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Entries for August 2019 (September 2019 »    Archives)

 

The Opposite of Superman

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 30, 2019

Namor-the-Sub-Mariner.jpg

The late 1930s were a time of explosive creativity in the comics industry, with the creation of Superman, Batman, and Marvel Comics’ own unlikely fan favorite, Namor, the Sub-Mariner. I enjoyed reading this short précis on Namor in honor of his 80th anniversary.

Namor is less an early superhero than the last of the pulp icons, an antihero who threatened humanity with death and destruction. Unlike Superman, he’s not a secret alien raised by the best of humanity to save us all; he’s a hybrid mutant raised by a nonhuman race here on Earth that regards humanity as overgrown, ill-tempered children. And unlike Zack Snyder antiheroes who have to be twisted from their origin stories to bring them up to date, Watchmen-style, nothing about Namor needs to be changed to make him genuinely menacing, alien, and scary, while retaining his sexy charm. Namor’s just got it going on.

Namor’s film rights have been circuitously tied up for years, so we’ve never seen him on the silver screen. The first hit that always comes up when you search for him is Keanu Reeves, and Keanu at any age wouldn’t make a bad Namor. There’s talk of introducing him into the MCU via the Black Panther franchise, and that’s a great idea as well, since the main thing Black Panther and the Sub-Mariner share is that they’re not really super-heroes; they’re kings.

(Superman is precisely interesting to the extent that he is neither a king nor a god, but a man; these two things are not mutually exclusive. Hollywood’s inability to grasp this is part of why superhero movies have so much trouble, despite being the most dumb-simple megagenre of all time.)

The Mind of a Forger

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 30, 2019

Jansen_Forgery.jpg

The Atavist’s “Masterpiece Theater,” by Anna Altman, traces the works of an art forger, Geert Jan Jansen (aka, among others, Jan Van den Bergen). Among other notorious works, Jansen forged a Picasso drawing which was thought to have been destroyed in a robbery, then directed a writer to it so the painting could be rediscovered.

Altman spends a fair amount of time chipping away at Jansen’s motives, and those of art forgers in general:

It takes a certain psychology to exploit art’s loopholes: a tendency toward self-aggrandizement, a loose relationship with the truth, and a sense of superiority, particularly vis-à-vis art royalty. Many forgers take a perverse pleasure in thumbing their noses at gatekeeping elites. And forgers can be something of a Rorschach test for the public. The art world, with its exclusivity, money, and pretension, elicits strong, sometimes negative reactions. The idea of someone skilled enough with a paintbrush or pen to fool the rich and powerful can be tantalizing. “To art critics, the forger is a mediocre artist seeking revenge; to the media, a conman interested only in money; to the apologist, he is the equal of the masters he forged; to the public he is often a folk hero,” Wynne writes.

There’s an element of Catch Me If You Can here:

Inside the château, Schoeller found hundreds of artworks that he and the French police suspected were fraudulent. They were attributed to masters like Picasso, Matisse, and Joan Miró. They were arranged in neat stacks, apparently ready for sale. Fake Chagall paintings hung above the stove, drying. Several rooms were designated for a particular artist whose style was being faked. Authorities also found half-finished works, sketches for new ones, contracts with auction houses in Belgium, Switzerland, and New York, and false authentication certificates. Moreover, Van den Bergen had all the tools required to produce fake certificates of authenticity, including a bag full of stamps and 30 vintage typewriters used to approximate typefaces from various time periods. In a dustbin were strips of paper cut from forged certificates to eliminate watermarks, which might have given away the documentation’s true age.

But the tools of the craft, the seams in the story, might always be more interesting than penetrating whatever depths are in the characters at work:

Strategy, or deciding what kind of art to fake, is also key. Potentially blockbuster works—oil paintings by Michelangelo, say, that might be worth tens of millions of dollars—are likely to be put through the authentication wringer. Less prized items are not. Prints, works on paper, and gouaches (opaque watercolors) usually sell for less than $10,000 and pass through small auction houses and dealers. It’s much easier to elude detection when the stakes, relatively speaking, are low.

That may have been one reason Van den Bergen forged the types of works he did—smaller-scale compositions on paper rather than oil paintings. But he may have had other, more personal motives. Among the paintings recovered from the château were large-format abstract canvases, filled with geometric shapes in shades of lime green and orange. They were originals of the artist, and Schoeller wasn’t impressed. “He’s a perfect craftsman but not an artist,” the investigator told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten. “He has no style of his own.” Perhaps that’s why he’d become a forger in the first place—an abundance of artistic ambition without the vision to realize it.

Supercuts of the Stylistic Cues of Master Filmmakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2019

Video essayist Jacob T. Swinney makes makes these great little supercuts of the stylistic habits of filmmakers. His two latest ones are of Barry Jenkins’ close-ups and Christopher Nolan’s wide shots.

Barry Jenkins may be the modern master of the close-up shot. Jenkins’s close-ups are reminiscent of those crafted by the late, great Jonathan Demme — shallow focus with the character looking directly into the camera’s lens. Take it from close-up aficionado, Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson once told Jenkins, “I’m very jealous of your close-ups. There’s a long line of people who have really tried to do Jonathan Demme close-ups and I try all the time, but I have to say, you got it right better than anybody.” In Jenkins’s last two features, MOONLIGHT and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, the close-ups seem to transcend the narrative of the films. Time seems to stand still as we gaze into the eyes of the characters. They are intimate and profound, and they are simply pure cinema.

For a man whose films cover everything from masked vigilantes, to dream heists, to interdimensional travel, Christopher Nolan is a rather personal and intimate filmmaker. This is expressed in the way that he tends to position his camera. Nolan prefers to keep his camera close to his characters, often hugging their bodies in warm medium shots or close ups. So when Nolan chooses to back off and take a step back from his characters, we are going to feel it. Nolan’s wide shots are obviously beautiful, but what they convey extends far beyond a stunning visual. They convey magnitude and significance, isolation and disorientation.

Swinney has also done supercuts of David Fincher’s wide shots, the sound design of Jurassic Park, the use of shallow focus by Denis Villeneuve, P.T. Anderson’s reflective silence, and Darren Aronofsky’s extreme closeups. May I suggest some women filmmakers for the next round of videos though? Lynne Ramsay and Ava DuVernay for starters…

Why Do Chinese People Like Their Government?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2019

From Kaiser Kuo, a long piece attempting to answer the question: “Why do so many people feel that the Chinese can’t possibly be OK with their government or society?”

First, I’ll look at the gap in political culture between China and the liberal Western democracies, especially the United States. I’ll argue that there is little appreciation among most WEIRD individuals — that is, Western, Educated people from Industrialized, Rich, and Developed nations — for just how highly contingent political norms they take for granted really are from an historical perspective. I’ll sketch the outlines of the major historical currents that had to converge for these ideas to emerge in the late 18th century. Then, I’ll compare this very exceptional experience with that of China, which only embraced and began to harness those engines of Western wealth and power — science, industrialization, state structures capable of total mobilization of manpower and capital — much later. And late to the game, China suffered for over a century the predations of imperial powers, most notably Japan. Hopefully, I’ll show why it was that liberalism never really took hold, why it was that Chinese intellectuals turned instead to authoritarian politics to address the urgent matters of the day, and why authoritarian habits of mind have lingered on.

Next, I’ll argue that a lot of unexamined hubris lies not only behind the belief that all people living under authoritarian political systems should be willing to make monumental sacrifices to create liberal democratic states but also behind the belief that it can work at all, given the decidedly poor record of projects for liberal democratic transformation in recent years, whether American-led or otherwise. It’s important to see what the world of recent years looks like through Beijing’s windows, and to understand the extent to which Beijing’s interpretation of that view is shared by a wide swath of China’s citizenry.

Finally, I’ll look at the role of media in shaping perspectives of China in the Western liberal democracies and in other states. A very small number of individuals — reporters for major mainstream media outlets posted to China, plus their editors — wield a tremendous amount of influence over how China is perceived by ordinary Anglophone media consumers. It’s important to know something about the optical properties of the lens through which most of us view China.

I found this via Kevin Kelly, who says: “Based on my extensive time in China I think this long article is 100% correct.”

Margaret Bourke-White, Fearless Photographer

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2019

Yesterday I linked to a thread discussing old school bloggers who are still active. One of the best of the old guard is very much still at it: Alan Taylor. Taylor has been curating photographic essays the The Atlantic for more than 8 years — and for several years before that at The Boston Globe and on his own blog. His latest features the work of Margaret Bourke-White, one of my all-time favorite photographers.

Margaret Bourke White

Margaret Bourke White

That first shot is an alternate view of this iconic photo.

By 1929, she began working for magazine publishers, joining both Fortune and, later, LIFE. She spent years traveling the world, covering major events from World War II to the partition of India and Pakistan, the Korean War, and much more. Bourke-White held numerous “firsts” in her professional life — she was the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of Soviet industry, she was the first female staff photographer for LIFE magazine and made its first cover photo, and she was the first woman allowed to work in combat zones in World War II.

Here’s Bourke-White in a fleece-lined flight suit during World War II, ready to work. Badass.

Margaret Bourke White

No Surprise: Anti-Abortion Advocates Care Little About Women’s Equality

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2019

A recent poll of almost 2000 likely 2020 voters suggests that the anti-abortion movement is not really about protecting life but more about controlling the lives and bodies of women. Jill Filipovic writes about the results in The Guardian:

Do men make better political leaders than women? More than half of anti-abortion voters agreed. Do you want there to be equal numbers of men and women in positions of power in America? Fewer than half of abortion opponents said yes - compared with 80% of pro-choicers, who said they want women to share in power equally.

Anti-abortion voters don’t like the #MeToo movement. They don’t think the lack of women in positions of power impacts women’s equality. They don’t think access to birth control impacts women’s equality. They don’t think the way women are treated in society is an important issue in the 2020 election.

In other words, they don’t believe sexism is a problem, and they’re hostile to women’s rights. Pro-lifers are sexists in denial — yes, the women too.

Poll Abortion 2019

The full results of the poll are an interesting read. Here are the main findings from the “snapshot” section:

1. Many voters are angry and worried about the state of women’s rights and gender equality in the country.

2. Women across nearly every demographic segment are more likely to think President Trump has made things worse, rather than better, for women.

3. Women voters connect a number of issues to gender equality, including violence against women, equal pay, paid family leave, and access to abortion.

4. The recent abortion bans aggravated and elevated feelings about the state of women’s rights.

5. Anti-abortion voters are among the most likely — if not the most likely — segment to hold inegalitarian views.

6. Democratic voters are more unified and mobilized around abortion than Republican voters are.

7. The way women are treated in society is a top voting issue for Democratic women voters, but not Republican women voters.

8. Democratic women are most likely to feel that the 2020 elections are “more important than usual.” Republican women are least likely to feel the upcoming elections are atypical.

And check out the Trump tag cloud on page 10. Oof.

The Symbiotic & Toxic Relationship Between Houses and Cars in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2019

Since reading Gregory Shill’s writing about how heavily subsidized cars are in the United States, I’ve been on the lookout for different frameworks for thinking about America’s relationship to cars. I recently ran across a pair of interesting things about cars & housing. First, a refresher on what Shill had to say about how our nation’s laws have made cars all but mandatory:

Let’s begin at the state and local level. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions — laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards — zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.

Aaron Bady shared a few meaty pages from Nathanael Lauster’s The Death and Life of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City about houses being urban parasites and their symbiotic relationship with cars. Here’s an excerpt (italics mine):

Returning to the metaphor provided by the pine beetle and blue stain fungus, one parasite often works with another. In similar form, houses cultivate cars. Integrated through planning, they displace vastly more habitat than either could manage alone. Because houses consume space and tend to surround themselves with other houses, which also consume space, people often cannot walk to where they need to go. Because all that space results in a relatively low population density, it is also not very efficient to run public transit lines to areas with many houses. Low-density areas tend to end up with very few riders for what are often very expensive systems to maintain. In short, public transit loves density. The relationship between urban density and public transit use is exceptionally strong, with some suggestion of a cutoff — perhaps around twelve persons per acre (or about three thousand per square kilometer) — below which ridership drops off and expense per user makes transit impractical. By contrast, cars love the sprawl associated with houses and houses love cars back.

Houses cultivate cars. Cars love the sprawl associated with houses and houses love cars back. Lauster continues with the nature metaphor:

Altogether, house habitat displaces alternatives. The establishment of a Great House Reserve has protected house habitat even as it continues to expand in size. Agricultural and wild lands suffer in an immediate sense, as do the more urban habitats prevented from expanding beyond a constrained Urban Core. The house allies itself with the car at the same time as both contribute to global warming, potentially risking the displacement of everyone and everything. The house habitat excludes the poor. But even for those who can afford to live there, the Great House Reserve is a troublesome place to live. By its nature it leads to disengagement, contributes to inequality, and encourages a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle.

And so on:

Houses are not just unaffordable for most people; they’re ultimately unaffordable for cities too. The fiscal situation of cities varies from place to place, but overall, houses tend to create a drain on municipal coffers. They are often taxed at lower rates than other properties, reflecting zoning restrictions on what could be built on single-family lots and how they can be used. But houses are more expensive to service on a per-unit basis, both in terms of the basic utilities infrastructure and, as previously noted, in terms of transit and transportation infrastructure. This could mean that my modestly wealthy neighbors and I, living in low-rises and town houses, end up supporting the very wealthy house owner nearby by paying more property tax relative to the amount of urban land and services we receive. The disparity becomes more notable as one crosses municipal boundaries into nearby house-dominated suburbs, where residents frequently enjoy the services (e.g., roads, commerce, employment opportunities) provided by the city without paying into the municipal tax base at all.

Josh Vredevoogd’s No Parking Here is about the poor parking policy in LA and leads with the statement: “Let’s build houses for people, not cars.”

For commercial buildings, it’s common to see a parking space required for every 100-200 sq ft. Meaning that parking is built at an almost 2:1 ratio to actual retail space, marginalizing the place that actually creates value and prioritizing temporary car storage. This inefficiency is carried into rent, groceries, meals, and overall raises the floor for cost of living.

Per City of LA code, a set of storefronts like above are illegal to build, instead they are required to be surrounded with empty pavement at the cost of walkability and comfort.

This forces people into driving. Parking requirements increase the density of cars but reduce the density of people. It also puts pressure on businesses by taking up useful real estate and replacing it with car storage.

Certainly a lot of food for thought here. See also Cars! What’s the Matter with Cars Today? and on a lighter note, What On Earth!, Kal Pindal’s Oscar-nominated short film about Martians visiting Earth and their observations about the dominant form of life here, the automobile.

Endlings and the Death of Species

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

An endling is the last known member of a species and once it dies, the species becomes extinct. George was a tree snail that died in early 2019, the last member of the now-extinct Achatinella apexfulva species. He was 14.

Few people would mourn a snail, but Sischo and his team had spent years caring for George. He was a daily constant, a familiar friend. He was also the last known snail of his kind, the final Achatinella apexfulva. It is said that everyone dies alone, but that was doubly true for George-alone at the end both in his cage and in the world.

When the last of a species disappears, it usually does so unnoticed, somewhere in the wild. Only later, when repeated searches come up empty, will researchers reluctantly acknowledge that the species must be extinct. But in rare cases like George’s, when people are caring for an animal’s last known representative, extinction-an often abstract concept-becomes painfully concrete. It happens on their watch, in real time. It leaves behind a body. When Sischo rang in the new year, Achatinella apexfulva existed. A day later, it did not. “It is happening right in front of our eyes,” he said.

There’s a part early on in the video where Sischo is showing the snails in his team’s care and he casually points to a small chamber and says “here is the entire world’s population of this snail species” — I found that incredibly sad and had to stop the video for awhile to regroup. (Oh and the cardboard boxes labeled “snail morgue”.)

George was unique and we’re trying to avoid another George. But we have 100 species that will be gone within the next 5 to 10 years without intervention.

SpaceX Starhopper Rocket Test

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

SpaceX took its Starhopper rocket out for a little test run in Texas the other day, taking off and then landing about 300 feet away after reaching a height of about 500 feet. Spacehopper is a prototype of the company’s Starship spacecraft & rocket, which they plan to fly to and land on the Moon and Mars.

I’ve written about the wonder of SpaceX’s reusable rockets before, but the Starhopper test in particular seems like some deeply sci-fi shit, like what society imagined future space travel would look like. The ship looks and moves like something straight out of a late 60s Dr. Who serial.

My 2019 Roadtrip Along the Pacific Coast of the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

2019 Roadtrip

In late July after visiting my kids at camp, I flew into LA, rented a car, and spent two weeks driving up the coast from there to Portland, OR. Along the way, I visited old friends and made some new ones, got to see how some of my favorite movie magic is performed, ate very well, spent some time in an old neighborhood, drove 1700 miles, communed with the tallest trees on Earth, and watched the ocean churn and swell and crash and froth for a very very long time. Here are some reflections and observations from the trip, from my vantage point a month later.

To start off the trip I spent a little less than three days in LA, essentially my first trip to the second largest city in the US (aside from 24 hours spent there in 2005). It was…fine? The food was good, beach was good, museums were good, but I guess I didn’t feel a whole lot of natural affinity for the place. Then again, three days isn’t a lot of time and I will go back to explore more for sure. I somehow didn’t even get tacos, an oversight I rectified once I got to Santa Barbara. But I was able to see a few friends, which trumped any possible attractions or sights I could have seen instead.

Aside from visiting friends, like 75% of the reason I wanted to go to LA was to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. I timed my visit for the weekend so it’d actually be running, and it did not disappoint. Could have watched it for hours:

Electric scooters (I used the ones from Lime and Lyft) made getting around LA a breeze. Cities need to figure out how to work these into their transportation infrastructure without clogging their sidewalks, keeping riders & pedestrians safe, theft/breakage, and not undermining other more accessible forms of public transportation.

2019 Roadtrip

Not much to say about Big Sur other than it’s gorgeous but crowded. Around each curve was a seemingly better view than the last.

The redwoods. Where do I even start? They were my absolute favorite part of the trip. I spent the better part of three days exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks and even at the end of the third day, I was looking up at these 300-foot monsters and saying “wow!” It was like going to church. I can’t wait for my kids to spend some time exploring the redwood forests.

When I lived in SF from 2000-2002, my favorite place to visit was Muir Woods and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. When I swung by to visit on this trip, I was frustrated to learn from the friendly park ranger at the entrance that parking now requires advance reservations. So no Muir Woods for me this trip. Luckily there were many more redwoods to be had elsewhere…

Along almost the entire route of my trip (I stuck mostly to Highway 1 and the 101), I passed people working in fields. They were everywhere, toiling away to earn a hard living so their families could eat, so that they could pay their taxes, so that they could make a good life for their children. The news of ICE raids and the continued separation of children from their parents by the most inhumane administration in recent American history were never far from my mind.

Every summer when I was a kid, my dad, my sister, and I would take a roadtrip to a different part of the country: Florida, Virginia, Texas. Sometimes we took a car and camped along the way (with occasional motel stays) and other times we drove in a used motorhome my dad bought one year (approximately one of these). But the ocean was always a constant as a destination. My sister and I had grown up in Wisconsin but had never seen the ocean before, and after our first trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas, we were hooked. One year we drove out to California and up the coast to Oregon. I remember vividly the freezing cold ocean and the winding coastal roads — we almost got our camper stuck in a particularly tight hairpin curve. I loved those roadtrips…they are my absolute happiest memories from childhood. Driving some of those same curves in northern California this time around, I waved to pretty much any RV I saw, as if I were saying hello to my past teenaged self, who was getting a taste of what awaited him in this whole wide world.

2019 Roadtrip

When I was in the Bay Area, I got to fulfill a long-time dream of mine: visiting the Pixar campus in Emeryville. I gotta say, stepping into the main building, designed by Steve Jobs to foster collaboration among the company’s employees, gave me goosebumps. I could have spent hours looking at all of the sketches, storyboards, and ephemera from Incredibles II that they had hanging on the walls. I visited the recording studios, the screening rooms, the secret speakeasy, and saw a few of the animators’ wildly decorated cubicles. They told me how the process of making a movie at Pixar has changed from “laying down the track in front of a moving train” to “laying down the track in front of a moving train while also building the train”…it sounds like they’ve really worked hard on making their development process as asynchronous as possible. I was told that Pixar has an entire team just for making crowds now.

My tour guides showed me some of the company’s favorite misrendered scenes culled from an internal mailing list, including an amazing rain tornado around a car in Toy Story 4. I saw in action the AI spiders that were designed to weave the cobwebs in TS4.

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

They showed me a scene from TS4 and how it was made — the different layers of shading and lighting, storyboards, effects, the different cameras and lenses that were available for the director’s use. One cool tidbit: the virtual cameras used in the Toy Story movies are human-scale and shot from human height so that the toys actually look like toys. Ok, another cool tidbit: the virtual cameras & lenses are based on actual cameras and actual lenses so the directors know what sort of depth of field, angle, and views they’re going to get with a given setup. The software is incredible — they showed me a screen with like 30 different camera/angle/lens/focus combinations so that a director can simultaneously watch a single scene “filmed” all those different ways and choose which shot they want to go with. I mean…

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera. I MEAN…

I also heard a few Steve Jobs stories that I’m going to keep to myself for now…they are not mine to tell. Thanks to Tom, Ralph, and Bob for showing me around and being so generous with their time. Ok, </pixar>

I had forgotten that driving though the groves of eucalyptus just north of San Francisco was so wonderfully fragrant. Way better than one of those Muji aroma diffusers. But I’ll tell you: I do not miss living in SF. I spent a lovely afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, wandering in Golden Gate Park, and stopping in to check out the Dahlia Garden (my favorite place in SF), but that was enough for another few years.

While driving, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird on audiobook; I’d never read or listened to it before. A favorite line: “Delete the adjectives and you’ll find the facts.” I’m not sure I’ve been successful in curbing my adjective use in this post.

2019 Roadtrip

At dinner one night, I asked an LA pal about work and she said she’d quit her bartending job to deliver weed — better schedule and pay. There were cannabis dispensaries everywhere in California and Oregon. The one I visited in central CA had a security guard outside checking for IDs and weapons, a double door system in the reception area, and once you got into the retail space, you could find out more about a product by placing it on a sensor and the info would appear on a nearby touchscreen. But at other dispensaries, like the one I walked past in Arcata, the door was wide open and you could just mosey on in. Let’s just say I slept pretty well on this trip.

After seeing the 45-minute-long line for lunch at the Tillamook Creamery (and a 20-minute-long line just for cheese samples), I decamped to a local Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef.

2019 Roadtrip

A few small towns caught my attention. Cambria, CA was a cool little place I would gladly spend more time in — Moonstone Beach was beautiful. Los Alamos, CA is possibly the quaintest town I have ever seen — ate a great breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. I breezed through Arcata, CA and explored the downtown a bit, but it had such a cool vibe that I’d definitely go back for another look.

Sometimes the problem with going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along with you. No matter how astounding the sights, how engaging the catchups with friends, how relaxing it is, and how far away the rest of the world seems, your thoughts and anxieties and hang-ups come with you everywhere you go. Near the end of my trip, I splurged on a nice hotel room for two nights in Yachats, OR and mainly sat on the rocks and watched the waves crash. It was perfect. The ocean remains my ultimate happy place and I need to find a way to spend more (or perhaps all) of my time closer to it.

2019 Roadtrip

And then it was time to head home. You can check out a bunch of my photos from the trip on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. Thanks to my friends Alex, Michael, and Matt for the accommodations & fellowship along the way. This trip was not the once-in-a-lifetime experience that last year’s western roadtrip was, but I did feel similarly at its conclusion:

Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Thanks for following along with my journey.

The Hubble’s New Portrait of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

Jupiter Hubble 2019

A photo of Jupiter taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in late June was recently released by NASA. Among other things, it shows just how much smaller, redder, and rounder the Great Red Spot has gotten.

The Great Red Spot is a towering structure shaped like a wedding cake, whose upper haze layer extends more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) higher than clouds in other areas. The gigantic structure, with a diameter slightly larger than Earth’s, is a high-pressure wind system called an anticyclone that has been slowly downsizing since the 1800s. The reason for this change in size is still unknown.

The spot was “once big enough to swallow three Earths with room to spare” but has been shrinking steadily since a brief expansion in the 1920s. As the storm contracts, it has stretched up into the Jovian atmosphere.

Because the storm has been contracting, the researchers expected to find the already-powerful internal winds becoming even stronger, like an ice skater who spins faster as she pulls in her arms.

Instead of spinning faster, the storm appears to be forced to stretch up. It’s almost like clay being shaped on a potter’s wheel. As the wheel spins, an artist can transform a short, round lump into a tall, thin vase by pushing inward with his hands. The smaller he makes the base, the taller the vessel will grow.

Recently amateur astronomers have observed “flakes” or “blades” coming off of the storm and dissipating into the larger atmosphere, a formerly rare phenomenon that now seems more common.

The Hubble photographs also yielded a rotating view of the planet as well as a very cool stretched-out photo of the surface:

Jupiter Hubble 2019 Stretch

VFX Breakdown of Ctrl Shift Face’s Ultra-Realistic Deepfakes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

Ctrl Shift Face created the popular deepfake videos of Bill Hader impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hader doing Tom Cruise, and Jim Carrey in The Shining. For their latest video, they edited Freddie Mercury’s face onto Rami Malek1 acting in a scene from Mr. Robot:

And for the first time, they shared a short visual effects breakdown of how these deepfakes are made:

Mercury/Malek says in the scene: “Even I’m not crazy enough to believe that distortion of reality.” Ctrl Shift Face is making it difficult to believe these deepfakes aren’t real.

  1. I had dinner next to Malek at the bar in a restaurant in the West Village a few months ago, pre-Oscar. I didn’t notice who it was when he sat down but as soon as he opened his mouth, I knew it was him — that unmistakable voice. Several people came by to say hello, buy him drinks, etc. and he and his friends were super gracious to everyone, staff included. I’ve added him to my list of actors who are actually nice alongside Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves.

Unearthly Iceland

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

If you need to convince yourself to go to Iceland, this short film by Vadim Sherbakov should do the trick for you. Just stunningly beautiful landscape masterfully shot.

Islandia — is a Latin name for Iceland and relative to the old language since this film portraits primordial and rough nature of Iceland. For the short duration of the film, you will be transported to a place that easily could be a million years ago. From unbelievable landscapes and vast valleys to painting-like terrain and majestic waterfalls and lakes - this film shows the unparalleled beauty of Iceland and its unearthly glory.

Watching the film, I wondered what Iceland would have looked like back when it had trees — probably even more amazing. (via colossal)

Mario Kart Tour for iOS

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

I don’t talk about it much on the site for some reason, but Mario Kart is one of my all-time favorite video games. So I am very excited that Mario Kart Tour is coming out on iOS on September 25 (just in time for my b-day). You can pre-order it here — the game is free with in-app purchases to unlock more gameplay (just like Super Mario Run). Here’s a short trailer that shows how the gameplay works:

Distorted US Map of Where Candidates Campaigned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

Because of the Electoral College and the way the primary system works in the US, presidential candidates end up spending a disproportionate amount of time is so-called “battleground states” like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and our dysfunctional friend Florida and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire and less time where most of the US population actually lives (NY, CA, TX, IL, and in cities). The campaign for the National Popular Vote has produced a map that shows where the candidates did campaign events in 2016:

Map Campaign Time

Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. In 2012, as shown on the map, all of the 253 general-election campaign events were in just 12 states, and two-thirds were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa). Thirty-eight states were completely ignored.

And here’s the map for the 2012 election, which is even more extreme:

Map Campaign Time

State winner-take-all statutes adversely affect governance. “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

Also, because of state winner-take-all statutes, five of our 45 Presidents have come into office without having won the most popular votes nationwide. The 2000 and 2016 elections are the most recent examples of elections in which a second-place candidate won the White House. Near-misses are also common under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. A shift of 59,393 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected John Kerry despite President Bush’s nationwide lead of over 3,000,000 votes.

A Tiny Sea Ecosystem in a Jar

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I found it extremely difficult to not watch something called “A Year Ago I Put Saltwater in a Jar, This Happened”.

Last year, this YouTuber put some seawater, sand, and a few small plants in a large jar and sealed it up and over the course of the next year, a number of surprising things occurred in this closed ecosystem.

The ecosphere has housed crabs, starfish and a lot more and is currently still housing a lot of crustaceans, paramecium, worms, other invertebrates and even spionid worms.

So cool — there are allll sorts of things in ordinary seawater and sand. See also The Solitary Garden.

The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

Entire Galaxy

By photographing two separate nighttime scenes, one in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere, amateur astrophotographer Maroun Habib cleverly produced this dazzling image of the complete galactic plane visible from Earth.

Is it possible to capture the entire plane of our galaxy in a single image? Yes, but not in one exposure — and it took some planning to do it in two. The top part of the featured image is the night sky above Lebanon, north of the equator, taken in 2017 June. The image was taken at a time when the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy passed directly overhead. The bottom half was similarly captured six months later in latitude-opposite Chile, south of Earth’s equator. Each image therefore captured the night sky in exactly the opposite direction of the other, when fully half the Galactic plane was visible.

See also The Earth Rotating Beneath a Stationary Milky Way, which went viral after I posted it two weeks ago. (via @surfinsev)

Fighting the Measles and Dangerous Ideas

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

For the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten writes about this year’s measles outbreak in the US, the largest such outbreak in decades. The outbreak is solely due to a growing number of people who decline to vaccinate their children, so the fight has become one not against a disease, as it was decades ago, but against dangerous ideas.

But, if we have to pick a Patient Zero, Andrew Wakefield will do. Wakefield is the British gastroenterologist who produced the notorious article, published in The Lancet in 1998, linking the M.M.R. vaccine to autism. The study, which featured just twelve subjects, was debunked, the article was pulled, and Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine — as well as his reputation, in scientific circles anyway. But, owing to his persistence in the years since, his discredited allegations have spread like mold. In the anti-vaxxer pantheon, he is martyr and saint. There are also the movement’s celebrities, such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., stubborn in the face of ridicule, and the lesser-known but perhaps no less pernicious YouTube evangelists, such as Toni Bark, a purveyor of homeopathic products, and the Long Island pediatrician Lawrence Palevsky. If your general practitioner is Dr. Google, you can find a universe of phony expertise. The movement seems to sniff out susceptibility. Not surprisingly, there is money there, though the financial incentives behind this strand of advocacy are less clear than, say, what has led the Koch brothers to champion fossil fuels. This spring, the Washington Post reported that the New York hedge-fund manager Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have given more than three million dollars to anti-vaccination causes and helped finance “Vaxxed,” Wakefield’s 2016 documentary, which purports to reveal a C.D.C. conspiracy to cover up the connection between vaccines and autism. Needless to say, the anti-vaccination ethos is by no means exclusive to the New York tristate-area Orthodox community. It thrives in certain pockets — affluent boho-yoga moms, evangelical Christians, Area 51 insurgents. The vaccination rates are about the same in Monsey and in Malibu. Before New Square, the three most recent big outbreaks of measles occurred among Somali immigrants, in Minnesota; Amish farmers, in Ohio; and a hodgepodge of visitors to Disneyland.

“It’s shocking how strong the anti-vax movement is,” Zucker said. “What surprises me is the really educated people who are passionately against vaccinations. I see this as part of a larger war against science-based reality. We need to study vaccine hesitancy as a disease.” He gave a TEDX talk recently about the crippling disconnect between the speed at which information, good or bad, spreads now and the slow, grinding pace of public-health work. He managed, by way of the general theory of relativity, to establish the equivalence of H1N1, Chewbacca Mask Lady, and Pizzagate: “How do we immunize and protect ourselves from the damaging effects of virality?”

The internet is such an efficient way to spread ideas (regardless of their validity) that you begin to wonder if instant global individual-to-individual and individual-to-everyone communication is an insurmountable Great Filter for societies.

Playful Chess Variants

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

Gravity Chess

From experimental game developer Pippin Barr, several variations on the game of chess that makes the game more interesting (or at least weirder). In “Clone” mode, every time you move a piece, a copy of that piece is made. In “Chance” mode, selecting a piece causes the piece to change randomly to another type of piece (e.g. from a pawn to a rook) that you can then move. In “Gravity” mode, pieces fall to the bottom of the board unless they’re blocked by other pieces. In “Quantum” mode, a new piece is spawned in each possible new position of a selected piece.

Mister Rogers Cuts a Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

From a 1972 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mister Rogers demonstrates how to make a record using a machine called a record cutter (also referred to as a “record lathe”). Says Rogers, apparently living his best life: “When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records.” (via open culture)

Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Covered in 20 Different Musical Styles

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

Listen in as Anthony Vincent covered Metallica’s classic Enter Sandman in 20 different musical styles, ranging from yodeling to The Eurythmics to Hans Zimmer to Lil Uzi Vert to John Denver.

Hand-Sculpted Archaeological Reconstructions of Ancient Faces

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

Working from remains discovered during archaeological excavations, sculptor and archaeologist Oscar Nilsson combines his two disciplines to reconstruct the faces of people who lived hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of years ago.

This Neanderthal woman lived 45-50,000 years ago:

Oscar Nilsson

This young woman lived in what is now Britain about 5500 years ago. DNA evidence shows that the skin color of the region’s inhabitants at the time was quite dark, akin to that of modern North Africans.

Oscar Nilsson 02

This man was around 20 when he died in northern Switzerland 1300 years ago. His skull was unusual in that it contained a full set of perfect teeth.

Oscar Nilsson 03

You can read more about Nilsson’s restorations at Facebook and National Geographic.

Nilsson’s forensic technique starts with an exact 3D replica of the original skull, scanned, printed, and then modeled by hand to reflect bone structure and tissue thickness based on the individual’s origin, sex, and estimated age at death.

Recent genome studies of ancient European populations enable Nilsson to outfit his reconstructions with reasonably accurate estimates of skin, hair, and eye color. The Neolithic population that the 5,600-year-old Whitehawk woman belonged to, for instance, generally had lighter skin and darker eyes than earlier occupants of Britain such as Cheddar Man, but were darker than the exhibit’s Ditchling Road man, who arrived on the island in the first wave of light-skinned, light-eyed Beaker people from continental Europe around 4,400 years ago.

What’s Cropped Out of Passport Photos?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport Photos

Passport photos are subject to an extensive list of guidelines and restrictions — for instance, the background has to be “plain white or off-white” with no pattern, you can’t wear glasses or hats, and the photo must be tightly cropped on your face. Max Siedentopf’s Passport Photos project imagines what might have been going on outside of that carefully controlled frame when the photos were taken. (via colossal)

Playful BMX Video Full of Rube Goldberg-esque Street Tricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

In this fun BMX video, Tate Roskelley uses all sorts of props — car tires, milk crates, trees, tennis balls — to perform all kinds of street tricks and stunts. Watch until the end…his last maneuver is probably the best. (thx, matt)

A Collection of 100 Years of US National Parks’ Graphical Ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

From the folks that produced the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and the NASA Standards Manual comes a new book, Parks, about the art, maps, and printed materials produced to support American’s national parks.

Parks Book

Parks Book

Parks Book

From the book’s introduction by Lyz Nagan-Powell:

If, as Wallace Stegner famously declared, the national parks are “America’s best idea,” how can we explore this idea? There is the historical aspect: America invented the concept of nationally owned and operated parks in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. But there is more to Stegner’s sentiment than just the invention of the parks. The rest of the quote goes on to say that the parks are “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

The national parks story isn’t simple or easy. It’s full of splendor and glory, as well as greed and exploitation. For every person who loves one of the parks like it’s their own home, there is another who resents the federal government for owning it. Even before Yellowstone became the first national park, park history was fraught with tension. Tension between preservation and use, between indigenous people and white explorers, between local rights and federal oversight, between wild freedom and human control, between park purists and park recreationists, and between commercial exploitation and historic value.

With this tense backdrop, or maybe because of it, art, imagery, writing, and design have played a vital role in the history of the national parks. Compelling creative materials that celebrated the land — including books, paintings, performances, and advertisements — have marked developments and milestones. These items have brought the rich landscapes and their scientific and historical significance to life.

Perhaps together, the tension and celebration make the National Park System - parks, monuments, natural areas, historic sites, and more - the perfect embodiment of America itself, and what the “best idea” of the parks is really all about.

Parks is out in October but you can pre-order it now.

The King of Fish and Chips

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

In the 1960s, Haddon Salt built up a small empire of fish & chips shops in North America — they eventually had more than 500 stores. That attracted the attention of Kentucky Fried Chicken, then flush with cash after their IPO. And then…

An initial Google search revealed that this shop was the last gasp of a once-sprawling fish-and-chips empire with hundreds of locations that started with an immigrant’s secret family recipe, flourished into an eight-figure deal with Colonel Sanders and ended in collapse.

It took several years and the research help of friends to track down Mr. Salt. We found him in a remote retirement community in Southern California’s desert. The rest you can see in the film before you.

For every icon there are those who were almost famous. And perhaps they, even more than their conqueror, have the lessons we need to hear.

See also when Colonel Sanders badmouthing KFC: For the Colonel, It Was Finger-Lickin’ Bad.

Le Corbuffet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Le Corbuffet was a series of performances by artist Esther Choi that sought to bring together food with notable artists and designers, along with a healthy dose of puns. A cookbook based on the project will be out in October: Le Corbuffet: Edible Art and Design Classics. Here’s the page for Quiche Haring:

Le Corbuffet

Other dishes include Rhubarbara Kruger Compote, Shigeru Banchan Two Ways, Yokonomiyaki, Rem Brûlée, and the Robert Rauschenburger. Here’s the full menu/table of contents:

Le Corbuffet

Says Choi about where the idea for the project came from:

In 2014, I stumbled across an elaborate menu crafted by László Moholy-Nagy. The multi-panelled bill of fare was for a dinner held in tribute to the Bauhaus founder and architect, Walter Gropius, in 1937. Inspired by the menu for Gropius’s dinner, and the questions that it raised about the elitism of cultural production, I decided to conduct a social experiment a year later.

Music Video Shot from the Front of a Toy Lego Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

The music video for Anna Meredith’s latest song, Paramour, is a single-take journey of a toy Lego train through a group of musicians playing cellos, drums, and tubas, from the perspective of a camera mounted on the front of the train. This has some definite Star Guitar + Wallace & Gromit vibes. (via colossal)

Lovely and Relaxing Videos of Traditional Countryside Life in China

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Li Ziqi is a woman who lives in Sichuan province in China with her grandmother, preparing food and making clothing from scratch without the use of modern technology (mostly). Her YouTube channel has more than 5.7 million subscribers. In this video, she makes a purple wool cloak for the winter:

Her practice of shooting the videos herself, her reliance on traditional techniques, and her editing style is strongly reminiscent of the Primitive Technology channel — her videos are meditative in the same way. I watched this video of her making jam this morning and was left both hungry and relaxed, an unusual combination:

(via @juririm)

The Return of Grumpy Cloud

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Andy Bailey is a stop-motion animator at Laika who worked on Kubo and The Boxtrolls. In this video, he shares his process while making a 658-page flipbook called The Return of Grumpy Cloud that took him 35 work-days over three months to complete. The end result (skip ahead to ~14:25) is pretty impressive given the lo-fi medium. Bailey sells kits for making your own flipbooks, but the store was down for maintenance when I checked.

Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

In 2016, Benjamin Grant published Overview, a book of high-definition satellite photos of the Earth that were drawn from his site, Daily Overview (also on Instagram). This fall, a version for younger readers is coming out: Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition: A New Way of Seeing Earth.

Overview, Young Explorer's Edition

When astronauts look down at our planet and see its vibrant surface shining against the blackness of space, they experience the Overview Effect — a sense of awe, an awareness that everything is interconnected, and an overwhelming desire to take care of our one and only home.

This is a no-brainer pre-order…my kids often pull Overview off the shelf just to look at the photos. I’m also adding this to the list of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers.

There’s Always Something Charming and Creepy In A Circus

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

circussmirkus001.jpg

Circuses, like children, are always both charming and creepy. Make it a children’s circus, i.e., like Greenboro, Vermont’s Circus Smirkus, where the stars of the circus are themselves children, and the charm and creepiness both get double-baked in.

Erin Clark for The Boston Globe took these photographs, and they were featured at The Big Picture.

circussmirkus002.jpg

circussmirkus003.jpg

circussmirkus004.jpg

circussmirkus005.jpg

circussmirkus006.jpg

This last might be my favorite. It’s not a circus kid, per se; just a kid, bored, grumpy, and uncaring who knows about it. Even the circus can be like that, kid. Maybe especially the circus. Worth filing away.

How [Points In A Circle] All This Could Be Different

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

Gizmodo has a pretty cool theme this week: the Alternate Internet. Not, like, the internet where they play Stone Temple Pilots b-sides — although, cool idea. No, like, the internet of alternate universes, different pasts and futures, where things went differently and like, Yahoo doesn’t ruin all it touches. That’s my kind of party.

Social Media Outlines.jpg

The story on alternate social media networks offers a nice media archaeology of all these sites; how they were covered and explained in the moment. Check out this explanation of Friendster in SF Weekly from August 13, 2003:

“Your induction into Friendster starts out innocently enough: You receive an e-mail invitation from a friend. It doesn’t cost anything to join, so you give it a whirl. You answer questions about your profession, favorite books, movies, music, and other interests, then upload a digital photo of yourself.

Thumbnail versions of your friends’ photos appear on your profile page like a collection of trading cards. Clicking on their pictures takes you to their pages, where you can see all of their friends, and so on. Even with only a few friends, you find that — through friends of friends — you suddenly have access to a social network of thousands of people.”

It’s a pretty common story what happened to all these sites; either they took the money, and got mismanaged, driving off whatever users they had in the first place, or they didn’t take the money, which meant they could never stay usable enough to support all of the users they were taking on.

A few other common threads: a fear of porn, other lewd behavior, and Yik Yak -style harassment. In short, it’s hard to make a social media site actually go big. You need money, a vanilla rep, ruthlessness, and more money. In the end, Facebook really was in the right place at the right time.

The one thing this doesn’t do is some deep left-field speculating, like, what if Google had seen what it had in Blogger to create Facebook before Facebook? Or Yahoo had figured it out with version X of whatever asset Yahoo had? There are social networks, real or latent, bigger than the social media graveyeard — some of the pieces are still here.

Interviewing Ira Glass

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

ira_glass.jpg

One of the troubles with interviewing Ira Glass is that Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about interviews.

Claudia Dreifus: When we first discussed doing this, you asked if I had heard a recent Terry Gross interview with Howard Stern. Why was that?

Ira Glass: Because it was an interviewer interviewing an interviewer. It was interesting to hear him appreciate her moves. He also clearly had no idea who she is. He admitted, “I sort of looked you up last night.” Whereas I know Terry has been listening for years.

To be clear: he’s an excellent interviewer. Part of the pleasure was hearing these two iconic radio voices talking to each other. Stern clearly admired the interview she was doing. She did such a good job of pointing him to things, being appropriately critical of the way that he talks about women, but also being appropriately admiring.

If I were to interview him, I’d feel intimidated.

Really?

Yeah. He’s a bossy sort of presence. I don’t like interviewing famous people. They make me nervous. I’ve always tried to avoid interviewing famous people.

Is that because they are usually over-interviewed or because they arrive at an interview with impenetrable masks?

All of these things.

It’s just more difficult. To get them to say anything real, you have to find an angle on their experience that will open them up. And there are things famous people want to keep private, things they’re tired of talking about, things they’ve told so many times that they have no interest in telling them again—but will tell again in exactly the same words they’ve used in the past…

Can I go back to something? And feel free to edit this any way you like. I’m already editing this interview in my head because I’m a crazy person and can’t stop myself. This idea of not wanting to interview famous people, that’s one of the things that led to the work I’m doing today. I knew in my twenties, while at NPR, that the thing I wanted to do was document regular people’s lives. The question then was, “How do you do that?”

It is weird to me that Ira Glass in his sixties. (He just turned 60 in March.) All this time, Ira Glass was less than a year younger than Prince.

Ira Glass has a lot of thoughts about podcasts that he doesn’t seem ready to share. You can see it, he kind of schtums up and falls back on generalities and a few broad compliments. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all he’s got, maybe that’s all we can have.

Ira Glass says he borrowed and borrows a lot from Roland Barthes’ S/Z when trying to get interviewees to structure a story, but I don’t really see it. This line made me laugh though.

At college, we were assigned Barthes’s S/Z , which made me understand what I could do in radio.

Really? How did the French semiotician help shape your journalism? Frankly, a lot of people find semiotics to be…

—this incredibly pretentious literary theory that takes as its thesis that narrative is part of the general conspiracy of language to imprison us in our place in society. I ignored that.

Ira Glass should find more ways to tell stories about what working in radio was like in the seventies. There’s something there. He doesn’t catch it all.

The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2019

The servers at The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, a series of pop-up restaurants in Tokyo, are all living with dementia, which means that you might not receive what you ordered.

All of our servers are people living with dementia. They may, or may not, get your order right.

However, rest assured that even if your order is mistaken, everything on our menu is delicious and one of a kind. This, we guarantee.

“It’s OK if my order was wrong. It tastes so good anyway.” We hope this feeling of openness and understanding will spread across Japan and through the world.

At the first pop-up, 37% of the orders were mistaken. This video explains a bit more about the concept and shows the restaurant in action.

These Nigerian Teens Are Making Sci-Fi Shorts with Slick Visual Effects

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

For the past year, a group of teens in Nigeria called the Critics Company have been uploading short sci-fi films to their YouTube channel. Using a smartphone with a busted screen, makeshift equipment, open source 3D tools like Blender, and green sheets hung on walls, the self-taught group has produced some professional-grade special effects. Check out this 10-minute short they uploaded in January, Z: The Beginning.

Here’s a breakdown of how they did some of the visual effects for their short called Chase:

The group has attracted some media attention; here’s a news report with some further behind-the-scenes details (see also similar reports by Reuters and Al Jazeera):

Barack Obama’s Summer 2019 Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

As he does every so often, President Obama shared a list of the books that he’s reading this summer in this Facebook post. I am not ashamed to admit that Obama’s recs have pushed me to read quite a few books, including Pachinko and the Three-Body Problem trilogy, and not once have I been disappointed. This time around, he recommends anything and everything by Toni Morrison and a few other things.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.

I still recommend Wolf Hall (and her follow-up, Bring Up the Bodies) to almost everyone who asks me what they should read next and am looking forward to tackling Chiang’s collection soon.

The Earth Rotating Beneath a Stationary Milky Way

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

In most time lapse videos you see of the night sky, the stars wheel through the sky as the heavens revolve around the Earth. But that perspective is really only valid from our particular frame of reference standing on the Earth. What’s actually happening is that our tiny little speck of dirt is twirling amid a galactic tapestry that is nearly stationary. And in the video above, you see just that…the Earth rotating as the camera lens stays locked on a motionless Milky Way. Total mindjob.

See also the fisheye views of the Earth rotating about the stabilized sky in this video.

Up and Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

Daehyuk Im

Daehyuk Im

Daehyuk Im

Photos by Daehyuk Im of the Coney Island amusement rides and other structures, framed against the sky. Looking back through some photos I’ve taken of various amusement rides, this is also my favorite way of capturing them. (via moss & fog)

The 1619 Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

The first Africans to be brought as slaves to British North America landed in Port Comfort, Virginia in 1619. Thus began America’s 400-year history with slavery and its effects, which continue to reverberate today. With The 1619 Project, the NY Times is exploring that legacy with a series of essays and other works that “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” The Columbia Journalism Review explains:

Contributors consider various modern quandaries — rush hour traffic, mass incarceration, an inequitable healthcare system, even American overconsumption of sugar (the highest rate in the Western world) — and trace the origins back to slavery. Literary and visual artists drew from a timeline chronicling the past 400 years of Black history in America; their work is presented chronologically throughout the magazine. Taken together, the issue is an attempt to guide readers not just toward a richer understanding of today’s racial dilemmas, but to tell them the truth.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who came up with the idea for the project, writes in an essay:

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

Bryan Stevenson writes about America’s criminal justice system:

The 13th Amendment is credited with ending slavery, but it stopped short of that: It made an exception for those convicted of crimes. After emancipation, black people, once seen as less than fully human “slaves,” were seen as less than fully human “criminals.” The provisional governor of South Carolina declared in 1865 that they had to be “restrained from theft, idleness, vagrancy and crime.” Laws governing slavery were replaced with Black Codes governing free black people — making the criminal-justice system central to new strategies of racial control.

These strategies intensified whenever black people asserted their independence or achieved any measure of success. During Reconstruction, the emergence of black elected officials and entrepreneurs was countered by convict leasing, a scheme in which white policymakers invented offenses used to target black people: vagrancy, loitering, being a group of black people out after dark, seeking employment without a note from a former enslaver. The imprisoned were then “leased” to businesses and farms, where they labored under brutal conditions.

And Jamelle Bouie on power in America:

There is a homegrown ideology of reaction in the United States, inextricably tied to our system of slavery. And while the racial content of that ideology has attenuated over time, the basic framework remains: fear of rival political majorities; of demographic “replacement”; of a government that threatens privilege and hierarchy.

The past 10 years of Republican extremism is emblematic. The Tea Party billed itself as a reaction to debt and spending, but a close look shows it was actually a reaction to an ascendant majority of black people, Latinos, Asian-Americans and liberal white people. In their survey-based study of the movement, the political scientists Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto show that Tea Party Republicans were motivated “by the fear and anxiety associated with the perception that ‘real’ Americans are losing their country.”

Update: The Pulitzer Center has a study guide to go with The 1619 Project, including a free download of the entire magazine issue (no subscription necessary).

Update: The 1619 Project is now a podcast series as well.

Blocky Abstract Oil Paintings

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson

Oh, I love these abstract oil paintings by Jason Anderson. They are analog and organic but also more than a little pixel-y. Every time I see something like this, I want to get out my paints, stretch a canvas, and try it out. Note: I do not own any paints nor have I ever built any canvases. These “chunky” abstracts (see also Joseph Lee’s work) always make me curious about how much abstraction you can get away with and still have it look like something the viewer can recognize. Abstraction also always makes me think about Scott McCloud. (via colossal)

The Bear with Its Own ZIP Code

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

Today I learned that ZIP Codes do not strictly represent geographic areas but rather “address groups or delivery routes”.

Despite the geographic derivation of most ZIP Codes, the codes themselves do not represent geographic regions; in general, they correspond to address groups or delivery routes. As a consequence, ZIP Code “areas” can overlap, be subsets of each other, or be artificial constructs with no geographic area (such as 095 for mail to the Navy, which is not geographically fixed). In similar fashion, in areas without regular postal routes (rural route areas) or no mail delivery (undeveloped areas), ZIP Codes are not assigned or are based on sparse delivery routes, and hence the boundary between ZIP Code areas is undefined.

The White House has its own ZIP Code (20500), as does the shoe floor of Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC (10022-SHOE). US mail to Santa Claus gets sent to the town of North Pole, Alaska (99705) but in Canada, Santa gets his own postal code (H0H 0H0). And Smokey Bear has his own ZIP Code (20252) because he gets so much mail.

ZIP Codes are therefore not that reliable when doing geospatial analysis of data:

Even though there are different place associations that probably mean more to you as an individual, such as a neighborhood, street, or the block you live on, the zip code is, in many organizations, the geographic unit of choice. It is used to make major decisions for marketing, opening or closing stores, providing services, and making decisions that can have a massive financial impact.

The problem is that zip codes are not a good representation of real human behavior, and when used in data analysis, often mask real, underlying insights, and may ultimately lead to bad outcomes. To understand why this is, we first need to understand a little more about the zip code itself.

For instance, in Miami’s 33139 ZIP Code the difference between the highest median income (as measured in much more granular US Census Block Groups) and lowest median income is over $240,000. So you can imagine it would be difficult to know or even assume anything in general about those residents based on their ZIP Code alone.

The Version Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

The mission of Version Museum is to record and present what the interfaces of software and websites looked like, from their earliest versions until now. The site’s tagline is “a visual history of your favorite technology”. Here’s the history of Facebook; an early screenshot:

Version Museum

The first version of Microsoft’s Excel for Windows:

Version Museum

Adobe Photoshop:

Version Museum

Internet Explorer (screenshot of the 1.0 version displaying a circa-1995 Yahoo! homepage):

Version Museum

The collection isn’t huge, but the father/son team behind it hits the high points, including Amazon, New York Times, OS X, and iTunes.

Update: One of the Facebook screenshots that the Version Museum is using included Brian Moore’s phone number and other personal information. Per Moore’s general request, I have blurred out that information and I hope the museum does the same. (thx, all)

Tracking Overnight Use of US National Parks

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

Designer Jordan Vincent has created a visualization tracking overnight stays in US National Parks, i.e. people using tents & RVs at campsites, backcountry camping, and lodging.

National Parks camping times

As you can see from the charts, the usage of many parks is heaviest in the summer. For instance, Yellowstone is used heavily until the beginning of September and then drops off to almost nothing by mid-October. For some parks, like the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah, usage spikes in the fall during peak foliage.1

  1. Just typing the phrase “peak foliage” during the dog days of summer in Vermont is making me anxious of the approaching winter. Winter here kicked my ass the past two years, so I’m really motivated to not be depressed for 6 months this year. Any (non-obvious) tips? Already planning trips to warm places, socializing, getting outdoors more, and SAD lamping…

Urban Nudges

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

Urban Nudges is a site that documents small efforts by cities and the people who live in them to slightly change the behaviors of their inhabitants in some way. A 2008 book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein defines a nudge as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. That sounds a bit academic but some examples from the site clarify things. For instance, protected bike lanes encourage bike riding:

The study “Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.” was conducted in eight protected bike lanes in Austin, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC and the major findings were that bike lanes induced new bikers, mostly because they feel safer about the experience.

The researchers interviewed 2,283 cyclists using the bike lanes and found out that nearly ten percent of the users would have taken another mode of transportation if the bike lane hadn’t existed and around one percent of the interviewed said they would not have taken the trip at all.

Dancing zebras in Bolivia cajole motorists into minding crosswalks and other rules of the street:

Zebra Bolivia

Inspired by the Colombian experience, in Bolivia the Department of transportation developed a program where urban educators get dressed as zebras, teaching children and adults urban values through empathy and comedy. The project’s initial concept was to teach pedestrians and drivers the appropriate use of the pedestrian crossing and reduce congestion: urban zebras rejoice when pedestrians wait for green light and grab their head in agony when pedestrians jaywalk. Empathy, humility and comedy made them popular.

A speedometer in Amsterdam raises money for the neighborhood when drivers do the speed limit:

Every driver that passes by the speedometer below the speed limit of 30 km per hour raises EUR0,03 for the neighborhood. “The city’s slogan: Max 30 — Save for the Neighborhood” (Pop Up City). The money raised by this initiative is granted by the city of Amsterdam and is meant to be invested in local community projects.

What kind of nudges could you imagine in your town or city?

The Racial History of Soda in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

In 2013, University of Virginia historian Grace Elizabeth Hale wrote about “the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race” for the NY Times.

Coke’s recipe wasn’t the only thing influenced by white supremacy: through the 1920s and ’30s, it studiously ignored the African-American market. Promotional material appeared in segregated locations that served both races, but rarely in those that catered to African-Americans alone.

Meanwhile Pepsi, the country’s second largest soft drink company, had tried to fight Coke by selling its sweeter product in a larger bottle for the same price. Still behind in 1940, Pepsi’s liberal chief executive, Walter S. Mack, tried a new approach: he hired a team of 12 African-American men to create a “negro markets” department.

More here at The Atlantic:

Elsewhere in the soft drink industry, though, the oversimplification of target consumers has had its questionable if not altogether offensive moments, too. Mountain Dew, for instance, originally based its entire brand around making fun of poor Appalachians, also known as hillbillies. In the late 40s and early 50s, its label featured the official Mountain Dew mascot “Willy the Hillbilly” and the slogan: “Ya-Hoo! Mountain Dew. It’ll tickle yore innards.” (The name of the soft drink, of course, refers to the Southern slang for moonshine.)

In a not-very-convincing rebuttal to Hale’s article, Coke’s “Chief Historian” argues that the company has always been America’s “most inclusive drink” and more oddly, that Coke has never contained cocaine, which Snopes handily debunked. (thx, caroline)

The Gerrymandered Font

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

Gerry Font

Gerry is a typeface where the letterforms are created from heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. For example, the letter U is the 4th district in Illinois:

Gerry Font 02

Click through to download the font for free and to tweet at your representative to stop gerrymandering.

Measuring the Popularity of the Falsetto in Pop Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

In today’s episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell teams up with Matt Daniels from The Pudding to track the popularity of the falsetto in pop music from the 50s to today. Caswell has a hunch that falsetto has been getting more popular, so they end up getting a bunch of data from Pandora that tracks the amount of falsetto used in a song and the vocal register of the singer, which they compared against Billboard Top 100 songs. The verdict? You’ll have to watch the video, but just remember all of those soul songs in the 70s and heavy metal & pop songs in the 80s…

Caswell compiled a Spotify playlist of songs with prominent use of falsetto:

In the recommended reading list, I found this Frieze piece from 2010, The Evolution of the Male Falsetto.

By reputation the falsetto voice is both angelic and diabolical, depending on who is singing, and to what purpose. Jónsi Birgisson, vocalist with Sigur Rós, is revered for his keening falsetto, the most ethereal element inside a great wash of sound. Birgisson is openly gay; on the other hand I still remember, at age 13, hearing Robert Plant singing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ (1971) for the first time, and how its devilish heterosexual lust scared me to bits. Plant is a truly outrageous singer, possessing a voice so alight with desire that he sounds in imminent danger of burning up. He is predatory but vulnerable, a bare-chested rock god who sings from a place of sexual rapture that cancels out the boundaries of his own body. He got there through intensive study of the blues: as with most tropes in popular music, the falsetto is in continual transit between black and white performers and their audiences.

But back to the video, I LOL’d at ~3:30 when they went through the raw data of falsettos, which goes from George P. Watson in 1911 (a yodeler) to contemporary Radiohead. I am a big Radiohead fan. And my kids? Not so much. In fact, my son has been trying to convince me for the past year that Thom Yorke doesn’t so much sing as yodel. I’ve explained falsettos to him but I will invariably hear “ugh, yodeling!” from the backseat when Radiohead comes on in the car. This Watson/Radiohead connection though…maybe he has a point? Maybe I just like yodeling?

The Railrodder, Buster Keaton’s Final Silent Film from 1965

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

In 1965, long after his days making some of the most iconic and physically demanding silent films, pioneering physical comedian Buster Keaton made one last silent flick with the National Film Board of Canada.

This short film from director Gerald Potterton (Heavy Metal) stars Buster Keaton in one of the last films of his long career. As “the railrodder”, Keaton crosses Canada from east to west on a railway track speeder. True to Keaton’s genre, the film is full of sight gags as our protagonist putt-putts his way to British Columbia. Not a word is spoken throughout, and Keaton is as spry and ingenious at fetching laughs as he was in the old days of the silent slapsticks.

Buster Keaton Rides Again, a 55-minute documentary about the making of The Railrodders, might be even more interesting because you hear Keaton talking about his craft and career.

See also The Scribe, a film that was released the following year that was Keaton’s final starring role, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, the small collection of posts about Keaton here at kottke.org, and this video of some of his most amazing stunts (with a voiceover of Keaton talking about his career):

(thx, marcus)

Taking a Full Photo of the Earth Every Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

This is a really cool visualization of how Planet’s 150+ imaging satellites take a complete satellite photo of the Earth every single day.

Planet Satellites Daily

Every few seconds, the visualization picks a new satellite to track, allowing you to see the location, height, and speed. The satellites are 300 miles from the surface of the Earth moving at about 17,000 mph.

Making Food from Carbon Dioxide & Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

Using a concept from NASA, a Finnish company called Solar Foods has figured out how to manufacture protein from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. They call it Solein.

A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO2, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5-10 percent fat, and 20-25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.

It’s likely to first appear on grocery shelves in protein shakes and yogurt. It could be an exciting development: Solein’s manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited — we’ve got too much CO2, if anything. Why not get rid of some greenhouse gas with a side of fries?

The production of food (and the protein contained in meat in particular) is responsible for a large percentage of our planet’s changing climate, so if Solein pans out, it could be a huge development. It will be interesting to see if the wizards or prophets win the battle to “fix” climate change…Solein is one hell of a salvo by the wizards.

The Mosquito: Humanity’s Greatest Enemy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

For the New Yorker, Brooke Jarvis reviews Timothy C. Winegard’s The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.

It turns out that, if you’re looking for them, the words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. (And before: Winegard suggests that, when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases.) Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans — as well as the peoples who tried to conquer them — by the hundreds of thousands, playing a major role in the outcomes of their wars. Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.” In 94 B.C., the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote, “In the area south of the Yangtze the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young.” In the third century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion.

And then there’s this:

In total, Winegard estimates that mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause — fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived. He calls them “our apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”

Two other recent reviews of the book: In ‘The Mosquito,’ Humans Face A Predator More Deadly Than The Rest (NPR) and The mosquito isn’t just annoying — Timothy C. Winegard says we’re at war (LA Times).

The Border Wall Seesaw

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I realize that many of you have probably seen it already, but I ran across this while away on vacation and thought it was one of the most clever, moving, and powerful creative projects I’ve seen recently. Working off of a concept from 2009, activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello installed three seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall near El Paso which allowed children on both sides of the border to enjoy playing together.

Border Wall Seesaw

Here’s video of the seesaws in action (from Rael’s Instagram post):

Brilliant. Damon Stapleton says that the seesaw has a “gentle anarchy” to it.

Their beautiful intention was to bring people together through design. As you may have guessed, I really like this idea. It has power, playfulness, humanity, humour and simplicity in equal measure. But most importantly, it has a gentle anarchy at its core. Great ideas like these have this essential creative point of view. There are no rules. Reject the world as it is or how others tell you to see it. Realise you have the ability to make the world the way you want it to be. And, it will be fun or at the very least, unboring. Gentle anarchy. This point of view can be scary for many. But without it, almost nothing will change or move forward.

The plans for the seesaw are on the cover of Rael’s 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary, in which he documents similar projects like Burrito Wall, where the border wall is converted into a small restaurant.

The Greta Thunberg Effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

According to recent statistics, the number of books published about the climate crisis & the natural world aimed at children has more than doubled over the last year. Children’s publishers are crediting climate activist Greta Thunberg with igniting interest in the climate among the younger set.

“I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect,” says Rachel Kellehar, head of nonfiction. “She has galvanised the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanised our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes.”

I’d give David Attenborough’s recent run of nature documentaries some credit as well…the young people in my household are big fans of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II.

Here are a few recent and upcoming children’s books about climate and nature, in addition to Thunberg’s own No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, of course.

Climate Books Kids

A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals by Millie Marotta. “A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals highlights the plight of 43 endangered species from around the world, including rare and well-known animals living in freshwater, oceans, forests, mountains, tundras, deserts, grasslands, and wetlands.”

Earth Heroes: Twenty Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World by Lily Dyu. “With twenty inspirational stories celebrating the pioneering work of a selection of Earth Heroes from all around the globe, from Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to Yin Yuzhen and Isatou Ceesay, each tale is a beacon of hope in the fight for the future of our planet, proving that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.”

Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh. “Published in partnership with the RSCF, this charming true story of how one little orphaned monkey got a second chance to have a family gently introduces kids to disability, biodiversity, and wildlife conservation.”

Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari. “The few live in luxury, whilst the millions like them crowd together in compounds, surviving on meagre rations and governed by Freedom Fields — the organisation that looks after you, as long as you opt in. The bees have long disappeared; instead children must labour on farms, pollinating crops by hand so that the nation can eat.”

America’s National Parks by Lonely Planet Kids. “With awesome facts, photos and illustrations on every page, you’ll discover erupting geysers, exploding volcanoes, howling wolves, soaring eagles, mountains, glaciers, rainforests and more throughout the continental USA, Hawaii, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.”

Climate Books Kids

Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minute Superhero by Martin Dorey. “Read this essential book and find out how you can become a #2minutesuperhero by completing 50 missions to fight plastic at home, school and on your days out.”

Don’t Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton. “Taking readers through the course of a day, Don’t Let Them Disappear talks about rhinos, tigers, whales, pandas and more, and provides helpful tips on what we all can do to help prevent these animals from disappearing from our world entirely.”

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig. “Eleven-year-old Evie has a talent. A SUPERTALENT. A talent that can let her HEAR the thoughts of an elephant, and make friends with a dog and a sparrow. The only problem is, this talent is dangerous. VERY dangerous. That’s what her dad says.”

If Thunberg doesn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize in the next few years for her efforts, I’ll be very surprised.

Questionnaire

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I read a short poem by Wendell Berry this morning called Questionnaire that has relevance to some of the things our society and culture have been chewing on over the past few years. The last two stanzas read:

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

Questionnaire is from Berry’s 2009 collection, Leavings. (via fave 5)

Zero-Waste Cooking

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

Nolla is a zero-waste restaurant in Helsinki, Finland.

At Nolla there is no waste bin in the kitchen nor can you find any single use plastic in the restaurant either. No produce wrapped in plastic, no cling film, no vacuum bags. Every detail from staff clothing and napkins to tableware has been thought of. Even the gift cards are made of compostable paper that has poppy seeds in them.

We don’t produce waste nor do we cook from waste.

We work directly with suppliers to rethink, reject and control packaging while at the same time sourcing local and organic produce, which are the core of our menus.

See also WastED, a pop-up series conceived by Blue Hill’s Dan Barber where dishes on the menu were made of so-called waste food.

And if you would like to use less plastic in your own home, Trash Plastic offers a bunch of tips to make that happen.

See You Next Week

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2019

Hey, just a short note to say that kottke.org won’t be published this week. This is the first break in publishing the site since…well, I don’t really know. Maybe 5 years? Or even 10? I had a guest editor last week (thanks Patrick!) but this feels like a good time for a break break. Your regularly scheduled information & nonsense will resume on August 12.

Tim will be sending out an installment of the Noticing newsletter this Friday, so make sure to sign up for that if you’re not already on board.

And me? I’m on a LA-to-Portland road trip. I’ll share my adventures from the trip when I get back, but for now you can follow along on Instagram (especially via Stories). So, far, it’s been pretty fun + interesting.

Redwoods

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2019

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 20 people in El Paso, Texas yesterday and another person killing at least 9 people In Dayton, Ohio early this morning. While these are outrageous and horrifying events, they aren’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.

An enjoyable week of discovery

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Looming outdoor landscape

Well this was fun! I’m not sure to which degree readers realize how much work goes into a week of kottke.org, and I’m sure Jason has a number of habits and a flow to things but wow! It’s an occasion to discover things hour after hour and find out what readers enjoy, but it is a lot of work. Hats off to you Jason.

I hope you enjoyed what I shared here this week. I encourage you to have a look at my newsletter Sentiers. Check out the archives and subscribe to keep up with where my curiosity takes me.

In case you missed them the first time around, and perhaps to give you a better idea of what usually draws my attention for Sentiers, here are some favorites from what I posted over the last few days, written as an homage to Tim Carmody’s style in the Kottke newsletter.

There’s a kind of superpower in walking, which is also a good way of encouraging serendipity, you might even find things like these storefronts in Tokyo. Much of my life and career was made possible by reading. I’ve never been to a desert library but I do have ghosts on my shelves. With books you can create futures by inventing utopias, and you can draw lessons from them, like cautionary tales from Frankenstein’s Monster or the many teachings of the great Ursula K. Le Guin.

(Header image, Mountain House in Mist / Shulin Architectural Design.)

Recreating the sun’s plasma in a laboratory

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Sun's plasma

Since it’s quite hard to study the sun, “a team of researchers decided to try to re-create the sun’s magnetic field structure in a ball of plasma in their laboratory.” Although the conditions were obviously quite different and their model incomplete, they did manage to delve deeper into how the magnetic field of the sun works and how our star’s plasma flows through it.

The sun’s magnetic fields form enormous loops that extend from the sun’s surface into space. Some of these loops are small enough to fit entirely within the sun’s corona, while others stretch to the edges of the solar system.

The experiment was also able to mimic a region around the sun where the plasma hangs in a precarious balance. Within this boundary, plasmas are contained by magnetic fields, but outside it, centrifugal forces from the sun’s rotation overpower the magnetic fields, and plasmas stream outward. The researchers found that “if you spin [the plasma] hard enough, you can get it to spin out from centrifugal force.”

Note: The image up top is an image captured from the video in the article, make sure to click through and admire.

Time-lapse film of two seasons of supercell storms

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

We often talk about the damage we are doing to nature, and as often about the catastrophes this is bringing across the globe. And well we should. But we have to also remember that even when it looks enraged, nature is also worth our admiration. Mike Oblinsky gives us a good opportunity for this with his Vorticity 2 film.

For seven and a half minutes massive clouds tear through open skies across plains and mountain ranges, rainbows brighten the calm after the storms, and sheets of rain obliterate horizon lines.

Vorticity 2

An annotated “Frankenstein” brings lessons for today

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Amidst all the calls for more ethics and considerations for social issues on the part of tech companies, this looks like quite an interesting and innovative way of approaching the problem. This review of the book Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds gives a good overview of the contents and thinking.

The critical essays accompanying the text are eclectic, cross-disciplinary, and incisive, and they include contributions from beyond the academy, such as the essays by science fiction authors Elizabeth Bear and Cory Doctorow.

Using the novel as a canvas on which to think through contemporary issues.

These annotations often raise novel questions about technology and society, extrapolating from the technological conditions suggested by the novel into terms that might emerge today, alongside the more usual role of explanatory footnotes in a student text.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein’s Monster in another time of technological transition, the Industrial Revolution.

It is an important part of what gives “Frankenstein” its enduring hold on our contemporary imagination: Both the novel and the cultural icon derive their special pathos from what Heather E. Douglas’s critical essay shrewdly calls the “bitter aftertaste of technical sweetness”—tragedy set in the distinctly modern conditions of secular science and technology.

The piece and the book it refers also cover how Shelley’s work is regarded by many as the first work of science-fiction and how it was made possible not only by her great talent but also her education. She studied the humanities—literature, philosophy and classics, as well as the science of the day. Today these two aspects of education are often times presented as opposites, and in some kind of fight, where on the contrary they need to coexist and feed from each other. It’s something that more and more people realize and integrate in their teaching, planning, and hiring but which is still regularly disregarded in many technology circles.

From Elizabeth Bear’s essay, this sounds familier:

Victor, she says, is morally culpable for not taking responsibility for his creation and for his refusal to acknowledge his responsibility because he cannot see it for what it is. He runs away from it and refuses to engage with it. He refuses to engage with the creature and flees, and he does so because he is not able to see its essential nature, its needs and his part in their fulfilment—and that, Bear says, is on account of his monstrous “narcissism, this inability to engage with other creatures” as creatures like himself.

And brings two kinds of cautionary tales, both very much worthy of deeper reflection and of today’s challenges:

We can thus discern two kinds of cautionary tales in “Frankenstein” (there are others): one Miltonian and the other Promethean. The former is a warning to “creators”—scientists, engineers and what this new edition of “Frankenstein” calls “creators of all kinds”—of the risks of hubris: reaching to exercise knowledge and powers that are not fully understood, whose consequences cannot be predicted and which cannot be controlled. The latter, however—the Promethean—is a warning to these same creators that, when they *do* exercise that knowledge and power, they must be willing to take responsibility for the things they create, for the work of their hands, which is what Prometheus did and what Victor failed to do. [Emphasis mine.]

(Via Stuart Candy.)

Update: Sam Arbesman (who write a mean newsletter) sent me Frankenbook, an open access version of the book referenced above. It’s powered by PubPub which you should also check out.

Deep dive into uber-obscure video game research

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Plug and play game consoles

Interested in gaming? Old-school 80s-90s games? NES? Chinese shenzhen-speed recombination and innovation? Then I’ve got the thread for you! Or rather, Frank Cifaldi has the thread for you (and it’s a long and detailed one with lots of his research and how he proceeded).

Plug & play game consoles:

In the early 2000s, a new toy category gained popularity in the United States: the “plug & play” video game console. You probably remember seeing a lot of these! The Jakks Pacific stuff was probably the most prolific.

New NES games!

I recently became enamored with a particular sub-set of plug & play history: systems that secretly housed brand new games written for the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System! If you were following me toward the end of 2018 you might remember me blathering on about this stuff.

Thanks to Chinese manufacturers in the 90s:

Why were there NES games in these things? Well:

- In the 90s, Chinese manufacturers cloned the NES and put all of its components on one chip

- These were used in all kinds of applications: cloned systems, plug & plays with pirated games, even educational computers!

And this side note is important to remember and be thankful for, around the web in general, the internet archive

I can’t stress enough what a godsend The Wayback Machine is for research. So much real history would literally disappear from the world if not for them.

(Via Darren Wershler.)

Spirograph-like multi-color ellipses

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

James Nolan Gandy builds gorgeous articulated machines

If you are old enough, you probably have fond memories of the kids’ drawing toy, Spirograph. Actually, they still exist but I’m pretty sure they are less of a thing than a few decades back.

James Nolan Gandy builds gorgeous articulated machines that produce beautiful—almost digital looking in their precision—drawings very reminiscent of what kids did with spirograph.

To create multi-color works Gandy must pause the machine to switch out each color, furthering the collaboration between the built artistic object and his own aesthetic desires.

James Nolan Gandy builds gorgeous articulated machines 3

James Nolan Gandy builds gorgeous articulated machines 2

You can see more on James Nolan Gandy’s site.

An intriguing new habitat project “inspired” by NASA

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

TERA habitat

The AI SpaceFactory team won half a million dollars from NASA for its Mars habitat prototype, MARSHA. They are now taking the research, learnings, and technologies they developed for their winning proposal and building an earth habitat (house) using the same concepts.

TERA interjects into the building industry’s massive waste of materials and creates a proof-of-concept for a new type of building - one that is durable and twice as strong as concrete, yet recyclable and compostable.

TERA habitat

Considering how polluting the manufacturing of concrete is, their material certainly sounds interesting:

Biopolymer basalt composite -a material developed from crops like corn and sugar cane - tested and validated by NASA to be (at minimum) 50% stronger and more durable than concrete. This material has the potential to be leaps and bounds more sustainable than traditional concrete and steel, leading to a future in which we can eliminate the building industry’s massive waste of unrecyclable materials. It could transform the way we build on Earth - and save our planet.

In many countries, the production of ethanol with corn is creating problems with the provenance and availability of that grain to feed livestock and humans. I would love to know more about how the use here differs.

Since this is a prototype which they will make available for leasing by the night, they will also be using it as a lab to evolve the concept:

TERA is a living laboratory where feedback and operational data will be used to improve future designs for our future Earth and Space habitats. Each TERA will build on the last until we achieve highly autonomous structurally performing human-rated habitats.

TERA habitat

The link at top is to the firm’s project page but they are also running an Indiegogo and that page has lots more details and pictures.


If you are intrigued by the impact of concrete and cement, and why we don’t yet have widely commercially available real alternatives, Rose Eveleth did a fantastic episode of her Flash Forward podcast on that topic: EARTH: The Cement Ban.

Progress is the realization of utopias

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Ok. So the book is from a few years ago and, like me, you might be suffering from a light case of UBI (Universal Basic Income) fatigue. But this interview from last week between Ezra Klein (Vox) and Dutch historian Rutger Bregman is excellent nonetheless (available as text and podcast). They talk about utopia not as a dream destination in the future but as a way to think about where we want to go, about robots (or not), UBI, about being convinced people are basically lazy or intrinsically good, care jobs in the future, bullshit jobs, the 15-hour workweek, and lots more besides.

We know that every milestone of civilization — the end of slavery, democracy, equal rights for women — were all utopian fantasies in the past. So the point is to come up with new utopias: visions of a radically better society. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Progress is the realization of utopias.”

On people:

I believe that most people are pretty nice — that we’re generally a cooperative species, that we’re creative, that we like to make our own choices, and that we’re quite playful. There are darker sides, but the point is what you assume in other people is also what you get out of them.

Universal basic income is all about freedom:

That’s the most important argument for it. It’s about the freedom to make your own choices. It’s about the freedom to say “yes” to the things that you want to do, and it’s about the freedom to say “no” to things you don’t like — a boss that harasses you or a wife or husband that you don’t really like anymore.

Klein, on service jobs:

It seems to me that the future of our economy is going to be more deeply in service jobs. The question, then, is whether or not we’re able to value them to the degree that we should. Right now, we have a lot of jobs that do a lot of work for people, but we’ve cleaved them off from a sense of social status and respect and value. And we’ve attached that value to these other jobs that people suspect are not creating anything for anyone. It’s a sick equilibrium.

An illustrated guide to silvopasture

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Silvopasture grazing cows

Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown “is the world’s leading source of climate solutions.” In the list of solutions, perhaps surprisingly to many, silvopasture comes in at number nine. Issue 2 of the excellent Australia based Matters Journal came out with this fun illustrated guide to silvopasture.

Silvopasture is the symbiotic integration of livestock grazing and forest management. This can either be achieved by strategically planting trees into a conventional, and usually treeless, grazing pasture or by thinning a wooded forest so that livestock can graze beneath its canopy.

Drawdown estimated that silvopasture is currently practiced on 351 million acres of land globally. If this was increased to 554 million acres by 2050 then CO2 emissions could be reduced by 31.19 gigatons. To put this figure into perspective, Drawdown estimates that if seven percent of the world’s population had rooftop solar to power their houses it would avoid 24.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions.

The piece ends with quite a few links worth checking out to learn more about this agroforestry practice.

Desert libraries of Chinguetti

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Al Ahmed Mahmoud Library in Chinguetti

I did not know about these wonderful places. For hundreds of years, families in Mauritania have been maintaining libraries of old Arabo-Berber books. Originally on the route of pilgrims travelling to Mecca, the libraries are now at risk from the spreading Sahara and ever dwindling numbers of visitors, in part because of security restrictions due to terrorism.

This thread by Incunabla brought their existence to my attention.

Most of Chinguetti consists of abandoned houses which are being swallowed up by the ever encroaching dunes of the Sahara. But this was once a prosperous city of 20 000 people, and a medieval centre for religious and legal scholars. It was known as “The City of Libraries”.

Library in Chinguetti

Lower down the thread, we are directed to this piece at the Guardian, Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts.

The bone-dry wood creaks as the book opens at a page representing the course of the moon, framed by black balls and red crescents. The manuscript contains 132 pages of Arab astronomy bound in well-worn leather, a 15th-century treasure stored, with similar items, in a cardboard box in a traditional dwelling in Chinguetti.

Seen as a legacy from their ancestors, the families feel it’s an honour for them to care for these books.

About 600km north-east of the capital, in Chinguetti, once a centre of Islamic learning, the Habott family owns one of the finest private libraries, with 1,400 books covering a dozen subjects such as the Qur’an and the Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar. The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century.

Also linked in the thread, more pictures at Messy Nessy.

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