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Entries for June 2019 (Archives)

 

Mario Royale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2019

Mario Royale (now renamed DMCA Royale to skirt around Nintendo’s intellectual property rights) is a battle royale game based on Super Mario Bros in which you compete against 74 other players to finish four levels in the top three. Here’s what the gameplay looked like when it was still Mario-branded:

Kotaku has coverage:

And because Mario Royale is partially a race, there are all sorts of ways to play. Do you try to get items and destroy the competition? Do you speedrun through levels? Do you take it steady and win through careful progress? These are all viable options. There’s a silliness here that makes each option a wacky spectacle, even as each option is also a worthwhile strategy. It only takes a handful of minutes to play a match, but you always walk away with a cool story.

The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Harold Fisk Maps

Harold Fisk Maps

I have long admired the Mississippi River meander maps designed by Army Corps of Engineers cartographer Harold Fisk but have somehow never written a whole post about them. So when my pals at 20x200 reached out wanting me to write a blog post for them about their Fisk prints, I jumped at the chance. It gave me an excuse to write about art as time travel and, in particular, how Fisk’s clever map compresses thousands of years of a river’s activity into a single image.

It takes some imagination, but standing before a painting by Hilma af Klint, a sculpture by Bernini, or a cave painting in Chauvet, France draws you back in time in a powerful way: you know you’re standing precisely where those artists stood hundreds or even thousands of years ago, laying paint to surface or chisel to stone. Even experiencing art through prints or photographs leads the mind to consider all the cultural, political, technological, and economic things that were happening when the work was produced. Art is a doorway to past worlds.

Fisk’s maps represent the memory of a mighty river, with thousands of years of course changes compressed into a single image by a clever mapmaker with an artistic eye. Looking at them, you’re invited to imagine the Mississippi as it was during the European exploration of the Americas in the 1500s, during the Cahokia civilization in the 1200s (when this city’s population matched London’s), when the first humans came upon the river more than 12,000 years ago, and even back to before humans, when mammoths, camels, dire wolves, and giant beavers roamed the land and gazed upon the river.

You can buy prints of Fisk’s maps at 20x200…they have several available at all kinds of different sizes, framed and unframed.

Update: With LIDAR, the past meanderings of rivers can be seen more clearly (and no less artistically) than in Fisk’s maps. Here’s a LIDAR image of the Mississippi River along the border of Arkansas and Mississippi:

Mississippi Lidar

And don’t miss Daniel Coe’s morphing GIF of Fisk’s map to the LIDAR image. (via @macgbrown)

I don’t know if this needs a disclaimer or not, but 20x200 paid me a modest amount to write this blog post for their site but not the post you’re reading now. 20x200 didn’t pay me to write this here post; they didn’t even ask me if I would link to their post from my site. I once wrote a slightly longer (and progressively unhinged) disclaimer for a previous post about 20x200.

Amish Vacation Snaps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Amish Vacation

Amish Vacation

From Dina Litovsky, photos of Amish and Mennonite families on their annual Florida getaway. Her photos were recently featured in The New Yorker. I first read about Amish spring break in 2012 in the NY Times.

Walking around Pinecraft is like entering an idyllic time warp. White bungalows and honeybell orange trees line streets named after Amish families: Kaufman, Schrock, Yoder. The local Laundromat keeps lines outside to hang clothes to dry. (You have to bring your own pins.) And the techiest piece of equipment at the post office is a calculator. The Sarasota county government plans to designate the village, which spreads out over 178 acres, as a cultural heritage district.

Many travelers I spoke to jokingly call it the “Amish Las Vegas,” riffing off the cliché that what happens in Pinecraft stays in Pinecraft. Cellphone and cameras, normally off-limits to Amish, occasionally make appearances, and almost everyone uses electricity in their rental homes. Three-wheeled bicycles, instead of horses and buggies, are ubiquitous.

The (Continuing) Case for Reparations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Five years after The Atlantic published his The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke before a House committee and once again made the case for the United States government making reparations for slavery. Here is Coates’ full opening statement, a succinct & powerful 5 minutes:

The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits. That if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings. That if D-Day matters, so does Black Wall Street. That if Valley Forge matters, so does Fort Pillow. Because the question really is not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.

The Atlantic has the full text of his statement.

Summer, Summer, Summertime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

We interrupt your regularly scheduled flow of fine hypertext products for a short program note or two. Here’s your soundtrack:

1. Posting will be a little slow over the next week or so. My kids will be gone for most of the summer on adventures, so I’m spending some time with them before they scatter to the winds. I’ll be back to full speed next Wednesday-ish.

2. Last year, I did a Summer Fridays thing where the site and newsletter took every other Friday off and it worked out pretty well, so I’m doing it again. As usual, my pal and yours Tim Carmody will be handling Fridays and the newsletter (sign up here).

3. Did I mention that kottke.org has a weekly newsletter called Noticing that slips the best posts and coolest stuff into your inbox on Fridays? Oh, you think three links (now four) to the newsletter in two paragraphs is excessive? At least you don’t need to close A GODDAMN EMAIL SUBSCRIBE POPUP EVERY TIME YOU READ THE SITE. You’re welcome. (Subscribe.)

4a. Several lovely people have recently told me that I’m not vocal enough about kottke.org’s membership program. *clears throat* The only way kottke.org even exists at this point is through the support of readers like you. Seriously. Read this post from Nov 2017 for more info.

What I’m trying to say is: thank you so much for your support over the past year. To say it means a lot to me is insufficient. Member support has made it possible for me to keep publishing kottke.org without compromise (i.e. without splashing trashy ads everywhere or selling to a larger media company), something I know you appreciate and something I’ve grown increasingly thankful for as the 20-year anniversary of the site approaches early next year (!!!).

If you find my work here valuable in some way and are able to do so, please support the site with a membership today.

4b. If you’re currently a member, I have probably thanked you before but guess what? Here it comes again: Thank you! But if you want to continue supporting the site, I need you to do the tiniest bit of housekeeping. Credit cards expire, charges on saved cards are declined for a bunch of incomprehensible reasons (like because you upgraded your phone), and reminder emails are easily overlooked in busy inboxes. As a result, you might be sitting here thinking you’re a member when you’re actually not. To check your status, you can log in on the members page (use the “sign in” link just under the title). If your account isn’t active, you’ll be able to drop in a new credit card to get your membership going again. Thx!

5. Five seems like a nice round number to end on.

Uncompetitive Purposefulness and Infinity Cake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

In her post about the book The White Cat and the Monk, Maria Popova uses this great phrase, “uncompetitive purposefulness”, which is one of those things that you hear and you’re like, riiiight, that’s how I want to be living my life.

Written as a playful ode in the ninth century, today the poem lives partway between lamentation and celebration — it stands as counterpoint to our culture of competitive striving and ceaseless self-comparisons, but it also reminds us that the accomplishments of others aren’t to the detriment of our own; that we can remain purposeful about our pursuits while rejoicing in those of others; that we can choose to amplify each other’s felicity because there is, after all, enough to go around even in the austerest of circumstances.

Just this morning I ran across a tweet from Jonny Sun:

if you cheer for people you like instead of envy them the world gets better for you and for them and for everyone involved i promise

And Jenna Wortham’s response:

the cake is big enough for everyone to have a slice. ten slices. the sheet cake can feed us all. infinity cake. infinity rewards and wins.

Photo Wake-Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

Photo Wake Up

Researchers at the University of Washington and Facebook have developed an algorithm that can “wake up” people depicted in still images (photos, drawings, paintings) and create 3D characters than can “walk out” of their images. Check out some examples and their methods here (full paper):

The AR implementation of their technique is especially impressive…a figure in a Picasso painting just comes alive and starts running around the room. (thx nick, who accurately notes the Young Sherlock Holmes vibe)

100 People Share What Drugs They’ve Done

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

The Cut asked 100 people what drugs they have done and this is what they said.

Lots of alcohol, weed, mushrooms, and molly. And one guy who smoked Altoids?

30 Films You Should Watch According to Christopher Nolan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

Christopher Nolan will be out with his latest film next year, Tenet. To celebrate, IndieWire has collected a list of 30 films that Nolan has mentioned in the past as having an impact on his filmmaking. The title of that post calls these his “favorite” movies, but it’s perhaps more fair to call it his list of blockbuster influences, films that are grand in scale, personal in nature, and a little cerebral…with some quirky oddballs thrown in for good measure. Here’s a selection:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Blade Runner
Alien
For All Mankind
Koyaanisqatsi
Star Wars
Street of Crocodiles
The Tree Of Life

Up in the Trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

Manuelo Bececco

Manuelo Bececco

Amongst much fine work on his website and Instagram, Manuelo Bececco’s photos of forest canopies are my favorites. And did you notice the crown shyness in the first photo?

Crown shyness, a phenomenon where the leaves and branches of individual trees don’t touch those of other trees, forming gaps in the canopy.

(via moss and fog)

100 Fun Facts About Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

To celebrate their 100th episode, The Allusionist podcast shared 100 Things We’ve Learned About Language from The Allusionist (transcript). Here are a few of my favorites from the list:

3. ‘Girl’ could originally be used to refer to a child of any gender — it didn’t specifically denote a female child until the late 14th century.

12. The best thing I’ve learned from the Allusionist is that the dictionary is a record and not a rule book! And language is too dynamic and complex for there to be a right and a wrong.

14. Dictionaries: can’t trust them, they’ve got deliberately fake words, or mountweazels, as copyright traps.

20. A few more quick eponyms: the saxophone is named after its inventor Adolphe Sax. He also invented the saxhorn, saxotromba, and saxtuba which didn’t all catch on.

27. Words like laser, scuba, taser — and the care in ‘care package’, those are all acronyms. [Whoa, I did not know about CARE package! -j]

45. I looked up the step in stepchild or stepparent and found it meant ‘grief’. I know some of you use different terms; since the episode, I’ve been borrowing ‘bonus’.

54. My favourite portmanteau discovery: ‘Velcro’ is a portmanteau — of velour and crochet.

56. Also very literal: ‘log in’, after the log on a knotted rope that would be thrown overboard from a ship to measure its speed — calculated by the length of rope unspooled over a particular time — and that would be logged in the log book.

100. ‘Arseropes’. What a wonderful word for the human intestines! Why don’t we use it still? [From John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible -j]

(via recs)

Beautiful Maps of the Solar System’s Asteroids and the Topography of Mercury

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

Remember how last week I told you about Eleanor Lutz’s An Atlas of Space?

Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Well, she’s posted her first two projects: An Orbit Map of the Solar System (a map of more than 18,000 asteroid orbits in the solar system) and A Topographic Map of Mercury.

Atlas Of Space

Atlas Of Space

As promised, Lutz has posted the source code for each project to her GitHub account: Mercury topography, asteroid orbits. What a great resource for aspiring data visualization designers. Stay tuned to her site, Twitter, or Tumblr for upcoming installments of the atlas.

That’s My Jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

That’s My Jazz is a short documentary by Ben Proudfoot about world class pastry chef Milton Abel II, who reminisces about his father, Milton Abel Sr., a world class Kansas City jazz musician. The film is a tender and moving rumination on their relationship and the balance between achieving greatness in the world and being present in the lives of your loved ones.

The Apollo 11 Mission in Realtime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

Apollo 11 Realtime

Well, this is just flat-out fantastic. Ben Feist and a team of collaborators have built Apollo 11 In Real Time, an interactive presentation of the first mission to land on the Moon as it happened.

This website replays the Apollo 11 mission as it happened, 50 years ago. It consists entirely of historical material, all timed to Ground Elapsed Time — the master mission clock. Footage of Mission Control, film shot by the astronauts, and television broadcasts transmitted from space and the surface of the Moon, have been painstakingly placed to the very moments they were shot during the mission, as has every photograph taken, and every word spoken.

You can tune in in real time beginning July 16th, watch/experience it right now from 1 minute before launch, or you can skip around the timeline to just watch the moments you want. As someone who has been hosting an Apollo 11 in real time thing for the past 9 years, this site makes me both ridiculously happy and a little bit jealous.

I’ve only ever seen footage of the first moonwalk in grainy videos as broadcast on TV, but this site shows it in the original resolution and it’s a revelation. Here’s the moonwalk, beginning with some footage of the folks in Mission Control nervously fidgeting with their hands (skip to 5:18:00 if the video doesn’t start there):

The rest of the video for the entire mission can be found here…what a trove. This whole thing is marvelous…I can’t wait to tune in when July 16th rolls around.

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

It started in mid-April, barely 3 and 1/2 months into the year. To hit expectant readers before Memorial Day with suggestions for beach reads, summer reads, roadtrip reads, and just plain read reads, publications started rounding up the best books released in 2019:

Best books of 2019 so far (The Guardian)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Vulture)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Real Simple)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Glamour)
The Best Books of 2019 to Add to Your Reading List (Marie Claire)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Esquire)

I love that almost everyone uses the same title — it’s economical and the “(So Far)” is a wink that, yes, it’s a more than a little absurd to be talking about the best books of the year in freaking April. Of course, I couldn’t resist using it too.

But never mind the meta crap, what books are actually on these lists? Here are some that caught my eye or featured on one or more of these lists.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. This one is going to be on all the year-end lists, so it’s almost required reading at this point.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon. “This contemporary story mirrors the ancient legend of Antiochus, whose love for the daughter of his dead wife was discovered by the adventurer Appolinus of Tyre. The tale appeared in many forms through the ages; Apollinus becoming the swashbuckling Pericles in Shakespeare’s eponymous play.”

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. “Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories — equal parts wholesome and uncanny; from the tantalizing witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can — beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women in the story. In the same vein as Circe and Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, both of which I loved.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. I wrote about Cirado Perez’s book back in February. “In her new book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez argues that the data that scientists, economists, public policy makers, and healthcare providers rely on is skewed, unfairly and dangerously, towards men.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. “A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup.”

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. “Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes?”

The History of the Bible by John Barton. “In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable authority straight from God, has prevailed in Western society for some time. And while it provides a firm foundation for centuries of Christian teaching, it denies the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text.”

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang. “Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life.”

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian. A collection of stories from the author that broke the internet with Cat Person. Included in the collection is The Good Guy, also very much worth a read.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Reichl’s memoir about her time at Gourmet magazine. “This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat.”

Jurassic Park but With Pee-Wee Herman in Place of the T-Rex

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2019

This is gold — a perfect 30 seconds of entertainment. I have watched this at least 10 times and Pee-Wee rolling around on the ground at the end cracks me up every time.

See also The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” Scene But With The Dinosaurs Digitally Removed and Jurassic Park but with the Dinosaurs from the 90s TV Show Dinosaurs.

Doris Burke Is Too Good For Her Job

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 14, 2019

DorisBurke.jpg

David Remnick writes what everyone knows: “the best broadcaster in the [NBA] is Doris Burke. This has been the case now for years. There is no one remotely close.”

But because this is David Remnick, he doesn’t just do the easy job of showing how Burke outshines her ESPN/ABC colleagues Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, but also provides a mini-history of women in the press box and broadcast booth. (He even includes the transition phrase, “There is a long history to all of this.”)

“The thing is that in sportswriting the breakthroughs came at least twenty years ago and more,” [Sally] Jenkins said. “But television sports has far more trip wires than sports journalism. Sports TV is still Wall Street. And there is no real change unless there is mandate from a guy on high. All the breakthroughs—and here you can name whatever women behind microphones—are decisions made by a single man at the top who wants to be Branch Rickey.”

“The reality is that I’m fifty-two years old,” Burke told Sports Illustrated last season. “And how many fifty-five to sixty-year-old women do you see in sports broadcasting? How many? I see a lot of sixty-year-old men broadcasting.” Burke is better than all of them. That might not matter.

The Biggest Nonmilitary Effort in the History of Human Civilization

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 14, 2019

aldrin-moon.jpg

Charles Fishman has a new book, One Giant Leap, all about NASA’s Apollo program to land an astronaut on the moon. He talks about it on Fresh Air with Dave Davies.

On what computers were like in the early ’60s and how far they had to come to go to space

It’s hard to appreciate now, but in 1961, 1962, 1963, computers had the opposite reputation of the reputation they have now. Most computers couldn’t go more than a few hours without breaking down. Even on John Glenn’s famous orbital flight — the first U.S. orbital flight — the computers in mission control stopped working for three minutes [out] of four hours. Well, that’s only three minutes [out] of four hours, but that was the most important computer in the world during that four hours and they couldn’t keep it going during the entire orbital mission of John Glenn.

So they needed computers that were small, lightweight, fast and absolutely reliable, and the computers that were available then — even the compact computers — were the size of two or three refrigerators next to each other, and so this was a huge technology development undertaking of Apollo.

On the seamstresses who wove the computer memory by hand

There was no computer memory of the sort that we think of now on computer chips. The memory was literally woven … onto modules and the only way to get the wires exactly right was to have people using needles, and instead of thread wire, weave the computer program. …

The Apollo computers had a total of 73 [kilobytes] of memory. If you get an email with the morning headlines from your local newspaper, it takes up more space than 73 [kilobytes]. … They hired seamstresses. … Every wire had to be right. Because if you got [it] wrong, the computer program didn’t work. They hired women, and it took eight weeks to manufacture the memory for a single Apollo flight computer, and that eight weeks of manufacturing was literally sitting at sophisticated looms weaving wires, one wire at a time.

One anecdote that was new to me describes Armstrong and Aldrin test-burning moon dust, to make sure it wouldn’t ignite when repressurized.

Armstrong and Aldrin actually had been instructed to do a little experiment. They had a little bag of lunar dirt and they put it on the engine cover of the ascent engine, which was in the middle of the lunar module cabin. And then they slowly pressurized the cabin to make sure it wouldn’t catch fire and it didn’t. …

The smell turns out to be the smell of fireplace ashes, or as Buzz Aldrin put it, the smell of the air after a fireworks show. This was one of the small but sort of delightful surprises about flying to the moon.

How Do You Feel About the American Flag?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2019

In Flag Code, Karen Good Marable shares her experience of the American flag growing up and in the wake of the 2016 election. This paragraph in particular resonated with me unexpectedly:

Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.

While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing — it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.

Curved Cityscape Panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Lestnica

Lestnica

As a long-time fan of BERG’s Here & There projection map of Manhattan (and Inception), these bendy photos of European cityscapes by Lestnica are right up my alley (which is now above my head har har). See also Aydın Büyüktaş’s Flatland photos. (via colossal)

Frida Kahlo Speaks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

The National Sound Library of Mexico says they have found the only known audio recording of Frida Kahlo’s voice. Take a listen:

The library have unearthed what they believe could be the first known voice recording of Kahlo, taken from a pilot episode of 1955 radio show El Bachiller, which aired after her death in 1954.

The episode featured a profile of Kahlo’s artist husband Diego Rivera. In it, she reads from her essay Portrait of Diego, which was taken from the catalogue of a 1949 exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts, celebrating 50 years of Rivera’s work.

“He is a gigantic, immense child, with a friendly face and a sad gaze,” she says, as translated by Agence France-Presse. (A different English translation of the text can be found on Google Arts & Culture.)

Film footage of Kahlo is difficult to come by as well; I could only find these two clips:

The first video is in color and shows Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera in her house in Mexico City. The second shows Kahlo painting, drawing, and socializing with the likes of Leon Trotsky. At ~0:56, she walks quickly and confidently down the stairs of a ship, which is a bit surprising given what I’ve read about her health problems.

Update: According to this article (and its translation by Google), the voice on the recording isn’t Kahlo but belongs instead to actress Amparo Garrido:

Yes, I recognize myself. For me it was a big surprise because so many years had passed that I really did not even remember. […] When listening to this audio I remembered some things and I got excited because I did recognize myself.

(via @p_tricio)

Stone Alphabets

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

This is one of several alphabets assembled by Belgian type designer Clotilde Olyff from stones collected at the beach.

Clotilde Olyff

Here are a few more examples, some of which were featured in this book called 3D Typography:

Clotilde Olyff

Well, I guess I have a new beachcombing activity for when I get tired of skipping rocks.

Deepfakes: Imagine All the People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Here is a video of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Kim Jong Un, and other world leaders lip-syncing along to John Lennon’s Imagine:

Of course this isn’t real. The video was done by a company called Canny AI, which offers services like “replace the dialogue in any footage” and “lip-sync your dubbed content in any language”. That’s cool and all — picture episodes of Game of Thrones or Fleabag where the actors automagically lip-sync along to dubbed French or Chinese — but this technique can also be used to easily create what are referred to as deepfakes, videos made using AI techniques in which people convincingly say and do things they actually did not do or say. Like this video of Mark Zuckerberg finally telling the truth about Facebook. Or this seriously weird Steve Buscemi / Jennifer Lawrence mashup:

Or Bill Hader’s face morphing into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face every time he impersonates him:

What should we do about these kinds of videos? Social media sites have been removing some videos intended to mislead or confuse people, but notably Facebook has refused to take the Zuckerberg video down (as well as a slowed-down video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appears drunk). Congress is moving ahead with a hearing on deepfakes and the introduction of a related bill:

The draft bill, a product of several months of discussion with computer scientists, disinformation experts, and human rights advocates, will include three provisions. The first would require companies and researchers who create tools that can be used to make deepfakes to automatically add watermarks to forged creations.

The second would require social-media companies to build better manipulation detection directly into their platforms. Finally, the third provision would create sanctions, like fines or even jail time, to punish offenders for creating malicious deepfakes that harm individuals or threaten national security. In particular, it would attempt to introduce a new mechanism for legal recourse if people’s reputations are damaged by synthetic media.

I’m hopeful this bill will crack down on the malicious use of deepfakes and other manipulated videos but leave ample room for delightful art and culture hacking like the Hader/Schwarzenegger thing or one of my all-time favorite videos, a slowed-down Jeff Goldblum extolling the virtues of the internet in an Apple ad:

“Internet? I’d say internet!”

Keanu Reeves Keeps His Hands to Himself

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

When I saw this photo of Dolly Parton & Keanu Reeves after it went viral earlier this year, I noticed something interesting about it. Can you see it?

Dolly Keanu

Reeves has his arm around Parton but his hand is open and he is not grabbing or holding her body in any way. He is being warm but respectful. I’ve been thinking about that gesture ever since and was happy to run across this Twitter post by Madsthetic that shows Reeves using the same open-hand gesture with other women. For example:

Keanu Open Hand

Reeves’ move is referred to as “manner hands” in South Korea:

In the West, people are generally mocked online for doing awkward hover hands, but the Korean press seems to applaud the “manner hand” as it’s seen as respectful. Women, it seems, appreciate the “nice guy” gesture, while men probably don’t give it much thought.

Compare with, for instance, the way current Presidential candidate Joe Biden touches women.

See also Keanu Reeves Is Too Good for This World and Keanu Reeves Is a Really Nice Guy. (I had a conversation with a former Hollywood personal assistant once and she told me that there were only two nice men in Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves.)

Help This Guy Name His Cheerios

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Cheerio Names

Brian McMullen is giving names to all of the 3,501 Cheerios in his cereal box and is taking name suggestions on Twitter. (via sam potts)

Jon Stewart’s Defense of 9/11 First Responders

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

If you didn’t have the opportunity yesterday to watch Jon Stewart’s scathing and powerful opening statement before a House subcommittee about providing health benefits for surviving 9/11 first responders, you really should; it’s quite something:

As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me a nearly empty Congress.

Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be. Because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.

On Twitter, archivist Jason Scott shared a cache of over 2300 photos taken by a worker at Ground Zero during the cleanup process in September & October 2001. These photos provide a unique and documentary view of the work being done there, work on behalf of Americans everywhere that this worker, and many others, paid for with his life. Scott:

So, it would probably be useful to interview the worker who took all these photos, who walked around the grounds, who captured these unique images of Ground Zero from all over the space, showing the effort being done to clear the wreckage.

Except we can’t.

He’s dead.

Ground Zero Photos

Ground Zero Photos

The parallels of all this to HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries is left as an exercise to the reader.

Update: The House subcommittee approved extending the compensation fund for 9/11 first responders until 2090. The bill is expected to pass a full House vote but the Senate is anyone (but Mitch McConnell’s) guess.

Update: For his efforts, one of the first responders gifted Stewart a firefighter’s jacket that belonged to a good friend of his, now deceased:

Big News Orgs Get New Public Editors (Against Their Wishes)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

This fits into the burgeoning category of “this is cool but I wish it weren’t necessary”: the Columbia Journalism Review has appointed public editors for a group of four news organizations because they won’t do it themselves.

Public editors and ombudsmen have historically stood as critical advocates for consumers of news, identifying blind spots the outlets can’t see themselves and operating as collectors of critical opinion when decisions go awry. The flameout of public editors in the US, which reached a point of despair in 2017, when The New York Times sent its last public editor packing, is the most visible sign of the growing distance between news organizations and the people they serve. As attacks on the media have increased under the presidency of Donald Trump, the response of newsrooms has, more often than not, been to form a defensive huddle.

That stance is particularly dangerous now, as the nation braces for another presidential election, one that is almost certain to be more partisan, more vicious, and more focused on the perceived failings of the press than any other in the history of the country. It’s a bad time for newsrooms to retreat from their readers.

And what great choices for editors: Gabriel Snyder (NY Times), Ana Marie Cox (Washington Post), Maria Bustillos (MSNBC), and Emily Tamkin (CNN). Here’s CJR editor-in-chief Kyle Pope answering some questions about the project. And here’s Tamkin’s first piece, on CNN’s practice of regularly interviewing people without expertise or responsibility.

Guilfoyle has not worked as an economist. She has not crafted foreign or immigration policy. She is not an expert on Central America. What possible value, I wondered, were CNN’s viewers getting from watching Guilfoyle speak about this subject? If Cuomo wanted Trump talking points, couldn’t he have just played a clip of Trump himself? If Cuomo wanted someone behind Trump’s immigration policy to explain it, shouldn’t he have brought in a member of the administration?

But again, it’s a bummer that a small organization like CJR has to foot the bill for this on behalf of these media organizations’ readers and, you know, democracy.

Space Robot Roll Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society filed a report on humanity’s current roster of spacecraft currently exploring the solar system (and beyond).

Probe Report 2019

Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 are now past their prime mission and are in their extended mission phases. Their companion SmallSat, Longjiang-2, will crash into the Moon on 31 July to bring its mission to an intentional end. Parker Solar Probe is near aphelion as of 1 July and will reach its third death-defying solar perihelion on 1 September. BepiColombo completed its near-Earth commissioning phase on 5 April and is now settling into its long-cruise phase. Earlier this year, the ESA-JAXA Mercury mission was racing ahead of Earth on an inside track, but its elliptical orbit has now taken it farther from the Sun than Earth, allowing Earth to catch up. It will return to Earth’s neighborhood in April 2020 for a flyby.

I counted roughly 30 different probes and rovers in operation, most of them gathered around the Moon and Mars. Sure, where’s my jetpack and flying car and all that, but the fact that humanity has more than two dozen robots currently exploring the solar system seems pretty futuristic to me.

Wikipedia also has a page listing currently active probes and of course there’s the lovely & informative spaceprob.es as well.

The Uber Delusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

Hubert Horan’s broadside of Uber for American Affairs starts out like this and doesn’t let up:

Since it began operations in 2010, Uber has grown to the point where it now collects over $45 billion in gross passenger revenue, and it has seized a major share of the urban car service market. But the widespread belief that it is a highly innovative and successful company has no basis in economic reality.

An examination of Uber’s economics suggests that it has no hope of ever earning sustainable urban car service profits in competitive markets. Its costs are simply much higher than the market is willing to pay, as its nine years of massive losses indicate. Uber not only lacks powerful competitive advantages, but it is actually less efficient than the competitors it has been driving out of business.

This is one of those articles where I want to excerpt the entire thing; it’s just so jammed packed with goodies about a company that represents everything I hate about “tech” and Silicon Valley.

In reality, Uber’s platform does not include any technological breakthroughs, and Uber has done nothing to “disrupt” the economics of providing urban car services. What Uber has disrupted is the idea that competitive consumer and capital markets will maximize overall economic welfare by rewarding companies with superior efficiency. Its multibillion dollar subsidies completely distorted marketplace price and service signals, leading to a massive misallocation of resources. Uber’s most important innovation has been to produce staggering levels of private wealth without creating any sustainable benefits for consumers, workers, the cities they serve, or anyone else.

A later section is titled “Uber’s Narratives Directly Copied Libertarian Propaganda”.

In the early 1990s, a coordinated campaign advocating taxi deregulation was conducted by a variety of pro-corporate/libertarian think tanks that all received funding from Charles and David Koch. This campaign pursued the same deregulation that Uber’s investors needed, and used classic political propaganda techniques. It emphasized emotive themes designed to engage tribal loyalties and convert complex issues into black-and-white moral battles where compromise was impossible. There was an emphasis on simple, attractive conclusions designed to obscure the actual objectives of the campaigners, and their lack of sound supporting evidence.

This campaign’s narratives, repeated across dozens of publications, included framing taxi deregulation as a heroic battle for progress, innovation, and economic freedom. Its main claims were that thousands of struggling entrepreneurial drivers had been blocked from job opportunities by the “cab cartel” and the corrupt regulators beholden to them, and that consumers would enjoy the same benefits that airline deregulation had produced. In a word, consumers were promised a free lunch. Taxi deregulation would lead to lower fares, solve the problems of long waits, provide much greater service (especially in neighborhoods where service was poor), and increase jobs and wages for drivers. Of course, no data or analysis of actual taxi economics showing how these wondrous benefits could be produced was included.

Horan reserves a healthy chunk of his criticism for the media, whose unwillingness to critically cover the company — “the press refuses to reconsider its narra­tive valorizing Uber as a heroic innovator that has created huge benefits for consumers and cities” — has provided a playbook for future investors to exploit for years to come. Blech. What a shitshow.

Gorgeous Overwater/Underwater Shots by Tobias Friedrich

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Tobias Friedrich uses a specialized kit to make these great split shots — half underwater and half over — no need for stitching composites together in a digital darkroom.

Tobias Friedrich

Tobias Friedrich

Here’s some more info on split photography and the gear you’d need for giving it a shot. (via tmn)

Volkswagen’s Turning Lemons into Lemonade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

This is an ad for Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz, a concept car that is slated to enter production in 2022 as the long-awaited new version of the VW Microbus:

VW I.D. Buzz

This ad references a couple of different things. First, VW is being very aggressive in pushing their electric vehicles in the wake of their 2015 emissions scandal, in which the company intentionally programmed their diesel cars to run clean in test mode in order to meet US emissions standards. The second reference is to their iconic ad from the 60s:

VW Lemon

Whether or not the company will be successful in rehabilitating their reputation is one thing, but that ad is super clever.

VW has a history of referencing bad news about their brand in their advertising: How VW Turned Beastie Boys-Inspired Theft of Car Parts into a Clever 80s Ad.

How It Feels to Almost Die (and Come Back to Life)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Many years ago, Christen O’Brien had a massive pulmonary embolism and it almost killed her. In a Medium post from January, she shared her personal experience about what it felt like to almost die.

Realizing that I was dying was like being pushed into a pool. You have no thought but to hold your breath and start swimming. It was the most out of control I’d ever been in my life, yet the only option was to succumb peacefully. I could hear the percussion of my heart beating wildly, recklessly. My breath only reached my trachea now, its pathway closing in rapidly. My palms spread open to the sky, just as my dog moved to stand over me. I am here with you, I am here to protect you.

She is an angel, I thought with that same clear certainty.

She moved her body next to me, and I looked up to the sky in what I thought would be my final moments.

The clouds.

The clouds.

The clouds.

Recently, she wrote a follow-up called How It Felt to Come Back to Life.

Coming back from death showed me that the journey of life is not what we often believe. On the surface, it appears as a journey outward — toward things, people, organizations, achievements. But in truth, it is a journey inward — toward the soul. Toward becoming who you actually are, no matter how far outward you may have to travel in order to discover that all the answers are within you, where you belong.

It would be easy to misread this post as a celebration of near-death, but that’s not O’Brien’s intent. Don’t get it twisted: almost dying is not a stable way of experiencing bliss or contentment or soul-closeness (and YMMV anyway). Her point is more that in this modern world we do not know ourselves well enough to live fully and completely. But as she says, “coming back to life is not something that requires a close brush with death” — it’s something we can all do.

Rather Than Pay Ransom, Radiohead Puts Stolen Music Up for Sale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

OK Minidisc

According to Jonny Greenwood, someone stole Thom Yorke’s “minidisk archive” recorded around the time of OK Computer, the album that propelled Radiohead into the stratosphere. The thieves demanded a ransom of $150K, the band didn’t pay up, and the audio leaked onto the web. Instead of fighting the pirates and leakers, the band put all 18 hours of the archive up for sale on Bandcamp with the proceeds going to Extinction Rebellion.

as it’s out there
it may as well be out there
until we all get bored
and move on

Here is a detailed FAQ and timestamps for all the songs & snippets in the archive — “holy grail” tracks are marked with a star. On Bandcamp, Tanner Gallella describes the release:

Rarely is the artist’s process presented in such an unfiltered, uncompromising way — especially at this strata of musicianship. Polished mixes are juxtaposed against takes recorded in bathrooms; landmark tracks against distorted noise. A unique and delightful insight into a band in the middle of writing their masterwork.

My Radiohead fandom stops just short of listening to 18 hours of Thom Yorke recording music in bathrooms, but this is certainly a trove for superfans and those interested in the musical process of one of the world’s biggest bands.

Plastic Bag Bans Might Do More Harm Than Good

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about a Vancouver store offering plastic bags with embarrassing messages on them to encourage customers to use their own bags for their groceries. Under new laws that took effect on June 1, stores in the city must stop offering paper/plastic bags or charge for them.

NPR’s Planet Money team pulled some research together that suggests that banning plastic bags might do more harm than good (at least in the short term).

Taylor found these bag bans did what they were supposed to: People in the cities with the bans used fewer plastic bags, which led to about 40 million fewer pounds of plastic trash per year. But people who used to reuse their shopping bags for other purposes, like picking up dog poop or lining trash bins, still needed bags. “What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” she says. This was particularly the case for small, 4-gallon bags, which saw a 120 percent increase in sales after bans went into effect.

Trash bags are thick and use more plastic than typical shopping bags. “So about 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags,” Taylor says. On top of that, cities that banned plastic bags saw a surge in the use of paper bags, which she estimates resulted in about 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year.

The waste issue is better, but paper bag production increases carbon emissions. And tote bags, particularly those made from cotton, aren’t great either.

The Danish government recently did a study that took into account environmental impacts beyond simply greenhouse gas emissions, including water use, damage to ecosystems and air pollution. These factors make cloth bags even worse. They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

Abandoned Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

French artist and designer Paul Chadeisson has created a series of images of the megacities from Blade Runner, abandoned in some far future.

Abandoned Blade Runner

Abandoned Blade Runner

You can see more of Chadeisson’s work on Behance and Instagram.

Vintage TV Test Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

It’s hard to believe now, but television didn’t used to be a 24/7/365 affair. TV stations stopped broadcasting late at night and when they were off the air, they would commonly display a test pattern until programming resumed in the morning.

Used since the earliest TV broadcasts, test cards were originally physical cards at which a television camera was pointed, and such cards are still often used for calibration, alignment, and matching of cameras and camcorders.

From Wikimedia Commons and Present & Correct, here are some vintage test patterns:

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

As you might expect, the BBC test card with the girl and clown has both a backstory and a cult following.

One of the most-used test images was RCA’s “Indian-head” test pattern:

TV Test Patterns

As this annotated version shows, each of the card’s elements had a specific testing purpose:

TV Test Patterns

If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s 36 minutes of vintage test patterns from all around the world:

Pattern Radio: Whale Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Google have teamed up on a project to identify the songs of humpback whales from thousands of hours of audio using AI. The AI proved to be quite good at detecting whale sounds and the team has put the files online for people to listen to at Pattern Radio: Whale Songs. Here’s a video about the project:

You can literally browse through more than a year’s worth of underwater recordings as fast as you can swipe and scroll. You can zoom all the way in to see individual sounds — not only humpback calls, but ships, fish and even unknown noises. And you can zoom all the way out to see months of sound at a time. An AI heat map guides you to where the whale calls most likely are, while highlight bars help you see repetitions and patterns of the sounds within the songs.

The audio interface is cool — you can zoom in and out of the audio wave patterns to see the different rhythms of communication. I’ve had the audio playing in the background for the past hour while I’ve been working…very relaxing.

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are Embarrassing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

A Vancouver market is handing out “embarrassing” plastic bags to customers to encourage them to remember to use reusable bags instead.

Embarrassing Plastic

Embarrassing Plastic

Embarrassing Plastic

Currently, East West charges customers five cents per embarrassing plastic bag that they take. They plan to continue handing out the specialty bags for the foreseeable future, but note that they’d rather no one take them. Instead, they hope to start a conversation about single-use plastic bags, as well as influence shoppers to bring their own bags — whether they are shopping at East West or somewhere else.

It’s a fun idea but as several people on Twitter remarked, the idea that people should be embarrassed about watching porn or seeking medical treatment is anachronistic. Besides, these bags might become a cool thing to have and use — an ironic fashion statement of sorts — defeating the original purpose in the process.

On Managing Pain

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 07, 2019

About two weeks ago, I had my right shoulder replaced. This was the second time I’ve had surgery on that shoulder, after multiple knee surgeries and arm surgeries, and abscesses and god knows what else. This surgery took place in the middle of what’s now, to me, a very familiar, and very tedious dance with my doctors around pain, pain management, and painkillers.

The way it works is this. Everyone knows that surgery, and the injuries that lead to surgery, are painful. Everyone also knows that the best way to treat pain of this kind is through the regular administration of opiates. However, because these drugs are addictive, everyone has to act as if they don’t know anything of the kind.

So instead of just prescribing the drugs, and preventing the pain, the doctors and nurses will wait until the patient asks for the pain medication. Or they’ll prescribe pain pills, but not enough to get the patient through to the next meeting with the doctor. They put the onus on the patient to beg for relief of his/her pain. Ideally with a buffer in between, like a nurse or a pain management specialist, so that the decision never comes directly from the person you’re interacting with, but an intercessor. This is why some patients end up medicated up to the gills, and others are left to grind their teeth and just get through it.

It’s really stupid. I suspect it heightens rather than lessening patients’ feelings of dependence on these drugs, which can do so much to reduce their acute pain and chronic discomfort. Instead, they’re doled out in a semi-arbitrary fashion, generally carefully rationed but sometimes overprescribed, based on your willingness to perform pain for someone else and that person’s level of compassion or complicity with your suffering.

This is all to say: no, I’m not on pain medication. Yes, I’m terribly uncomfortable. No, I’m not uncomfortable enough to jump through hoops and beg for more drugs. (Maybe if I were, things would be different.) And at the times I was most uncomfortable, those were the times when medicine was the least available to me, by design.

We’ve got to get over our weird Puritanical crap about pain and pain medication, and accept the fact that in certain contexts, we need the drugs. And by “we,” I mean myself, the medical system; everybody. We can’t be responsible for the entire opioid epidemic every second of every day. Sometimes we just need to be able to go to sleep.

Prince Archivist Michael Howe Discusses “Originals”

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 07, 2019

When word came out shortly after Prince’s death that his estate was looking for an archivist, I briefly imagined the position to be like a Prince librarian: documenting papers, facilitating research, etc. Now, maybe some of that stuff is also happening, but the main job of Prince’s archivist Michael Howe so far seems to be facilitating new musical releases from the huge amount of recorded material from over four decades that Prince left at the time of his death. Which is understandable, if less exciting to a nerd like me.

Schkopi.com has an interview with Howe, discussing the forthcoming release of “Originals,” an album of demo material and other recordings of Prince’s original songs which were first officially released as covers by other artists. It’s in French, but there’s some good stuff in there about the process of selecting songs for release, narrowing the album’s focus to concentrate on the 1980s, and dealing with the fact that these songs have been circulating as bootlegs among Prince superfans for years.

Here’s a short section, translated pretty capably by Google Chrome:

We decided to release this record because we think it is of quality and that Prince would have been proud of it. Our primary goal is to release albums that honor his work, and complete his official discography. We want to come out with the values of respect we owe him and the integrity that was his. Open all valves would not be a responsible act and would not meet these requirements. And even if we wanted to do it, there are so many contractual, legal and legal restrictions with the different labels that would condition what could come out, how and when. It is not that simple. We can not say “oh yes, here’s a good idea, let’s do it”.

We know that Prince was very prolific in the 80s and that many songs of this era are in the trunk. The number of unpublished songs found on the net for the following years is gradually decreasing. Was he just as prolific in the studio in the second half of the 90s and the 2000s?

He did not stop working throughout his career and he was extremely prolific during those 40 years. Even during the last third of his life, and if it was not with the same frequency, he was in the same state of mind as in the 80s and 90s.

Hence the likelihood of more archival releases to come.

How Prison Tattoos Are Made

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 07, 2019

Prison Tattoos.jpeg

People are fascinated by prison tattoos. (I include myself in “people.”) This post at Mental Floss tries to spell out their meanings. The Economist’s Wade Zhou has crunched their numbers. And for The Marshall Project, Joseph Darius Jaafari digs into their technologies and economies: how they are made and how they circulate.

In Reddit threads and YouTube videos, former inmates describe the painstaking task of making tattoo machines and colored ink. Prisoners take apart beard trimmers or CD players to get at the tiny motor, which they can adapt to make the tattoo needle go up and down quickly enough. (Tattoo artists who use beard trimmers can quickly put the shaver back on and trick guards searching for contraband.)

The needle itself is often made from a metal guitar string split in two by holding it over an open flame until it snaps in half, creating a fine point. The springs inside gel pens can also flatten into needles.

One former prisoner who now runs a tattoo shop said he used to make black ink by trapping soot in a milk carton placed over a burning pile of plastic razors or Bible pages. He would mix the leftover ash and soot with a bit of alcohol (for hygienic purposes). To get color, some inmates use liquid India ink that family members buy from arts and crafts stores.

Why Bible pages, I wonder? Is it an availability thing or a ritual thing? Or both?

Vintage Photos of NYC’s High Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2019

Gothamist recently posted some vintage photos of NYC’s High Line taken by Jake Dobkin back when it was still an abandoned rail line and not an immaculately designed space surrounded by luxury condos. Meg & I snuck up there in Feb 2004 and walked all the way down from 33rd St to the Meatpacking and back again. Here are a few photos I snapped that day:

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

A couple of these were kindly included in Phaidon’s book about the making-of the High Line park.

Hot Wheels Xylophone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

These YouTube goofballs built a xylophone that’s playable with die-cast cars.

Let’s play musical cars, shall we? A total of 374 black-and-white ‘65 Ford Mustangs hit some black-and-white xylophone keys to play the world’s first die-cast song.

Hot Wheels Xylophone would be a great band name too. (via bb)

Teaching a Neural Network How to Drive a Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

In this video, you can watch a simple neural network learn how to navigate a video game race track. The program doesn’t know how to turn at first, but the car that got the furthest in the first race (out of 650 competitors) is then used as the seed for the next generation. The winning cars from each generation are used to seed the next race until a few of them make it all the way around the track in just the 4th generation.

I think one of the reason I find neural network training so fascinating is that you can observe, in a very simple and understandable way, the basic method by which all life on Earth evolved the ability to do things like move, see, swim, digest food, echolocate, grasp objects, and use tools. (via dunstan)

How to Draw Animals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Les Animaux Tels Qu’ils Sont is a 1930s book by Robert Lambry that contain instructions for drawing all kinds of animals, from elephants and snakes to birds and horses. Each drawing starts with basic forms — circles, rectangles, etc. — which Lambry builds into simple line drawings of each animal. I love the dogs drawn with parallel lines.

Vocal Typefaces

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

Vocal is a type foundry that makes typefaces that highlight the history of underrepresented people “from the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Argentina to the Civil Rights Movement in America”. For example, the Martin typeface is based on signs carried by marchers in the streets of Memphis after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Vocal Martin

Netflix used Martin for What Happened Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus’ Nina Simone documentary:

Vocal Martin

(via @c_wolbrecht)

A Strolling Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Oh just some flowers & plants casually strolling into my life every spring to brighten up my life after a long winter:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Universal Everything (@universaleverything) on

Watching that video almost makes me sneeze though too. From Universal Everything’s Superconsumers project…many more videos of walking things here and at Vimeo and Instagram.

Animated Knot Tying Tutorials

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Animated Knots

Animated Knots is a collection of animated tutorials on how to tie almost 200 different knots. The knots are broken down by activity (fishing, surgical, climbing, decorative) and by type (splicing, bends, quick release). You might want to start with the basic knots or the terminology page. (via dense discovery)

Photos from the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Chernobyl

Chernobyl

Alan Taylor has put together a selection of photos taken in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986. You may have seen some of these scenes recreated in HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries.

Liquidators clean the roof of the No. 3 reactor. At first, workers tried clearing the radioactive debris from the roof using West German, Japanese, and Russian robots, but the machines could not cope with the extreme radiation levels so authorities decided to use humans. In some areas, workers could not stay any longer than 40 seconds before the radiation they received reached the maximum authorized dose a human being should receive in his entire life.

See also more recent photos of Chernobyl and the exclusion zone and Masha Gessen’s take on what HBO’s series got wrong.

Salvador Dali’s Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Salvador Dali / Alice Wonderland

In 1969, surrealist Salvador Dali provided a set of 12 illustrations for an edition of Alice in Wonderland, a seemingly perfect match of artist to subject matter. It was released in a limited edition and copies are now a coveted collector’s item — here’s a signed copy on eBay for $10,000. Luckily, Princeton Architectural Press put out a 150th anniversary edition a few years ago that’s more manageable (Amazon).

See also a couple of Dali’s other books: a wine guide and a cookbook.

Night Photography of Urban Japan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Photographer Jun Yamamoto (a.k.a. jungraphy) takes these subdued (but somehow also vibrant) photos of Japanese cities at night. This one in particular caught my eye:

Jun Yamamoto

I’m assuming the photos are processed to get that moody red/blue/black color palette.

Primitive Technology Guy Flirts with the Iron Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Hey it’s been a little while since we checked in on Primitive Technology, so let’s see what everyone’s favorite jacked low-tech Aussie has been up to. For the past four years, this guy has been making huts, tools, weapons, furnaces, and other things in the jungle using only Stone Age tools and techniques. In his most recent video, he made some Polynesian arrowroot flour:

He’s also made some cement out of wood ash and terracotta:

And as part of his “ongoing quest to reach the iron age”, he used charcoal and iron bacteria to make small iron pellets:

You can check out his other projects on his YouTube channel.

The National Park Typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

National Park Typeface

National Park is a typeface designed “to mimic the National Park Service signs that are carved using a router bit”.

I saw those familiar words. Set “National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior” — style. I wondered if it actually was a typeface or “font” that anyone could download and use? Do park rangers have this as a typeface on their computers to set in their word docs, pdfs and power point slides?

I had a sketchbook with me and took some rubbings of the letterforms and asked my friend Miles Barger, the Visual Information Specialist for Rocky, if he had the typeface. He asked the sign shop. No one has it? Turns out it isn’t a typeface at all but a system of paths, points and curves that a router follows.

The typeface comes in four weights and is available as a free download.

An Atlas of Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

Atlas Of Space

Eleanor Lutz is one of my favorite data visualizers (previously) and she’s about ready to drop her new project: An Atlas of Space.

I’m excited to finally share a new design project this week! Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Over the next few weeks I want to share each map alongside the open-source Python code and detailed tutorials for recreating the design. All of the astronomy data comes from publicly available sources like NASA and the USGS, so I thought this would be the perfect project for writing design tutorials (which I’ve been meaning to do for a while).

Ahhh, look at those colors! Lutz is going to be posting a new map from the project periodically over the next few weeks so follow her on Tabletop Whale, Twitter, or Tumblr to tune in.

The Lost Common Spaces of Our Hyper-Segmented Lives

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

From Ranjan Roy, an essay called The Sweetgreen-ification of Society about how technology and customer segmentation are increasingly separating people into socioeconomic groups that don’t interact:

Just next time you get lunch, take a good look around you.

We are losing the spaces we share across socioeconomic strata. Slowly, but surely, we are building the means for an everyday urbanite to exist solely in their physical and digital class lanes. It used to be the rich, and then everyone else. Now in every realm of daily consumer life, we are able to efficiently separate ourselves into a publicly visible delineation of who belongs where.

We lost the lunch line. We lost the coffee cart. We’re losing the commute. Innovation has bestowed upon us an entire homescreen worth of transportation options that allow us to congest the roads and never brush elbows with those taking the subway. Meanwhile, the crumbling of the subways aren’t felt by an ever growing number of the somewhat well-to-do.

At a certain point, it becomes difficult to have a democracy on this basis. This reminds of a Tom Junod essay I think about often as I’m navigating daily life in the US: The Water-Park Scandal and Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, or Are We the Line? (via @naveen)

Still Lifes of Packaged Fruits and Vegetables

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

Still Life Plastic

Still Life Plastic

Still lifes of fruits and vegetables arranged on tables and in baskets & bowls have been a staple of Western art for centuries. Spanish creative studio Quatre Caps has brought the still life into the supermarket age with their project Not Longer Life. The project was conceived to call attention to wasteful plastic packaging of fruits and vegetables, but as this post points out, packaged and pre-cut foods can be easier to eat for disabled people.

As a person with limited hand dexterity, I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food. I actively avoid eating oranges, not because I dislike them (they are definitely tasty) but because I have so much difficulty peeling them. Any attempt to peel an orange is likely to result in an unappetizing mess because I’ve squeezed the orange to hard while trying to maneuver it for peel removal.

I don’t have access to peeled oranges from my grocery store though I’d probably take advantage of them if I did. I do buy precut vegetables all the time because it is more convenient and safer for me to do so.

(via colossal)

Conduction by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

The New Yorker has published an excerpt of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ forthcoming novel, The Water Dancer. In Conduction, we meet Hiram Walker, a slave who has escaped his bondage in Virginia and traveled to Philadelphia to work on the Underground Railroad.

I followed the river as it bent inward then curved back out. Its banks were crowded with workshops, small factories, and drydocks. The oppressive scent of the city eased some against the cool river breeze. Now I came upon a promenade, a large green field dissected by walkways lined with benches. I took a seat. It was about nine in the morning, Friday. The day was clear and blue. The promenade was filled with Philadelphians of all colors and kinds. Gentlemen in boaters escorted ladies. A circle of schoolchildren sat in the grass hanging on the words of their tutor. A man rode past on a bicycle, laughing. It occurred to me that this was the freest I had ever been in my life. And I knew that I could leave right then, right there, that I could abandon the Underground, and disappear into this city, float away on the poisonous air.

The Water Dancer is out in September.

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2019

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 12 people in Virginia Beach, Virginia yesterday. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

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