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

 

Aussie vs NZ: How Do You Tell Very Similar Accents Apart?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2019

In this video, dialect coach Erik Singer explains how to tell similar accents apart, like Australia & New Zealand, Philly & NYC, and North England & South England.

For each pair of languages, Singer provides a word or a phrase you can use to tell accents apart. For instance, ask natives from North England and South England to say “cut your foot” and you’ll know right away which is which.

Singer has done several other interesting videos on language and accents for Wired: 4 Amazing Things About Languages, Accent Expert Breaks Down 6 Fictional Languages From Film & TV, Movie Accent Expert Breaks Down 32 Actors’ Accents (and 28 more), and Movie Accent Expert Breaks Down 28 Actors Playing Presidents.

See also people sharing accents from all 50 states.

Toothpick Sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2019

Chris Soal

Artist Chris Soal makes these shaggy-looking sculptures out of thousands of toothpicks. Here’s a closeup of one of his works, where you can see the whorls created by the toothpicks:

Chris Soal

(via moss & fog)

Departing Gesture

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2019

At the Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland, MS (just outside of Jackson), they perform funerals and cremations for people with HIV/AIDS, some of whom have been abandoned by their families because of their disease or sexual orientation.

In almost one-third of the AIDS-related deaths serviced by Sebrell Funeral Home, the family or next-of-kin will either abandon the deceased entirely or refuse to accept the cremains.

HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in the American South, due to social stigma, poverty, and decreased access to healthcare. In this short documentary, we meet Trey Sebrell, who thinks of caring for all deceased people, no matter who they were in life, as part of his mission as a funeral director.

An Animated Version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2019

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my absolute favorite books as a kid and one of first books that we read to our kids (and that they read back to us). I didn’t know this animated version existed until I ran across it on YouTube just now. I just went into the kids’ room to look for the book on the shelf and got a little teary as I searched.

My kids are 12 & 10 now and in an in-between phase of reading. They occasionally still pick up the picture books they loved as little kids but mostly are into graphic novels and chapter books now — Ollie just read Ready Player One and they’ve both been through all 7 Harry Potter books more times than I can count. We haven’t read a picture book together in months and I really miss snuggling up with them and reading Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Oh Say Can You Say?, or In the Night Kitchen. We’ll likely never read any of those books together again. It reminds me of one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard about parenting: one day you’ll pick up your kid, put them down, and never pick them up again…and you won’t remember it happening. *sobs*

Metro Logos of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

From Metrobits, a fantastic resource for all things to do with metros and subways around the world, comes this collection of metro logos (older page w/ larger logos here).

Metro Logos

See also metro fonts (names + designers), fare collection schemes, and ratings of the art and architecture of metro stations from around the world (highest marks go to Moscow, Paris, Saint Petersburg, and Stockholm). The Moscow and Saint Petersburg stations are incredible.

Urban Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

From graphic designer Mariyan Atanasov comes Urban Tetris, in which apartment buildings in Sofia, Bulgaria are turned into a massive game of Tetris. If you’ve played a bunch of Tetris in your life, just looking at these images should trigger the familiar theme song in your head. Next: make this actually playable. (via colossal)

Why Is Impressionism Interesting?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

In a recent episode of The Art Assignment, they make the case for Impressionism.

The arrival of photography had also revealed new ways of framing images, suggesting the possibility of unbalanced, snapshot-like compositions, long before cameras would reach snapshot size and speed. Some have theorized that now that photography could capture reality so well, painting was then freed from the shackles of realism and could do what paint does best, which is being colorful and tactile, and you know, painty.

This new kind of art also involved more women and represented them in new ways. Berthe Morisot participated in all but one of the Impressionist exhibitions, and gave us remarkable views into the domestic sphere and lives of well-to-do women. Mary Cassatt joined the ranks as well, and became known for depicting women and children as well as her own family. Women of a variety of classes were subjects for the Impressionists, and not just nude and lying on a bed anymore, but shown doing the things they actually do, in the home as well as out in the world, enjoying Paris’s nightlife, and also being it.

I love these little art history lessons.

Kurt Vonnegut: “There Are Six Seasons Instead of Four”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

In 1978, Kurt Vonnegut gave the commencement speech at Fredonia State College in upstate New York. The speech was published under the title “How to Make Money and Find Love!” in a collection of the author’s commencement addresses, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? In the speech, Vonnegut suggested to the graduating class that the traditional four seasons don’t make sense for northern areas of the country.

One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.

Vermonters know these six seasons all too well, although they give the two extra seasons different names. What’s going on right now and will continue into mid-to-late December is “stick season”. All the beautiful fall foliage has fallen off of the trees and we’re left with not-so-beautiful sticks until the snow flies regularly enough to call it winter. Between winter and spring — what Vonnegut calls “Unlocking” — is called “mud season” here. That’s when the dozens of feet of snow that fell during the winter, rapidly thawing ground, and Vermont’s rainy season collude to wreak havoc on unpaved roads and driveways, turning them into mud pits, some of which are impassable for a month or more.

Neither of these seasons is particularly pleasant here. Outdoor activities are curtailed — it’s too cold or warm or wet or muddy for your sport of choice — and restaurants and other local businesses often take a break, leaving residents even less to do. “This may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time”, indeed.

The Can Opener Bridge

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

The other day I posted the news that the low railroad bridge that’s famous for ripping off the tops of trucks is finally going to be raised by eight inches, bringing an end to the internet’s viral fun. A reader alerted me to this interesting short documentary about the bridge:

The film features interviews with the man who has been recording all the bridge collisions since 2008, a state engineer who worked on a solution to the problem (a sensor to detect tall vehicles and trigger a stoplight and an “OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN” LED sign), and researchers at a behavioral research lab about how drivers plow into the bridge despite several layers of warning signs and (presumably) the knowledge of the height of their vehicle. (via @ShawnWildermuth)

The Devil Next Door

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

Here’s the trailer for a five-episode Netflix series called The Devil Next Door.

The series is about John Demjanjuk, who was living in the US when he was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”, a particularly brutal guard at the Treblinka death camp.

Born in Ukraine, John (Iwan) Demjanjuk was the defendant in four different court proceedings relating to crimes that he committed while serving as a collaborator of the Nazi regime.

Investigations of Demjanjuk’s Holocaust-era past began in 1975. Proceedings in the United States twice stripped him of his American citizenship, ordered him deported once, and extradited him from the United States twice to stand trial on criminal charges, once to Israel and once to Germany. His trial in Germany, which ended in May 2011, may be the last time that an accused Nazi-era war criminal stands trial. If so, it would mark the culmination of a 65-year period of prosecutions that began with the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945.

Some facts of Demjanjuk’s past are not in dispute. He was born in March 1920 in Dobovi Makharyntsi, a village in Vinnitsa Oblast of what was then Soviet Ukraine. Conscripted into the Soviet army, he was captured by German troops at the battle of Kerch in May 1942. Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1958. He settled in Seven Hills, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and worked for many years in a Ford auto plant.

The Devil Next Door premieres November 4.

Highlights from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale published 30 years later, piggybacking on a successful TV adaptation? It could have been a disaster. The Testaments is anything but — it’s seen rave reviews (to which I will add my own) and won the Booker Prize. I read it over the course of the last month or so and wanted to share with you some passages I highlighted on my Kindle.

Having done this exercise with three books now (Normal People & In the Garden of Beasts were the others), I noticed that I highlight mostly ideas, passages that resonate with me personally, and beautiful writing. Spoilers are minimal…I weed those out.

In the case of The Testaments, obviously a lot of the book is about totalitarianism & fascism — see for instance how many of Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism you can spot in the excerpts below. #12 figures heavily.

Page 3 (great opening passage):

Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.

Page 9 (You see this most obviously in contemporary religious countries & cultures — women’s bodies are dangerous and must be kept out of sight — but also e.g. in American offices and schools.):

Arms covered, hair covered, skirts down to the knee before you were five and no more than two inches above the ankle after that, because the urges of men were terrible things and those urges needed to be curbed. The man eyes that were always roaming here and there like the eyes of tigers, those searchlight eyes, needed to be shielded from the alluring and indeed blinding power of us — of our shapely or skinny or fat legs, of our graceful or knobbly or sausage arms, of our peachy or blotchy skins, of our entwining curls of shining hair or our coarse unruly pelts or our straw-like wispy braids, it did not matter. Whatever our shapes and features, we were snares and enticements despite ourselves, we were the innocent and blameless causes that through our very nature could make men drunk with lust, so that they’d stagger and lurch and topple over the verge — The verge of what? we wondered. Was it like a cliff? — and go plunging down in flames, like snowballs made of burning sulphur hurled by the angry hand of God. We were custodians of an invaluable treasure that existed, unseen, inside us; we were precious flowers that had to be kept safely inside glass houses, or else we would be ambushed and our petals would be torn off and our treasure would be stolen and we would be ripped apart and trampled by the ravenous men who might lurk around any corner, out there in the wide sharp-edged sin-ridden world.

Page 14:

What a lot of lies she had to tell for my sake! To keep me safe! But she was up to it. She had a very inventive mind.

Page 24:

Aunt Vidala said that best friends led to whispering and plotting and keeping secrets, and plotting and secrets led to disobedience to God, and disobedience led to rebellion, and girls who were rebellious became women who were rebellious, and a rebellious woman was even worse than a rebellious man because rebellious men became traitors, but rebellious women became adulteresses.

Page 31:

I regarded my reflection. The inventor of the mirror did few of us any favours: we must have been happier before we knew what we looked like.

Page 44:

I was the age at which parents suddenly transform from people who know everything into people who know nothing.

Page 46:

We’d had three modules in school on Gilead: it was a terrible, terrible place, where women couldn’t have jobs or drive cars, and where the Handmaids were forced to get pregnant like cows, except that cows had a better deal. What sort of people could be on the side of Gilead and not be some kind of monsters? Especially female people.

Page 57:

By this time I was feeling glum, which is one of the effects a birthday can have: you’re expecting a magic transformation but then it doesn’t happen.

Page 63:

“Dear Aunt Lydia,” he said, beaming from behind his enormous desk. “Thank you for gracing my humble office. You are well, I hope?”

He did not hope that, but I let it pass. “Praise be,” I said. “And you? And your Wife?” This Wife has lasted longer than usual. His Wives have a habit of dying: Commander Judd is a great believer in the restorative powers of young women, as were King David and assorted Central American drug lords. After each respectable period of mourning, he has let it be known that he is in the market for another child bride. To be clear: he has let it be known to me.

Page 66:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most travelled by. It was littered with corpses, as such roads are. But as you will have noticed, my own corpse is not among them.

Page 73:

They didn’t make a big fuss over the funerals of women in Gilead, even high-ranking ones.

Page 82:

More alarmingly, my breasts were swelling, and I had begun to sprout hair on areas of my body that we were not supposed to dwell on: legs, armpits, and the shameful part of many elusive names. Once that happened to a girl, she was no longer a precious flower but a much more dangerous creature.

Page 83:

The adult female body was one big booby trap as far as I could tell. If there was a hole, something was bound to be shoved into it and something else was bound to come out, and that went for any kind of hole: a hole in a wall, a hole in a mountain, a hole in the ground. There were so many things that could be done to it or go wrong with it, this adult female body, that I was left feeling I would be better off without it.

Page 87:

Cleaning up things such as blood and other substances that came out of bodies was part of women’s duty of caring for other people, especially little children and the elderly, said Aunt Estée, who always put things in a positive light. That was a talent women had because of their special brains, which were not hard and focused like the brains of men but soft and damp and warm and enveloping, like…like what? She didn’t finish the sentence.

Like mud in the sun, I thought. That’s what was inside my head: warmed-up mud.

Page 106 (This reminded me of the disturbing games invented by children in Nazi concentration camps.):

The most popular singing game among the younger girls was called “Hanging.” It went like this:

Who’s that hanging on the Wall? Fee Fie Fiddle-Oh!

It’s a Handmaid, what’s she called? Fee Fie Fiddle-Oh!

She was (here we would put in the name of one of us), now she’s not. Fee Fie Fiddle-Oh!

She had a baby in the pot (here we would slap our little flat stomachs). Fee Fie Fiddle-Oh!

The girls would file under the uplifted hands of two other girls while everyone chanted: One for murder, Two for kissing, Three for a baby, Four gone missing, Five for alive and Six for dead, And Seven we caught you, Red Red Red!

And the seventh girl would be caught by the two counters, and paraded around in a circle before being given a slap on the head. Now she was “dead,” and was allowed to choose the next two executioners. I realize this sounds both sinister and frivolous, but children will make games out of whatever is available to them.

The Aunts probably thought this game contained a beneficial amount of warning and threat. Why was it “One for murder,” though? Why did murder have to come before kissing? Why not after, which would seem more natural? I have often thought about that since, but I have never found any answer.

Page 124:

They said calm things like You need to be strong. They were trying to make things better. But it can put a lot of pressure on a person to be told they need to be strong.

Page 143 (another form of the banality of evil):

Hour by hour we watched vans arrive, discharge their quota of women, depart empty. The same wailings from the new arrivals, the same barking and shouts from the guards. How tedious is a tyranny in the throes of enactment. It’s always the same plot.

Page 144:

All that was necessary was a law degree and a uterus: a lethal combination.

Page 148:

You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.

Page 148:

Every once in a while there would be a scream or a series of shrieks from nearby: brutalization on parade. Sometimes there would be a prolonged moaning; sometimes a series of grunts and breathy gasps that sounded sexual, and probably were. The powerless are so tempting.

Page 158:

You must understand that I was not anybody in my own right — although of the privileged class, I was just a young girl about to be confined to wedlock. Wedlock: it had a dull metallic sound, like an iron door clicking shut.

Page 212 (this made me laugh out loud):

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, as used to be said; though in the present day the idea of God laughing is next door to blasphemy. An ultra-serious fellow, God is now.

Page 215:

“Yes, the thought-experiment penises can get out of control,” I said. “They take on a life of their own.”

Page 226:

The Commander advanced, arranged his face into a jowly smile, and stuck his mouth onto my forehead in a chaste kiss. His lips were unpleasantly warm; they made a sucking sound as they pulled away. I pictured a tiny morsel of my brain being sucked through the skin of my forehead into his mouth. A thousand such kisses later and my skull would be emptied of brain.

Page 236:

This was comforting to me as far as it went, but I was on the verge of crying again. Kindness sometimes has that effect. “How?” I said. “How can it ever be well?” “I don’t know,” said Aunt Estée. “But it will be. I have faith.” She sighed. “Having faith is hard work sometimes.”

Page 272:

Standing on the tarmac there was a double line of men in black uniforms, and we walked between the lines, arm in arm. “Don’t look at their faces,” she whispered.

So I focused on their uniforms, but I could sense eyes, eyes, eyes, all over me like hands. I’d never felt so much at risk in that way — not even under the bridge with Garth, and with strangers all around.

Page 272 (a character’s initial impression of Gilead):

What am I doing here? I thought. This place is weird as fuck.

Page 279:

Innocent men denying their guilt sound exactly like guilty men, as I am sure you have noticed, my reader. Listeners are inclined to believe neither.

Page 316:

He has another kind of book, less respectable: vintage pornography, as I knew from having examined it. It is a genre that is tedious in bulk. The mistreatment of the human body has a limited repertoire.

Page 317:

And how easily a hand becomes a fist.

Page 343 (I thought “gang aft agley” might have been some sort of weird Kindle typo, but it’s a reference to a Robert Burns poem.):

I’d thought I had everything in order, but the best-laid plans gang aft agley, and trouble comes in threes.

Page 388:

I was buying time. One is always buying something.

And finally, a short passage from Atwood’s acknowledgements, in which she reminds the reader that all of the events in this book and in The Handmaid’s Tale have actually happened somewhere in the world before:

The television series has respected one of the axioms of the novel: no event is allowed into it that does not have a precedent in human history.

That’s what makes these books truly chilling and essential.

The Milky Way Reflected in the World’s Largest Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

Jheison Huerta

I love this photograph by Peruvian photographer Jheison Huerta. It’s a shot of the Milky Way above the Salar de Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia. After it rains, the thin layer of water transforms the flat into the world’s largest mirror, some 80 miles across. Beautiful.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo. (via astronomy picture of the day)

National Geographic Asked Women from Around the World About Their Breakthroughs and Challenges

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

As part of their Nov 2019 issue focusing on women, National Geographic asked a group of women six questions:

What Is the Most Important Challenge That Women Face Today?
What Is the Greatest Hurdle You’ve Overcome?
What Was Your Breakthrough Moment?
What Needs to Change in the Next 10 Years?
What Is Your Greatest Strength?
What Advice Would You Give Young Women Today?

The interviewees include Jacinda Ardern, Melinda Gates, Roxane Gay, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Goodall, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When asked about the most important challenge facing women today, the answer was almost universally “lack of equality” (although Laura Bush turned it into an opportunity to worry about boys being left behind educationally in the US). Here’s Jane Goodall’s answer:

In so many developing countries, women have no freedom. In poor communities families tend to provide money to educate boys over girls. In many cultures women have no access to family planning, have numerous children, and are solely responsible for their care. For these reasons not only women but children — and thus our future — will suffer.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote this about her breakthrough moment as a student in Nigeria:

It was when I was nine years old, in the third grade, and I remember this very clearly. My teacher had said that the child with the best results on the test that she gave would be the prefect. So I got the best result — and then she said, ‘Oh, I forgot to mention, it has to be a boy.’ I just thought, Why? It would make sense to have said the class prefect has to be the child with the best grades or the child with some sort of useful skill. But the idea that this position of prestige and power in the classroom was reserved for somebody by an accident of being born a particular sex — that was just strange. So my sense of righteous indignation flared up, and I said to my teacher, ‘That makes no sense.’ That was the first time that I spoke up about sexism. It didn’t work, but it was the moment for me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Oprah Winfrey on what she perceives to be her greatest strength:

No question, it’s connection to other people. You know, I’ve interviewed rapists and murderers and child molesters and all kinds of people who have done terrible things — but I can put myself in the space of where they are in that moment and meet them where they are. So my ability to connect to where you are in that moment — not to the thing that supposedly defines you — that’s one of my great strengths. I think that had I had the love, the attention, the family surroundings that would have nurtured and supported me in the way that I thought I needed, I wouldn’t have it. I think that this connection and yearning to know the heart of other people came from my own sense of loneliness, my own sense of wanting to be understood and know that whatever I’m feeling, somebody else has felt it too.

A Documentary Film about Anthony Bourdain Is in the Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

Morgan Neville is directing a documentary movie about Anthony Bourdain.

CNN Films, HBO Max, and Focus Features are partnering on the still-untitled film, which is produced by Neville’s Tremolo Productions. Focus will release the documentary first in theaters before a television premiere on CNN, followed by a streaming bow on the soon-to-launch HBO Max, coming in 2020. Dates for the release have yet to be announced.

Neville is the director of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Fred Rogers documentary that may have made you cry recently. It will be interesting to see what this film can add to the extensive self-documentation that Bourdain put out into the world through his books and TV shows.

How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz shares six tips on how to talk to your kids about the climate crisis. Step 1 is to break the silence:

He says, despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on earth, too many of us are sitting alone with our worries, our faces lit by our phone screens in the middle of the night. “We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.”

Mary DeMocker, an activist and artist in Eugene, Ore., is the author of The Parents’ Guide To Climate Revolution, a book focusing on simple actions families can take both personally and collectively. “The emotional aspect is actually, I think, one of the biggest aspects of climate work right now,” she says.

Asked what feelings parents tell her they are grappling with, she ticks off guilt, distraction, confusion. And the big one: fear.

See also 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom.

An Alternate ABC Song that Slows Down the Tricky LMNOP Bit

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

An alternate version of the ABC song that slows down the LMNOP part is currently going viral because of a tweet by Noah Garfinkel: “They changed the ABC song to clarify the LMNOP part, and it is life ruining.”

I tracked down the original video from 2012:

The alternate arrangement is by Matt Richelson, who runs a popular YouTube channel and several websites dedicated to offering free materials (songs, lesson plans, etc.) to help kids learn English. Here’s what Richelson says about his version of the ABC song:

About the slow l,m,n,o,p: I teach young learners of English as a foreign language, and have found this way the most effective for teaching the letters.

I love the ellemmennohpee bit as much as anyone, but his reasoning is solid.

Japan’s “Mundane” Halloween Costume Party for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

Each year since 2014, a group in Japan holds a Halloween event where people come dressed not as witches, Avengers, or zombies but in everyday “mundane” costumes. This year’s costumes include “woman who forgot to take out the trash” and “woman who showed up to a BBQ with no intention of helping out”. My personal favorite is “guy who face-swapped with a Starbucks cup”:

Mundane Halloween 2019

You can see more costumes from this year on Twitter #DPZ or Spoon & Tamago. See also some of last year’s costumes, including “a girl who just gave blood and now can’t do anything for a few minutes” and “guy at the office whose turn it is to empty the shredder”.

Mundane Halloween 2019

I’m not much for Halloween, but this I could get into.

RPG Dungeon Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

One Page Dungeon

One Page Dungeon generates small dungeon layouts for RPG adventures (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) You can just throw all that graph paper in the recycling.

See also Auto-Generated Maps of Fantasy Worlds, Fractal Terrain in Javascript, and the Medieval Town Generator. (via @pomeranian99)

Is Munch’s The Scream Actually a Painting of a Dog?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Scream Munch

Ever since I read this tweet the other day, I can’t unsee Munch’s The Scream as a painting of a spaniel dog. (The tweet’s photo has been doctored but I can still see it in the original above.)

Have we considered that it’s possible that Munch was just trying to paint a spaniel, but he was a bit shit, and then people got excited about it so he went along with it?

You’re welcome!

Drag Performer Jaremi Carey Cosplays New Harry Potter Character Each Day in October

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2019

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

Jaremi Carey Potter

For his project 31 Days of Wizardry, Jaremi Carey has been dressing up as a different Harry Potter character each day in October and posting the results to his Instagram. These are great. Strong Cindy Sherman vibes when you view them all together. And his Dobby! He’s only done one of the main characters so far though (Hermione on polyjuice)…perhaps he’s saving Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and Voldemort for the final days?

Carey previously did a similar 365 Days of Drag project in 2016. (via @rel_games)

My Recent Media Diet, Decorative Gourd Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 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 last month. It’s a little light because I’ve been working and a full rewatch of The Wire took some time. Stuff in progress includes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the kids and I are reading it together), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, and the second season of Abstract.

The Wire. Over the past two months, I rewatched all 5 seasons of The Wire. It very much holds up and is still the best TV show I’ve ever watched. Season 4 in particular is fantastic and devastating. Even season 5, which seemed a bit outlandish at the time with the serial killer plot, is great. (A+)

Downtown Abbey. Not great but it’s always nice spending some quality time with the Crowley family. (B+)

Mario Kart Tour. There’s something deeply un-Nintendo about this game. The use of all of the casino-like iOS tricks to keep you playing (and hopefully spending money on in-game currency) runs counter to the DNA of the company. $70 for 135 rubies is $20 more than the Switch version of Kart is going for right now on Amazon — ridiculous. And remember that the original Wii periodically suggested taking a break if you’d been playing for awhile? Still, racing in Mario Kart is always fun. When they turn networked multiplayer on, it might be a game-changer. (B+)

Peanut Butter Falcon. Feel-good? Eh. More like heavy-handed treacle. And LeBeouf’s character treats the kid with Down syndrome like a normal person but is creepy and borderline abusive to a girl he likes? Yuck. (C)

Succession. I hate that I love this show so much. (A)

1619. Very good podcast, particularly the third episode about the birth of American music. (A-)

Transparent Musicale Finale. I was skeptical about watching a 2-hour musical to end the series, but I ended up liking it a lot. My god, that last song though… (B+)

Parasite. Downton Abbey a la Bong Joon Ho. (A-)

Bottle Rocket. Rough but many of Anderson’s trademarks are already on display here. (A-)

Diego Maradona. Another examination by Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) of how talent and fame can go wrong. (A-)

Kevin Alexander on the Beginning and End of America’s Culinary Revolution (House of Carbs). Listened on a rec from a friend because Alexander’s book sounded interesting, but the bro-ness of the host is almost unbearable. What if the discussion about food was more like sports radio? No thank you. (C-)

Joker. The pre-release coverage of this movie being dangerous or problematic was mostly overblown. (B)

The new MoMA. Full review here. (A-)

Silence and the Presence of Everything (On Being). Really interesting interview with an acoustic ecologist. More here. (A-)

The Testaments. A sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale could have easily gone wrong. This very much did not. (A-)

Tonic. I used this for a few days but the recs weren’t great so I stopped. (C-)

Amazon Go. A marvelous and unnerving experience for this law-abiding introvert. Shopping without interaction was cool, but walking out without paying felt like shoplifting. (B+)

Machine Hallucination. Impressive display, like being immersed in an IMAX movie. But not sure it’s worth the $25 entry fee. (B)

Liberté, Égalité and French Fries (Rough Translation). How do we define work and community in the age of global mega-corporations? This story takes an amazing turn about 20 minutes in. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Finishing Rita’s Quilt

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Shannon Downey regularly goes to estate sales to buy unfinished embroidery projects and then completes them — “there’s no way that soul is resting with an unfinished project left behind”. At a recent sale, she found a quilting project begun by a woman named Rita who had recently died at the age of 99.

Ritas Quilt

Downey doesn’t quilt but wanted to finish the project, so she asked her Instagram followers for help. Hundreds of people volunteered. Read about the progress of the project so far here on Twitter or keep up with it on Instagram at #ritasquilt. (via @nhannahjones)

“My Day as an Abortion Care Provider”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

In a piece for the NY Times, obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Lisa Harris shares her experience of a typical day at her practice, where she and her staff provide abortions.

My youngest patient of the day is 14 and here with her parents. The oldest patient is 41, here with her husband. As on all days, my patients come from every walk of life. Most have children already; many have arranged their appointment so that they’ll be done in time to pick them up after school. They assure me, again, that they are certain about their decision.

By the end of the day, I’ve seen 17 people, and made sure each received the care and time she needed. After counseling, two others left without having an abortion. One decided to continue her pregnancy and become a parent. Another appeared to need more time to think about it, and I encouraged her to do that. I support all of my patients’ decisions and needs; doing so is core to my work.

This was a typical day, and on the way home some of it plays back in my mind. A mother of three crosses herself and then takes the mifepristone pill she requested. Another requests a copy of the ultrasound picture for her memory box. After the abortion procedure, one asks to see what had been in her uterus and is relieved that the fetus is less than an inch, so much smaller than she had imagined.

See also What Illegal Abortion Was Like in the 1960s and Harrowing Illegal Abortion Stories from Before Roe v. Wade.

Meet Next-Gen CRISPR, “a True Search-and-Replace Function for DNA”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

MIT Technology Review’s Antonio Regalado reports on an improved gene editing technique that can rewrite DNA without actually cutting the DNA (which can damage and introduce errors into the genome). It’s called “prime editing”.

Today, in the latest — and possibly most important — of recent improvements to CRISPR technology, Liu is introducing “prime editing,” a molecular gadget he says can rewrite any type of genetic error without actually severing the DNA strand, as CRISPR does.

The new technology uses an engineered protein that, according to a report by Liu and 10 others today in the journal Nature, can transform any single DNA letter into any other, as well as add or delete longer stretches. In fact, Liu claims it’s capable of repairing nearly any of the 75,000 known mutations that cause inherited disease in humans.

From the abstract of the report:

Prime editing substantially expands the scope and capabilities of genome editing, and in principle could correct about 89% of known pathogenic human genetic variants.

See more coverage of this story at Nature, Scientific American, and Wired.

What Killed City Bakery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2019

Last week, the beloved NYC eating establishment City Bakery closed its doors due to financial troubles.1 Rachel Holliday Smith dug into what happened for The City. It sounds like the company over-expanded, couldn’t get out of the debt it took on, and got into a series of increasingly bad lending situations.

One of those bad deals was borrowing $75,000 from a financial services firm called Kalamata Capital Group and promising to pay back $105,000. That’s a 40% interest rate, firmly in loan shark territory. But this is the bit that really got my eyebrows heading north (especially the bit in italics):

In a statement, the chief operating officer of Kalamata Capital Group, Brandon Laks, said the company “is truly sorry City Bakery decided to close” and stressed that many Kalamata Capital Group employees loved the establishment.

He said KCG made amendments to the funding agreement as City Bakery struggled and “without KCG’s capital and amendments, City Bakery would have closed, and jobs would have been lost, much sooner.”

“Unfortunately, many small businesses close and it is a risk KCG takes when we help fund and support these businesses,” he said.

Let’s be clear here: City Bakery was primarily a place for folks who can afford $5 croissants, but this is one of those instances where capitalism has become deeply disconnected from the people it’s allegedly supposed to benefit. All those KCG employees that loved City Bakery? Meaningless bullshit. A local lender that wants to invest in the community and its businesses doesn’t charge 40% interest. City Bakery needed some solid financial advice, a plan for getting out from under their debt (if possible), and a loan with decent terms. All KCG did was give City Bakery more rope to hang themselves and called it “support”.

Update: A couple people have pointed out that we don’t know the length of the loan and so cannot calculate the annual interest rate. Even so, as the article details, these “merchant cash advance” loans are under increasing scrutiny for being predatory:

As the Duncans soon learned, tens of thousands of contractors, florists, and other small-business owners nationwide were being chewed up by the same legal process. Behind it all was a group of financiers who lend money at interest rates higher than those once demanded by Mafia loan sharks. Rather than breaking legs, these lenders have co-opted New York’s court system and turned it into a high-speed debt-collection machine. Government officials enable the whole scheme. A few are even getting rich doing it.

  1. I was in NYC last week and City Bakery shuttered on the very day I was going to wander over for one of their chocolate chip cookies, my #1 all-time favorite cookie.

Winners of the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Nikon has announced the winning entries in the 2019 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Here are a few of the winners that caught my eye:

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

Photomicrography Contest 2019

From top to bottom, cells undergoing mitosis by Jason Kirk, a frozen water droplet by Garzon Christian, and a housefly eye by Razvan Cornel Constantin. Check out the rest of the winning entries here. (via in focus)

The Chic 2024 Summer Olympics Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

On Oct 21, the emblem for the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics was unveiled in Paris, site of the Games. It features a round symbol that represents a gold medal, the Olympic flame, and Marianne, the “national personification of the French Republic since the French Revolution”.

Paris 2024 Logo

The emblem’s Marianne is quite chic, so Parisian freelance journalist Megan Clement concocted a vignette of that young woman’s life. It begins like so:

The French Olympic logo tumbles out of bed on a Parisian morning. She tousles her messy bob, dons breton stripes and ballet flats and whisks down the stairs from her fifth-floor apartment to grab a baguette before enigmatically texting two men who are pursuing her romantically.

The French Olympic logo has an expresso and a cigarette for lunch.

(via @legalnomads)

Succession’s Preoccupation with the Power of Words (or Lack Thereof)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Have you been watching Succession? I feel bad about enjoying watching rich people be horrible to each other, but I do love the show. Evan Puschak rewatched both seasons with a careful eye and noticed the show’s preoccupation with language and how it is used and misused by the characters in the show.

Kendall: Words are just nothing. Complicated airflow.

One of the things I like most about the show is that I can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy or a drama. It’s bitingly funny and satirical but the whole thing is packaged like a drama and there are genuine emotional moments. I felt the same way about Fleabag and Transparent…the combination and subversion of these two familiar buckets of storytelling is part of what makes all of these shows great.

Google Announces They Have Achieved “Quantum Supremacy”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2019

Today, Google announced the results of their quantum supremacy experiment in a blog post and Nature article. First, a quick note on what quantum supremacy is: the idea that a quantum computer can quickly solve problems that classical computers either cannot solve or would take decades or centuries to solve. Google claims they have achieved this supremacy using a 54-qubit quantum computer:

Our machine performed the target computation in 200 seconds, and from measurements in our experiment we determined that it would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to produce a similar output.

You may find it helpful to watch Google’s 5-minute explanation of quantum computing and quantum supremacy (see also Nature’s explainer video):

IBM has pushed back on Google’s claim, arguing that their classical supercomputer can solve the same problem in far less than 10,000 years.

We argue that an ideal simulation of the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity. This is in fact a conservative, worst-case estimate, and we expect that with additional refinements the classical cost of the simulation can be further reduced.

Because the original meaning of the term “quantum supremacy,” as proposed by John Preskill in 2012, was to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can’t, this threshold has not been met.

One of the fears of quantum supremacy being achieved is that quantum computing could be used to easily crack the encryption currently used anywhere you use a password or to keep communications private, although it seems like we still have some time before this happens.

“The problem their machine solves with astounding speed has been very carefully chosen just for the purpose of demonstrating the quantum computer’s superiority,” Preskill says. It’s unclear how long it will take quantum computers to become commercially useful; breaking encryption — a theorized use for the technology — remains a distant hope. “That’s still many years out,” says Jonathan Dowling, a professor at Louisiana State University.

Map of the First Words of European National Anthems

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2019

Europe Map Anthems

From the @europemaps Instagram account, a map of the first words of the national anthems of European countries. Collectively, it sounds like northern Europe is having some fun in the bedroom: oh… yes… you… there… oh… my… god… not yet…

Please also note that there are a lot of people in the comments with corrections, especially about Spain, Germany, and Turkey, so take it with a grain of salt.

Beautifully Intricate Paintings of HIV, Ebola, and Other Molecules by Biologist David Goodsell

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2019

David Goodsell

David Goodsell

David Goodsell

David Goodsell

David Goodsell

For more than 25 years, biologist David Goodsell has been making scientifically accurate paintings and illustrations of the molecular structures of things related to HIV, cancer cells, ebola, Zika, diabetes, proteins, enzymes, and hundreds of other scientific and medical processes.

Since the early 1990s, I have been working with a type of illustration that shows portions of living cells magnified so that you can see individual molecules. I try to make these illustrations as accurate as possible, using information from atomic structure analysis, electron microscopy, and biochemical analysis to get the proper number of molecules, in the proper place, and with the proper size and shape.

Much of his work is available to use for free (with attribution) and is scattered across the web: the Molecule of the Month, Molecular Landscapes, Illustrations for Public Use. He has also published several books of his paintings, the most popular of which is The Machinery of Life. Science magazine recently profiled Goodsell and his work.

In addition to studying pictures of cells from high-powered microscopes, Goodsell relies on molecular structures from electron microscopy (EM), x-ray crystallography, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to make his paintings, which show the often crowded and complex world of cells and the microbes that infect them. He even uses the known weights of molecules if that’s all he has so that he can at least draw, say, a correctly sized circle. “I’m a scientist first,” he says. “I’m not making editorial images that are meant to sell magazines. I want to somehow inform the scientists and armchair scientists what the state of knowledge is now and hopefully give them an intuitive sense of how these things really look — or may look,” he says.

May look?

“These pictures have tons and tons and tons of artistic license,” he says. “They’re just one snapshot of something that’s intrinsically superdynamic. Every time I do a painting, the next day it’s out of date because there’s so much more data coming out.”

Here’s a quick video profile as well:

All images are by David S. Goodsell, the Scripps Research Institute. (via alexandra kammen)

Watch Scavengers Devour a Fallen Whale Carcass on the Sea Floor

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2019

The Nautilus expedition exploring the Davidson Seamount near Monterey Bay turned up something interesting last week: a relatively recent whale fall. A whale fall is when the body of a dead whale settles on the deep-sea floor, providing sustenance for the marine life in that area for decades.

While evidence of whale falls have been observed to remain on the seafloor for several years, this appears to be a relatively recent fall with baleen, blubber, and some internal organs remaining. The site also exhibits an interesting mid-stage of ecological succession, as both large scavengers like eel pouts are still stripping the skeleton of blubber, and bone-eating Osedax worms are starting to consume lipids (fats) from the bones. Other organisms seen onsite include crabs, grenadier, polychaetes, and deep-sea octopus.

The scientists were *so* excited to find this, a thriving mini ecosystem & food web in the process of formation at a depth of over 10,600 feet. They got pulled away from the carcass but went back for a closer look later.

You can read more about whale falls and their impact on deep-sea ecosystems in this New Yorker story from earlier this year.

For denizens of the seafloor, a whale fall is like a Las Vegas buffet — an improbable bounty in the middle of the desert. Rosebud had delivered about a thousand years’ worth of food in one fell swoop. The first animals to pounce had been scavengers, such as sleeper sharks and slimy, snake-like hagfish. In the course of about six months, they had eaten most of the skin and muscle. Inevitably, the scavengers had scattered pieces of flesh around the whale carcass, and native microbes had multiplied quickly around those scraps. Their feeding frenzy, in turn, had depleted oxygen in the seafloor’s top layers, creating niches for microbes that could make methane or breathe sulfate.

As Rosebud came into view, we saw colorful microbial carpets light up the screens-plush white, yellow, and orange mats, each a community of microbes precisely tuned to their chemical milieu. The whale’s towering rib cage had become a cathedral for worms, snails, and crabs, which grazed beneath its buttresses. A few hungry hagfish slithered through the skull’s eye sockets. When the cameras zoomed in, we saw that the bones were covered in red splotches. Rouse leapt from his chair and rushed to the monitors for a closer look: he suspected that the red tufts were colonies of remarkable bone-eating worms called Osedax, which had only just recently been described in a rigorous scientific study.

The Final Trailer for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2019

Let’s just all pretend that this trailer did not give me goosebumps and make me pump my fist a little, because at this point Star Wars is a sliced-n-diced and repackaged global financial instrument and very much not something a 46-year-old man who knows better should get excited about. (Jk jk, pump Mark Hamill’s gravely voice and John Williams’ soaring crescendos directly into my veins. And if James Earl Jones’ voice does not make an appearance in this movie, I will eat a Stormtrooper helmet.)

Narrative Illustrator Owen Pomery

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

Owen Pomery

I really like Owen Pomery’s illustrative style — his drawings are spare yet detailed, precise but a bit messy. You can see his work on his website, on Twitter, or on Instagram. He sells prints and books in his shop, including this field guide to modernist kiosk designs in a fictional country.

Owen Pomery

(via @dunstan)

Behold Our Dazzling Night Sky When the Milky Way Collides with Andromeda in 4 Billion Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

This is what our night sky is going to look like in 3.9 billion years:

Milkdromeda

Wow! So what’s going on here? Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers at NASA have predicted that our own Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy (M31) will collide about 4 billion years from now. As part of the announcement from 2012, they produced a video of what the collision would look like and a series of illustrations of what our sky will look like during the collision process.1

In 2 billion years, Andromeda will be noticeably closer in the sky:

Milkdromeda

By 3.75 billion years, it will fill a significant chunk of the sky. And the Milky Way will begin to bend due to the pull of gravity from Andromeda:

Milkdromeda

In about 3.85 billion years, the first close approach will trigger the formation of new stars, “which is evident in a plethora of emission nebulae and open young star clusters”:

Milkdromeda

Star formation continues 3.9 billion years from now. Could you imagine actually going outside at night and seeing this? It’s like a nightly fireworks display:

Milkdromeda

After the galaxies pass by each other in 4 billion years, they are stretched and warped by gravity:

Milkdromeda

In 5.1 billion years, Andromeda and the Milky Way will come around for a second close pass, their galactic cores blazing bright in the night sky:

Milkdromeda

And finally, in 7 billion years, the two galaxies will have merged into a single elliptical galaxy nicknamed Milkdromeda:

Milkdromeda

Interestingly, despite the galactic collision and the dazzling view from Earth, it’s extremely unlikely that any individual stars will collide because of the sheer amount of empty space in galaxies.

  1. I mean, assuming there will still be someone or something standing on the Earth 4 billion years from now to witness it. Presumably whoever’s around will have solved light pollution by then? The bigger worry is that according to the timeline of the far future, Earth will be uninhabitable long before an collision occurs (average surface temp of 296 °F in 2.8 billion years). Toasty!

Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

From filmmaker David Freid, Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen is a short film about Longyearbyen, Norway, the one of the northernmost towns in the world. The town of about 2100 residents is situated on the Svalbard archipelago and is the home of the Global Seed Vault. Freid went to investigate the rumor that no one is allowed to die in Longyearbyen and discovered that if climate change results in the permafrost melting in places like this, diseases from long ago may be released back into the world.

But for more than 70 years, not a single person has been buried in Longyearbyen. That’s due to the region’s year-round sub-zero temperatures: Bodies don’t decompose, but are preserved, as if mummified, in the permafrost. Should anyone die there, the government of Svalbard requires that the body is flown or shipped to mainland Norway to be interred.

See also A Trip to the Northernmost Town on Earth.

The New MoMA

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

After months of renovations and a week or two of previews, MoMA officially reopens for business today. I was able to attend a press preview last week and here are some observations I had about my visit.

New MoMA

One of the main goals of the museum’s expansion was to “focus new attention on works by women, Latinos, Asians, African-Americans and other overlooked artists”. I’ll leave the question of their success in more qualified hands, but even making the attempt is an admission by one of the most influential museums in the world that the art that society considers important is highly subjective. If there are good paintings that aren’t currently considered that interesting or important (because they’re not by Picasso or Degas or Cezanne), maybe that can change depending on what stories you tell about them. Look at what the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim did for example.

The display of the main collection is now not just paintings and a sprinkling of sculpture but also includes photography, film, architecture, performance art, design, and drawings. The art is also placed into much more of an historical context than before…the visitor gets more of a sense of what was going on in the world when these pieces were created and what societal happenings the artist may have been reacting to in creating their work. I very much enjoyed these improvements.

New MoMA

The general feel of the place is more casual than before. In Amy Sillman’s Artist’s Choice gallery, paintings and sculptures were resting on risers around a large room, all unlabelled. Gallery titles were sometimes colloquial instead of formal or academic. In the one of the exhibitions, the gallery titles were in all lowercase — “a revolution of limits” vs “A revolution of limits” or “A Revolution of Limits”.

In some areas, the space still smelled vaguely of construction.

One of the things I love about The Whitney is how it incorporates the city into the art viewing experience. On the top floors, you can look at what’s on display and then head out to the terrace to see the city on display: the architecure, the construction, people walking on the High Line, the Hudson River traffic. It doesn’t have the best location to work with, but the new MoMA tries to do this a little more after the renovation. There are new overlooks to the sculpture garden and larger windows with street views.

Was it my imagination, but was Matisse’s Swimming Pool room actually a bit warmer and more humid than the other galleries? You know, like an actual indoor swimming pool?

New MoMA

Honestly, the best part of my experience was how few people were there. This was the last of four press previews and was sparsely attended because most people had already filed their stories. In many galleries, I was completely alone with these amazing works of art. I stood in front of Starry Night for two minutes all by myself — same with Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Monet’s Water Lillies gallery was empty. Empty! I sat for several blissful minutes taking it all in — it was almost meditative. This reveals a sad truth about large and popular art museums like MoMA: they are often not good places for actually viewing art. They’re just too crowded. Starry Night is basically an Instagram selfie wall at this point. During a normal visit, you can’t actually look at the thing to see what van Gogh was up to with his brushstrokes because there are 20 people waiting their turn to see it too. But you can’t spend $450 million on a renovation and just let a few hundred people a day into the place, right?

Zach Galifianakis’ Brief Stint at Saturday Night Live

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

In this clip from a longer conversation in the Off Camera interview series, Zach Galifianakis talks about his brief two-week stint on Saturday Night Live and how he felt when a sketch he wrote totally bombed at the cast table read.

Here are all 10 clips of the interview. See also Robert Downey Jr. recounting his year-long SNL career.

Lego In Real Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

BrickBrosProductions makes stop motion animated films featuring Lego bricks. Their most popular video is a compilation of the three short films in their “Lego In Real Life” series, where objects built from Lego interact with the real world — Lego butter, Lego apples, Lego pencils, and Lego wood.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes of the woodworking movie as well as a general tutorial about how to make Lego stop motion videos.

Hand-Engraved Coin with a Beating Heart

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

Beating Heart Coin

Roman Butin is a Russian artist who modifies coins with elaborate hand-engraved designs of his own. His latest creation is a coin with a beating heart. Here is the tiny mechanism in action…you turn the gear at the bottom of the coin and the heart beats!

Wow. You can check out the heart coin, a Banksy coin, this trap coin, a golden bug coin with working wings, and more of his work on Instagram. Heads or Tales has replicas of a few of Butin’s creations for sale.

What Would Really Happen if a Nuclear Weapon Exploded in a Major City?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2019

Kurzgesagt has partnered with the Red Cross and their “no to nukes” initiative to depict what it would be like if a nuclear weapon detonated in a major city. I’m not going to lie to you here, this is a difficult video to watch. Super bleak. There is no bright side to nuclear weapons.

The reason no government wants you to think about all this is because there is no serious humanitarian response possible to a nuclear explosion. There’s no way to really help the immediate victims of a nuclear attack. This is not a hurricane, wildfire, earthquake, or nuclear accident — it is all of these things at once, but worse. No nation on earth is prepared to deal with it.

Between the climate crisis, the rise of authoritarianism around the world, the AI bogeyman, and other things, nuclear weapons have gotten lost in the shuffle recently, but they remain a massive existential threat to society. A small group of people, some careful planning, years of patience, and you could possibly see an event that would make 9/11 look quaint.

An Online Collection of Colorful Fruit Crate Labels, 1920s-1950s

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

Fruit Crate Labels

From the State Library of Florida comes a collection of more than 600 crate labels used by the citrus and vegetable industries from the 1920s to the 1950s.

To help give Florida fruits and vegetables an edge, growers looked to the booming produce packing industry in California, where advertisers were already using bold, elaborate labels to catch buyers’ attention. Florida companies began designing their wooden shipping crates and paper labels based on this successful model.

Paper crate labels were used in Florida from the late 1800s until the 1950s. The earliest paper labels were fairly generic and often didn’t include a brand name. Starting in the 1920s, advertisers began developing more complex marketing strategies, aiming to entice buyers with colorful brand names and imagery.

What an amazing variety of design and typographic styles. There’s also some questionable imagery in there as well: Mammy Brand, Dixieland Brand, Brave Vegetables, Indian Chief, etc.

See also The US Government’s Trove of Beautiful Apple Paintings. (via @john_overholt)

John James Audubon’s Birds of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

Birds Of America

One of the (several dozen) posts I started writing ages ago but never finished was a collection of the hundreds of bird illustrations pictured in John James Audubon’s seminal Birds of America. The images have been floating around on the web forever, in various sizes and collections, and I wanted to group (or at least link to) all of them in one place. But now I don’t have to because the Audubon Society has put them up on their website.

John James Audubon’s Birds of America is a portal into the natural world. Printed between 1827 and 1838, it contains 435 life-size watercolors of North American birds (Havell edition), all reproduced from hand-engraved plates, and is considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.

Thumbnails of all 435 illustrations are presented on a single page (sortable alphabetically or chronologically by their creation date) and then each illustration is given its own page with Audubon’s notes on the bird pictured, a link to the bird in Audubon’s Bird Guide (where you can see photos and hear bird calls, etc.), and a link to download a high resolution image (if you sign up for their mailing list). The barred owl image is 111-megapixels. What a resource!

You can also see online copies of Birds of America at the University of Pittsburgh and Meisei University.

And if you’ve never had a chance to see some of these illustrations in real life, you should keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity. They really are something. (via open culture, which has been particularly great lately)

Bill Cunningham: On the Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

Bill Cunningham Book

Until his death in 2016, Bill Cunningham captured the fashions of people walking the streets and catwalks of NYC and elsewhere, mostly for the NY Times over the past five decades. A new book, Bill Cunningham: On the Street, is the first published collection of his work and includes more than 700 photos along with a number of essays by friends, subjects, and cultural critics.

Bill Cunningham Book

You can read more about Cunningham and the photos in the book in a pair of Times articles: The Amazing Treasure Trove of Bill Cunningham and Seeing What Bill Cunningham Saw, the latter of which describes so good ol’ fashioned digging through the archives to find some gems:

Then there were “black hole” years, when his photos ended up in the database with gibberish on them. Someone created a template to make things easier for captioning, but it wasn’t used properly. Hundreds of photos just have the template on them, over and over again.

Large chunks of Bill’s work simply could not be found.

When I was going through the files for 2009, I was unable to find his photos from Barack Obama’s inauguration. (Bill went down to Washington for the day and devoted his column to it.) This material would have been completely lost had it not been for the Times archivist Jeffrey Roth, who just happened to have saved a few boxes of seemingly unnecessary paper printouts of Bill’s photos from 2009 and a few other years. It was one of those “I’ve been meaning to throw these out …” kind of things.

I looked through one of the boxes and, astoundingly, unearthed printouts of the inauguration photos. The printouts led me, via a tortuous back-roads path, to the digital files. As it turned out, not even Bill’s name was on many hundreds of his images. I would go on to find other must-have images in those boxes as well.

You can order the book on Amazon.

Gun Shop: 2,328 Guns at 24 Guns per Second

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

From filmmaker Patrick Smith, a short film called Gun Shop that shows images of 2,328 guns in just over 90s seconds.

This film shows 2,328 firearms, out of the 393 million currently in the US. Arranged in a dizzying 24 frames per second progression, from handguns to semi-automatic assault rifles, “Gun Shop” encourages viewers to critically examine America’s love affair with guns.

I confess I had not properly absorbed the fact that there are an estimated 393 million firearms owed by civilians in the US. That’s 1.2 guns per person (including children), the highest per capita in the world, more than twice that of the second place country, Yemen. Collectively, civilians in the US own 46% of the guns in the world. It’s a sick and dangerous obsession. (thx, christopher)

A Free Font Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Handwriting

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

Greta Grotesk

Inspired by the handwritten sign that climate activist Greta Thunberg has been using since beginning her climate strike in August 2018, a startup called Uno has produced a font of her handwriting available for free download.

Greta Grotesk

The Winners of the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

The winning images in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 contest have been announced by the Natural History Museum in London. Here are a few of my favorites (by Audun Rikardsen, Max Waugh, and Shangzhen Fan):

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Here’s how Rikardsen got that incredible shot of the eagle:

Audun carefully positioned this tree branch, hoping it would make a perfect lookout for a golden eagle. He set up a camera trap and occasionally left road-kill carrion nearby. Very gradually, over the next three years, this eagle started to use the branch to survey its coastal realm. Audun captured its power as it came in to land, talons outstretched.

You can check out the rest of the winners here. See also First Look: 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, featuring a selection of entries from the contest. (via in focus)

The Odyssey in Limerick Form

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

Emily Wilson, whose translation of The Odyssey recently reintroduced the epic to a wider non-classics audience, has now cheekily translated the tale of Odysseus into a series of limericks. She starts off:

There was a young man called Telemachus
who was bullied and in a dilemma ‘cause
he missed his lost dad
and his mom made him mad
and he almost got killed by Eurymachus.

And here’s the bit about Odysseus’ men eating the cattle of Helios, which earns them a thunderbolt from Zeus.

The men were fed up with their boss,
the rich guy, who’d gone for a doss.
They ate up the cattle,
which shortly proved fatal,
and all of their short lives were lost.

So good.

How Eliud Kipchoge Broke the Two-Hour Marathon Barrier

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

This past weekend in Austria, Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance of 26.2 miles in 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds, the first person in recorded history to break the two-hour marathon barrier, a feat once thought impossible. Wanting to know a bit more about how Kipchoge did it, I watched a pair of videos. The first was from Mike Boyd (who you might have seen learning how to kickflip a skateboard in under 6 hours) and it’s very much from an interested fan’s perspective.

Wired has been following Kipchoge’s attempts at a faster marathon, particularly the technology angle, and in their video, they talk with the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Joyner, who predicted in a 1991 paper that a sub-2:00 marathon was possible.

Boyd’s video references this paper as well. From a piece that Joyner wrote about his paper:

During the 1980s, ideas emerged about how maximum oxygen consumption, lactate threshold and running economy interacted to determine distance running performance. During medical school around 1985, I started think about how a person could run if he/she had the best laboratory values ever recorded for all three variables. I came up with an estimated time a few seconds faster than 1:58!

So how did Kipchoge run so fast? Well, the answer has to do with another interesting thing about this whole thing: his effort did not set an official world record for the marathon. From The Atlantic, The Greatest, Fakest World Record:

The planning that went into the event was a fantasy of perfectionism. The organizers scouted out a six-mile circuit along the Danube River that was flat, straight, and close to sea level. Parts of the road were marked with the fastest possible route, and a car guided the runners by projecting its own disco-like laser in front of them to show the correct pace. The pacesetters, a murderers’ row of Olympians and other distance stars, ran seven-at-a-time in a wind-blocking formation devised by an expert of aerodynamics. (Imagine the Mighty Ducks’ “flying V,” but reversed.)

Kipchoge himself came equipped with an updated, still-unreleased version of Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes, which, research appears to confirm, lower marathoners’ times. He had unfettered access to his favorite carbohydrate-rich drink, courtesy of a cyclist who rode alongside the group. And the event’s start time was scheduled within an eight-day window to ensure the best possible weather.

In an official marathon attempt, you’re not allowed to have pacesetters rotating in and out, refreshment via bicycle, or a pace car lighting the way. They touch on this in the Wired video, but technology has been wrapped up in human athletic achievement for more than a century at least. Compared to a runner competing in 1960 — when the record was 2:15:16, set by Abebe Bikila in bare feet — runners today have the benefit of better training techniques, superior knowledge of human physiology, better shoes, corporate sponsorships & other assistance, lightweight clothes that wick away moisture and don’t chafe, specially designed diets, better in-race nutrition, and, let’s be honest here, performance-enhancing drugs.

Drugs aside, all that is fine to use in an official marathon attempt, but racing alone with pacesetters (or downhill) is verboten. It’s always interesting where they draw the line on the use of technology in athletics. I think the most you can say at this point is that even with all these advantages, Kipchoge is perhaps the only person in the world right now who is capable of breaking the 2-hour barrier. But in two or three years? My guess is that 2 hours will be broken in an actual race in the next 5-7 years, even though a rough linear analysis I just did using men’s marathon record times since 1980 indicates that no one will run under 2 hours until 2033.

Men Marathon Graph

The Moog Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

I pretty much stopped using iTunes for music when I switched to Rdio1 (and then to Spotify). So going back in there is like unearthing a time capsule of music I listened to from ~2003-2012. This morning, bored of my Spotify playlists, I dug around a little and rediscovered a cache of songs by The Moog Cookbook. The duo uses old school Moog synthesizers to make playful covers of rock & pop songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Are You Gonna Go My Way? by Lenny Kravitz, and Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. Their album of classic rock covers is available on Spotify:

Their debut album (which I like more) is a bit tougher to find, but you can listen to the whole thing here on YouTube:

  1. I still miss Rdio. *sniff*

The Most Important Pieces of Code in the History of Computing

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

Bitcoin Code

Slate recently asked a bunch of developers, journalists, computer scientists, and historians what they thought the most influential and consequential pieces of computer code were. They came up with a list of the 36 world-changing pieces of code, including the code responsible for the 1202 alarm thrown by the Apollo Guidance Computer during the first Moon landing, the HTML hyperlink, PageRank, the guidance system for the Roomba, and Bitcoin (above).

Here’s the entry for the three lines of code that helps cellular networks schedule and route calls efficiently and equitably:

At any given moment in a given area, there are often many more cellphones than there are base station towers. Unmediated, all of these transmissions would interfere with one another and prevent information from being received reliably. So the towers have a prioritization problem to solve: making sure all users can complete their calls, while taking into account the fact that users in noisier places need to be given more resources to receive the same quality of service. The solution? A compromise between the needs of individual users and the overall performance of the entire network. Proportional fair scheduling ensures all users have at least a minimal level of service while maximizing total network throughput. This is done by giving lower priority to users that are anticipated to require more resources. Just three lines of code that make all 3G and 4G cellular networks around the world work.

How IBM’s Technology Powered the Holocaust

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

IBM Nazi Punchcard

According to a book by human rights journalist Edwin Black, Hitler needed logistical help in carrying out the genocide of Europe’s Jewish population. IBM, an American company whose leadership was obsessed with growth and profits, was happy to provide Hitler with their punch card machines and technology. From The Nazi Party: IBM & “Death’s Calculator” (excerpted from Black’s 2001 book IBM and the Holocaust):

Solipsistic and dazzled by its own swirling universe of technical possibilities, IBM was self-gripped by a special amoral corporate mantra: if it can be done, it should be done. To the blind technocrat, the means were more important than the ends. The destruction of the Jewish people became even less important because the invigorating nature of IBM’s technical achievement was only heightened by the fantastical profits to be made at a time when bread lines stretched across the world.

So how did it work?

When Hitler came to power, a central Nazi goal was to identify and destroy Germany’s 600,000 Jews. To Nazis, Jews were not just those who practiced Judaism, but those of Jewish blood, regardless of their assimilation, intermarriage, religious activity, or even conversion to Christianity. Only after Jews were identified could they be targeted for asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination. To search generations of communal, church, and governmental records all across Germany — and later throughout Europe — was a cross-indexing task so monumental, it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed.

When the Reich needed to mount a systematic campaign of Jewish economic disenfranchisement and later began the massive movement of European Jews out of their homes and into ghettos, once again, the task was so prodigious it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed. When the Final Solution sought to efficiently transport Jews out of European ghettos along railroad lines and into death camps, with timing so precise the victims were able to walk right out of the boxcar and into a waiting gas chamber, the coordination was so complex a task, this too called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed.

However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system — a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler’s program of Jewish destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success. IBM Germany, using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler’s Third Reich needed to accomplish what had never been done before — the automation of human destruction. More than 2,000 such multi-machine sets were dispatched throughout Germany, and thousands more throughout German-dominated Europe. Card sorting operations were established in every major concentration camp. People were moved from place to place, systematically worked to death, and their remains cataloged with icy automation.

IBM Germany, known in those days as Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft, or Dehomag, did not simply sell the Reich machines and then walk away. IBM’s subsidiary, with the knowledge of its New York headquarters, enthusiastically custom-designed the complex devices and specialized applications as an official corporate undertaking. Dehomag’s top management was comprised of openly rabid Nazis who were arrested after the war for their Party affiliation. IBM NY always understood — from the outset in 1933 — that it was courting and doing business with the upper echelon of the Nazi Party. The company leveraged its Nazi Party connections to continuously enhance its business relationship with Hitler’s Reich, in Germany and throughout Nazi-dominated Europe.

It’s not difficult to see the relevance of this episode today. Should Microsoft-owned GitHub provide software to ICE for possible use in the agency’s state-sanctioned persecution of immigrants and asylum seekers? Should Twitter allow Donald Trump to incite terrorism on their service? Should Google provide AI to the Pentagon for the potential development of deadlier weapons? And Christ, where do you even start with Facebook? Palantir, Apple, and Amazon have also been criticized recently for allowing unethical usage of their technology and platforms. “It’s just business” and the belief in the neutrality of technology (and technology platforms) have combined to produce a shield that contemporary companies use to protect themselves from activists’ ethical criticisms. And increasingly, the customers and employees of these companies aren’t buying it because they don’t want history to repeat itself. (via marc hedlund)

Jenny’s Holzer’s VIGIL for Gun Violence Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

This past weekend for a project called VIGIL, artist Jenny Holzer projected texts about the impact and realities of gun violence onto the buildings of Rockefeller Center.

Jenny Holzer Vigil

Employing her signature text-based practice, Holzer will project testimonies, responses, and poems by people confronting the everyday reality of gun violence onto the iconic buildings at Rockefeller Center after sundown. These hauntingly sober first-person accounts serve both as an acknowledgement of communities impacted by gun violence and an invitation for dialogue around the prevalence of this issue in the United States. Holzer will feature texts from the compilation Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, stories from Moments that Survive collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, and poems by teens who have grown up in the shadow of mass shootings.

Gothamist has a story about the project, which includes several photos of the projected texts.

Can You Draw a Perfect Circle?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2019

This maddening little web toy on vole.wtf challenges visitors to draw a perfect circle and judges them on how well they do. After dozens of tries with a mouse, I could only manage 92.9% perfection (which looks more like 80% tbh).

Perfect Circle

Then I tried it on a touchscreen and got much closer: 95.2%. Several more tries with an Apple Pencil bumped it up to 97.7%, after which I retired so as not to waste the entire rest of my afternoon on this.

And of course, here’s the classic video of Alexander Overwijk drawing a perfect freehand circle on the blackboard in about a second.

I love everything about this video — the way he swings his arm to warm up, his drying-the-blackboard flapping motion, and the ease of his perfection. 100.0%. (via sam potts)

Meet Felipe Nunes, a Skateboarder With No Legs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2019

Pro skateboarder Felipe Nunes hails from Brazil, is 20 years old, and recently signed on to Tony Hawk’s Birdhouse team. Nunes also lost both legs when he was six. From an interview with Nunes in Thrasher:

I was six when it happened but the doctors said it was super fast. I didn’t really hesitate because I was so young. I used a wheelchair until about the age of 11. I was a kid who wanted to do everything. Regardless of not having two legs I wanted to do it all. I rode my bike, played soccer, pretty much everything out in front of my house. I was a normal kid. It didn’t even look like I was missing part of my legs. My parents were essential in my recovery because they never stopped me from doing anything. They were afraid of me getting hurt like any parents, but they never held me back. When I wanted to give up the wheelchair and ride the skateboard full time, they let me go.

You can follow Nunes on his latest exploits on Instagram. (via the morning news)

A Video Timeline of Seven Million Years of Human Evolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

From the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, an animated timeline of human evolution, from when hominins first show up in the fossil record in Africa some seven million years ago to the appearance of Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. You can see artifacts and fossil remains of many of the hominins at the museum in the Hall of Human Origins. I haven’t been there in awhile…might be time for a visit.

I got this from Open Culture, where Colin Marshall goes into more detail:

And though hominins may have walked upright, they also climbed trees, but eventually lost the grasping feet needed to do so. Later they compensated with the very human-like development of making and using stone tools. Two million years ago, the well-known Homo erectus, with their large brains, long legs, and dextrous hands, made the famous migration out of Africa.

We know that by 1.2 million years thereafter Homo erectus’ brains had grown larger still, fueled by new cooking techniques. Only about 200,000 years ago do we, Homo sapiens, enter the picture, but not long after, we interbreed with the various hominin species already in existence as we spread outward to fill “every geographic niche” of the Earth.

The last bit of the video was unexpectedly sobering:

Homo sapiens were highly adaptable, quickly filling nearly every geographic niche. Other hominins went extinct. Climate pressures and competition with Homo sapiens may have wiped them out.

If we don’t change our ways soon, one way to look at the recent history of life on Earth is that modern humans came along 200,000 years ago and systematically conquered and killed the all of the animals on the planet larger than an ant. Not such a great deal for anything but people.

700-Year-Old French Mill Still Cranking Out Handmade Paper

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

For their latest video, Great Big Story visits a French mill that’s been making paper for 700 years. The Richard de Bas mill has supplied paper to the likes of Picasso and Dali and is today one of the few remaining places in France where paper is still made by hand; they only produce about 2 tons of paper a year. That flower paper is incredible. My only complaint about this video is that it wasn’t 6-7 minutes longer. You can see more of the mill in this video (in French, although YT’s auto-translated captions work ok).

The mill and the associated museum in Ambert, France are open to visitors and you can buy some of their paper from the online store. A pack of dozen sheets of their floral paper is €30.

See also this 1970 short film on marbled paper, a personal favorite of mine.

America’s Unjust Regressive Tax System and How to Fix It

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

On Monday, I posted a link to David Leonhardt’s NY Times piece, The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.

For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data. That’s a sharp change from the 1950s and 1960s, when the wealthy paid vastly higher tax rates than the middle class or poor. Since then, taxes that hit the wealthiest the hardest — like the estate tax and corporate tax — have plummeted, while tax avoidance has become more common. President Trump’s 2017 tax cut, which was largely a handout to the rich, plays a role, too. It helped push the tax rate on the 400 wealthiest households below the rates for almost everyone else.

Tax 2019 Regressive

The result is a tax system that is much less progressive than it used to be. And unjust. The economists who compiled this data, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, have written a book called The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. In this piece called How to Tax Our Way Back to Justice, the pair lay out the problem and how we can fix it to make our tax system more just for the majority of Americans.

The good news is that we can fix tax injustice, right now. There is nothing inherent in modern technology or globalization that destroys our ability to institute a highly progressive tax system. The choice is ours. We can countenance a sprawling industry that helps the affluent dodge taxation, or we can choose to regulate it. We can let multinationals pick the country where they declare their profits, or we can pick for them. We can tolerate financial opacity and the countless possibilities for tax evasion that come with it, or we can choose to measure, record and tax wealth.

If we believe most commentators, tax avoidance is a law of nature. Because politics is messy and democracy imperfect, this argument goes, the tax code is always full of “loopholes” that the rich will exploit. Tax justice has never prevailed, and it will never prevail. […] But they are mistaken.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, David Chang’s new Netflix series

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2019

Despite some reservations (a little too bro-y for one thing), I really enjoyed David Chang’s Netflix series Ugly Delicious. So I’m happy to see that he’s got a new series coming out called Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. The trailer:

In this one, he’s traveling the world with some non-food celebs: he hits Los Angeles with Lena Waithe, Marrakesh with Chrissy Teigen, Phnom Penh with Kate McKinnon, and Vancouver with Seth Rogen. Will watch.

What to Expect When Expecting the Displeasure of the Chinese Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

The partnership between China and Western governments & corporations has hit a rough patch recently, namely the Hong Kong protests and how the NBA, Apple, and gaming company Blizzard have handled various responses to them on their platforms. I don’t have a lot to add on the matter, but I have read some interesting takes in the past few days that you might also want to take a look at.

Ben Thompson, The Chinese Cultural Clash:

I am not particularly excited to write this article. My instinct is towards free trade, my affinity for Asia generally and Greater China specifically, my welfare enhanced by staying off China’s radar. And yet, for all that the idea of being a global citizen is an alluring concept and largely my lived experience, I find in situations like this that I am undoubtedly a child of the West. I do believe in the individual, in free speech, and in democracy, no matter how poorly practiced in the United States or elsewhere. And, in situations like this weekend, when values meet money, I worry just how many companies are capable of choosing the former?

John Gruber riffing on Thompson’s piece:

The gist of it is that 25 years ago, when the West opened trade relations with China, we expected our foundational values like freedom of speech, personal liberty, and democracy to spread to China.

Instead, the opposite is happening. China maintains strict control over what its people see on the Internet — the Great Firewall works. They ban our social networks where free speech reigns, but we accept and use their social networks, like TikTok, where content contrary to the Chinese Community Party line is suppressed.

Farhad Manjoo, Dealing With China Isn’t Worth the Moral Cost:

The People’s Republic of China is the largest, most powerful and arguably most brutal totalitarian state in the world. It denies basic human rights to all of its nearly 1.4 billion citizens. There is no freedom of speech, thought, assembly, religion, movement or any semblance of political liberty in China. Under Xi Jinping, “president for life,” the Communist Party of China has built the most technologically sophisticated repression machine the world has ever seen. In Xinjiang, in Western China, the government is using technology to mount a cultural genocide against the Muslim Uighur minority that is even more total than the one it carried out in Tibet. Human rights experts say that more than a million people are being held in detention camps in Xinjiang, two million more are in forced “re-education,” and everyone else is invasively surveilled via ubiquitous cameras, artificial intelligence and other high-tech means.

None of this is a secret.

Om Malik, Our Collective Chinese Conundrum:

We in the West should very well know what and who we are dealing with — China might be decked out in Louis Vuitton, but underneath, it is still a single-party, quasi-communist nation. Knowing the Western desperation for growth and the insatiable needs of the stock markets, China also knows it can yank anyone’s chain.

Huawei isn’t a recent problem. It was a problem a decade ago. The dynamic in this spat between the NBA and China isn’t new — China gets what China wants, not the other way around. Why are we being outraged now? The West signed up for this.

Malik quotes from Ian Bremmer’s newsletter:

in the west, the past decades have been marked by a view that china would eventually adapt to western norms, institutions, political and economic systems. but from an asian perspective, the opposite appears more likely. after all, of the last 2,000 years, china and india have led the global economy for the first 1800; europe and the united states only flipped the script for the last 200. now that’s about to change. and when it does, it’s going to happen quickly, powered by 1.4 billion increasingly urban, educated and technologically-connected chinese citizens. take the long view (and an asian perspective) and it’s a better bet that the west will adapt to the realities of chinese economic power, not the other way around.

Misremembered Landscapes and Nearly Forgotten Memories

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

Matt Jukes

Matt Jukes

Matt Jukes

Creative director and artist Matt Jukes makes these lovely prints of “misremembered landscapes and nearly forgotten memories”. To me, they look like depictions of landskein, “the weaving & braiding of horizon lines, often seen most clearly on hazy days in hill country”.

You can purchase various editions of Jukes’ work from the shop on his website or Saatchi Art. (via tmn)

2001: A Space Odyssey, The Frank Poole Epilogue

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

From Steve Begg (who I would guess is this Steve Begg, who has done VFX on the recent Bond films) comes an epilogue of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene picks up 203 years after the events of 2001, following Frank Poole’s body as it encounters a monolith.

How Flu Vaccines Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

Ten years ago, in the midst of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, I wrote about the manufacturing process for the H1N1 flu vaccine. It involves billions of chicken eggs.

The most striking feature of the H1N1 flu vaccine manufacturing process is the 1,200,000,000 chicken eggs required to make the 3 billion doses of vaccine that may be required worldwide. There are entire chicken farms in the US and around the world dedicated to producing eggs for the purpose of incubating influenza viruses for use in vaccines. No wonder it takes six months from start to finish.

The post holds up pretty well because, according to the CDC, this is still the way most flu vaccines in America are manufactured. Here’s a look at pharmaceutical company GSK’s egg-based process:

Two other techniques for making flu vaccines were approved for use in the US in 2012 and 2013 respectively, cell-based flu vaccines:

‘Cell-based’ refers to how the flu vaccine is made. Most inactivated influenza vaccines are produced by growing influenza viruses in eggs. The influenza viruses used in the cell-based vaccine are grown in cultured cells of mammalian origin instead of in hens’ eggs.

A cell-based flu vaccine was developed as an alternative to the egg-based manufacturing process. Cell culture technology is potentially more flexible than the traditional technology, which relies upon adequate supply of eggs. In addition, the cell-based flu vaccine that uses cell-based candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) has the potential to offer better protection than traditional, egg-based flu vaccines as a result of being more similar to flu viruses in circulation.

And recombinant flu vaccines:

NIAID and its industry partners have made progress in moving from both the egg-based and cell-based flu vaccine production methods toward recombinant DNA manufacturing for flu vaccines. This method does not require an egg-grown vaccine virus and does not use chicken eggs at all in the production process. Instead, manufacturers isolate a certain protein from a naturally occurring (“wild type”) recommended flu vaccine virus. These proteins are then combined with portions of another virus that grows well in insect cells. The resulting “recombinant” vaccine virus is then mixed with insect cells and allowed to replicate. The flu surface protein called hemagglutinin is then harvested from these cells and purified.

Both of these new techniques make production quicker, thereby resulting in more effective vaccines because they are more likely to match the strains of whatever’s “going around”.

As a reminder, you should get a flu shot every year in the fall. The CDC recommends that “everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception”, especially those “who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza”. Flu vaccines are covered by your health insurance without copay (thanks, Obama!) and are often available at drug stores without an appointment or a long wait. So go get one!

Silence Is the Presence of Everything

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2019

This morning, instead of crawling straight from bed to desk and diving into the internet cesspool, I went for a walk. I went because I needed the exercise, because it was a nice sunny day out, because the changing leaves are super lovely right now. (Check out my Instagram story for some of what I saw along the way.) But I also wanted to listen to this episode of On Being with Gordon Hempton called Silence and the Presence of Everything. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist who has a lot of interesting things to say about silence and natural sounds.

Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writings of John Muir, which — he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat.

It sounds paradoxical, but I wanted to listen to this podcast in a setting with natural sounds, rather than in my car or on a plane. I had my AirPods in because they don’t block all outside sound, so I could hear the crunch of the road beneath my shoes as I walked and listened. The nature and animal sounds in the episode sounded like they were actually coming from all around me. I paused the episode for a minute or two to listen to a burbling brook I passed along the way. The whole experience was super relaxing and informative.1

You can read more about Hempton and his efforts in preserving the world’s silence places on his website The Sound Tracker or in his book, One Square Inch of Silence. Outside magazine recently profiled Hempton, who, in cruel twist of fate, has suffered dramatic hearing loss in recent years.

The problem Hempton hopes to take on is gargantuan. To understand it, try a little experiment: when you reach the period at the end of this sentence, stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and listen.

What did you hear? The churn of the refrigerator? The racing hiss of passing traffic? Even if you’re sitting outside, chances are you heard the low hum of a plane passing overhead or an 18-wheeler’s air horn shrieking down a not-so-distant highway.

If you heard only the sounds of birds and the wind in the trees, you’re one of a lucky few. But it’s likely that quiet won’t last.

This short documentary, Sanctuaries of Silence, follows Hempton to some of the quietest places on Earth, including the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.

I think what I like most about listening is that I disappear.

If you’d like to disappear for awhile but don’t have access to a quiet place, you should check out some of Hempton’s recordings on Spotify — I’m listening to Forest Rain right now.

Or try out the Sound Escapes podcast to check out some of his best natural soundscapes. (thx Meg, who sent along a link to the On Being episode after reading yesterday’s post on noise pollution)

  1. And it was another good example of the AirPods as an AR device.

The World’s Quiet Places Are Disappearing In a Technological Cloud of Noise

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2019

For The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes about the growing problem of noise pollution (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments) and why so few people take it seriously (because of our love of technology and hands-off governments).

Scientists have known for decades that noise — even at the seemingly innocuous volume of car traffic — is bad for us. “Calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience,” former U.S. Surgeon General William Stewart said in 1978. In the years since, numerous studies have only underscored his assertion that noise “must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” Say you’re trying to fall asleep. You may think you’ve tuned out the grumble of trucks downshifting outside, but your body has not: Your adrenal glands are pumping stress hormones, your blood pressure and heart rate are rising, your digestion is slowing down. Your brain continues to process sounds while you snooze, and your blood pressure spikes in response to clatter as low as 33 decibels-slightly louder than a purring cat.

Experts say your body does not adapt to noise. Large-scale studies show that if the din keeps up-over days, months, years-noise exposure increases your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks, as well as strokes, diabetes, dementia, and depression. Children suffer not only physically-18 months after a new airport opened in Munich, the blood pressure and stress-hormone levels of neighboring children soared-but also behaviorally and cognitively. A landmark study published in 1975 found that the reading scores of sixth graders whose classroom faced a clattering subway track lagged nearly a year behind those of students in quieter classrooms-a difference that disappeared once soundproofing materials were installed. Noise might also make us mean: A 1969 study suggested that test subjects exposed to noise, even the gentle fuzz of white noise, become more aggressive and more eager to zap fellow subjects with electric shocks.

Being pretty sensitive to noise, I read this piece with a great deal of interest. One of the benefits of living in the middle of nowhere in the country is that when I go outside, the sounds I hear are mostly natural: birds, streams, wind, frogs, and insects. In the winter, the quiet is sometimes so complete that you can only hear the sound of your own heart beating in your ears. But lately, some dipshit who owns a car with a deliberately loud after-market muffler has been driving through the surrounding hills, disrupting the peace. I can’t usually hear cars passing on the nearby road, but this muffler jackass you can hear literally miles away. It makes me want to smash things! I feel like a bit of a crank, but why does this person’s freedom to have a loud muffler override the freedom of the thousands of people within earshot to have quiet? (See also positive versus negative liberty and How Motorcyclists Think People React When They Drive By.)

Beading the Cosmos

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2019

Margaret Nazon

Inspired by some photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Margaret Nazon began in 2009 to make beaded artworks of stars, galaxies, planets, and nebula. I love her representation of the Milky Way, pictured above. Nazon grew up in a First Nation community in Canada’s Northwest Territories and in this interview she talks about using traditional materials for her cosmic drawings.

I consider my art to be “abstract.” Aboriginal people have used animal skins, bones, seeds, quills and rocks for decoration, and I figured it would fit in my artwork. I was given buttons made of caribou bones as a gift and I decided I should try to incorporate a solid piece of bone into one of my galaxy pictures. Viewers loved that. I spent last December in Salt Spring Island B.C. One of my friends asked if I was going to incorporate B.C. rocks or shells in my work and I thought that was a great idea. I started receiving rocks and shells as inspiration. Just recently a Gwich’in friend gave me willow seeds to use. The Gwich’in people used to use willow seeds to decorate their clothing.

(via brain pickings)

Beautiful Drone-Lit Landscapes by Reuben Wu

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2019

Reuben Wu

Reuben Wu

I’ve featured Reuben Wu’s work here before so when I saw via Colossal that he’s got some new stuff going on, I immediately went to check it out. In his Aeroglyphs, Lux Noctis, and Field of Infinity projects, Wu achieves a minimalist sci-fi lighting effect by using drones to light desolately beautiful natural landscapes. Check out his Instagram and Facebook for more images, particularly this video.

Oh, and he also caught the recent total solar eclipse in Chile in this video and this photo. Wow. Kicking myself a little bit that I did not get organized to head to Chile for this.

True Facts About the Ogre-Faced Spider

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

Ze Frank released the most recent video in his True Facts series about animals last month. Meet the ogre-faced spider. Admittedly I haven’t watched any of the other True Facts videos in awhile, but this one seemed unusually informative (while retaining Frank’s signature humorous asides). I would watch an entire nature series like this: funny but not dumbed down on the science side.

1869 US Patent Drawing for a Human Flying Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

Flying Machine Patent

From the catalog of the National Archives, a drawing from US Patent #95513 filed by W.F. Quinby in 1869 for “Improvement in Flying-Machines”. This could easily be the cover of a lost 2003 Neutral Milk Hotel album. (via @john_overholt)

My Favorite Talks from XOXO 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

I was fortunate enough to make it out to Portland, OR for the 2019 XOXO festival back in September. It was my third time attending — I went the first year and in 2015 — and, goodness, the conference has changed a lot. XOXO used to be comfortably in my wheelhouse and now it’s more on the outskirts, so instead of hearing a bunch of stuff I want to hear, I trust the conference organizers to present some things that I need to hear, to keep me curiously exploring new ideas, viewpoints, and experiences unlike my own.

XOXO has started posting videos of all their talks online (one new video each weekday), and I’m going to share some of my favorites here. The first video is of Tracy Clayton’s barnburner of a talk: Log Off, Fam — Self Care in the Timeline Era.

Clayton and I overlapped at Buzzfeed (she was an employee and I had a desk there working on kottke.org) but have never met, so it was interesting to hear about her success and ultimately bad experience there.

I’ll updating this post with the rest of my favorites as they’re posted on YouTube.

Update: I enjoyed Soleil Ho’s talk about how the drive by her and others to shift the food world’s conversation on representation and cultural appropriation is starting to bear some fruit.

Update: My favorite talk, the one that hit me most squarely in the feels, was by Emily & Amelia Nagoski. It was about burnout, which I have been, I think, struggling with lately w/r/t to this here website. There were several points during this talk when I felt absolutely naked, exposed — like they were talking just to me.

Harry Brewis told us about the time when a goofy project he started spun out of his control in the most wonderful way:

To close the conference, Rhea Butcher talked about the importance of seeking without necessarily worrying about the finding:

You can find all of the 2019 talks right here.

The BBC’s Abridged Reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2019

BBC Radio 4 has done an abridged audio reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, her followup to The Handmaid’s Tale. The series is composed of 15 episodes that run 14 minutes each — a total of 3.5 hours compared to the full 13+ hour audiobook. The episodes are only going to be available online for a short time though — the first one expires Oct 15 — so get in there if you’re going to listen. I’m reading the book right now, otherwise I’d be right there with you. (via open culture)

Five True Tales of Manhattan

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Great Big Stories has collected five of their video short stories into a collection: 5 True Tales of Manhattan. The stories include a restaurant that serves Cuban-Chinese cuisine, Sunday night jazz concerts in a Harlem apartment, and a woman who rehabs dozens of turtles in her small apartment.

The Fantastical Flying Machines of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Riffing off a remark made by Guillermo del Toro that a director’s output is all part of the same movie, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society looks at the many airships in Hayao Miyazaki’s films. What does the director’s continued use of flying machines tell us about filmmaking, technology, and everything else he’s trying to communicate though his films?

What’s Weirder: Glenlivet’s Tide Pods or Le Creuset’s Star Wars Collection?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Last week we saw two absolutely incredible product introductions, and I’m having trouble picking a favorite. First, there were Glenlivet’s cocktail capsules that immediately reminded the entire internet of Tide Pods.

Glenlivet Pods

And then there was Le Creuset’s Star Wars collection of cookware, including a Darth Vader dutch oven, R2-D2 cooker, a Han Solo in carbonite roasting pan, and a “hand-painted, special-edition Tatooine™ Round Dutch Oven, inspired by the desert planet with captivating binary sunsets”.

Star Wars Le Creuset

Star Wars Le Creuset

People, we are living in a true golden age.

An Animated 3D Video Tour of Paris Through History from 52 BCE to 1889

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

In 2012, a company called Dassault Systèmes launched an interactive application that allowed you to move about in a 3D historical reconstruction of Paris at different points in its history. The application seems to have fallen into disrepair so that you can’t actually use it, but the 13-minute video above offers a tour through several time periods, including:

Yellowstone National Park’s Sound & Video Libraries Are Free for Anyone to Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

2018 Roadtrip

Yellowstone National Park maintains a collection of sounds and videos taken in the park that are in the public domain and free for anyone to use. The collection includes the sights and sounds of birds, geysers, bison, bubbling mud pots, fish, wolves, falling snow, storms, and all sorts of other ambient noises and videos.

How Motorcyclists Think People React When They Drive By

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

YMMV, but I laughed really hard at this (sound on, obvs). Good clean Friday fun.

Wicker Musical Chairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

I bet you don’t think about wicker furniture that much, but Estelle Caswell does. In this video, which proves that almost anything can be interesting if the right person looks at it from the right angle, she explores how the peacock wicker chair became an unlikely pop culture icon.

The golden age of album cover design doesn’t have a specific start and end date, but many regard the late 1960s to 1970s as one of the field’s most exciting times. From the psychedelic rock covers of the ’60s to glistening airbrush covers of the ’70s, the era was a kaleidoscope of colors worthy of placement in modern art museums.

But there’s one genre of cover so ubiquitous it almost flew under the radar. The covers typically featured a wide shot of the artist sitting on a throne-like wicker chair, like a king or queen. Usually, the artist looked casual and relaxed; sometimes props would sit around them to decorate the scene. No matter what, the oversized woven chair was the main feature. This was the peacock chair album cover, and it was everywhere: Dolly Parton, Al Green, and Cher all sat in it.

1917, a WWI Thriller Presented In Real-Time as a Single Continuous Shot

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

Master cinematographer Roger Deakins has teamed up with director Sam Mendes on 1917, a WWI thriller that follows two soldiers tasked to deliver a message to the front lines to save the lives of thousands of men. To create a more immersive feeling, they decided to present the action of the movie in real-time and pieced together many long takes to make it seem as though the film is a single continuous 2-hour-long shot. In the video above, the filmmakers give us a behind-the-scenes look at how that impressive undertaking was accomplished.

With the emphasis on time as the film’s organizing principle, it’s not difficult to see the influence of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk here. Even the watch-ticking music in the trailer for 1917 is similar to Hans Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk. (via @jayjrendon)

The Songs of 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 & 1983

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Chicago mashup masters The Hood Internet have been pretty quiet lately — their last mixtape was released more than two years ago. But in the west, a shadow stirs… In the same vein as their 40 Years of Hip Hop video, the duo has released a musical tribute to 1979, combining 50 songs released that year into a tight 3-minute mix.

Their plan is to release a new video each week in October that will cover the subsequent four years, 1980-1983.

Update: Here is their video for 1980. I’ll share the rest of them as they post.

Here are 1981, 1982, and 1983:

Lizzo vs. The Aristocats

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

A chap named Brendan Carey took footage from the 1970 animated movie The Aristocats and dubbed over Lizzo’s Truth Hurts to make this tiny masterpiece.

See also what is arguably the best video of this genre, Bert & Ernie doing M.O.P.’s Ante Up.

Pixar’s Fake Real Cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Pixar is always trying to push the envelope of animation and filmmaking, going beyond what they’ve done before. For the studio’s latest release, Toy Story 4, the filmmakers worked to inject as much reality into the animation as possible and to make it feel like a live-action movie shot with real cameras using familiar lenses and standard techniques. In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak shares how they did that:

As I learned when I visited Pixar this summer,1 all of the virtual cameras and lenses they use in their 3D software to “shoot” scenes are based on real cameras and lenses. As the first part of the video shows, when they want two things to be in focus at the same time, they use a lens with a split focus diopter. You can tell that’s what they’re doing because you can see the artifacts on the screen — the blurring, the line marking the diopter transition point — just as you would in a live-action film.

They’re doing a similar thing by capturing the movement of actual cameras and then importing the motion into their software:

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

Now, this is a really interesting decision on Pixar’s part! Since their filmmaking is completely animated and digital, they can easily put any number of objects in focus in the same scene or simply erase the evidence that a diopter was used. But no, they keep it in because making something look like it was shot in the real world with real cameras helps the audience believe the action on the screen. Our brains have been conditioned by more than 100 years of cinema to understand the visual language of movies, including how cameras move and lenses capture scenes. Harnessing that visual language helps Pixar’s filmmakers make the presentation of the action on the screen seem familiar rather than unrealistic.

  1. Q: How do you know when someone has recently visited Pixar?

    A: Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

How Accurate Is Your Listening?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

In a 2010 interview with the BBC, Alan Rickman talked about the importance of listening as an actor:

You only speak because you wish to respond to something you’ve heard. So the notion of an actor going away and looking at a speech they have in their bedroom alone at night is a complete nonsense to me. What you have to say is completely incidental. All I want to see from an actor is the intensity and accuracy of their listening. And then what you have to say will become automatic.

I love that — “the intensity and accuracy of their listening”. It seems like good advice not only for actors but for other professions and personal relationships. How accurate is your listening? (via @tedgioia)

Will Trump Ever Leave the White House?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Thomas Edsall asks the provocative question: How and when will President Trump leave the White House? In the course of attempting to define and then answer the question, he talks with a number of political experts about how a successful impeachment or a 2020 election defeat could play out. When he asked “eminently reasonable scholar” David Leege about it, Leege said:

We should not assume that either a 2020 election defeat or impeachment/conviction will remove Trump from the White House.

Both before Trump was elected in 2016 and during his term, he has made frequent references to “my 2nd Amendment friends”’ and increasingly the “patriots” who constitute the military.

As president, Trump has resisted any effort to curb citizen access to guns and ammo. He puts on a modest show of concern when a particularly bad gun massacre occurs but, in the end, he sees armed citizens as a significant personal asset.

And if the 2020 election is at all close, you’d might see something like what happened in 2000 with Bush/Gore, except way worse, given today’s hyper-partisan political atmosphere. Here is Harvard’s Steven Levitsky:

It is possible that Republicans would close ranks behind Trump, resulting in a constitutional crisis. If right-wing media and the G.O.P. politicians were to remain solidly behind Trump, as they largely have thus far in previous scandals, there would be no easy constitutional exit.

I’ve had a bad feeling about just this possibility for a few years now. From a post I wrote in Sept 2017:

But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him. That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

It will indeed be interesting and terrifying to see what happens here.

The First Photograph of the Far Side of the Moon from 1959

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Soviet Union kicked off the Space Race and for the first several years (arguable up until the Moon landing in ‘69), they dominated the United States. One of their “firsts” in the early years was taking the first photo of the far side of the Moon 60 years ago this month.

Dark side of the Moon 1959

Astronomer Kevin Hainline wrote a fascinating account of how the Soviet’s Luna 3 spacecraft took the photo and then transmitted it back to Earth.

First off, Luna 3, the first three-axis stabilized spacecraft, had to reach the Moon to take the pictures, and it had to use a little photocell to orient towards the Moon so that now, while stabilized, it could take the pictures. Which it did. On PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM.

And it gets WILDER because these photos were then moved to a little CHEMICAL PLANT to DEVELOP AND DRY THEM. That’s right, Luna 3 had a little 1 Hour Photo inside. Now you’re thinking, well, how do you get those actual photos back to the Earth?

How indeed? The spacecraft faxed the photos to Earth. A few years later, when the Soviets’ Luna 9 took the first photo on the Moon’s surface and went to transmit it back to Earth, a group in the UK was able to read the signal with a fax machine and the resulting image was published the next day on the front page of the Daily Express.

The Birth of American Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

I’ve been slowly making my way through various aspects of the NY Times’ ambitious 1619 Project spearheaded up by Nikole Hannah-Jones, including the excellent podcast. In the third episode of the podcast (and in a related article), Times critic Wesley Morris shares an impressionistic and informative timeline of how black music became the sound of America, from the minstrel performers of the 1800s to Motown.

Blackness was on the move before my ancestors were legally free to be. It was on the move before my ancestors even knew what they had. It was on the move because white people were moving it. And the white person most frequently identified as its prime mover is Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New Yorker who performed as T.D. Rice and, in acclaim, was lusted after as “Daddy” Rice, “the negro par excellence.” Rice was a minstrel, which by the 1830s, when his stardom was at its most refulgent, meant he painted his face with burned cork to approximate those of the enslaved black people he was imitating.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor in his early 20s, touring with a theater company in Cincinnati (or Louisville; historians don’t know for sure), when, the story goes, he saw a decrepit, possibly disfigured old black man singing while grooming a horse on the property of a white man whose last name was Crow. On went the light bulb. Rice took in the tune and the movements but failed, it seems, to take down the old man’s name. So in his song based on the horse groomer, he renamed him: “Weel about and turn about jus so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow.” And just like that, Rice had invented the fellow who would become the mascot for two centuries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up to look like the old black man — or something like him, because Rice’s get-up most likely concocted skin blacker than any actual black person’s and a gibberish dialect meant to imply black speech. Rice had turned the old man’s melody and hobbled movements into a song-and-dance routine that no white audience had ever experienced before. What they saw caused a permanent sensation. He reportedly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again, night after night, for audiences so profoundly rocked that he was frequently mobbed during performances. Across the Ohio River, not an arduous distance from all that adulation, was Boone County, Ky., whose population would have been largely enslaved Africans. As they were being worked, sometimes to death, white people, desperate with anticipation, were paying to see them depicted at play.

Morris’s article is excellent and covers more ground than the podcast, but the music clips make the podcast episode a must-listen.

Designing the Baseball Stadium of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

I really enjoyed this piece by architect Scott Hines on how he would design the next generation of baseball stadiums. He starts by talking about greater community buy-in:

Fans want to feel that the club has bought into them, and a bolder model of fan engagement could give them a real stake in the club’s success. One of the most promising recent trends in North American sports is the way soccer clubs are emulating their European counterparts by developing dedicated supporters’ groups. These independent organizations drive enthusiasm and energy in the ballpark, and make sure seats stay filled.

Instead of just acknowledging and tolerating the supporter group model, we’re going to encourage and codify it in the park’s architecture by giving over control of entire sections of the ballpark to fans. Rather than design the seating sections and concourse as a finished product, we’ll offer it up as a framework for fan-driven organizations to introduce their own visions.

This bit about better integrating stadiums into the fabric of the city particularly caught my eye:

We’re going to take a different approach: we’re throwing open the gates, and offering the stadium up to the street. Instead of simply using design touches to emulate surrounding buildings, we’ll erase the distinction between stadium and surround, and put the backs of those supporters’ sections towards the street. We can’t have cars on a concourse, so a series of pedestrianized streets — like those that have been successfully implemented in urban developments like Las Vegas’s Fremont Street, Kansas City’s Power and Light District, or Louisville’s Fourth Street Live — can place the park smack-dab in the middle of a vibrant, multi-use entertainment district, developed with the same open-handed, community-led process as the park itself.

Will some people be able to catch a glimpse of the game without buying a seat? Sure. The club can make money back by leasing land to the businesses drawn in by that activity. And on slow game days, the district can support the ballpark by bringing in people who might decide to catch a couple innings over a beer after dinner at a nearby restaurant. When the ballpark is bursting at the seams for a playoff game? The crowd can flow through the entire district, expanding the ballpark’s capacity greatly.

If you do a Cmd-F on the piece however, you’ll discover that “parking” or “public transportation” is not mentioned anywhere. If you’re trying to smartly weave a stadium into a city, how people get there is a huge consideration. Massive parking lots and gameday traffic tend to disrupt sleek architectural plans and neighborhoodish feeling while many cities don’t have the public transportation infrastructure to support getting a majority of fans to the game without a car.

Some Dazzling Early Entries from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

The World Photography Organization has shared some of the early entries for the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards with In Focus. Here are a couple of my favorites (from Khanh Phan and F. Dilek Uyar respectively):

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

2020 Sony World Photography Awards

Pros and amateurs alike can enter the competition on the WPO site…deadlines are in January 2020. And check out their blog for more of their favorite early entries.

Gross Domestic Product: Banksy’s New Homewares Store

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

Artist Banksy has opened a storefront in the South London borough of Croydon called Gross Domestic Product. It’s literally a storefront and not a store…you can’t go in and buy anything. Here’s a quick tour:

The impetus behind the store, aside from the artist’s continuing discourse with capitalism, is to help settle a legal dispute with a greeting card company:

Banksy Gross Domestic Product

This post from Colossal has a bunch more information on the project.

The temporary installation, which will be on view for two weeks in the Croydon neighborhood, incorporates multiple window displays for a shop that is not in fact open to passersby. However, some of the items on display are available for purchase in GDP’s associated online store including the welcome mats, which Banksy hired refugees in Greek detainment camps to stitch; all proceeds go back to the refugees. Revenue from sales of the doll sets will also support the purchase of a replacement boat for activist Pia Klemp, whose boat was confiscated by the Italian government. The product line is rounded out with such oddities as disco balls made from riot gear helmets, handbags made of bricks, and signed — and partially used — £10 spray paint cans.

No fooling, I would love to cop one of those used spray paint cans.

p.s. Does anyone remember Grot, the shop Reggie opens in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? For some reason, Banksy’s shop reminds me of that.

The Global Mega-Colony of Ants

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

Ants are fascinating. They’re small and individually dumb, but together they can form very complex societies capable of activities like farming and altering entire ecosystems. In this video, Kurzgesagt shows how the Argentine ant became one of the most numerous and successful species of ant in the world, forming a single mega-colony across the entire Earth, from Argentina to the US to Japan.

“The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society,” the researchers write in the journal Insect Sociaux, in which they report their findings.

However, the irony is that it is us who likely created the ant mega-colony by initially transporting the insects around the world, and by continually introducing ants from the three continents to each other, ensuring the mega-colony continues to mingle.

“Humans created this great non-aggressive ant population,” the researchers write.

Boris Johnson, Shady SEO Master?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2019

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be strategically using particular words and phrases in speeches and appearances as SEO bait to bury unfavorable news about himself in Google’s search results. My pal Matt Webb has collected three examples of this devious practice over the past month.

Not only has Boris used his infamous ‘dead cat strategy’ to move the conversation away from him and Carrie Symonds and his plans for Brexit, he’s managed to push down his past mistakes on Google, too — making it more difficult for people to get a quick snapshot of relevant information. He’s not just controlling the narrative here — he’s practically rewriting it. And judged by the standards of an SEO campaign, it’s hard to describe it as anything other than a resounding success.

In the latest instance, Johnson used the phrase “model of restraint” in a TV appearance, which then came up in search results for “boris johnson model” instead of articles about the allegations that he’d had a sexual relationship with a former model whose business he funneled money & favors to while mayor of London.

Boris Johnson SEO

Wired has more information on the PM’s potential SEO scam.

His speech in front of the police was meant to distract from reports that the police were called to the flat he shared with girlfriend Carrie Symonds following an alleged domestic dispute, while the kipper incident was meant to downplay connections with UKIP (whose supporters are called kippers). The claim about painting buses, finally, was supposedly intended to reframe search results about the contentious claim that the UK sends £350 million to Europe branded on the side of the Brexit campaign bus.

“It’s a really simple way of thinking about it, but at the end of the day it’s what a lot of SEO experts want to achieve,” says Jess Melia of Parallax, a Leeds-based company that identified the theory with Johnson’s claim to paint model buses.

“With the amount of press he’s got going on around him, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someone on his team is saying: ‘Just go and talk about something else and this is the word I want you to use’,” says Melia.

Update: If you didn’t click through to the Wired article by Chris Stokel-Walker, the piece presents a number of reasons why Johnson’s supposed SEO trickery might not work:

For one thing, Google search results are weighted towards behavioural factors and sentiment of those searching for terms — which would mean that such a strategy of polishing search results would be shortsighted. The individual nuances of each user are reflected in the search results they see, and the search results are constantly updated.

“What we search for influences what we find,” says Rodgers. “Not all search results are the same. That front page of Google, depending on what I’ve searched for in the past. It’s very hard to game that organic search.”

Current searches for the terms in question show that any effect was indeed short-lived. On Twitter, Stokel-Walker says that “No, Boris Johnson isn’t seeding stories with odd keywords to reduce the number of embarrassing stories about him in Google search results” (and calls those who believe Johnson is doing so “conspiracy theorists” (perhaps in mock frustration)) but the piece itself doesn’t provide its readers such a definitive answer,1 instead offering something closer to “some experts say he probably isn’t deliberately seeding search keywords and others disagree, but even if he is, it is unlikely to work as a long-term strategy”. Since we don’t really know — and won’t, unless some Johnson staffer or PR agency fesses up to it — that seems like an entirely reasonable conclusion for now.

  1. And this is on purpose! Stokel-Walker isn’t writing an opinion piece here; he’s writing a news article about current events. He quotes reasonable experts on both sides of the debate. That’s what journalists do.

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