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Entries for April 2021 (May 2021 »    June 2021 »    Archives)

 

Magnus Carlsen’s Remarkable Memory

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

Watch as David Howell sets up several historical chess positions and quizzes world champion Magnus Carlsen on them. Spoiler alert: he knows them all. The one he gets in just four moves after opening is just…otherworldly.

Carlsen is one of a number of world class performers that have prodigious memory skills. See also LeBron James Has a Photographic Memory, Xavi Hernández identifying goals he scored (and the final scores of those matches), Aaron Rodgers’ memory of his significant plays, and Iker Casillas remembers the score of every match he’s played. (via robin sloan)

Update: Former world champion Garry Kasparov:

I was tested similarly in my world championship days, and yes, most Grandmasters can identify thousands of games and positions. It’s not trivial, but, as Magnus said, it’s our job! But his serious interest in the past (human!) games is also a competitive advantage.

Kasparov once gave an impressive public exhibition of this skill. (via @stevenstrogatz)

The 1619 Project Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

1619 Project Book

The excellent 1619 Project, developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones at the NY Times, is being released in book form this fall: The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook). The book “substantially expands” on the original project, and will include new & expanded essays and works by Hannah-Jones and contributors.

The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself. This legacy can be seen in the way we tell stories, the way we teach our children, and the way we remember. Together, the elements of the book reveal a new origin story for the United States, one that helps explain not only the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in American life today, but also the roots of what makes the country unique.

They’re doing a children’s book too: The 1619 Project: Born on the Water (ebook).

1619 Project Book

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

The Bird Photographer of the Year competition has released a selection of images from their shortlist of finalists for the 2021 contest. I selected three of my favorites above: Zdeněk Jakl’s duckling, Fahad Alenezi’s fox & eagle, and David White’s swallow. You can see more entries at Colossal, BBC, and Science Focus.

Paddington in Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Reddit user JaytheChou is photoshopping Paddington Bear into one new movie scene every day — “until I forget” they say. So far, they’ve done Avengers, North By Northwest, Star Wars, and Blade Runner. In recognition of Citizen Kane’s rating recently getting knocked down below Paddington 2’s on Rotten Tomatoes, they did a Citizen Kane one. The Photoshop work could be better, but Paddington is such a perfect “quietly there” character that it doesn’t even matter.

Desus and Mero Go to the Met Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

After months of lockdown and closure due to the pandemic, Desus Nice & The Kid Mero go to the Met Museum in NYC to take in some art. Would 100% take a tour of any art museum with these two astute cultural commentators.

Healing Grid Optical Illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Healing Grid

Healing Grid is an optical illusion by Ryota Kanai that was a finalist in the 2005 Best Illusion of the Year Contest. If you stare at the center of the image for several seconds, the broken edges start to “repair” themselves in your peripheral vision. Explains Kanai: “This illusion seems to indicate the preference of the visual brain to see regular patterns.” (via @stevesilberman)

Update: Kanai and several co-authors later wrote a scientific paper about this illusion: The Uniformity Illusion: Central Stimuli Can Determine Peripheral Perception.

We argue that the uniformity illusion is the result of a reconstruction of sparse visual information (from the periphery) based on more readily available detailed visual information (from the fovea), which gives rise to a rich, but illusory, experience of peripheral vision.

(via @kanair)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Catherynne M. Valente has written an absolutely fantastic review of Ted Lasso that gets to the heart of why so many people love the show so much. I will quote from it at length:

Ted Lasso is like if Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, and David Tennant’s Doctor all got together and had a big strange baby. It is a completely formulaic premise that turns around and refuses to follow the formula. It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.

Do you know how fucking hard that is to pull off?

It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind. In a show for adults. For cynical adults who are having a thoroughly rubbish time of it — and that was everyone in 2020. It’s nearly impossible, honestly. Even Parks and Rec constantly shit down Jerry’s neck. The Good Place was full of demons to balance out the philosophy with that kind of humor.

Ted Lasso is just a guy. It’s not the afterlife, it’s not in space, it’s not in a medieval morality play, it’s not even something as high-concept as the fantasy life of JD in Scrubs. He’s just a guy, who has problems, not insignificant ones, but also maybe the secret of life, moving through a traditional comedy plot — in fact, the actual plot of Major League — and handling it like comedy characters never do because it’s easier to do a madcap plot when everyone is being stupid and not communicating and running on the rails of their particular archetypal tropes.

How they managed to make radical empathy funny is just miraculous. And also:

I actually think Ted’s progressive jokes are rather desperately important, as far as TV is ever desperately important. There’s this crushing, dominant idea that real comedy, edgy comedy, modern, cutting-edge comedy is by nature regressive, offensive, in your face, dirty, snickering about women and minorities and LGBTQ folk because if those pious SJWs don’t like it, it must be hysterical. So to speak. That if you’re not offending people, you’re not doing it right. And the intersection of comedy and sports is where this attitude is likely to be EXTREMELY firmly rooted and taken for granted.

But here it’s just…gone. There are zero jokes made at the expense of…really anyone except Jamie and Roy, who both need to experience not being bowed down to in order to become who they need to be. Ted doesn’t even think before deftly acknowledging that Rebecca is funny, but on the off chance she actually has a trans parent, he’s excited and interested to discuss her experience with her without judgment. And yet nothing is lost in terms of fun or laughs, because in every scene, Ted lets everyone be in on the joke with him instead of being a target.

Art can be like this. Art can be like this and nothing is lost. There’s still plenty of edge to go around.

If I were you, I would read the whole thing, especially if you liked this previous post: Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

An Animated Primer on Black Holes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

You’re probably aware that black holes are weird. You can learn more about just how extremely odd they are by watching this animated primer on black holes by Kurzgesagt. The explanation about how long black holes live starting at ~9:30 is legitimately mindblowing — that hourglass metaphor especially.

The Tight Fit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

This man’s garage is 1.55 meters wide and his car is 1.49 meters wide, leaving a clearance of just 3cm on each side. Watch him effortlessly get the car into his sponge-lined garage and then, in an exquisite geometrical dance of angles and tolerances, exit the car into his house. Someone should make this into a video game — I want to see the speedruns!

Update: Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place makes the perfect soundtrack to this guy parking his car.

(via @johnpavlus)

Let’s Bask in This Photo of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

The Sun

Astrophotography enthusiast Andrew McCarthy took a 140-megapixel photo of the Sun yesterday and, gosh, the Sun is just so cool to look at. I don’t know if you can see it above, but there’s a little something hidden in the photo, a transiting ISS:

The ISS transiting the Sun

The full-size image is available to McCarthy’s supporters on Patreon.

Rotating Lights in the Desert

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

Always a pleasure to see new work from Reuben Wu, whose stuff I’ve featured here before. For this piece, Wu journeys into the audiovisual realm, combining his light-forward photography with his music production work (he’s a member of the band Ladytron). Colossal, as usual, has the skinny:

For EX STASIS, Wu programmed a stick of 200 LED lights to shift in color and shape above the calm landscapes. He captured the mesmerizing movements in-camera, and through a combination of stills, timelapse, and real-time footage, produced four audiovisual works that juxtapose the natural scenery with the artificially produced light and electronic sounds. “As it gets dark, my surroundings cease to be an exterior experience and become a subliminal space, and that’s when I feel most connected and aware of my sense of being,” Wu says. “This dynamic terrestrial chiaroscuro synchronizes with my sound design and music to form singular looping pieces.”

“Dynamic terrestrial chiaroscuro”!!! Also, this photo from Wu’s Insta is just fricking beautiful. (via colossal)

Titanic: Melodrama Done Right

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

As an unapologetic fan of James Cameron’s Titanic, I really enjoyed Evan Puschak’s video love letter to the film and the genre it embodies: melodrama.

The term “melodrama” literally means drama accompanied by music, which is why film is maybe the best most natural medium for it — aside from opera. What’s important to note is that the moral core of melodrama doesn’t intellectualize the story; it adds to the emotion by giving it the flavor of virtue. You know that Rose and Jack should be together, so when they get together it feels right and righteous. And when Jack dies at the end, it’s a heartbreak that makes the whole universe seem wicked.

Miiight be time for a rewatch.

Where Do Company Names Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

The Wikipedia page listing company name etymologies is a good place to spend some time.

7-Eleven - convenience stores; renamed from “Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 am until 11:00 pm.

Samsung - meaning “three stars” in Korean

Coca-Cola - derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.

Pepsi - named from the digestive enzyme pepsin

Jordache - from the first names of the Nakash brothers who founded the company: Joe, Ralph, David (Ralph’s first son), Avi, plus che, after the second syllable of “Nakash”

GEICO - from Government Employees Insurance Company

Häagen-Dazs - name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”. The name has no meaning.

Hotmail - founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service he tried all kinds of names ending in ‘mail’ and finally settled for Hotmail as it included the letters “HTML” - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

Mozilla Foundation - from the name of the web browser that preceded Netscape Navigator. When Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla) by Jamie Zawinski.

(via sam potts)

Degrees of Uncertainty

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

In his latest impeccably produced video, Neil Halloran looks at the science of climate change and uncertainty both in science and in the public’s trust of science.

Degrees of Uncertainty is an animated documentary about climate science, uncertainty, and knowing when to trust the experts. Using cinematic visualizations, the film travels through 20,000 years of natural temperature changes before highlighting the rapid warming of the last half century.

The vast majority of climate scientists seem pretty sure that human use of fossil fuels has warmed the Earth and that warming is increasingly having an impact on both nature and society. But how do we, as members of the public with a relatively poor understanding of science, evaluate how certain we should be?

FYI: This video includes some interactive elements that only work if you watch it on Halloran’s website.

Labor Shortage or Terrible Jobs?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Anne Helen Peterson noticed a bunch of reports about fast food & retail businesses around the US having trouble finding employees, which difficulty the business owners are blaming on lazy American workers whose unemployment benefits have been extended/expanded during the pandemic. But what if, she writes, those benefits are actually providing a safety net to American workers so that they do not need to take terrible jobs for low wages at terrible companies under terrible management? The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy:

Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model.

Unemployment benefits have offered a steady paycheck while you figure out your options. Put differently: a version of the safety net that’s been missing from most American employment, and, by extension, the ability to say no. No, I don’t have to work for a restaurant that only gives me my hours three days ahead of time, thus making it nearly impossible to find reliable childcare. No, I don’t have to work clopen shifts. No, I don’t have to expect a job without sick leave or paid time off. No, I don’t have to deal with asshole customers or managers who degrade me without consequence. No, I don’t have to work in a job with significant, accumulating health risks.

Her question near the end of the piece is worth considering: “If a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business?”

50 Lovingly Restored Photographs of the Earth Taken by Apollo Astronauts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

Earth Restored

For his Earth Restored project, Toby Ord digitally remastered 50 photographs of the whole Earth taken by Apollo astronauts during their missions in the 60s and 70s.

The Apollo photographs are historic works of art. So in restoring them, I sought to bring out their own beauty. I refrained from recomposing the images by cropping, or trying to leave my own mark or interpretation. Perhaps in some cases this would make a more pleasing image, but it was not my aim.

And the Apollo photographs are also a scientific record of what our Earth looks like. In particular, what it would have looked like from the perspective of the astronaut taking the shot. So rather than pumping the saturation or adjusting the colours to what we think the Earth looks like, I wanted to allow us to learn from these photographs something about how it actually appears.

Many of these shots are new to me — the Apollo program and its scientific and cultural output continue to be revelatory 50 years later.

Update: Full resolution images are available when you click through on each photo. You may have to make your browser window wider to see the link. (thx, colin)

What Happened with the Whole European Super League Thing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Erling Haaland

Last week, twelve of the biggest, richest, and best European soccer teams announced they were going to form a new midweek competition called The European Super League. The reaction was swift: fans revolted, soccer governing bodies threatened to kick these teams out of other competitions (with immediate effect, including the Champions League which is presently in the semifinal stage), large-scale condemnation from the press, teams started to back out, and 48 hours after the announcement, the league was all but dead.

So what the hell happened? There have been lots of takes and I obviously haven’t read them all, but here are two I found especially valuable in wrapping my head about the Super League failure and, more importantly, what it can tell us about how power, wealth, community, and attention interact 21 years into this rapidly aging century. First up, Alex Shephard writing for The New Republic: The Existential Crisis That Led to the European Super League Fiasco.

What all of these cultural dinosaurs are confronting, though rarely head on, is the fact that there is no monoculture anymore. They may occupy tremendous cultural space — and a team like Real Madrid is rivaled only by other European soccer teams in the sports world — but it is not and never will be what it was before. The mass appeal these teams enjoyed until fairly recently is not coming back, and it’s not just the fault of Fortnite or FIFA. There are simply too many competitors — and, after all, you can watch the best bits on social media anyways.

And then Ryan O’Hanlon interviewed economist Mark Blyth for his newsletter: How the Spectacular, Comical Failure of the Super League Explains the World.

O’Hanlon: In addition to the various corporate pressures, it really does seem like the fan reaction made a material difference. Do you find that heartening at all?

Blyth: I think it’s heartening in the following sense. It’s emblematic of broader shifts that are going on right now. Basically we’re all struggling to find a capitalism 4.0, and we’re all fed up with capitalism 3.0, and this is a huge example of the limits of capitalism 3.0. This “I own it. It’s my right. I’ll do what I want with it”. Except, no you won’t because there’s such a thing as a public conception of ownership of these assets, even if you formally own them. There are limits to how far you can push this market logic on the social institutions without provoking a reaction. Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian sociologist and historian from the 1940s, wrote that the big fuck-ups of the 19th century and 20th century were attempts to shove markets down people’s throats to the point where they revolted.

In a sense, what you’re seeing here is a classic Polanyian reaction. So I think it’s heartening in that it shows there are limits to how much you can commodify these social goods even if they are nominally private assets. It’s heartening in another way in that they’re gonna have to have a reckoning with these balance sheets. If you’re not Sheikh Mansour and you’re not Roman Abramovich, how are you going to fund Paul Pogba’s ridiculous salary? And it’s just not clear that you are going to, so there may need to be a restructuring, which would be great because the model is there. Look at how the Germans do this. They invest heavily in talent. They invest heavily in youth, they buy, but they buy judiciously. They don’t pay ludicrous salaries. And the funds own 51 percent of the companies. It’s a perfect model, right? Because they’ve got cooperative ownership between the people who are the kind of social owners. And then you’ve got the titular owners who do the investment, and there’s a balance of those interests.

Let me know if there are other Super League pieces out there that I should read — I’ll add them to this post. (Photo above of Erling Haaland because he is a goofy beast and one of the 12 Super League teams is going to pay an absolutely obscene amount of money for him in a few months.)

Proposed Post-Pandemic New Yorker Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Tomer Hanuka asked his third-year illustration students at SVA to “come up with a post-pandemic New Yorker magazine cover” and posted some of their wonderful & thoughtful work to Twitter. Here are a few that caught my eye:

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

The second cover down, by Katrina Catacutan, is probably my favorite (the body language of the woman answering the door is just perfect) but the last image by Amy Young hit me like a ton of bricks. The New Yorker should run all of these covers for an issue of the magazine in a few weeks — collect them all!

The 70s Trucker Country Music Fad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2021

In the 60s & 70s, country music songs about truck drivers and CB radios enjoyed popularity on the airwaves and pop charts.

“Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. You got a copy on me, Pigpen? C’mon.” This jumble of words is the first line of the song “Convoy,” a #1 country hit from 1976 that tells an action-packed story from the perspective of a truck driver. Songwriters Chip Davis and Bill Fries filled “Convoy” with banter and lingo based on communications they heard between trucker drivers on CB radio during the 1973 oil crisis.

The epic orchestration and colorful and quotable lyrics made “Convoy” an unlikely hit — but the song actually tapped into a long history of country music that put the spotlight on the solitary lives of long-haul truck drivers. In the video above, Estelle Caswell breaks down the golden era of trucker country with country and folk music scholars Travis Stimeling and Nate Gibson.

This style of country music is perhaps my least favorite genre of music, but the history is interesting and I’m committed to bring you every new episode of Earworm.

Life in Color with David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

A new three-part nature series premiered today on Netflix: Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

The Worst NBA Player Is Way Better Than You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Last month, a video of a high school kid challenging former NBA player Brian Scalabrine to a game of 1-on-1 went viral. Scalabrine, of course, won easily: 11-0. As this Sports Illustrated article about the video put it: “Even NBA benchwarmers are ungodly basketball players.”

The video is a reminder of just how much better pro athletes are than regular Joes. Scalabrine was not a good NBA player. Considering that he played 11 years in the league, it might not be fair to call him a bad NBA player, but he was certainly one of the least productive players in the league during his career. But even almost a decade removed from his last NBA season, he’s still capable of schooling (almost) any person who hasn’t played at least college basketball. Don’t be fooled by the red hair and the fact that he tucked his hoodie into his sweatpants.

Sopan Deb interviewed Scalabrine and a couple of other NBA & WNBA players to find out if these challenges are common, why they happen, and why they almost always end the same way.

“Being a white N.B.A. player from the suburbs, I have to level up,” said Scalabrine, who is from Long Beach, Calif., and was often referred to as the White Mamba, a play on Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba nickname.

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

Scalabrine told another challenger years ago: “I’m closer to LeBron than you are to me”.

Gene Demby’s thread about the Scalabrine video is full of stories and videos of other former elite athletes easily besting all comers. This is a favorite:

I had a friend in high school who was at a camp & David Robinson showed up. My friend was feeling cocky after dunking on the Admiral twice. The Admiral told him he’d give him $1000 if he did it again. My friend walked away with a story about how he dunked on David Robinson twice.

A few years ago, WNBA player Devereaux Peters wrote about how these types of challenges are different when you’re a woman.

I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.

If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.

My kids and I have been discussing a related question recently: in which sport would it be easiest for a normal person with some athletic skills to score against or produce some kind of positive result against a professional player. For example: get a hit off of a major league pitcher, beat Steph Curry player 1-on-1, win a set (or even a point) against Serena, score a penalty shot in hockey, or score a rushing touchdown (or even survive the day) from the 5-yard line against an NFL team. That last one may not even be the right scenario, but you get the idea. The best answer we’ve come up with so far is scoring a penalty kick against a goalkeeper — I think if you gave a person who played soccer in high school 12-15 years ago 10 chances against a world-class keeper, I suspect they would score a few. Or perhaps that’s too easy of a challenge — after all, most penalty kicks succeed. Maybe the appropriate challenge would be to stop penalty shots from someone like Messi or Alex Morgan, surely a nearly impossible task.

Update: In 2018, BuzzFeed invited some normal folks to try scoring from the spot against MLS goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Admittedly Miller is not one of the best keepers in the world and who knows how hard he was really trying, but a few shots did get past him.

In Europe, where you’re much more likely to find folks on the street who grew up living & breathing soccer and can put the ball in the corners with some pace, I suspect the success rate would be higher, even against the likes of ter Stegen, Alisson, or Navas.

How to Draw a Self-Portrait in 11 Levels of Increasing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

In this video, artist TM Davy demonstrates how to draw a self-portrait in 11 levels of increasing complexity. As he notes early on, this isn’t so much about the mechanics of art as the levels of thinking that go into creating a portrait. Davy defines complexity as “the layers of thinking that help us to build observational truths that are necessary for a picture that somehow feels right”.

In his journey towards complexity in portraiture, he starts with the “solar head” (basically a smiley face) and moves to individually identifying features, depicting simple volume & proportion, and the more complex geometry of the human face. From there, observation becomes increasingly important — he uses variations on “looking” or “observing” many times in his explanation — as he covers contours, light & shadow, chiaroscuro, and color.

See also Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks and A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity.

Building Black: Ekow Nimako’s All-Black Lego Sculptures

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

For his series called Building Black, Ekow Nimako uses only black Lego pieces to build fantastical and futuristic sculptures based on West African masks, folklore, and medieval kingdoms. From Colossal:

Running through each of these artworks is a fluid understanding of time and space that blurs the distinction between generations, locations, and histories in order to imagine a new reality. “We are all living proof of our ancestors, all their joy, love, knowledge, and pain. They live in our DNA,” the Ghanaian-Canadian artist says. “Aesthetically, I enjoy taking elements from bygone eras and creating futuristic landscapes, particularly of African utopias to imagine a liberated existence for us all.”

That blurred temporality that foregrounds his sculptures and installations parallels his own trajectory, as well. “My art practice developed when I was four years old, as I constantly told myself I want to do this (play with LEGO) forever, and sometimes it feels as though my future self communicated with my past self, astrally perhaps, to ensure this very specific destiny manifested,” he says, noting that the plastic blocks have remained a fixture in both his personal and professional life since becoming a father.

Vice did a short video feature on Nimako and his work:

(via colossal)

Trailer for The Underground Railroad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

This is the trailer for The Underground Railroad, a limited series from Amazon based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, directed by Barry Jenkins. The series will contain 10 episodes and be available to stream on Amazon Prime from May 14.

The New US Climate Normals

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

New Climate Normals

Every 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updates its definition of what it defines as “normal” weather.

As soon as the 2021 New Year’s celebrations were over, the calls and questions started coming in from weather watchers: When will NOAA release the new U.S. Climate Normals? The Normals are 30-year averages of key climate observations made at weather stations and corrected for bad or missing values and station changes over time. From the daily weather report to seasonal forecasts, the Normals are the basis for judging how temperature, rainfall, and other climate conditions compare to what’s normal for a given location in today’s climate.

They’re set to release the updated 1991-2020 Normals in early May and, crucially, these new normal climate conditions are not adjusted for climate change.

The last update of the Normals took place in 2011, when the baseline shifted from 1971-2000 to 1981-2010. Among the highlights of the rollout was the creation of a map showing how climate-related planting zones across the contiguous United States had shifted northward in latitude and upward in elevation. It was a clear signal that normal overnight low temperatures across the country were warmer than they used to be.

The planting zone maps emphasized a key point about the Normals and climate change: the once-per-decade update means these products gradually come to reflect the “new normal” of climate change caused by global warming. What’s normal today is often very different than what was normal 50 or 100 years ago. This gradual adjustment is the point: the purpose of the Normals is to provide context on what climate is like today, not how it’s changing over time.

This is literally shifting baselines in action.

So what are shifting baselines? Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.

And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward. By the end, the fishers are operating in a radically degraded ecosystem, but it does not seem that way to them, because their baselines were set at an already low level.

Over time, the fish goes extinct — an enormous, tragic loss — but no fisher experiences the full transition from abundance to desolation. No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shifting baselines recently — specifically in terms of how quickly people in the US got used to thousands of people dying from Covid every day and became unwilling to take precautions or change behaviors that were deemed essential just months earlier when many fewer people were dying. See also mass shootings.

Languishing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

Adam Grant, There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing:

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure” again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout - we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Yeeeeeep. Yep. Yep. 1000% how I’ve been feeling today and on and off for months now.

Amy Sherald: The Great American Fact

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

Amy Sherald painting

Amy Sherald painting

Painter Amy Sherald is displaying new work at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in LA through June 6: The Great American Fact. One thing I really notice in her art now, after watching the excellent documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light, is how at least one person in her paintings is looking directly at the viewer. Here’s Sherald talking about that in the documentary:

The eyes tell you what’s in the soul and, for me, the people that I paint, they’re no longer themselves in the painting. They are these archetypes that know they are present. These aren’t passive portraits — they’re maybe subversively confrontational, if you will — but it’s definitely a response to a lot of images I saw growing up where our gaze was always averted. Or thinking about the fact that you couldn’t look at a white person in the eye. So, this is my way of nodding my head at that narrative and empowering the image in a way. I like the paintings hung a little lower for that reason so when the viewer walks up, it’s a different conversation. You’re not looking up at it — it’s almost looking directly at you and I think that creates a different kind of sensation.

She also says of her subjects: “It’s important for me that they’re just Black people being Black” and I think that really comes through in this new work. (via colossal)

The Conversation Has Never Been Wider

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

I am still listening to the excellent interview with Tressie McMillan Cottom on The Ezra Klein Show, but I wanted to highlight this exchange right at the beginning of the interview because I think it’s relevant to a lot of our shared interests, especially if you’ve been online reading blogs or personal sites for 15, 20, or even 25 years:

EZRA KLEIN: Well, I’m always asking for us to bring back blogging.

[LAUGHING]

There is a nostalgia, oftentimes, among people who came up in it, for the internet of the aughts.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yeah. The old internet.

EZRA KLEIN: Do you think that’s nostalgia, or do you think something was lost?

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Hmm. OK. So I now work with a lot of internet people. I’m in an information school at a university. And so a lot of my very good friends are those people, so I want to tiptoe carefully. I do think that there was a clubbiness and a camaraderie, even among people who politically disagreed. There was a class of thinkers, a class of writers who came up in that web 2.0 that does feel like, yeah, we lost something there.

There was a humanity there for good or for bad. Humanity is messy, but there was a sense that those ideas were attached to people, and there were things driving those people, there’s a reason they had chosen to be in that space before it all became about chasing an audience in a platform and turning that into influencer and translating that into that — before all that happened, the professionalization of it all. And that’s what I think we’re missing when we become nostalgic for that web 2.0. I think it’s the people in the machine.

Having said that, I am very resistant to nostalgia as a thing because usually what we are nostalgic for is a time that just was not that great for a lot of people. And so what we were usually really nostalgic for is a time when we didn’t have to think so much about who was missing in the room, who wasn’t at the table. So when I talk to friends, and especially younger people coming up behind us either in the internet or in writing spaces, we’re like, that time was horrible for young queer people.

They talk about looking for little safe pockets of space in web 2.0 world where it was still very OK to be homophobic, for example, in those spaces and our casual language and how we structured that kind of thing. And they love being able to leave that part behind in this new world of whatever the web is now, both a consolidated and a disaggregated new web.

That’s why I’m like resistant to nostalgia. At the same time, I’m like, yeah. I also laugh and go, I really miss having a blog. In some ways, coming back to the newsletter, and Substack was kind part of that. It’s me being nostalgic for having a place where I could put thoughts that didn’t fit into any other discourse or genre, and I wanted a space where I could talk to people who were actually interacting like real people. They weren’t acting like bots, or trolls, or whatever your internet persona is.

So, I mean, I say I’m resistant to nostalgia. I just try not to reproduce it, but even I get a little — I’ll always have a soft spot for Blogger, which is coincidentally my first “where I state” space on Blogger.

EZRA KLEIN: Yup. Me too.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: [LAUGHS] I’ll always be a little romantic about it.

EZRA KLEIN: But I think you’re right about that criticism of it, too. Something that, for all that I can tip into nostalgia, something that I think is often missed in today’s conversation is the conversation has never been wider.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yes.

EZRA KLEIN: People talk all about things they can’t say, but it has never been wider.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yup.

EZRA KLEIN: There’s never been a larger allowable space of things you could say.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: That’s right.

EZRA KLEIN: And people have also never been more pissed about how it feels to participate in it. I don’t want to say never, but broadly, there is an intensity to that conversation that is distinct, and I don’t think those things are unrelated, right? I think it is the wideness of the conversation and the fact that there are so many people you might hear from that make you feel cautious and insecure and unsafe, and the good of it is the bad of it.

TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM: Exactly. One of the things I like to say to people is that we think that broadening access in any realm — we do this with everything, by the way. It’s such an American way to approach the world. We think that broadening access will broaden access on the terms of the people who have benefited from it being narrowed, which is just so counterintuitive.

Broadening access doesn’t mean that everybody has the experience that I, privileged person, had in the discourse. Broadening it means that we are all equally uncomfortable, right? That’s actually what pluralism and plurality is. It isn’t that everybody is going to come in and have the same comforts that privilege and exclusion had extended to a small group of people. It’s that now everybody sits at the table, and nobody knows the exact right thing to say about the other people.

Well, that’s fair. That means we all now have to be thoughtful. We all have to consider, oh, wait a minute. Is that what we say in this room? We all have to reconsider what the norms are, and that was the promise of like expanding the discourse, and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten. And if that means that I’m not sure about letting it rip on a joke, that’s probably a pretty good thing.

Look, as someone who benefitted hugely from it, I miss the golden age of blogging as much as anyone — productive discussions in comment threads, the community alchemy of Flickr, Google Reader, cross-blog conversations, the Open Web, small pieces loosely joined, etc. etc. etc. — but over the past few years, I’ve felt a lot less nostalgia for it for exactly the reasons McMillan Cottom & Klein are talking about here. Make the Internet Great Again is, in many important ways, as short-sighted, futile, and limiting as, well, you know.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Mealworm Feast Time Lapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

This is pretty simple: 10,000 mealworms eating a tomato, piece of corn, and romanesco broccoli, filmed with a time lapse camera. My only comment is that for something called a mealworm, they don’t eat as quickly as I thought they would. 10,000 mealworms couldn’t polish off a tomato in less than 48 hours? You’re never going to be a beetle at that pace! (via the kid should see this)

Make Everything Important

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

I enjoyed this interview with actor Mads Mikkelsen.

Q: Is there a life philosophy that you feel has carried you through your career?

A: My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.

“All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing.” —Yoda, Empire Strikes Back. See also “I’ve Never Had a Goal”. (via @tadfriend)

Perfectly Synchronized Dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2021
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Taylor Pierce (@taylor_thatdancer)

I love this short dance video made by Taylor Pierce and Jackson Myles Chavis. For me, it’s when they slide to the side and then to the back in complete synchronized motion, like they’re on a dolly. I’ve watched this a dozen times at least. And a bunch of other videos by Pierce and Chavis. Mesmerizing.

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2021

Greta Thunberg took a year off of school to travel the world to better understand the changing planet, a journey captured in this three-part BBC series set to debut on PBS this Thursday (April 22, aka Earth Day). I found out about this from Lizzie Widdicombe’s short profile of Thunberg in the New Yorker.

Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, and the film illustrates how the condition lends a unique moral clarity to her activism. “I don’t follow social codes,” she said. “Everyone else seems to be playing a role, just going on like before. And I, who am autistic, I don’t play this social game.” She eschews empty optimism. Her over-all reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is to compare it with her cause: “If we humans would actually start treating the climate crisis like a crisis, we could really change things.”

Her uncompromising words can give the wrong impression. “People seem to think that I am depressed, or angry, or worried, but that’s not true,” she said. Having a cause makes her happy. “It was like I got meaning in my life.”

Also from that piece: Thunberg doesn’t live at home; she lives in a safe-house “in a kind of witness-protection program” situation because, one would assume, she gets a lot of threats due of her work.

A Helicopter Flies on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2021

Ingenuity Shadow

Deployed from NASA’s Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter took off and hovered for about 30 seconds in its first flight early this morning.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) — 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) — a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous — piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

NASA livestreamed the team in Mission Control as the test results were transmitted back to Earth. The photo above is of Ingenuity’s shadow taken while in flight by its onboard camera.

Update: Here’s video footage of the first flight:

And there’s always room for a little Great Span on this site. Alex Knapp:

The world’s oldest living person was alive when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk and when the first helicopter flew on Mars.

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 8 people in Indianapolis, Indiana yesterday, which comes on the heels of several other mass shootings in 2021. While these are outrageous and horrifying events, they aren’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

Case Closed: SARS-CoV-2 Spreads Primarily by Aerosols

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

In a letter published in The Lancet, a group of scholars argue, with an extensive review of the available evidence, that the primary mode of transmission from human to human of the virus responsible for Covid-19 is via aerosols, not through larger particles called droplets or through fomites (transfer from surfaces). Here are three of their ten reasons why:

Third, asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from people who are not coughing or sneezing is likely to account for at least a third, and perhaps up to 59%, of all transmission globally and is a key way SARS-CoV-2 has spread around the world, supportive of a predominantly airborne mode of transmission. Direct measurements show that speaking produces thousands of aerosol particles and few large droplets, which supports the airborne route.

Fourth, transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher indoors than outdoors and is substantially reduced by indoor ventilation. Both observations support a predominantly airborne route of transmission.

Fifth, nosocomial infections have been documented in health-care organisations, where there have been strict contact-and-droplet precautions and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect against droplet but not aerosol exposure.

The letter concludes with a plea by the authors for public health officials to finally embrace this reality: “The public health community should act accordingly and without further delay.”

I can’t believe we’re actually still arguing about this. One of the authors, Jose-Luis Jimenez, wrote this seminal Time magazine piece that provided the smoke analogy that is the mental model I’ve been using to think about potential risks during the pandemic.

When it comes to COVID-19, the evidence overwhelmingly supports aerosol transmission, and there are no strong arguments against it. For example, contact tracing has found that much COVID-19 transmission occurs in close proximity, but that many people who share the same home with an infected person do not get the disease. To understand why, it is useful to use cigarette or vaping smoke (which is also an aerosol) as an analog. Imagine sharing a home with a smoker: if you stood close to the smoker while talking, you would inhale a great deal of smoke. Replace the smoke with virus-containing aerosols, which behave very similarly, and the impact is similar: the closer you are to someone releasing virus-carrying aerosols, the more likely you are to breathe in larger amounts of virus. We know from detailed, rigorous studies that when individuals talk in close proximity, aerosols dominate transmission and droplets are nearly negligible.

Another of the authors, Zeynep Tufekci, has been arguing the case for aerosols (and masks & overdispersion) since early in the pandemic, and she succinctly explained in a Twitter thread how predominantly aerosol transmission fits with the mitigation methods that have really worked around the world:

Airborne transmission unites three things crucial to recognize for effective COVID-19 mitigation: transmission without symptoms (thus aerosols), clusters driving the epidemic (also aerosols) and masks/ventilation indoors being key (hey, also aerosols). This framework is coherent.

Her whole thread is worth a read — like this bit about how other respiratory pathogens are likely spread by aerosols and not droplets (as commonly believed):

Fascinatingly, you search the scientific record high and low, but there really is little to no direct evidence for gravity-sprayed droplets being predominant mode of transmission for respiratory illnesses outside of coughing/sneezing. It’s many… assumptions. Like a tradition.

If any good comes out of the pandemic at all, a better and more useful scientific understanding of how respiratory pathogens are transmitted would be a good start.

Update: One of the authors, Trisha Greenhalgh, responds succinctly to criticisms of the paper in this Twitter thread.

Criticism 1: “The paper is just opinion, and several authors aren’t even doctors.”

Response: No. It’s well-researched scholarly argument, produced by an interdisciplinary team of 6 professors including 3 docs, 2 aerosol scientists and 1 social scientist.

Winners of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

2021 World Press Photo contest winner

The winners of the 2021 World Press Photo contests have been announced. Photos above (top to bottom) by Nadia Buzhan (of a woman waiting for her husband to be released from a detention center) and Luis Tato (of efforts to fight a locust invasion in Kenya). (via in focus)

Quiet Storm: How Slow Jams Took Over the Radio

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2021

One of my favorite YouTube series, Estelle Caswell’s Earworm, is back for another season. In this first episode, she looks at how a beloved Black radio tradition called Quiet Storm came about and influenced the course of popular culture for decades.

Late one evening in the summer of 1976, a Howard University student named Melvin Lindsey was tapped to fill in as a host at WHUR, the university-owned Black radio station. He chose a lineup of his favorite R&B ballads to soundtrack Washington, DC, that evening. The show was an accidental success. Shortly thereafter he was hired, and his show had a name: The Quiet Storm.

The Art of Traditional Japanese Printmaking

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

There are many steps in making traditional Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e), but this short video focuses on the printing process as demonstrated by master printmaker Keiji Shinohara. This is a delight to watch — Shinohara’s deliberate precision is impressive and inspiring.

My absolute favorite part of this video is at the 3:40 mark when he precisely and firmly grasps the pressing tool (called a baren), swipes it on his face three times, and then uses it to press the paper into the inked block. This pre-press face maneuver is repeated several times but otherwise goes unremarked upon in the video — one of the commenters offers this explanation: “The oils from his face help grip the paper, making a firm and even press.” (via open culture)

The Outside Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

One of the fun things about having a website that’s been running continuously for more than 23 years is that you get to watch the people you featured early in their careers grow and change and do bigger and better things. I’ve been posting filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski’s work on kottke.org since 2009 and now, his first feature-length film, The Outside Story, is set to debut at the end of this month. A short synopsis:

After locking himself out of his apartment, an introverted, heartbroken editor finds himself on an epic journey up, down and around his block with life-altering ramifications.

From the looks of the trailer (embedded above), The Outside Story has the same energy, playfulness, and keen lens into the interplay between humans & their environments as Nozkowski’s shorter work, which is not surprising given how it was filmed and where the inspiration came from. He told me, via email:

This is an indie film in the truest sense. Shot in 16 days on the streets of Brooklyn. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done and I’m just trying to get the word out any way I can. It’s loosely inspired by my short doc, 70 Hester Street where I examined my own building and block after years of taking it for granted.

You can watch 70 Hester Street here and The Outside Story will be available for purchase on all the usual streaming services on April 30.

‘The Last Time a Vaccine Saved America’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2021

In 1955, epidemiologist Thomas Francis Jr. announced the results of a field trial of the polio vaccine that Jonas Salk had developed. America erupted in joy.

Now a phalanx of bulky television cameras focussed on Francis as he prepared to report on the efficacy of the vaccine. He had good news to share: to cheers from the audience, he explained that the Salk vaccine was sixty to seventy per cent effective against the most prevalent strain of poliovirus, and ninety per cent effective against the other, less common strains. All this had been shown through what was, at that time, the largest vaccine trial ever conducted.

All afternoon and evening, church bells rang out across America. People flooded into the streets, kissing and embracing; parents hugged their kids with joy and relief. Salk became an instant national hero, turning down the offer of a ticker-tape parade in New York City; President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited him to the White House and, later, asked Congress to award him a Congressional Gold Medal. That night, from the kitchen of a colleague’s house, Salk — whose name was being touted in newspapers, magazines, radio reports, and television news broadcasts around the world — gave his first network-TV interview to Edward R. Murrow, whose show “See It Now” had exposed the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy a year earlier. Blushing in admiration, Murrow asked the doctor, “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” “The people,” Salk said, nobly. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

In the days that followed, schoolchildren were instructed by their teachers to write thank-you notes to Salk. Universities lined up to offer him honorary degrees. Millions of American doctors, nurses, and parents got down to the serious business of vaccinating their children against polio, using a shot they’d been anticipating for seventeen years.

But the polio vaccine rollout had its challenges, including a manufacturing negligence & oversight failure that resulted in tens of thousands of polio cases in otherwise healthy children.

In May, the polio vaccination drive was temporarily suspended. Leonard Scheele, the U.S. Surgeon General, inspected the facilities of all six vaccine companies and fired the government officials he considered to be culpable; the director of the N.I.H. and the Secretary of Health voluntarily resigned. New safety procedures were developed, including an improved means of filtering the viral mix just before the formaldehyde was added. Better tests were developed to detect live virus, and stricter record-keeping was instituted. The incident could have created a vaccine-hesitancy crisis. But, incredibly, the American public readily accepted the medical establishment’s explanation for the failure, and its pledges to right the situation. The nation’s trust in medical progress and in Dr. Salk was so resolute that, when it was announced that a new, safe polio vaccine was available, parents pushed their children back to the head of the line. It’s hard to imagine such an outcome today.

3D Animated Recreations of Leonardo da Vinci’s Coolest Inventions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

In their series of short videos called Da Vinci Reborn, Dassault Systemes used their software to virtually recreate some of Leonardo’s most intriguing inventions, like the ornithopter (a bird-like human-powered airplane) and odometer (a device that he may have used in making this overhead map). (via open culture)

Radiohead Are Uploading More Classic Live Concerts to YouTube

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

Back in the early days of the pandemic when people all over the world were staying inside in an attempt to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Radiohead dug into their vault and started putting classic live concerts up on YouTube in their entirety. Over the course of a few months, they shared more than a dozen concerts, including this one from 1994 and this one from 2018.

Starting last week, the band is once again uploading some more classic concerts “from a life that we all yearn to return to”, citing the science and vaccines that are getting us closer to that. The first show they uploaded (embedded above) is their 2008 show at 93 Feet East, played before just 1500 fans. That show is a bit infamous for Thom Yorke having a tough time playing Videotape (at ~47:00), which difficulty Estelle Caswell explained in her very first episode of Earworm. Anyway, they’re uploading a new show every Friday for the next few weeks — the next show will be Coachella from April 2017 — so check it out.

A Collection of Hand-Lettered Marvel Superhero Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

Marvel Logos

Reagan Ray has compiled a collection of hand-lettered Marvel superhero logos from before the computer animation era. (via print)

The Artifact Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

The Artifact Artist is a short documentary about urban archaeologist Scott Jordan, who, over the past 50 years in NYC, has dug up all sorts of historical objects that date back decades and centuries, even all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The trailer is above and you can watch the entire short film on Vimeo.

Uprooted from the forests of Connecticut to move to New York City, 9 yr. old Scott Jordan declares “I won’t be a city kid!” 45 yrs. later Scott is an urban archeologist. An Indiana Jones in Gotham. Hand digging out centuries old privies, cisterns and landfills across the five boroughs Scott is uncovering artifacts and preserving New York City history by creating artifact art with the treasures he discovers.

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

‘Meet Some Of The Last Papyrus Makers In Egypt Keeping A 5,000-Year-Old Craft Alive’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

In the village of Al-Qaramous, Egypt, local businesses and artisans are carrying on a papyrus-making process that dates back 5000 years, updated with some modern techniques to speed up the process and improve the product.

Using Nuclear Energy to Stop Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This new video from Kurzgesagt takes a look at the possible role of nuclear energy in helping to curb the effects of our climate emergency.

Do we need nuclear energy to stop climate change? More and more voices from science, environmental activists and the press have been saying so in recent years — but this comes as a shock to those who are fighting against nuclear energy and the problems that come with it. So who is right? Well — it is complicated.

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow wrote about climate change activists who are embracing nuclear energy for the New Yorker back in February.

In the course of years, Hoff grew increasingly comfortable at the plant. She switched roles, working in the control room and then as a procedure writer, and got to know the workforce — mostly older, avuncular men. She began to believe that nuclear power was a safe, potent source of clean energy with numerous advantages over other sources. For instance, nuclear reactors generate huge amounts of energy on a small footprint: Diablo Canyon, which accounts for roughly nine per cent of the electricity produced in California, occupies fewer than six hundred acres. It can generate energy at all hours and, unlike solar and wind power, does not depend on particular weather conditions to operate. Hoff was especially struck by the fact that nuclear-power generation does not emit carbon dioxide or the other air pollutants associated with fossil fuels. Eventually, she began to think that fears of nuclear energy were not just misguided but dangerous. Her job no longer seemed to be in tension with her environmentalist views. Instead, it felt like an expression of her deepest values.

For more reading on the topic, check out Kurzgesagt’s list of source materials used to make their video.

Carrie Fisher’s Screen Test for Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

Before her appearance in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher had only appeared in one film (Hal Ashby’s Shampoo) and for the role of Leia, she was going up against several other great actresses, including Karen Allen and Jodie Foster. In this footage of Fisher’s screen test from late 1975/early 1976, where she’s reading a scene with Harrison Ford about the Death Star plans, you get a tantalizing glimpse of why she ended up winning the part.

See also Mark Hamill’s screen test and several other Star Wars screen tests, including this one of Kurt Russell, who auditioned for the roles of Han and Luke.

The Green Knight

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

A24 and David Lowery have adapted the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for the screen. The film was scheduled to be released early last year, but the pandemic intervened; it’s now due out at the end of July.

An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. From visionary filmmaker David Lowery comes a fresh and bold spin on a classic tale from the knights of the round table.

I read this story (Simon Armitage’s translation) to my kids a year or two back and it wasn’t our absolute favorite (it paled in comparison to our previous read, Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey), so I’m curious to see how it works as a film.

Why Do Wes Anderson Movies Look Like That?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Love it or hate it, we all know what Wes Anderson movies look like by now — the vibrant color palette, use of symmetry, lateral tracking shots, slow motion, etc. etc. In this video, Thomas Flight explores why Anderson uses these stylistic elements to tell affective and entertaining stories.

But what is at the core of those individual stylistic decisions? Why does Anderson choose those things? Why do all those things seem to form a very specific unified whole? And what function, if any, do they serve in telling the kinds of stories Wes wants to tell?

The sources for the video are listed in the description; one I particularly enjoyed was David Bordwell writing about planimetric composition. (via open culture)

Earthrise

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Last month I shared a video of the Earth rising over the surface of the Moon captured by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter. It’s a good clip but quite short and over-narrated. Seán Doran took several Earthrise & Earthset sequences filmed by Kaguya, remastered & upsampled them to 4K resolution, and stitched them together into this wonderful video, set to music by Jesse Gallagher. One of the sequences, which begins around the 5-minute mark, captures a solar eclipse of the Sun by the rising Earth. I hadn’t seen this footage before and had to pick my jaw up off the floor — absolutely spectacular.

Every Bridge For Every Situation, Explained by an Engineer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

Educator and structural engineer Nehemiah Mabry sat down with Wired to talk about all the different kinds of bridges in the world (cable-stayed, suspension, arch, truss) and which types are used in which situations.

See also Fantastic 3-D Animation of How Medieval Bridges Were Built. (via the kid should see this)

Two Identical Strangers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2021

In 2018, Tim Wardle’s fantastic documentary Three Identical Strangers introduced us to a set of identical triplets who were separated at birth. The film goes deeper into the story (and into nature vs nurture) and I don’t want to spoil it too much, but after it was released, some people began to suspect that they might have identical siblings out there themselves. One of those people was Michele Mordkoff, who found she had a twin sister and got in touch with Wardle, who was there at their reunion and made this short film about it (major TIS spoilers in that first paragraph).

“She is a stranger to me, but she’s also a part of me-I mean, we shared a womb,” says Michele in the film after she meets her twin for the first time.

“I’ve been struck by how instinctive, magical, and moving genetic reunions can be,” Wardle told The Atlantic in a recent interview. “This isn’t to denigrate non-genetic/adoptive relationships, which can also be wonderful, but there’s something extraordinary and almost transcendent about observing the interaction between two people who have never met before but share the same DNA. It defies rational explanation.”

If you can’t get enough of twin reunions, here are a few more to watch.

“You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

Olga Khazan, writing for the NY Times in an essay adapted from her book Weird, tells us that if we’re not satisfied with our personalities, we can change them.

After all, the person who emerges from quarantine doesn’t have to be the same old you. Scientists say that people can change their personalities well into adulthood. And what better time for transformation than now, when no one has seen you for a year, and might have forgotten what you were like in the first place?

It was long thought that people just are a certain way, and they’ll remain that way forever. The Greek physician Hippocrates believed that people’s personalities were governed by the amounts of phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile that flowed through their bodies.

Modern science, of course, has long since discarded notions of bile and humors. And now, it appears the idea that our personalities are immutable is also not quite true. Researchers have found that adults can change the five traits that make up personality — extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness and conscientiousness — within just a few months. Much as in Dr. Steffel’s case, the traits are connected, so changing one might lead to changes in another.

Put more succinctly: “Remember that your personality is more like a sand dune than a stone.”

An 18-Day Time Lapse of the Fagradalsfjall Volcano in Iceland

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

On March 19, after seismic activity in the area, an eruption occurred in Fagradalsfjall, Iceland, adding a new volcano to the country’s already charismatic geology. Because the ongoing eruption is relatively small, steady, and located fairly close to Reykjavik, it’s been well-documented, both by drone and by live webcam. YouTube user stebbigu stitched footage from the live feed into a 5-minute time lapse of the formation of the volcano that covers 18 days, from the first few hours to a couple of days ago. The night views, with all that pulsing orange lava, are especially mesmerizing.

Katalin Kariko, the Scientist Behind the Groundbreaking mRNA Vaccines

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

The NY Times has a profile of Dr. Katalin Kariko, who struggled for decades against a system unwilling to consider and fund her ideas about how messenger RNA could be used to instruct cells inside human bodies to “make their own medicines”. Her work has culminated in two highly effective vaccines for Covid-19 and is being extended to produce possible vaccines for HIV, the flu, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Now Katalin Kariko, 66, known to colleagues as Kati, has emerged as one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

For her entire career, Dr. Kariko has focused on messenger RNA, or mRNA — the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. She was convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.

Stat also wrote a piece about Kariko and the development of the mRNA vaccines. It seems like Kariko will be strongly considered for a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her achievements. The Covid vaccines will save hundreds of thousands of lives alone, and if mRNA can indeed be harnessed to protect against HIV and malaria, the effect on the world will be immense. Give Kariko all the prizes and whatever she wants to be happy in life — she’s earned it and more.

Update: From Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, How mRNA Technology Could Change the World.

But mRNA’s story likely will not end with COVID-19: Its potential stretches far beyond this pandemic. This year, a team at Yale patented a similar RNA-based technology to vaccinate against malaria, perhaps the world’s most devastating disease. Because mRNA is so easy to edit, Pfizer says that it is planning to use it against seasonal flu, which mutates constantly and kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year. The company that partnered with Pfizer last year, BioNTech, is developing individualized therapies that would create on-demand proteins associated with specific tumors to teach the body to fight off advanced cancer. In mouse trials, synthetic-mRNA therapies have been shown to slow and reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis. “I’m fully convinced now even more than before that mRNA can be broadly transformational,” Özlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, told me. “In principle, everything you can do with protein can be substituted by mRNA.”

The Zemo Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

Marvel’s newest TV series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, contained a scene in the third episode that featured a tantalizingly short glimpse of erstwhile villain Zemo dancing awkwardly in a nightclub. Fans clambered for more, and so Marvel released an hour-long video of Zemo dancing, cheekily called “The Zemo Cut”. Tag yourself — I’m the clapping. (For some reason, this reminds me of Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove dancing to Daft Punk.)

A Supercut of Everything Brad Pitt Eats & Drinks in Ocean’s Eleven

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven more than once, you probably noticed that Brad Pitt’s character Rusty Ryan is eating or drinking something in almost every scene he’s in. cinemATTIC made a supercut of all of those food and beverage moments from the movie. And if you’re wondering why Rusty was always eating, according to Rolling Stone:

Pitt figured that since the Ocean gang was on such a tight schedule, his character would have to grab fast-food whenever he could. The constant snacking ended up showing Rusty’s unflappability.

Someday someone will release an action or heist movie with a relevant & entertaining 15-minute sequence where the protagonists have to find a bathroom. During a recent Avengers: Endgame viewing, my son asked, “Doesn’t anyone ever have to go to the bathroom in these movies?” Then we talked about how they hardly ever eat either, aside from the occasional shawarma. But now that I’m thinking about it, there’s quite a bit of eating and drinking in Endgame: Black Widow’s peanut butter sandwich, Hulk-delivered tacos, the diner scene, Thor’s drinking, and many more.1 Ocean’s reference or nah? (via @Remember_Sarah)

Update: These folks did a Snackalong of eating everything that Rusty ate while watching the movie.

  1. FYI, Endgame hits different when you watch it in the (hopefully) late stages of a devastating pandemic. Oof.

A Kitchen Scraps Cookbook from Ikea

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

Scrapsbook

Ikea has published a cookbook for cooking with food waste called The ScrapsBook and it’s available to download for free.

IKEA has created The ScrapsBook, in collaboration with chefs from across North America. This cookbook is dedicated to cooking with the little things we usually throw away. Or, as we like to call it, “scrapcooking.”

Scrapcooking is about finding the beautiful possibilities in that banana peel, radish top, or even the chicken bones you’re about to toss, and make the most of everything available to you. It’s little things like these that can add up to make a big difference.

It includes recipes for dishes like banana peel bacon & wild rice pancakes, corn cob soup, and bruised apple butter cake. Here’s a trailer:

The cookbook also includes tips for reducing food waste throughout the text, including regrowing scallions, bok choy, and celery from the roots on your windowsill. (via huit denim)

The Rules of Dozens of Sports Explained in Short Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

On his YouTube channel, Ninh Ly has created almost 100 short videos that clearly and simply explain the rules of all kinds of different sports. Basketball? Explained. Cricket? Explained. (I feel like I finally understand cricket!) Snooker? Explained. Jai Alai? Explained. Curling? Explained. Quidditch?! Explained! The rules of some sports are more complex than others and the explanations move along at a pretty good clip, so decreasing the playback speed (click on the gear at the bottom of the video player) is advised.

This will be essential when the next Olympic Games roll around and everyone gets intensely interested in the rules of handball, fencing, and badminton for two weeks. (via open culture)

Wobbling Muons May Hint at Unknown Forces

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

Muon Ring

The preliminary results of a study of elementary particles at Fermilab and elsewhere show that the behavior of particles called muons deviates from standard physical theories, indicating that previously unknown forces are at work.

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.

“This is our Mars rover landing moment,” said Chris Polly, a physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., who has been working toward this finding for most of his career.

The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.

“This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory,” said Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky.

Update: At Quanta Magazine, Natalie Wolchover dives deeper into the preliminary results and what they might mean.

Anywhere Can Happen

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

Sure, there’s the big budget superhero & action films, but the falling cost and increasing availability of really good motion graphics tools also enables a sort of everyday surrealism that’s on display in this short video by Fernando Livschitz. (via colossal)

The Secret of Synchronization

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2021

What do swaying bridges, flashing fireflies, clapping audiences, the far side of the Moon, and beating hearts have in common? Their behavior all has something to do with synchronization. In this video, Veritasium explains why and how spontaneous synchronization appears all the time in the physical world.

I was really into the instability of the Millennium Bridge back when it was first opened (and then rapidly closed), so it was great to hear Steven Strogatz’s explanation of the bridge’s failure.

Oh, and do go play with Nicky Case’s firefly visualization to see how synchronization can arise from really simple rules.

Journey to the Microcosmos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2021

Thanks to a recommendation from Wander Lines, I just found the Journey to the Microcosmos channel on YouTube. The imagery is fantastic and the narration informative — my absolute favorite combo. The video above, called Microbes Don’t Actually Look Like Anything, is about how light and microscopy work together to produce images of these tiny things that humans can see and make use of. It reminds me of how many of the brilliantly colorful astronomy images we see of far-flung galaxies and nebulae don’t look anything like that in actuality.

Some of the other popular videos on the channel are Tardigrades: Chubby, Misunderstood, & Not Immortal, Diatoms: Tiny Factories You Can See From Space, and How Microscopic Hunters Get Their Lunch.

Ted Chiang: Fears of Technology Are Fears of Capitalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2021

Writer Ted Chiang (author of the fantastic Exhalation) was recently a guest on the Ezra Klein Show. The conversation ranged widely — I enjoyed his thoughts on superheroes — but his comments on capitalism and technology seem particularly relevant right now. From the transcript:

I tend to think that most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism. And I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.

Let’s think about it this way. How much would we fear any technology, whether A.I. or some other technology, how much would you fear it if we lived in a world that was a lot like Denmark or if the entire world was run sort of on the principles of one of the Scandinavian countries? There’s universal health care. Everyone has child care, free college maybe. And maybe there’s some version of universal basic income there.

Now if the entire world operates according to — is run on those principles, how much do you worry about a new technology then? I think much, much less than we do now. Most of the things that we worry about under the mode of capitalism that the U.S practices, that is going to put people out of work, that is going to make people’s lives harder, because corporations will see it as a way to increase their profits and reduce their costs. It’s not intrinsic to that technology. It’s not that technology fundamentally is about putting people out of work.

It’s capitalism that wants to reduce costs and reduce costs by laying people off. It’s not that like all technology suddenly becomes benign in this world. But it’s like, in a world where we have really strong social safety nets, then you could maybe actually evaluate sort of the pros and cons of technology as a technology, as opposed to seeing it through how capitalism is going to use it against us. How are giant corporations going to use this to increase their profits at our expense?

And so, I feel like that is kind of the unexamined assumption in a lot of discussions about the inevitability of technological change and technologically-induced unemployment. Those are fundamentally about capitalism and the fact that we are sort of unable to question capitalism. We take it as an assumption that it will always exist and that we will never escape it. And that’s sort of the background radiation that we are all having to live with. But yeah, I’d like us to be able to separate an evaluation of the merits and drawbacks of technology from the framework of capitalism.

Echoing some of his other thoughts during the podcast, Chiang also wrote a piece for the New Yorker the other day about how the singularity will probably never come.

Friendship

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

From poet David Whyte’s book Consolations (ebook), a short essay on friendship.

Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

I heard Whyte read this essay on the Making Sense podcast a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since — it’s a wonderful read but it’s even better to hear a practiced poet recite it aloud. If you’re interested in hearing more, Consolations, which is composed of similarly short essays on topics like anger, beauty, shyness, and gratitude, is available as an audiobook read by Whyte. (thx, megan)

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

Foley artist Richard Hinton talks about how he creates sounds for nature documentaries like Planet Earth. I love watching Foley artists do their thing, but I have mixed feelings about these made-up sounds!

Despite the veneer of neutrality of nature documentaries, I know there’s no such thing as objective truth when you’re dealing with cameras and film editing. And silent video is boring. But on the other hand, just making up sounds that spiders don’t actually make — I don’t know. I’ve posted about this before, regarding a video series about how Planet Earth II was made:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

See also How Fake Are Nature Documentaries?

Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

(via open culture)

Stop Motion Lego Chocolate Cake

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

Watch as YouTuber tomosteen makes a Lego chocolate cake out of Lego ingredients, from cracking the eggs to the frosting on top. The little details here are *chef’s kiss*: the transitions from food to Lego brick, the way the chocolate bar breaks imperfectly, the little peaky dollop left after piping the chocolate frosting out of the pastry bag.

Don’t care for chocolate cake? How about a Japanese breakfast (featuring tamagoyaki) or churros instead?

See also Lego In Real Life or search for Lego in real life on YouTube. (via colossal)

Re-Wilding Yourself by Swimming in Nature

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

In this short film called Hydrotherapy, Laura Owen Sanderson talks about how she found relief from a life-changing illness through wild swimming.

I wasn’t afraid to die. I was more afraid, or angry if you’d like, that I hadn’t lived, that I hadn’t made the most of every opportunity. So I was waiting for a day that might never come — when you retire or when you’re thin enough or when the kids have grown up — and there was a sudden realization that that day might never come.

If you’d like to reconnect with nature through wild swimming or cold water swimming, check out these two videos for some handy tips on how to get started and do it safely. (via huit denim newsletter)

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