy Street, on the other hand, had little or no sidewalk activity and was used solely as a corridor between the sanctuary of individual homes and the outside world. Residents kept very much to themselves, and there was virtually no feeling of community. The difference in the perceptions and experience of children and the elderly across the two streets was especially striking.

Cars separate people from each other and so does traffic. As @wrathofgnon put it:

This was in 1969, and here we are today in 2018 still building these terrible anti-human suburbs and cities. There is no progress, and there certainly is no science, when we ignore basic common sense and even the studies that prove it.

In 1973, just a few years after Appleyard conducted his research, George Lucas’s ode to American car culture, American Graffiti, came out. Even with the gas and oil shortages in the 1970s, the sense of freedom, rebellion, and individualism depicted in American Graffiti and similar films like The French Connection, Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit, and Cannonball Run won out over Appleyard’s attempts to show how cars wrecked the social fabric of cities. It was no contest…Americans love cars.

In a sad twist of fate, Appleyard died relatively young at 54 — he was struck and killed by a speeding car in Athens, Greece in 1982.

Richard Feynman and the Myth of Separating Science from the Scientist

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

In Surely You’re a Creep, Mr. Feynman, science historian Leila McNeill writes about the difficulty in separating science from the behavior of the scientist.

In addition to cataloguing the trespasses of individual scientists who abuse the cultural power of their position, we have to dismantle the structures that have allowed their abuses to continue with little to no disruption. Just for starters, this means abandoning the myth that the science can be separated from the scientist.

The conversation about separating the person from the practice has been slower to surface in science than it has in the literary, film, journalism, and art worlds. It might seem that there is less distance between an artist and the thing they create than for their counterparts in the sciences because art is often positioned as subjective and abstract. It’s easier to draw a clear line from a writer like Junot Diaz who has displayed abusive behaviors to women in real life and his male characters who do the same. Scientists, however, have been framed as objective observers of phenomena while scientific practice itself has been seen as empirical, measureable, stable, and separate. This typical framing disconnects science from the rest of the world, allowing it to be perceived as a disembodied conduit for unadulterated knowledge. But science isn’t just a body of knowledge; it’s an institution and a culture with material connections to a lived-in world. Its practitioners are makers of and participants in that institution and culture.

Americans Greatly Overestimate Racial Economic Equality in Our Country

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

One of the defining features of the United States is a deep and long-lasting economic inequality between white and black people in terms of wages, income, and especially wealth.

Average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for black families. Worse still, median white wealth (wealth for the family in the exact middle of the overall distribution-wealthier than half of all families and less-wealthy than half) is twelve times higher than median black wealth. More than one in four black households have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than one in ten white families without wealth, which explains the large differences in the racial wealth gap at the mean and median. These raw differences persist, and are growing, even after taking age, household structure, education level, income, or occupation into account.

Despite the magnitude and persistence of this inequality, Americans (both black and white) vastly underestimate racial gaps in income and wealth.

For instance, one question in the study asked: “For every $100 earned by an average white family, how much do you think was earned by an average black family in 2013?” The average respondent guessed $85.59, meaning they thought black families make $14.41 less than average white families. The real answer, based on the Current Population Survey, was $57.30, a gap of $42.70. Study participants were off by almost 30 points.

The gap between estimate and reality was largest for a question about household wealth. Participants guessed that the difference between white and black households would be about $100 to $85, when in reality it’s $100 to $5. In other words, study participants were off by almost 80 points. Participants were also overly optimistic about differences in wages and health coverage.

The full paper is here. Closing that gap will be challenging, in part because the often racist mythology around it is persistent. In a report called
What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap, the authors conclude “that the wealth gap is structural in nature, cannot be solved through the individual actions of blacks, and can only be solved through ‘a major redistributive effort or another major public policy intervention to build black American wealth’”.

Barber Shaves Play Button into Man’s Head

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

Technology is so ubiquitous now that bits of our digital interfaces make their way into real life — like people saying “hashtag” in conversation or coding error messages printed onto clothing labels. In a hilarious recent instance of this, a man showed his barber a paused video clip of the haircut he wanted, and the barber obliged, shaving the overlaid play button into the side of the man’s head.

Play Symbol Haircut

I laughed for a solid minute when I first saw this. It’s the literal cake wrecks of haircuts. It’s also an inadvertent example of the flip-flop, Robin Sloan’s term for things moving from the physical world to the digital world and back again. The play button has been used on media players since at least the 60s, made the jump to digital interfaces sometime in the 70s/80s, and has now flipped back to analog on the side of this dude’s head.

Why Snowpiercer Is a Sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

In this video, Luke Palmer makes a surprisingly compelling case that Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is actually a sequel to the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. (Spoilers for both films to follow.) The main idea is that Charlie Bucket inherits the Wonka fortune and grows up to be Wilford, who builds the train to save humanity.

They’re both two movies about groups of people that work their way through a large fantastic structure. One-by-one, a person from the group is removed in each room until one person makes it to the very end, who then found out that the entire thing was a test because a wealthy industrialist needed to find a new successor.

I love this, but I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s a sequel. A reboot maybe or an homage. (via @mulegirl)

Ancient Greek Vase Shaped Like a Lobster Claw

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Greek Claw Vase

Greek Claw Vase

Terracotta vase in the form of a lobster claw from the collection at the Met. Circa 460 BC.

Because so many aspects of Greek life depended on the sea, a vase in the shape of a lobster claw is not surprising. It is, however, exceptional and may be a variant of the askos — a bag-shaped oil container provided with a vertical mouth and strap handle. The Dionysiac iconography of the lobster claw suggests that it was a novelty item used at symposia (drinking parties).

The vase bears an inscription that reads “the boy is fair”.

“The Invisible Helping Hand”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) is a non-profit organization that receives food donations from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers and distributes them to food banks around the nation. As this excerpt from Tim Sullivan and Ray Fisman’s book, The Inner Lives of Markets, tells it, this system was working pretty well but wasn’t as efficient as it could be, resulting in food being wasted and people going hungry.

Food banks might provide feedback on their likes and dislikes, but at its core, the Second Harvest allocation still resembled 1960s-era Chinese central planning (which, free-market economists will note, helped to cause the Great Famine of 1959-61). Second Harvest’s management felt that it was falling short in its efforts to get food banks the donations they most needed. Prendergast gives the example of sending potatoes, unbidden, to a foodbank in Idaho that already had warehouses full. Or delivering milk to a bank that didn’t have the refrigeration capacity to store it and so would end up throwing it away. In fact, Second Harvest would sometimes turn down food donations from giant food companies because they weren’t sure where to send it. Second Harvest was also, at the time, treating different kinds of food as the same — a pound of broccoli was the same as a pound of cereal was the same as a pound of potato chips. When it comes to feeding the poor and hungry, however, not all foodstuffs are of equal value.

So Feeding America asked University of Chicago economist Canice Prendergast to design a market for the donated food, hoping that would make things run more efficiently. After listening to concerns raised by the food banks, particularly from the smaller ones who didn’t want to get out-muscled in the market by the larger banks, they came up with an economy where food banks were given shares to bid on the food they wanted each day.

Crucially, the market was overseen by a “central banker”, so that certain market dynamics didn’t result in a disruption of the ultimate goal of getting the most food to the people that needed it.

Food bank presidents, the market designers discovered, were hoarders of shares. To keep the market from dipping into a deflationary spiral, Prendergast needed to pump extra shares into the market to encourage bidding. There was also the ebb and flow of goods into it to consider. Some days, Kraft might dump half a dozen container — loads of mac and cheese into circulation; other days there’d be none. If everyone used their points to bid on mac and cheese, the prices of, say, potato chips and broccoli would plummet, not because broccoli was suddenly worth less, but because of a temporary surge in the supply of more desirable donations. So extra shares would need to be put into circulation to prop up prices — lest Arnold see last week’s lower price of potato chips and bid too timidly on them, misinterpreting short-run price declines as permanent ones. Similarly, in a dry spell of donations, shares would be withdrawn from the market: Since there was so little to bid on, there would be a run-up in prices unless the number of shares also declined.

As a result of their implementation of an economy, a couple of benefits emerged. First, Feeding America learned which foods were most sought after by banks (i.e. those for which the bidding was highest) and were able to be more aggressive in seeking out donors for them. Second, the amount of total food donations doubled, with about 25% of the increase directly attributable to the market:

As Prendergast reports in an academic paper summarizing the Second Harvest market experiment, the annual supply of food donations increased by 50 million to 100 million pounds as a result. Twelve million pounds can be traced directly to the market itself, in the form of excess donations that flush food banks placed into the market in exchange for shares. That’s 12 million pounds of food that would otherwise have been wasted.

Going Birdwatching in Red Dead Redemption 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Birding in Red Dead Redemption 2

For Audubon, avid birder Nicholas Lund writes about the experience of going birdwatching in the mega-popular Red Dead Redemption 2 game, set in the American West, circa 1899. The attention to detail and the number of species represented is impressive.

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.

The sound design, too, is impressive. The landscape is alive with birdsong, including many species not actually in the game, like Northern Flicker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I was riding through a wooded area one time as dusk turned to night, and whip-poor-wills began singing out all around me.

But the game’s realistic portrayal of wildlife and its exploitation by humans causes Lund to reflect on how much destruction we’ve caused.

The demand for egret plumes for fancy hats was driving several species toward extinction. (Snowy Egret plumes can be sold in-game for $2.50 apiece.) Habitat loss and overhunting contributed to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet soon after the game’s timeframe, in the early 20th century. (Carolina Parakeet flight feathers can be used to make far-flying arrows in the game.) The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades.

Lund’s birding trip reminded me of other non-conventional uses of realistic video games by players: Jim Munroe being a tourist in Grand Theft Auto III and war photographer Ashley Gilbertson sending back photographs from the ultra-violent The Last of Us Remastered.

Blocky Typographic Street Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Pref Art

Pref Art

Pref Art

Pref Art

I love this chunky/wavy typographic street art by Pref. He spoke with Colossal back in May about his art.

“Since then I have pushed and experimented with this idea of overlapping words, seeing how many I can fit into the space of one word, and then slowly boiling it down and simplifying this idea to become more legible,” he tells Colossal. “This in turn lead more to the use of ‘typography’ throughout my style as you see today. I have always been interested in the idea of graffiti speaking to the general public, rather than just other graffiti writers, and readable letters or a more ‘typographic’ approach has been a good route to that.”

Our Unbounded Finite Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the universe could be both finite and infinite at the same time (or something like that *takes bong rip*), but this passage from Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris succinctly explains what’s going on:

General relativity resolved the matter by establishing that the universe could be both finite — i.e., could contain a finite number of stars in a finite volume of space — and unbounded. The key to this realization lay in Einstein’s demonstration that, since matter warps space, the sum total of the mass in all the galaxies might be sufficient to wrap space around themselves. The result would be a closed, four-dimensionally spherical cosmos, in which any observer, anywhere in the universe, would see galaxies stretching deep into space in every direction, and would conclude, correctly, that there is no end to space. Yet the amount of space in a closed universe would nonetheless be finite: An adventurer with time to spare could eventually visit every galaxy, yet would never reach an edge of space. Just as the surface of the earth is finite but unbounded in two dimensions (we can wander wherever we like, and will not fall off the edge of the earth) so a closed four-dimensional universe is finite but unbounded to us who observe it in three dimensions.

In the terms of Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, we are Flatlanders living in a Lineland world who, with the aid of mathematics, have been able to peer into Spaceland.

AI Algorithm Can Detect Alzheimer’s Earlier Than Doctors

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

A machine learning algorithm programmed by Dr. Jae Ho Sohn can look at PET scans of human brains and spot indicators of Alzheimer’s disease with a high level of accuracy an average of 6 years before the patients would receive a final clinical diagnosis from a doctor.

To train the algorithm, Sohn fed it images from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a massive public dataset of PET scans from patients who were eventually diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment or no disorder. Eventually, the algorithm began to learn on its own which features are important for predicting the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and which are not.

Once the algorithm was trained on 1,921 scans, the scientists tested it on two novel datasets to evaluate its performance. The first were 188 images that came from the same ADNI database but had not been presented to the algorithm yet. The second was an entirely novel set of scans from 40 patients who had presented to the UCSF Memory and Aging Center with possible cognitive impairment.

The algorithm performed with flying colors. It correctly identified 92 percent of patients who developed Alzheimer’s disease in the first test set and 98 percent in the second test set. What’s more, it made these correct predictions on average 75.8 months — a little more than six years — before the patient received their final diagnosis.

This is the stuff where AI is going to be totally useful…provided the programs aren’t cheating somehow.

How Language Shapes the Way We Think

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

At the TEDWomen 2017 conference, cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky gave a talk on how different languages affect how their speakers think about the world. It ended up being the most viewed online TED Talk in 2018. Boroditsky’s first example of how language shapes thought is the directional thinking of the Kuuk Thaayorre people of Australia.

I’ll start with an example from an Aboriginal community in Australia that I had the chance to work with. These are the Kuuk Thaayorre people. They live in Pormpuraaw at the very west edge of Cape York. What’s cool about Kuuk Thaayorre is, in Kuuk Thaayorre, they don’t use words like “left” and “right,” and instead, everything is in cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. You would say something like, “Oh, there’s an ant on your southwest leg.” Or, “Move your cup to the north-northeast a little bit.” In fact, the way that you say “hello” in Kuuk Thaayorre is you say, “Which way are you going?” And the answer should be, “North-northeast in the far distance. How about you?”

So imagine as you’re walking around your day, every person you greet, you have to report your heading direction.

The Sewage Diver

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

In this artfully made short film by Esteban Arrangoiz, we meet Julio César Cú Cámara, “a man who has found long lasting contentment in a dirty job: diving into the sewers and water treatment plants of Mexico City to clear blockages and reduce the risk of floods”.

As Arrangoiz writes, “Mexico is undergoing multiple crises: humanitarian, corruption, garbage. This film shows us how through his work, a human being is capable of finding beauty, pleasure and the essence of his humanity inside the detritus. This moves me, gives me hope and compels me to make movies. I think Mexico needs stories like these.”

As he’s diving, Cámara narrates his experience:

I imagine here feels like being in outer space. I feel alone in space, just like I’m alone at the bottom of the sump, under the sewage waters. And I feel good. I feel the pressure of the water. I feel like it’s embracing me. I feel like the water is holding me. The water is protecting me, a little. And I don’t want to stop feeling this.

The opening sequence, of Cámara in his diving suit being lowered into a sewage reservoir, is amazing, like something out of a 70s sci-fi film.

Update: From Edible Geography, a transcript of a talk by Cámara as well as some Q&A with the audience.

I’m fascinated by the job that I do. Even though not many people see it or know about it, I believe we do a very important job for all of us. Sometimes you can’t stop the pumping plant or you can’t dig up the street and get to the sewage pipes from the surface. That’s when we come in. It’s a very satisfying job. I like knowing that I am part of a system working to help keep the city safe.

The Beastie Boys Rap “Cooky Puss” in 1983

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

Before they hit it big with Licensed to Ill in 1986, the Beastie Boys were a punk rock quartet experimenting with rap. In this footage from 1983, the band performs their very first hit song, Cooky Puss, at The Kitchen in NYC. They all look so impossibly young (Ad-Rock is only 17) and sound really uneven, like they’re performing in a high school talent show.

Here’s the full set they played that night; the band sounds a lot more confident playing their punk/rock repertoire (which included “Cum On Feel the Noize”):

It’s amazing that this footage exists. You can literally see the changeover in the group’s focus from the musical genre of their youth (which was on the wane a bit) to something newer (rap), weirder (fratty white-boy rap), and eventually unique and amazing (Paul’s Boutique).

Compare with a 17-year-old LL Cool J playing to an audience of ~120 people in a small-town Maine gymnasium and a 17-year-old Notorious BIG freestyling on a street corner in Bed-Stuy. (via open culture)

The Healthiest Vegetables, Ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

MEL Magazine’s Ian Lecklitner talked to clinical nutritionist David Friedman (author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction) about which vegetables Friedman thinks are the healthiest. Happy to see that asparagus is #1:

“This tasty green stalk comes in first place on my vegetable ranking,” Friedman says. “Asparagus is a great source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and building strong bones.” Friedman also mentions that asparagus provides vitamin A (which prevents heart disease), vitamin C (which supports the immune system), vitamin E (which acts as an antioxidant) and vitamin B6 (which, like vitamin A, also prevents heart disease).

Asparagus is also loaded with minerals, including iron (which supports oxygen-carrying red blood cells), copper (which improves energy production) and calcium (which improves bone health). “Asparagus increases your energy levels, protects your skin from sun damage and helps with weight loss,” Friedman continues. “It’s also an excellent source of inulin, a type of carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic, supporting the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the colon.”

Personal faves brussels sprouts, beets, and broccoli also rank pretty high.

Styrofoam

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

In this lovely short film by Noah Sheldon, we meet Wo Guo Jie, a migrant worker from rural China who makes a living in Shanghai collecting styrofoam boxes and reselling them at a wholesale fish market. Even though styrofoam is a relatively light material, she packs so much of it onto her bike that the front wheel bounces off the ground as she motors slowly down the street, unable to see anything but what’s right in front of her.

My hometown is all farmland, there are no factories. During the winter there is nothing to do so people work elsewhere. Now everyone has left to go find work. No one farms anymore. It’s rare for me to get a chance to go home. Sometimes I don’t even go back once a year. When my son was younger, around 7 or 8 years old, I came home and he refused to call me ‘Mom’. He didn’t recognize me because I hadn’t been home for 3 years. I take each day as it comes. I haven’t thought too much about the future.

(via @rmpenguino)

Unlocking the Commons and Collective Micropatronage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

For NiemanLab’s annual Predictions for Journalism package, Tim Carmody revisited his take on how kottke.org’s membership program works and what that could mean for independent media.

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

Anyways. This is a prediction for 2019 and beyond: The most powerful and interesting media model will remain raising money from members who don’t just permit but insist that the product be given away for free. The value comes not just what they’re buying, but who they’re buying it from and who gets to enjoy it.

If you’d like to help support independent media and keep access to kottke.org open and free, you can join the membership program.

And as always, a huge thank you to all of you who have already contributed. As I wrote in an update back in November 2017, I’m not sure the site would even be here without your support:

While I didn’t know it at the time, your support saved kottke.org. This is not even hyperbole. As I hinted at in the announcement post, the industry-wide drop in revenue from display advertising was beginning to affect kottke.org and just a few months later, the site’s largest source of revenue (ads via The Deck) went from “hey, I can make a living at this!” to zero. … But over the course of the past year, hundreds and then thousands of you became members, exceeding even my loftiest expectations. Membership is now the primary source of revenue for kottke.org.

“Women’s Work” and Other Art by Clare Kirkconnell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

Clare Kirkconnell

Clare Kirkconnell

Clare Kirkconnell

Next week at the Berggruen Gallery in SF, Clare Kirkconnell’s show “Women’s Work” opens and will be on view until Feb 16. (The top and bottom pieces are from “Women’s Work”…the one in the middle is an older piece.) (via @thoughtbrain)

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Recorder Movie

In 1979, a woman named Marion Stokes started recording live television and didn’t stop for more than 33 years. Director Matt Wolf is making a movie about Stokes and her archive.

Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, and commercials that tell us who we were, and show how television shaped the world of today.

The Internet Archive is supposedly archiving them and putting them online (so says this 2013 Fast Company article) but there’s no evidence that any of the videos are live on the site. (Rights issues? Budget?) In the meantime, you can check out this Tumblr has a collection of stills from the Stokes tapes.

A Short History of the US Economy 1945-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Morgan Housel, an economics writer and venture capitalist, recently took a crack at summing up (in just 5000 words) what happened to the U.S. economy since the end of World War II. Even if you disagree with it (or parts of it), the whole thing is worth a read. I think this captures a large part of the main point:

Everything in finance is data within the context of expectations. One of the biggest shifts of the last century happened when the economic winds began blowing in a different, uneven direction, but people’s expectations were still rooted in a post-war culture of equality. Not necessarily equality of income, although there was that. But equality in lifestyle and consumption expectations; the idea that someone earning a 50th percentile income shouldn’t live a life dramatically different than someone in the 80th or 90th percentile. And that someone in the 99th percentile lived a better life, but still a life that someone in the 50th percentile could comprehend. That’s how America worked for most of the 1945-1980 period. It doesn’t matter whether you think that’s morally right or wrong. It just matters that it happened.

Expectations always move slower than facts. And the economic facts of the years between the early 1970s through the early 2000s were that growth continued, but became more uneven, yet people’s expectations of how their lifestyle should compare to their peers did not change.

Along with this:

The biggest difference between the economy of the 1945-1973 period and that of the 1982-2000 period was that the same amount of growth found its way into totally different pockets.

This reminded me of Matthew Stewart’s piece from The Atlantic that I read when it came out but never blogged about: The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy.

When it comes to the division of wealth, many Americans believe that the country is split between the 1%, which possesses a significant share of the country’s money, and the 99%, or “the people.” In reality, The Atlantic writer Matthew Stewart argues, 9.9% of the population comprises America’s new aristocracy, which often “takes wealth out of productive activities and invests it in walls.” But this group of people is rich in more than mere money, and its constancy poses an insidious threat to the promise of American democracy.

The related video is a good 3-minute summary of Stewart’s piece.

A List of the 100 Most Important Technologies Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

From Paleofuture, “Technology, Ranked”, a list of the 100 most important technologies ever invented by humans. Among the items on the list (one of which is the top pick) are the fork, the electric guitar, cotton gin, nuclear weapons, anesthesia, GPS, Prozac, and the wheel. Fire is #2:

Ancient peoples harnessed fire in ways that allowed them to control their environment. For example, aboriginal Australians were able to keep bushfires under control by shaping and manipulating what they destroyed-reinvigorating the land and limiting the number of fires that had the potential to get out of control.

It’s fire. It’s kinda important.

A Metalsmith Makes a Puzzle Box From Scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Over the course of two years, metalsmith Seth Gould built a project he calls Coffer, a gorgeous wrought iron puzzle box. Gould made the box from scratch — he forged the metal, machined the bolts, everything!

The majority of pieces, including the bolts, levers, and staples, are made from wrought iron, a material I use primarily for its working properties (enjoyable to forge and file). Wrought iron is no longer manufactured, so each piece needed to be forged from salvaged material. The forging is done using a coal forge, hammer, anvil, and power hammer. Once the pieces are forged as close to their finished shape as possible, I move to the bench to refine the surface and shape with a file. The final touch is a bit of file embellishment.

I mean, look at this intricate deliciousness:

Metal Puzzle Box

The video above is a short film of Gould making his box filmed by Jesse Beecher. The soundtrack cleverly incorporates the sounds of the workshop (sawing, hammering, flames) into the music, resulting in a particularly artful making-of film. (via colossal)

Update: The box made by Gould is called an armada box.

An iron-bound strongbox for storing valuables in the 16th and 17th centuries, often with a large, complicated lock on the underside of the lid. Some were for the use of officers at sea, and would have been bolted to the deck of the owner’s cabin. Usually of German make, the chests could be anything from a few inches to 6ft (1.8m) long. The name itself was a fanciful Victorian invention recalling chests imagined to be used by the Spanish Armada.

Which Countries Have Been Top of Mind in the US Over the Past Century?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

The Pudding analyzed over 740,000 headlines from the NY Times since 1900 to determine which country the US was most interested in for each month and turned the analysis into a handy visualization.

Us Headline Preoccupation

As you can see, Britain was mostly the center of attention before WWII, Russia during the Cold War, and China since the mid-2000s. But other countries are liberally sprinkled in and wars are quite visible — WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq are all represented by solid blocks of interest in our “enemies”.

The “Beastie Boys Book” Audiobook Is a Star-Studded Mixtape

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

Beastie Boys Book

I am only a casual Beastie Boys fan, but I’ve been hearing nothing but really good things about their goofball memoir, Beastie Boys Book.

With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.

The boys also went all-out on the audiobook edition, a 13-hour version of the book that’s as much a mixtape as an audiobook from an all-star cast of more than three dozen readers, including Beasties Mike D and Ad-Rock as well as Steve Buscemi, Elvis Costello, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell, Kim Gordon, LL Cool J, Spike Jonze, Pat Kiernan, Talib Kweli, Bette Midler, Nas, Rosie Perez, Amy Poehler, and many more.

There are a pair of excerpts on Soundcloud, the first from the book’s introduction by Ad-Rock and the second from Mike D:

Ok well, I’m totally hooked.

Large Sound Sculptures Made From Simple Objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

Swiss artist Zimoun makes large-scale sound sculptures out of simple materials like cardboard boxes, wires, washers, tiny motors, and sticks of wood. Here are a few of his works (sound on, obviously):

I would love to see one of these installations in person sometime.

A Velocity of Being

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

Velocity Of Being

Edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick, A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader is a collection of letters written to young people by dozens of noted cultural figures that “reflect on the joys of reading, how books broaden and deepen human experience, and the ways in which the written word has formed their own character”. Each letter is accompanied by an original illustration from a visual artist (that’s Maira Kalman above).

Among the diverse contributions are letters from Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, Jerome Bruner, Shonda Rhimes, Ursula K. Le Guin, Yo-Yo Ma, Judy Blume, Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Jacqueline Woodson, as well as a ninety-eight-year-old Holocaust survivor, a pioneering oceanographer, and Italy’s first woman in space. Some of the illustrators, cartoonists, and graphic designers involved are Marianne Dubuc, Sean Qualls, Oliver Jeffers, Maira Kalman, Mo Willems, Isabelle Arsenault, Chris Ware, Liniers, Shaun Tan, Tomi Ungerer, and Art Spiegelman.

All the writers and artists donated their time & energy to the project and all profits will go to the New York Public Library.

The Best of My Media Diet for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 01, 2019

2018 Bestnine

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts. In this post, I’m gonna share some of the very best of that content, stuff that stuck with me in one way or another. I marked my absolute favorites with a (*). (Above, my #bestnine Instagram images of 2018.)

Books. I made an effort to read more books this year, particularly those written by women. Hope to continue both of those trends in 2019.

After years of reading the entire Harry Potter series with my kids, we spent several months reading Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I was unsure whether they would be into it, but they’d routinely ask for some extra reading time before bed.*

Charles Mann is one of the best nonfiction authors out there, a master of combining culture, history, and science into compelling stories. The Wizard and the Prophet is his latest book and I recommend you read it.*

Normally I shy away from terms like “must-read” or “important” when talking about books, but I’m making an exception for this one. The Wizard and the Prophet is an important book, and I urge you to read it. (The chapter on climate change, including its fascinating history, is alone worth the effort.)

(The theme of the book also popped up in Avengers: Infinity War.)

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin. I will always be a total space nerd and this is a great history of the Apollo program.

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. Lots for me to chew on in this one, not least of which is the value of a non-traditional childhood.

I listened to the audiobook version of Kitchen Confidential read by Anthony Bourdain. This book is 18 years old but aside from some details, it felt as immediate and vital as when it came out. What a unique spirit we lost this year.

Circe by Madeline Miller. A fun and engrossing “sequel” to The Odyssey.

In response to this post about They Shall Not Grow Old by Tim Carmody, Stephan Pimpare wrote: “Howard Zinn is derided for a sometimes simplistic and sloppy history, but his singular contribution was a kind of historical Rashomon — the urgent lesson that the shape of all histories can and should be inverted.” Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an inversion of sorts of the traditional history of Silicon Valley.

Movies. Geography has hindered my movie choices since moving to Vermont, and I haven’t seen many of the movies on everyone else’s best of lists. But my movie-viewing has also been less adventurous this year; I’ve preferred less challenging fare after long work days.

Somehow, Black Panther came out this year? It seems like it’s always been with us. BP is the 2018 movie I’d most like to erase from my memory so I could watch it again for the first time. (Honorable mention to Avengers: Infinity War.)

Isle of Dogs. The cinematography and production design of this were just so good. I left the theater wanting to make great things.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I waited to see this one at home because I didn’t want to be caught sobbing in public.

Even in the age of Netflix, going to the theater can still be a lot of fun. I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night with a bunch of Queen fans and they made the theater shake with their singing, clapping, and stomping.

Three Identical Strangers. A fascinating documentary about nature vs nurture.

TV. I watched a lot of TV this year, perhaps too much. But not a whole lot of it ended up being that substantial…I saw nothing this year as good as Planet Earth II, Blue Planet II, or The Vietnam War. Maybe I should watch a little less next year?

The Americans. An excellent final season and a very strong and heartbreaking last episode.*

My Brilliant Friend. I spent the first 3-4 episodes disappointed that it wasn’t the books, but by the end, I was ready for a second season. The two lead actresses were excellent, particularly Margherita Mazzucco as Elena Greco.

The Handmaid’s Tale. Many people felt this stumbled this season, but I was not one of them.

Music. Not a musical year for me. The only thing I would single out is Kendrick Lamar’s album for Black Panther.

Podcasts. I like listening to podcasts with discrete seasons or topics these days…so not a lot of Reply All or Radiolab but more like the following…

Seeing White. Recommended by a reader, this 14-part series on race and whiteness is essential listening.*

Slow Burn. Two seasons, one on Watergate and the other on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Both excellent.*

Caliphate. Upsetting and important. This is a look at ISIS you don’t get on cable.*

Experiences & misc. Most of my favorite stuff falls into this category this year.

An Incomplete History of Protest. This exhibition at the Whitney was up for a long while, so I got to see it a few times.

Alto’s Odyssey. Perhaps one of my all-time favorite games. Several months ago, I made it up to #2 on the global high score list. I deleted it from my phone last week because I was playing it too much.*

Kennedy Space Center. Hoping to go back for a launch sometime soon!*

Lots of things about Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, my breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi, and having dinner on a tiny street of tiny businesses, loosely joined.*

While I waited for my food, I noticed an order of köfte going out of the kitchen…to a diner at the restaurant across the street. When he was finished, the staff at that place bussed the dishes back across the way. Meanwhile, my meal arrived and the köfte were flavorful and tender and juicy, exactly what I wanted…no wonder the place across the street had outsourced their meatballs to this place. I’d noticed the owner, the waiter, and the cook drinking tea, so after I finished, I asked if I could get a tea. The owner nodded and started yelling to a guy at the tea place two door down. A few minutes later, a man bearing a tray with four glasses of tea arrived, dropping one at my table and the other three for the staff.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. What Chrysanthe said.

Electricity. Ok, let me explain. I live in a rural area and work from home so when it’s really windy or there’s an ice storm, the power goes out. Sometimes it’s out for an hour or two, sometimes longer. It would be quaint if I didn’t have stuff to do. When electricity isn’t the default, you come to appreciate it a lot more.

The Deutsches Technikmuseum. Science and technology museum in Berlin. Along with the Topographie Des Terrors, this was my favorite thing from my stay in Berlin.

Foggy hikes. I’d never hiked in the fog before and now I think I might prefer it to sunny days?*

My new electric toothbrush. I’ve had it for months now and I still look forward to brushing with it. My mouth and teeth feel so much cleaner.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. After spending so much time in the Wizarding World on the pages of books and on movie screens, it was a complete trip to wander around Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the rest.*

Solo roadtrips across the United States. Probably my favorite thing of the year. Can’t wait to do this again, perhaps in the American Southwest.*

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. Watching those two boosters land back on the surface at almost the same time was mind-blowing.

Sleep. Getting at least 7 (and often 8+) hours of sleep every night has transformed my life. This is even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation.

Goodthreads t-shirt. I’m heading into uniform territory and having plain white t-shirts that fit me perfectly is essential.

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