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Entries for April 2019 (May 2019 »    June 2019 »    July 2019 »    Archives)

 

Avengers Characters in the Style of Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

Avengers Woodblock

Japanese illustrator Takumi made these illustrations of characters from Avengers: Endgame in the style of Ukiyo-e prints. As Johnny Waldman notes at Spoon & Tamago, the artist took care in translating the the Marvel characters into the proper style:

The artist spent a lot of time thinking about the unique patterns and kanji names for each character. Thor is pronounced tooru in Japanese, so he assigned the Japanese equivalent, which is 徹(とおる). Thanos’ 6 infinity stones served as the inspiration behind that name, which references the 6 realms of Buddhism.

How to Make Data-Driven Visual Essays

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

Ilia Blinderman of The Pudding has written a pair of essays about how to make data-driven visual essays. Part 1 covers working with data.

It’s worth noting here that this first stage of data-work can be somewhat vexing: computers are great, but they’re also incredibly frustrating when they don’t do what you’d like them to do. That’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t need to worry — learning to program is exactly as infuriating and as dispiriting for you as it is for everyone else. I know this all too well: some people seem to be terrific at it without putting in all that much effort; then there was me, who first began writing code in 2014, and couldn’t understand the difference between a return statement and a print statement. The reason learning to code is so maddening is because it doesn’t merely involve learning a set number of commands, but a way of thinking. Remember that, and know that the little victories you amass when you finally run your loop correctly or manage to solve a particular data problem all combine to form that deeper understanding.

Part 2 is on the design process.

Before you begin visualizing your data, think through the most important points that you’re trying to communicate. Is the key message the growth of a variable over time? A disparity between quantities? The degree to which a particular value varies? A geographic pattern?

Once you have an idea of the essential takeaways you’d like your readers to understand, you can consider which type of visualization would be most effective at expressing it. During this step, I like to think of the pieces of work that I’ve got in my archive and see if any one of those is especially suitable for the task at hand.

Check out The Pudding for how they’ve applied these lessons to creating visual essays about skin tone on the cover of Vogue or how many top high school players make it to the NBA.

Fan-Made Productions Celebrate Alien’s 40th Anniversary

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Alien, 20th Century Fox commissioned six fan-made short films that continue the story of the Alien universe. Here’s the first film, Harvest:

The rest of the films can be watched here. According to Michael Nordine at IndieWire, Alone is the pick of the litter:

However good these films are, I’ll wager that none of them are as charming as the stage production of Alien put on by students at North Bergen High School. The play garnered so much attention that Sigourney Weaver showed up to an encore performance. You can watch the whole performance here with an intro by Weaver (skip to ~3:00):

How Disco Made Pop Songs Longer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

In the latest episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell notes that the length of a pop single was rarely more than 3m30s because you couldn’t fit any more than that onto a 7-inch 45rpm single without sacrificing audio quality. But in the 70s, DJs in NYC clubs started playing longer songs for a prolonged dance floor groove and eventually the higher-capacity 12-inch single was born.

Fun fact: the bestselling 12-inch single of all time is New Order’s Blue Monday, which was released in 1983 and clocked in at 7m29s long. Take a listen.

How Does Venice Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

The canals, the sewers, the buildings, the bridges and the rest of the Venice’s infrastructure has all been engineered to deal with a particularly challenging environment: not-particularly-solid ground constantly battered by salt water. In this short film, we learn how the city works and what steps have been taken over the centuries to ensure the smooth function of the city.

Whether Venice can survive the severe sea level rise coming in the next few decades is still an open question. (thx, david)

In Remembrance of Photographer Michael Wolf

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

German photographer Michael Wolf, who documented life in our densest cities, has died at the age of 64.

Though seldom commented on by art critics, there was a political undertone to Wolf’s work. In several of his best-known series, even the ones where people were an invisible presence, his striking images point to the human cost and extraordinary resilience of contemporary city dwellers caught up in the Darwinian thrust of global capitalism. For every epic project like Architecture of Density, there were intimately observed series’ created during his various trawls through Hong Kong’s back alleys. There, he caught telling glimpses of the city’s makeshift character: customised chairs, surreal arrangements of kitchen mops and wire coat hangers, twisting gas and water pipes, all the mundane everyday objects that speak of the relentless resourcefulness of its residents, and of Wolf’s eye for accidental sculptural beauty amid the seemingly mundane. A detached gaze, yes, but an expressively tender one all the same. It will be missed.

Wolf’s most well-known project was Architecture of Density, a series of photos taken of the buildings of Hong Kong.

Michael Wolf

Another Hong Kong project was 100x100, in which he documented 100 apartments of the now-demolished Shek Kip Mei Estate that were each about 100 square feet in size.

Michael Wolf

Tokyo Compression catches Japanese commuters pressed up against the windows of their train cars.

Michael Wolf

Bastard Chairs catalogues dozens of improvised devices for seating.

Michael Wolf

Wolf talked about his work in this short video profile:

You can view Wolf’s complete catalog of work on his website.

Good Things By Their Nature Are Fragile

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

From a 2005 post by Michael Barrish:

In 1988 Laura and I created a three-stage model of what we called “living process.” We called the three stages Good Thing, Rut, and Transition. As we saw it, Good Thing becomes Rut, Rut becomes Transition, and Transition becomes Good Thing. It’s a continuous circuit.

A Good Thing never leads directly to a Transition, in large part because it has no reason to. A Good Thing wants to remain a Good Thing, and this is precisely why it becomes a Rut. Ruts, on the other hand, want desperately to change into something else.

Transitions can be indistinguishable from Ruts. The only important difference is that new events can occur during Transitions, whereas Ruts, by definition, consist of the same thing happening over and over.

Oh my, this is going to have me thinking about some things for a good long while. (via @ginatrapani)

Balanced Anarchy or Open Society?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

A clip from 1985 of James Burke talking about how microchips will change politics by making it possible for everyone’s opinion about the nature of the world to be heard and tallied. This slightly longer version of the same clip is worth watching:

You can also watch the entire episode from which it was taken.

Personal computing and the internet changed (and continues to change) the balance of power in the world so much and with such speed that we still can’t comprehend it. Ordinary people have more power today than they have ever had in history, but already powerful people have seen their potential reach and influence grow even more quickly. The system enabled by connected microchips can make everyone heard, but it can also make a reality TV star President of the United States. And this dynamic is still very young…we’re in for a wild ride, folks.

Birds in the Ancient World

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

Prometheus.jpg

Birds play an outsized role in most cultures’ collective imaginations, which makes sense; they’re our near neighbors, yet retain a kind of strangeness that’s best embodied in their most singular characteristic, flight. If anything, birds played a larger role in the ancient and classical world, since they were seen as even closer to the human universe. As Reyes Bertolin Cebrian writes in her review of Jeremy Mynott’s Birds In The Ancient World:

Birds lived much closer to humans in the ancient world than they do today. There were more birds and more kinds of birds in evidence and they shared the space in the cities and in the fields.

So birds dotted both the mythologies and the daily lives of ancient peoples. Even “the world would have sounded rather different from ours since there was a greater abundance of wildlife and at the same time there were less mechanical noises to compete against,” making birdsong both more familiar and giving it greater importance. Birds were important for hunting and agriculture, but also for magic and ritual, with augury (observing the flight of birds) as the most important.

According to Cebrian, Mynott’s book is written more for bird lovers and the general public than a specialized classicist audience; all classical quotations are given in translation and very little special apparatus is needed.

(Via The Browser)

Monk Hacks: Dealing With Distraction in Late Antiquity

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

memory-theater.png

For monks, concentration wasn’t just a practical necessity, but a spiritual discipline. Consequently, they spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of distraction and how to fight it.

Sometimes [monks] accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment - let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have forecasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat.

Actually, I can think of several other things John Cassian would have done if he had seen a smartphone, but let’s not get off track. Sure. He’d have figured out we’d have some problems.

Here’s a paradox: monks and nuns weren’t all about that austerity, at least cognitively. Instead, they’d go full tilt into embracing the wild, distracting powers of the mind, but trying to harness them for useful purposes.

Part of monastic education involved learning how to form cartoonish cognitive figures, to help sharpen one’s mnemonic and meditative skills. The mind loves stimuli such as colour, gore, sex, violence, noise and wild gesticulations. The challenge was to accept its delights and preferences, in order to take advantage of them. Authors and artists might do some of the legwork here, by writing vivid narratives or sculpting grotesque figures that embodied the ideas they wanted to communicate. But if a nun wanted to really learn something she’d read or heard, she would do this work herself, by rendering the material as a series of bizarre animations in her mind. The weirder the mnemonic devices the better - strangeness would make them easier to retrieve, and more captivating to think with when she ‘returned’ to look them over.

My favorite book about this is Francis Yates’s The Art of Memory; it’s more about the Renaissance than the height of the monastic period, but focuses on the history and artistry of these various mnemonic devices, while doubling as a kind of cultural history of the mind.

The Books Shakespeare Read

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

metamorphoses.jpg

Five Books is a pretty cool website I’d never heard of before; it’s a recommendations website, anchored by interviews with experts who pick a certain number (guess how many!) of books to recommend. Most are sorted by topic, so you get the best books about X; this interview, with Shakespeare expert Robert S Miola, examines five books that influenced Shakespeare, especially (but not only) as source material.

What I like especially is how Miola deftly deals with the whole problem of influence in an era when what it even meant to read or own a book was very different from our own age.

One thing we’re coming to appreciate is how print culture existed side by side with a vibrant and flourishing manuscript culture. Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, were passed around in manuscript, from what we can gather, as were most of John Donne’s poems. Many have pointed to the importance of print because at that time, schools had texts that people could study. And, more importantly, individuals could collect libraries.

This leads to one of the great mysteries: where did Shakespeare find these books? Whose libraries did he raid? John Florio was known to have a big library, as did Ben Jonson, who famously wrote a poem about its burning. And there were collectors, too. Yet we still haven’t discerned from the available clues where Shakespeare got access to his books…

When you get a passage in Shakespeare—or any Elizabethan—you can’t really assume that the author knows the whole text. He or she might just have 12 lines from Virgil. The reading practice was that knowing lines might help you in another situation in your life. Scholars get upset because they can’t be sure that someone really knows Virgil; the lines might have been taken out of context from Virgil’s Georgics on beekeeping or gardening, for any reason whatsoever.

That’s one way to look at it. But the other is to say that they believed in Virgil so much that they took him as a guide for daily life. And that is the way they saw it. It takes an imaginative leap to understand just how much they valued books, and just how much they read.

The discussion of what Shakespeare took from Ovid, not just in terms of content for stories, but stylistically, is great:

Ovid is like Shakespeare as a poet; both possess extremely rapid wit and move magically and unpredictably on the surface of the text, from image to image and metaphor to metaphor. They defy expectation. Reading them is always surprising. Here, you have a great contrast with Virgil. I think Shakespeare read and liked Virgil, but Virgil is stately, imperial, and marvellously well-wrought, whereas Ovid is quick, shifting, and interested in surface and glitter.

Another nugget gleaned from this interview right away: only two of Shakespeare’s plays are thought to be more or less original in their plots — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. Everything else was borrowed, in whole or part, from classical, historical, or contemporary sources.

Why Everyone Is Watching TV with Closed Captioning On These Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2019

Ice Law Order

A few months ago I noticed that several friends (who speak English and aren’t deaf) routinely watch TV and movies with closed captions and subtitles on. I asked about this on Twitter and the resulting thread was fascinating. Turns out many of you watch TV this way for all kinds of different reasons — to follow complex dialog in foreign or otherwise difficult accents, some folks better retain information while reading, keeping the sound down so as not to wake sleeping children in tight living spaces, and lots of people who aren’t deaf find listening difficult for many reasons (some have trouble listening to dialogue when there’s any sort of non-ambient noise in the background).

For instance, Stephanie Buck wrote:

I turned them on last night when watching Sex Education because the mixture of strong accents, British slang, and fast talking means I miss a lot otherwise. Also I’d had 2 margaritas.

David Sun Lee:

When I watch tv alone at night I gotta keep the tv low so the effects and soundtrack don’t wake up the kids. Usually that means the voice track is lost.

Jeremy Negrey:

Typically the whole family is in the living room, but some might be watching their iPad or on their phone so there is a lot of competing noise. I found it helps me focus on what I’m watching.

As Sebastian Greger notes in his summary of the resulting thread, closed captioning is a great example of how accessibility features can benefit everyone, especially those who may have disabilities or limitations that aren’t typically acknowledged as such.

The reasons why people watch TV with closed captions on, despite having good hearing abilities and not being constrained by having to watch muted video, are manifold and go far beyond those two most commonly anticipated use cases.

See also Why Gen Z Loves Closed Captioning.

This post first appeared in an issue of Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Cultural Cartography

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

In 2017, BuzzFeed’s Publisher Dao Nguyen did a TED Talk about how the company thinks about producing content.

In it, she introduces a system BuzzFeed developed called cultural cartography.

The question I get most frequently is: How do you make something go viral? The question itself is misplaced; it’s not about the something. It’s about what the people doing the something, reading or watching — what are they thinking? Now, most media companies, when they think about metadata, they think about subjects or formats. It’s about goats, it’s about office pranks, it’s about food, it’s a list or a video or a quiz, it’s 2,000 words long, it’s 15 minutes long, it has 23 embedded tweets or 15 images. Now, that kind of metadata is mildly interesting, but it doesn’t actually get at what really matters. What if, instead of tagging what articles or videos are about, what if we asked: How is it helping our users do a real job in their lives?

Last year, we started a project to formally categorize our content in this way. We called it, “cultural cartography.” It formalized an informal practice that we’ve had for a really long time: don’t just think about the subject matter; think also about, and in fact, primarily about, the job that your content is doing for the reader or the viewer.

Here’s what BuzzFeed’s map of their users’ desires looks like:

Cultural Cartography

But as former BuzzFeed employee Matthew Perpetua notes in a post about pop star Lizzo, content can start to feel formulaic if, you know, you use an actual formula to produce it.

I can’t hear Lizzo’s music without recognizing her cultural cartography savvy. A lot of music can achieve these goals without contrivance, often just as a natural side effect of an artist intuitively making resonant work, but Lizzo’s songs all sound very calculated to me. This is not such a bad thing — her skill in expressing herself in relatable ways is a major talent, and I’ve worked with many people who have this natural skill and hold them in very high regard. (I’m much better at telling people who they are rather than asking you to identify with who I am.) Lizzo has a good voice, and her songs range from “pretty good” to “undeniable banger” but I have mixed feelings about all of it because I know the game being played rather well, and because I’m uncomfortable with this self-consciously audience-pleasing approach to content creation becoming the primary mode of pop culture.

All artists who produce work for a large audience (or aspire to) have a method like cultural cartography, though most likely much less formal and more intuitive than BuzzFeed’s system. Some artists are better than others in disguising their methods.

Fred Rogers’ 2002 Dartmouth College Commencement Address

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

In 2002, Fred Rogers gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College, where he attended school as a freshman before transferring out. The video recording of the address is only 16 minutes long and worth watching in full.

A transcript is here. Some passages that felt meaningful to me:

Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not.

I have a lot of framed things in my office, which people have given to me through the years. And on my walls are Greek, and Hebrew, and Russian, and Chinese. And beside my chair, is a French sentence from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It reads, “L’essential est invisible pour les yeux.” What is essential is invisible to the eye. Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person, and often many, who have believed in him or her. We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.

It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.

But holy shit Fred, “our differences are infinitesimal” is a really hard thing to keep in mind these days. How do we even do that?

Tiny Impressionist Oil Paintings Inside the Covers of Altoids Tins

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

Matthew Betancourt

Matthew Betancourt

Painter Matthew Betancourt paints these miniature works of art inside the covers of Altoids tins. Aside from the playfulness and cuteness factor, I love that he uses the bottom half of the tin as a palette and it’s displayed along with the finished painting. You get to see the process along with the work. It’s something that Betancourt plays with even more on his Instagram account, where he displays subject, palette, and finished product all in one go:

Matthew Betancourt

(thx, brandon)

A Short Summary of the Contemporary Republican Party’s Strategy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky gave a short summary of how the modern Republican Party coalition between the rich and the religious, white working class was built, decade by decade.

They have a primary constituency, a real constituency: extreme wealth and corporate power. That’s who they have to serve. That’s their constituency. You can’t get votes that way, so you have to do something else to get votes. What do you do to get votes? This was begun by Richard Nixon with the Southern strategy: try to pick up racists in the South. The mid-1970s, Paul Weyrich, one of the Republican strategists, hit on a brilliant idea. Northern Catholics voted Democratic, tended to vote Democratic, a lot of them working-class. The Republicans could pick up that vote by pretending — crucially, “pretending” — to be opposed to abortion. By the same pretense, they could pick up the evangelical vote. Those are big votes — evangelicals, northern Catholics. Notice the word “pretense.” It’s crucial. You go back to the 1960s, every leading Republican figure was strongly, what we call now, pro-choice. The Republican Party position was — that’s Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, all the leadership — their position was: Abortion is not the government’s business; it’s private business — government has nothing to say about it. They turned almost on a dime in order to try to pick up a voting base on what are called cultural issues.

Same with gun rights. Gun rights become a matter of holy writ because you can pick up part of the population that way. In fact, what they’ve done is put together a coalition of voters based on issues that are basically, you know, tolerable to the establishment, but they don’t like it. OK? And they’ve got to hold that, those two constituencies, together. The real constituency of wealth and corporate power, they’re taken care of by the actual legislation.

Cory Doctorow’s translation of Chomsky’s remarks is even shorter and, not surprisingly, much more entertaining:

Chomsky lays out the history of the GOP from Nixon’s Southern Strategy, when the party figured out that the way to large numbers of working people to vote for policies that made a tiny minority of rich people richer was to quietly support racism, which would fuse together a coalition of racists and the super-rich. By Reagan’s time, the coalition was beefed up with throngs of religious fanatics, brought in by adopting brutal anti-abortion policies. Then the GOP recruited paranoid musketfuckers by adopting doctrinal opposition to any form of gun control. Constituency by constituency, the GOP became a big tent for deranged, paranoid, bigoted and misogynist elements, all reliably showing up to vote for policies that would send billions into the pockets of a tiny rump of wealthy people who represented the party’s establishment.

Appealing to those fears and issues has been very effective and has been joined in recent years by conservatives and conservative media eroding trust in many of America’s familiar institutions, such as the scientific community, journalism, and government (some of which erosion, to be fair, has been self-inflicted). Keep in mind that as recently as 10 years ago, Republicans believed in climate science until their constituency (aka the wealthy industrialists) steered them away from that path.

What’s the corresponding explanation for the Democratic Party? It seems to me that their strategy over the past 40 years, aside from a blip or two here and there, has mainly been in reaction to the much more organized and single-minded Republican strategy.

The Fantastical Drawings of an Inventive 15th-Century Italian Engineer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

Sometime in the early 15th century, an Italian engineer and inventor Johannes de Fontana produced a sketchbook that would later be called the Book of Warfare Devices. Its pages were filled with Fontana’s ideas for all kinds of inventions, projects, and fantastical machines.

Johannes de Fontana

Johannes de Fontana

Johannes de Fontana

Fontana imagined a wide array of projects: mechanical camels for entertaining children, mysterious locks to guard treasure, flame-throwing contraptions to terrorize the defenders of besieged cities, huge fountains, musical instruments, actors’ masks, and many other wonders. One of the most remarkable features of his ideas is that many of them are impossible to execute: they simply do not conform to the principles of mechanics. This gives them great charm and makes them more interesting, perhaps, than his more rational or practical proposals. We see similar impractical designs in the very few other engineers’ books extant from this early period, most notably in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

When I first saw his work, my mind immediately thought of Leonardo as well, although Fontana’s drawings were less polished and modern than even those of his contemporaries:

The towers and rockets, water and fire, nozzles and pipes, pulleys and ropes, gears and grapples, wheels and beams, and grids and spheres that were an engineer’s occupation at the dawn of the Renaissance fill Fontana’s sketchbook. His way of illustrating his ideas, however, is distinctly medieval, lacking perspective and using a limited array of angles for displaying machine works. He drew according to the methods practiced in the previous century, not those of the Italy of Alberti and Brunelleschi in which he lived. He used liberal splashes of ochre to animate his mechanical monsters and devils with the effects of fire.

You can explore the entire sketchbook here…browsing via thumbnail view is probably easiest. (via open culture)

Stunning Overhead View of Shaolin Kung Fu Training Exercises

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

As part of their show Earth From Space, the BBC Earth team shows the coordinated movements of thousands of Shaolin Kung Fu trainees. The number of participants is so large that their movements can easily be seen in a satellite view. I mean:

Shaolin Kung Fu

(via bb)

The Beautiful Ones, a Forthcoming Memoir From Prince

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

The Beautiful Ones

Before his death in 2016, Prince had begun work on a memoir about his wonderfully creative life. The Beautiful Ones, due out in October 2019, will incorporate the 50 hand-written pages the artist had completed before he died, along with other writings, personal photos, and handwritten lyric sheets.

The Beautiful Ones is the story of how Prince became Prince — a first-person account of a kid absorbing the world around him and then creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and fame that would come to define him. The book is told in four parts. The first is composed of the memoir he was writing before his tragic death, pages that brings us into Prince’s childhood world through his own lyrical prose. The second part takes us into Prince’s early years as a musician, before his first album released, through a scrapbook of Prince’s writing and photos. The third section shows us Prince’s evolution through candid images that take us up to the cusp of his greatest achievement, which we see in the book’s fourth section: his original handwritten treatment for Purple Rain — the final stage in Prince’s self-creation, as he retells the autobiography we’ve seen in the first three parts as a heroic journey.

The book is being produced in partnership with his estate, which is also behind the forthcoming Netflix documentary series about Prince directed by Ava DuVernay.

The project has the full cooperation of the late artist’s estate, which is providing with interviews, archival footage, photos and archive access. The multiple-part documentary will cover the artist’s entire life.

The book and documentary sound similar…I wonder if they’ll share a title?

Update: In an interview with the LA Times, DuVernay shares that she’s no longer working on the Prince documentary.

She does note she’s no longer working on Netflix’s multipart Prince documentary, saying she had “creative differences” with the company after working for a year on the project. “It just didn’t work out,” she says. “There’s a lot of beautiful material there. I wish them well.”

Perfectly Normal, How Autism Feels From the Inside

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

This short film by Joris Debeij features Jordan Kamnitzer talking about his experience as someone who is on the autism spectrum.

Autism affects my life in several ways. I have to, sort of, know on a repetitious level, like, how to do things accordingly. Change is very difficult in a routine.

It’s hard to interact with people. I’d like to get to know people better. I try to listen very hard and try to become interested and gradually be friends. Sometimes it does work, but sometimes I know the subject matters are sort of limited with normal individuals.

I’ve had cases where I felt turned down, but silently. I sometimes feel disappointed and hurt, then I retreat and go back into my own indifferent world.

In a related essay, Eli Gottlieb writes about the film and his brother Joshua, who is severely autistic:

As a documentary, though, “Perfectly Normal” is necessarily a partial version of the truth. When Joshua and I were filmed for a short documentary, for example, I was struck by how the film showed a higher-functioning version of the person than the one I knew. That was because, like many people with developmental disabilities, my brother had evolved a repertoire of stock responses to social situations. Glimpsed serially in a 15 minute film, these responses added up to a semblance of a socially appropriate person, and skipped the endless testing questions and self-involved rhetorical loops that make him so exhausting to spend time with. (The film, “The Inviolable Bond,” can be seen here.)

Jordan and his girlfriend, Toni, obviously have another life than the one revealed in the film.

I had similar thoughts while watching. How can we know what it’s like in Kamnitzer’s head, especially when the director and editor have so much input into how the film is constructed? At the same time, he definitely said some things about his experience that resonate with me and my experience of the world. It’s not the first time this has happened in recent years. I’ve never been identified as such by a professional, but I would not be surprised to find myself somewhere on the autism spectrum. It would certainly explain some things!

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.

The Extinction Symbol

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

Extinction Symbol

With its recent use by the participants in the Extinction Rebellion, the extinction symbol has become much more widely known, on its way to becoming the peace symbol of the climate movement.

The symbol above represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

The symbol and a stencil template are available for download “for non-commercial purposes”.

There’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the page about merchandise, which reads in part:

No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Here’s the thing: I want a t-shirt with the extinction symbol on it so I can signify my support (in a small way) for climate justice. If I’m reading this correctly, I can make a t-shirt for myself but not have one made for me? Or can I have a single print-on-demand shirt made for me at cost? Making my own shirt (I’d need to buy a bunch of single-use supplies) or getting a one-off printed doesn’t seem very climate-friendly at all. How about taking orders from other interested folks (like you all) and selling the shirts at cost? That seems much more climate-friendly but also firmly against the symbol maker’s strict policy.

I think we’re bumping up against an inconvenient truth about capitalism here: it is sometimes (or perhaps even often) the most efficient and least wasteful way to produce something because it’s actually a deeply collectivist endeavor. Let’s say you’re holding a climate protest, 100,000 people are coming, and those people want to bring shirts or signs or other protest equipment to the protest to “advertise” their displeasure to those watching, near and far. Is it more climate friendly for all those people to individually buy supplies and each produce their own things or would it be better to rely on a organization whose sole purpose is to produce protest supplies (using carbon-free energy and materials) and pay them more than the cost of the supplies so they can provide their employees a living wage and even advertise their services a little so they can actually remain in the protest supplies business and take even more advantage of economies of scale to keep prices down? Run it as a non-profit if you’d like. That seems far less wasteful to me than people buying one-off supplies, even on a group basis.

You might interject here that producing anything that uses any natural resources for such a protest is wasteful and unethical. I think that’s a fair point! What’s the ROI for protest materials? Is it wasteful to spend a little CO2 now to possibly save a bunch of CO2 in the future or is it smart? Gah, all I want is a shirt to express myself! Are there any simple and ethical solutions in a world that’s so densely networked and interconnected?

David Attenborough Hosts “Climate Change: The Facts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

From the BBC and hosted by David Attenborough, “Climate Change: The Facts” is an hour-long program on the science of climate change and what we might be able to do about it.

Sir David’s new programme laid out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.

“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David stated in the film.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

With each successive nature series, Attenborough has become more vocal about the effects of climate change on our planet and its plant and animal populations. In his new Netflix series Our Planet, climate change takes center stage.

Compared to its predecessors, the series also frames the value of nature in a new way. Usually Attenborough’s programs establish a place or a species as a thing of remarkable beauty-this soulful orangutan, that industrious bird of paradise-before warning that it is somehow imperilled. The value of the creature is its existence. We may never see a polar bear, but we take pleasure from knowing that they’re out there. In “Our Planet,” the value of nature is presented as something much closer to home, and more practical. Attenborough reminds viewers again and again of the connections that link these far-flung ecosystems to our own species’s survival. Protect the sea otter because it’s lovely, if you like, but also because it keeps in check the sea urchins that otherwise mow down kelp forests, which act as crucial carbon sinks. “We are part of nature. We aren’t separate from nature,” Attenborough told me.

Resources for Living a More Ethical Life Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Ethical.net has compiled a list of resources for “discovering ethical alternatives to stuff”. Their list includes web browsers like Tor and Firefox (check out the first site in the “top sites” listing in the graphic), search engines like DuckDuckGo, email services like Fastmail, a bunch of carbon-neutral web hosting options, and all kinds of other services and apps that tend to be open source, privacy friendly, not supported by advertising, and decentralized.

Physical Data Visualizations

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

For almost as long as we’ve had civilization, people have been making data visualizations.1 The availability of paper and screens has exploded their creation in the last few hundred years, but the earliest visualizations were made from physical objects. This list contains more than 300 examples of physical visualizations and related artifacts and is absolutely fascinating (the older artifacts in particular). Take these stick charts from the Marshall Islands for example:

Marshall Islands Stick Map

These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862.

The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and islands.

And Yakama time balls:

Yakama Time Ball

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball.

A young woman would use a time ball to record her courtship, marriage, and other experiences using a system of knots and beads that only she could decipher. As she grew older, a woman might have several time balls with which to share her life story or keep those memories private. When she passed on, they were buried with her.

The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences.

You can read more about stick maps in the Smithsonian magazine and more about time balls at the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel.

  1. And visualizations probably enabled civilization. Or is it the other way around?

The Secret Pigeon Service

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

This short piece in the London Review of Books about pigeons is fascinating. I learned many new things about pigeons and now hold them in higher esteem than I did previously.

Pigeons are more intelligent than we give them credit for, one of the few animals — along with great apes, dolphins and elephants — able to pass the mirror self-recognition test. If you mark a pigeon’s wing and let it look in a mirror it will try to remove the mark, realising that what it sees is a reflected image of its own body. Pigeons can recognise video footage of themselves shown with a five-second delay (three-year-old children find it difficult to comprehend a two-second delay). They are able to recognise individuals from photographs, and a neuroscientist at Keio University in Japan has trained them to distinguish between the paintings of Matisse and Picasso. ‘Modesty,’ Marianne Moore wrote, ‘cannot dull the lustre of the pigeon.’

Pigeons move through a human world. They stay close to the land, often flying at street level, below the height of the rooftops. Recent studies have suggested that they navigate using human structures as well as natural ones: they follow roads and canals, and have been observed going round roundabouts before taking the appropriate exit. They can fly extremely fast — up to 110 miles per hour — and with a following wind can cover 700 miles in a single uninterrupted flight (pigeons don’t like to fly at night but can be trained to do so). There are faster birds — peregrine falcons, the pigeon’s main predator, can reach 200 miles per hour on the stoop — but none can fly horizontally, under its own power, as quickly as a pigeon.

This bit, about the role of pigeons in developing the telecommunications networks of today, is terrific:

During the 19th and early 20th centuries they became important auxiliaries to the technological networks that were springing up across the world. Reuter’s News Agency was established in 1850 with a flock of 45 pigeons, which were used to cover a gap in the telegraph network between Brussels and Aachen, giving Paul Reuter a monopoly over all telegraph traffic between Belgium and Germany. The five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild used pigeons to stay in touch as they travelled around Europe consolidating their father’s banking dynasty. During the Siege of Paris in 1870, pigeons were taken out of the city by balloon and returned carrying thousands of letters stored on microfilm and sewn into their tail feathers.

Pigeon Secret Service

The bulk of the piece is a review of Gordon Corera’s book, Operation Columba - The Secret Pigeon Service: The Untold Story of World War II Resistance in Europe, which is about a British campaign that used carrier pigeons to gather intelligence from German occupied territories during WWII.

Between 1941 and 1944, British intelligence dropped sixteen thousand homing pigeons in an arc across Nazi-occupied Europe, from Bordeaux, France to Copenhagen, Denmark, as part of a spy operation code-named Columba. Returning to MI14, the secret government branch in charge of the “Special Pigeon Service,” the birds carried messages that offered a glimpse of life under the Germans in rural France, Holland, and Belgium. Written on tiny pieces of rice paper tucked into canisters and tied to the birds’ legs, these messages were sometimes comic, often tragic, and occasionally invaluable-reporting details of German troop movements and fortifications, new Nazi weapons, radar systems, and even the deployment of the feared V-1 and V-2 rockets used to terrorize London.

Life Aboard a Finnish Icebreaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Monocle has produced a pair of videos about what Finland’s fleet of icebreakers do and what daily life is like for the crew.

In the second video, I was most interested in how life aboard icebreakers has changed now that wifi and personal TVs & DVD players are ubiquitous. Crew members are able to speak & video chat with their families daily (instead of every few weeks or months as in the past) and as a result, they feel less isolated and closer to their loved ones. But at the same time, access to the internet and TVs in each cabin results in less on-board socialization among the crew, which perhaps makes for a less tight-knit group. Extrapolating to society at large is left as an exercise to the viewer.

See also the Relaxing Sounds of an Arctic Icebreaker. (via why is this interesting?)

Public Sans, a New Typeface from the US Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Public Sans

As part of their recent announcement of a new web design system for US government websites, the General Services Administration has also introduced a new typeface called Public Sans.

USWDS 2.0 adds built-in support for custom typefaces, and sometimes you need one that’s simple, neutral, and isn’t Helvetica. Public Sans is an open source, free license typeface (SIL Open Font License 1.1) designed and maintained by USWDS, adapted from Libre Franklin. Just as with our components, we intend Public Sans to be an example of how to design an accessible open source typeface with contributions and feedback from the public — to deliver a useful, neutral, sans serif and continuously improve it.

Always interesting when typefaces are described as “neutral”. I’ve never found that to be the case…

Colorful Pixelated Murals by Alberonero

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2019

Alberonero

Alberonero

I love these colorful pixelated exteriors by Italian artist Alberonero. These are going on the mood board for my theoretical future house. You can find more of their work on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. (via colossal)

The Saturday Night Live Portrait

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

SNL Bumpers

SNL Bumpers

Since 1999, Mary Ellen Matthews has been the official photographer of SNL. For each show, Matthews captures a stylized portrait of the host, which is then used for “bumpers” between commercials and the live program.

“I kind of think of them as billboards. They pop off the screen,” Matthews, a self-described “one-woman circus,” told Vulture in a recent interview. “I like to make it as easy as possible for everyone. I don’t want them overthinking this part of the show. It should be super fun and super easy. It’s an open invitation to get kooky.”

The Failure of the Great Tip-Free Restaurant Experiment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

Over the past three years, a number of restaurants across the geographic and economic spectrum of America have experimented with eliminating tipping. The practice is outdated, creates a difficult-to-justify wage imbalance between servers and cooks, and can result in mistreatment of staff (racism, sexual harassment) because of the fucked-up power dynamic it creates.

But as Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson writes, the no-tip test has largely failed, with many of those places going back to the old ways. This happened for three main reasons:

1. No tips meant higher prices printed on the menu, and customers stayed away from what they perceived as more expensive meals. That $12 burger became a $14.50 burger and all of a sudden, people knew what they were actually paying for their food. What’s interesting is that in another situation (say, having to pay to check a bag on a flight), people would be upset at not knowing the price up front and having a “hidden charge” added to their bill when they’re drunk and happy at the end of a meal.

2. Servers can make more at tipping restaurants. Places that went tip-free lost a bunch of their staff to places that still had tipping.

Meanwhile, by raising menu prices and thus revenues, the extra money would go toward higher wages for kitchen staff, who could start making $12 to $15 an hour at a time when the state minimum wage was $8.75.

But, it turned out, many front-of-house staffers were more concerned with making money than with maintaining the moral high ground. This February, Meyer admitted that he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his “legacy” staffers since 2015. (One Meyer employee told Grub last year that her wages dropped from $60,000 per year to $50,000 under the new policy.) While he insisted that the employees that replaced them “understand ‘Hospitality Included’ and are thrilled about it,” added employee attrition in an industry where turnover is already 1.5 times that of the private sector average has to hurt.

My regular NYC spot was one of the restaurants that experimented with eliminating tipping, and I can report that the staff was indeed quite skeptical about it and they switched back to the old method very soon. (I believe they kept the raises for the chefs though somehow.)

3. Tips make diners feel powerful. With tipping, you become the boss of your server or bartender and are responsible for a large chunk of their take-home pay.

Generally speaking, Americans hated the practice of tipping when it was first introduced in the late 19th century, perceiving it as a form of bribery for service workers who should simply do their jobs. But as we’ve adjusted to it, tipping has become undeniably intertwined with a sense of power.

Short of walking into the kitchen and telling off the chef, tipping is the easiest way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a dining experience.

As a customer, I loved not tipping. I don’t feel the need to have power over the staff in a restaurant, I want cooks & chefs to get paid as well as servers, and I’ve acclimated to factoring the tip into my dining expenses. But it seems that Americans in the aggregate do care about those things, and so here we are.

And if we’re going to have tipping in restaurants, we should all know how it works.

If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant.

And if your meal is bad?

You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

Only Mass Protests Can Prevent “an Ecological Apocalypse”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, George Monbiot argues that mass protests are “essential” to force a political response to climate change.

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament.

This paragraph neatly summarizes a bunch of important points about climate change and our current system (italics mine):

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union — Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More — systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the disintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system — characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing — will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

As I wrote several years ago, “nonlinear systems, man”.

Rebuilding the Notre Dame with Strong Trees and Laser Scans

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

According to an expert, France doesn’t have any of the large, old trees necessary to replace the burned wooden beams in the roof of the Notre Dame.

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told France Info radio that the wooden roof that went up in flames was built with beams more than 800 years ago from primal forests.

He says the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about future planning (possibly apocryphal). As told by Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn, the story goes:

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was founded around the late 14th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top. These might be two feet square and forty-five feet long.

A century ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because they had no idea where they would get beams of that calibre nowadays.

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be some oak on College lands. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks has been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

Hopefully the trees needed for rebuilding Notre Dame can be sourced elsewhere. Just as important, a more modern form of future planning was recently undertaken that should help greatly with the rebuild. In 2010, two men photographed and laser-scanned every inch of the Notre Dame, creating an incredibly detailed 3-D map of the building.

3D Notre Dame

Now, with the building having sustained untold but very substantial damage, the data that Tallon and Blaer created could be an invaluable aid to whoever is charged with rebuilding the structure. Ochsendorf described the data as “essential for capturing [the structure] as built geometry.” (He added, however, that the cathedral, no matter what happens now, “is irreplaceable, of course.”)

Tallon and Blaer’s laser data consist of 1 billion data points, structured as “point clouds,” which software can render into images of the three-dimensional space. Stitch them together, inside and out, map the photographs onto the precise 3-D models, and you have a full digital re-creation of incredible detail and resolution.

“I saw this happening, and I had two thoughts,” Blaer told me of watching the cathedral engulfed in flames. “One thought was that I was kind of relieved that he didn’t actually have to see this happen. But on the other hand, he knew it so well and had so much information about how it’s constructed, he would have been so helpful in terms of rebuilding it.”

(thx, meg)

Update: According to this piece in Le Monde (as best as I can discern in Google Translate), French forests have both the quality and quantity of wood available to provide new beams for Notre Dame. (via @ramdyne)

The Notre Dame Fire and the Invisible Tragedy of the Everyday

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

In the aftermath of the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, two French billionaires stepped in to pledge €300 million for the restoration of the historic building. Carl Kinsella writes that the reaction of the rich to the Notre Dame fire teaches us a lot about the world we live in.

It would be incredibly cheap to suggest that it is in some way wrong to give money for the restoration. There is a value that transcends simple economics in restoring testaments to civilisation. Better that Notre Dame remains a symbol of European history than €300 million rests in a billionaire’s bank account.

But the immediacy and magnitude of their response tells us something very important about the society we live in.

If two men in a world of more than 7 billion people can provide €300 million to restore Notre Dame, within six hours, then there is enough money in the world to feed every mouth, shelter every family and educate every child. The failure to do so is a matter of will, and a matter of system.

The failure to do so comes from our failure to recognise the mundane emergencies that claims lives all around us every single day. Works of art and architectural history and beauty rely on the ingenuity of people, and it is people who must be protected above all else.

Executive director of the World Peace Foundation Alex de Waal says that almost all the famines that occur today are political decisions, a “matter of system” as Kinsella puts it. In the modern world, hunger, homelessness, lack of proper healthcare, and lack of access to education are all political decisions as well. The simple truth is that we can take care of everyone on Earth, but we choose not to.

The Little Book of Fixers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Jan Chipchase’s Studio D has recently released their latest booklet, The Little Book of Fixers.

Fixers and guides are core to the way we operate — to complement the skills and address the weaknesses of international teams tasked with documenting and decoding cultures across the globe. Fixers and guides are crucial for knowing the best neighbourhood for the team to be situated, recruiting suitable participants, identifying nascent behaviours and critically discussing the trajectories that put the data into a broader societal perspective. Working with fixers enables research projects to go beyond the veneer of a culture, to truly understand the forces shaping society.

The Little Book of Fixers

I continue to find the output of Studio D and Chipchase fascinating — see 61 Glimpses of the Future for example. Hiring fixers is not something most of us will ever need to do, but creatively and respectfully choosing guides when interacting and intersecting with cultures different from our own is always going to be relevant.

You can order The Little Book of Fixers directly from Studio D or via Amazon (which I’m assuming is written in English and not “Middle English” as Amazon says).

Strange Stars and Strange Matter

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Nuclear physicists hypothesize that when the cores of neutron stars are subject to enough pressure, the quarks that make up the core can turn from up and down quark varieties into strange quarks. As this Kurzgesagt video explains, this strange matter is particularly stable and if it were to escape from the core of the neutron star, it would convert any ordinary matter it came into contact with to more strange matter. If you hadn’t heard about this hypothesis before, you can read up on it in their list of sources for the video.

Going Real Estate Shopping in a Climate Change-Threatened Miami

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Sarah Miller went looking for real estate in Miami, a place where the sea level could rise between one and three feet in the next 30 years. As she discovered, the real estate agents there have gotten good at deflecting buyers’ concerns about such matters.

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”

Wow, I said, just in the last three years… “They’re not worried about sea level rise?”

“It’s definitely something the city is trying to combat. They are fighting it, by raising everything. But so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

I couldn’t wait to steal this line, slightly altered. “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

Later, I texted Kristina Hill, an associate professor of urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose main work is helping coastal communities adapt to climate change. I told her that a real estate agent had just told me hurricanes were weaker near Sunset Harbour, because it was in the east side of Miami, and hurricanes come from the south. She wrote back, “That’s ridiculous!”

The analysis of why Amsterdam and Miami are quite dissimilar when it comes to their respective responses to climate change is enlightening.

The Big Plan in the Netherlands depends on walls. Since Miami is built on limestone, which soaks up water like a sponge, walls are not very useful. In Miami, sea water will just go under a wall, like a salty ghost.

BeyoncĂ© Drops “Homecoming”, a Live Album of Her Coachella Performance

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

With a tweet at 3:20am this morning, Beyoncé announced her latest album, a 40-track live album of her acclaimed 2018 Coachella performance. You can listen to Homecoming right now on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube, and Pandora.

The album is a complement to a Netflix film of the performance, also called Homecoming and also available today. Here’s the trailer for that:

After the Coachella performance last year, the NY Times’ music critic Jon Caramanica wrote:

Let’s just cut to the chase: There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday night.

It was rich with history, potently political and visually grand. By turns uproarious, rowdy, and lush. A gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction.

The Rise of Selective Empathy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

Over the past 20 years, the kind of empathy practiced by many Americans has shifted from a universal empathy — putting yourself into the shoes of someone you don’t know and might even dislike — to a more selective empathy that only works with people “on your team”.

Researchers who study empathy have noticed that it’s actually really hard to do what we were striving for in my generation: empathize with people who are different than you are, much less people you don’t like. But if researchers set up a conflict, people get into automatic empathy overdrive, with their own team. This new research has scrambled notions of how empathy works as a force in the world. For example, we often think of terrorists as shockingly blind to the suffering of innocents. But Breithaupt and other researchers think of them as classic examples of people afflicted with an “excess of empathy. They feel the suffering of their people.”

Breithaupt called his new book The Dark Sides of Empathy, because there’s a point at which empathy doesn’t even look like the kind of universal empathy I was taught in school. There is a natural way that empathy gets triggered in the brain — your pain centers light up when you see another person suffering. But out in the world it starts to look more like tribalism, a way to keep reinforcing your own point of view and blocking out any others.

Here’s the description of Breithaupt’s book:

Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people often commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification and a desire to increase empathy. Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts or exploiting others.

(via tmn)

The Music of Halt and Catch Fire

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

Volume 2 of the Halt and Catch Fire soundtrack recently came out and I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since @mwichary flagged it on Twitter.

Volume 1 is here.

AMC also has a bunch of playlists on Spotify with music from specific seasons and for different products & characters on the show.

The theme song, one of my favorite little pieces of music ever, is by Trentemøller and can be found here, although you may prefer Paul F. Tompkins’ version.

The Devil and the Explicit Lyrics Sticker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

In the first episode of season two of Earworm, Estelle Caswell explains where the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker found on many of your favorite music albums came from. The story involves heavy metal, Prince, the rise of the religious right, the Satanic panic, Tipper Gore, and lots of amazing hair.

The very public discussion around the advisory label involved the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a group led by the wives of Washington politicians, and a few musicians including Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver.

While the PMRC’s involvement was allegedly sparked by some raunchy lyrics from Prince’s 1984 album Purple Rain, the debate over rock lyrics had been infiltrating American culture and politics for a decade. The driving force behind that debate was the rise of heavy metal, a genre that saw explosive popularity with the launch of MTV in 1981, and the growing influence of the religious right, who saw rock music as a powerful threat to Christianity.

One of the main sources for the video is Eric Nuzum’s book, Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America.

Helvetica Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

Monotype has introduced a new version of the Helvetica typeface called Helvetica Now.

Helvetica Now is a new chapter in the story of perhaps the best-known typeface of all time. Available in three optical sizes-Micro, Text, and Display-every character in Helvetica Now has been redrawn and refit; with a variety of useful alternates added. It has everything we love about Helvetica and everything we need for typography today. This is not a revival. This is not a restoration.

This is a statement.

Typographer Erik Spiekermann says:

This is the typeface Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann would have designed back in 1957 if they had known about offset printing, small screens, browsers, digital design tools and UI designers.

The Last Avocado

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

If you had access to the last ripe avocado in the world, what would you do with it?

Life-Sized Lego Electronics

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Brix System is a collection of scaled-up Lego versions of computers, phones, and music machines made out of wood. This is super nerdy and I am here for it.

See also A Full-Scale Lego Supercar that Actually Drives.

How Leonardo Constructed a Satellite-View Map in 1502 Without Ever Leaving the Ground

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Have you ever wondered how mapmakers made bird’s-eye-view maps before the invention of satellites or even hot air balloons? I have and was glad to find Phil Edwards’ video on the subject:

Leonardo da Vinci is justly famous for a lot of different things, but we’ve heard somewhat less about his mapmaking prowess than his painting or mechanical designs. His 1502 map of the Italian town of Imola is the oldest surviving example of an ichnographic (i.e. bird’s-eye-view) map of a place, a type of map that is ubiquitous today in the form of satellite imagery.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Here is Leonardo’s Imola map (cropped) compared with a contemporary satellite image:

Leonardo Imola Map

Leonardo Imola Map

As Edwards notes in the video, Leonardo’s map is not strictly an illustration or drawing of a place but more of an infographic. We take this type of map for granted now, but 500 years ago, that shift was a genuine innovation.

The Historical Precedents for the Excessive Violence in Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Game of Thrones made its return to HBO last night and, surprise, someone died! According to this compilation video, over 174,000 people have died on the show in seven seasons. The sheer numbers and the fact that some of the deaths have been, shall we say, a little creative (even for a fantasy show) sometimes interfered with my ability to fully suspend my disbelief when watching. Take Khal Drogo killing Viserys Targaryen by pouring molten gold on his head in the first season:

That’s a pretty outlandish death, an over-the-top display of sadism for the benefit of a TV audience. Right? Well, I’ve been reading Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World and I’ve discovered that Game of Thrones hews close to historical precedent when it comes to inventive murder.

According to some sources, after the Roman Emperor Valerian was captured in battle in the 3rd century, he was subjected to something much worse than a simple death at the hands of the Persian Emperor, Shapur I:

The Emperor Valerian was humiliated after being taken prisoner and held in “the abject form of slavery”: used as a human footstool for the Persian ruler “by bending his back to raise the king as he was about to mount his horse,” his body was eventually flayed “and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians, that the remembrance of a victory so signal might be perpetuated and that this spectacle might always be exhibited for our ambassadors.” He was stuffed so all could see the folly and shame of Rome.

Around the end of the 10th century, a leader of the Rus’ was ritually executed by Pecheneg steppe nomads:

The capture of the prince was gleefully celebrated, and his skull was lined with gold and kept as a victory trophy, to be used to celebrate ceremonial toasts.

In 1182, rising tension between the Byzantine Empire and the rising Italian city-states like Venice resulted in attacks against citizens of the city-states who were living in Constantinople:

Many were killed, including the representative of the Latin church, whose head was dragged through the city’s streets behind a dog.

The Mongols, under Genghis Khan and subsequent rulers, used brutality as a tool to shock and awe local populations into peaceful submission, making examples of those who resisted their advances:

Nīshāpūr was one of the locations that suffered total devastation. Every living being — from women, children and the elderly to livestock and domestic animals — was butchered as the order was given that not even dogs or cats should be left alive. All the corpses were piled up in a series of enormous pyramids as gruesome warnings of the consequences of standing up to the Mongols.

It was a very effective technique:

In 1241, the Mongols struck into the heart of Europe, splitting their forces into two, with one spur attacking Poland and the other heading for the plains of Hungary. Panic spread through the entire continent, especially after a large army led by the King of Poland and the Duke of Silesia was destroyed, and the head of the latter paraded on the end of a lance, together with nine sacks filled with “the ears of the dead.”

When the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258, they moved through the city “like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep,”

The city’s inhabitants were dragged through the streets and alleys, like toys, “each of them becoming a plaything.” The Caliph al-Mustaʿṣim was captured, rolled up in fabric and trampled to death by horses. It was a highly symbolic moment that showed who held real power in the world.

And finally, if there was any remaining doubt that George R.R. Martin modelled the Dothraki on the Mongols and Khal Drogo on Genghis Khan, consider the death of Inalchuq, a 13th-century Persian governor:

Stories such as that of a high-ranking official who was ordered into the presence of a newly arrived Mongol warlord and had molten gold poured into his eyes and ears became widely known — as was the fact that this murder was accompanied by the announcement that this was fitting punishment for a man “whose disgraceful behaviour, barbarous acts and previous cruelties deserved the condemnation of all.”

Perhaps Game of Thrones doesn’t seem so fantastical after all…

A Short History of Black Holes on Radio Telescopes

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

So, you’ve probably heard by now that we have our first ever photographs of a black hole and its event horizon. But it’s not like black holes have just been theoretical entities this entire time, awaiting photography’s blessing to finally be anointed as real. We’ve been detecting black holes for a long time now using radio telescopes and infrared cameras. It may be outside the visible spectrum, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t real, son!

The story begins in the mid-1900s when astronomers expanded their horizons beyond the very narrow range of wavelengths to which our eyes are sensitive. Very strong sources of radio waves were discovered and, when accurate positions were determined, many were found to be centered on distant galaxies. Shortly thereafter, radio antennas were linked together to greatly improve angular resolution. These new “interferometers” revealed a totally unexpected picture of the radio emission from galaxies—the radio waves did not appear to come from the galaxy itself, but from two huge “lobes” symmetrically placed about the galaxy….

Ultimately this led to the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), in which radio signals from antennas across the Earth are combined to obtain the angular resolution of a telescope the size of our planet! Radio images made from VLBI observations soon revealed that the sources at the centers of radio galaxies are “microscopic” by galaxy standards, even smaller than the distance between the sun and our nearest star.

When astronomers calculated the energy needed to power radio lobes they were astounded. It required 10 million stars to be “vaporized,” totally converting their mass to energy using Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2! Nuclear reactions, which power stars, cannot even convert 1 percent of a star’s mass to energy. So trying to explain the energy in radio lobes with nuclear power would require more than 1 billion stars, and these stars would have to live within the “microscopic” volume indicated by the VLBI observations. Because of these findings, astronomers began considering alternative energy sources: supermassive black holes.

We’ve also been tracing the orbits of planets, stars, and other objects that do give off conventional light. All this tracks back to suggest the supermassive black holes that Laplace et al first theorized about hundreds of years ago.

So, we knew what we were looking for. That’s how we were able to find it. And boom! Now we’ve got its photograph too. No more hiding from us, you goddamn light-devouring singularities. We’ve got your number.

A New Teaser Trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

It is what it is, right? That infinite scroll of Lawrence of Arabia desert, only instead of knives and dynamite, the rebels have laser swords and spaceships. You’ve got those knight-and-samurai motifs of journeys, honor, and an inevitable confrontation between good and evil. You’ve got Chewbacca, still the best character actor of his generation. It’s Star Wars. Even if you resist it, it’s shaped us all. It’s the closest thing to mandatory mass culture we have left. Might as well check out what you’re going to be in for.

A Catalogue of Lost 16th-Century Books

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

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Hernando Colón was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. He was also one of the great book collectors of 16th century Europe, having traveled extensively and assembled a library of about 15,000 volumes.

What’s left of Colón’s library has been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552. The other evidence of the library is a catalogue, with epitomes and summaries of the books in the collection. But the catalog itself, called the Libro de los Epítomes, was thought to be lost, until it was identified in an unlikely collection belonging to “Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730.”

The discovery in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen is “extraordinary”, and a window into a “lost world of 16th-century books”, said Cambridge academic Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, author of the recent biography of Colón, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books.

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

Another choice quote from Wilson-Lee:

After amassing his collection, Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes, ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato, which Wilson-Lee dubbed the “miracle of compression”.

Because Colón collected everything he could lay his hands on, the catalogue is a real record of what people were reading 500 years ago, rather than just the classics. “The important part of Hernando’s library is it’s not just Plato and Cortez, he’s summarising everything from almanacs to news pamphlets. This is really giving us a window into the entirety of early print, much of which has gone missing, and how people read it - a world that is largely lost to us,” said Wilson-Lee.

What a wonder.

What Do We Do Now That Will Be Unthinkable in 50 Years?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2019

Vox recently asked a group of writers, advocates, and thinkers about ideas & practices that we accept now that will be unthinkable or barbaric to people living 50 years from now. Kathleen Frydl asserts that “the war on drugs” will be one such practice.

Today, heroin is still classified as a Schedule I, or prohibited, drug. The consequences of this fateful decision continue to haunt us. Gross failures of our criminal justice system, ranging from police corruption to excessive use of force, all achieve a scale, and foster a profound alienation, as a result of drug prohibition and the militant drug war it spawned.

Maybe in times of only modest failure, or devastation that affects only the marginalized, the tactics of deflection traditionally used to defend the drug war would be enough to sustain it. But it is untenable in the midst of the opioid crisis, the worst drug epidemic in our country’s history.

It is my belief that its staggering body count gives us little choice but face hard truths, even in the face of the deep dependence on the drug war that the US government has developed. What falls between now and that awful reckoning is nothing but denial.

Meredith Broussard believes that self-driving cars will be unthinkable 50 years from now:

The simple explanation for why this situation didn’t escalate: the unspoken social contract of the bus driver’s authority in this space. We have invested years in developing social contracts around both private and public transportation. When you get into a bus or a train, or even a car, you acknowledge that the person at the wheel is in charge. This power relationship is what allows shared transportation to flourish, and this social contract is what helps many of us in marginalized groups feel safer while riding transportation. It doesn’t feel safe to imagine riding in a shared driverless vehicle. Not just because the technology doesn’t work — but because it doesn’t feel safe to be alone in a small, enclosed space with strange men.

Simon Being Taken to Sea for the First Time Since His Father Drowned

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Chris Killip

This photograph was taken by Chris Killip in 1983 in the British coastal village of Skinningrove. According to Killip, it shows a difficult but necessary moment in a young man’s life, rebuilding his trust in the life-giving sea.

It was a fishing village and it was very difficult to gain access to photograph there. Simon’s father had drowned in an incident at sea. They had this ritual where they came out and took Simon out to sea so that he wouldn’t become fearful of it. It’s very formal. He’s dressed very formally. I was on the boat and nobody spoke.

What an intimate moment. You can read more about Killip and his process here. In this short film by Michael Almereyda, Killip talks about the time he spent photographing in Skinningrove:

59 Ways to Cook Your Eggs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Eggs are an extremely versatile food. They taste great alone, make super sauces (including the much maligned mayonnaise, which I love), and can dress up leftovers into a whole other meal — just put an egg on it.

In this video, Bon Appétit editor Amiel Stanek explores almost 60 different ways to cook an egg, from over easy to coddled to grilled to something called “blowtorched egg” (not great). Be sure to catch the Rollie egg cooker in action at ~20:50…yucko. In general, the classic cooking methods beat newer techniques in terms of taste, texture, and convenience.

See also Every Way to Cook a Chicken Breast, Kenji’s guide on making perfect hard-boiled eggs, and How to Make Perfect Soft-Scrambled Eggs.

Too Much Will Cause Damage

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Too Much Will Cause Damage

Jenny Holzer, in the collection at MoMA.

A Thousand Strokes of Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

I really like these portraits by artist, illustrator and conceptual designer Linsey Levendall.

Linsey Levendall

Linsey Levendall

Like I said last week, I am a sucker for any sort of contemporary impressionism that reminds me of the likes of van Gogh, Seurat, or Monet. Maybe I’m just a rube who didn’t see enough art as a kid, but I will never not be impressed by how a thousand tiny strokes of a pen or brush magically come together to make not only a recognizable human face but can also spark a feeling in my brain. (also via colossal)

Greek Weird Wave

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 11, 2019

Greek Weird Wave

Perhaps you saw The Lobster (stunning and strange dystopian love story starring Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell) or my recent Oscar favorite The Favourite (cheeky and wicked period drama with the powerhouse trio of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman) or maybe you’ve been following him since 2009’s Dogtooth. All three are examples of the relatively new “Greek Weird Wave” cinema, from the genre’s godfather himself, Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s hard to find pieces on Weird Wave written in English, but Dazed has a roundup from a few years ago: Greece may be broke, but its film scene is rich. Here’s a more current list of films via IMDB.

A more recent piece on Medium went a bit deeper into what makes a film Greek Weird Wave, stylistically speaking:

Reclusive and isolated social groups, with specific rules and a tendency for confinement are certainly the center of Lanthimos movies. He uses his actors in an innovative way, directing them to play as unrealistically as possible, in a way that reminds us of marionettes or robots who are not yet really aware of the element of speech and thought. Every frame is designed and stylized strictly, to a great extent where the camera stays motionless in space, after being set in a carefully thought-out position, where the only movement comes from the actors playing in the scene. In this unorthodox way Lanthimos is trying to introduce us to his unique utopian environments and isolated social groups.

I’m hoping The Favourite’s ten Oscar nominations were enough to get Lanthimos and Greek Weird Wave more attention so we can see more films from the genre in coming years, especially ones filmed and produced in Greece. They can use the economic boost.

Sally Rooney’s first two books are perfectly of the moment

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

Ignore the m-word and read Sally Rooney: How Should a Millennial Be?

As a portrait of young people today, Rooney’s books are remarkably precise—she captures meticulously the way a generation raised on social data thinks and talks. Rooney’s characters love to announce where they fall on the matrix of taste and social awareness. They read Patricia Lockwood and watch Greta Gerwig movies; they read Twitter for jokes. Decisions are made according to typologies. There’s built-in social meaning for any interest or opinion. “No one who likes Yeats is capable of human intimacy,” says Nick, and I was reminded of friends swiping left on Tinder, rejecting dates because their favorite movies signaled unquestionable incompatibility.

The review’s later parenthetical reference to Andrew Martin’s debut novel is noteworthy. I read Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Martin’s Early Work in close succession last year and see similarities in perspective. I’d also include Benjamin Lytal’s A Map of Tulsa in that grouping. All are told from a fresh standpoint, with varying degrees of lush language, and romantic turmoil only bearable among a certain age group, with a healthy dose of capital-L Literary references. None are stodgy nor dated despite some social media observations.

Russian Doll has depth, and bodega scenes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

In one of his recent media diet* posts, Jason mentioned Russian Doll.

Russian Doll. Groundhog Day adjacent. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing. (B+)

natasha-lyonne-russian-doll-bangs.jpg

Natasha Lyonne is quite mesmerizing in Russian Doll, and both Greta Lee and Chloe Sevigny give layered performances around her curly bangs and gruff but sensitive delivery. But the Groundhog Day comparison sells it short.

Russian Doll is all at once a New York story, a story of rediscovery, of addiction, of healing, of trauma, and of how visually stunning a vivid palate can be on the small screen. The full season was utterly captivating on many levels, and deserves more recognition than just being good episodic television. The soundtrack is note-perfect as well, though Love’s “Alone Again Or” will forever stand in my mind as part of this scene in Bottle Rocket. (The best Wes Anderson film. Fight me.)

I lived by Lyonne’s tidbit of advice via The Cut for a couple cold weeks in March, but really it’s always applicable for introverts.

This is all to say, please watch Russian Doll if you haven’t already, and let’s discuss. Find me on Twitter.

Black is Beautiful photography show and monograph

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

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Photographer Kwame Brathwaite is best known for his images of black superstars in the 1970s (Muhammad Ali training for the Rumble in the Jungle, the Jackson 5 on their first tour in Africa, Bob Marley at home in Kingston). A new exhibition highlights earlier work from his archives and positions him as an influential figure in a burgeoning movement. The now 81-year-old has his first book coming out in May after a six decade career: Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful.

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Brathwaite co-organized a fashion show in Harlem that became iconic. Naturally ‘62: The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride and Standards used the slogan “Black is Beautiful,” later to be a major part of history. His imagery and ideals elevated the slogan to part of the zeitgeist. Artsy has a beautiful slideshow of the Grandassa models and this:

The participants, known as the Grandassa models, were not professionals in the fashion world, which reinforced Brathwaite’s political and artistic vision. They were dark-skinned and their hair was unprocessed; they wore African-inspired garments full of lush colors, waxed cotton prints, and elaborate patterns.

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The FT has a great piece with more context on Kwame’s history and work.

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Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite opens April 11 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.

Some thoughts on dressing for battle

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

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Eva Hagberg Fisher’s piece on the nuances of dressing for the public scrutiny of fighting sexual harassment has really stuck with me.

Over the last year and a half, I have needed a lot of outfits. I have also needed to be consistent. I have needed to be ready, at every moment, to be seen as both a poverty-stricken graduate student and a reliable adult. As an accuser, I need to be a news-team-ready correspondent and someone who certainly wasn’t doing this for the limelight. I didn’t know any of this when I started. I learned this all on the full-time job that is being an objector to sexual harassment in America.

She’d made an 11-page report about the sexual harassment she’d endured from her graduate school advisor.

But at the time, I just wanted to be credible. Strong. I didn’t want to look like what I imagined a victim looks like. I didn’t want to look so downtrodden that I would look obsessed with being a victim, as it was suggested. I didn’t want to look so feminine and girlish that I wouldn’t be taken seriously; I’d seen the way young-looking women are treated. And yet, I didn’t want to look too aggressive, too much like a “rabble-rouser” with an “agenda.” Of course I had been cautioned about that.

Her writing is clear and wise here. (If you want to read more, she released a memoir on a completely different topic this winter.)

Brooklyn Based noted recently that, in spring fashion trends, we’ve gone back to our Rosie the Riveter roots. Instead of replacing men in the workplace during wartime, the war we’re fighting is now for fair treatment, opportunities for advancement, and equal pay.

The jumpsuit that’s now so on trend should not be confused with the romper or those silky one-pieces that look fragile, dressy and flattering. These are mechanic coveralls, reminiscent of “Rosie the Riveter” and all the World War II ladies who worked in factories. Yet the origins of jumpsuits for women are strictly fashion. “Elsa Schiaparelli was the first Paris couturier to design jumpsuits; she was known for hanging with the Surrealists and designing with their inspiration,” says Lisa Santandrea, adjunct professor of Fashion History at Parsons. “The Met has a one-piece sleeveless Schiaparelli jumpsuit from 1930—but later in the 1930s, she designed a more work-a-day design with long sleeves and, importantly, pockets. Pockets mean no purses, and that’s more freedom.”

But really, it’s all about how closely aligned you are to power. If you’re part of it rather than fighting against it, you have more options. When you’ve proven yourself, you don’t have to try as hard. And age is a factor. Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco (who happens to have a new book of essays out now)
touched on this in a recent interview with ITG.

When I was an intern in ‘96, if you were a woman who wanted to be on the House floor, you had to wear a skirt and pantyhose. I really felt I had to act a very specific way. Entering the White House with Obama, he was like, ‘I don’t care what you’re wearing, you’re getting the job done.’ When we were dealing with crazy things, if I came in in corduroy pants and a puffy vest, POTUS never said a word. The more that I could actually be myself, the more successful I was, because I wasn’t putting up a façade. I think that we have come a long way, but women are still judged for what they wear. But it’s a double-edged sword—my style’s my style, and I don’t want to not have style so people don’t talk about me.

While working last year in a leadership position in an office where I was ten to fifteen years older than most of the team, I rotated between a Rachel Comey denim jumpsuit and a vintage white Gitano romper. When I joined the company, there were jokes about me as a mom figure (which mostly came from the male boss, of course). Who has time to put together an outfit when you’re busy getting stuff done and trying to assert authority? A jumpsuit is essentially a less feminine dress, just as comfortable, but with pockets. The millennial women in the office often complimented my outfits; one man remarked that I looked like a mechanic. But it’s not about the male gaze, is it?

The first photo of a black hole

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

The first photo of a black hole

Ok, this is pretty cool. We have the first photo of a supermassive black hole, from imagery taken two years ago of the elliptical galaxy M87 (in the constellation Virgo) by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The EHT team is a group of 200 scientist that has been working on this project for two decades. The image was created using data captured from radio telescopes from Hawaii to the South Pole and beyond using very long baseline interferometry.

The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of the galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from here, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the power and malevolence of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.

Now is a good time to (re)read Jonathan Lethem’s early novel, the absurdist physics love story As She Climbed Across the Table.

Update: Vox’s Joss Fong has a good 6-minute video that explains how the photo was taken:

And this video by Veritasium is even more meaty (and this one too):

Nellie Bowles on how we live in the future

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

I’m such a fan of Nellie Bowles. She covers tech for the NY Times, but has essentially created a beat that is the perfect encapsulation of late-stage capitalism. She captures both internet culture and the new tech economy in a way that could read as satire but it’s all too real. Here’s a look at some of her recent pieces that stuck out in my mind.

She’s starting a series of explainers. First up: Why Is Silicon Valley So Obsessed With The Virtue of Suffering?

Stoicism has been the preferred viral philosophy “for a moment” for years now — or two decades, by one count. The topic of Stoicism usually comes up in the Valley in terms of the maintenance of the personal life. Start-ups big and small believe their mission is to make the transactions of life frictionless and pleasing. But the executives building those things are convinced that a pleasing, on-demand life will make them soft. So they attempt to bring the pain.

Ok. But then she gets right down to it:

Instead, Stoics believed that everything in the universe is already perfect and that things that seem bad or unjust are secretly good underneath. The philosophy is handy if you already believe that the rich are meant to be rich and the poor meant to be poor.

Is post-tech the new high-tech? Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good

The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction — living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email — has become a status symbol.

All of this has led to a curious new reality: Human contact is becoming a luxury good.

As more screens appear in the lives of the poor, screens are disappearing from the lives of the rich. The richer you are, the more you spend to be offscreen.

As much as I want to hate this, I don’t (and El Pescadero is lovely): A New Luxury Retreat Caters to Elderly Workers in Tech (Ages 30 and Up)

Their anxieties are well founded. In Silicon Valley, the hiring rate seems to slow for workers once they hit 34, according to a 2017 study by Visier, a human-resources analytics provider. The median age of a worker at Facebook, LinkedIn and SpaceX is 29, according to a recent analysis by the workplace transparency site PayScale.

At Modern Elder, several people introduced themselves by rounding up their ages — one woman said she was “soon to be 39,” another was “almost 42,” and a third was “pretty soon looking at 50.” Some said they chose to come south because they thought vacationing would be more serene without 20-somethings in the mix.

I hope we see a book from Nellie Bowles soon. Who else is helping make sense of this bizarre future we live in?

Taking the shame out of the Cone of Shame

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

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Photographer Winnie Au spoke with Buzzfeed about her ongoing Cone of Shame project, which looks to dispel the shame of the cones dogs must wear after medical procedures. Partially inspired by her late corgi Tartine, whose medical treatment would have cost tens of thousands of dollars without insurance, Winnie is using the project to fundraise for Animal Haven Shelter in New York. She’s an advocate for adopting pets.

A lot of people I know have bought their dogs verses adopting because they wanted a very specific breed, what most don’t realize there are rescues dedicated to specific breeds. So if you are obsessed with bernedoodles, you can adopt one. Of course, I love mutts too, and you can rescue an adorable mutt also. The most important thing to me is that your dog and its age, energy, and vibe fit your lifestyle.

There are so many great rescues out there who can help you find the best pet for you. In America alone, there are 1.6 million dogs waiting to be rescued every year. If those dogs don’t get rescued, a lot of them end up euthanized. I just want to stress to people to adopt when you get your next pet as there are so many great dogs out there ready for a new home.

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Winnie collaborated with costume designer and stylist Marie-Yan Morvan, whose work helped the project coalesce. I can’t wait to see more of this project. If you want to support the work and Animal Haven, you can buy a print or a tote via the Cone of Shame shop.

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NXIVM co-founder admits guilt

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

Nancy Salzman, co-founder of “sex cult” NXIVM, plead guilty to charges of digitally monitoring members to prevent them from leaking information. She’s the first to plead guilty from the leaders facing criminal charges. Founder Keith Raniere has yet to appear in court, but there have been new charges leveraged against him.

The details surrounding this organization are truly bonkers and quite disturbing. If power dynamics of cults and the psychology of self-help seekers are of interest, I highly recommend season 1 of CBC podcast Uncover, in which journalist Josh Bloch interviews his childhood friend about her escape from the leadership circle of the organization.

Mary(s) Seacole tells the powerful story of forgotten black women

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 08, 2019

I was lucky enough to see Marys Seacole last week at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater and immediately regretted not seeing it sooner so I could tell everyone I know about this important show. The friend who brought me called it “woke theater,” but I’d describe it as humane activism. It whispered when it could have shouted and shouted when it could have whispered, and blew me away with its sensitivity and power when addressing race, womanhood, colonialism, and interconnection.

At least now I know about Brooklyn-based playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury so I can tell you not to miss her next production.

Do read up on the fascinating life of Jamaican nurse/businesswoman Mary Seacole, who spent significant time tending wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, but who has long been overlooked in British colonial history. And please tell me about other emerging playwrights I should know about!

Athens architecture map from Curbed

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 08, 2019

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You likely know that the Greek islands are stunning and special, but you may not know that Athens is an incredible city for architecture, well worth more than a few days in between sunning yourself on beaches. Beyond the obvious ancient sites (go see a show in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus!), Athens has classic mid-century modern design, a local vernacular plus a number of important buildings from the past decade. Its cafe culture, hidden alleys, well-curated museums, walkable scale, and deep history give it a unique charm that can’t be quickly summed up. You’ll feel it immediately if you dine al fresco under the glow of the Acropolis at night.

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Some of Athens’ ancient sites have been recently updated with contemporary structures, such as the Acropolis Museum, other neighborhoods are worth a wander for the graffiti and shaded facades, and there is significant Bauhaus presence and influence beyond the Gropius-designed American Embassy.

May, June, and September are all prime times. I don’t recommend going in August when it is VERY hot, but if you must, you can stay cool with freddo cappuccino (strong iced coffee with cold-foamed milk), the pulpiest fresh-squeezed orange juice, and of course, frozen Greek yogurt (what Pinkberry wishes it could be) as the locals do. Local English-language publication Greece Is has lots of useful travel tips if you’re not sure where to start your planning.

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One woman’s story of self-discovery through psychotropic withdrawl

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 08, 2019

In this week’s New Yorker, Rachel Aviv looks at why it’s so hard to go off psychiatric drugs, and why they may often be overprescribed. She tells the story of Laura Delano, a descendant of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from Greenwich, CT.

Laura received a bipolar diagnosis as a teen and was medicated for several conditions and a cascade of associated symptoms. She assumed her depression was due to a chemical imbalance being corrected by the cocktail of psychotropic drugs used longterm. Her decades-long cycle through different drugs, diagnoses, and symptoms show an under-discussed side of psychopharmacology.

Dorian Deshauer, a psychiatrist and historian at the University of Toronto, has written that the chemical-imbalance theory, popularized in the eighties and nineties, “created the perception that the long term, even life-long use of psychiatric drugs made sense as a logical step.” But psychiatric drugs are brought to market in clinical trials that typically last less than twelve weeks. Few studies follow patients who take the medications for more than a year. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke, who chaired the task force for the fourth edition of the DSM, in 1994, told me that the field has neglected questions about how to take patients off drugs—a practice known as “de-prescribing.” He said that “de-prescribing requires a great deal more skill, time, commitment, and knowledge of the patient than prescribing does.” He emphasizes what he called a “cruel paradox: there’s a large population on the severe end of the spectrum who really need the medicine” and either don’t have access to treatment or avoid it because it is stigmatized in their community. At the same time, many others are “being overprescribed and then stay on the medications for years.” There are almost no studies on how or when to go off psychiatric medications, a situation that has created what he calls a “national public-health experiment.”

Aviv makes an apt observation about our culture and willingness to confront mental health:

Overprescribing isn’t always due to negligence; it may also be that pills are the only form of help that some people are willing to accept.

But back to Laura. In 2010, after years of cycling through diagnoses (most recently borderline personality disorder), psychiatrists, pharmacologists, and prescriptions, she came across what would turn out to be a life-altering discovery in a bookstore.

On the table of new releases was “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” by Robert Whitaker, whose cover had a drawing of a person’s head labelled with the names of several medications that she’d taken. The book tries to make sense of the fact that, as psychopharmacology has become more sophisticated and accessible, the number of Americans disabled by mental illness has risen. Whitaker argues that psychiatric medications, taken in heavy doses over the course of a lifetime, may be turning some episodic disorders into chronic disabilities. (The book has been praised for presenting a hypothesis of potential importance, and criticized for overstating evidence and adopting a crusading tone.)

Not only did this alter the course of Laura’s treatment, but her life’s work as well. Last year, she helped launched the online resource the Withdrawal Project after years of both informal and formal counseling of others.

But what’s next for our brain health? Some health experts say probiotics and our microbiome should not be ignored.

Revisiting Chernobyl

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

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I’ve spent the last few years fascinated by the Chernobyl disaster. This fascination partly grew out of my interest in the Flint Water Crisis, which was directly compared to Chernobyl in a story I wrote about it. (One of the things people forget is that Chernobyl poisoned the water table for a huge region.)

Looking Again At Chernobyl” reviews two books: Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham, and Manual For Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, by Kate Brown.

The similarities with Flint start in the opening paragraph:

Catastrophes happen when a large system gets so out of sync with its environment that a tiny tweak can crash it to the ground. It’s happened to oil rigs, spacecraft and mines. Afterward, committees blame the people who did the tweaking. But what matters is how the system became unstable and crashed, the atmosphere that caused it and the aftereffects. In these two books about the April 1986 explosion of the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, “Midnight in Chernobyl” focuses on the first and second, “Manual for Survival” on the third.

It’s probably fair to say that we’ve spent the last thirty years acting as if we don’t live in a post-Chernobyl world.

Robert P. Crease, the reviewer, seems most taken with Higginbotham’s book:

Adam Higginbotham’s “Midnight in Chernobyl” is a gripping, miss-your-subway-stop read. The details of the disaster pile up inexorably. They include worn control rod switches, the 2,000-ton reactor lid nicknamed Elena, a core so huge that understanding its behavior was impossible. Politicians lacked the technical knowledge to take action, while scientists who had the knowledge feared to provide it lest they lose their jobs or lives…

The explosion occurs less than 100 pages into this 366-page book (plus more than 100 pages of notes, glossary, cast of characters and explanation of radiation units). But what follows is equally gripping. Radio-controlled repair bulldozers became stuck in the rubble. Exposure to radiation made voices grow high and squeaky. A dying man whispered to his nurse to step back because he was too radioactive. A workman’s radioactive shoe was the first sign in Sweden of a nuclear accident 1,000 miles upwind. Soviet bigwigs entered the area with high-tech dosimeters they didn’t know how to turn on. Investigations blamed the accident on six tweakers, portrayed them as “hooligans” and convicted them. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear), which is to radiation studies something like what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) is to assessing human-induced climate effects, struggled to make sense of changing and confusing information.

Brown’s book is trying to do something very different, and Crease finds it correspondingly more complicated to evaluate:

Kate Brown’s “Manual for Survival” has a different style and emphasis. Its aim is to be an exposé of the attempts to minimize the impact of Chernobyl. The disaster was less an accident, says Brown, a historian at M.I.T., than “an exclamation point in a chain of toxic exposures that restructured the landscape, bodies and politics.” Unscear’s publications were cover-ups, and radiation-related maladies are “a dark horseman riding wild across the Chernobyl territories.” Brown undertook the book so as not to become “one of those duped comrades who found out too late that the survival manual contained a pack of lies.”

Around 2014, Brown began interviewing people in the affected areas, and sought measurements of radioactivity in such things as wool, livestock and swamps. Her stories are affecting, yet it is hard to evaluate memories and anecdotes. It is also hard to evaluate measurements. These are meaningful only within the tangled web of factors that radiation epidemiologists consider — including type and time-span of dose, pathways through the body, susceptibility of individual tissues and background radiation — as well as health issues like alcohol, obesity and stress.

Brown deserves credit, though, for wading into these murkier waters, because the murky waters is where we are. Part of reckoning with Chernobyl means admitting everything we don’t know. We don’t know the full health effects of the disaster. We don’t know how many people died. We don’t know how many lives were lost to neglect and cover-up. We don’t know how many could have been saved.

Part of what it means to actually live in a post-Chernobyl world is to accept that our most vital infrastructure is always threatened; that the threats it poses are always disproportionately affecting a society’s most vulnerable citizens; and that its threats are always downplayed by a society’s most powerful and directly responsible members, out of ignorance and fear.

That’s the lesson of Chernobyl. That’s the lesson of Flint. That’s the lesson of the future, which it never seems to hesitate to teach.

A Genealogy of Blue

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

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Even colors have histories, and what vibrant histories they are. French historian Michel Pasteureau’s Blue: The History of A Color (he’s also done histories of red, green, and black) is capably reviewed by Jesse Russell in the Claremont Review of Books in an essay called “The Colors of Our Dreams.” Russell offers the following luminous details.

Blue was once little-known in the Western palette. Homer’s sea was “wine dark”; blue would not be used as water’s color until the seventeenth century. It has evolved from its original association with warmth, heat, barbarism, and the creatures of the underworld, to its current association with calm, peace, and reverie. Like the unruly green, the Romans associated blue with the savage Celtae and Germani, who used the woad herb’s rich leaves for their blue pigments. These northern barbarians also painted themselves blue before war and religious rituals. The ancient Germans, according to Ovid, even dyed their whitening hair blue.

The Romans, in contrast, preferred the color red—the Latin word, “coloratus” was synonymous with that for red, ruber. The Romans and Greeks did import lapis lazuli, the exquisite blue rock, from exotic locals such as China, Iran, and Afghanistan. But neither used the barbaric blue for important figures or images, saving it for the backgrounds for white and red figures. Even the Greek words for blue, like the names of colors in the Bible, largely were meant to evoke certain states or feelings as opposed to exact visual colors. Blue, like green, was the color of death and barbarism. The nobler colors—white, red, and black—were preferred.

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Blue’s fortunes changed in the Middle Ages when it became associated with both the heavens and heaven, and particularly an association with the Virgin Mary. French royalty adopted blue as their official color; and in modernity, the introduction of indigo from the Americas and the invention of Prussian blue in the early 18th century helped cement blue (along with white and red) as part of a tripartite color scheme that gave us the flags of Great Britain, the United States, and France.

And then along came Goethe:

By the mid-nineteenth century, blue became a Romantic symbol of melancholy. Among those guilty of luring the moody young to dress in blue was Wolfgang von Goethe who, in The Sorrows of Young Werther, depicted his title character in a blue coat. This, coupled with Werther’s untimely death, inspired a craze for blue coats and a mania for suicide among melancholy European youth. Werther’s blue jacket was matched by the blue flower in Novalis’s unfinished posthumous piece Heinrich von Ofterdingen, which narrates the tale of a medieval troubadour who seeks out the flower as a symbol of the authentic life of beauty and art. Young, melancholic Frenchmen were doubly encouraged in their swooning by the closeness shared by the French word for blue flower, “ancolie,” and the ending of “mélancholie.”

From Romanticism’s murky forest a host of verbal expressions bloomed, linking blue with odd, melancholic reverie. Fairy tales were known as “blue tales”; to be terribly drunk in German became known as “being blue” or “Blau sein”; and the “blue devils,” from which we get the great American expression (and musical genre) “the blues,” meant to be afflicted with a lingering sadness.

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Blue has a curious oscillation between conservativism and rebellion, perhaps especially in France, but throughout the world:

The navy blazer, a sign of conservativism and preppy formality in the twentieth century, was once a mark of the avant garde Westerner, adorned in what became known as “sportswear.” Aspiring radicals wore blue jeans, made from denim dyed with indigo, but ultimately derived by Levi Strauss from the pants made from tent canvas for California prospectors. Eventually, jeans became leisurewear for Americans from the East Coast who wanted to dress like the cowboys of the increasingly tame “wild west.” As the tides of early twentieth-century fashionable rebellion swelled, blue jeans were given the stamp of haute couture in a famous 1935 edition of Vogue, and, after World War II, were a symbol of rebellion and nonconformity—especially in newly liberated Europe. But in the West, jeans eventually became blasé (but comfortable) everyday wear when everyone—even conservative squares—started wearing them. This did not stop blue jeans from becoming symbols of rebellion in Communist countries during the heady days of glasnost and perestroika, and later in the Muslim world a symbol of youthful rebellion.

Taken together, the genealogy of blue is a history of finding meaning in difference, whether it was the Germanic blue facing off against the Roman red, the vibrant blue jacket against the staid black coat, or the heavenly Marian apparition set off against the profane, multicolored world below.

(Via The Browser.)

The History of Italics In Type

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

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I don’t know the author or typographer behind The Temporary State. There’s a contact address that reads “B. Tulskaya ul. 2-571, Moscow, Russia, 115191.” But Mx. Tulskaya (if that’s indeed the author) has made an outstanding pocket history of the use of italics in type, partly to defend against the fact that The Temporary State’s fonts do not use an italic typeface.

I knew, for instance, that Venetian printer Aldus Manutius is generally credited with introducing italics into European print (partly, the histories say, to imitate Latin handwriting, and partly as a space-saving device). I did not know that after other printers began to copy Manutius’s use of italics, the Venetian Senate granted Aldus exclusive right to use them.

I knew that Italian futurist poet and manifesto-writer Filippo Marinetti championed a wide range of typographic innovations; I did not know (or had forgotten) that he wished to reserve italic type for “a series of similar and swift sensations,” while bold would be used for the imitation of heavy tones, and so on. A kind of emotional functionalism in type.

It is strange, how Marinetti in his call for revolution against “the Poetry Book” doesn’t see any problem with italics. Somehow, Roman numerals are an issue, but the use of highly decorative imitation of a 16th century pretty handwriting is a futuristic expression, not part of the “typographic harmony” ensemble. It is even stranger, that he doesn’t address the application of italic itself, as his idea of highlighting the page with «3-4 colors and 20 different typefaces» is very close to how the use of italic is regulated in the Chicago Manual. The only difference is: where Marinetti suggests «20 different typefaces», Chicago suggests only one — italic. So, seemingly to achieve Marinetti’s idea all that is needed is to diversify the means of text highlighting. And it’s not like there are no alternative typographic traditions, which could be used to substitute the italic.

Much of the article is devoted to this; how you can achieve the typographic effect of italics (emphasis, foreign words, titles, etc.) without using italic type. Here the examples are legion. In German blackletter, foreign words (especially in Roman languages) would be put in Roman type, while emphasized words or phrases would be in boldface. In Cyrillic printing, especially in the Soviet period, you see “sperrsatz,” or wide spacing, to denote emphasis.

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Bauhaus, following the German blackletter tradition, forsook italic typesetting altogether, opting for a combination of boldface, sperrsatz, and fonts of different sizes, all of which achieve the effect of italics without the pretense of adopting an old Latin handwriting style.

Since few social media networks support bold and italic typesetting, it’s interesting to think about the range of ways users still suggest italics or the effect of italics.

There’s pseudo-Markdown, in the form of

*italics*
or
_italics_

Of course, there’s
ALL CAPS

There are also memes and GIFs, which are a way of both drawing emphasis to text and giving it an emotional characterization that go far beyond what Marinetti could dream of with his really quite limited notion of “3 or 4 different colours and 20 different typefaces on the same page. That text itself would and could be animated, that it could be superimposed on a miniature movie that would explode into mostly-text networks, is a future Marinetti might have embraced, but one he couldn’t quite fully see.

(Via Robin Sloan)

Rebecca Solnit on The West and climate change

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

This article reminded me of the powerful story Rebecca Solnit told at Pop-Up Magazine a couple years ago. She presented photos taken by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe at Lake Powell over several years, along with unfolding a compelling narrative expression of climate change as told through one geological place.

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She also tells a cautionary tale of The West, in her companion piece later published in California Sunday magazine.

Glen Canyon Dam is a monument to overconfidence 710 feet high, an engineering marvel and an ecological mistake. The American West is full of these follies: decommissioned nuclear power plants surrounded by the spent radioactive waste that will remain dangerous for 100,000 years; the bomb-torn land of military testing and training sites; the Nevada Test Site itself, cratered and contaminated by the explosion of a thousand nuclear devices. Las Vegas and Phoenix, two cities that have grown furiously in recent decades, are monuments to the conviction that stable temperatures and fossil fuel and water could be counted upon to persist indefinitely.

You can regard the enormous projects of this era as a continuation of the Second World War. In the West, this kind of development resembled a war against nature, an attempt to conquer heat, dryness, remoteness, the variability of rainfall and river flow — to triumph over the way water limits growth. As the environmental writer Bill deBuys put it: “Thanks to reservoirs large and small, scores of dams including colossi like Hoover and Glen Canyon, more than 1,000 miles of aqueducts and countless pumps, siphons, tunnels and diversions, the West had been thoroughly re-rivered and re-engineered. It had acquired the plumbing system of a giant water-delivery machine. … Today the Colorado River, the most fully harnessed of the West’s great waterways, provides water to about 40 million people and irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland.” Along the way, so many parties sip and gulp from the Colorado that little water reaches Mexico.

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It’s a longread so I recommend finding someone with a voice as soothing and clear as Solnit’s to read aloud to you (and then hold you when you realize what it all means).

N.B. Pop-Up’s spring tour tickets go on sale on April 9. It’s always an interesting show. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always poignant and well-produced. And never recorded so you must be there in person!

Today in female representation

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

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Knock Down The House follows four grassroots female candidates through their mission-driven campaigns to unseat incumbents during the 2018 midterm elections. The documentary, which won Festival Favorite at Sundance this January, will be released by Netflix on May 1. New Yorkers will be able to see it in an advance screening (including a Q&A with director Rachel Lears) at IFC Center on April 23.

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Audrey Gelman takes us into the NY Times photo archives to tell the story of the women who brought power and voice to representative democracy long before AOC was a glimmer of hope for New Yorkers.

Time and again, women candidates have been met with derision or dismissed as “long shots” — in many cases, both. Take Elizabeth Holtzman: In 1972, the then-31-year-old stunned the whole of Washington when she upset a powerful 50-year male incumbent in the Democratic primary, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. (Sound familiar?)

And, of course, you can’t talk about women in politics without talking about Shirley Chisholm, a once-in-a-generation force for change who represented her Brooklyn district from 1969 to 1983. As she put it, “My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency.” Despite her fearlessness — or, more aptly, because of it — opponents dismissed her, she said, as just a “little schoolteacher.” (She had been an educator before taking office.)

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The photos alone are worth the click, but don’t miss Gelman’s sharp born-and-bred New Yorker observations.

Luchita Hurtado finds her fame

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

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I am blown away by the story of Luchita Hurtado, an artist whose work since the 40s has remained largely out of public view. She has her first two major solo exhibitions this year (at the age of 98!): Dark Years, drawings from the 40s and 50s at Hauser & Wirth’s uptown location (closes April 6), and a seven-decade retrospective at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery later in May. She lived and worked in New York (where she immigrated with her family from Venezuela at the age of 8), Marin County, Mexico City, Santa Monica, and Taos, New Mexico. Her work has evolved, as you can imagine, over the decades. Her life and work have brought her in contact with Isamu Noguchi, Judy Chicago, Agnes Martin, Man Ray, Frida Kahlo. Her third husband was painter Lee Mullican. You just get the sense that she’s lived a true 20th century life, and is now getting to break out of that in a proper 21st century way.

The New York Times on Luchita Hurtado in January:

In her expansive oil paintings, ink-based drawings, fabric collages and patterned garments, Hurtado explores what she sees as the interconnectedness of all beings. Her paintings from the ’70s — sinuous bodies that morph into mountains, bare nipples that juxtapose spiky leaves, bulbous fruits that echo curving belly shapes — represent women as sacred beings, powerful subjects of their own lives. Hurtado also incorporated womb imagery into her work before the feminist art movement made popular the same subject matter in the late ’70s.

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Hans Ulrich Obrist, is curating her retrospective at the Serpentine, has this to say:

“Women artists have not had the visibility they should have and we need to protest, systematically, against forgetting — through books and exhibitions,” Obrist says. The exhibition at the Serpentine will be animated by what he calls “decisive moments or epiphanies” throughout Hurtado’s life.

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Related: You can see the stunning retrospective of Hilma af Klint, another female artist long overlooked, at the Guggenheim until April 23. I’m intrigued by HILMA inspired by the af Klint show, playing for two nights as part of the very special Works & Process series. The chamber opera stars a relative of Hilma’s as Rudolf Steiner, and his wife as Hilma herself (who produced and created the piece).

As if Tori Amos could get any cooler

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

I must have been reading the wrong magazines as a teen, because I only recently found out that Tori Amos has been quite open in interviews about being into psychedelics in the 80s and 90s (and I was VERY into both Tori and magazines in the mid-90s). Most of these mentions only live on via old websites where fans painstakingly transcribed the interviews, so to preserve that fanzine quality I’ve left the typos intact. But first, a little primer on Tori, in case you weren’t an alt kid in the 90s.

The flame-haired daughter of a Methodist minister who grew up in Maryland, Tori was a piano prodigy from the age of 2 who left the church behind for music. She moved to Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 21 and by 1986 was frontwoman to the synthpop group Y Kant Tori Read. The band was a flop by 1989, so in order to fulfill her contract with Atlantic Records she went out on her own. The resulting solo debut, Little Earthquakes, included a song honestly portraying her rape, alongside many solid, singalong-worthy tracks. She was a bit more raw, confessional, and vulnerable than the other female singer/songwriters who came up in the 90s, and thusly became a goddess among alternative rock-listening girls of my post gen-X cohort. You may just want to cue up Boys for Pele now (the third track off her 1996 album, Father Lucifer, was said to be written after an ayahuasca journey) . Ok, onto the drugs.

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From a Q magazine article in 1998:

“Yeah, there was a period in the late ’80s where I was working with different shaman,” she says. “Myself and a friend Beene would take Iowaska - but it wouldn’t be in the liquid form, it would be a freeze-dried pill - and mushrooms. Some of those trips were eighteen hours long and I’ll never forget, once I ended up sitting by the bush trying to ask the flowers why they didn’t like me. It’s like, Why can’t I be your friend? I was crawling out of my skin at that time. In my twenties I was really…I was just losing my mind.”

In Esquire UK in 1999, when asked if she’d done hallucinogens lately:

Not very recently. I have Datura in my garden, but my gardener told me that some people oversteep it in water and then it’s poison and you die. I did a few 18-hour trips with a Shaman in the canyons in LA in the 80s. I’m glad I did it. And I’d do extasy journeys with women friends, Things are said that I couldn’t have heard or have said over a cup of coffee.

Q magazine, September 2001:

“It’s not like I’ve never done cocaine but, on the whole, if I can’t see dancing elephants I’m not interested,” she said.

“The drug which had a big effect on me was ayahuasca. It comes from a vine in the Amazon and you ingest it. You know that stuff they take in The Emerald Forest? It’s like that. I was hanging around with some medicine women and they suggested I try it. I was very lucid but felt like I was walking around in Fantasia, having a conversation with myself.

“It isn’t like acid. It’s more emotional, more mental. But it can grab you by the balls and just shove you up against the wall. I’ve been in a room with a woman who was literally trying to bite her own arm off. And this lasted for 15 hours. I wasn’t scared — just scared that I’d make a fool of myself. The funny thing was, I kept laughing and laughing, rather than sitting in the corner being intense. Then, every so often, I’d say, I’m in a really rough patch. And one of the medicine women would come over and reassure me that everything was going to be alright…

“I haven’t taken it in a couple of years now. You can only really do it once in a blue moon. But the wild thing is that sometimes I only have to smell something and I’m right back there again, high as a kite.”

Apparently I just needed access to UK magazines, which were certainly hard to come by in mid-90s Vermont. Also, this feels like the right place to thank Becky G. for giving me a tape in calc class (fall 1995?), titled “Becky made a tape for you / and gave you Tori Amos.” I would love to close this post with a scan of the Polaroid of me, wearing a classic Ben & Jerry’s tee, posed with Tori on her summer 1998 tour when I won tickets to a soundcheck and meet-and-greet before the show. Still likely one of the most surreal moment of my life. She told me she liked my name. Thanks to my local radio station WEQX for the tickets and the memory.

Resources for dealing with death

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

On the topic of death (a natural part of life we don’t often talk about), the website Modern Loss has extensive resources for many types of loss. Some places to start:

How To: Write a Sympathy Note

Don’t Talk About How “It Gets Better”

How To: Be A Good Listener

Modern Loss’ Grief Reads

On Grief and Social Media/Technology

Related: How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

Visionary architect, curator, and big wave surfer Francois Perrin

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

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Architect, curator, surfer, knight of the French government, partner, father, son, brother, and dear friend to many, Francois Perrin died on Monday in Ventura County, close to a favorite wave. He was from Paris but had been in Los Angeles for decades so was simultaneously both French and Californian. I really have no words sufficient for this so will let Alissa Walker’s tribute on Curbed LA stand. It deserves a full read but I’ve included some excerpts and quotes below.

‘He was a center of gravity’: Architect Francois Perrin dies at 50

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On a breezy April evening in 2013, hundreds of partygoers were shuttled up Benedict Canyon to the Sheats-Goldstein Residence. The iconic Los Angeles home designed by John Lautner was familiar to every guest, but on that night, it would appear utterly transformed.

Tucked into the house’s concrete corners were a half-dozen site-specific pieces by French artist Xavier Veilhan, one of which was a surprise musical performance with Nicolas Godin, of the French electronic band Air. Guests sipped cocktails on a deck laced with nylon cording that knit the triangular roofline to the legendary pool. In the cantilevered window of the master bedroom, a facet-cut emerald sculpture of Lautner gazed out at the city below.

It was another ambitious installation from Francois Perrin, the type that LA’s design community had come to expect from the architect and curator who defied boundaries in his field and connected artists and designers across a wide orbit.

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“He managed to create this really remarkable web of people and ideas and projects,” says LA architect Frank Escher. “It drew not just on his encyclopedic knowledge of recent architecture and art history, it also drew on on his ability to connect with people. That’s the thing that made him so interesting, the ease with which he built bridges and drew connections and made introductions. He was a center of gravity.”

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Perrin’s concept-driven architecture made a splash, like the Skatehouse he designed for the owner of a skateboard shoe company in 2011. Although the home, which was supposed to be built in Malibu, was never realized, a full-scale model where every surface is skateable was produced, including curved ramp-like walls and a built-in headboard above the bed for grinding.

Goodbye friend. We’ll remember you, your expansive ideas, and your navy.

Cloud gazing in the Bristol Channel

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

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I occasionally fantasize about ditching my iPhone and all related apps for a flip phone and fewer distractions. In this dream life, I have no notifications blinking at me, I don’t care about exes liking old Instagram photos of mine after months of not talking, I have no inbox anxiety, and I never experience a phantom buzz (currently listed on WebMD as Phantom Vibration Syndrome). I sit with a contented smile cross-legged pose overlooking a cliff. I go on long walks, surrounded by exotic flora and fauna, with big, open skies overhead. Gazing at cloud formations becomes a meditation in itself.

Please consider this my formal pitch to The New Yorker: recovering tech worker of almost a decade and a half leaves the modern world behind to look at the sky, be with nature, and attend talks amongst other cloud enthusiasts. For several blissful days on a mostly-uninhabited island (unless you count the puffins) off the North Devon coast, she exists with only a notebook, disposable camera, and her conscious awareness.

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Read more about the upcoming sky gathering of the Cloud Appreciation Society on the isle of Lundy and see my earlier post on this very website from the fall. There’s a lot more cloud content on kottke.org if that’s your thing.

(First image via AMC, second via CAS)

A trip to heal racial trauma

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

It was a long winter in New York, my first back east in years, so many of my posts this week will likely revolve around my (indoor) media consumption.

Even if you who don’t regularly listen to podcasts, I highly recommend this episode by The Nod: Can MDMA Treat Racial Trauma?

Horizons has good resource list on therapeutic uses of psychedelics if you’re curious about current research. You can also search clinicaltrials.gov for current trials accepting new patients.

How All the Iconic Star Wars Sounds Were Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Ben Burtt was the sound designer for the original Star Wars trilogy and was responsible for coming up with many of the movies’ iconic sounds, including the lightsaber and Darth Vader’s breathing.1 In this video, Burtt talks at length about how two dozens sounds from Star Wars were developed.

The base sound for the blaster shots came from a piece of metal hitting the guy-wire of a radio tower — I have always loved the noise that high-tension cables make. And I never noticed that Vader’s use of the force was accompanied by a rumbling sound. Anyway, this is a 45-minute masterclass in scrappy sound design.

See also: how the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction noise was made, exploring the sound design of Star Wars, and This Happy Dog Sounds Like a TIE Fighter.

  1. Burtt was the sound designer for the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T. (he got the voice from an old woman he met who smoked Kool cigarettes), and did the voice for Wall-E. He’s also a big reason why you hear the Wilhelm scream in lots of movies.

Buster Keaton, Master Architect

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Neighbors Keaton

Buster Keaton: Anarchitect is a lovely piece of analysis by Will Jennings about how the legendary silent film actor used architectural space in his movies.

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning — and constant, unexpected repositioning — of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time — and real-place — rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form.

Book Covers for the Mueller Report

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

The New Yorker asked five designers to design book covers for the Mueller Report in the event that it’s eventually published. Here are my two favorites, by Michael Bierut and Na Kim:

Mueller Report Book Covers

Impressions by Kai Samuels-Davis

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Using found images as his starting point, Kai Samuels-Davis paints portraits & objects in an impressionistic way.

Kai Samuels-Davis

Kai Samuels-Davis

Kai Samuels-Davis

I am a sucker for any sort of contemporary impressionism that reminds me of the likes of van Gogh, Seurat, or Monet. I am also a sucker for observing how artists progress as they mature. Take a look at Samuels-Davis’s older work, from 2015 and before. The older stuff is good but his recent work is stronger and cleaner and more abstract without sacrificing any of the “legibility” of the figures & objects he’s representing. It does more with less. (via colossal)

Robert Caro on Writing and Understanding Power

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Working, a memoir from master interviewer and researcher Robert Caro, is coming out next week. David Marchese, no slouch himself when it comes to interviewing people, talked with Caro for the NY Times Magazine about his career, his process, and his ongoing multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro allows that his insatiable curiosity about getting the whole story might not necessarily be a good thing at times.

I would like to have written more books. I’d like to finish this last Johnson book. But it’s the element of time — you’re always thinking no one will know if the thing you’re working on isn’t in the book. Take the Margaret Frost thing. [The introduction of “Master of the Senate” tells the story of Margaret Frost’s humiliating and failed attempts to register to vote in Eufaula, Ala., in 1957.] You say everybody knows about blacks not being able to vote in the South, so you don’t have to go into that. But I’d remembered coming across testimony from the Civil Rights Commission and I went, This is horrible. A sense of anger boils up, and it leads you to say, “What was it like if you tried to register to vote?” Don’t just say, “It’s hard.” What was it really like? You think you understand how hard life is in the South because you’ve seen movies about it. But then you learn about a guy who wanted to vote, Margaret Frost’s husband, who sees someone drive to his house and shoot out the light on the porch. He was going to call the police but then saw it was a police car driving away from his property. It was like the Jews in Nazi Germany: There was no place for these people to turn. So, do you want to write the book without showing that? The answer is no.

Has anyone ever done an interview with an expert interviewer about the experience of interviewing another expert interviewer? I would definitely read a debrief of Marchese on how to get someone like Caro, who knows all the tricks of the trade, to actually tell you something that they don’t want you to know. I’m also thinking of Errol Morris and Seymour Hersh at the end of Wormwood and how Morris can’t quite get what he wants from Hersh.

The Rise of the Fast Food Veggie Burger

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

Joining Carl’s Jr. and White Castle, Burger King is adding a tastes-like-beef veggie burger to their menu.

This week, Burger King is introducing a version of its iconic Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods.

The Impossible Whopper, as it will be known, is the biggest validation — and expansion opportunity — for a young industry that is looking to mimic and replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

The roll-out will start in the chain’s St. Louis restaurants and then proceed nationwide if all goes well. Here’s a commercial in which hardcore BK fans can’t tell the Impossible Whopper from their beloved beef version:

As an increasingly conflicted omnivore, I would be perfectly happy if all low- to mid-end burgers were replaced by veggie clones — I don’t care that the Quarter Pounder I eat once every three months is beef…I just want it to taste like a Quarter Pounder — and then high-end burgers (the ones where you can tell the difference and you eat only rarely) were made from humanely raised beef for which consumers pay an appropriate price that accurately reflects the true-cost accounting of their production. A meat burger that costs a dollar is just being paid for in other ways by someone or something else.

States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

For his series of documentary short films, States of America, Brad Barber is profiling one person from each of the 50 US states.

In the United States, you might be born one place, go to school or work in another, then pack it up and move somewhere else for a thousand different reasons of choice or circumstance. You might have been born in another country. What is it that ties us to these places and makes us adopt them as our home? How does our state affect who we are and how we identify ourselves? What makes us from there?

For Wisconsin, Barber profiled Xong Xiong, a member of the Hmong community whose parents moved there from a refugee camp in Thailand.

Xong was born in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand but moved to Wisconsin as a child after her family couldn’t safely return to Laos following the Vietnam War. There she grew up as part of a large influx of twice dislocated Hmong refugees who were not always welcomed with open arms in the small city of La Crosse. Despite her experiences with racism, poor integration, and detachment from her own culture, Xong is determined to help the younger generation born in America stay connected.

Xiong lives not too far from where I grew up as a kid. The subject of the Vermont short film lives pretty close to where I am now:

Here’s a trailer for the series. (thx johan)

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

It’s only Monday, but I’m confident this will be my favorite read of the week. Since 2012, paleontologist Robert DePalma has been excavating a site in North Dakota that he thinks is “an incredible and unprecedented discovery”. What’s potentially so special about this site? Fossils from dinosaurs and other animals from thousands of years before the asteroid impact are very hard to come by, leading some to believe that dinosaurs died out before the impact, not because of it. DePalma believes the site preserves, as if in amber, the day, the precise and exact day (and perhaps even the exact hour), that the massive asteroid believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs hit the Earth 65 million years ago.

As DePalma carefully excavated the upper layers, he began uncovering an extraordinary array of fossils, exceedingly delicate but marvellously well preserved. “There’s amazing plant material in there, all interlaced and interlocked,” he recalled. “There are logjams of wood, fish pressed against cypress — tree root bundles, tree trunks smeared with amber.” Most fossils end up being squashed flat by the pressure of the overlying stone, but here everything was three-dimensional, including the fish, having been encased in sediment all at once, which acted as a support. “You see skin, you see dorsal fins literally sticking straight up in the sediments, species new to science,” he said. As he dug, the momentousness of what he had come across slowly dawned on him. If the site was what he hoped, he had made the most important paleontological discovery of the new century.

The type of evidence present at the site is almost too good to believe:

He noted that every fish he’d found in the site had died with its mouth open, which may indicate that the fish had been gasping as they suffocated in the sediment-laden water.

“Most died in a vertical position in the sediment, didn’t even tip over on their sides,” he said. “And they weren’t scavenged, because whatever would have dug them up afterward was probably gone.”

Depalma Fossil Fish

Clues from the growth stages of animals and pollen found at the site might even point to what season it was when the asteroid struck…DePalma’s current guess is in autumn. And then there’s this, about a burrow that DePalma discovered:

“Any Cretaceous mammal burrow is incredibly rare,” he said. “But this one is impossible — it’s dug right through the KT boundary.” Perhaps, he said, the mammal survived the impact and the flood, burrowed into the mud to escape the freezing darkness, then died. “It may have been born in the Cretaceous and died in the Paleocene,” he said.

A scientific paper is forthcoming this week. I couldn’t find it online, but this piece in Science says that it’s generating some discussion and controversy already.

“Outcrops like [this] are the reasons many of us are drawn to geology,” says David Kring, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, who wasn’t a member of the research team. “Those few meters of rock record the wrath of the Chicxulub impact and the devastation it caused.” But not everyone has fully embraced the find, perhaps in part because it was first announced to the world last week in an article in The New Yorker. The paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), does not include all the scientific claims mentioned in The New Yorker story, including that numerous dinosaurs as well as fish were buried at the site.

“I hope this is all legit-I’m just not 100% convinced yet,” says Thomas Tobin, a geologist at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Tobin says the PNAS paper is densely packed with detail from paleontology, sedimentology, geochemistry, and more. “No one is an expert on all of those subjects,” he says, so it’s going to take a few months for the research community to digest the findings and evaluate whether they support such extraordinary conclusions.

I’m eager to follow the progress of this story as more of the results are released and analyzed by the scientific community.

A Timelapse of the Entire Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

John Boswell has made a 10-minute time lapse video showing the history of the universe, from its formation 13.8 billion years ago up to the present. Each second of the video represents the passing of 22 million years. But don’t blink right near the end…you might miss the tiny fraction of a second that represents the entire history of humanity.

See also: Boswell’s Timelapse of the Future, a dramatized time lapse of possible events from now until the heat death of the universe many trillion trillion trillions of years from now.

Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch Free Solo (my hands are getting sweaty and I’m feeling faint just thinking about it), but watching Alex Honnold critique famous rock climbing scenes from movies like Mission Impossible II, Star Trek V, and Cliffhanger is pretty entertaining and informative.

It’s no surprise that with a few obvious caveats, Tom Cruise’s climbing scene in MI:2 gets high marks. The MI stunt work is always legit.

My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month and a half. For books, I’m currently reading Silk Roads and listening to the audiobook of Guns, Germs, and Steel, which are rhyming in interesting ways. Looking back, I haven’t listened to any significant new music in months and months. What am I missing?

Turnton kitchen scissors. Ernest Wright very kindly sent me a pair of their kitchen scissors. I’ve posted so much about their story that I can’t really be objective at this point no matter what, so I feel ok saying the craftsmanship of these scissors is flat out amazing. (A-)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Never not entertaining. (A-)

Tag. Kinda fun but the real-life story was better. (C+)

Alita: Battle Angel. The big eyes worked. (B)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Liked this even more the second time around and I love reading and watching all the making-of stuff. (A-)

Cold War. Along with Roma, Spider-Verse, The Favourite, and If Beale Street Could Talk, this was one of the most beautifully shot films of 2018. Every frame a painting, indeed. (B+)

The Grinch. I wasn’t expecting to sympathize so much with The Grinch here. The social safety net constructed by the upper middle class Whos totally failed the most vulnerable member of their society in a particularly heartless way. Those Whos kinda had it coming. (B)

Mortal Engines. Why was this panned so much? It wasn’t great but it was entertaining…this and Alita felt similar to me. (B)

Leaving Neverland. I wrote some thoughts about this here. (A)

Why Is This Happening? The Uninhabitable Earth with David Wallace-Wells. Fascinating and scary interview of David Wallace-Wells about his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth. Weirdly, I felt almost hopeful at the end of it though. (A)

Captain Marvel. I liked Brie Larson in this role very much. Looking forward to seeing more in Avengers: Endgame. (B+)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Great movie. Very few films have matched the inventiveness of its action sequences since it came out. (A)

Apollo 11. The nearest IMAX theater is more than a 3-hour drive from where I live, so I had to watch this in a tiny theater with what sounded like a single speaker located at the front of the room. This greatly diminished the intended effect of the pristine 65mm footage. (B)

Living more than a 3-hour drive from the nearest IMAX theater. (F)

The History of English Podcast. This was recommended to me by a reader because of this post. I listened to a pair of episodes about surnames: What’s In a Name? and Trade Names. Super interesting stuff. (A-)

Kohler 10282-AK-CP shower head. My shower head sucked, I replaced it with this one, and now my shower head doesn’t suck anymore. (B+)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. The Salt episode intensified my desire to go to Japan. (B+)

Aquaman. Not as good as Wonder Woman, but way better than Justice League or any of the other recent DC movies. (B)

Cooking As an Art, With Jerry Saltz. This podcast episode is pretty uneven in spots, but when Chang just lets Saltz talk, it’s a goldmine of quotable ideas. “Pleasure is an important form of knowledge.” (A-)

The Unknown Known. Late in the film, Donald Rumsfeld says to his interlocutor Errol Morris: “I think you’re probably, Errol, chasing the wrong rabbit here.” Morris got a bit unlucky here in his choice of subject — by the end of the movie, we don’t know anything more about Rumsfeld than when we started. (C+)

Chef’s Table, Enrique Olvera. Oh man, I can’t wait to go to Pujol next week. (A-)

Kindle Paperwhite. I upgraded from my old Paperwhite. I like the flat screen, that it’s lighter, and the waterproofing is going to come in handy, but the speed and screen quality are pretty much exactly the same. Are e-ink interfaces already as sharp & responsive as they are ever going to be? (A)

Bumblebee. Entertaining, but I still have a problem with the Transformers movies because the robots are so overly detailed that it’s hard to know where to look when they’re on-screen. They should be more abstract and iconic (a la Scott McCloud’s Big Triangle in Understanding Comics). (B+)

Emily Wilson on Translations and Language. Having not read multiple translations of Homer, some of this was over my head, but the rest was really interesting. (A-)

Generative.fm. Been listening to this while working more or less constantly for the past week, mostly the “Otherness” and “Meditation” tracks. (A-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

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