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Entries for February 2020 (March 2020 »    April 2020 »    May 2020 »    Archives)

 

What Happened to the Company That Raised Minimum Wage to $70k/yr?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2020

Remember a few years ago when the owner of a credit card payment processing company based in Seattle raised the minimum wage of his employees to $70,000/yr while taking a huge pay-cut himself and capitalists the world over, afraid of their beloved & apparently suuuuper delicate system collapsing from such madness, flipped out?1 The BBC recently checked in with Gravity Payments and its owner Dan Price to see how things were going. Pretty damn well, as it turns out:

The headcount has doubled and the value of payments that the company processes has gone from $3.8bn a year to $10.2bn.

But there are other metrics that Price is more proud of.

“Before the $70,000 minimum wage, we were having between zero and two babies born per year amongst the team,” he says.

“And since the announcement — and it’s been only about four-and-a-half years — we’ve had more than 40 babies.”

More than 10% of the company have been able to buy their own home, in one of the US’s most expensive cities for renters. Before the figure was less than 1%.

“There was a little bit of concern amongst pontificators out there that people would squander any gains that they would have. And we’ve really seen the opposite,” Price says.

The amount of money that employees are voluntarily putting into their own pension funds has more than doubled and 70% of employees say they’ve paid off debt.

When Price made the announcement about raising wages, two senior employees quit because they thought the junior employees would become lazy and the company would suffer. Spolier alert: didn’t happen.

Rosita Barlow, director of sales at Gravity, says that since salaries were raised junior colleagues have been pulling more weight.

“When money is not at the forefront of your mind when you’re doing your job, it allows you to be more passionate about what motivates you,” she says.

Senior staff have found their workload reduced. They’re under less pressure and can do things like take all of the holiday leave to which they are entitled.

The thing about the increased number of babies is astounding. Some of that has to be demographic (employees getting older and entering prime family-starting years) but having a baby in the United States is expensive and that has to factor into many people’s decision on whether to have a child, especially if it’s a second kid or if you’re a single parent.

But the most interesting observation is this one by Price equating the freedom of his employees to their capability:

“We saw, every day, the effects of giving somebody freedom,” Price says.

He thinks it is why Gravity is making more money than ever.

Raising salaries didn’t change people’s motivation — he says staff were already motivated to work hard — but it increased what he calls their capability.

Employees that worry less about debt, healthcare, or where their next meal is coming from are happier, more productive employees. Imagine that.

Update: Although what he did in raising the salaries of his company’s employees is commendable, Price himself is perhaps not the corporate role model that BBC article makes him out to be. From a 2016 piece about Price in Esquire:

In a TEDx Talk last fall, Price’s ex-wife, Kristie, claimed he once “got mad at me for ignoring him and grabbed me and shook me… He also threw me to the ground and got on top of me. He started punching me in the stomach and slapped me across the face.” (The video of the talk was never released, but Bloomberg Businessweek quoted it in a story about Price in December.) The suit brought by Lucas Price, his business partner and brother, was unrelated to Kristie’s allegations. Lucas was seeking $26 million because, essentially, Dan had been a dick in their business dealings.

The rest of the piece corroborates that Price is in fact a dick who raised his employees’ salaries partially because it was a good PR move. (via @adrianhon)

Update: Inspired by Gravity Payments, Basecamp raised their minimum starting salary to $70,000/yr in 2019.

  1. Have you noticed that when hardcore capitalists talk about plans to raise corporate taxes or re-institute a more progressive income tax scheme or regulate businesses, they seem deathly afraid that these changes are going to completely derail capitalism in America, as if capitalism were this super weak thing instead of one of the most powerfully unstoppable inventions that humans have ever created? Your great engine of change is indeed mighty! Have some confidence in your beliefs, man!

Simply Stunning Aerial Photos of Oceans and Beaches

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2020

Tobias Hagg

Tobias Hagg

These aerial photos of oceans, sand, and other natural landscapes taken by Tobias Hägg will make you stop in your tracks (and perhaps want to learn drone photography). You can find more of Hägg’s photography on Instagram and if you’d like a print, those are available as well (with a portion of the proceeds going to help the oceans and to plant trees). (via colossal)

Mug

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2020

This slow and meditative video features a potter making a mug from scratch. There’s no dialogue but don’t skimp on the sound…headphones are best. I could have watched this for an hour. (via @craigmod)

Marshall Islands Navigation Charts

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2020

Marshall Islands Navigation Chart

Marshall Islands Navigation Chart

Marshall Islands Navigation Chart

Marshall Islands Navigation Chart

The arrangement of the sticks in these Marshall Islands navigational charts represents ocean swells & currents and how they interact with the land, useful information for navigating between islands via canoe. From a Smithsonian Magazine article about these charts:

The chart is less a literal representation of the sea, says museum curator and anthropologist Adrienne Kaeppler, and more an abstract illustration of the ways that ocean swells interact with land. Curved sticks, she explains, show where swells are deflected by an island; short, straight strips often indicate currents near islands; longer strips “may indicate the direction in which certain islands are to be found;” and small cowry shells represent the islands themselves.

The stick charts were preparatory & teaching tools — mariners would memorize the charts before heading out to sea rather than take them along on the boat.

The photos above are from the Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of Flickr.

See also Secrets of the Wave Pilots and other physical data visualizations. (via curationist)

An International Eye Test Chart (circa 1907)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2020

Mayerle Eye Test Chart

From the collection of the US National Library of Medicine, an eye test chart designed by George Mayerle around 1907 to be a complete vision testing solution for speakers of several languages.

Running through the middle of the chart, the seven vertical panels test for acuity of vision with characters in the Roman alphabet (for English, German, and other European readers) and also in Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew. A panel in the center replaces the alphabetic characters with symbols for children and adults who were illiterate or who could not read any of the other writing systems offered. Directly above the center panel is a version of the radiant dial that tests for astigmatism. On either side of that are lines that test the muscular strength of the eyes. Finally, across the bottom, boxes test for color vision, a feature intended especially (according to one advertisement) for those working on railroads and steamboats.

Mayerle was a German optometrist working in San Francisco when he made the chart, designing it for use in a city with a diverse population. My pals at 20x200 are offering limited-edition prints of Mayerle’s chart in a variety of sizes.

See also the history & typography of eye test charts, Optician Sans (a font based on eye chart typography), and Eye Charts for Drones.

Mathematicians Discover the Perfect Way to Multiply

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2020

If you’re a computer, it turns out that the fastest way to multiply two numbers, especially two very large numbers, is not by the grade school method of stacking the two numbers and then multiplying each digit in the top number by each digit in the bottom number and adding the results. Since 1960, mathematicians have been discovering ever faster methods to multiply and recently, a pair of mathematicians discovered a method that is perhaps the fastest way possible.

Their method is a refinement of the major work that came before them. It splits up digits, uses an improved version of the fast Fourier transform, and takes advantage of other advances made over the past forty years. “We use [the fast Fourier transform] in a much more violent way, use it several times instead of a single time, and replace even more multiplications with additions and subtractions,” van der Hoeven said.

What’s interesting is that independently of these discoveries, computers have become a lot better at multiplication:

In addition, the design of computer hardware has changed. Two decades ago, computers performed addition much faster than multiplication. The speed gap between multiplication and addition has narrowed considerably over the past 20 years to the point where multiplication can be even faster than addition in some chip architectures.

(via @macgbrown, who passed this along after I posted this video on Russian multiplication)

My Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2020

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Saigon, Vietnam

I flew to Saigon via Doha on Qatar Airways. On my seatback screen, I watched the flight map as we flew a precise path with several course correcting turns that you don’t find in a usual great circle route. We flew over Turkey and Iraq and then out over the Persian Gulf, being very careful not to cross into the airspace of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia — an aerial expression of Middle East tensions & alliances.

On my first full day, I arranged to go on a street food tour via motorbike. My guide, a local college student, picked me up at my apartment and, along with another guide & fellow tourist, we ate some bun bo hue (beef noodle soup), banh mì (pork sandwich), bap xao (stir-fried corn), com tam (broken rice w/ pork), drank some tra rau bap (corn silk tea), visited the flower market, and enjoyed a leisurely and engaging chat at a coffee shop. I did a food tour to kick off my time in Mexico City as well and would recommend it as a great way to meet some locals and quickly get the lay of the culinary land, which you can use as a blueprint for the rest of your trip.

Bowl of noodles in Saigon, Vietnam

The food here is off the chain. Street food is generally safe to eat, where all the good stuff is, and a full meal is never more than a few bucks. Some of my favorites were banh mì, bun cha (pork w/ rice noodles), and bo la lot (beef wrapped in lolot leaves).

Before I went, I did a bunch of research on specific places to eat, which turned out to be not so useful because about half of the places I’d flagged had permanently closed. In some cases, not only was the restaurant or food cart gone, whole blocks had been razed to make way for an entirely new buildings. Some of these missing places had just been written about a year or two ago, but the pace of change in Saigon is unimaginably fast. Locals I talked to said it feels like an entirely new city every few years.

Founded by a pair of Japanese expats, Pizza 4P’s makes excellent pizza. The growing chain also makes their own burrata and mozzarella in-house.

Mr. Masuko said he leased an alley-side building in Ho Chi Minh City and invested about $100,000 of his savings into a renovation, kitchen gear and other start-up essentials. He and a Japanese employee, Keinosuke Konuki, taught themselves how to make mozzarella by watching a YouTube video.

I also had one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had at Tomidaya in Little Toyko, a tiny place with only 8 seats at a counter. The shoyu was so good I went back a few days later for tsukemen (which was not quite as good but still very tasty).

Craft beer is growing in popularity in Vietnam and the cocktail scene is well established. The Vietnamese palete tends to run sweeter than in America, so go-to cocktails here used to lean towards the tiki end of the spectrum, but now is more varied. Thanks to my pal Brown, I got to visit the tiny speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden door in The Studio Saigon, where artist/bartender Richie Fawcett served up a couple of delicious drinks, including a barrel-aged whiskey cocktail that he smoked with some Irish peat right in front of us.

The official English name for Vietnam’s largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. But locals still call it Saigon (or Sài Gòn), particularly when referring to the central districts. It’s a bit like how New York or NYC refers just to Manhattan.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) is a must-visit if you’re in Saigon. It’s an eye-opening look at how the American role in the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam was known as the Resistance War Against America or the American War) was perceived by the Vietnamese. The photographs showing the damage done by Agent Orange and the almost casual brutality against Vietnamese civilians (including women & children) by US soldiers were really hard (but necessary) to look at. John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on a continuous loop in the lobby of the museum.

I ended up being in Vietnam for Tet, the lunar New Year, which in terms of celebratory scale is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all rolled into one holiday that lasts for several days and reverberates for a few weeks. I hadn’t exactly planned on this timing, but having read about the Tet experience on Legal Nomads, I was prepared.

Families celebrating in Saigon on the first day of Tet

Most of the city was shut down for the holiday — the first day of Tet is a day for family and I saw people spilling out into the alleyways, eating and drinking and laughing — but it wasn’t that hard to find dinner or a place to stop for tea. The only time I really felt the Tet crunch was when I needed to buy a new phone (more on that in a bit) but couldn’t because all of the electronics stores were closed. Most of the time, though, I was thankful for the slightly slower pace and festive atmosphere.

Travel tip: find a rooftop bar in whatever city you’re in and pop in for a drink around sunset.

I’m always interested in cities where a particular mode of transportation sets the tone for everything else. In much of the US — particularly in places like LA, Dallas, or Raleigh — the car reigns. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it’s the bicycle. You could make the argument that in Manhattan, the dance of the streets revolves around the pedestrian. As a city, Saigon is defined by the motorbike. They overwhelm every other mode of transportation here — cars and pedestrians must tailor their movements to the motorbike swarm.

Because of the motorbikes, the process for crossing the street on foot in Saigon is different than in a lot of other places. You basically just wait for any buses (which will absolutely not stop for pedestrians) or cars to go by and then slowly wade out into traffic. Do not make any sudden movements and for god sake don’t run. The motorbike swarm will magically flow around you. It’s suuuuuper unnerving the first few times you do it, but you soon get used to it because the alternative is never ever getting across the street.

The motorbikes make walking around Saigon absolutely exhausting.1 It’s not just crossing the street. You literally have to be on the lookout for them everywhere. They drive up on the sidewalks. They drive into and out of houses and buildings, turning every doorway into a potential intersection. Having to look both ways every few seconds when you’re walking 6 or 8 miles a day around the city really drains the ol’ attention reserves.

Things I saw carried on motorbikes in Saigon, a non-exhaustive list: trees, dogs, tiny babies, ice (for delivery to a drinks cart, the ice block was not even strapped down), a family of five, a dessert cart, an entire toy store, a dried squid shop, and 8 huge bags of clams.

I spent a worthwhile morning exploring the antique shops on Le Cong Kieu street. Many of the shops carried the same sorts of items, so it got a little repetitive after awhile, but the shops with the more unique items were worth the effort.

The hip coffee shops in Saigon look much the same as those in Portland, Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City.

Office in the basement bunker of the Independence Palace in Saigon

Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, the Independence Palace was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. After the North Vietnamese capture of the building effectively ended the war in 1975, the palace was preserved as a historical site, a time capsule of 60s and 70s architecture and interior design. I spent half a day wandering the palace taking photos like crazy. Lots of Accidentally Wes Anderson material there.

The oranges in Asia are green?

An American expat I met in Saigon said that American veterans who fought in Vietnam are now retiring here, a fact which I found to be a) true and b) deeply weird for a number of reasons. Here’s a recent LA Times article on the phenomenon.

Rapid growth in Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors has created a situation that would have been unthinkable in the past: Aging American boomers are living a lifestyle reminiscent of Florida, Nevada and Arizona, but in Vietnam. Monthly expenses here rarely exceed $2,000, even to live in a large unit like Rockhold’s, including the help of a cook and a cleaner. The neighbors are friendly: A majority of Vietnamese were born well after the war ended in 1975, and Rockhold says he has rarely encountered resentment, even when he talks about his service as a combat veteran.

The vast majority of the owners in his apartment building are members of Vietnam’s burgeoning urban middle class; many work in government or in education, and can afford to take vacations abroad. He estimates that no more than 1 in 5 residents in the 25-floor complex are foreigners.

“The Vietnamese were extremely nice to me, especially compared to my own country after I came back from the war,” Rockhold said at a coffee shop recently inside a polished, air-conditioned office tower that also houses a restaurant and cinema.

Small truck full of flowers, Saigon

And last and certainly least, my phone was stolen while I was in Saigon. I’d really hoped that 2020 was going to be the year that I’d avoid making a blunder that would cost me thousands of dollars, but I’d neglected to pay sufficient attention to this bit in the Legal Nomads piece about Tet:

Unfortunately, the city also enters into what is locally known as “stealing season” — a proliferation of petty crimes like phone and purse theft, with the money used toward paying for these Tet gifts. In the weeks leading up to Tet and shortly thereafter, locals would come up to me on the street mimicking someone making off with my bag, a warning to keep an eye on belongings. Several friends found their phones snatched out of their hands in mid-conversation during this time, though no one had any more significant issues (e.g. there were no violence or armed muggings) to report.

It was the second day of Tet and I had just gotten off a motorbike taxi in front of a cafe in a tony part of town. I pulled out my phone to check on something quickly and was about 2 seconds away from putting it in my pocket and going into the cafe when a guy on a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk — a totally normal thing here, so I didn’t think anything of it — and snatched my phone right out of my hand. I swore at the guy and ran after him for about two steps before I realized a) he was already halfway down the block and b) no one within earshot spoke English well enough to help me quickly enough to chase the guy down or flag down a police officer. The phone was gone.

Luckily, I had my iPad in my backpack, so I went into the cafe and deactivated the phone with Find My. For about an hour, I stewed and felt violated & pissed that I had been careless. I’ve had mixed experiences with solo travel — it’s hard sometimes! — so some despondency along those lines crept in too. I posted an Instagram Story about the theft (w/ my iPad) and some kind and wise words from my pals Craig and Stewart got me back on the right track. Stewart in particular reminded me that events like this are “the tax we pay on traveling” and that “maybe we don’t pay it every trip, but it comes around eventually”.

So yeah anyway, that shitbird didn’t ruin my trip — although being without a phone (no maps, no rideshare apps, no texting to coordinate meetups, no translation app) for a couple of days definitely restricted my movements for a couple of days until the electronics stores opened after Tet. That dude’s year may have gotten off to an unlucky start by stealing from someone, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let losing some property set the tone for my year or change my affection for this city and its people.

Singapore

Singapore felt like the future, full stop. And it’s not just the incredible waterfall & tropical forest in the airport or the mid-building gardens in the skyscrapers. Energy-saving escalators ran slowly or not at all until human motion was detected. Infrared temperature scanners like this one were set up at the airport to automatically screen disembarking passengers for coronavirus-related fevers. Public transportation was fast, cheap, and ubiquitous — my train ride from the airport to downtown was ~$1.50. I exited the country via Automated Immigration — a machine scans your passport & thumb and you’re good to go. A vending machine made me a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, sealed with a thin plastic lid. A Buddhist temple I went to had self-serve offering kiosks. Everything was incredibly clean and just worked the way you thought it should — you could sense the organization and infrastructure behind every little thing. And did I mention the waterfall at the airport?!

Gardens spilling over from a Singapore hi-rise

Coming from Vietnam, the food in Singapore was going to have to clear a high bar. And it did. Unlike in Saigon, where street food sellers filled any and every possible nook and cranny of the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, always-on-brand Singapore has organized their street food vendors into communal hawker centers. In these centers, you can get the most delicious food from all around the world — Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporean cuisines are among the most popular. I ended up eating almost all my meals at food centers — I visited Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Food Centre, and Tekka Centre.

At the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes to try the soya sauce chicken rice dish (just US$2!) at Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall ever to be awarded a Michelin star. This. Dish. Was. Amazing. I have never had chicken that tender & juicy. A revelation.

The Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore National Gallery were both great — definitely worth visiting if you’re in town for more than a day or two.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvelous place to spend an afternoon wandering around. I particularly enjoyed the rainforest and the specialty gardens: the Evolution Garden, the Fragrant Garden, and the Healing Garden (full of plants with medicinal uses). (While looking at the website just now, I’m irritated to learn that I missed the Bonsai Garden. Dammit!) The National Orchid Garden was spectacularly beautiful — there’s an entry fee of $5 that’s well worth paying.1

The Atlas Bar is notable for its huge Art Deco space and extensive gin library. You can get a gin martini with gin made in the 1910s (~US$180) or have a G&T using one of their 1300 gins from around the world. Bar Stories was much more minimal and intimate with no cocktail menu at all — you just tell the bartender the flavors and spirits you’re into and they whip something up for you. You can check out some of their creations on Instagram.

For my first two nights, I stayed in a pod hotel. I opted for a private room and it was perfect. I had just enough space in my room to sleep and change — I was barely there for more than that as I spent most of my time exploring the city. The bathrooms were clean and private — and the showers were great, better than in many American hotels I’ve stayed in. They could do more to dampen the door noise, but other than that, it was really quiet.

The infinity pool on the 58th floor of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

For my last night, I splurged on a room at the Marina Bay Sands, aka the hotel with the infinity pool on the 58th floor overlooking the city. Was it worth the price? I don’t know, but the views from the roof were incredible and I did spend a lot of time relaxing by that pool.

Doha, Qatar

Main atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

On my way home from Singapore, I spent about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. In retrospect, I maybe should have opted for 2 more days in Singapore. Nothing against Doha, but I just didn’t have the energy to fully explore a third different place/culture in 3 weeks. (Still exploring my limitations…) I did have some great food there — including kofte at a Turkish restaurant and a simple fried halloumi sandwich I’m still thinking about more than a week later. The Museum of Islamic Art was fantastic and deepened my already significant appreciation of Islamic art.

Some miscellaneous thoughts and reflections

I met up with some kottke.org readers in both Saigon and Singapore. Thanks to Brown, Bryan, Joel, Corrie, and the Singapore meetup crew for taking me to some local spots with excellent food & drink, helping me understand a little bit more about Vietnamese & Singaporean culture, and making this solo traveller feel a little less solo. A special thanks to Brown for welcoming me into his home and introducing me to his family. After 20+ years of writing this site, it still blows me away how quickly complete strangers who read kottke.org seem like old friends. ♥

I posted several photos to my Instagram and also compiled Stories from Saigon and Singapore.

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

Being in Asia during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was an interesting experience. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus — I kept my hands clean & sanitized, wasn’t interacting with anyone who had been to China recently, and wore my mask in the airport and on the airplane. By my last few days in Vietnam, the growing epidemic had the government worried, so people who normally wore masks only while riding motorbikes now wore them all the time in public. I observed that foreign tourists were more likely to wear masks than locals. Many businesses adopted a mandatory mask policy in their offices. Buddhist temples posted signs urging visitors to wear masks.

In the airport on my way to Singapore (and on the flight), every single person was wearing a mask, except for one guy who had no mask and a personal fan blowing air (and all the germs in the vicinity) right into his face. When I got to Singapore, way fewer people were wearing masks in the airport — probably only 50% — even though there were more coronavirus cases in Singapore than in Saigon. As I mentioned above, they had infrared scanners set up checking people for fever. At the Marina Bay Sands, all customers checking in had to have a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer — same if you wanted to use the hotel gym. I also got temp-scanned at one of the museums I went to.

This was my 7th long trip in the past two years and my longest one by more than a week. Despite the benefits of solo travel that I really enjoy, I’ve struggled at times with loneliness and getting a bit overwhelmed by having to figure everything out on my own in unfamiliar places. This trip, aside from a couple hours of stolen phone despair, was struggle-free — or rather the struggle was expected, manageable, and even welcome. Part of it is just practice — I feel like I’ve got the solo travel thing mostly down now. I’ve also had a couple of significant mindset shifts in recent months (like this one about winter weather) that have helped my general outlook. Working full time for two out of the three weeks I was gone helped anchor me to something familiar and provided some structure. And as I mentioned, meeting up with some friendly folks helped too.

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always.

  1. The awful state of repair of many of the city’s sidewalks didn’t help either.

  2. Soon after entering the orchid garden, I got stopped for a short survey and the woman gave me $10 for my time, so I actually ended up making money.

Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million High-Res Images Into the Public Domain

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 26, 2020

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The Smithsonian Institution has released a massive trove of images and 3D models from their collections into the public domain, allowing the public to use the images however they see fit. From Smithsonian Magazine:

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose — be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

Part of the release is research data sets, 3D models of airplanes, chairs, and fossils, and developer tools like an API and GitHub repository. Here’s the Smithsonian’s official press release and a FAQ about the Open Access collection.

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The images above are (from top to bottom): photograph of Frederick Douglass, 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module, inverted Curtiss Jenny stamp, 3D model & photographs of a tin of Madame C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, 3D model of a mammoth skeleton, carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman, 3D model of the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, a placard carried in the 1968 Memphis march.

Trailer for Season 2 of Ugly Delicious

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Chef David Chang, who I guess is in the process of being not a chef now in the way that Bourdain became not a chef, is back for season 2 of Ugly Delicious, a food/travel/culture show on Netflix. From Eater:

Like the first season, this one promises to “use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers, tackle misconceptions and uncover shared experiences,” per a press release. The four episodes — only half the number of episodes as season 1 — will focus on food made for babies and children (“Kids’ Menu”), the vast world of Indian food (“Don’t Call It Curry”), the appeal and mystique of steak (“Steak”), and the varied cuisines that encompass what’s generalized as “Middle Eastern” cooking (“As the Meat Turns”).

I really liked season 1 of this show and I am not going to lie, I would love to somehow be involved in season 3. David, I have a passport, love to eat, and can talk about *gestures around at website* almost anything. Hit me up!

The 15th Anniversary of Doing Kottke.org as a Full-Time Job

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Kottke 1996

Fifteen years ago this week, on Feb 22, 2005, I announced that I was going to turn kottke.org, my personal website, into my full-time job.

I recently quit my web design gig and — as of today — will be working on kottke.org as my full-time job. And I need your help.

I’m asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that’s you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis.

It seemed like madness at the time — I’d quit my web design job a few months earlier in preparation, pro blogs existed (Gawker was on its 3rd editor) but very few were personal, general, and non-topical like mine, and I was attempting to fund it via a then-largely-unproven method: crowdfunding. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, attempting this is “still the most bonkers I-don’t-know-if-this-is-going-to-work thing I’ve ever done”.

These days, people are used to paying directly for online media through services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Substack and kids want to run their own personality-driven businesses online when they grow up. But back then, aside from the likes of the WSJ, websites were either a) free to read or b) free to read & supported by advertising and being an online personality was not a lucrative thing. But I figured that enough of you would pitch in to support the site directly while keeping it free to read for everyone with no advertising.

In order to make it feel somewhat familiar, I patterned it after a PBS/NPR fund drive. During a three-week kick-off period, I asked people to support the site by becoming micropatrons. The suggested donation was $30 (but people could give any amount) and there were thank you gifts — like signed books, software, signed photo prints, a free SXSW ticket — for people who contributed. Several hundred people ended up contributing during those three weeks, enough for me to do the site for a year. I still remember that first day, responding to well-wishes from friends on AIM and watching my PayPal account fill up, and it hitting me that this bonkers scheme was actually going to work and pretty much bursting into tears.

Fast forward to the present day and this little website is still chugging along. In its almost 22 years of existence, kottke.org has never gotten big, but it’s also never gone away, predating & outlasting many excellent and dearly missed sites like Grantland, Rookie, The Toast, The Awl, Gawker, and hundreds of others. I have other people write for the site on occasion, but it’s still very much a one-person production by a reluctant influencer (*barf*) who, as an introvert, still (naively?) thinks about posts on the site as personal emails to individual readers rather than as some sort of broadcast. I’d like to thank those early supporters for having faith in me and in this site — you’re the reason we’re all still here, gathered around this little online campfire, swapping stories about the human condition.

About 3 years ago, I returned to the crowdfunding model with kottke.org’s membership program. Since then, I’m very happy to report, readers like you who have purchased memberships have become the main source of financial support for the site. As I’ve written before, I have come to love the directness of this approach — I write, you pay, no middlemen, and, crucially, the site remains part of the Open Web, unpaywalled & free for everyone to read. If you’ll indulge me in a request on this anniversary, if you’re not currently a member of the site (or if your membership has lapsed) and can afford to do so, please consider supporting the site with a membership today. I really appreciate everyone who has become a member over the past few years — thank you!! — and I hope you will consider joining them.

Note: I have no photos of myself taken around this time in 2005, so the photo at the top of the post is me circa spring 1996. I’d dropped out of grad school & was back living at my dad’s house, spending 10-12 hours a day online (via a 28.8K modem) trying to figure out how to build websites. I applied for jobs & internships at places like Wired/Hotwired, Razorfish, Studio Archetype, and MTV but no one wanted to hire a physics major w/ no art or design education or experience to design websites. kottke.org was still a couple of years off at this point…

Special Edition GIF/JIF Peanut Butter Jar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Gif Jif

Online image emporium Giphy has partnered with Jif (the peanut butter people) to offer a limited edition jar of peanut butter with a dual-sided label: one side features the soft-G pronunciation of Jif and the other side the correct hard-G pronunciation of GIF. You can purchase a jar on Amazon. (via @waxpancake)

Artist in the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2020

Andre Smits

Andre Smits

Andre Smits

For more than 10 years now, André Smits has been traveling the world taking photos of artists (from behind) in their studios and out in the world. Earlier this year, Smits explained how the project got started:

He laughs, “I realized it was an alibi for getting in their studios, because most artists keep their doors shut and otherwise I would not get to come in. That was the beginning of the project, really. Then artists from other buildings in Rotterdam asked me to come to their place, it was like a snowball, it just started happening,” he recalls.

After Rotterdam, he visited Amsterdam and Antwerp, realizing the strength of the concept could take him all over the world. “So, I sold my house, quit my job, and now I am traveling everywhere, the project was developing in all different directions.”

It’s fun to get a glimpse into so many studios of working artists — they’re all very similar and yet different in the details. (via Noah Kalina, who Smits photographed in 2015)

How to Make Aleppo Soap Using Traditional Methods

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

Since 1945, Syrian company Pearl Soap has been using traditional centuries-old methods of making “Aleppo soap” from olive oil and laurel oil. Here’s how they do it (I love the contraption they use to cut the soap):

After cutting, the soap is stacked and aged:

The cubes of soap are then stacked in staggered cylinders to allow maximum air exposure. Once they have dried sufficiently, they are put into a special subterranean chamber to be aged for one year.

You can’t buy Pearl’s soap directly from their website and I couldn’t find it anywhere else, but Aleppo soap from other makers is widely available on Amazon and Etsy. (via huit denim)

The Last Video Store

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

From director Arthur Cauty, a short documentary film about the oldest video rental store in the world, Bristol’s 20th Century Flicks, which has been operating continuously since 1982. Says Cauty:

It’s an ode to the video shop experience and a bygone way of watching movies. With studios like Disney launching their own streaming services and joining industry kingpins such as Netflix and Hulu, we have an almost endless flow of entertainment available at the click of a button. It’s amazing to me that a little independent video store can survive the Netflix cull and even outlive Blockbuster. Drop into the shop next time you’re in Bristol for a dose of movie nostalgia, have a chat about film and go home with a VHS rarity and a bag of popcorn.

From a 2014 Guardian piece about the shop as they were attempting an ultimately successful move & crowdfunding campaign:

The shop was never what you’d call high street, sandwiched as it was between Bristol University’s monstrous student’s union and the Clifton Wine Bar, but was always somewhere Bristolians were willing to travel to. In the 1990s there may have been a Blockbuster in every district, but if you wanted to rent Fitzcarraldo, Flicks was your only option. The shop’s all-time greatest hit is Withnail and I, and the current top of its chart is Calvary. Its policy of not disposing of titles when rentals slowed has resulted in an enviable off-site archive for requests — including a core of VHS movies that were never released on DVD and are still regularly taken out.

The owners say the store has a collection of more than 20,000 different titles, “about five times more than Netflix”.

See also Memory Power, a short doc about a Pennsylvania video store that’s also hanging in there.

Russian Multiplication: A Different Way to Multiply

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

I’ve loved math since I was a kid. One of the big reasons for this is that there’s always more than one way to solve a particular problem and in discovering those solutions, you learn something about mathematics and the nature of numbers.1

In this video, math fan Johnny Ball shows us a different method of multiplication. In Russian multiplication (also called Ethiopian multiplication and related to ancient Egyptian multiplication), you can multiply any two numbers together through simple addition and doubling & halving numbers. The technique works by converting the numbers to binary and turning it into an addition problem.

I loved learning about this so much that I scribbled an explanation out on a napkin at brunch yesterday to show a friend how it worked. We’re friends because she was just as excited as I was about it. (via the kid should see this)

  1. I’ve probably told this story here before, but for an assignment in a quantum mechanics class in college, we had to derive an equation using two different techniques. After much struggle at the whiteboard on a Saturday morning, a friend and I got the results of these two approaches to converge on the same answer and it felt like we had unlocked a deep secret to the universe.

Time Lapse Visualization of How 10 Satellites Build a Daily Global Precipitation Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2020

The first 30 seconds of this time lapse video provides a great look into how the 10 satellites that make up the Global Precipitation Measurement Constellation scan the surface of the Earth to provide daily global precipitation maps.

This visualization shows the constellation in action, taking precipitation measurements underneath the satellite orbits. As time progresses and the Earth’s surface is covered with measurements, the structure of the Earth’s precipitation becomes clearer, from the constant rainfall patterns along the Equator to the storm fronts in the mid-latitudes. The dynamic nature of the precipitation is revealed as time speeds up and the satellite data swaths merge into a continuous visualization of changing rain and snowfall.

Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

This is lovely: composer Max Richter, accompanied by a string quintet, plays a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR.

Half way through this performance of Max Richter’s achingly beautiful On The Nature Of Daylight, I looked around our NPR Music office and saw trembling chins and tearful eyes. Rarely have I seen so many Tiny Desk audience members moved in this way. There’s something about Max Richter’s music that triggers deep emotions.

Richter is one of my favorite composers, so this was really fun to watch.

I’d Like to Deprive the World of Water (to Make More Coca-Cola)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

For her video “The Real Thing”, filmmaker Julianna Villarosa used footage of Coca-Cola’s famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial ruined by pouring Coke on VHS and film copies to draw attention to the company’s water privatization practices in Chiapas, Mexico, where there’s a water shortage on. From the video:

The Chiapas Highlands, one of Mexico’s wettest regions, has a water shortage. Many drink Coca-Cola, which is bottled nearby and often easier to find than clean water. On average, residents drink more than half a gallon of soda per day. Indigenous Tzotzil use Coca-Cola in religious ceremonies and medicinal treatments. Diabetes has become the second-leading cause of death in Chiapas. The local Coca-Cola plant extracts more than 300,000 gallons of water per day.

Simple, direct, and brilliant activist art — Villarosa uses the company’s literally corrosive product to physically destroy their feel-good advertising to draw attention to the real harm this US company is doing to people & ecosystems around the world. Here’s more on the Chiapas region and the residents’ reliance on Coke:

Coca-Cola’s penetration of the market in Los Altos has also been aided by a strategy of charging less in remote rural areas where a Coke in a returnable glass bottle is often scarcely more expensive than bottled water. As in most of Mexico, clean drinking water is not generally available even to those who can count on running water in their homes, which means many turn to soft drinks for basic hydration.

The irony of this is clear in an area known for its constant downpours and abundant springs, such as the one that attracted the Coca-Cola bottling company. Local activists say the company has so overexploited the spring that the city of San Cristóbal is now facing water shortages.

The activists allege this has been possible in part because Coca-Cola has friends in high political places. Between 2000 and 2006 the country’s president was Vicente Fox, a former head of Coca-Cola Mexico.

It all adds up to a perfect storm of sugar-related health issues in Los Altos. María del Socorro Sánchez, who is in charge of nutrition at the main hospital in San Juan Chamula, says only about one in 10 of the indigenous patients with diabetes accept there is any need to cut out sugar-packed drinks. “They just don’t believe that it is bad for them,” she said.

(via the morning news)

Corn with a Pearl Earring

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

Corn with a Pearl Earring

From artist Nanan Kang, Corn with a Pearl Earring. I have a bit of a thing for riffs on Vermeer’s masterpiece. See also Girl with a Pearl Earring and Point-and-Shoot Camera, The Girl with the Grande Iced Latte, Rihanna with a Pearl Earring, Girl with a Pearl Earring at the beach, and a Lego version of the painting. (via colossal)

Update: This is fun (courtesy of @jschulenklopper):

In Dutch (Vermeer’s native language) this one is even better. The original painting is called “Meisje met de parel” in Dutch, and corn is “mais”. So this one could be named “Maisje met de parel” which is pronounced almost identically.

A DJ Mixes Songs That Sound The Same

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

From DJ Mike 2600, a YouTube series called Songs That Sound The Same.

My hit series of DJ videos exploring pairs of songs that aren’t direct covers or rip-offs, but have similar melodies, riffs, or chord progressions and just fit together nicely.

Each video is about a minute long and features him playfully mixing two or more songs together that sound very similar. Here’s one of the early episodes, featuring Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly & the Family Stone and Misunderstanding by Genesis:

T.I.’s Whatever You Like and Zombie by The Cranberries:

Whomst among us wouldn’t go nuts if the DJ laid this down at the club — M83’s Midnight City & Rihanna’s Diamonds:

And this one made me LOL — Draggin’ the Line by Tommy James mixes really well with the Baby Back Ribs song from the Chili’s commercial:

What a great combination of creativity and craft. Watching stuff like this always makes this non-musical person want to make some music. (via @hoodinternet)

FRONTLINE - Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

From PBS’s FRONTLINE comes Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos, a feature-length documentary investigation into Amazon and its founder.

Jeff Bezos is not only the richest man in the world, he has built a business that is without precedent in the history of American capitalism. His power to shape everything from the future of work to the future of commerce to the future of technology is unrivaled. As politicians and regulators around the world start to consider the global impact of Amazon — and how to rein in Bezos’ power — FRONTLINE investigates how he executed a plan to build one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world.

One of the 10 key takeaways from the film is how deliberately Amazon attacked the publishing industry:

“Amazon took over a large market share of the publishing industry very, very fast,” James Marcus, a former senior Amazon.com editor, tells FRONTLINE — a situation that he says prompted publishers to realize, “‘Oh, wait a minute, they’re our partner, but they now have the beginnings of a boot on our windpipe’.” Inside the company, the team had launched a strategy that some called “the Gazelle Project,” because they’d heard Bezos wanted them to pursue publishers the way a cheetah pursues a sickly gazelle. “Well, you don’t go after the strongest,” Randy Miller, who ran the European book team, says of the strategy. “He’s like, ‘The cheetah. The cheetah looks for the weak, looks for the sick, looks for the small.’” That way, by the time it comes to take on the publishers at the top, “the noise has gotten back to them. They’re going to know this is coming, and chances are you may be able to settle that without a full-on war.”

Here’s a trailer but the whole thing is available online, embedded above and on YouTube.

How Miles Davis Made “Kind of Blue”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

From the feature-length documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool that’s debuting on PBS’s American Masters next week, this is a short clip about how Miles’ masterpiece, Kind of Blue, came together in the studio.

Miles Davis didn’t provide sheet music for his musicians during the recording of his iconic album “Kind of Blue.” He said that “I didn’t write out the music for ‘Kind of Blue.’ But brought in sketches ‘cause I wanted a lot of spontaneity in the playing.”

Here’s the trailer and a couple of other clips from the film. (via @tedgioia)

We Interrupt This Brain Surgery to Bring You a Violin Solo…

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

This is the most metal shit ever: the doctors removing violinist Dagmar Turner’s brain tumor woke her up during the procedure to play the violin to make sure that she didn’t lose any parts of her brain vital to her playing.

After explaining concerns she had over losing the ability to play the violin, Prof Ashkan and the neurosurgical team at King’s devised a plan. Prior to Dagmar’s operation they spent two hours carefully mapping her brain to identify areas that were active when she played the violin and those responsible for controlling language and movement. They also discussed with Dagmar the idea of waking her mid-procedure so she could play. This would ensure the surgeons did not damage any crucial areas of the brain that controlled Dagmar’s delicate hand movements specifically when playing the instrument. With her agreement, a team of surgeons, anaesthetists and therapists went on to meticulously plan the procedure.

During the operation Prof Ashkan and the team performed a craniotomy (an opening in the skull) and Dagmar was brought round from the anaesthetic. She played violin while her tumour was removed, while closely monitored by the anaesthetists and a therapist.

The Pittsburgh Parking Chair

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

In this video, Dean Bog takes an entertaining look at “Pittsburgh’s weirdest tradition”, where residents place a chair on the street in front of their house to claim a parking spot and keep others from parking in it. The maneuver is technically illegal, but:

We don’t need official signs, we don’t need to get the cops involved, we can just understand that if you’re placing a chair in a spot, you’re asking everyone to respect it as your own.

Bostonites do this during the winter with cones and sometimes chairs — the logic is: if you did all the hard work of shoveling out a spot, why should someone else get to park there?

Bog is also doing this series of videos where he reviews the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. (thx, james)

How to Make a Kurzgesagt Video (in Just 1200 Hours)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

In this video, Kurzgesagt shares their process of making their unique brand of explainer video.

They estimate it takes about 1200 hours of time for each video. I love Kurzgesagt’s videos and am happy to support them on Patreon.

A 1929 Interview with a 103-Year-Old Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

The Great Span was Alger Hiss’s term for the personal links of living humans across large periods of time. For instance, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. shook hands with both John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy, linking the Revolutionary War with the Vietnam War. This interview with 103-year-old Galusha Cole filmed in 1929 is another instance of this phenomenon:

This was part of a series of interviews with the elderly on the cusp of the Great Depression. Cole was born in 18261 during the administration of John Quincy Adams, was alive at the same time as Ludwig van Beethoven, and lived just long enough to be captured in voice and picture on film.

  1. Although this page on Find a Grave claims that Cole was actually only 92 at the time of the interview. Which would be interesting vis a vis his proclamation that he doesn’t have any vices.

The New York Public Library’s List of “125 Books We Love”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

NYPL 125 Books

To celebrate their 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library has created a list of 125 Books We Love, books published in the past 125 years “that made us fall in love with reading”. First on the list (alphabetically) is 1984, which was the first adult book I fell in love with. Other personal favorites on the list include The Warmth of Other Suns, The Devil in the White City, Cleopatra: A Life, Wolf Hall, My Brilliant Friend, and The Remains of the Day.

You can check out the entire list or read about how the books were selected. (via open culture)

The Dance by FriendsWithYou

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

FriendsWithYou Dance

The latest exhibition by art duo FriendsWithYou is currently on view at Dallas Contemporary and includes a piece called The Dance that features two fuzzy orb-ish heads that slowly bobble around the room.

An interactive and communal experience, the exhibition actively incorporates audiences: two moving orbs serve as ambassadors as they meander along in a spiritual, cleansing, and comforting ritual set to a custom soundtrack in celebration of the beauty and power of togetherness.

You can see The Dance in motion on FriendsWithYou’s Instagram here and here. Natalie Gempel wrote about what it was like to pilot one of the orbs.

Submerged in my pink bubble, I spin, wobble, and drift aimlessly. Between the darkness and the humming of the air compressor, it’s almost like being in a sensory deprivation tank. I’m brought out of my haze when Carolina Alvares-Mathies, the Contemporary’s new Deputy Director, comes to check on me. It’s been cool, but I’m ready to exit.

The zipper opens and I stumble out. I don’t remember being born, but I assume it’s a similarly jarring feeling. Everything is too bright and I’m a little queasy. Still, I reentered the real world with the information I needed: It was weird in there, but I did have fun.

(thx, jenni)

Deepfake Video of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in Back to the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

This deepfake video of Back to the Future that features Robert Downey Jr. & Tom Holland as Doc Brown & Marty McFly is so convincing that I almost want to see an actual remake with those actors. (Almost.)

They really should have deepfaked Zendaya into the video as Lorraine for the cherry on top. Here’s an earlier effort with Holland as Marty that’s not as good.

The Swim that Kicked Off China’s Cultural Revolution

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

Mao Zedong Swim

In 1966, Chinese leader Mao Zedong had a PR problem. His Great Leap Forward policy had resulted in tens of millions of deaths from famine, his health was rumored to be failing, and he was afraid, following the recent de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, that his legacy was not secure. So he went for a swim.

Mao wanted to leave behind a powerful Communist legacy, like Marx and Lenin before him. And in order to do so, he needed to connect with the younger generation before he died. So after announcing his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, he swam across the Yangtze River. Mao had done the same swim 10 years earlier to prove his vitality, and he hoped it would work again.

His “Cultural Revolution” was a call to hunt down and eliminate his enemies, and reeducate China’s youth with the principles Maoism. Led by the fanatical Red Guards, the Cultural Revolution was a devastating 10-year period in Chinese history that didn’t end until Mao died in 1976.

You can read and watch more about the Cultural Revolution.

The Long Life and Fun Times of Roger Angell

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

This interview with living legend Roger Angell, whose writing first appeared in the New Yorker in 1944 and is still writing for them at the age of 99, is full of gems like this one, when he interview Benny Goodman as a high schooler:

Then in high school, at Pomfret, I tried out for the school newspaper, and one of the first people I interviewed was Benny Goodman. I was fourteen or fifteen, and I went to the Madhattan Room, at the Hotel Pennsylvania, where he was playing, and one of the people there was S.J. Perelman, a young humor writer my mother knew, and he knew Benny Goodman.

I asked Benny Goodman if I could interview him, and he said, “Come to my hotel room tomorrow, at one in the afternoon.” So I went up at one and rang his bell and rang it and rang it, and then he came to the door wearing his jockey shorts and his eyeglasses, very sleepy. I’d woken him up. My lede on the story was “Great bandleaders get to sleep late.”

And this one, about Joseph Mitchell:

The thing about Joe Mitchell is that he knew everything. No subject escaped him, from James Joyce to horse breeding, backcountry life, culture. A.J. Liebling, his close friend and colleague, resented this. So one day Liebling is wandering around Sixth Avenue — it still had the elevated track — and there was a little taxidermy shop under the subway, and he goes in and finds a little set of bones. The owner says, “These are very interesting. They’re the bones of a young male opossum, which has a bone in its penis.” Liebling buys this collection of bones for six dollars and brings it over to the office wrapped up in a paper bag. Mitchell is typing. Liebling knocks on the door, comes in, unwraps the package, and puts it on the table. Mitchell looks at it and says, “Pecker bone of a young male opossum — anything you want to know about that?”

Amazing Senegalese Sand Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

In less than a minute, this Senegalese sand artist working on the island of Gorée creates a portrait by pouring sands of different colors over a wooden board with glue on it. The way that the painting emerges at the last second out of seeming disorder is a lovely shock, like a magic trick.

Was the World’s Oldest Person a Fraud?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

Maybe it was all the Guinness Book of World Records reading when I was a kid, but I probably pay more attention than many people to the list of the world’s oldest people. At 122 years and 164 days, Jeanne Calment is the oldest person to have ever lived. At the time of her death, she had lived for almost 5 years longer than the previous record-holder, which I have always found a little fishy. So it was with great interest that I read Lauren Collins’ New Yorker piece on a recent challenge to Calment’s age.

The passage of time often quells controversy, but, in the Calment case, it only unsettled the dust. As the world’s population continued to grow, the cohort of people living to the age of a hundred and twenty-two did not. More than two decades after Calment’s death, her record still stood, making her a more conspicuous outlier with every year that went by. Either she had lived longer than any human being ever or she had executed an audacious fraud. As one observer wrote, “Both are highly unlikely life stories but one is true.” In “Les 120 Ans de Jeanne Calment,” her validators had reproduced the only picture known to exist of the two Calment women as adults. In it, Yvonne appears to be sitting on a windowsill. Jeanne stands to her left, behind a table, looking down at a basket of flowers and a wrapped gift. The women are both wearing white shirts and dark sweaters. Accompanying the photograph was a tantalizing caption: “Jeanne and Yvonne, her daughter. Which one is which?”

I won’t spoil the ending, but if you’re aware of Betteridge’s law you may already have a good idea what it is.

An Online Collection of Mexican Cookbooks (1789-Present)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

Mexican Cookbooks

The University of Texas at San Antonio maintains a collection of over 2000 Mexican cookbooks dating from as far back as 1789 and a selection of those is available online.

UTSA’s Mexican Cookbook Collection is comprised of more than 2,000 cookbooks, from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940-2000. In addition to broad general coverage, the collection includes concentrations in the areas of regional cooking, healthy and vegetarian recipes, corporate advertising cookbooks, and manuscript recipe books.

A guide to the entire collection is available or you can just dive in to the digitized content. (thx, megan)

The Times of Bill Cunningham

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

In 1994, legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham gave a six-hour interview about his life and work. This interview was recently rediscovered and made into a documentary called The Times of Bill Cunningham. Here’s a trailer:

The movie is out in theaters, but the reviews so far are mixed, especially when compared to the rave reviews received by 2011’s Bill Cunningham New York. Still, Cunningham is a gem and I will watch this at some point soon. (via recs)

The Neighbor’s Window

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

From filmmaker Marshall Curry, The Neighbor’s Window is a poignant short film about the odd relationships you can sometimes form with your neighbors in big cities, even if you never meet in real life.

For real! Do they have jobs? Or clothes? All they do is host dance parties and sleep ‘til noon and screw.

This film recently won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. (via open culture)

Update: I forgot to mention that this film was based on a true story told by Diane Weipert on the Love + Radio podcast. Somewhat randomly, the film’s husband and wife ended up looking a lot like Weipert and her partner. (via @BenHoste)

Face ID Compatible Respirator Masks

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

Face ID Respirator Masks

This site is making N95 respirator masks that work with facial recognition software, so that, for example, you can unlock your phone while still wearing a mask.

After uploading your face, we use computational mapping to convert your facial features into an image printed onto the surface of N95 surgical masks without distortion.

Our printer uses inks made of natural dyes. It’s non-toxic and doesn’t affect breathability.

You can use your mask for everyday life as a barrier for airborne particle droplets.

Face ID Respirator Masks

Face ID Respirator Masks

It is unclear whether these will actually ship or not — “Q: Is this a joke? A: Yes. No. We’re not sure.” — but they’re definitely not planning to make them while there are mask shortages related to COVID-19. And it appears the masks will work with iPhones…you just add a new face (while wearing the mask) to your phone’s face database.

Map of Areas Most Often Missing During Handwashing

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

With news of more than 70,000 confirmed cases and 1700 deaths from the COVID-19 virus, the importance of handwashing is once again front and center. Using data from a 1978 study on the hygiene of health professionals, this is a map of the most missed areas when washing hands.

Hand Washing Map

This more recent paper contains a short review of various studies of missed areas, most of which conclude that people often forget to wash their fingertips:

In 2008, the WHO designed a handwashing leaflet, making reference to Taylor, who indicated that the fingertips, interdigital areas, thumbs, and wrists are the most commonly missed areas in handwashing. Pan et al. also found that the tips of the nails and the fingertips had the largest amount of residual florescent stains left after handwashing among healthcare workers in Taiwan. The commonly missed areas among medical students in the study conducted by Vanyolos et al. was the first metacarpal, the proximal part of the palm (lateral), the distal phalanges, and the nail beds. In healthcare workers in Škodová et al.’s study, the thumbs and fingertips were the most commonly missed areas. In this study, the most frequently missed area was also the fingertips. However, the medial aspect and back of the hand were the second and third most missed areas, respectively. Moreover, the interdigital area and the front and back of the fingers were the least missed areas, which is in contrast to Taylor’s study.

So wash those fingertips! Here’s the CDC-recommended guide to washing your hands properly.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

See also this TED Talk on how to properly dry your hands with a paper towel. (via a map a day)

Universe Sandbox

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Universe Sandbox is a interactive space & gravity simulator that you can use to play God of your own universe.

You can create star systems: “Start with a star then add planets. Spruce it up with moons, rings, comets, or even a black hole.” You can collide planets and stars or simulate gravity: “N-body simulation at almost any speed using Newtonian mechanics.” You can model the Earth’s climate, make a star go supernova, or ride along on space missions or see historical events.

I found Universe Sandbox after watching this video about what would happen if the Earth got hit by a grain of sand going 99.9% the speed of light (spoiler: not much). This game/simulator/educational tool is only $30 but I fear that if I bought it, I would never ever leave the house again.

The Process Genre

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

From Duke University Press and author Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky comes what looks like an intriguing book on the beloved phenomenon of “how things are made” media — you know, things like “how to” cooking videos and IKEA instructions — The Process Genre: Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (at Amazon). From the book’s introduction:

Chapter 3, “Aestheticizing Labor,” argues that the category of labor is central to the process genre. In my account, the process genre is, in effect, always symptomatically reflecting on the interactions of human labor, technology (i.e., tools, instruments, machines), and nature. The chapter first examines the genre’s relation to technique. Then it surveys the political implications of the ways in which labor is poeticized in the genre. In its most exalted examples, the process genre presents a striking paradox. On the one hand, it is the most instrumentalist of genres. After all, it is a genre constituted by the presentation of a sequential series of steps, all aiming at a useful result; it is a genre that is usually associated with what scholars call “useful cinema.” On the other hand, it is a genre that has produced some of the most romantic, utopian depictions of labor in which labor figures not as that from which human beings seek relief in the form of listless leisure, but as the activity that gives human life meaning. The philosophical basis for the centrality of labor to life — what has been called the “metaphysics of labor” — finds expression in the process genre; thus, the genre stands in opposition to the politics of antiwork.

The photos on the cover of the book are stills from the Mister Rogers video on how crayons are made:

As you’ve probably observed, I am an unabashed fan of the process genre, with dozens of videos & tutorials in kottke.org’s how to tag alone. Some of my particular favorites are the crayon video above (along with a similar one from Sesame Street), an Oscar-winning short from 1958 about glassmaking, the Primitive Technology videos, how marbled paper is made, how candy is made at the Teddy Grays factory, and the National Film Board of Canada’s video about how to make an igloo. (thx, jason! (no relation))

Recording All the Melodies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

In this recent TED Talk, lawyer, musician, and technologist Damien Riehl talks about the rapidly diminishing number of melodies available to songwriters under the current system of copyright. In order to help songwriters avoid these melodic legal landmines (some of which are documented here), Riehl and his pal Noah Rubin designed and wrote a program to record every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody and released the results — all 68+ billion melodies, 2.6 terabytes of data — into the public domain.

It’s interesting that the litigious nature of the music business and the finite number of melodies (and the even smaller number of pleasing melodies) has turned an artistic endeavor into a land-grab — whoever gets to a certain melody first owns it forever (or at least for dozens of years). (via @tedgioia)

Billie Eilish Interviewed by AI Bot

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2020

Collaborating with the team at Conde Nast Entertainment and Vogue, my pal Nicole He trained an AI program to interview music superstar Billie Eilish. Here are a few of the questions:

Who consumed so much of your power in one go?
How much of the world is out of date?
Have you ever seen the ending?

This is a little bit brilliant. The questions are childlike in a way, like something a bright five-year-old would ask a grownup, perceptive and nonsensical (or even Dr. Seussical) at the same time. As He says:

What I really loved hearing Billie say was that human interviewers often ask the same questions over and over, and she appreciated that the AI questions don’t have an agenda in the same way, they’re not trying to get anything from her.

I wonder if there’s something that human interviewers can learn from AI-generated questions — maybe using them as a jumping off point for their own questions or asking more surprising or abstract questions or adapting the mentality of the childlike mind.

See also Watching Teen Superstar Billie Eilish Growing Up.

The Dancing Baby Meme, Digitally Remastered

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

In 1996, Dancing Baby was one of the earliest big memes to cross over from the nerd space of Usenet to the wider population; it even appeared on the popular TV show Ally McBeal. 18-year-old English college student Jack Armstrong, born more than 5 years after the meme debuted, decided to digitally remaster the original in 1080p and 60FPS:

Armstrong shared how he tracked down the original 3D file on Twitter. (via waxy)

Inglourious Basterds’ Witty Slate Clapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Geraldine Brezca has worked on several of director Quentin Tarantino’s movies,1 and for Inglourious Basterds, she was the slate operator — i.e. she clapped the clapper before each scene. And as this video shows, she was very entertaining and creative in her duties:

For each scene’s label, Brezca came up with something funny (A66F = “au revoir 66 fuckers”), ribald (29B = “29 blowjobs”), appropriate (39FE = “39 feet essential” on a scene featuring feet), respectful (4AK = “4 Akira Kurosawa”), or profane (79E = “79 fucking explosives”, which got quite a chuckle from Brad Pitt). See also Here’s Why Slate Operators Matter (And Why Quentin Tarantino’s is So Great).

  1. Brezca’s IMDB page shows that the last movie she worked on was Django Unchained in 2012. Not sure if she left the industry or passed away or what…

Alternate Map of the Americas Features “Long Chile”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Anna Calcaterra Map

Long-time readers know that I like me some maps and in particular hand-drawn/homemade maps and maps of alternate realities. So I was charmed by Anna Calcaterra’s alternate map of the Americas, which features geographic entities like Long Chile, Ohio 2 (“Four Corners replaced w/ Ohio 2”), and East Dakota (RIP Minnesota). The kids are alright, y’all.

The Delightfully Nerdy Rotary Cellphone

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Scientist Justine Haupt recently built herself a rotary cellphone as a “statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.” Look at this gloriously eccentric gadget:

Rotary Cellphone

So it’s not just a show-and-tell piece… My intent is to use it as my primary phone. It fits in a pocket.; It’s reasonably compact; calling the people I most often call is faster than with my old phone, and the battery lasts almost 24 hours.

Haupt has open sourced the technical design files so you can build your own rotary cell if you’d like. The files are currently unavailable though due to (I’m assuming) the interest in the project; this Wired piece says her website crashed. So check back in a couple days after the hubbub dies down?

Our Belligerent Political Process

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Brent Simmons writes about the Democratic primaries and keeping our eyes on the real prize:

Odds are that your favorite is not going to be the nominee. And that nominee, whoever it is, needs to not have been already labeled a garbage candidate by you and by everyone whose favorite he or she isn’t.

Here’s the thing: we’re fighting to stop the spread of right-wing extremism. It will get so much worse if we reelect the president. It has to be stopped now. No other issue matters, because nothing else can be done without doing this.

I feel like there’s a deep sickness in our culture in how people express solidarity with the side they’ve chosen. It’s most visible in sports and politics and is related to nationalism versus patriotism. Many people tend to root for their preferred team or candidate in a nationalistic way (destructive, antagonistic) rather than a patriotic way (productive, positive) — more “Bernie rules, all the other candidates can suck it” versus “Bernie is my candidate because he supports several issues I care about”. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for strident activism or for criticism addressing real problems with candidates or entire political parties (gestures broadly), but as Simmons notes, this belligerent attitude is counterproductive, no matter how good it might feel personally.

And this bit is sadly true and I have not heard anyone else really talking about it:

I don’t care about any of the wonderful liberal and progressive policies our candidates propose — because they’re not going to get through.

(Well, I do care about them, deeply, but the point stands.)

It’s not that it would take 60 Democratic senators — it would take more like 65 or even more, and that’s not going to happen. We can elect the most wonderful progressive person ever and they’ll just beat their head against the wall.

There’s no magic coming. There’s no amount of will-of-the-people that will move Republican senators. All of the policy we talk about is just fantasy.

Who Was the Most Isolated Person In History?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

This video, based on this What If? question, tries to answer the question of who the most physically isolated person in history was. The top candidates include Michael Collins and the five other command module pilots who stayed in the Moon’s orbit during the Apollo Moon landings as well as perhaps an ancient and unnamed Polynesian explorer who got lost exploring the Pacific Ocean over 1000 years ago.

See also The McFarthest Spot.

A 2020 Overview of Global Population Trends

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Demography is destiny, or so the saying goes. So this YaleGlobal report on the global population trends is worth paying attention to if you want to know where the world (and world politics) is going. Here’s the gist:

The world population now stands at 7.8 billion inhabitants, having reached the 7 billion milestone in 2011. Demographers expect the 8 billion milestone in 2023, with global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2037 and 10 billion by 2056. This growth is slightly faster than projections from just a few years ago.

World population currently grows at 1 percent annually, having peaked at 2.1 percent in 1968. That annual growth rate is expected to continue declining, reaching 0.5 percent by midcentury. The current annual increase of world population is 81 million, lower than the peak level of 93 million in 1988. Annual additions are projected to continue declining, reaching 48 million by 2050. Of the nearly 2 billion increase in world population expected by midcentury, most will take place in less developed regions. Africa leads, expected to add more than 1 billion people over the coming three decades, followed by Asia with about 650 million. Europe’s population, in contrast, is projected to decrease by 37 million over this period.

2020 World Population

India will soon pass China as the most populous country in the world and Nigeria’s population will double to blow right by the US for #3 in the world:

Two countries have reached the billion mark: China and India, each with current populations of 1.4 billion, reached that milestone in 1980 and 1997, respectively. India’s current rate of demographic growth is double China’s, 1.0 versus 0.5 percent. India’s population could overtake China’s by 2027. No other country is expected to reach a billion during the 21st century. Nigeria, projected to grow to 733 million by century’s close, will move into third place by midcentury, overtaking the United States, anticipated to have 434 million people by 2100.

The populations of some countries will more than double by the middle of this century while the populations in other countries will decline:

The population growth is extraordinary, with most occurring in the world’s poorer countries. More than 50 developing countries, most in Africa, post growth rates no less than 2 percent per annum. By midcentury about half of those countries are projected to see their populations more than double, including Angola, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.

At the same time, some 20 countries, particularly more developed countries, navigate uncharted demographic territory of population decline and rapid aging. These include Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland and Spain. This number could nearly triple by midcentury, and expected newcomers to population decline will soon include China, Germany, Russia and South Korea.

Ghost City Photos of a Usually Bustling Shanghai During Coronavirus Outbreak

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

One Person City

One Person City

One Person City

For her series One Person City, photographer nicoco has been taking photos of Shanghai that emphasize how deserted the city was due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 1000 people in China. In an interview with Hyperallergic, the photographer said:

My objective for this series was to capture the feeling of apocalyptic emptiness. Some of the photos may look as if they were captured at strange early morning hours, but as a collection, it seeks to reinforce there were no people, anywhere.

These are Shanghai’s busiest locations that can compare to Times Square in New York City, Big Ben in London, the Bean in Chicago, or the Washington Monument in DC. They are very popular on an average day, and very, very popular during holidays as domestic tourists and residents spend time with their families and check out festive displays, shop, or just meander around.

You can find the photos on her Instagram.

The Sleep Blanket

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Over a period of three months, Seung Lee knit a blanket showing a visualization of his infant son’s sleep patterns from birth to his first birthday.

Sleep Blanket

The sleep data was collected with the BabyConnect app which lets you export to CSV. The CSVs were filtered and converted into JSON (using Google Apps Script and Python) which could then be used for visualization and tracking.

Brilliant. This deservedly made Flowing Data’s list of the Best Data Visualization Projects of 2019. See also Global Warming Blankets and this train delay scarf.

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Trailer ↑. Well, if you like Wes Anderson this looks terrific. And if you don’t, well, perhaps not. The French Dispatch is about a weekly literary magazine in the style of the New Yorker. From the actual New Yorker:

Wes Anderson’s new movie, “The French Dispatch,” which will open this summer, is about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like — and was, in fact, inspired by — The New Yorker. The editor and writers of this fictional magazine, and the stories it publishes — three of which are dramatized in the film — are also loosely inspired by The New Yorker. Anderson has been a New Yorker devotee since he was a teen-ager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the nineteen-forties. That he has placed his fictional magazine in a made-up French metropolis (it’s called Ennui-sur-Blasé), at some point midway through the last century, only makes connecting the dots between “The French Dispatch” and The New Yorker that much more delightful.

Amazing…he basically made a movie about the New Yorker archives. And btw, writing “teen-ager” instead of “teenager” is the most New Yorker thing ever — but at least it wasn’t “teën-ager.”

Back to the movie, it’s got a cracking cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson all star and then the supporting cast includes Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Defoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, and even the Fonz, Henry Winkler. The poster is quite something as well:

French Dispatch Poster

Opens July 24…can’t wait!

Parking lot turned into a multifaceted public square

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 10, 2020

Prahran Square by John Gollings

Great reinvention of a former parking lot in south-east Melbourne, Australia. Reclaiming the space from cars, including Saturday night “burnouts,” Prahran Square was designed to recall surrounding landmarks, draw in citizens, and become a true public square, deliberately linking itself to existing spaces.

[T]he square is part of a greater public realm strategy that includes surrounding street, public forecourts and pocket parks to create a new integrated precinct. “All the streets started to become shared, and with Prahran Square, we started to create a civic village, which is a combination of squares, parks, streets,” says Bauer. “That was always the bigger idea, defining little projects that all slowly start to weave together.”

The new installations were divided in various zones, all overlooking the central event space and providing varied uses.

A zig-zag ‘forest’ walk and playgrounds, sloped lawn, art and flowering garden-beds all triggered familiar activities for local residents to enjoy. Each corner of the square too has a different materiality, a different character and different things to see and do.

The whole project is now better integrated in the surrounding neighbourhood and welcomes a number of different needs and communities.

It’s very eclectic, it has something for old and new communities, passing populations of young people, different national backgrounds, night spots, market-going families, the fashion people, elderly and infirm people, people watching, meeting up, just hanging out.

Prahran Square by John Gollings

Photos by John Gollings with permission from Foreground.

Advice from Medieval Monks on Avoiding Digital Distraction

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2020

For Aeon, historian Jamie Kreiner writes about what advice medieval monks might have for us on avoiding the distractions of our phones, social media, and Netflix.

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

John Cassian, an influential figure in early Christian monasticism, wrote about how to fortify yourself against these sorts of distractions.

Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved — families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama — not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention.

Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labour to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.

The Magic of Chess

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2020

In this charming short film, The Magic of Chess, some young competitors at the National Elementary Chess Championship explain what they find so intriguing about the game. From an Atlantic piece on the film:

The children interviewed in the film are articulate and wise beyond their years. “When I asked the kids questions like, ‘What has chess taught you?,’ I was surprised, given their limited life experience, that they could formulate a response beyond the obvious mechanics of the game,” Schweitzer Bell told me.

Chess “teaches you how to make a plan,” one child says in the film.

“When you lose, you learn from your mistakes,” says another.

I was curious about the tournament, so I looked up the results and the standings are so full of Asian, Indian, Latino, and other non-European language names that my browser offered to translate the page for me. Another thing that jumped out at me was that most of the top competitors in the K-6 competition were 6th graders, except for 2nd grader Aditya Arutla finishing in 8th place. Wow!

End of week favs & overlooked

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

Mount Aso by Tom Vining

Here we are, Friday night, last day of this latest guest-editing of Kottke dot org, I hope you enjoyed what I found for you these past few days.

In case you missed them, here are a few of my favourites and some which, for whatever reason, might have gone a bit overlooked.

Dissolving realities in Vietnam
A fabrication lab in Japan hopes to rejuvenate the local cedar industry
Database of old book illustrations
Coyote and badger hunting as a team
Tintin, under-appreciated dresser

If you enjoyed what I shared this week, have a look at my newsletter, Sentiers. Over there I skew a bit more towards the dystopian and critical in tone but covering a lot of the same topics. Have a good weekend!

Image credit: Mount Aso by Tom Vining, the Fab Lab in the story above is located just north of there.

Dutch court rules against welfare surveillance

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

Rotterdam at night by Joël de Vriend

The creation and adoption of surveillance systems based on Artificial Intelligence often feels like it’s widely outpacing the speed at which cities and countries can legislate any kind of control. So it’s always an encouraging sign when new well considered decisions are rendered and put the public good and human rights first.

One such decision is the Dutch courts’ ruling that a welfare surveillance system violates human rights.

A Dutch court has ordered the immediate halt of an automated surveillance system for detecting welfare fraud because it violates human rights … The case was seen as an important legal challenge to the controversial but growing use by governments around the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and risk modelling in administering welfare benefits and other core services.

It’s especially encouraging since disfranchised and minority populations are usually the ones facing the brunt of surveillance, with little recourse for corrections and / or without the means to pursue legal options.

Deployed primarily in low-income neighbourhoods, it gathers government data previously held in separate silos, such as employment, personal debt and benefit records, and education and housing histories, then analyses it using a secret algorithm to identify which individuals might be at higher risk of committing benefit fraud.

One hopes the decision will have repercussions far outside the Netherlands.

Alston predicted the judgment would be “a wake-up call for politicians and others, not just in the Netherlands”. The special rapporteur presented a report to the UN general assembly in October on the emergence of the “digital welfare state” in countries around the globe, warning of the need “to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling, zombie-like, into a digital welfare dystopia”.

Image credit: Rotterdam at night by Joël de Vriend.

Dissolving realities in Vietnam

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

The overlap of gaming engines, movies, and reality is an intersection I find fascinating right now. A recent example is how The Mandalorian uses Epic’s Unreal engine to generate live background scenes, which are sometimes even kept in the final shots as is.

In the above video, it’s Ruben Fro mixing Unity (another game engine) with a “point cloud” derived from 360 videos. The resulting scene makes for an eery mix which wouldn’t feel out of place in a scifi film.

Via: Merzmensch Kosmopol thanks for the heads up!

A fabrication lab in Japan hopes to rejuvenate the local cedar industry

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

Mount Aso by Takahiro Taguchi, Unsplash

Over the last decade plus, Fab Labs have had some years of great growth and visibility. Recently, some have had a harder go of it and a growing number of people, including most of media, seem to have dismissed them.

Fab Lab Aso Minami-Oguni is one kind of project that can “keep the dream alive” and shows how local fabrication workshops can serve a number of functions and help different groups within a community.

Created by the companies Anai Wood Factory and Foreque Inc., the lab sits in a relatively remote village of 4000 people.

[B]uilt with the intention of developing new products with Oguni Cedar, a locally prized resource. Oguni Cedar is a fine-grained, high-quality wood, known for its lustre, texture and beautiful pink colour. The Fab Lab is affiliated with a shop called the FIL Store which sells tableware and furniture, from wooden plates and cups to tables, lounge chairs, and coat hangers, all made by Foreque Inc. under the FIL brand. All the products are made from Oguni Cedar, and their hallmark is the way in which the grain of the wood is incorporated into their design. Suzutani explains that the products symbolise the way the industry has changed over time.

It’s part of an effort to rejuvenate the exploitation of the local cedar and to help another generational shift, having gone from logs, to lumber, and hopefully now to more finished products.

The lab also caters to other audience in the village.

Fab Lab Aso Minami-Oguni attracts all kinds of people, from housewives who want to engage in craftwork, to newcomers to the village working on ambitious projects. But according to Suzutani, they expend their biggest efforts on primary school and junior high school students, aged 6 - 15. “Rural towns like this do not have many places for children to safely go and play on their own. Because of that, many of them go home after school just to play games on their phone for hours. You could even say that smartphones are their only connection to the outside world.”

Credits: The interview is a collaboration between Pop-Up City and MOMENT Magazine. Photo of Mount Aso by Takahiro Taguchi (Fab Lab Aso Minami-Oguni is just north of the mountain).

Database of old book illustrations

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 07, 2020

Matterhorn from near the Submit of Theodul Pass

Here’s an enormous library of thousands of old book illustrations, with searchable name, artist, source, date, which book it was in, etc. There are also a number of collections to browse through, and each are tagged with multiple keywords so you can also get lost in there in that manner.

Though the team behind the site doesn’t specifically list the whole site as public domain, chances are a lot of the illustrations you’ll find are way out of copyright in most jurisdictions.

Setting up the watches

South-Australian cobbler

Flore pittoresque--Plate 8

Archbishops' Palace, Narbonne

Beehives, “bee space,” and Le Corbusier

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash

The beehive design most of us probably imagine when thinking of beekeeping are actually a relatively recent design, having been patented by the clergyman Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth in 1852.

One of the reasons this design works is that he understood “bee space,” the gap between panels which allows bees to circulate while preventing them from filling in the whole and making the panels “stick.”

It’s because Langstroth understood “bee space.” Simply put, bee space is a gap of around 6 - 8mm. It is the space that is too large for the bees to fill with propolis, too small to fill with comb but just right for crawling around in. By designing a hive with this exact space between components - between the frames, the frames and the hive walls, and the frames and the roof - it became possible for the frames to remain unstuck and to therefore be removable. The bees built their comb inside the parameters of the wooden frame and regular inspections by the beekeeper kept the frames loose. So, modern beekeeping is premised on the very precise measurement of the body of a honeybee and how it uses space inside a hive.

The author proposes a parallel with architectural modernism, which although a bit stretched, has some value and is a good occasion to look into Le Corbusier’s unité d’habitation.

The fabrication of the hives, their replicability and ease of manufacturing is also an example of modern methods spreading worldwide and overshadowing older, often better adapted, methods.

We see this with the box hives too, as box beehives replaced traditional beekeeping practices in many cultures. In the West mass-produced beehive components are affordable but in many parts of the developing world, where development agencies push modern beekeeping, hive components can be expensive. Whereas making hives from locally sourced and affordable available materials, such a wicker, mud, plastic sheeting and dung is usually far more sustainable. In addition, traditional beekeepers selected apiary types and sites due to the success rates of hives in those locations. Traditional Ethiopian beekeepers, for example, keep hives suspended in trees and claim that there are fewer issues with diseases among the branches than in boxes on the ground. This type of beekeeping also requires healthy forests, so Ethiopian beekeepers know their forests well and are, in many cases, advocates for conservation and biodiversity.

The piece closes on a good question: is this kind of industrialized large-scale beekeeping part of the declining bee population in recent years?

A travel guide to Xbox destinations

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Xbox Rough Guide

There is now a Rough Guide to Xbox. If this turned out to be paid for by Microsoft, I wouldn’t be surprised. It kind of makes sense though, with the level of detail now available in games, with the time people spend in there, with the time spent just looking around instead of advancing a quest or mission, with “photography” happening from inside games, perhaps it’s time for a travel guide to the most gorgeous creations.

That distinction has now been eroded. Game graphics are so immersive and all-consuming, you don’t just experience the gameplay - you experience the very world in which the gameplay unfolds. That thrilling feeling of being somewhere new is no longer the exclusive domain of real-world travel. (Quote from the Rough Guides site)

There already are Discovery Tours in Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Fortnite is used as a social space, maybe it’s not that surprising that a travel guide of this kind would be published.

The history and futures of work since the 50s

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Office work in the 50s

Quite interesting and well designed retrospective on the History of Work at Atlassian, looking at every decade starting in the 50s; what office work looked like, technological innovations, and how the future of work was imagined during each decade.

In a 1964 interview with the BBC, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke nailed almost all of his predictions for the year 2014. He predicted the use of wireless communications, making us “in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be,” as well as robotic surgery, only missing his prediction that workers would no longer commute to their offices and travel “only for pleasure.”

When office work and life-long hopes of employment started losing some of it’s potential and appeal:

Employees increasingly had doubts about the value of long-term company loyalty and started putting their own needs and interests above their employers’. “Office Space” debuted in 1999 and humorously brought this idea to life, satirizing the banal, everyday work of office denizens and their incompetent, overbearing bosses.

Un-recyclable wind turbine blades sent to landfills

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Wind turbine blades in laydown yard Pasco, 2009

Two steps forward one step back? Not thinking about second-order consequences? The type of thing the face-palm emoji was invented for? Call it what you will but, as more and more of energy generation switches to renewables, some of the equipment, in this case wind turbines, is already aging and old parts piling on. The problem here is what happens to the blades doesn’t seem to have been thought through.

Tens of thousands of aging blades are coming down from steel towers around the world and most have nowhere to go but landfills. In the U.S. alone, about 8,000 will be removed in each of the next four years. Europe, which has been dealing with the problem longer, has about 3,800 coming down annually through at least 2022, according to BloombergNEF. It’s going to get worse: Most were built more than a decade ago, when installations were less than a fifth of what they are now.

So where do they go? Landfills.

Built to withstand hurricane-force winds, the blades can’t easily be crushed, recycled or repurposed. That’s created an urgent search for alternatives in places that lack wide-open prairies. In the U.S., they go to the handful of landfills that accept them, in Lake Mills, Iowa; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Casper, where they will be interred in stacks that reach 30 feet under.

Image: Not a landfill from the linked article but rather wind turbine blades in a laydown yard in Pasco, Washington in 2009.

Date-palms sprouted from 2,000-year-old seeds

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 06, 2020

Date-palm tree

Seems I’m on a bit of a nature and trees streak this week, I hope you’ll indulge me. A team led by Sarah Sallon, a doctor at Hadassah Medical Center, has been finding millennia old seeds from archeological sites and sprouting some of them into viable date-palm trees.

It’s kind of fascinating to contemplate the age of those seeds by considering where they come from and the events they were contemporary too.

Five of the six seeds that ultimately sprouted came from either Masada, the site of a famous siege in 74 b.c. that is said to have ended with the mass suicide of Masada’s defenders, or the Qumran Caves, best known as the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (A sixth came from caves at Wadi Makukh.) At 2,000 years old, the seeds are in fact contemporaries of these ancient events. Around the time Romans were laying siege to Masada and the Dead Sea Scrolls were being written, these seeds were being formed.

Perhaps other types of old seeds can be used and their genetic heritage tapped into to face our current challenges.

The fact that the team has done it not just once but now seven times suggests that ancient seeds could be used to resurrect genes that disappeared after thousands of years of breeding. “These ancient seeds might represent lost genetic diversity we don’t see any more,” Pérez-Escobar says. As date-palm growers adapt to climate change and battle pests and diseases, they might want to tap into the pool of ancient genes hidden in archaeological archives.

Image credit: Balaram Mahalder on WikiMedia Commons (not one of the trees planted from 2,000-year-old seeds).

New study estimates U.S. climate migrations

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

PLOS, modeling migration patterns in the USA under sea level rise

Climate migrations are already happening across the world, although not always talked about in those words and often having more to do with droughts and famine. With sea level rise and worsening weather, those migrations are bound to multiply and accelerate, including intra country, especially in a large country with a lot of coasts.

Bistra Dilkina, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California, led a study to try and predict how sea level rise might drive U.S. migration patterns in the future. They based their estimates on the movements of displaced residents following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, used analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the effects of sea level rise, and then “trained a machine-learning model to predict where coastal populations will move when forced to leave their homes—and how that, in turn, affects the migration of non-coastal residents.”

Dilkina is careful to describe the study as only an “approximation” of how sea level change might drive migration patterns, not a precise picture of where people will actually move. “There’s still a lot of need for understanding different drivers and externalities.”

Other factors will have an impact, which means a lot more work and more data will have to go into these models so they can be used to plan appropriate measures in the coming years.

For one thing, sea level rise is just one effect of climate change. Heat waves will drive people north—and could make make cities like Duluth and Buffalo “climate havens.” Urban flooding will reshuffle populations within a city. And extreme storms will move people in yet other ways. Meanwhile, as in Paradise, “forest fires are going to have dramatic effects on the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest,” says Keenan. “All of those things are changing land economics, housing economics, and public finance.”

Image credit: Modeling migration patterns in the USA under sea level rise report, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

Stopping time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

Jesse Gardner on Unsplash, Yosemite Valley, United States

Mark O’Connell felt like his life was getting busier, faster, he felt constantly short of time, which might sound familiar to many of us. He decided to try a natural treatment by spending 24 hours alone in the forest doing… nothing. Which is exactly the point of this “ritual whereby you stepped out of the flux of the world, in order to gain some perspective on the flux, and your place within it.”

At some point in my late 30s, I recognised the paradoxical source of this anxiety: that every single thing in life took much longer than I expected it to, except for life itself, which went much faster, and would be over before I knew where I was. […]

But it was also the sheer velocity of change, the state of growth and flux in which my children existed, and the constant small adjustments that were necessary to accommodate these changes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, wilderness retreat groups exist, starting with a week in the woods with the group, and ending with a “wilderness solo” alone with your thoughts and as little as possible to do, some even forgoing meals so they don’t use the prep and eating as distraction.

There was an extraordinary transformative power, he insisted, in the practice of sitting and doing nothing, and thereby slowing your mind and body to a meditative rhythm in nature. […]

And as you become untethered from your accustomed orientation in time - from always knowing what time it is, how long you have to do the thing you’re doing, when you have to stop doing it to do the next thing - you begin to glimpse a new perspective on the anxiety that arises from that orientation. Because this anxiety, which amounts to a sort of cost-benefit analysis of every passing moment, is a quintessentially modern predicament.

A recommend read to see how O’Connell acclimated to the stillness, to observing leaves and running water, and how in just that 25 hour, he saw a change in his perception of time and boredom.

Header image: Jesse Gardner on Unsplash.

The Booksellers

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

I’m very much here for this! “A behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world.” Includes interviews with Fran Lebowitz, Susan Orlean, Kevin Young and Gay Talese.

Antiquarian booksellers are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson, and their personalities and knowledge are as broad as the material they handle. They also play an underappreciated yet essential role in preserving history. THE BOOKSELLERS takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.

From the trailer:

The people that I see reading actual books in the subway are mostly in their twenties, it’s one of the few encouraging things you will ever see int he subway.

The odd history of the Odd Fellows

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

The Independent Order of the Odd Fellows

A centuries-old secret society which counted among it’s members the likes of Charlie Chaplin, P.T. Barnum, Charles Lindbergh, Wyatt Earp and Al Pinkerton? Do tell! As this deeper dive in their history mentions, how very Wes Anderson. Or, depending on which visuals and bits of history you focus on, perhaps very Jules Verne? Either way, The Independent Order of the Odd Fellows weren’t necessarily “odd” in today’s sense but in a rather more friendly one.

For as long as records show, this has been an organisation solely aimed towards charity and helping the less fortunate. One of its most prominent symbols known as the “Triple Links” alludes to its motto, “Friendship, Love and Truth” - three words that aren’t hard to get behind in modern civil society. But not so long ago, such noble values were rare to come by…

In the 18th century, with the beginning of industrialization, it was indeed considered “odd” to commit oneself to the principals of charity and communal welfare. It’s been suggested that founding members might have been branded as odd due to the apparent strangeness of following noble values such as fraternalism, benevolence and charity.

Or perhaps they simply had were considered odd or rare careers at the time. Several British pubs’ names suggest a past affiliation, and the American chapter went through multiple splits including post civil war where “the whites-only order staying in one camp and a new branch, open to people of any race, in the other,” while a number of chapters internationally had parallel women’s organizations.

The Independent Order of the Odd Fellows

Coyote and badger hunting as a team

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 04, 2020

Coyote and badger by Larry Lamsa

A cute video of a coyote waiting for a badger before using a culvert together to cross under a California highway has been making the rounds on Twitter. A well known behaviour for these two species but previously unobserved in the Bay Area.

They hunt together for efficiency, occupying the surface and underground, each using its own strengths.

When coyotes and badgers team up, the pairs track small, burrowing animals such as prairie dogs and ground squirrels. If the prey is above ground, the coyote usually chases it down, and the badger takes over the hunt if the prey descends underground. And not only do they find food together, but coyotes also have more success in this partnership than if they go it alone. Coyotes with badger cohorts catch an estimated one-third more ground squirrels than solo coyotes

There are some great pictures of such a hunting pair hanging out together on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s site, and articles in a number of places documenting their collaboration, like here on National Geographic who also mention this unsurprising bit of historical context:

Of course, the interaction between the two animals has long been recognized by Native Americans, like the Navajo and Hopi, who have countless stories about the coyote (the trickster) and the badger (the long-clawed, clever digger) hunting and sharing meals together.

Header image credit: Larry Lamsa on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

Collaboration in nature

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 04, 2020

Darwin’s theory was of its time, born in “the heyday of classical liberalism, dominated by thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume, and Thomas Malthus, who valorized an unregulated market.” And so, in itself and in multiple interpretations of the work through the years, was seen through a lens of competition. “Survival of the fittest” has become shorthand for his work and used time and again to “prove” the value of competition in evolution and in day to day human endeavours. But what if collaboration actually occupies a much more prevalent place?

Similarly, collectively owned spaces or institutions (like communal land trusts or co-ops) are often presumed short-lived or inefficient, doomed to suffer the “tragedy of the commons” as the innate self-interest of each member leads to an overuse of collective resources—a thesis that has been debunked again and again since its first articulation by Garrett Hardin in 1968. To put it simply, we have let Darwinism set the horizon of possibility for human behavior. Competition has become a supposed basic feature of all life, something immutable, universal, natural.

There have been numerous research projects in various fields trying to get us away from that focus on competition, notably biologist Lynn Margulis’s paper in 1967:

Rather than competition, it was collaboration, she argued, that constituted the origins of eukaryotic cells, which is to say, all complex life on planet Earth. Though her paper was rejected by as many as 10 journals before it was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, Margulis’ endosymbiont theory for the origin of eukaryotic cells is now the scientific consensus.

Since then, again and again, microbial species have shown us collaboration and interdependence in multiple settings, including our own digestive tract.

The National Institutes of Health recently found that over 10,000 microbial species occupy what they call “the human ecosystem,” outnumbering human cells 10 to 1 and doing diverse kinds of work at almost every level of the body’s processes. Bacteria, for instance, may make as much as 95 percent of the serotonin in our bloodstreams, meaning you have a diverse symbiont community to thank for your pleasant mood.

We can also look at mycorrhizal fungi, which collaborates with trees and various other plants in ways we are just starting to understand, like shown in the work of ecologist Suzanne Simard.

These are just some examples of a resurgence of understanding for collaboration in nature, instead of relying on our human focus on competition.

Darwin’s legacy aside, though, one critical takeaway from all this is that we must learn to recognize the impulse to naturalize a given human behavior as a political maneuver. Competition is not natural, or at least not more so than collaboration.

Fun public space claims in China

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 04, 2020

Public space claims in Chongqing

Little details of habits or unique uses of space and devices always draw my attention. These rollerbladers-in-training in Chongqing, China, spotted by Square Inch Anthro are exactly that, a day to day use of public space somewhat unique to a place.

On weekend mornings starting in late spring, this section of public square located in Chongqing’s central Shapingba district is taken over by somewhat the opposite end of the demographic spectrum: a trio of instructors and a gaggle of elementary school-aged rollerbladers-in-training. Dividing students by age and ability, instructors lay out various configurations of small orange cones and guide/coax their charges through them.

(You can also have a look at the communal dancers.)

Tintin, under-appreciated dresser

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 04, 2020

Les aventures de Tintin

The first thing that comes to mind is that Tintin was always dressed the same, but he did actually dress a whole bunch of different ways and Tayler Willson takes us through a few of the stylistic choices Hergé made for his legendary character.

His most iconic outfit - and his most high-end look, too - is best probably described as sleek, West End, hipster journalist. Like a Fashion Editor at a tabloid paper. It’s a rig that consists of a beige knee-length pea coat, a wide-legged pair of pin-rolled rust pants, with high white socks and a pair of clean, brown Paraboots. The perfect autumnal outfit if ever we’d seen one.

Reading this, I also realized that, although I doubt he would have read the magazine, Tintin would have been right at home in many a Monocle fashion spread.

Such was his versatility though, Tintin came into his own in colder climates. Arguably his best - and certainly most DeckOutand~About - look saw him sport a large, padded ski jacket with a drawstring bow at the neck, a mountain backpack clipped and secured across his chest and a mustard yellow beanie, like something from a Berghaus handbook. It’s known as ‘technical outerwear’ on the streets nowadays, but we still like to call it Big Coat Weather. It’s the kind of outfit you’d see at the peak of Mount Snowdon, or in the smoking area of your local boozer on a Saturday night.

Tintin dressed for winter

That ninety degree scenery thing

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 03, 2020

Landscapes Brilliantly Turned On Their Heads in This Digital Campaign

Some quite stunning work by Cream Electric Art created for an ad campaign for United Airlines in Australia. These are quite made-up by assembling two different landscapes in a dreamlike 90° angle but I’m posting them here to take us back to a favorite movie of mine, Inception, and the architect scene in Paris where Ellen Page’s character Ariadne bends the dream in a similar fashion. Less well known but even more interesting because it bent an actual map’s perspective was the dearly departed BERG’s Here & There project.

The projection works by presenting an image of the place in which the observer is standing. As the city recedes into the (geographic) distance it shifts from a natural, third person representation of the viewer’s immediate surroundings into a near plan view. The city appears folded up, as though a large crease runs through it. But it isn’t a halo or hoop though, and the city doesn’t loop over one’s head. The distance is potentially infinite, and it’s more like a giant ripple showing both the viewers surroundings and also the city in the distance.

Horizonless projection

That whole piece is a great read for a tour of perspectives from Alfred Wainwright’s hand-drawn walking maps, to China, to GTA and SimCity.

Social anxiety manifested using melty plasticine

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 03, 2020

In this short multi award-winning film, Sam Gainsborough uses “a hybrid of claymation, pixelation and live action to paint a visceral portrait of internal struggle.” Beautiful and yet haunting. If you’ve struggled with these kinds of bouts with anxiety, this might ring some uncomfortable bells but worth a viewing for sure.

Sam says he wanted to create a film that resonated with people who struggle with anxiety, or often feel isolated from others. “[It’s] about a character who struggles to interact with other people,” he tells It’s Nice That. “The main character is someone who has learned to repress his emotions. If he feels sad or angry, his skin physically restricts him from showing these emotions. This means his skin is constantly swirling and transforming, meaning he can never be truly comfortable in his own skin.”

“Park in a Truck” fast-tracks green space development across Philadelphia

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 03, 2020

Kim Douglas, director of Thomas Jefferson University’s landscape architecture program in Philadelphia, and her colleague Drew Harris, a professor of public health at Jefferson, put together the “park in a truck” program. There are approximately 40,000 vacant lots in the city, the projects wants to make the process of turning these lots into parks much simpler and quicker.

“The Park in a Truck idea is simple: Give local residents the resources and training to design, build and maintain parks on unused land in their own neighbourhoods, they decide whether it’s a place to grow vegetables, a setting to show off local art and culture, a space for child play, or simply a green place for rest and relaxation.”

By building on top of the ground, with no fencing, footings, or foundations, the process doesn’t require permits or special licenses. Once residents have agreed on what kind of park they want to build, a truck drops off the “kit” of components, like simply constructed benches, tables, plant beds and red gravel walkways, and they can get to work, building with their neighbours.

“It’s easy, sort of preassembled … you look at the options, you say ‘I’ll have an Art Park,’ you get a box, and you bring it to the site,” explains Douglas. “[We] provide what I call ‘puzzle pieces,’ these interchangeable park components that people can mix and match and organize.”

Fossilized action snapshot

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 03, 2020

fossilized-action-snapshot-1400.jpg

Did pterosaurs eat squid? Perhaps by flying low and grabbing them out of the water? In a fascinating glimpse at wildlife from millions of years ago, experts are studying what might prove to be a fossilized predator-prey relationship. Though their conclusion is highly speculative, researchers are using techniques such as ultraviolet light—which can differentiate between sediment and formerly living tissue—to determine what might have happened to produce this fossil, and deduct some hints of the species’ behaviour.

The specimen, which was found in Germany’s Solnhofen fossil beds, is an 11-inch-long coleoid cephalopod, a precursor to today’s squids, octopuses and cuttlefish. It is preserved well enough that its ink sac and fins are readily visible, as is the very sharp-looking tooth stuck just below its head.

merlin_168099426_3ac13719-9094-448e-95e1-6adcf215b61b-1000.jpg

Hacking Google, a red handcart for red roads

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 03, 2020

red-handcart-1400.jpg

You’ve got to love little artistic hacks like this. Simon Weckert put 99 second-hand smartphones in a red handcart and walked around a few blocks in Berlin. Each phone was running Google Maps and being tracked for trafic measurements. Their presence and slow rolling around the streets caused Google to display a traffic jam.

The advent of Google’s Geo Tools began in 2005 with Maps and Earth, followed by Street View in 2007. They have since become enormously more technologically advanced. Google’s virtual maps have little in common with classical analogue maps. The most significant difference is that Google’s maps are interactive  - scrollable, searchable and zoomable. Google’s map service has fundamentally changed our understanding of what a map is, how we interact with maps, their technological limitations, and how they look aesthetically.

maps_17_2-1000.jpg

Shake: A Typeface with Parkinson’s Disease

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

Shake typeface

Shake is a typeface made from the real handwriting of a person living with Parkinson’s disease. Creative director Morten Halvorsen:

My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years ago. And her handwriting has changed in the years since. I created this font to preserve her handwriting, and enable her to continue to write with her own letters.

A new version of the font will be available each year to capture his mother’s worsening condition. Donate a few dollars (or more!) to download the font — all proceeds go to finding a cure. You can also download a template so that you can document the handwriting of a loved one living with Parkinson’s — for a fee (donated to Parkinson’s research), Halvorsen will turn it into a font for you. (thx, kevin)

Story Time from Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

The Story Time from Space program aims to promote language and STEM literacy by having astronauts read educational bedtime books from low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station to kids on Earth. Here’s astronaut Kate Rubins reading Rosie Revere, Engineer:

And Ada Twist, Scientist read by Serena Auñón-Chancellor:

What a cool idea. Check out the rest of the available videos in their library.

Enemy of All Mankind, Steven Johnson

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

Enemy of All Mankind

Steven Johnson (Ghost Map, How We Got to Now) is out with a new book in May called Enemy Of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History’s First Global Manhunt. The book combines the story of a pirate with the beginnings of global capitalism and the end of an empire in Johnson’s polymathic fashion.

At its simplest, Enemy Of All Mankind is the story of a rogue pirate and his sensational crime. While piracy is an ancient profession, the most famous pirates of history would not take the stage until two decades or so after the voyage of the Fancy. But that “golden age” generation — Blackbeard, Samuel Bellamy, Calico Jack — was very much inspired by Henry Every’s crimes and the legends that spun up around them. While Every is not as famous today as those iconic figures from the golden age, he had a more significant impact on the course of world events than Blackbeard and his peers. Enemy Of All Mankind is an attempt to measure that impact, to chart its boundaries. It tells the story of the individual lives caught up in the crisis that erupted after the mutiny of 1694, but also the stories of a different kind of character, one step up the chain: forms of social organization, institutions, new media platforms. One of those institutions was as ancient as piracy itself: the autocratic theocracy of the Mughal dynasty. The others were just coming into being: the multinational corporation, the popular press, the administrative empire that would come to dominate India starting in the middle of the next century.

One Guy Gets Entire Park to Sing Bon Jovi

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

(Wait for it, wait for it…) One guy, singing Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, gets an entire park to sing along with him. I know this was a tough week for many, but if this doesn’t brighten your day, I do not know what will.

See also Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy, which I swear is related. (via open culture)

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