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Entries for September 2019 (October 2019 »    November 2019 »    December 2019 »    Archives)

 

Pixelized Endangered Species - One Pixel Per Living Animal of At-Risk Species

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In 2008, Japanese creative agency Hakuhodo created a campaign for the World Wildlife Federation that featured photos of endangered animals where the number of pixels in the photo matched the remaining population of the animal pictured.

Pixel Endangered Species

Pixel Endangered Species

Imgur user JJSmooth44 recently updated the campaign to include many more animals, including the unrecognizable Javan rhino.

Pixel Endangered Species

(via @UnlikelyWorlds)

The Tyranny of Meritocracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In this quick animated excerpt of a longer talk, political philosopher Michael Sandel critiques the idea of the meritocracy, the notion that innate talent and hard work are the main drivers of personal success and “the smug conviction of those who land on top that they deserve their fate”.

A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility. The idea that ‘there but for the grace of God, or the accident of fortune, go I’. But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace or luck; it diminishes our capacity to see ourselves as sharing a common fate. And so, it leaves little room for the solidarity that can arise when we reflect on the contingency of our talents and fortunes. This is what makes merit a kind of tyranny.

Sandel’s full talk, A New Politics of Hope, is available online here.

P.S. A reminder that the term “meritocracy” was originally a satirical term invented by writer Michael Young in 1958 to describe a dystopian society. He is disappointed to see how people now wear the term as a badge of honor.

The business meritocracy is in vogue. If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.

They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody’s son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.

(via open culture)

The Delicate Microscopic Repair of a 112-Year-Old Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Watch as MoMA art conservator Diana Hartman repairs some weak spots of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s 1907 self-portrait. The painting is still on the artist’s original canvas stretchers, so Hartman can’t access the back of the canvas during the repair process. So she employs a tiny curved needle made for doing eye surgeries to gently darn with some linen thread.

The first thing I like to do when I sit down is just get my tools. No tools displayed on this tray were made specifically for conservation.

Watching someone tend to a treasured object with such devotion is quite relaxing, perhaps because it’s comforting to imagine ourselves being treated with equal concern by those around us. (via colossal)

Advice from Cormac McCarthy on Writing Great Science Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

Since the 1990s, Pulitzer prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy has been a fixture at the Santa Fe Institute, a transdisciplinary research institute in New Mexico. During that time, he’s helped edit scientific papers for many faculty and postdocs. A pair of biologists, Van Savage & Pamela Yeh, recently condensed McCarthy’s scientific writing advice into an article for Nature.

Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.

Inject questions and less-formal language to break up tone and maintain a friendly feeling. Colloquial expressions can be good for this, but they shouldn’t be too narrowly tied to a region. Similarly, use a personal tone because it can help to engage a reader. Impersonal, passive text doesn’t fool anyone into thinking you’re being objective: “Earth is the centre of this Solar System” isn’t any more objective or factual than “We are at the centre of our Solar System.”

Finally, try to write the best version of your paper: the one that you like. You can’t please an anonymous reader, but you should be able to please yourself. Your paper — you hope — is for posterity. Remember how you first read the papers that inspired you while you enjoy the process of writing your own.

Most of this is good advice for the writing in general.

What Is the Power of Art?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2019

In a letter announcing his resignation from the MacDowell Colony, novelist Michael Chabon considers what art is for.

Or, I wonder if it’s possible that I was wrong, that I’ve always been wrong, that art has no power at all over the world and its brutalities, over the minds that conceive them and the systems that institutionalize them. Those folks I cited earlier, the ones who offer their grim reassurances that the world has always sucked as much as it does now, in particular for women, the poor, the disenfranchised, the enslaved, the downtrodden, and the exploited, these folks might point out that art and misery have coexisted for the whole span of human existence on earth, and suggest that perhaps the time to abandon hope for the redemptive power of art is long overdue.

Maybe the world in its violent turning is too strong for art. Maybe art is a kind of winning streak, a hot hand at the table, articulating a vision of truth and possibility that, while real, simply cannot endure. Over time, the odds grind you down, and in the end the house always wins.

The People and Landscapes of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

Kevin Kelly, Kazakhstan and Krygyzstan

Kevin Kelly, Kazakhstan and Krygyzstan

For decades, Kevin Kelly has been traveling in Asia documenting traditional cultures and environments while they still exist. Here are some photos from his recent visits to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan .

What’s the Fastest Way to Board an Airplane?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

In this video, CGP Grey investigates fast and not-so-fast methods for boarding commercial airline flights. Most airlines board passengers using the relatively slow back-to-front method — with a bit of the even slower front-to-back method at the start for first, business, premium economy, and frequent flying passengers — even though boarding in a random order would be quicker. In 2008, physicist Jason Steffen determined the optimal boarding method, which involves passengers boarding in a precise order to minimize people waiting for other people putting their luggage in the overhead bin.

25 Fun Facts About Food from Gastropod

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

The Gastropod podcast turns five years old this month and to celebrate they’ve compiled a list of 25 of their favorite fun food facts from the show’s archives. Here’s the entire list with links to each of the shows (shared with permission):

1. The Mafia got its start in the 1860s, in the lemon groves of Sicily. At the time, growing lemons was the most lucrative form of agriculture in Europe, thanks to scurvy and the British Navy. (Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus)

2. Using gold (or gold-plated) cutlery makes food taste sweeter. (Episode 1: The Golden Spoon)

3. Olive oil is fruit juice. (Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil)

4. Saliva is filtered blood. (Guts and Glory)

5. The enamel on our teeth is the hardest tissue in our entire bodies — at 95 percent mineral, it’s basically a rock. (The Truth is in the Tooth: Braces, Cavities, and the Paleo Diet)

6. The invention of forks changed the shape of our jaws. (Episode 1: The Golden Spoon)

7. Medieval nuns used to get high on saffron, to help them get through their prayer marathons. (Meet Saffron: The World’s Most Expensive Spice)

8. In the absence of kitchen timers or affordable clocks, recipes in the earliest cookbooks gave timings in the form of prayers, like two Lord’s Prayers or four Hail Marys. (Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella)

9. True wasabi (most wasabi in the U.S. is just colored horseradish) has a flavor “window”: it has no taste for the first five minutes after being grated, then the flavor explodes — but it fades after another ten to fifteen minutes. You have only a few minutes to enjoy wasabi at its peak! (Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food)

10. The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word for testicle. (Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado)

11. The word “cocktail” comes from the practice of putting a piece of ginger up a horse’s butt to make it cock its tail up, and seem younger and friskier. (The Cocktail Hour)

12. Jell-O was originally sold as a patent medicine that was good for hair and nails. (Watch it Wiggle: The Jell-O Story)

13. The earliest recorded recipe for ice-cream was flavored with ambergris, which is a salt- and air-cured whale excretion (no one is quite sure whether it’s vomit or poo). (The Scoop on Ice Cream)

14. New York City’s first soda fountains used marble scraps left over from building St. Patrick’s cathedral to produce their carbonation. (Gettin’ Fizzy With It)

15. The superiority of New York City’s bagels has nothing to do with the city’s water. (The Bagelization of America)

16. Donald Rumsfeld was the man behind the launch of Nutrasweet. (Sweet and Low (Calorie): The Story of Artificial Sweeteners)

17. George W. Bush and a trade deal involving Harley Davidsons were the reason that the Indian Alphonso, the so-called “king of mangoes,” can now finally be imported to the U.S. (Mango Mania: How the American Mango Lost its Flavor — and How it Might Just Get it Back)

18. Jack Daniel learned how to make whiskey from an enslaved African, Nearest Green, who went on to become the company’s first master distiller. (The Secret History of the Slave Behind Jack Daniel’s Whiskey)

19. The first pasta machine was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. (Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale)

20. In England in the 1600s, a special breed of dogs were used to turn spits of roasted meat in front of the open fire. These turnspit dogs are now extinct; their closest relation is thought to be a corgi. (Hotbox: The Oven from Turnspit Dog to Microwave)

21. In America in the early 1900s, the pawpaw was voted the native fruit most likely to succeed, ahead of the blueberry. (Pick a Pawpaw: America’s Forgotten Fruit)

22. The story that carrots are good for eyesight was World War II military disinformation, spread by the British to prevent the Germans from realizing that the Royal Air Force were shooting down so many enemy planes because their cockpits were now equipped with radar and red lighting. (How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories)

23. Mustard became spicy over the course of a 90-million-year evolutionary arms race against caterpillars. (Cutting the Mustard)

24. Plants can hear themselves being eaten. (Field Recordings)

25. A raw human male contains, on average, 143,770 calories. (Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru)

Do Not Erase: Mathematician’s Chalkboards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

Jessica Wynne has been taking photos of mathematicians’ blackboards for the past year or so, some of which were featured recently in the NY Times. I love the variety in density, style, color, and tidiness.

Jessica Wynne

Jessica Wynne

“I am also fascinated by the process of working on the chalkboard. Despite technological advances, and the creation of computers, this is how the masters choose to work.”

In their love of blackboards and chalk, mathematicians are among the last holdouts. In many fields of science and investigation, blackboards have been replaced with whiteboards or slide show presentations. But chalk is cheaper and biodegradable. It smells better than whiteboard markers and is easier to clean up, mathematicians say. It is also more fun to write with.

A book of Wynne’s chalkboard photos called Do Not Erase will be released next year.

Greasing the Groove: Lift Weight, Not Too Much, Most of the Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

For the Atlantic, Olga Khazan writes about an approach to physical fitness called “greasing the groove”, which some people have translated into the Michael Pollan-esque “lift weight, not too much, most of the days”.

One way to grease the groove is to just do the exercise whenever you think of it. Ben Greenfield, in Beyond Training, describes how he would do three to five pull-ups every time he walked under a pull-up bar installed in his office doorway. By the end of the day, he’d have performed 30 to 50 pull-ups with minimal effort.

McKay opted for something similar: He set up a pull-up bar in his door frame, and every time he walked under it, he would do one. “You’re allowing yourself to practice more without going to fatigue,” he says. “If you’re constantly thrashing your body, doing max sets every time you do a pull up, you’re gonna have a bad time.” Anyone who has tried to climb the stairs to their apartment on achy quads after an overly ambitious leg day knows the risks of overexertion. Within a month, McKay says, he went from being able to do about five pull-ups to about 15.

I read this piece with interest because I’ve been greasing the groove for the past several months without knowing what it was called or that it was even a thing. I work from home and sprinkle exercise throughout my day. Working at a standing desk makes it easy to walk away from the screen, do a few pull-ups, plank for a minute, do some jumping jacks, and then get right back into whatever I was doing. I also stretch and do a few exercises sometimes when I’m watching TV in the evening. It is almost never a full workout, but it keeps me active when I can’t get out to ski or hike or play sports with my kids.

The Mother of Forensic Science and Her “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

(Note: This post contains images of simulated crime scenes.) Frances Glessner Lee is known as “the mother of forensic science” for her role in revolutionizing how crimes were investigated. Starting in the 40s and using her skills in making miniature models that she learned as a young girl, Lee built detailed and intricate crime scene dioramas to help train homicide investigators to properly investigate and canvas a crime scene. From a Smithsonian exhibition of Lee’s work:

At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this, tools were needed to help trainees scientifically approach their search for truth. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence. The equivalent to “virtual reality” in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail.

Every element of the dioramas — from the angle of minuscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses — challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction. The Nutshells are so effective that they are still used in training seminars today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

Here are some images of Lee’s surviving dioramas (found here):

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

In a video about the Smithsonian exhibition, curator Nora Atkinson explains that it shows how Lee “co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation”:

See also this Vox video about Lee’s work, which goes into detail about the evidence at a couple of the crime scenes:

Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Legendary skater Tony Hawk breaks down 21 increasingly complex skateboarding tricks, from a standard ollie to a kickflip to a McTwist to a 1080 to a couple of tricks that have never been done. As someone who has always been in awe of what skaters can do but hasn’t logged much on-board time myself, I learned a lot from this.

See also a beginning skater learning how to do a kickflip in under 6 hours.

A Dreaming Octopus Changes Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

Curious about the social behaviors of cephalopods, marine biologist David Scheel brought an octopus named Heidi home to live with him and his teenaged daughter. In this clip from an upcoming PBS show called Octopus: Making Contact, you can see the octopus changing colors while colors while she sleeps, which Scheel speculates is due to actions happening in the octopus’s dream.

If she is dreaming, this is a dramatic moment. You can almost just narrate the body changes and narrate the dream. So here she’s asleep and she sees a crab and her color starts to change a little bit. Then she turns all dark; octopuses will do that when they leave the bottom. This is a camouflage, like she’s just subdued a crab and now she’s going to sit there and eat it, and she doesn’t want anyone to notice her.

This program already aired in the UK with the much snappier title of The Octopus in My House; check out a review here.

Heidi loves to play. Given a toy (an old pill bottle, say), she hurls it round as if it were a swimming aid, and she a toddler newly out of water wings. Scheel has trained her so effectively to pull on a string that activates a buzzer that in the end he has to dismantle the thing if he wants to get a night’s sleep. She loves to touch and be touched, entwining her arms with those of Laurel for minutes at a time. Does she recognise her owners? Indubitably. When Scheel approaches the tank as himself, she rushes to its side, as if in greeting. But when he approaches disguised in a rubber mask, she hides.

(thx, dunstan)

The Surprising Physical Demands of Chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Chess is as physically demanding as many other sports due to stress and because the human brain uses a ton of energy. Many of today’s top chess players train and eat like pro tennis or soccer players.

In 2004, winner Rustam Kasimdzhanov walked away from the six-game world championship having lost 17 pounds. In October 2018, Polar, a U.S.-based company that tracks heart rates, monitored chess players during a tournament and found that 21-year-old Russian grandmaster Mikhail Antipov had burned 560 calories in two hours of sitting and playing chess — or roughly what Roger Federer would burn in an hour of singles tennis.

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.

“Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” Sapolsky says.

Jeff Bridges Takes Photographs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Jeff Bridges Photos

Jeff Bridges Photos

Ever since Starman in 1984, Jeff Bridges has taken photos on the set of every film he’s acted in using his Widelux F8 camera. Sometimes he compiles them into picture books for the cast and crew. Sometimes he posts them to his charmingly old school website. And sometimes he compiles them into coffee table books that you and I can have in our homes. Nick Chen recently interviewed Bridges about his photography.

Dazed: You did The Big Lebowski and True Grit with the Coen Brothers. What do they make of your photography?

Jeff Bridges: I think they get a kick out of it. They’re pretty cool cats. They don’t go overboard with praise or anything. They’re certainly wonderful to work with, and they’re true masters, so I was happy that they gave a stamp of approval on my book. That was nice.

Dazed: Does Roger Deakins ever want a co-credit for doing the lighting?

Jeff Bridges: (laughs) No, he did not ask me. But wow, talk about masters. Isn’t he terrific? My God, he does it just right.

Pictures by Jeff Bridges was released in 2003 and now a follow-up is coming out in mid-October 2019: Jeff Bridges: Pictures Volume 2. (thx, david)

Update: The International Center of Photography honored Bridges with an award in 2013 and produced this video about his photography.

America’s Great Climate Exodus Has Already Begun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Like many Americans, I have been hearing about climate change since the late 80s (or perhaps even longer). Back then, the story was mainly that we needed to act soon to avoid potential effects like sea level rise, dangerous heatwaves, disrupting animal habitats, etc. in some distant future. One of the things I currently struggle with when thinking about climate change is recalibrating that “some distant future” part. Because that future is now and shit is happening in these here United States as we speak. From Bloomberg, America’s Great Climate Exodus Is Starting in the Florida Keys:

The Great Climate Retreat is beginning with tiny steps, like taxpayer buyouts for homeowners in flood-prone areas from Staten Island, New York, to Houston and New Orleans — and now Rittel’s Marathon Key. Florida, the state with the most people and real estate at risk, is just starting to buy homes, wrecked or not, and bulldoze them to clear a path for swelling seas before whole neighborhoods get wiped off the map.

By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each, according to Florida State University demographer Mathew Haeur, who studies climate migration. Even in a “managed retreat,” coordinated and funded at the federal level, the economic disruption could resemble the housing crash of 2008.

By not wanting to pay now to mitigate the effects of climate change, we’ll end up paying a whole lot more later. Those late fees are gonna be something else.

Full Metal Gymnast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Boston Dynamics programmed their Atlas robot to do a gymnastics routine.

I lost it when it did that little jump split at about 13 seconds in. That looked seriously human in a deeply unsettling way.

My Recent Media Diet, the “Is It Fall 2019 Already?!” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late June. I’d tell you not to pay too much attention to the letter grades but you’re going to pay too much attention to the letter grades anyway so… (p.s. This list was shared last week in Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter.)

Fiasco (season one). Slow Burn co-creator Leon Neyfakh explores the Florida recount in the 2000 Presidential election. My key takeaway is not that anyone stole the election but that any halfway close election in the US is fundamentally unfair, can easily be swayed in one direction or another, and violates our 14th Amendment rights. I didn’t enjoy this as much as either season of Slow Burn…perhaps it was too recent for me to emotionally detach. (B+)

The Impossible Whopper. 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. (B)

American Factory. Completely fascinating and straight-forward look at what happens when a Chinese company takes over an old GM factory in Dayton, Ohio. Give this just 5 minutes and you’ll watch the whole thing. (A)

XOXO Festival. Always a creative shot in the arm. (A)

Norman Fucking Rockwell! I tried with this, I really did. I don’t think Lana Del Rey is my cup of tea. (C)

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 3). The show’s producers noticed how much critics praised Elisabeth Moss’s emotional closeups and now season 3 is like 80% just that. Way too much of a good thing. Still, there’s still a good show in here somewhere. (B+)

Do the Right Thing. Somehow still bold and controversial after 30 years. But I confess…I am not sure exactly what the takeaway from this movie is supposed to be. (B+)

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man Sunrise Set. Always a treat when the latest installment of this series pops online. (A-)

Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was fine but I kept waiting for an extra gear that never came. (B)

Existing Conditions. The drinks here are very precise and well-balanced. Hit ‘em up if you miss Booker & Dax. (B+)

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Excellent and rhymes with the present in a number of ways. I previously shared a bunch of my highlights from the book. (A)

Keep Going by Austin Kleon. A timely little book. (A-)

Stranger Things (season 3). The best part of this show is the 80s nostalgia and they overdid it this season. (B)

Weather. Tycho switched it up with this album by adding vocals. I hated them at first but they’ve grown on me. (B+)

Apollo 11. The first time around I watched this in a terrible theater with bad audio and didn’t care for it. The second time, at home, was so much better. The footage is stunning. (A)

Apollo 11 soundtrack. Love the first track on this. (A-)

Ex Machina. Still gloriously weird. (A-)

Planet Money: So, Should We Recycle? I don’t 100% agree with their conclusions, but it was interesting to think that recycling might not be the most efficient use of our resources. Pair with an earlier episode on how recycling got started in the US. (B)

Chef’s Table (Virgilio Martinez). Central sounds absolutely bonkers. I hope to make it there someday. (B+)

Silicon Cowboys. Compaq took on IBM in the personal computer space and won. The first season of Halt and Catch Fire was inspired in part by their story. (A-)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Needed more plot. (B)

To Kill a Mockingbird. I listened to this on audiobook and am convinced that Sissy Spacek’s narration made it like 20% more compelling. (A)

Metropolis II. I could have watched this for hours. (A)

redwoods

Redwood trees. (A+++)

The Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park. One of my favorite places on Earth. (A+)

Mindhunter (season 2). I love this show. (A)

The Clearing. Not the strongest true crime podcast but still worth a listen. (B)

5G. On my phone (iPhone XS, AT&T), anything less than 4 bars of “5GE” basically equals no service. And there’s no way to revert to LTE. (D+)

Atlanta Monster. Started this after watching Mindhunter s02. Too much filler and poor editing in parts. When they started talking to a conspiracy theorist who has been brainwashed by the convicted killer (or something), I had to stop listening. A pity…this story could use a good podcast. (C)

Booksmart. Second viewing and this may be my favorite movie of the year. So fun. (A)

I’ve also been watching Succession and rewatching all five seasons of The Wire (to test a hypothesis that with the hindsight of the past decade, the fifth season is not as outlandish as everyone thought it was at the time). I’ve slowed way down on listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel on audiobook and reading SPQR — both are interesting but not holding my attention so I may end up abandoning them. I watched the first episode of the second season of Big Little Lies when it was first released but might not finish the rest of it; the reviews of this season have not been great.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring Is As Relevant As Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

In light of the recent news of almost 30% of America’s birds disappearing in the past 50 years and the ongoing news of the climate crisis, it’s worth reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a serialized version of which was published by the New Yorker in 1962 in three parts (one, two, three). From the opening of the first NYer piece:

Then, one spring, a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death. The farmers told of much illness among their families. In the town, the doctors were becoming more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness that had appeared among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among the adults but also among the children, who would be stricken while they were at play, and would die within a few hours.

And there was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? Many people, baffled and disturbed, spoke of them. The feeding stations in the back yards were deserted. The few birds to be seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.

On the farms, the hens brooded but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs; the litters were small, and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom, but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides were lined with brown and withered vegetation, and were silent, too, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves, and between the shingles of the roofs, a few patches of white granular powder could be seen; some weeks earlier this powder had been dropped, like snow, upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had snuffed out life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

To call Carson’s words prescient would be a huge understatement. “The people had done it themselves” indeed.

An Info Visualization of Moore’s Law vs. Actual Microprocessor Transistor Count (1971-2019)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors in dense integrated circuits would double each year for the next decade. In 1975, he revised his prediction to a doubling once every two years. And for the past 45 years, Moore’s Law has more or less held. This clever bar chart race visualization shows Moore’s prediction competing through the years with hundreds of real microprocessors, from Intel’s 4004 in 1971 to 2019’s newest CPUs and GPUs.

Check out the lull in the 90s, where the microprocessor industry falls behind Moore’s Law all the way from Intel’s 486 in 1989 to the release of Intel’s Itanium 2 McKinley chip in 2002. And then in the 00s, the chipmakers put their foot on the gas again, more than doubling up on Moore’s Law at times. I wonder if the 90s slump was due more to a lack of industry competition against Intel’s near monopoly…they simply didn’t need to increase the count as quickly with no real competitors breathing down their necks. Then in the 00s, competition flourished. If so, perhaps Moore’s Law should be regarded as just as much of a business prediction (or goal) as one about technology.

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Best Books 21st Guardian

The Guardian recently compiled a list of the best books of the century (with a British bent). Here are a few of the picks that caught my eye:

87. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood — “This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind.”

82. Coraline by Neil Gaiman — “From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires.”

78. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin — “Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. ‘As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,’ she said in her acceptance speech, ‘so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)’”

71. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware — “At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad.”

42. Moneyball by Michael Lewis — “The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because — as with all Lewis’s best writing — it’s all about how the story is told.”

32. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee — “‘Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.’ In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina, Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey.”

13. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich — “In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news.”

11. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante — “Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.”

Ok, that ended up being more than a few, but there’s so much good stuff on that list! You’ll have to click through to see the #1 choice but needless to say, I was pleased.

Season Two of Abstract: The Art of Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Abstract: The Art of Design is back for a second season on Netflix beginning September 25. The folks featured this time around are artist Olafur Eliasson, architect & designer Neri Oxman, type designer Jonathan Hoefler (whose company provides the fonts for kottke.org), costume designer Ruth E Carter (did the costumes for Do the Right Thing and Black Panther), Ian Spalter (former head of design at Instagram), and toy designer Cas Holman.

Machine Hallucination

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

Machine Hallucination

After seeing some videos on my pal Jenni’s Instagram of Refik Anadol’s immersive display at ARTECHOUSE in NYC, it’s now at the top of my list of things to see the next time I’m in NYC.

Machine Hallucination, Anadol’s first large-scale installation in New York City is a mixed reality experiment deploying machine learning algorithms on a dataset of over 300 million images — representing a wide-ranging selection of architectural styles and movements — to reveal the hidden connections between these moments in architectural history. As the machine generates a data universe of architectural hallucinations in 1025 dimensions, we can begin to intuitively understand the ways that memory can be spatially experienced and the power of machine intelligence to both simultaneously access and augment our human senses.

Here’s a video of Anadol explaining his process and a little bit about Machine Hallucination. Check out some reviews at Designboom, Gothamist, and Art in America and watch some video of the installation here.

The Tree and Other Natural Climate Solutions

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

A short and compelling video from Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot about how we can harness nature to help repair our broken climate.

There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.

Their approach to how we can do that is “protect, restore, and fund”.

That means protecting tropical forests that are being cut down at the rate of 30 football pitches a minute, she said, restoring the large areas of the planet that have been damaged and stopping the funding of things that destroy nature and instead paying for activities that help it.

You can find out more about natural climate solutions here. From an open letter signed by Thunberg, Monbiot, Margaret Atwood, Michael Mann, Bill McKibben, Brian Eno, and others:

By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored. At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimise a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster. Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same.

(via the kid should see this)

Inventive Trials Riding by Fabio Wibmer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

You may remember my many posts about trials rider Danny MacAskill over the past decade (including Parkour On a Bicycle). Well, the new generation is coming up and in this video, Fabio Wibmer very kindly shows us around his native Austria, flipping, twisting, and flying off every conceivable obstacle. My favorite bit is either the escalator (~1:30) or the vehicular transfers (~5:10).

Design for the Worst

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

In Why Every CEO Needs to Think Like a Hacker, Stalker, or White Nationalist, Rob Walker argues that products should be designed with their worst potential users in mind.

“Red teaming” (creating a group with an explicitly adversarial role, to challenge an organization’s strategy or structures) happens in military and intelligence contexts, and even in tech design, when the underlying issue is security or fending off hackers. Maybe big digital-centric companies, and small ones that aspire to scale, need a variation that’s not about fending off direct adversaries. Imagine instead a sort of Black Mirror Department, devoted to nothing but figuring out how the product can be abused — and thus how to minimize malign misuse.

How to Become Freakishly Good at the Yo-Yo

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

You may not be particularly into the yo-yo, but any expert’s explanation of their particular skill or craft is fascinating. In this video for Wired, world yo-yo champion Gentry Stein explains the sport, shares some basic moves, and shows off his most difficult tricks. I used to yo-yo a bit — nothing like what Stein does in that video though — and watching him makes me want to buy one of these professional yo-yos and practice up.

A Short Film of Spinning Tops by Charles & Ray Eames

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

Tops is a short film from 1969 by legendary designers/filmmakers Charles & Ray Eames that showcases spinning toys from all over the world. The music is by composer Elmer Bernstein, who scored films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Ghostbusters. I don’t know about you, but I began to feel a little dizzy about halfway through watching this. (via design observer)

AirPods, an Augmented-Reality Wearable Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

For Real Life magazine, Drew Austin writes about wireless headphones and their potential effect on the public sphere if many people start wearing them. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the subtitle of the piece:

Wireless headphones are augmented reality devices.

And further down the page:

Much as phones have enabled and concretized the always-on nature of everyday life, introducing the constant interpenetration of physical and digital space to individual experience, wireless earbuds facilitate a deeper integration, an “always in” existence that we need never interrupt by looking down at a screen. Their aural interface means we don’t have to awkwardly switch attention back and forth between IRL and a screen as though the two are starkly separated. Instead, we can seem to occupy both seamlessly, an experience that other augmented-reality devices, like Google Glass, have promised with varying degrees of success.

I bought some AirPods several months ago thinking I was getting wireless headphones, but very quickly realized they were actually an augmented-reality wearable computer. In my media diet post from May, I called them “the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless”. Like regular wired earbuds or even over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones, AirPods provide an audio track layered over the real world, but they’re so light and let just the right amount of ambient sound in that you barely notice you’re wearing them — it just sounds like whatever you’re listening to is playing in your head, automagically. It feels, at least to me, like a totally different and far more immersive experience. Wearable computing still seems like a futuristic thing a few years away, but with AirPods and the Apple Watch, it’s solidly here right now.

P.S. In Dan Hon’s latest newsletter, he writes:

Given current phone/camera trends (or, I should say, current camera/phone trends), the Star Trek: TNG combadge is unrealistic because by the 24th century it’d be more like 99.9998% camera and 0.0002% phone.

The natural ancestor of the combadge seems more like AirPods than the iPhone. But the likelihood of AirPods 6.0 having a tiny camera embedded in it for, say, the facial recognition of whoever you’re speaking with (a la Miranda Priestly’s assistants in The Devil Wears Prada) or text-to-speech for whatever you’re looking at (signs, books, menus) seems quite high.

The Care and Feeding of the Uffington White Horse Through More Than 100 Generations

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2019

The Uffington White Horse is a prehistoric monument that’s been around since the late Bronze Age, some 3000 years ago. Situated on a hill in the South of England and measuring 360 feet long, the horse is made of deep trenches filled with white chalk and is easily visible in the satellite view on Google Maps.

Uffington White Horse

So cool. Here’s the truly amazing thing though: the horse requires regular maintenance or erosion and grass growing over the chalk will obscure the figure. Which means that the inhabitants of this area have continuously cleaned and maintained the horse — through changes in religion, king, climate, and empire — for 30 centuries.

It’s chalking day, a cleaning ritual that has happened here regularly for three millennia. Hammers, buckets of chalk and kneepads are handed out and everyone is allocated an area. The chalkers kneel and smash the chalk to a paste, whitening the stony pathways in the grass inch by inch. “It’s the world’s largest coloring between the lines,” says George Buce, one of the participants.

Chalking or “scouring” the horse was already an ancient custom when antiquarian Francis Wise wrote about it in 1736. “The ceremony of scouring the Horse, from time immemorial, has been solemnized by a numerous concourse of people from all the villages roundabout,” he wrote.

In the past, thousands of people would come for the scouring, holding a fair in the circle of a prehistoric fort nearby. These days it’s a quieter event. The only sounds are the wind, distant birdsong and the thumping of hammers on the chalk that can be felt through the feet.

The maintenance may have actually been the point of the horse:

From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.

A group from the Long Now Foundation recently went to help out with the chalking of the horse and the trip report touches on the importance of upkeep to the infrastructure that our society depends on:

Though it requires considerably less resources to maintain, and is more symbolic than functional, the Uffington White Horse nonetheless offers a lesson in maintaining the infrastructure of cities today. “As humans, we are historically biased against maintenance,” Smith said in her Long Now lecture. “And yet that is exactly what infrastructure needs.”

When infrastructure becomes symbolic to a built environment, it is more likely to be maintained. Smith gave the example of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to illustrate this point. Much like the White Horse, the Golden Gate Bridge undergoes a willing and regular form of maintenance. “Somewhere between five to ten thousand gallons of paint a year, and thirty painters, are dedicated to keeping the Golden Gate Bridge golden,” Smith said.

(via @veganstraightedge)

Creativity Takes Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

I love this advice from Jenny Odell (author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy):

I can’t give my students more time in their lives; but what I try to do is change the way they think about and value it in the first place. My class typically includes students who aren’t art majors, some of whom may never have made art before. I give them the same advice every quarter: Leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need for a project, knowing that half of that may not look like “making” anything at all. There is no Soylent version of thought and reflection — creativity is unpredictable, and it simply takes time.

(via austin kleon)

How Pencils Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

Even on my busiest day, I will drop everything to watch a video of pencils being made. (I am a particular sucker for sharpening pencils by belt sander.) Blame Mister Rogers and Sesame Street probably, even though they focused on crayons. Here’s a look at how Faber-Castell makes their pencils.

For a more comprehensive and less slickly produced look at how pencils are made, check out this tour of the Derwent Pencil Factory, which opened a new, more efficient facility a few years back but is still located quite near where the first graphite pencil was invented.

A detail that jumped out at me from this video is that Derwent pencils are tested for color and consistency against a group of over 1000 standard pencils, some of which date back to 1937 and are nothing more than tiny nubs now.

In going back through the archive, I realized that pencils are a bit of a thing on the site. And so, a new tag is born: check out all the kottke.org posts about pencils. (thx, jamie)

The Finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

The internet is 97% hilarious animals and today we have the best of the best. The finalists for the 2019 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards have been announced. Among them are this well-timed shot of a bird who’s really hauling:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

A small chimp kicking back at his desk after a hard day at work:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

And then there’s this dramatic fellow:

Comedy Wildlife 2019

You can check out the rest of the finalists on the website. (via digg)

Update: See also this enraptured squirrel smelling a yellow flower.

Animated Pixel Art Map of the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

Animated Pixel Map of the USA

A fellow by the name of David who goes by PixelDanc3r made this animated map of the United States in the style of 16-bit video game graphics; it seems like the most direct inspiration is the overworld map in Super Mario World. He’s done similar maps of Brazil, Venezuela, and his home country of Argentina. You can check out more of his pixel creations on Instagram and DeviantArt. (via the morning news)

A Hand-Drawn Visualization of the US Economy from 1861 to 1935

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

75 Yrs Us Ecoonmy

In 1936, former director of research at the Cleveland Federal Reserve L. Merle Hostetler published 75 Yrs. of American Finance, a hand-drawn chart of the economic health of the US from 1861 to 1935. The chart, which is horizontally oriented, shows a trending business activity index (which measures productivity) along with other financial data, indicates when Congress is in session, lists notable news events, and shows the high and low of the DJIA (starting in 1898). The graphic at the top shows Hostetler’s chart from 1929-1931, aka the beginning of the Great Depression.

The copy of this chart hosted by the St. Louis Fed goes to 1938…it must have been updated at some point. Also, if you go into the “»” menu in the upper-right corner of the in-page document viewer, you can set it to “horizontal scrolling” for easier viewing. (thx, andy)

Update: Philip Bump made a horizontally scrolling B&W version of Hostetler’s chart. This is a lot easier to navigate than St. Louis Fed version.

Wes Anderson Explains How He Makes Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

For their series The Director’s Chair, Studio Binder pulls together interviews with notable filmmakers to shine some light on how they make their films. In the latest installment, Wes Anderson explains how he writes and directs his uniquely stylistic movies.

The video covers five main points about his approach:

1. Pull from your past.
2. Build a world.
3. Focus on precision & symmetry.
4. Find your spark.
5. Just go shoot.

(#5 is a bit of a head-scratcher. Anderson is pretty much the opposite of a “just go shoot” filmmaker. But I suppose he did have to start somewhere…)

Six Maps that Reveal America’s Expanding Racial Diversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Using 2020 census estimates, a series of six maps and the accompanying article from William H. Frey at the Brookings Institution show how the racial makeup on the United States is expected to have changed since the last census in 2010.

Map Census 2020

Hispanics and Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial minority groups nationally, increasing by 18.6% and 27.4%, respectively, from 2010 to 2018. There is also a growing dispersion of both groups to new destinations, which tend to lie further afield than the familiar large metro areas.

In 1990, 39% of all U.S. Hispanics resided in just four metro areas: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago. In 2018, 39% of U.S. Hispanics resided in seven metro areas, with Houston, Riverside, Calif., and Dallas added to the list (and each eclipsing Chicago in size). And beyond these, Hispanic growth is high in areas with smaller Hispanic settlements in all parts of the country.

Portraits of Ellis Island Immigrants

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Ellis Island Portraits

Ellis Island Portraits

Augustus Sherman worked as a registry clerk for the immigration station on Ellis Island from 1892 to 1925. Sherman was also an amateur photographer and while he worked, he took portraits of some of the immigrants that passed through Ellis Island, many dressed in traditional garb.

These images of people wearing their folk costumes were taken by amateur photographer Augustus Sherman who worked as the Chief Registry Clerk on Ellis Island from 1892 until 1925. The people in the photographs were most likely detainees who were waiting for money, travel tickets or someone to come and collect them from the island. In 1907, the photographs were published in National Geographic, and they were also hung on the walls of the lower Manhattan headquarters of the federal Immigration Service.

A selection of the photographs are housed by the NYPL (also on Flickr).

The Four Notes of Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

When something dark and ominous happens onscreen, there’s a good chance that the action is accompanied by a four-note snippet from the dies irae, a 13th-century Gregorian chant used at funerals. It shows up in The Lion King, The Good Place, Lord of the Rings, and It’s a Wonderful Life. This Vox video explores how this “shorthand for something grim” went from chant to Hollywood.

Think back to some of the most dramatic scenes in film history — from The Lion King, The Shining, It’s a Wonderful Life. Besides being sad or scary, they have something else in common: the dies irae. “Dies irae” translates from Latin to “Day of Wrath” — it’s a 13th-century Gregorian chant describing the day Catholics believe God will judge the living and the dead and send them to heaven or hell. And it was sung during one specific mass: funerals.

Alex Ludwig from the Berklee School of Music made a supercut of over 30 films that use dies irae.

Get Ready for the Global Climate Strike on September 20

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Global Climate Strike

Just a reminder that the Global Climate Strike begins this Friday, September 20. A coalition of young activists led by Greta Thunberg is calling on all of us to walk out of our schools and jobs to demand political and corporate action on the Earth’s climate crisis.

Once again our voices are being heard on the streets, but it is not just up to us.

We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry, if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job. We young people can contribute to a larger fight and that can make a huge difference.

So this is our invitation to you. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kick start a week of climate action with worldwide strikes for the climate. We’re asking you to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together; with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make our voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.

kottke.org will be joining the Digital Climate Strike on Friday; the site won’t be available that day. If you’d like to participate in the strike, there are plenty of resources available here.

A Visit to the Most Solitary Place on Earth, the Deep Sea

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

For their latest video, Kurzgesagt takes a typically informative journey from the surface of the ocean all the way down to the deepest spot on Earth, Challenger Deep.

In the segment about marine snow — decaying matter and feces that falls from the resource-rich sliver of ocean near the surface to provide the thin sustenance for the entire rest of the ocean — I couldn’t help but think about trickle-down economics.

Milton’s Annotated Copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio Discovered

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Milton Shakespeare

Based on handwriting analysis, Jason Scott-Warren, the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Material Texts, has discovered that a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623 was owned by John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, who annotated it with copious notes.

It’s always annoying when someone tries to claim that they’ve discovered a lost literary artefact. I was myself a little bit brutal when, five years ago, we were treated to the supposed rediscovery of Shakespeare’s dictionary. In this as in other cases, there’s usually a lot of wishful thinking, plus copious spinning of the evidence to make it seem plausible, and elision of anything that doesn’t seem to fit. However, I’m going to make my own unwise pronouncement on the basis of just a few hours of research. I’m going to claim to have identified John Milton’s copy of the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623.

There already seems to be a consensus developing that Scott-Warren’s analysis rings true.

But he soon found that other scholars were agreeing with him. “Not only does this hand look like Milton’s, but it behaves like Milton’s writing elsewhere does, doing exactly the things Milton does when he annotates books, and using exactly the same marks,” said Dr Will Poole at New College Oxford. “Shakespeare is our most famous writer, and the poet John Milton was his most famous younger contemporary. It was, until a few days ago, simply too much to hope that Milton’s own copy of Shakespeare might have survived — and yet the evidence here so far is persuasive. This may be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times.”

(via open culture)

Euphemisms for Death Collected from Obituaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Writer Rachel Monroe recently shared a bunch of “odd synonyms for ‘died’” that her mother collects from obituaries. Here’s an excerpt from her charmingly handwritten notes:

Died Synonyms

Among the highlights:

(via @tedgioia)

Capital and Ideology

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

French economist Thomas Piketty has come out with a new book. The 1200-page Capital and Ideology is a followup to Capital in the 21st Century, a surprise bestseller when it was released a few years ago. The book just came out in French (English readers will need to wait until March) so details are still sparse, but The Guardian has a short preview.

Among the proposals in the book are that employees should have 50% of the seats on company boards; that the voting power of even the largest shareholders should be capped at 10%; much higher taxes on property, rising to 90% for the largest estates; a lump sum capital allocation of €120,000 (just over £107,000) to everyone when they reach 25; and an individualised carbon tax calculated by a personalised card that would track each person’s contribution to global heating.

In an interview with the French weekly news magazine L’Obs, Piketty made no apologies for the impact his ideas would have on the stock market. He said: “[Yes], it will also affect the price of real estate that is crazy in Paris, and it will allow new social groups to become owners and shareholders.”

Branko Milanovic, an expert on global inequality, has written an early review.

This part of the book looks empirically at the reasons that left-wing, or social democratic parties have gradually transformed themselves from being the parties of the less-educated and poorer classes to become the parties of the educated and affluent middle and upper-middle classes. To a large extent, traditionally left parties have changed because their original social-democratic agenda was so successful in opening up education and high-income possibilities to the people who in the 1950s and 1960s came from modest backgrounds. These people, the “winners” of social democracy, continued voting for left-wing parties but their interests and worldview were no longer the same as that of their (less-educated) parents. The parties’ internal social structure thus changed — the product of their own political and social success. In Piketty’s terms, they became the parties of the “Brahmin left” (La gauche Brahmane), as opposed to the conservative right-wing parties, which remained the parties of the “merchant right” (La droite marchande).

To simplify, the elite became divided between the educated “Brahmins” and the more commercially-minded “investors,” or capitalists. This development, however, left the people who failed to experience upward educational and income mobility unrepresented, and those people are the ones that feed the current “populist” wave. Quite extraordinarily, Piketty shows the education and income shifts of left-wing parties’ voters using very similar long-term data from all major developed democracies (and India). The fact that the story is so consistent across countries lends an almost uncanny plausibility to his hypothesis.

Nirvana’s Underwater Baby

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Kirk Weddle took the iconic photograph of the underwater baby for the cover of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind. On his website, he describes the shoot and the process that resulted in the final photo. Before the baby went into the water, Weddle used a doll to get the lighting and focus right.

Nevermind Doll

Once I felt I had the framing, light, and exposure dialed in; the parents slipped the child into the water. I took seven frames on the first pass and four frames on the second. As expected, the baby started to cry, this had been the babies first time underwater, and we wrapped the shoot. The dollar bill and the fishhook were stripped in in post.

The baby’s name was Spencer Elden, who has recreated the underwater scene more than once as an adult. He’s even got a tattoo that says “Nevermind” on his chest.

Nevermind Adult

(via life is so beautiful)

The 2019 Fall Foliage Prediction Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Fall Foliage 2019

SmokyMountains.com is back this year with their best-of-web foliage prediction map. Here in Vermont, things are starting to look a little rusty out there, but it appears I have at least a few more days to pretend that it’s still summer. Right? RIGHT?!

Graffiti That Helps You See Through Walls

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

For some of his latest street art, Portuguese graffiti artist Vile has been creating optical illusions of his name “cut” into the walls of buildings.

Vile graffiti

That’s just spray paint he’s using…that effect is quite good, no? Here’s another one:

Vile graffiti

And here’s how that wall looked before:

Vile graffiti

You can see Vile’s most recent work on Instagram.

The Server Bone Is Connected to the DNS Bone…

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2019

Zero Days

Some of you may have noticed that kottke.org was unavailable for more than 36 hours on Thursday and Friday last week. That’s the longest stretch of downtime for the site since… well, probably ever. That sucks and I’m sorry. Here’s (briefly) what happened:

On Thursday morning, my domain registrar (Dotster) locked access to the kottke.org domain after they couldn’t reach me at the email address listed, which was an address from when I registered the domain 20+ years ago that I haven’t used since before Obama was President. Seeing as the business address listed on the account was also 20 years old, verification via documents was not going to work either (and that process was going to take days to unfold). Their first-line support people were confused about how to even proceed — “this is a very unusual situation…” It was at this point where I started wondering (ok, freaking out) if I was ever going to get my domain name back. How do I prove that I am who I was 20 years ago?1

Eventually — and I say “eventually” because I missed a voicemail that I thought was one of 3-5 spam voicemails I get every weekday — I was connected (via Twitter) to Winston Wolf’s team at Dotster, the folks who could actually do something for me. After some back and forth and several verifications, they unlocked the domain and the site came back up on Friday afternoon. And then I collapsed into a puddle of whatever chemicals are released from your body after a massively stressful event.

To be clear, not keeping the information on my domain up-to-date was my fault. (The info on my Dotster account was current though, but not the same thing apparently.) And I appreciate Dotster’s efforts in helping me regain access to my domain and ensuring that no one was trying to social engineer it away from me. But locking access like that to a domain name that’s had a single owner since its initial registration and has been paid for by the same credit card for more than 10 years (and was prepaid until 2022) seems overzealous. The sudden need for domain verification was not triggered by some fishy activity on my account but by an internal Dotster process and keeping the site offline until it was resolved was excessive and I’m still not happy about it. Sure, don’t allow changes or transfers until it’s verified, but turning off a domain that’s paid for and been happily humming along without changes for literal decades is just not right.

Ok. Anyway, that’s what happened. All my information is now updated so it shouldn’t happen again. *fingers crossed* I’d like to thank Mike at Dotster, Greg Knauss (kottke.org’s tech godfather), and the fantastically speedy support folks at Arcustech for their help in diagnosing and fixing the problem. I also want to apologize to everyone who financially supports the site through a membership. Guaranteed uptime for the site was not explicitly part of the arrangement, but I still take any outages seriously. Part of what I imagine the appeal of the site to be is that it’s always here, with URLs that don’t change and a regular publishing schedule, year after year. As of Friday afternoon, we’re on a new uptime streak that will hopefully last a long while.

-jason

  1. A reader called this “the ‘never step in the same river twice’ security conundrum”. Love a Heraclitus reference.

Yosemite’s Rainbow Waterfall

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

The light and the wind happened to be just right for Greg Harlow to catch this rainbow emanating from upper portion of Yosemite Falls. Beautiful. The 21-second time lapse version of the video makes the falls look like a rainbow flame:

It’s astounding enough that perfect curves of color appear in the sky after rainstorms, but could you imagine seeing a waterfall rainbow like this happen in real life? My head would have exploded. (via the kid should see this)

First Look: 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

Wildlife Photo 2019

Wildlife Photo 2019

The Natural History Museum has released a sneak preview of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for 2019, sharing several “Highly Commended” photos from the exhibition.

Photo credits: Peter Haygarth (top) and Thomas P Peschak (bottom).

Motivated Reasoning and Tribal Loyalty in Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

For years, researchers have identified a link between a person’s “moral foundations” and their political views. In a piece for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan summarized it like so:

According to the researchers who invented the quiz, the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of “individualizing” moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused “binding” foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity. If loyalty is extremely important to you, the research suggests, you might care deeply about supporting the troops, and therefore you might be more likely to be politically conservative.

She then goes on to describe the results of a new study that suggest that maybe our morals are determined by our political affiliation and not the other way around.

In a series of analyses published recently in the American Journal of Political Science, the three researchers found that people’s moral codes don’t cause or predict their political ideology; instead, people’s ideology appears to predict their answers on the moral-foundations questionnaire. As Peter Hatemi, one of the study’s authors and a political-science professor at Pennsylvania State University, puts it: “We will switch our moral compass depending on how it fits with what we believe politically.”

This could explain how the Republicans’ opinion of Russia changed so quickly in the wake of allegations that Donald Trump colluded in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Republican flip-flop on climate change, the evangelical Christian embrace of the most immoral President in recent history, and the leftward swing of many Democratic Party members, following their most visible politicians (Bernie, Warren, AOC) & most vocal supporters away from Obama’s centrism.

An Octopus that “Billows Like a Circus Tent”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2019

A team of researchers exploring about a mile beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean ran across this graceful octopus that put on a show for them.

Dancing at a depth of around 1,600 meters (5,250 feet), this elegant octopus measures an estimated 1.3 m (4.2 ft) across and entertained our watch team for more than five minutes.

“It’s really putting on a show for us,” said a researcher as the cephalopod made its way toward Hercules’ camera, expanding its billowing arms like a circus tent blowing in the wind. Experts believe the octopus belongs to Cirroteuthidae, a family of cirrate octopuses, but the exact species is unknown.

A Forest Grows on an Austrian Soccer Pitch

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

For Forest 01

For Forest — The Unending Attraction of Nature is an art installation from Klaus Littmann that features a forest made up of 300 trees in the middle of a soccer stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria.

Using 300 trees, some of which weigh up to six tonnes, landscape architect Enzo Enea will cover the entire playing field with a mixed forest characteristic of Central Europe.

From the grandstands, visitors can admire the spectacle of the trees day and night (from 10am until 10pm). Admission is free. A sight that is as unfamiliar as it is fascinating and bound to stir up a range of emotions and reactions! Depending on the time of day (or night), the trees will constitute a constantly changing landscape that is shaped by the weather as well as the autumnal turning of the leaves. The installation is a clever play on our emotions when faced with what should be a familiar sight, placed in an entirely different context. With this monumental work of art, Littmann challenges our perception of nature and sharpens our awareness of the future relation between nature and humankind.

The project also sees itself as a warning: One day, we might have to admire the remnants of nature in specially assigned spaces, as is already the case with zoo animals.

Littmann modeled the project on a 1970 drawing by Max Peintner.

For Forest 02

I didn’t think much of this project from just the photos, but this short video really highlights the darkly comedic experience of having to go to a soccer stadium to look at nature — not to experience nature, but to sit in a moulded plastic seat a few hundred feet away from nature to look and cheer but not to touch or walk around in.

I would love to see this in person. For Forest is on view until late October.

Treasures in the Trash

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

Treasures in the Trash is a short film by Nicolas Heller about former NYC sanitation worker Nelson Molina, who started (and still maintains) an unofficial museum of more than 45,000 objects that people have thrown out over the last few decades.

The History of Europe, Every Year from 400 BCE to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

This video is an animated history of the shifting borders of Europe from 400 BCE to the present. This is a very nation-centric view of European history (and I would mute the music and use your own soundtrack), but it’s still worth a look.

How to Be an Antiracist

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2019

Historian Ibram X. Kendi first crossed my radar as a frequent contributor on the podcast series Seeing White (which I loved and urge you all to listen to). Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist, looks like one we all should be reading this fall.

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism — and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas — from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities — that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

In a NY Times review, Jeffrey Stewart called the book “a 21st-century manual of racial ethics”.

Kendi is on a mission to push those of us who believe we are not racists to become something else: antiracists, who support ideas and policies affirming that “the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences — that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group.” For Kendi, the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, there are no nonracists; there are only racists — people who allow racist ideas to proliferate without opposition — and antiracists, those who expose and eradicate such ideas wherever they encounter them.

“My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

Filmmaker Charlie Tyrell’s father passed away when Charlie was in film school. Feeling like he never really knew his father all that well, he went through his stuff after he died, looking for clues as to who he really was. His tools, his police uniform, his cancer diagnosis. Charlie made a short film about his dad: My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.

We hold onto our loved ones when they pass. Objects can become talismans, and memories become mythic. Some objects become sacred for no reason and are just as impenetrable as the people who left them. I came to a conclusion during my process: You can’t take it with you, but you can pass it on.

The tapes mentioned in the title don’t feature all that much in the film; it’s actually about family secrets, breaking a generational cycle of abuse, and parenting. In talking about her husband’s difficulty connecting with his children, Charlie’s mom says: “you bring what you know to parenting”. As someone who often struggles as a parent, that line hit me hard. From a post I wrote a few years ago:

I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it?

And from Madeline Miller’s Circe:

Two children he had had and he had not seen either clearly. But perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.

The Surprising Grace & Power of a Slow Motion Pigeon Take-off

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

In this slow motion video clip from a BBC program called Secrets of Bones, you can see how a pigeon takes off so quickly. Pigeons can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 2 seconds, straight up from the ground. A look at its skeleton reveals short, thick bones, an absolute necessity for an animal generating that much power in such a short time. (via the kid should see this, back from its summer hiatus)

Woven Photo Collages

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2019

For her O.P.P. series, Heather Oelklaus weaves together strips of cut-up prints to form new scenes.

Heather Oelklaus

Heather Oelklaus

In the series O.P.P. (Other People’s Photography), hand woven silver gelatin and inkjet prints survey stereotypical and nostalgic notions. Found photographs from US Army wives’ gatherings and Hollywood film stills are woven together to reconstruct new narratives. The expressive gaze within these staged photographs breaks through the picture’s surface as if to confront the viewer. These sophisticated slices of history illustrate an era of inclusion and exclusion while leaving the viewer to compare present day relationships.

The Comet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Director Christian Stangl and composer Wolfgang Stangl used millions of photos (that’s right, millions!) taken by the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to make this short video that makes the mission feel like sci-fi a la Alien or District 9.

Happy 150th Birthday, Periodic Table!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Bloomberg Businessweek dedicated their entire Sept 2, 2019 issue to the periodic table (it’s 150 years old this year) and the elements it contains. From the introductory essay:

Over the past century and a half, but particularly since World War II, scientists and engineers have learned to treat the periodic table like a banquet table-a bountiful spread from which to pluck what they need. There’s scandium in bicycle frames, tin (stannous fluoride) in toothpaste, tungsten in catheters, and arsenic in some computer chips. We are well past the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, and into the Everything Age, because almost every entry on the periodic table is being put to some kind of use in today’s economy (excluding synthetic elements that are costly to make and highly radioactive, such as einsteinium).

Cellphones exemplify the complexification. The first ones in the 1980s “were the size of a shoebox and consisted of 25 to 30 elements,” Larry Meinert, U.S. Geological Survey deputy associate director for energy and minerals, said in 2017. “Today, they fit in your pocket or on your wrist and are made from about 75 different elements, almost three-quarters of the periodic table.” That may include tantalum from Rwanda, potassium from Belarus, silver from Mexico, tin from Myanmar, carbon from India, and germanium from China.

Scrolling down on the main story page will take you on a modern-day tour of the periodic table from the lightest elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium) to the heavier ones (uranium, polonium) to some fake ones (adamantium, unobtanium, feminum).

Pixar’s AI Spiders

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

As I mentioned in a post about my west coast roadtrip, one of the things I heard about during my visit to Pixar was their AI spiders. For Toy Story 4, the production team wanted to add some dusty ambiance to the antique store in the form of cobwebs.

Toy Story Cobwebs

Rather than having to painstakingly create the webs by hand as they’d done in the past, technical director Hosuk Chang created a swarm of AI spiders that could weave the webs 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.

All the animators had to do is tell the spiders where the cobwebs needed to be.

“He guided the spiders to where he wanted them to build cobwebs, and they’d do the job for us. And when you see those cobwebs overlaid on the rest of the scene, it gives the audience the sense that this place has been here for a while.” Without that program, animators would have had to make the webs one strand at a time, which would have taken several months. “You have to tell the spider where the connection points of the cobweb should go,” Jordan says, “but then it does the rest.”

Chang and his colleague David Luoh presented a paper about the spiders (and dust) at SIGGRAPH ‘19 in late July (which is unfortunately behind a paywall).

Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971 in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Twitter user @WPCelebration recently compiled a list of nine activities and rights denied to women in America in 1971, just 48 years ago. The list includes:

Ms magazine published a similar list back in 2013 that also included the difficulty in getting a divorce without cause and obtain a safe & legal abortion in all 50 states. Bustle talked to several women about what discrimination was like before many of these changes took place.

I was denied a job in 1970 because I was newly pregnant. They actually had a question on the application regarding the date of your last menstrual period. Also, with my second child in 1974, they were not required to hold your position while you were on maternity leave, and I was told that my job was no longer open and I had to file for unemployment.

As a reminder, women only gained the right to vote in America fewer than 100 years ago.

The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

I love cross-disciplinary lists like this: The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years.

We polled critics and other culture obsessives from Slate and beyond to assemble an enormous master list of influential characters. They were animated and live-action, wizard and Muggle, human and avian, fictional and based on actual persons, living and dead. They came from movies, books, TV series, video games, tweets, podcasts, comics, songs, and (in a surprise to us) more than one musical. Reflecting our franchise-driven time, many of them came from many of those media at once. The only rule was that they must have originated in a work of culture sometime in the past quarter-century, which meant no Simpsons or hobbits or diner-dwelling New Yorkers who argue about nothing. Then we ruthlessly winnowed down the list to the most crucial of those characters, the ones who have left an outsize mark on our planet circa 2019, to assemble this new pantheon.

Hermione Granger

Many of my favorite characters made it on there: Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies; Omar Little from The Wire; Tracy Flick from Election; and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, a much more inspired pick than the titular hero for reasons I’ve already articulated. The full list is worth a read.

How Much Better Does an Expensive Piano Sound Than a Cheap One?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

YouTuber Lord Vinheteiro recently played the same pair of tunes on six different pianos, ranging from a $499 used upright to a $112,000 Steinway to a $2.5 million Steinway grand piano that’s tacky af. Which one sounds the best?

I’m not sure that you get the full effect and nuance of the super luxe pianos after the audio has passed through YouTube’s audio compression and whatever phone or computer speaker or headphones you’ve got going, but the more expensive pianos sound better than the lower-end ones for sure. I would have appreciated a medley at the end that repeatedly cycled through all six of the recordings to better hear the differences.

How a 30-Minute Commute Has Shaped Centuries of Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

Twenty-five years ago, physicist Cesare Marchetti argued that people, on average, tend to keep their commutes to about an hour a day, round-trip. For Citylab, Jonathan English looks at how this inclination has interacted with advances in transportation to affect how cities grow and evolve. For instance, walking and travel by horse kept cities to an effective diameter of a few miles, allowing their density to grow over many centuries.

Sure enough, most cities from the ancients to the Industrial Revolution did not grow much bigger than a two-mile diameter. Their core areas were often even smaller, though some of the poor lived in settlements outside the city gates. Ancient Rome packed as many as a million people into an area a little more than two miles in diameter. Medieval Paris stretched about two miles from the Bastille to the Louvre, Vienna’s Innere Stadt measures only one mile in diameter, and the historic City of London is nicknamed the “Square Mile” for a reason. Beijing’s walls enclosed an inner city about three miles in diameter; into the 20th century, that still made up most of the developed area.

Rail, streetcars, bicycles, subways, and cars followed, each increasing the amount of distance from a city’s center that could be reached within Marchetti’s time limit.

The car on the expressway enabled large numbers of people to travel long distances on a day-to-day basis. Instead of small railroad suburbs, where housing was restricted to a short radius around stations, drivers spread out across suburbs could now commute 20 miles in 30 minutes. If the streetcar city covered 50 square miles, the 40-mile-diameter expressway city could cover over 1,250 square miles.*

Why Is Picasso’s Guernica So Shocking?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

Guernica is one of Pablo Picasso’s greatest masterpieces, and, like a lot of his other work, can be difficult to decipher. The painting is obviously anti-war, anti-fascist, and pro-Spain, but beyond that, art scholars have been puzzling over details for decades. In this TED-Ed video, Iseult Gillespie offers a short tour of the painting and its history. You might find this piece (and the list of works cited at the bottom) useful as well.

However, Picasso declared the inspiration for the painting was the aftermath of the 1937 attack of the Spanish town Guernica. On market day April 26, 1937, the citizens of Guernica gathered for their customary shopping and socializing; unfortunately, German war planes descended upon the town. The Nazis bombed Guernica and killed 1600 people; fires burned for three days and destroyed the town. Picasso captured the “la douleur et la mort” or “pain and death” of the aftermath. Yet, Picasso maintained his place that he did not assign meaning to the individual images. Nonetheless, this large-scale monochromatic painting encourages the inner critic to react, deconstruct, and create their own dialogue.

This account of the bombing shows how bloodthirsty and ruthless the Nazis were in 1937.

Besides celebrating the Führer’s birthday, the attack on Guernica served as a tactical military and aeronautical experiment to test the Luftwaffe’s ability to annihilate an entire city and crush the morale of its people. The Condor Legion’s chief of staff, Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, painstakingly devised the operation to maximize human casualties, and above all deaths. A brief initial bombing at 4:30 PM drove much of the population into air-raid shelters. When Guernica’s citizens emerged from these shelters to rescue the wounded, a second, longer wave of bombing began, trapping them in the town center from which there was no escape. Low-flying planes strafed the streets with machine-gun fire. Those who had managed to survive were incinerated by the flames or asphyxiated by the lack of oxygen. Three hours of coordinated air strikes leveled the city and killed over 1,500 civilians. In his war diary, Richthofen described the operation as “absolutely fabulous!…a complete technical success.” The Führer was so thrilled that, two years later, he ordered Richthofen to employ the same bombing techniques, on an infinitely greater scale, to lay waste to Warsaw, thereby setting off World War II.

With that sort of casual brutality, it’s no wonder Picasso was still livid about it years later:

In occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: “Did you do that?” “No,” Picasso replied, “you did”, his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece.

(via open culture)

Glitched Still Lifes

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Olan Ventura

Olan Ventura

Holy moly I love these glitched still lifes by Olan Ventura. (via colossal)

The Egg by Andy Weir

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Kurzgesagt are known for their animated explainers about science and society. For their latest video, they’ve applied their signature style to a metaphysical short story by Andy Weir (author of The Martian). It’s called The Egg — you can read it here.

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Randall Munroe’s new book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, just came out and Wired has a lengthy excerpt: How to Mail a Package (From Space).

How to Mail a Package (From Space)

Getting an object down to Earth from the International Space Station is easy: you can just toss it out the door and wait. Eventually, it will fall to Earth.

There’s a very small amount of atmosphere at the ISS’s altitude. It’s not much, but it’s enough to produce a tiny but measurable amount of drag. This drag sooner or later causes objects to slow down, fall into a lower and lower orbit, and eventually hit the atmosphere and (usually) burn up. The ISS also feels this drag; it uses thrusters to compensate, periodically boosting itself up into a higher orbit to make up for lost altitude. If it didn’t, its orbit would gradually decay until it fell back to Earth.

This shipping method has two big problems: First, your package will burn up in the atmosphere before it ever reaches the ground. And second, if it does survive, you’ll have no way to know where it will land. To deliver your package, you’ll have to solve both these problems.

Fun fact: a piece of paper drifting down from orbit might move slowly enough not to burn up on reentry.

Air Conditioning is Warming the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Modern society has an air conditioning problem. One of the most popular responses by the world’s population to global warming is to use air conditioning. Air conditioning is very greenhouse gas-intensive, which contributes to the warming of the planet. Which causes more people use air conditioning. And so on. In a long Guardian piece, Stephen Buranyi lays out how air conditioning came to be so ubiquitous and how we might escape this air conditioning trap we find ourselves in.

There are just over 1bn single-room air conditioning units in the world right now - about one for every seven people on earth. Numerous reports have projected that by 2050 there are likely to be more than 4.5bn, making them as ubiquitous as the mobile phone is today. The US already uses as much electricity for air conditioning each year as the UK uses in total. The IEA projects that as the rest of the world reaches similar levels, air conditioning will use about 13% of all electricity worldwide, and produce 2bn tonnes of CO2 a year - about the same amount as India, the world’s third-largest emitter, produces today.

All of these reports note the awful irony of this feedback loop: warmer temperatures lead to more air conditioning; more air conditioning leads to warmer temperatures. The problem posed by air conditioning resembles, in miniature, the problem we face in tackling the climate crisis. The solutions that we reach for most easily only bind us closer to the original problem.

Weirdly, the article doesn’t mention that most air conditioning units contain chemical refrigerants (CFCs and HCFCs) that, if released, “have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. Phasing out the use of CFCs & HCFCs in new units and capturing the refrigerants in discarded units can prevent global warming to such a degree that it’s the #1 way to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Bolas de Fuego, the Annual Fireball Street Fight in El Salvador

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

Every year on Aug 31, the residents of Nejapa, El Salvador throw flaming kerosene-soaked balls at each other in the streets surrounded by thousands of onlookers, with little apparent concern for the safety of the participants or onlookers. Just check out this madness:

The event is called Bolas de Fuego and it started almost 100 years ago as a religious commemoration of a 1658 volcanic eruption.

Residents in the town of Nejapa in El Salvador have been commemorating a volcanic eruption in 1658 which destroyed the town, by hurling fireballs at each other.

The annual event has been a tradition since 1922 and the fireballs are said to represent the local Christian saint, Jeronimo, fighting the devil inside the volcano with his own balls of fire.

I found out about Bolas de Fuego from travel writer Amelia Rayno, who went to this year’s festival. In her photo and videos from that night, you can see the gloves that the participants wear and get a sense of just how close the onlookers are and how fast & furious those fireballs are getting thrown around. Jiminy.

Update: Rayno made a YouTube video of her Bolas de Fuego experience.

How Does Waffle House Stay Open During Disasters?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

Waffle House is prepared to make you breakfast at all hours of the day in any kind of weather. The restaurant chain is so widely respected for its severe weather preparedness that a former director of FEMA started using their stores as an indicator of how bad a particular storm or disaster was:

The “Waffle House Index,” first coined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Director W. Craig Fugate, is based on the extent of operations and service at the restaurant following a storm and indicates how prepared a business is in case of a natural disaster.

For example, if a Waffle House store is open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If it is open but serving from a limited menu, it’s yellow. When the location has been forced to close, the index is red. Because Waffle House is well prepared for disasters, Kouvelis said, it’s rare for the index to hit red. For example, the Joplin, Mo., Waffle House survived the tornado and remained open.

Annie Blanks recently visited the “Waffle House Storm Center” in advance of Hurricane Dorian’s predicted landfall in Florida.

When any of the stores are in danger of being hit by severe weather, so-called “jump teams” are activated to be ready to deploy wherever needed.

Jump teams are made up of Waffle House contractors, construction workers, gas line experts, restaurant operators, food providers and other associates who are assembled and ready to go wherever needed at a moment’s notice. Their purpose is to help relieve local Waffle House operators and employees who need to evacuate, be with their families or tend to their homes when a storm hits, and help make sure restaurants are able to open quickly after a storm or stay open during a storm.

On Twitter, Blanks shared a photo of the four different pared-down menus that Waffle House prepares for disasters.

Waffle House Menus

(via @LauraVW)

Errol Morris & Bob Odenkirk Team Up for Climate Change Spots

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

In partnership with the Institute for the Future, Errol Morris has produced a series of 30-second spots about climate change that star Bob Odenkirk as Admiral Horatio Horntower.

Here’s what Morris had to say about the ads:

I have never had any trouble believing in climate change, global warming, or whatever you want to call it. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Galileo famously replied to Archbishop Piccolomini (or some other Vatican prelate), “And yet it moves.” Today we could just as well say, “And yet it changes.” But what to do about it? Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

I’ve created nineteen thirty-second spots that profile a character I created: Admiral Horatio Horntower. He’s an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth. Hopefully it captures the absurdity and the desperation of our current situation. No pie graphs, no PowerPoint — just a blithering idiot played by one of my favorite actors, Bob Odenkirk.

You can watch all nine of the current spots here.

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man DJ Set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

For the past 6 years, Tycho has done a 2-hour DJ set at Burning Man to coincide with the sunrise. He’s just posted 2019’s installment and I’m going to be listening to this all week long.

Check out his past installments as well: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014. (thx, scott)

The Making of Prince’s Memoir

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

The Beautiful Ones, a memoir/autobiography/scrapbook by the artist forever after known as Prince, comes out next month. Prince wanted the tome to be “the biggest music book of all time”, a treasured object that would be “passed around from friend to friend”. The actual book is not that — Prince died in the early days of making it — but he had selected an editor/co-author to assist him. In a piece for the New Yorker, Dan Piepenbring recalls how he came to meet Prince and the early days of working with him on the book.

Behind his sphinxlike features, I could sense, there was an air of skepticism. I tried to calm my nerves by making as much eye contact as possible. Though his face was unlined and his skin glowed, there was a fleeting glassiness in his eyes. We spoke about diction. “Certain words don’t describe me,” he said. White critics bandied about terms that demonstrated a lack of awareness of who he was. “Alchemy” was one. When writers ascribed alchemical qualities to his music, they were ignoring the literal meaning of the word, the dark art of turning base metal into gold. He would never do something like that. He reserved a special disdain for the word “magical.” I’d used some version of it in my statement. “Funk is the opposite of magic,” he said. “Funk is about rules.”

The book, which includes “never-before-seen photos, original scrapbooks and lyric sheets, and the exquisite memoir he began writing before his tragic death”, comes out on October 29th — preorder here.

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