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Entries for September 2020 (Archives)

 

The Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Finalists for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

Each year, photographers entering the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards capture animals in various hilarious (and often anthropomorphic) situations and this year’s finalists can hopefully provide you with some relief from the absolute shitstorm that’s raging outside our skulls here in 2020. [Uh, how about something a little more upbeat next time? -ed] (via digg)

A Conversation with Jason Kottke on the Kottke Ride Home Podcast

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Hi folks. As you may have seen here recently, there is now an official kottke.org podcast: Kottke Ride Home (subscribe here). Every weekday, host Jackson Bird brings you 15 minutes of “the coolest stuff that happened in the world today”. Last week, Jackson and I talked on Skype for a special weekend bonus episode of the podcast: A Conversation with Jason Kottke (more listening options).

This is a peek behind the scenes of Jason’s process, his philosophies, and general thoughts on the internet — where it’s been, and maybe where it’s going. We talked about what running the blog looks like now, how it’s changed over the years. The evolution of patronage models, and his current thoughts on them. We talked a bit about burn out and managing that tension between what you really want to do versus what may appear to be the path of success online. And about the increasingly challenging task of maintaining ownership over what you create online. We also compared and contrasted our experiences as an OG blogger versus an OG vlogger, and how terrible both of those words are.

I thought this was a really good conversation. Jackson had some great questions that got me talking about some stuff I don’t normally get into. Hopefully we’ll do another one again soon. In the meantime, subscribe to Kottke Ride Home to get the best of the internet into your ears every weekday.

Who Knew You Could Play Music with a Boxing Speed Bag?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

Alan Kahn, aka the Speed Bag King and author of The Speed Bag Bible, can seemingly do anything with a boxing speed bag…like make music. Just watch this 45-second video of him getting warmed up on the bag and then performing a tiny virtuoso concert for a small group of amazed onlookers.

See also Kahn punch drumming the William Tell Overture. Again, this starts off slow but wait for the complex stuff to kick in over the course of the video. (via @austinkleon)

Washington National Cathedral Bell Tolls for 200,000 Covid-19 Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

In the next day or two, the official number of people who have died from Covid-19 in the United States will pass 200,000 (the actual death toll passed 200,000 back in July). To mark the grim occasion yesterday, the Washington National Cathedral tolled its mourning bell 200 times in remembrance, once for each 1000 people who have died.

We toll this 12-ton bell for every funeral held at the Cathedral. Funerals mourn the loss, but they also celebrate the lives of our loved ones, and point us to the hope of resurrection.

This gesture cannot replace the lives lost, but we hope it will help each American mourn the toll of this pandemic.

The tolling goes on for more than 19 minutes and you hear a number of deaths equal to 9/11 every 17 seconds. I recommend listening as long as you are able, to remember those who have been lost, and to inspire action so that 200,000 more Americans don’t have to die before this is all over.

See also A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death from back in July.

FKA twigs on Artemisia Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy is a painting made in the 1620s by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting was presumed lost until it was rediscovered in a private collection in France and sold at auction for more than $1 million in 2014.

As part of season 2 of Google Arts & Culture’s Art Zoom project (previously), British singer/songwriter FKA twigs gives her personal interpretation of the painting in the video above.

Scholars assumed it was painted in the 1620s, when Artemisia Gentileschi left Florence and moved back to Rome. She had separated from her husband and become an independent woman, the head of her own household, a rarity at that time.

When making my own album, entitled “Magdalene,” it was a time of great healing for me. When I was researching about Mary Magdalene and I was looking at a lot of paintings of her, she seemed so poised and so together. But the irony is in finishing my music, I found a deep wildness, a looseness, an acceptance, a release. And that’s exactly what I’m experiencing in this painting.

I found this incredibly soothing to watch and listen to…almost ASMR-like. And as usual, you can zoom around the painting yourself; this is not even halfway zoomed in…at full zoom you can see individual brushstrokes and cracks in the painting.

Artemisia Gentileschi's 17th-century painting of Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Cover of Barack Obama's book, A Promised Land

A Promised Land is a forthcoming memoir from Barack Obama that he says is “an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody”. Here’s the official description of the book:

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency — a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy.

A Promised Land will be released November 17 but you can preorder it on Bookshop or for the Kindle.

The Song Exploder TV Series

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Wow! Hrishikesh Hirway’s Song Exploder podcast is now a Netflix series! (For those who have never listened, Song Exploder features musicians telling the stories of how their songs were created.) Check out the trailer above, featuring song explosions by Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, R.E.M., and Ty Dolla .

Hirway says on Twitter:

I still don’t fully believe it but @SongExploder, a podcast I started in my bedroom!, is going to be a @netflix series.

If anyone at Netflix wants to talk about kottke.org becoming a series, let me know!! It can be about literally anything and everything. (Hey, we’ll call it “Anything and Everything”! The wheels are already in motion…)

Reprogramming a Game By Playing It: an Unbelievable Super Mario Bros 3 Speedrun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

After a fellow named Zikubi beat the speedrun record for Super Mario Bros 3 with a time of just over three minutes, speedrun analyst Bismuth made the video above to explain how he did it…by changing the game with the gameplay itself.

The first couple minutes go exactly as you’d expect, but the speedrun takes a weird turn when, instead of using the second warp whistle to go to level 8, he uses it to go to level 7. And once in level 7, Mario races around randomly, letting opportunity slip away like a blindfolded birthday boy unwittingly steering himself away from the piñata. It’s only later, during the explanation of how he got from level 7 to the final screen so quickly, that you realize Mario’s panicky idiot behavior is actually the player actively reprogramming the game to open up a wormhole to the ending. Watch the whole explanation — it’s a really fascinating little hack.

See also Bismuth’s explanation of a Super Mario Bros world record speedrun, which includes a short argument by me about why video game speedrun breakdowns are interesting to watch even if you don’t play video games.

In the video analysis of this speedrun, if you forget the video game part of it and all the negative connotations you might have about that, you get to see the collective effort of thousands of people over more than three decades who have studied a thing right down to the bare metal so that one person, standing on the shoulders of giants in a near-perfect performance, can do something no one has ever done before. Progress and understanding by groups of people happens exactly like this in manufacturing, art, science, engineering, design, social science, literature, and every other collective human endeavor…it’s what humans do. But since playing sports and video games is such a universal experience and you get to see it all happening right on the screen in front of you, it’s perhaps easier to grok SMB speedrun innovations more quickly than, say, how assembly line manufacturing has improved since 2000, recent innovations in art, how we got from the flip phone to iPhone X in only 10 years, or how CRISPR happened.

(via @craigmod)

In Search of a Flat Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

In Search of a Flat Earth is a documentary essay by Folding Ideas’ Dan Olson that starts out talking about people who believe the Earth is flat (and why it’s so difficult to convince them otherwise) but then takes a sharp turn toward a more recent and much more worrying conspiracy theory, QAnon. Lots of interesting information and observations throughout.

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking.

Study of the Creative Specimens

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study of the Creative Specimens is a collection of fantastical hybrid creatures created for Adobe’s 99U conference by Mark Brooks and illustration studio alademosca. Prints are available from Paper Chase Press. (via colossal)

“David Lynch Being a Madman for a Relentless 8 Minutes and 30 Seconds”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

The title of this video is “David Lynch being a madman for a relentless 8 minutes and 30 seconds” is perfect and requires no further information or contextualization. (thx, david (no relation))

Paul Rudd, Hilariously: Wear a Mask!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

NY governor Andrew Cuomo enlisted actor Paul Rudd to do a public service announcement about the benefits of wearing a mask during the pandemic. Rudd, who often looks like he hasn’t aged a day in the past 20 years but is actually 51 years old, is in total “how do you do fellow kids” mode in this video, deploying some totally plausible youth lingo in an effort to get his fellow youths to mask up.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

Book cover for Four Hundred Souls

From historians Keisha N. Blain (author of Set the World on Fire) and Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist) comes what sounds like a fascinating new book, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. As editors, Blain and Kendi assembled 90 Black writers & poets to write a chronological history of Black America. Details on the bookseller sites are sparse, but Kendi explained the project on Instagram:

Histories of Black America have almost always been written by individuals, usually men. But why not a community of writers chronicling the history of a community? Keisha and I assembled a community of eighty Black writers and ten Black poets who represented some of the best Black recorders of Black America at its four-hundred-year mark. Though the project was conceived in late 2018, most of the pieces were written in 2019. We wanted the community to be writing during the four hundredth year. We wanted FOUR HUNDRED SOULS to write history and be history, a diary entry in the history of letters when Black America symbolically turned four hundred years old.

In different ways and forms, eighty writers each chronicled five years of Black America’s history in succession, amounting to four hundred years. They related that history, those five years, to our time. The volume’s first writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, writes from August 20, 1619 to August 19, 1624. The volume’s final writer, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, writes from August 20, 2014 to August 19, 2019. All 90 contributors are leaders in their fields. I can’t wait to introduce all of them. The lineup is beyond belief.

FOUR HUNDRED SOULS has ten sections, each spanning forty years. Each section concludes with a poem that recaptures forty years of the history in verse. Sometimes history is best captured by poets — as these ten Black poets show. Indeed, the lives of Black Americans have been nothing short of poetic.

That sounds super interesting, in both form and content. You can preorder Four Hundred Souls today; it comes out on Feb 2nd.

Horrifying Reports of Forced Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Camps

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

A coalition of organizations led by Project South (which was founded as the Institute to Eliminate Poverty & Genocide — more on that last word in a minute) has filed a complaint based on a whistleblower about an ICE concentration camp in Georgia where, the complaint alleges, detained immigrants are not being properly treated for Covid-19, important medications are being withheld, conditions are appalling, and women are being given unnecessary hysterectomies. From a piece about the complaint:

Multiple women came forward to tell Project South about what they perceived to be the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies — a surgical operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. Additionally, many of the immigrant women who underwent the procedure were reportedly “confused” when asked to explain why they had the surgery, with one detainee likening their treatment to prisoners in concentration camps.

“Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done,” the complaint stated. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women ‘reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.’ The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were ‘trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.’”

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” the detainee said.

According to Wooten, ICDC consistently used a particular gynecologist — outside the facility — who almost always opted to remove all or part of the uterus of his female detainee patients.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Wooten said, adding that, “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”

According to the UN’s Genocide Convention of 1948, “imposing measures intended to prevent births” within “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” is genocide. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez commented:

The fact of the matter is the United States has engaged in a program of mass human rights violations targeting immigrants.

I’ll remind you, as I have with increasing frequency lately about the activities of our country’s increasingly authoritarian government, that forced sterilization in detention camps is literally what the literal Nazis did (inspired by, you guessed it, America’s treatment of “undesirable” populations).

You can read the complaint here and check out this thread from Brooke Binkowski for more context and examples of detainee mistreatment at the hands of the increasingly extra-legal ICE.

The Trailer for Season Two of The Mandalorian

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

So admittedly I was not the biggest fan of the first season of The Mandalorian — I don’t particularly care for westerns, space or otherwise, and in terms of the off-piste Star Wars tales, preferred Rogue One and even Solo to Mando’s adventures. But there is something compelling there and because I was indoctrinated in the ways of The Force as a child,1 I will watch the new season that starts on Disney+ October 30.

  1. I am not Force-sensitive myself, but I like to watch those who are.

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

A group of creatives led by Jessica Hische are creating unofficial posters for the Biden/Harris campaign in order to increase visibility of the campaign.

Last week, I [Jessica Hische] had a good conversation with the Biden creative team. I shared that one of my concerns for the upcoming election was the lack of visible support for the campaign. There are a lot of folx within the creative world and beyond posting on social media about voting (a wonderful and necessary message), but few of those posts mention the candidates by name. It’s somewhat implied that if you’re promoting voting or voting rights that you’re likely voting Biden and encouraging a Biden vote, but it’s not explicit. There’s a “I guess I’ll vote for him if I have to” vibe throughout leftist social media, but exasperated resignation doesn’t get people to the polls.

From top to bottom, art by Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt, Lauren Hom, and Joanna Muñoz. You can participate by downloading a template that includes the Biden/Harris logo — you can find the link at the bottom of the article.

“The Desperate Fight to Save His Family Ends in Tragedy”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

My god, this story of a man named Chris Tofte trying to save his family from the Oregon wildfires. (Maybe don’t read this if you’re feeling emotionally fragile right now…)

Back in the Jeep, struggling to navigate a road once so familiar but now shrouded by smoke-filled darkness, Chris almost ran over what looked like a bikini-clad woman on the road. Once he was closer, he realized she was wearing underwear. Her hair was singed, her mouth looked almost black, and her bare feet were severely burned.

He impatiently tried to help her into his car, explaining how he needed to find his wife and son, feeling like she was resisting.

Finally, she spoke. “I am your wife.”

Living in a Conspiracy Nation

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

We are in a spectacularly unprecedented moment in our nation’s history. If you do not believe that is the case, perhaps these two recent news reports in completely sober (and even socially conservative) publications will persuade you. Charlotte Alter reports from my home state of Wisconsin for Time magazine:

In more than seven dozen interviews conducted in Wisconsin in early September, from the suburbs around Milwaukee to the scarred streets of Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, about 1 in 5 voters volunteered ideas that veered into the realm of conspiracy theory, ranging from QAnon to the notion that COVID-19 is a hoax. Two women in Ozaukee County calmly informed me that an evil cabal operates tunnels under the U.S. in order to rape and torture children and drink their blood. A Joe Biden supporter near a Kenosha church told me votes don’t matter, because “the elites” will decide the outcome of the election anyway. A woman on a Kenosha street corner explained that Democrats were planning to bring in U.N. troops before the election to prevent a Trump win.

One in five. 20%. Alter continues:

This matters not just because of what these voters believe but also because of what they don’t. The facts that should anchor a sense of shared reality are meaningless to them; the news developments that might ordinarily inform their vote fall on deaf ears. They will not be swayed by data on coronavirus deaths, they won’t be persuaded by job losses or stock market gains, and they won’t care if Trump called America’s fallen soldiers “losers” or “suckers,” as the Atlantic reported, because they won’t believe it. They are impervious to messaging, advertising or data. They aren’t just infected with conspiracy; they appear to be inoculated against reality.

Democracy relies on an informed and engaged public responding in rational ways to the real-life facts and challenges before us. But a growing number of Americans are untethered from that. “They’re not on the same epistemological grounding, they’re not living in the same worlds,” says Whitney Phillips, a professor at Syracuse who studies online disinformation. “You cannot have a functioning democracy when people are not at the very least occupying the same solar system.”

Alter found conspiracy thinking on the left (Trump created Covid?!) but it was way more batshit crazy on the right:

On a cigarette break outside their small business in Ozaukee County, Tina Arthur and Marcella Frank told me they plan to vote for Trump again because they are deeply alarmed by “the cabal.” They’ve heard “numerous reports” that the COVID-19 tents set up in New York and California were actually for children who had been rescued from underground sex-trafficking tunnels.

Arthur and Frank explained they’re not followers of QAnon. Frank says she spends most of her free time researching child sex trafficking, while Arthur adds that she often finds this information on the Russian-owned search engine Yandex. Frank’s eyes fill with tears as she describes what she’s found: children who are being raped and tortured so that “the cabal” can “extract their blood and drink it.” She says Trump has seized the blood on the black market as part of his fight against the cabal. “I think if Biden wins, the world is over, basically,” adds Arthur. “I would honestly try to leave the country. And if that wasn’t an option, I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over.”

(At this point, you may want to take a short break, as I did, to either fully absorb this madness or to try to wipe your mind of it completely. Neither worked for me, but I did have a nice little stroll.) Ok, ready for round two? From The Economist, How construction workers in Ohio view the election:

“He’s done a great job, he’s got everyone back to work. I’m pretty much 100% for him,” said Kyle, a 30-year-old electrician. “He shoots his mouth off but at least that shows he’s honest,” said Jason, a pipe-fitter, who said he especially liked Mr Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt. “He’s done more for our country than the past ten presidents put together,” said an older builder, Jeff, skimming wet concrete on a new road. “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do. He built the wall.”

None of this is true, aside from Trump shooting his mouth off. These lies aren’t as spectacular as the blood-drinking pedophilia, but in some ways they’re even worse because they’re so easily fact-checked (e.g. Trump has increased the national debt) but still believed.

Bonus items that I randomly ran across this morning: 1) A recent local news report on an anti-mask rally in Utah, where some folks assert that Covid-19 is a hoax and that asymptomatic carriers don’t exist (oh, and a woman draws a parallel between George Floyd not being able to breathe and people not being able to breathe with a face mask on). 2) The assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, an actual government official, “accused career government scientists on Sunday of ‘sedition’ in their handling of the pandemic and warned that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election”.

I’ve said this several times before, but I keep coming back to this quote from Hannah Arendt:

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

Fox News, talk radio, and Facebook — aided and abetted by clueless mainstream media outlets who feel the need to cover “both sides” equally — have been pounding away on Americans for decades, feeding them misinformation and hate. Trump ratcheted that rhetoric up, legitimized it with the office of the president, and is reaping the rewards — “with such a people you can then do what you please”.

Scientists Detect Signs of Possible Life on Venus

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

The planet Venus

A group of astronomers have announced that they’ve discovered evidence that there may be life in the atmosphere of Venus.

The astronomers, who reported the finding on Monday in a pair of papers, have not collected specimens of Venusian microbes, nor have they snapped any pictures of them. But with powerful telescopes, they have detected a chemical — phosphine — in the thick Venus atmosphere. After much analysis, the scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical’s source.

Some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. But the finding will also encourage some planetary scientists to ask whether humanity has overlooked a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other world in our solar system.

“This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an author of the papers (one published in Nature Astronomy and another submitted to the journal Astrobiology). “It will definitely fuel more research into the possibilities for life in Venus’s atmosphere.”

It’s a Bird

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

In late May, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in Central Park when he was accosted and abused for the color of his skin by a white woman after he asked her to leash her dog. Cooper, who is both an avid birdwatcher (he’s on the board of directors for the NYC Audubon Society) and a pioneering comics writer (he was Marvel’s first openly gay writer and editor), has combined his experiences and interests into a new graphic novel for DC Comics called It’s a Bird.

It's A Bird, Christian Cooper

From the NY Times:

The slim, 10-page story is impressionistic, without a real plot. It is the first in a series called “Represent!” that features works of writers “traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream comic book medium,” including people of color or those who are LGBTQ, Marie Javins, an executive editor at DC, said in a statement. It will be available online for free starting Wednesday, at several digital book and comic book retailers.

The main character of “It’s a Bird” is a teenage birder named Jules, who is Black. When Jules tries to peer through his binoculars at birds, he instead sees the faces of Black people who have been killed by the police.

It’s a Bird is available for free from DC Comics. You can read an interview with Cooper and the rest of the creative team (artist Alitha E. Martinez, inker Mark Morales, colorist Emilio Lopez, and letterer Rob Clark Jr.) on the company’s blog. (via open culture)

Tiny World

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

Apple might be a $2+ trillion company, but in the TV world they are still relatively small potatoes. Perhaps it’s appropriate then that the company’s first entry into the nature documentary space dominated by BBC and Netflix is Tiny World, a series featuring some animals who have carved out lives in our massive world by going small. You know, spiders, toads, pygmy marmosets, insects, rodents, fish. The series is narrated by Paul Rudd (I love the ageless Rudd as much as anyone but would have loved to hear Ze Frank in this role) and premieres October 2nd on Apple+.

Works of Fine Art (feat. The Simpsons)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2020

Simpsons Fine Art

These mashups of fine art with The Simpsons are entertaining, but this one featuring Bart Simpson’s iconic blackboard subtly replaced by Cy Twombly’s 1968 chalkboard drawing Untitled (New York City) — perhaps the ultimate “my kid could have done that” piece of modern art — is a little bit of genius.

The 2020 Fall Foliage Prediction Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2020

Fall foliage map for 2020

Once again this year, SmokyMountains.com has the best online foliage prediction map. And once again again, summer was far too short and trees here in VT have already been changing colors for weeks (although most have not really started yet). The onset of fall carries an extra wallop in this pandemic year: in many parts of the country, summer made it possible for people to comfortably meet up with family and friends in the lower-risk out-of-doors, an option that will be increasingly less comfy once the leaves fall and the weather crisps up. (via @legalnomads)

Blade Runner 2049: San Francisco

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2020

To go along with my earlier post on photos of the wildfire skies in the western states, Terry Tsai took drone footage of an orange-hued San Francisco and put the soundtrack to Blade Runner 2049 behind it and, yeah, that’s about right. (via daring fireball)

Oliver Burkeman’s Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2020

For the past decade, Oliver Burkeman has written an advice column for The Guardian on how to change your life. In his final column, he shares eight things that he’s learned while on the job. I especially appreciated these two:

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth.

The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it. As the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics understood, much of our suffering arises from attempting to control what is not in our control. And the main thing we try but fail to control — the seasoned worriers among us, anyway — is the future. We want to know, from our vantage point in the present, that things will be OK later on. But we never can. (This is why it’s wrong to say we live in especially uncertain times. The future is always uncertain; it’s just that we’re currently very aware of it.)

It’s freeing to grasp that no amount of fretting will ever alter this truth. It’s still useful to make plans. But do that with the awareness that a plan is only ever a present-moment statement of intent, not a lasso thrown around the future to bring it under control. The spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said his secret was simple: “I don’t mind what happens.” That needn’t mean not trying to make life better, for yourself or others. It just means not living each day anxiously braced to see if things work out as you hoped.

(via @legalnomads)

Stop Motion Stone Loops

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2020

I love Benoît Leva’s simple stop motion animated loops made from rocks and stones. This bouncing one is my favorite:

View this post on Instagram

on

You can check out more stone animations on his Instagram. (via colossal)

The Apocalyptic Red Western Skies Caused by Climate Change-Fueled Wildfires

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2020

Wildfire Skies 2020

Wildfire Skies 2020

Wildfire Skies 2020

Wildfire Skies 2020

Wildfire Skies 2020

All day yesterday, my social media feeds were full of photos taken of the skies on the west coast, bloodied red and orange from the wildfires raging in California, Oregon, and other western states. Each fresh photo I saw shocked me anew. Friends told me: as weird as the photos look, they don’t do justice to what this actually looks like and feels like in real life. Automatic cameras (as on smartphones) had a tough time capturing the skies because the onboard software kept correcting the red and orange colors out — the phones know, even if climate change denying politicians and voters don’t, that our skies aren’t supposed to be that color.

I’ve compiled a few photos and photo collections taken of the western skies over the past few days:

Keep in mind that these photos were taking during the day — it only looks like night because the smoke so completely blocked out the sun.

And let me be clear (because others have not been): the frequency and intensity of the western wildfires over the past years are driven in part by climate change. These fires, along with the death, property damage, and poor health they’ve caused and will continue to cause, are just some of the debts coming due for decades of bad public policy, political inaction, and deliberate negligence by fossil fuel companies. The climate has changed and these are the consequences — the message in the sky is simply unmistakeable.

Trump Supporters Should Face Negative Consequences for Their Actions

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

Trump Boat Sunk

Designer & writer Gabrielle Blair, creator of the popular Design Mom blog, on The Consequences of Your Actions.

It makes me sick to my stomach that you, a Trump supporter, ever read or watch or listen to anything I’ve created. This is true even if I know you in real life.

I see what you are trying to do. You want me to treat you like a decent human being. But you are not behaving like a decent human being.

A decent person doesn’t align themself with people who are proudly racist and who insist America doesn’t have a racism problem.

A decent person doesn’t align themself with people who believe viral right-wing stories on Facebook over trained journalists, who think Q is real, who think the pandemic is fake, who think the earth is flat.

Blair continues:

You want to vote for Trump and experience no negative consequences.

But that’s not an option.

One of the consequences of your actions? I do not respect you.

Leave them to their terrible art:

I want to see you shunned by every person and organization that doesn’t support Trump. No more access to their books, movies, products, music, events, artists & influencers — till you are left with nothing but Smashmouth concerts, and Ben Shapiro talking about his sex life.

(And just so I don’t get email about this, the boat image at the top of the page is photoshopped. It’s an example of what the kids today are calling a “meme”.)

The Trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

I’ve never read or seen any of the Dunes (Herbert’s book, David Lynch’s movie, or even Jodorowsky’s Dune) but I have very fond memories of the video game Dune II and will watch anything that Denis Villeneuve makes, so I’m definitely going to check this out when it’s released…let’s see….on December 18, 2020 in theaters? WTF?

Ok, so just watch the trailer if that’s what you’re here for, but I remain baffled that movie theaters are a) currently open (Tenet was showing in 2810 US theaters last weekend) and b) slated to still be open in December in a country trapped in a pandemic death spiral. Easy testing w/ quick results and contact tracing, the twin keys to controlling the virus, are still a mess. A safe & tested vaccine that’s distributed widely by the end of the year? I wouldn’t hold my breath. And you’re going to put a bunch of people who are laughing and gasping together in a room for two-plus hours with a virus that’s airborne1 and assume they’re going to stay properly masked up (except for when they are eating popcorn and nachos!) and properly distant from each other? (Have you met Americans?!) Even if you assume that movie theater screening rooms are huge & well-ventilated (some definitely are not) and capacity is restricted, I repeat: What The Fuck? And in terms of societal trade-offs, reopening places where people gather indoors for entertainment is more important than ensuring our kids can safely go to school? *extreme hair-tearing-out noise*

  1. Along with the lack of testing and tracing, the evidence that the virus can be transmitted through aerosols is the important bit here. Most people and organizations are still acting as though it’s not airborne because the measures would be different if they were taking that into account. See this expert’s advice about movie-going for example — there’s not a single mention of aerosols in the entire piece, so it’s tough for me to take it seriously.

Ultra Slow-Motion Video of Insects Taking Flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2020

Research biologist Adrian Smith, who specializes in insects, recently filmed a number of different types of flying insects taking off and flying away at 3200 frames/sec. Before watching, I figured I’d find this interesting — flying and slow motion together? sign me up! — but this video was straight-up mesmerizing with just the right amount of informative narration from Smith. There’s such an amazing diversity in wing shape and flight styles among even this small group of insects; I had to keep rewinding it to watch for details that I’d missed. Also, don’t miss the fishfly breaking the fourth wall by looking right at the camera while taking off at 6:07. I see you, my dude.

Smith has previously captured flying ants in slow motion and this globular springtail bug that spins through the air at more than 22,000 rpm. (via moss & fog)

The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

I appreciated this list of 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century from Kelli María Korducki, filled with books that help the self without necessarily being quote-unquote self-help books. Here are a few selections I found interesting:

The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. “Taylor argues that our personal bodily hang-ups — and the beauty standards that inform them — are manifestations of internalized inequality. By lending credence to unjust strictures, our self-hate inadvertently perpetuates oppression.”

Quiet by Susan Cain. “In a culture that rewards ‘being bold’ and ‘putting yourself out there,’ Quiet proposes that the most effective leaders aren’t necessarily the biggest personalities.”

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. “Part love letter to the burnout generation, part anti-Capitalist manifesto, Odell proposes a mass reclamation of attention — our most precious, and precarious, resource — to soothe our existential overload.”

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. “In an age of accumulation fueled by one-click consumerism, Kondo’s ‘konmari’ offers a simple formula for relief from the burden of clutter — literally and, perhaps, existentially.”

I would like to put my vote in for an addition to the list: Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (also, a self-help book for people skeptical of self-help books).

Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty — the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person’s guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.

I’ve read The Antidote twice; I’ve learned a lot from it and it inspired me to delve deeper into some of the people and philosophies he features. I think reading it, in a significant and long-term way, actually has made me happier.

Cool Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Sascha Lobe’s team at Pentagram has designed a functional and stylish modular signage system for the National Library of Luxembourg. The signs use cubes (inspired by LED clock displays?) that can be reconfigured into different words by library staff.

Numerical and alphabetical cubes are the foundation of the BnL’s modular signage system. In handling massive volumes of information and growing library collections, it is essential to free the library staff from rigid systems and equip them with the ability to easily make signage changes.

The flexible signage plan, consisting of 25,000 resin cubes, 6000 tableaus and 2,400 numerical shelving characters, enables staff to independently customize information as the library’s collection fluctuates. The resin cubes, constructed from a durable material, also translate the timelessness of the library and its long-standing presence throughout the years and into the future.

The only (but perhaps significant) downside to the signs is that they are not actually super legible when compared to a non-modular alternative. They sure do look great though.

Update: This post got shared on Twitter by a couple of librarian pals and Librarian Twitter was not impressed by this signage at all. Not legible, not accessible, and difficult/fiddly to maintain were the main complaints. As someone who believes that design is primarily about how something works and not how something looks, I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t hit that point harder in this post. I do love the aesthetics of the project, but from the photos, the legibility looks terrible. Maybe it’s different while navigating the space in person, but if not, you have to wonder how helpful hard-to-read signs are to patrons.

The Next Reconstruction?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

In The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes about the parallels between the present moment and Reconstruction, the post-Civil War period where the biggest strides toward racial justice in America were taken. In response to the protests happening in American streets this summer, Trump pulled out Nixon’s “law and order” playbook but that move backfired on Trump, much like the way that Andrew Johnson’s push for the US government to remain white during the early years of Reconstruction did.

The shift that’s occurred this time around “wasn’t by happenstance,” Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. “It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars that has gotten us here” — people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others. “Six years ago, people were not using the phrase systemic racism beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people’s lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it.”

All of that preparation met the moment: George Floyd’s killing, the pandemic’s unmistakable toll on Black Americans, and Trump’s callous and cynical response to both.

Still, like Andrew Johnson, Trump bet his political fortunes on his assumption that the majority of white Americans shared his fears and beliefs about Black Americans. Like Johnson, Trump did not anticipate how his own behavior, and the behavior he enabled and encouraged, would discredit the cause he backed. He did not anticipate that the activists might succeed in convincing so many white Americans to see the protests as righteous and justified, that so many white Americans would understand police violence as an extension of his own cruelty, that the pandemic would open their eyes to deep-seated racial inequities.

“I think this country is at a turning point and has been for a little while. We went from celebrating the election of the first Black president in history to bemoaning a white nationalist in the White House,” Alicia Garza told me. “People are grappling with the fact that we’re not actually in a post-racial society.”

If the reaction to eight years of Obama was a white nationalist President, then maybe the reaction to that is, finally, the beginning of true racial justice and equality in America. But here is the big question:

In the past, the dream of remaking society has faltered when white Americans have realized what they would have to sacrifice to deliver freedom. The question now is whether this time is different.

And further:

Believing in racial equality in the abstract and supporting policies that would make it a reality are two different things. Most white Americans have long professed the former, and pointedly declined to do the latter. This paradox has shown up so many times in American history that social scientists have a name for it: the principle-implementation gap. This gap is what ultimately doomed the Reconstruction project.

A research paper on the principle-implementation gap puts it plainly:

White Americans accept equality as an ideal yet reject interventions designed to achieve that ideal.

Serwer goes on to say that the sticking point is often economic justice — versus the easier-to-swallow civic justice. Ok, just go read the whole thing before I quote it all. (via @michaelharriot, who called the piece “spectacular”)

It’s Rain in Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

From Jez Burrows, 30 minutes of rain from video games like Uncharted, Batman: Arkham Knight, Donkey Kong Country, Spider-Man, and Animal Crossing.

A supercut of video game characters taking a break from solving crime or shooting people to enjoy a meditative minute of miserable weather.

(via @kellianderson)

Coronation, Ai Weiwei’s Documentary about the Pandemic Lockdown in Wuhan

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2020

Coronation is a feature-length documentary film by Ai Weiwei about the lockdown in Wuhan, China, during the initial Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020. The trailer is not super compelling tbh, but it’s Ai Weiwei and the description sounds interesting:

The film showcases the incredible speed and power of China’s state machinery with its construction of massive coronavirus hospitals, deployment of roving sanitation-fogging robots, implementation of an exhaustive testing and contact-tracing protocol, and punctiliously engineered protective measures for health workers.

On the other side of the scale is the crushing bureaucracy of that same machine, its totalitarian decision-making, clear deception of ordinary citizens, the absence of civic communication, and perhaps, worst of all, a cold-eyed lack of empathy for those suffering loss and kept away from home.

Ai Weiwei paints a moving and revelatory portrait not just of China’s response to the pandemic but also of ordinary people in Wuhan, showing how they personally cope with the disaster.

Hyperallergic’s Dan Schindel has a review of the film. You can watch Coronation on demand at Vimeo or Alamo. (via colossal)

Honoring Jacob Blake

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2020

Sho Shibuya / Jacob Blake

To pass the time during the pandemic, artist and designer Sho Shibuya has been painting sunrise views from his apartment using the front page of the NY Times as a canvas and posting them to Instagram. But he’s also done special editions, like the one above honoring Jacob Blake, the seven holes in the paper representing the seven bullets fired at Blake’s back by a Kenosha police officer trying to murder him. The juxtaposition with that headline is… something.

Challenger: The Final Flight

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2020

From Netflix, Challenger: The Final Flight is a four-part documentary series about the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.

Incorporating never-before-seen interviews and rare archival material, this series offers an in-depth look at one of the most diverse crews NASA assembled, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was selected to be the first private citizen in space.

The series debuts on Netflix on Sept 16.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

As a huge fan of Mario Kart (and a relatively recent owner of a Switch), this looks absolutely amazing (if it works smoothly). In Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, you race a physical kart (against other peoples’ physical karts if you want) through your actual house, controlling it via onscreen AR on your Nintendo Switch (the onscreen view comes from a tiny camera mounted on the kart). Here’s what Nintendo says about it:

Created in partnership with Velan Studios, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit brings the fun of the Mario Kart series into the real world by using a Nintendo Switch or Nintendo Switch Lite system to race against opponents using a physical Kart. The physical Kart responds to boosts in-game and in the real world, stops when hit with an item and can be affected in different ways depending on the race. Players place gates to create a custom course layout in their home, where the only limit is their imagination. Race against Koopalings in Grand Prix, unlock a variety of course customizations and costumes for Mario or Luigi, and play with up to four players in local multiplayer mode.

Watch the trailer above…it does look totally cool.

Rick Steves’ The Story of Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

The Story of Fascism is an hour-long TV special from travel guru Rick Steves about the history of fascism in Europe, from its post-WWI rise in Italy and Germany to the defeat of the fascist powers in WWII to efforts by modern-day right-wing ideologues to revive it.

We’ll trace fascism’s history from its roots in the turbulent aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people rose up, to the rise of charismatic leaders who manipulated that anger, the totalitarian societies they built, and the brutal measures they used to enforce their ideology. We’ll see the horrific consequences: genocide and total war.

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

The combination of the weighty subject matter and Steves’ jaunty TV voice is a bit jarring at first, but this packs a lot of information and context into an hour. There are obviously parallels throughout to contemporary leaders and their tactics, but check out Benito Mussolini’s mannerisms and facial expressions starting at 11:05 and see if they remind you of the current inhabitant of the White House. (via open culture)

Browse Through 72 Years of Ikea Catalogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea has uploaded scans of all 72 years of their annual catalogs, from 1950 to 2021, to their online museum. (The company’s optimism that there will be a 2021 is heartening.) An entertaining time machine of Scandinavian design trends.

Eric Godal’s Anti-Fascist Illustrations Updated for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

Piascik Anti Fascist

Piascik Anti Fascist

In the 1930s and 40s, artist Eric Godal drew some anti-fascist political cartoons that urged people not to listen to right-wing authoritarians who want to destroy and pillage society for their own ends. Godal, a German Jew, had escaped the clutches of Nazi Germany in the 30s and labored to warn America and the world about the fate of the Jews in Europe.1

Illustrator Chris Piascik has updated Godal’s drawings for 2020 to feature our own corrupt crackpot wannabe dictator. Calling Donald Trump a fascist is hardly controversial these days — he clearly is. What his supporters need to reckon with is: are they?

  1. Godal’s mother was able to get out of Germany on a boat but was denied entry to the United States as a refugee by the Roosevelt administration. She was sent back and eventually murdered in a Nazi death camp.

Grief and Witness in a Pandemic Ravaged Country

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

For Vanity Fair, novelist Jesmyn Ward writes about losing her husband just before the pandemic descended on America. She begins:

My Beloved died in January. He was a foot taller than me and had large, beautiful dark eyes and dexterous, kind hands. He fixed me breakfast and pots of loose-leaf tea every morning. He cried at both of our children’s births, silently, tears glazing his face. Before I drove our children to school in the pale dawn light, he would put both hands on the top of his head and dance in the driveway to make the kids laugh. He was funny, quick-witted, and could inspire the kind of laughter that cramped my whole torso.

It’s not long, but make some time for this one.

Thinking About Pandemic Risk: “All Our Behavior Adds Up”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

This short article by Dr. Aaron Carroll about Covid-19 and risk is excellent. I want to quote the entire thing here, punctuated only by increasingly emphatic YESes and THISes, but I will refrain. Somewhat.

Too many view protective measures as all or nothing: Either we do everything, or we might as well do none. That’s wrong. Instead, we need to see that all our behavior adds up.

Each decision we make to reduce risk helps. Each time we wear a mask, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we socialize outside instead of inside, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we stay six feet away instead of sitting closer together, we’re throwing some safety on the pile. Each time we wash our hands, eat apart and don’t spend time in large gatherings of people, we’re adding to the pile.

If the pile gets big enough, we as a society can keep this thing in check.

The article was published before today’s news that three PSG players — Neymar, Angel Di Maria, and Leandro Paredes — have tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from a vacation on Ibiza, but this could have easily been written in response:

To keep the pile big enough, though, we need to be willing to trade some activities for others. If people want to play on a sports team, for instance, they should consider giving something up to do so. Increasing their risk by participating in a group activity should prompt them to reduce their risk the rest of the time.

But we aren’t very good at discussing trade-offs. We want it all. We want to eat in restaurants, crowd into houses, go to work and celebrate occasions en masse.

We could choose to engage in just some of those things. We could decide to get a massage or get our nails done or have a haircut — instead of demanding that all of these and more be available to us simultaneously.

And this is just generally true:

If Americans were willing to invest in bigger-picture solutions, we could all have nicer things.

And this. This. THIS!! (sorry) THISSSSS!!!!:::

Instead of asking why we can’t do certain activities, we might consider what we’re willing to give up to do them more safely. Even better, we might even consider what we’re willing to give up so others can do them, too.

Go on, read the whole thing.

A Map of the Sounds from Forests and Woodlands Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

A site called Sounds of the Forest is collecting sounds from forests and woodland areas around the world and presenting them on a world map.

Sounds of the Forest

We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.

The sounds form an open source library, to be used by anyone to listen to and create from.

Here are a few of the sounds that they’ve collected.

See also the work of Gordon Hempton, who is trying to capture the sounds of the very few places left in the world without human noise. (via moss & fog)

David Blaine Floated into the Sky with a Bunch of Helium Balloons Like the House in “Up”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

Earlier today, illusionist and “endurance performer” David Blaine grabbed onto a bunch of big helium balloons and floated into the sky.

David Blaine Balloons

Over the next 50 minutes, he rose to an altitude of almost 25,000 feet before letting go and skydiving/parachuting safely to the ground. The video embedded above is a livestream of the event — liftoff takes place a couple of minutes after the 2-hour mark.

Buddhist Monk and Makeup Artist Kodo Nishimura

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

Kodo Nishimura

Meet Kodo Nishimura, a Buddhist monk and makeup artist. Nishimura, who is gender fluid and uses he/him pronouns, struggled with his peers’ rigid concepts about gender as a teen in Japan, but found greater acceptance and a career in NYC before deciding to return to Japan to train as a monk, just as his parents had before him. As you might imagine for someone with one foot in two very different cultures, it has been difficult for Nishimura to simultaneously navigate both of those worlds and their attendant expectations.

For the next two years, Nishimura lived a double life: an openly gay makeup artist when he was in NYC and a closeted Buddhist monk trainee when he was in Japan. “I didn’t want the impression of other monks to be degraded because of me,” he recalls. It wasn’t until confiding in his master that Nishimura realized the futility of his concerns. His master expressed: “The most important message of our denomination [Pure Land Buddhism] is to let people know that we can all be saved regardless of our sexuality, gender or fashion preferences.”

You can check out more about Nishimura on his website or on Instagram. (via spoon & tamago)

Update: Thanks to Caroline and @anatsuno for some language-related feedback on this post. I added that Nishimura explicitly uses he/him pronouns and clarified that he “is gender fluid” and not just “identifies as gender fluid”.

The Dynamic Treetop Kingdoms of the Weaver Ants

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2020

In their third video of their ant trilogy (see also The World War of the Ants and The Billion Ant Mega Colony and the Biggest War on Earth), Kurzgesagt goes up into the treetops to tell us about the weaver ants.

Deep in tropical jungles lie floating kingdoms ruled by beautiful and deadly masters: They are sort of the high elves of the ant kingdoms: Talented architects that create castles and city states. But they are also fierce and expansionist warriors and their kingdoms are ensnared in a never ending war for survival. Oecophylla weaver ants.

The nests that weaver ants build out of leaves and silk from larve (that the ants use as “tiny cute glue guns”) are incredible. Since Kurzgesagt is animated, I went looking for some actual footage of weaver ants doing their thing. Here’s a clip from BBC Earth:

I found this video via The Kid Should See This, who explains that a mango orchard in Thailand uses the ants to keep pests away without using chemical pesticides:

In this mango orchard in Northern Thailand, weaver ants are nurtured so they can thrive and protect the harvest. The ants hunt the pests that would eat the mangoes, eliminating any need to use harmful chemical pesticides. The farmer creates strategic highways of red string to connect the weaver ants to new trees, expanding where they forage.

You can also watch this documentary on Australian weaver ants and this video from AntsCanada (whose videos always have amazing narration) to learn more about weaver ants.

Radioactive Diamond Batteries That Last for Thousands of Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2020

A pair of researchers from the University of Bristol have formed a company called Arkenlight to try to make diamond batteries out of nuclear waste that can potentially power devices for thousands of years. The betavoltaic batteries work by releasing beta radiation, which excites semiconductor material to produce electricity. These types of batteries don’t put out much power — they can’t replace your iPhone battery for example — but they do their thing for a loooong time.

Arkenlight is focused on creating batteries that have a diamond-like structure out of irradiated graphite, which is quite common.

But that’s where a radioactive isotope called carbon-14 may be able to help. Best known for its role in radiocarbon dating, which allows archaeologists to estimate the age of ancient artifacts, it can provide a boost to nuclear batteries because it can function both as a radioactive source and a semiconductor. It also has a half-life of 5,700 years, which means a carbon-14 nuclear battery could, in principle, power an electronic device for longer than humans have had written language.

I mean, it’s little more than a theory at this point so maybe it won’t be feasible after all, but what a brilliant idea: combining the radioactive source and the semiconductor (thereby upping the efficiency) and using nuclear waste to build the whole thing. Science at its most poetically useful. (via geoff manaugh)

MIT’s New Online Science Course About the Pandemic & SARS-CoV-2 Is Free & Open to the Public

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2020

MIT’s biology department is offering a new online class this fall called COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic. The class will be led by Richard Young and Facundo Batista and will include guest lectures by several leading authorities on Covid-19, coronaviruses, epidemiology, and immune systems like Anthony Fauci, Michael Mina, and Akiko Iwasaki. Here’s the course description and syllabus.

Lectures by leading experts on the fundamentals of coronavirus and host cell biology, immunology, epidemiology, clinical disease, and vaccine and therapeutic development.

MIT Covid-19 course syllabus

The first class is today, Sept 1st, at 11:30am ET and meets on Tuesday through December 8. Lectures are via live video but will be archived if you miss a class. There’s no homework or outside reading (it’s just the lectures), no pre-requisites needed, and it’s a 1-credit pass/fail exploratory course, so despite the source and subject matter, it should be fairly accessible. I’m taking the course and will let you know how it goes! (thx, meg)

Update: Here’s an archive of the first lecture by Bruce Walker of the Ragon Institute.

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