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Entries for February 2019 (Archives)

 

Steven Soderbergh’s Theories on the History and Future of Movies

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

Soderbergh - iPhone.jpg

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh had a very interesting interview with The Atlantic’s David Sims. Here are some excerpts.

The first (and maybe the juiciest) is on how September 11 changed the genre palate of the movie industry.

Sims: Most of the studio movies you made were in the the mid-budget tier that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. What happened to it?

Soderbergh: Look, I have a lot of crackpot theories about how moviegoing has changed and why.

Sims: I would like to hear your crackpot theories.

Soderbergh: One of the most extreme is, I really feel that why people go to the movies has changed since 9/11. My feeling is that what people want when they go to a movie shifted more toward escapist fare. And as a result, most of the more “serious” adult fare, what I would pejoratively refer to as “Oscar bait,” all gets pushed into October, November, December.

Sims: And people have become conditioned, in the fall, to go and see a couple of serious movies.

Soderbergh: Put on a heavy coat and go see something serious. What that creates is what you see now, which is this weird dichotomy of fantasy spectacle; low-budget genre, whether it’s horror or comedy; and the year-end awards movies. I guess that’s a trichotomy.

Sims: From January to March, you can have some cheap fun, then in March, here we go …

Soderbergh: The big shit’s coming.

The second (and maybe the most interesting) is how partnering with distributors like Amazon and Netflix might create different markets for different kinds of movies.

Sims: You tried [a simultaneous in-theaters and home release] with Bubble in 2005, back before anyone thought that was a thing you could do. You tried it with The Girlfriend Experience in 2009. Were you just inventing the wheel before there was a car to put it on? What’s changed in the past 15 years?

Soderbergh: Well, I ran into the problem that all platforms are having, which is that the big chains don’t want to engage with this. I know [the National Association of Theatre Owners president,] John Fithian well, and have had a lot of interaction with NATO, and I am sympathetic to this issue. What I don’t understand is why everyone in this business thinks there is one template that is gonna be the unified field theory of “windowing” [or how long a movie screens in theaters]. The minute that I knew, which is usually around Friday at noon, that Logan Lucky wasn’t going to work and that Unsane was definitely not gonna work—as soon as that happens, the studio should let me drop the movie on a platform the next week. There should be a mechanism for when something dies at the box office like that.

Sims: A backup option of, You know what, if it doesn’t hit this number on opening weekend, then release it online.

Soderbergh: I think in abject failures, they should let you do whatever the hell you want. If Unsane drops and doesn’t perform, who’s harmed exactly by me 10 days later putting this thing on a platform? You can’t prove to me that that’s hurting your business.

And last, and the most concise, is on how Soderbergh would change the Oscars if he were in charge.

Sims: What do you think of the Oscars potentially excluding some categories from being televised live?

Soderbergh: There was some discussion for a minute about the Oscars doing what the Emmys do—having two ceremonies. Everybody shouted that down and said they would be creating two tiers. What I wanted to do was produce that show: We’ll go back to the Roosevelt Hotel, every nominee can bring a plus-one, and that’s it. Super intimate, food, drink, all that, you can get up there and talk all you want. It’s not televised. It’s a private event for the nominees and their significant others. Make it fun and cool. ‘Cause here’s the dirty secret: Going to the big thing is not fun. It’s more fun to watch on TV. The trick would be doing something super cool and small.

I also think it’s both interesting and cool that Soderbergh is shooting video using an iPhone now. The small size, he argues, is actually an advantage. As he tells Sims, “The more things you can eliminate that actors have to ignore, the better.”

What Is It Like To Turn On A Light?

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

So I am something of a philosophy nerd, with a particular affection for late 19th/early 20th century European philosophers, who had a lamentable habit of either turning out to be Nazis or becoming victims of the Nazis. One important strand of this Nazi/Nazi-victim movement in European thought is phenomenology, which tried to describe in painful detail and using all-original categories what the experience of everyday life for both persons and things was like. As it happened, the experience of everyday life was in deep flux at this time, so a lot of their categories/arguments/distinctions turn out to actually capture that historical moment particularly well, which is not at all what they thought they were trying to do.

If you want to try out a light version of phenomenology, applied to both that historical moment and our own, you could do a lot worse than reading Dan Hill’s essay “Let There Be Light Switches: From Dark Living Rooms To Dark Ecology.” Hill takes something extremely ordinary—the experience of looking for, finding, and flipping a light switch—and finds the philosophy in it:

Pallasmaa, in his The Eyes of the Skin, noted that touch is a key part of remembering and understanding, that “tactile sense connects us with time and tradition: through impressions of touch we shake the hands of countless generations”. Is this reach for the switch merely functional, then? A light switch can stick around for decades, as with the doorhandle. When you touch the switch, you are subconsciously sensing the presence of others who have done so before you, and all those yet to do so. You are also directly touching infrastructure, the network of cables twisting out from our houses, from the writhing wires under our fingertips to the thicker fibres of cables, like limbs wrapped around each other, out into the countryside, into the National Grid.

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others.

This is… not easy to read. But there’s a lot going on here! I particularly like the invocation of Martin “I Was, Like, Extra-Nazi” Heidegger’s useful distinction between “zuhanden” (to-hand? at-hand?) and “vorhanden” (something like “present-at-hand”? Oh, German is impossible!) to describe categories of objects.

Or, hey; how about this: when it’s “zuhanden,” it’s a thing, and when it’s “vorhanden,” it’s an object.

Heidegger’s word for how light switches seem to peer out at you like minor characters in an Expressionist painting is vorhanden, which means present-at-hand. Normally things kind of disappear as you concentrate on your tasks. The light switch is just part of your daily routine, you flick it on, you want to boil the kettle for some coffee—you are stumbling around, in other words, stumbling around your kitchen in the early morning light of truthiness. (From Being Ecological, Timothy Morton)

That thing when things “disappear” is zuhanden; they just kind of melt into the environment, and so do you, just a being among beings, all working together. The ultimate expression of zuhanden is “flow,” which Heidegger and Csikszentmihalyi both ripped off from Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, with Levin mowing the hay with his peasants:

He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.

Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky in the interval for whetting the scythes. A heavy, lowering storm cloud had blown up, and big raindrops were falling. Some of the peasants went to their coats and put them on; others—just like Levin himself—merely shrugged their shoulders, enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.

Another row, and yet another row, followed—long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all easy to him, and at those same moments his row was almost as smooth and well cut as Tit’s. But so soon as he recollected what he was doing, and began trying to do better, he was at once conscious of all the difficulty of his task, and the row was badly mown.

On finishing yet another row he would have gone back to the top of the meadow again to begin the next, but Tit stopped, and going up to the old man said something in a low voice to him. They both looked at the sun. “What are they talking about, and why doesn’t he go back?” thought Levin, not guessing that the peasants had been mowing no less than four hours without stopping, and it was time for their lunch.

“Lunch, sir,” said the old man.

So we’ve had light switches long enough that they pass into our ordinary, everyday zuhanden state (or its extraordinary flow variation), except when we stumble over them and have to think about them, like these newfangled smart lights and voice switches. This means these everyday things are becoming objects again, until we can incorporate them into a new paradigm.

The light switch when jetlagged is vorhanden — suddenly present-at-hand, “oppressively obvious” —where usually its everyday resilience means it is zuhanden, simply ready-at-hand, normalised, routine. When “stumbling around”, he notes that we don’t pay attention to the object itself — here, the irreducible thing that is the light switch —and so nor do we stand any chance of paying attention to the broader systems of living, of infrastructure, that it is connected to, and part of - and, for Morton, our understanding of mass extinction due to climate change. And given Pallasmaa’s fundamental emphasis on touch as understanding, in order to truly sense and interact, this deleterious situation is hardly likely to improve when the analogue light switch disappears, when the object becomes further detached, and so may we.

More prosaically, how dull rooms will become if they are always automatically bright upon entering, just as the over-lit streets of our towns are increasingly sanitised of their mystery. The cornerstone of most horror movies, vanished overnight. Fortunately, smart homes will not work any more effectively than smart cities do, and a different sub-genre of horror movies will emerge, domestic versions of Stephen King’s Christine or 2001’s HAL.

Maybe this is all thinking too hard about an ordinary experience that is changing, sure, but not in some fundamental way that changes our relationship to things as such. But at the same time, what if it’s not thinking too hard enough?

There isn’t much more basic to our experience of the world, in the 20th century or the 21st, than our use of artificial light to take back the night, transform our work and our play, indeed, change the fundamental nature of communication and experience itself. It’s worth marveling at the change of experience, the change in expectation that that was, precisely now when those experiences and expectations are on the verge of changing again, first by the thousands, and then by the millions.

How do we find the light? How do we see? What do we need to see? What do we know by doing? These are basic questions any philosophy of experience, and any technology of experience, has to answer. Well, our technology of experience is changing. Maybe our philosophy of experience needs to first go back before it can go forward to something new.

The Official Archive of Prince GIFs

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

GIPHY, in collaboration with Paisley Park and Prince’s estate, has done a truly remarkable thing. It’s created an official archive of high-quality Prince GIFs, from virtually all of his music videos. You can browse it by album and by song.

The result is a veritable gold mine for both Prince fans and meme hunters.

It’s got the early stuff:

The classic stuff:

The stuff that’s so sexy it’s a little uncomfortable:

And the self-iconographic work at (what shouldn’t have been) the end:

Please note, however, that if you want reaction GIFs from Prince interviews, live shows, and other non-music-video appearances, you still have to use the regular search function like everyone else.

Via Anil Dash (who else?)

“Star Ribbon”, a USPS Stamp by Aaron James Draplin

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2019

Draplin Stamp

It was not my intention to turn kottke.org into a stamp blog (recently: Ellsworth Kelly, Leonardo da Vinci) but you know what they say: cool postage comes in threes. My pal Aaron James Draplin recently shared on Instagram that he was asked to submit some designs for a stamp for the USPS and then, because he’s an awesome designer, one of his designs is going to become an actual stamp.

TEARS ROLLING DOWN MY CHEEKS: Last thing I want ANY post I put up to sound like some sweaty, formal press release, so I’ll just come out and say it: I GOT TO MAKE A STAMP, YOU GUYS.

I’ve had to keep my big trap shut for over a year on this one. And I when I got the call to throw some designs into the ring, I have to tell you, even that nod was enough. It was enough just to be that close to one of my FAVORITE institutions of all time: The American postage stamp.

Here’s why he’s so fond of stamps (I totally agree):

You know why I love stamps so much? Because everyone needs a stamp. Everyone gets to enjoy the art on them. Too many times, art and design is only for those who can afford it. Stamps? They are a democratization of design. And that? That’s my favorite kind of graphic design.

The design is a perfect illustration of Draplin’s throwback design style — it’s got that Spirit of ‘76 thing going on but is also solidly contemporary, just like his work for Field Notes. (via df)

Stamps Featuring Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

Da Vinci Stamps

Da Vinci Stamps

Da Vinci Stamps

The Royal Mail in the UK have released a set of stamps that feature drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Royal Collection holds the greatest collection of Leonardo’s drawings in existence, housed in the Print Room at Windsor Castle. Because they have been protected from light, fire and flood, they are in almost pristine condition and allow us to see exactly what Leonardo intended — and to observe his hand and mind at work, after a span of five centuries. These drawings are among the greatest artistic treasures of the United Kingdom.

The drawings are all taken from a collection owned by the royal family and will be featured in a distributed exhibition of Leonardo’s drawings happening around the UK this year. (via colossal)

The Secret History of Women in Coding

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

In an excerpt of his forthcoming book Coders, Clive Thompson writes about The Secret History of Women in Coding for the NY Times.

A good programmer was concise and elegant and never wasted a word. They were poets of bits. “It was like working logic puzzles — big, complicated logic puzzles,” Wilkes says. “I still have a very picky, precise mind, to a fault. I notice pictures that are crooked on the wall.”

What sort of person possesses that kind of mentality? Back then, it was assumed to be women. They had already played a foundational role in the prehistory of computing: During World War II, women operated some of the first computational machines used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park in Britain. In the United States, by 1960, according to government statistics, more than one in four programmers were women. At M.I.T.’s Lincoln Labs in the 1960s, where Wilkes worked, she recalls that most of those the government categorized as “career programmers” were female. It wasn’t high-status work — yet.

This all changed in the 80s, when computers and programming became, culturally, a mostly male pursuit.

By the ’80s, the early pioneering work done by female programmers had mostly been forgotten. In contrast, Hollywood was putting out precisely the opposite image: Computers were a male domain. In hit movies like “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Weird Science,” “Tron,” “WarGames” and others, the computer nerds were nearly always young white men. Video games, a significant gateway activity that led to an interest in computers, were pitched far more often at boys, as research in 1985 by Sara Kiesler, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, found. “In the culture, it became something that guys do and are good at,” says Kiesler, who is also a program manager at the National Science Foundation. “There were all kinds of things signaling that if you don’t have the right genes, you’re not welcome.”

See also Claire Evans’ excellent Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet.

Leaving Room for the Beautiful Flowers

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

In his newsletter Life Is So Beautiful, Hugh Hollowell shares a story of doomsday, neighbors, and goodwill.

I met a prepper the other day. You know — they store food in the basement in the event the revolution happens and we all turn to cannibalism. He was at my house, and was looking at the layout for my little vegetable garden I am planning. He shook his head, and said I could grow more food than that, and then I would have lots to store up for “hard times”.

Nah, I said. “This is enough. It’s enough for us to eat and to have enough to share with our neighbors. This way, it still leaves room for beautiful flowers, and the beautiful yard and the shared food are like insurance payments, in a way. When hard times happen, we will have a bank of goodwill with our neighbors we are counting on to see us through.”

He told me I was naïve, and that my neighbors wouldn’t care about me at all.

“Maybe you are right”, I said. “But if I believed that, then I am living in the hard times now, and I sort of refuse to do that.”

He left our house unconvinced, but I will share some of my tomatoes with him anyway.

I often think of myself as a pessimistic optimist (or an optimistic pessimist) but if pressed to choose, I believe that people work together and help each other far far more than they work against each other.

1969 in Pictures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

1969 was quite a year that saw the founding of Sesame Street, PBS, Monty Python, and the Internet as well as Woodstock and my favorite, the crew of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

At In Focus, Alan Taylor has collected 50 photos from 1969, a visual record of that iconic year.

1969 Photos

1969 Photos

1969 Photos

From top to bottom, Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Queen Elizabeth riding on the Tube in London, and a billboard in Times Square featuring John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s message of peace.

Goodbye Opportunity, the Little Mars Rover that Could

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

Yesterday, NASA declared the official end to the Opportunity rover mission on Mars.

One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

Opportunity was the longest-lived robot ever sent to another planet; it lasted longer than anyone could have imagined.

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

Here’s a quick video overview of the milestones of Opportunity’s mission:

The NY Times has a great interactive feature about the rover’s activities and achievements and XKCD has a tribute.

Xkcd Oppy

Photos of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

As part of his The World in Faces project, Alexander Khimushin has been making portraits of the indigenous people of Siberia wearing native dress.

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

The photo at the top is of three-year-old Gulnara Kayarina wearing her everyday outfit:

She lives in a portable little 2x3 meter house on skis, wrapped in the reindeer skins, at the endless tundra, about 50 km away from the nearest settlement of Tukhard (pronounced Too-Hard) — one the the remotest and coldest places of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Located at the Taymyr Peninsula (Arctic part of Siberia and the Northernmost region of Eurasia) Tukhard is accessible by helicopter only. Gulnara is one of two daughters in the family of reindeer herders Prokopy and Maya Kayarin. Her sister Rimma is a bit older, she is 5. Both girls live nomadic life with their parents and their reindeer in the vast snowy expanse of the tundra, extended as far as the edge on the Arctic Ocean. Nenets People are one of five ethnic group on Indigenous People of Taymyr Peninsula. Most of Nenets People still live traditional lifestyle in this extremely remote and coldest region of the world. Right now the region experiencing a so-called polar night — 45 days long period of total darkness. Winter temperature regularly drops below -40C/-40F. With a combination of strong winds with a speed as high as 35 meters/sec the climate of Taymyr is certainly one of the most extreme ones of the world.

You can follow this project on Facebook and Instagram.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits of Black American Circa 1900

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the hand-drawn infographics of W.E.B. Du Bois, noting that the great African American author, sociologist, historian, and activist was also a hell of a designer. Now Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert have collected Du Bois’ data portraits of black America into a new book, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.

Web Du Bois Infoviz

Web Du Bois Infoviz

The colorful charts, graphs, and maps presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition by famed sociologist and black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois offered a view into the lives of black Americans, conveying a literal and figurative representation of “the color line.” From advances in education to the lingering effects of slavery, these prophetic infographics — beautiful in design and powerful in content — make visible a wide spectrum of black experience.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits collects the complete set of graphics in full color for the first time, making their insights and innovations available to a contemporary imagination. As Maria Popova wrote, these data portraits shaped how “Du Bois himself thought about sociology, informing the ideas with which he set the world ablaze three years later in The Souls of Black Folk.”

Celebrity Then & Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

Ard Gelinck photoshops celebrities posing with their younger selves and posts the results on Instagram.

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

The Hoover Dam’s “Hidden” 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

There’s a little-known monument located at the site of the Hoover Dam that shows the progression of “North Stars” as the Earth moves through its 25,772-year change of rotational axis. Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation couldn’t find much public documentation related to this celestial map, so he did some research.

I now had some historical text and photos, but I was still missing a complete diagram of the plaza that would allow me to really understand it. I contacted the historian again, and she obtained permission from her superiors to release the actual building plans. I suspect that they generally don’t like to release technical plans of the dam for security reasons, but it seems they deemed my request a low security risk as the monument is not part of the structure of the dam. The historian sent me a tube full of large blueprints and a CD of the same prints already scanned. With this in hand I was finally able to re-construct the technical intent of the plaza and how it works.

In order to understand how the plaza marks the date of the dam’s construction in the nearly 26,000-year cycle of the earth’s precession, it is worth explaining what exactly axial precession is. In the simplest terms, it is the earth “wobbling” on its tilted axis like a gyroscope — but very, very slowly. This wobbling effectively moves what we see as the center point that stars appear to revolve around each evening.

Presently, this center point lies very close to the conveniently bright star Polaris. The reason we have historically paid so much attention to this celestial center, or North Star, is because it is the star that stays put all through the course of the night. Having this one fixed point in the sky is the foundation of all celestial navigation.

Here are some explanatory notes that Rose wrote over the blueprints of the monument showing how to read the map:

Hoover Celestial Map

The Water Dancer, a Forthcoming Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

Having thoroughly conquered the world of nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates now has his sights set on fiction. His first novel, The Water Dancer, is due out in September. Here’s the cover and a synopsis:

Water Dancer Coates

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage — and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child — but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn’t understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram’s private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he’s ever known.

The NY Times has a bit more info here about the book.

Fan Ho’s Street Photography of 50s & 60s Hong Kong

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

Fan Ho

Fan Ho

When he was a teenager, Fan Ho grabbed his father’s camera and started documenting street scenes in Hong Kong. From there, he built up a documentary body of work that puts him among the great practitioners of street photography.

Dubbed the “Cartier-Bresson of the East”, Fan Ho patiently waited for ‘the decisive moment’; very often a collision of the unexpected, framed against a very clever composed background of geometrical construction, patterns and texture. He often created drama and atmosphere with backlit effects or through the combination of smoke and light. His favorite locations were the streets, alleys and markets around dusk or life on the sea.

What made his work so intensely human is his love for the common Hong Kong people: Coolies, vendors, hawkers selling fruits and vegetables, kids playing in the street or doing their homework, people crossing the street… He never intended to create a historic record of the city’s buildings and monuments; rather he aimed to capture the soul of Hong Kong, the hardship and resilience of its citizens.

Before his death a few years ago, Ho selected some images from his archives that have become the basis of a new show at the Blue Lotus Gallery.

The photographic selection expressed in this new body of work feels more natural, indeed closer to documentary and pure street photography compared to his previously highly stylised approach. In his own manifesto ‘Thoughts on Street Photography’ which he wrote at the age of 28, and of which carefully selected quotes can be found throughout the book, he explains, “my realistic street photos are rarely selected. Pictorial aesthetics and images with a sense of humour are still the key for salon photos but I expect changes to happen soon. In the meantime, I will just keep trying.”

(via moss & fog)

Lego Prosthetic Arms

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

19-year-old bioengineering major David Aguilar, aka Hand Solo, has built himself a series of prosthetic arms out of Lego. In this short video, he shows off some of the arms, including his latest 4th generation model:

He built his first Lego prosthetic limb when he was 18. According to this Reuters article, Aguilar names his arms using the same system as Iron Man uses for his armor suits (MK-1, MK-II, etc.) and wants to build low-cost prosthetics after he graduates from college.

The Evidence Mounts: Uber/Lyft Are Bad for Our Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

At Streetsblog, Angie Schmitt has compiled a handy list of all the ways in which ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are having significant negative effects on our cities, the environment, and our health.

Uber and Lyft are just crushing transit service in the U.S. A recent study estimated, for example, they had reduced bus ridership in San Francisco, for example, 12 percent since 2010 — or about 1.7 percent annually. And each year the services are offered, the effect grows, researcher Gregory Erhardt found.

Every person lured from a bus or a train into a Lyft or Uber adds congestion to the streets and emissions to the air. Even in cities that have made tremendous investments in transit — like Seattle which is investing another $50 billion in light rail — Uber and Lyft ridership recently surpassed light rail ridership.

Transit agencies simply cannot complete with private chauffeur service which is subsidized at below real costs by venture capitalists.

Uber and Lyft (and their investors) clearly aren’t going to stop…it’s up to cities and communities to take action. They can’t just let these companies ruin their transit until ride sharing is the only thing left.

On the Health Benefits of Sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

In this piece for The Guardian, Matthew Walker says that sleeping well is the best thing you can do for your health. Here are just a couple of examples:

Routinely sleeping less than six hours a night also compromises your immune system, significantly increasing your risk of cancer. So much so, that recently the World Health Organization classified any form of night-time shiftwork as a probable carcinogen.

Inadequate sleep — even moderate reductions of two to three hours for just one week — disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke and congestive heart failure.

A lack of sleep may also increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, decrease your athletic performance, make it more difficult to control your appetite, and have mental health consequences. Walker, who is the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, says we should change our cultural attitudes towards sleep.

I believe it is therefore time for us, as individuals and as nations, to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the terrible stigma of laziness. I fully understand that this prescription of which I write requires a shift in our cultural, professional, and global appreciation of sleep.

In my media diet roundup post for 2018, I said that getting adequate sleep has “transformed my life” and that sleep is “even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation”. I have not been sleeping well for the past several weeks and it’s taking a toll: I’ve been sluggish, eating poorly & erratically, feeling down, and not anywhere near my peak mental performance. This morning I woke up at 4am, couldn’t really get back to sleep, and I feel like I’m running at 60% capacity, 65% tops.

Paper Mario Bros

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

I love the aesthetic of Paper Mario Bros, a hand-drawn stop motion animation of World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. The artist, @KisaragiHutae6, drew the world in their notebook and shared some behind-the-scenes techniques on Twitter…how they crumpled the paper for stomped-on Goombas, etc.

Paper Mario How To

(via digg)

A Gesture-Controlled Touchscreen Calculator Watch from 1984

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

In 1984, Casio released their AT-552 Janus watch, which had a feature that seems years ahead of its time to these modern eyes: a calculator that worked by drawing numbers and arithmetic operators right on the screen. Check out this demo:

As the video notes, this touchscreen tech didn’t take off back in the 80s because it was quite unreliable.

BBC Earth Announces Five New Nature Documentaries, Including “Planet Earth III”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

The team at BBC Earth have announced that they’re working on five new nature documentary series set to air in the next few years, including Planet Earth III and One Planet: Seven Worlds, narrated by David Attenborough. Here’s a teaser trailer:

Fantastic news…Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II are two of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. There’s more information about the new shows in these two BBC press release.

Perfect Planet will be a unique fusion of blue chip natural history and earth sciences explaining how the living planet operates. This five part series will show how the forces of nature — weather, ocean currents, solar energy and volcanoes — drive, shape and support Earth’s great diversity of life. It will broadcast in 2020.

Frozen Planet II will take audiences back to the wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctica. Ten years on from the original Frozen Planet, this series tells the complete story of the entire frozen quarter of our planet that’s locked in ice and blanketed in snow. It will broadcast in 2021.

Planet Earth III will be the most ambitious natural history landmark ever undertaken by the BBC. Combining the awe and wonder of the original Planet Earth, the new science and discoveries of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, and the immersive character-led storytelling of Dynasties, the series will take the Planet Earth experience to new heights. It will broadcast in 2022.

One Planet: Seven Worlds, airing sometime later this year, will consist of seven episodes, one for each of the world’s seven continents.

Millions of years ago incredible forces ripped apart the Earth’s crust creating seven extraordinary continents. This series will reveal how each distinct continent has shaped the unique animal life found there.

We will discover why Australasia is full of peculiar and venomous wildlife; why North America is a land of opportunity where pioneers succeed; and what the consequences are for life racing to compete on the richest of all continents, South America.

Attenborough is narrating this series but it’s not clear whether he’ll be doing the same for Frozen Planet II or Planet Earth III. For one thing, the man is 92 years old and for another, Netflix is luring the BBC’s talent with promises of bigger budgets and wider reach.

A Flyover of Europa

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

Using recently processed data from the Galileo probe, NASA-JPL software engineer Kevin Gill created this low-altitude flyover of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

The surface was imaged between 1996 & 1998 and is made up of a water-ice crust. Despite the cracks and streaks that you can see in the video, Europa actually has the smoothest surface of any object in the solar system.

These images are not super high-res because they were taken with equipment designed and built in the 80s. But we’re going to get a better look at Europa soon…both ESA’s JUICE probe and NASA’s Europa Clipper are planning on imaging the moon in the next decade.

Me Cookie Monster. Ask Me Anything.

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

cookie-monster-journalist.jpg

We’ve established that I’m a huge fan of Cookie Monster, the most orally challenged but also the most literarily adept muppet. But even with those cards on the table, this Reddit AMA is something special.

Q: Is there anything you won’t eat? I mean, I’ve seen you eat a typewriter before…

A: Me stay away from anything in Oscar’s trashcan. Otherwise me not picky.

Q: My 7-year-old daughter is about to start selling cookies for Girl Scouts. Do you have any advice for her?

A: Don’t eat the product!

Q: There’s been a lot of famous people who have come to visit you and your friends on Sesame Street! Did any of those guests give you a cookie?

A: Me friends have surprised me with lots of cookies! Sir Ian Mckellan even gave me two cookies!

Q: Who would you most like to sing a “C is for Cookie” duet with?

A: Me would love to sing duet with Lady Gaga. Me and me friends are monsters after all. Me hope she see dis!

Q: What is the optimum number of chocolate chips per cookie?

A: Me always say the more the merrier. Me think me need at least 3.14 chocolate chippies per nom nom. MMM pi

Q: If you could only eat one type of cookie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Wow! Me didn’t realize these question be so hard. If me had to choose just one cookie, me would have to pick me Mommy’s classic chocolate chippie!

Q: We know cookies are your favourite food. What is your second favourite food?

A: Can me say more cookies…?
A2: Me thought it over. Definitely “more cookies.”

Q: My son is your biggest fan in the world. His name is Nico and he’s almost 2. Any words of advice for him???

A: Me think it important to always share your cookies. Me know it hard to do sometimes, but it da kind thing to do.
A2: Oh, and HI NICO! Me love you!

Q: What was it like working with Jim Henson?

A: Me never sure what he did, but he always around to lend a hand and give me cookie!

Q: How’s the rent on Sesame Street?

A: Me think you confused…. Rent played on different street, me think Broadway?

It goes on and on like this. Maybe I’m too much of a softie (probably underbaked… god, it’s contagious), but I love this.

Remembering J Dilla On His 45th Birthday

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

Donuts.jpg

On his 32nd birthday, February 7, 2006, J Dilla (born James Dewitt Yancey, in Detroit, MI) released an unusual instrumental album called Donuts. Three days later, he was dead, from complications of lupus. Since then, February 7 has become an especially important day for fans of Dilla and Donuts, and this year (which would have been his 45th birthday) was no different.

His local alt-weekly, the Metro Times, gathered a collection of memories from other top producers and collaborators, including Q-Tip, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and T3 from Slum Village, the underground hip-hop group to which Dilla belonged for years.

At High Snobiety, Danny Schwartz published a lengthy tribute to and analysis of Dilla’s contributions to musical history:

J Dilla operated within the rich tradition of sampling, and like many other hip-hop producers, he used the MPC to layer jazz, soul, fusion, and other styles of music on top of breakbeats. What distinguished Dilla from everyone else was his holistic approach that imbued his massive production catalogue with a dynamic range of sounds and textures. His most important innovation was that he turned off the ‘quantize’ feature of the MPC, so that his kicks and hats might arrive significantly before or after the beat. To put it another way, he loosened his beats from their rhythmic bedrock; they were not rigid, but gambled forward with a woozy lilt. One could easily argue that Dilla and Lex Luger influenced the rhythmic sensibilities of pop music more than anyone else since funk drummers like James Brown’s Clyde Stubblefield. Dilla was a perfectionist, and his rhythmic idiosyncrasies, however off-grid, were perfectly calibrated; like Gandalf, he arrived precisely when he meant to.

An MPC is a sampling machine. A little over a year ago, Vox put together a nice little video specifically about Dilla’s idiosyncratic, influential use of his MPC3000:

A 2006 feature in The Fader has memories from everyone from Madlib to Erykah Badu, but Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey (affectionately known as “Ma Dukes”) talks specifically about Donuts, probably Dilla’s most famous album (although you’re sure to start a fight if you call it or any other of his albums his “best”):

I knew he was working on a series of beat CDs before he came to Los Angeles. Donuts was a special project that he hadn’t named yet. This was the tail end of his “Dill Withers” phase, while he was living in Clinton Township, Michigan. You see, musically he went into different phases. He’d start on a project, go back, go buy more records and then go back to working on the project again. I saw it because I was at his house every day, all day. I would go there for breakfast, go back to Detroit to check on the daycare business I was running, and then back to his house for lunch and dinner. He was on a special diet and he was a funny eater anyway. He had to take 15 different medications, we would split them up between meals, and every other day we would binge on a brownie sundae from Big Boys. That was his treat.

I didn’t know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn’t want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product. He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. “Lightworks,” oh yes, that was something! That’s one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time.

At okayplayer, Elijah C. Watson focused on Dilla’s influence on contemporary hip-hop artists, especially the emerging subgenre of lo-fi hip-hop:

Also called “chill-hop,” “jazzy hip-hop,” or the more specific “lo-fi hip-hop radio for studying, relaxing, and gaming,” lo-fi hip-hop has become a subgenre and subculture. It’s a subgenre featuring instrumentals rooted in the melancholy melodies of jazz and boom-bap drums of golden age hip-hop.

Playlists dedicated to lo-fi hip-hop can be found on music streaming services but YouTube serves as its primary base (with a looped image of an anime scene often being featured.) Channels like Chillhop Music, ChilledCow, and Private ChillOut offer 24/7 streams of the subgenre — the subscriber count anywhere from 102,000 to 2,500,000. Through these channels, the aesthetic of lo-fi hip-hop is best experienced. Fans from across the world listen to the tracks and engage with each other in real time, all while a looped image of an animated character writing or working on a laptop is featured.

At Ambrosia For Heads, Dan Charnas discusses his research for his forthcoming academic book, DillaTime: How a Hip-Hop Producer Reinvented Rhythm and Changed the Way Musicians Play:

[J Dilla’s] story gets complicated first as he encounters some of the pains of the business and then, later, illness. The thing he most wants to do becomes harder and harder for him to do. But that laser focus, as his friends and family have painstakingly documented, remains until his final hour. Talk about triumph and pain mixed together. One of the things I’ve grappled with since the day I walked into his basement in 1999 is why people have such an overwhelming emotional connection to this person and his work. And one of the answers I’ve come to is that, in every piece of music, we can somehow sense that overwhelming will and spirit…

My co-author, Jeff Peretz, and I took about 20 students to Detroit in 2017 as a part of my Dilla course at the Clive Davis Institute… The Detroit experience was a real eye-opener for our students. Context and environments are crucial to understanding. I’ll tell you one of the things that always strikes me about the D: everyone in Detroit always seems to be building something. Dilla’s ‘Uncle Herm’ isn’t just a chef and baker—he gutted and built the donut shop with his own two hands.

Hanif Abdurraqib contributed this unforgettable anecdote

We miss you, Jay. You should still be here.

Skipping Stones: “Every Throw Is a Complete New Puzzle”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2019

In this video, Wired’s Robbie Gonzalez talks to world record stone skipper Kurt Steiner, who achieved 88 skips with a stone in 2013. Steiner shares some of his techniques with Gonzalez and quickly gets him throwing better.

This video might be totally uninteresting to everyone reading this, but I just had to post it. I love skipping rocks. Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been one of my favorite things to do whenever I’m at a lake or quiet river. I may or may not have a stack of stones appropriate for skipping on the shelf next to my spare change jar. My personal record is somewhere in the mid-to-upper 20s…this throw was in that ballpark. After watching Steiner throw, I’m excited to get out in the spring and try hitting the water a little closer (and harder) than I normally do.

Buy the Cheap Thing First

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

cast iron skillets.jpg

Beth Skwarecki has written the perfect Lifehacker post with the perfect headline (so perfect I had to use it for my aggregation headline too, which I try to never do):

When you’re new to a sport, you don’t yet know what specialized features you will really care about. You probably don’t know whether you’ll stick with your new endeavor long enough to make an expensive purchase worth it. And when you’re a beginner, it’s not like beginner level equipment is going to hold you back…

How cheap is too cheap?

Find out what is totally useless, and never worth your time. Garage sale ice skates with ankles that are so soft they flop over? Pass them up.

What do most people do when starting out?

If you’re getting into powerlifting and you don’t have a belt and shoes, you can still lift with no belt and no shoes, or with the old pair of Chucks that you may already have in your closet. Ask people about what they wore when they were starting out, and it’s often one of those options…

What’s your exit plan?

How will you decide when you’re done with your beginner equipment? Some things will wear out: Running shoes will feel flat and deflated. Some things may still be usable, but you’ll discover their limitations. Ask experienced people what the fancier gear can do that yours can’t, and you’ll get a sense of when to upgrade. (You may also be able to sell still-good gear to another beginner to recoup some of your costs.)

Wearing out your beginner gear is like graduating. You know that you’ve stuck with the sport long enough that you aren’t truly a beginner anymore. You may have managed to save up some cash for the next step. And you can buy the nicer gear now, knowing exactly what you want and need.

This is 100 percent the truth, and applies to way more than just sports equipment. Computers, cooking, fashion, cars, furniture, you name it. The key thing is to pick your spots, figure out where you actually know what you want and what you want to do with it, and optimize for those. Everywhere else? Don’t outwit yourself. Play it like the beginner that you are. And save some scratch in the process. Perfect, perfect advice.

Mad Men but with All the Cigarettes Replaced by Kazoos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

Cignature Films is showing the first episode of Mad Men in its entirety but with all of the cigarettes replaced with kazoos. Here’s a short clip (watch the whole thing here):

Though smoking in movies was a staple element of old Hollywood, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that tobacco has had a resurgence in recent years on the big screen. It has been reported that 44% of adolescents who start smoking do so because of smoking images they have seen in the movies. Cignature Films wants to change this statistic for the better.

They also have plans to do the same with Fight Club, The Godfather, and Stranger Things. I’m wondering how long this is gonna stay up though…a clip or two is perhaps covered under fair use but I can’t see studios allowing entire movies and episodes to be shown without some kind of legal action. (via rob walker)

Three Chords and the Truth: Where Did Punk Music Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

Punk music seems like one of those things that sprang, fully-formed, out of nowhere. But in this video, Trash Theory traces the roots of punk back to the birth of rock and roll, from Link Wray and The Phantom in 1958 to Louie Louie by The Kingsmen & Surfing Bird by The Trashmen to the more familiar precursors like Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and even Led Zeppelin.

Few genres have had the lasting impact of punk. 1976 is one of those seismic dividing lines in popular music. A history destroying year zero. The point after which everything changed. It was the year that The Ramones debut was released, the year that the first singles from the UK Punk scene were set loose upon a unprepared public. And while the punks wanted to remove themselves from the past, burn all that had come before, nothing happens within a vacuum. These bands didn’t appear out of nowhere with the key principles of the genre locked in place. This innovative minimalist, three-chords and the truth, turbo-powered music had to have precedent. There were other artists that lead up to this era-defining moment in music that are either forgotten, ignored or not given credit. This is how Punk became punk.

I was particularly interested to learn about Death, a Detroit band that the NY Times called “Punk Before Punk Was Punk”:

Forgotten except by the most fervent punk rock record collectors - the band’s self-released 1976 single recently traded hands for the equivalent of $800 - Death would likely have remained lost in obscurity if not for the discovery last year of a 1974 demo tape in Bobby Sr.’s attic.

Released last month by Drag City Records as “… For the Whole World to See,” Death’s newly unearthed recordings reveal a remarkable missing link between the high-energy hard rock of Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5 from the late 1960s and early ’70s and the high-velocity assault of punk from its breakthrough years of 1976 and ‘77. Death’s songs “Politicians in My Eyes,” “Keep On Knocking” and “Freakin Out” are scorching blasts of feral ur-punk, making the brothers unwitting artistic kin to their punk-pioneer contemporaries the Ramones, in New York; Rocket From the Tombs, in Cleveland; and the Saints, in Brisbane, Australia. They also preceded Bad Brains, the most celebrated African-American punk band, by almost five years.

Jack White of the White Stripes, who was raised in Detroit, said in an e-mail message: “The first time the stereo played ‘Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.”

You can hear that demo tape on Spotify and elsewhere. There isn’t a playlist to accompany this video but this proto punk Spotify playlist (Apple Music verison) contains several of the songs mentioned.

(via open culture)

One Breath Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

I’ve followed the work of world champion free diver Guillaume Néry for several years now and this video might be his best one yet. In it, he explores a bunch of different waterscapes, floating and diving and walking until you can’t tell which way is up and if he’s actually in water or in outer space.

Also of note is that the video was filmed by free diver Julie Gautier, who shot the entire thing while holding her breath, a more difficult task than Néry’s. I’d like to see the making-of video for that!

Pro tip: remind yourself to breathe while you’re watching this. I found myself unconsciously holding my breath, on and off, almost the entire time. (via swissmiss)

Watch a Single Cell Become a Complex Organism in Just Six Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2019

In this time lapse filmed by Jan van IJken, the embryo of a salamander is shown transforming into a hatched tadpole, from a single cell to a complex organism in a three-week process that’s condensed into just six minutes of video.

The first stages of embryonic development are roughly the same for all animals, including humans. In the film, we can observe a universal process which normally is invisible: the very beginning of an animal’s life. A single cell is transformed into a complete, complex living organism with a beating heart and running bloodstream.

Confessions of a Letterhead Collector

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

Design historian Steven Heller collects vintage letterheads and shares some examples at Design Observer.

Letterhead Heller

Letterhead Heller

The design of blogs owes much to the letterhead (and, perhaps more obviously, to the newspaper masthead). Blog posts are, after all, public letters “to whom it may concern”. The first design I did for Gawker was quite letterheady and I loved & envied my pal Dean Allen’s letterhead-inspired design for Cardigan Industries.

Update: Loooots more great letterhead examples at Letterheady. (thx, jenni)

The Colonization of the Americas Cooled the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A new paper from researchers at University College London argues that the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americans after Columbus’s landing in 1492 had a significant effect on the Earth’s global climate and was a major cause of the Little Ice Age, the dip in global temperatures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They estimate that 55 million indigenous people died during Europe’s conquest of the Americas (~90% of the population), and the 56 million hectares of land that they had cleared of vegetation (roughly the area of Kenya) was then reclaimed by forests, which then took in more carbon dioxide, reduced the greenhouse effect, and caused the Earth to cool. From the paper’s conclusion:

We calculate that this led to an additional 7.4 Pg C being removed from the atmosphere and stored on the land surface in the 1500s. This was a change from the 1400s of 9.9 Pg C (5 ppm CO2). Including feedback processes this contributed between 47% and 67% of the 15-22 Pg C (7-10 ppm CO2) decline in atmospheric CO2 between 1520 CE and 1610 CE seen in Antarctic ice core records. These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2 at that time and the resulting decline in global surface air temperatures.

Little Ice Age Graph

The authors also assert that this effect of human action on global climate marks the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch.

I first heard about this theory from Charles Mann’s excellent 1493, which led me to William Ruddiman’s 2003 paper. I heard about this most recent study from Mann too… he called it “most careful study of the impacts of Euro conquest of Americas I’ve yet seen”.

If you’re not up for reading the paper itself, you can check out the coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, Nature, or the NY Times.

“Freedom River”, an Animated Parable about the Erosion of Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

In 1971, director Sam Weiss released this short animated parable narrated by Orson Welles.

Concentrating on an area of growing concern in our society — the indifference that makes people blind to the injustices around them — this animated parable traces how the erosion of freedom, like the pollution of natural resources, can occur so gradually that both evade the attention of a busy and preoccupied nation.

Produced back in the era of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, the lessons of this film still resonate today. (via open culture)

The Forgotten Father of Pizza in the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

A recent series of discoveries have upended the widely accepted story of the history of pizza in America and have the NYC food world in a tizzy. The typical origin story of American pizza is this:

In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi applied to the New York City government for the first license to make and sell pizza in this country, at his grocery store on Spring Street in what was then a thriving Italian-American neighborhood.

But research by Peter Regas (who looked in Italian-language newspapers from the late 19th century) has revealed a previously unknown pizza kingpin behind some of the NYC’s first pizzerias and moves the probable introduction date of the pizza back into the 1800s.

Of this forgotten older generation, one baker stands out. Filippo Milone came to New York in the late 19th century and likely established two of the most famous New York pizzerias that still exist today, Lombardi’s on Spring Street and John’s of Bleecker Street.

Regas explains, “Filippo Milone likely established pizzerias in at least six locations throughout New York City. Of these locations, three later became famous under different names: ‘Pop’s,’ ‘John’s,’ and ‘Lombardi’s.’ Pop’s in Brooklyn closed decades ago, but the other two in Manhattan still exist. Milone, a pioneer in what has become a $45 billion industry, later died in 1924, without children to preserve his story buried in an unmarked grave in Queens.”

Wow! This 1903 advertisement is for a pizzeria of Milone’s on Grand St.:

Pizza Milone

As for Lombardi’s founding in 1905, Regas has the receipts for that too:

While proof of that license has never materialized, Regas has tracked down Gennaro Lombardi’s birth record, naturalization papers, and other supporting documents that tell a different story. Gennaro Lombardi first came to America in November of 1904 at age 17, classified as a “laborer”. If he became involved with the pizzeria at 53 1/2 Spring Street in 1905, it was as an employee not as an owner. By that time, it had already been established as a pizzeria probably by Milone in 1898 but certainly by another proprietor named Giovanni Santillo who followed Milone in 1901.

As Pete Wells writes:

This is as if some other dude we’ve never heard of wrote both the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers and then handed them over to Adams Franklin Jefferson Madison Hamilton etc.

Regas is documenting his research here on an eventual book about all of this, due out sometime later this year. Boy oh boy, they’re gonna have to reprint a lot of NYC pizzeria menus with incorrect origin stories in them… (via @adamkuban)

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

How To Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe, proprietor of the excellent XKCD and author of What If? and Thing Explainer, is coming out with a new book in a few months called How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems.

Bestselling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you’re a baby boomer or a 90’s kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and getting to your appointments on time by destroying the Moon. And if you want to get rid of the book once you’re done with it, he walks you through your options for proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to a vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the Earth’s mantle, or launching it into the Sun.

Instant pre-order.

The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

Yi Script

The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets is a collection of “indigenous and minority writing systems”, gathered together in the hopes of collecting information about reviving interest in these alphabets. From the about page:

In 2009, when I started work on the first series of carvings that became the Endangered Alphabets Project, times were dark for indigenous and minority cultures. The lightning spread of television and the Internet were driving a kind of cultural imperialism into every corner of the world. Everyone had a screen or wanted a screen, and the English language and the Latin alphabet (or one of the half-dozen other major writing systems) were on every screen and every keyboard. Every other culture was left with a bleak choice: learn the mainstream script or type a series of meaningless tofu squares.

Yet 2019 is a remarkable time in the history of writing systems. In spite of creeping globalization, political oppression, and economic inequalities, minority cultures are starting to revive interest in their traditional scripts. Across the world, calligraphy is turning writing into art; letters are turning up as earrings, words as pendants, proverbs as clothing designs. Individuals, groups, organizations and even governments are showing interest in preserving and protecting traditional writing systems or even creating new ones as way to take back their cultural identity.

You can access the alphabets from a map on the front page or alphabetically here. The project is also looking for information on a number of possible scripts that may or not be still in use.

The image above is an example of the Yi alphabet, a script created during the Tang dynasty in China (618-907 AD).

Lessons from the Brilliant Screenplay for Groundhog Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

Using screenwriter Danny Rubin’s book How To Write Groundhog Day as a guide, Lessons from the Screenplay examines how the protagonist in the Bill Murray comedy classic is forced by his circumstances to undergo the hero’s journey and emerging at the end having changed. This passage from Rubin’s book sets the stage:

The conversation I was having with myself about immortality was naturally rephrased in my mind as a movie idea: “Okay, there’s this guy that lives forever…” Movie stories are by nature about change, and if I were to test the change of this character against an infinity of time, I’d want him to begin as somebody who seemed unable to change.

We’ve all seen movies where the change the protagonist undergoes does not seem earned and it makes the whole movie seem phony and hollow. One of the things that makes Groundhog Day so great is that a person who starts out genuinely horrible at the beginning transforms into a really good person by the end and the audience completely buys it. At any point along the way, the story could very easily jump off the rails of credulity, but it never does. A nearly perfect little movie.

Cybersecurity Tips and Beauty Product Reviews, Together at Last

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

In her series “opsec and beauty”, artist Addie Wagenknecht efficiently combines two YouTube genres into one, giving tips on cybersecurity while reviewing beauty products. In this video, Wagenknecht recommends using pass phrases instead of passwords while reviewing a Korean facial sheet mask:

I also like this one, titled “Dry shampoo review Herbal Essence and blocking Chad from calling”:

It makes your hair smell really good. It kinda makes you look like you’ve washed it. I’m going on like day 10 right now of not washing my hair but you can tell it’s transformed. I also want to talk about having secondary phone numbers because that way you can block the guy once he realizes you actually have to do things to yourself to be perfect.

(Gimme Some of That) Ol’ Atonal Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

Merle Hazard bills himself as “America’s foremost country singer/economist”. In this delightful performance, he sings about his daddy, who was a composer of atonal music along the same lines as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.

It is a genuinely catchy tune and the part where Alison Brown comes in atonally on the banjo killed me. This might be my new favorite country song?

In the past, Hazard has done songs about the Fiscal Cliff and Inflation or Deflation. You might remember his recent country tune about self-driving trucks. (via @tedgioia)

Purl, an Animated Short from Pixar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

Purl, directed by Kristen Lester, is an animated short from Pixar about a ball of yarn that starts a new job at B.R.O. Capital and quickly feels out of place among all the men in suits. The story was inspired by Lester’s experience working in animation as the only woman at her company.

In order to do the thing that I loved, I sort of became one of the guys. And then I came to Pixar and I started to work on teams with women for the first time. And that actually made me realize how much of the female aspect of myself I had buried and left behind.

(via @cabel)

Peculiar Pyongyang, a 4K Time Lapse Video of the North Korean Capital

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

Time lapse video tours of big cities are a common sight on YouTube — see this Dubai hyperlapse or this Paris time lapse — and the technique has become an aesthetic of its own. But seeing the super-stylized & ultra-HD practice applied to a place like Pyongyang, North Korea broke my brain a little bit. The video was shot by Joerg Daiber, who writes of the experience:

Pyongyang is by far the weirdest and strangest place I have ever been to. At the same time it’s also one of the the most interesting and intriguing places and unlike anywere else I have ever been to. You go there with 100 questions and you return with 1000!

(via @kbandersen)

Threadstories

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

Threadstories

For the past few years, visual artist Threadstories has been making these amazing masks and posting selfies of her wearing them on Instagram. She starts each mask with a crocheted balaclava:

Threadstories

And ends up at many different endpoints:

Threadstories

Threadstories

You can see the masks in motion in this video and read more about the project in this RedMilk interview.

I don’t have any one line of enquiry or source of inspiration. Everything from traditional basket making to Francis Bacons portraits to the sight of someone with really crooked teeth or an episode of Blue Planet might inspire a mask. Thematically I am questioning how the erosion of personal privacy online effects how we view and portray ourselves. I am constructing facades — masks in response to these questions. We are all so over exposed and to what end? Privacy is precious.

(via swissmiss)

On the Ethics of Refugee Camps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2019

At the World Economic Forum held in Switzerland at the end of January, Mohammed Hassan Mohamud, a refugee in Kenya for the past 20 years, spoke about the unethical practice of keeping people in long-term refugee camps, what he calls “putting people in faraway places and pretending that they don’t exist”.

It surprises me that money and capital moves around the world in second, but it takes a refugee decades, or in the case of my mother, she never had the chance to get out, waiting for 25 years for a place to go, a place to call home.

We talk about ethical and sustainable development. We talk about how we can be ethical with robots and machines. We want to solve death. And there’s so much human suffering. We haven’t figured out life yet.

More on Ancient Scripts and the History of Writing

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2019

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One post last week that y’all loved was The Evolution of the Alphabet. I loved it too; anything breaking down the history of writing in ways that are (get it) decipherable is just to me. But since then, even more great links on the history of writing have come in. To which I say, it is our duty, nay—our pleasure—to round those links up.

First, a riff on Jason’s post from the man himself, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. Josh, like me, is obsessed with the history of writing. He recommends two books (Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Oster and The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet by Amalia E. Gnanadesikan) and adds this reflection:

Historians of writing believe that our current alphabet originated as a sort of quick-and-dirty adaptation of Egyptian hieroglyphics into a simpler and more flexible way of writing. You take a small number of hieroglyphic characters representing specific things, decide to use them not for their meaning but for their sound and then use this as a way to encode the sound of words in almost any language. In this particular case it was to encode a Semitic language related to and ancestral to Hebrew and Phoenician. It was likely devised by soldiers of traders operating either in Egypt or between Egypt and what’s now Israel and Jordan.

This basic A B C D formulation is the foundation of the writing systems for not only all languages that use the Latin alphabet but also those which use the Greek, Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets along with numerous others. What is particularly fascinating is that most historians of writing believe that this invention - the alphabet, designed by and for sub-literate Semites living on the borderlands of Egypt about 4,000 years ago - is likely the origin point of all modern alphabets. In some cases, it’s a direct lineal descent as in Canaanite to Greek to Latin to our modern alphabet. But the creators of the alphabets that now dominate South Asia (originating 2500 to 3000 years ago) also seem to have borrowed at least the idea of the alphabet from these Semitic innovators, though others believe they are an indigenous creation.

The deep history of these letters we are now communicating through is like the DNA - or perhaps rather the record of the DNA - of human cognition and thought, processed through language and encoded into writing.

The second link comes from linguist Gretchen McCulloch. It’s The World Writing Systems, a site that doesn’t focus narrowly on our updated Latin alphabet and its antecedent forms, but on every system of writing that ever is or has been. It lets you search, browse, sort, and generally geek out to your heart’s content. It also lets you know whether the scripts are supported by Unicode (a surprising number are not), and links you to Wikipedia entries about them. So you can easily read about the Cypriot Syllabary, an Iron Age script and descendant of Linear A that was eventually replaced by the Greek alphabet.

Differences between Cypriot syllabary and Linear B The main difference between the two lies not in the structure of the syllabary but the use of the symbols. Final consonants in the Cypriot syllabary are marked by a final, silent e. For example, final consonants, n, s and r are noted by using ne, re and se. Groups of consonants are created using extra vowels. Diphthongs such as ae, au, eu and ei are spelled out completely. In addition, nasal consonants that occur before another consonant are omitted completely.

See, you just learned something!

Now, many of the Aegean writing systems (including Linear A) are still undeciphered. For that, you want classicist Anna P. Judson’s “A very short introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing systems” from her blog, “It’s All Greek To Me.” (Hat tip here to the polymath sportswriter Zito Madu.)

Here’s what Judson has to say about Linear A (which unlike Linear B, wasn’t used to write Greek, but a related language called Minoan):

It’s generally agreed that at least some Linear A signs, and quite plausibly the majority of them, can be ‘read’, since they are likely to have had similar sound-values to their Linear B equivalents (Linear B was adapted directly from Linear A in order to write in Greek); but it’s still not possible to identify the language involved or to understand any of its grammatical features, the meanings of most words, etc. As an example, the word AB81-02, or KU-RO if transliterated using Linear B sound-values, is one of the few words whose meaning we do know: it appears at the end of lists next to the sum of all the listed numerals, and so clearly means ‘total’. But we still don’t actually know how to pronounce this word, or what part of speech it is, and we can’t identify it with any similar words in any known languages.

The most promising set of inscriptions for analysing linguistic features is the so-called ‘libation formula’ - texts found on stone vases used in religious rituals (‘libation tables’), which are probably dedications (so probably say something like “Person X gives/dedicates/offers this object/offering to Deity Y”), and across which similar elements often recur in the same position in the text. In principle, having a ‘formula’ of this kind should let us identify grammatical elements via the slight variations between texts - e.g. if a particular variation in one word seemed to correlate with the number of dedicators listed, we might be able to infer that that was a verb with singular or plural marking. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough examples of these texts to establish this kind of linguistic detail - every analysis conducted so far has identified a different element as being the name of the donor, the name of the deity, the verb of offering, etc., so it’s still not possible to draw any certain conclusions from this ‘formula’.

Cretan Hieroglyphic and its variants are even less well understood than Linear A! Some of them are only attested in single inscriptions! God, writing isn’t a smooth series of adaptations leading to a clear final goal! Writing is a total mess! How did anyone ever make sense of it at all?

But they did; and that’s how and why we’re all here, communicating with each other on these alphanumeric encoding machines to this very day.

Why James Baldwin Is This Century’s Essential Voice, Too

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2019

James Baldwin - Cig.jpg

Back in 2015, I wanted to write an essay for The Message (where I was working at the time) about James Baldwin. At that time, it seemed to me, Baldwin was everywhere, but somewhat below the radar; everyone was talking about him, but nobody seemed to notice that everyone was talking about him, or about the things he talked and wrote about. But The Message turned over its writing staff and quickly shut down, and that was the end of that.

Four years later, Baldwin is not below the radar. Baldwin is everywhere, and we know he’s everywhere; we all know we’re talking about him, and if we’re not reading him and citing him, we’re apologizing about it. In short, James Baldwin is finally getting his due as the essential voice not just of the 20th century, but also of the 21st—a bridge not very many thinkers of his generation (or the one before or after) managed to cross.

If Beale Street Could Talk, snubbed at the Oscars for Best Picture (although it is up for Best Adapted Screenplay), is the best film I’ve seen since Children of Men. This magnificent essay by Kinohi Nishikawa focuses on how writer/director Barry Jenkins adapted Baldwin’s book, paying particular attention to Baldwin’s (and Jenkins’s) innovative use of time:

Nearly 45 years later, Jenkins has adapted Beale Street in the spirit of its author’s vision. Most notably, he emphasizes, rather than diminishes, Tish’s point of view. In the film, Tish (KiKi Layne) narrates her romance with Fonny (Stephan James) as if situated in a future point of time. The reflective quality in her voice points to an understanding to come, a bridge between her innocence and her experience….

Restoring Tish’s voice also shows how the novel’s social consciousness is issued from the future, not the past. Jenkins’ aestheticized style, with its dramatic shifts in tone, echoes Baldwin’s shifts in temporal register. A scene of the lovers wooing conjures the magic of rain-drenched streets in classic Hollywood cinema; a later one of Fonny’s confrontation with Officer Bell (Ed Skrein) evokes the grit of movies like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. But in the film’s most powerful scene, Tish watches Fonny take out his anger at Bell by throwing a bag of tomatoes against a wall. The resulting tableau resonates so powerfully because Fonny’s justified rage, and the risk of having it turn on him, feels like it could have happened yesterday.

Baldwin is also the unifying force of a new group exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery, curated by New Yorker critic Hilton Als. Holland Cotter writes openly as “a white kid in the process of working my way through the sociopolitical dynamics of [the 1960s] through reading” Baldwin and other writers.

In 1948, Baldwin left New York for Europe, where he would stay for several years. He returned in the late 1950s to immerse himself in the American civil rights movement. During that time he became a cultural star, a political fixture (within black activism, a controversial one), and one of the grand moral prose rhetoricians.

In the process, Mr. Als suggests, he also disappeared from public view as a knowable, relatable person, someone still wrestling with conflicted ideas about race, sexuality, power, family, and his own creativity (he wanted to make films but never did); someone who could describe himself, in his late 40s, as “an ageing, lonely, sexually dubious, politically outrageous, unspeakably erratic freak.”…

He was skeptical of uplift. As a teenager he left preaching, he said, after he came to see it as just another form of theater. My guess is he sometimes felt the same about the salvational spirit of the early civil rights movement. To the very end, he was negative in his assessment of progress made. “The present social and political apparatus cannot serve the human need,” he wrote bluntly in his final book, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen” (1985). He believed in the positive potential of community, though “in the United States the idea of community scarcely means anything anymore, except among the submerged, the Native American, the Mexican, the Puerto Rican, the Black” — the one hopeful word here being “except.”

“I have had my bitter moments, certainly,” he once said, “but I do not think I can usefully be called a bitter man.” I think he can usefully be called a hero. When I was a kid I felt he was one because of what I took to be his furious moral certainty. Now I look to him for his furious uncertainty. And I still have my copy, time softened with touching, of “Notes of a Native Son,” with him on the cover, his face furrow-browed but dreamy, his gaze fixed somewhere outside camera range.

It’s also useful to explore the ways that Baldwin came up short—usually, moments where he was honest about his own limitations. There are plenty in this nearly two-hour conversation with poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, which is nevertheless worth watching in full:

I don’t know. Baldwin has been such a formative influence on me that it’s hard to remember a time when his writings haven’t been on my mind. As I get older, I become more and more aware of how acute and omnivorous of a cultural critic he was, writing not just about books, but about movies, television, theater, and more. He was clearly one of the most penetrating thinkers about race, sexuality, literature, and their entwining in American culture in our history. I sometimes say that he was maybe the greatest mind the American continent produced, and this is a part of the world that has not gone untouched by genius. He was also a phenomenal stylist; it’s impossible to read him for very long without finding his inflections and rhythms invading your own. And a great storyteller, capable of mixing styles and registers in a way that would have done Shakespeare proud.

If Beale Street Could Talk is in some ways an uneven book, but it’s also where everything that’s great about Baldwin comes together in a single place. You should see it (in the theater, while you can), and you should read it (anytime). There’s a notable set of changes at the end of the movie that make it different from the book, and I’ve been dying to talk to anyone about them for weeks.

Nishikawa also quotes a great line from the book that didn’t make it into the movie: “Whoever discovered America deserved to be dragged home, in chains, to die.” If Beale Street Could Talk was finished on Columbus Day, and Baldwin is picking a fight with Saul Bellow (who modeled his Augie March on Columbus in his own attempt to tell an all-American novel). It is a fight that badly needed to be picked then, and needs to be picked still.

Happiness Spells: A Podcast About Everyday Joys

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2019

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My friend Amanda Meyncke (who’s been a guest on Kottke before, talking about musician Bill Callahan) has a new(ish) podcast, called Happiness Spells. It’s a five-minute podcast that’s delivered twice a week, and it’s just about things that make you happy. From the “About” page:

Happiness Spells is devoted to noticing and celebrating the small pleasures of life.

This life is filled with enjoyable things, and the foundation of all creativity and true joy is in noticing and appreciating all that lies around us and in us.

That’s very Kottke-like! (In fact, Amanda contacted me to note the overlap between her podcast’s raison d’etre and the themes I’ve been exploring at Noticing.)

The experience of listening to the podcast is very meditative. As the narrator (Amanda) tells you at the beginning, it works best with headphones. There’s gentle ambient music playing, and the narrator just reads a list of ordinary, everyday things that make you happy, even if (actually, often) in an oblique way. Like these from the January 31 edition:

Amanda’s ramping up her podcast this year, working with a professional production team for the first time (it’s all been self-produced so far). She’s already getting 50,000 downloads a month, just from word of mouth, but I think we can do better. Seriously: check it out.

Ellsworth Kelly US Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2019

The USPS will release a set of stamps in 2019 honoring the artist Ellsworth Kelly. Some art works better on stamps than others…Kelly’s stripped down abstracts look like they were specifically designed for postage:

Ellsworth Kelly stamps

You can check out more of Kelly’s art at MoMA and The Whitney.

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