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Entries for February 2023

Why 3D Movies Are Not Immersive

The promise of 3D movies is that they are supposed to draw the viewer further into the world of the film — the all-important immersive experience. In this video, Evan Puschak argues persuasively that the 3D effect actually has the opposite effect, for four main reasons:

1. The different focus and convergence points.
2. The darkness of 3D movies
3. 3D glasses shrink the screen
4. 3D forces you to look at only what’s in focus

I’ve long disliked 3D movies so Puschak’s explanation makes me feel vindicated about my stance. I’ve only ever seen two of them that were any good: the original Avatar and Tron: Legacy. Tron in particular was one of my peak movie-going experiences: I saw it, nearly alone, in a 3D IMAX theater from the best seat in the house. When the lightcycle match started, the 3D effect brought the playing field right into the theater a few inches from my nose and I just gaped in wonder like a little kid for the rest of what is essentially a 125-minute Daft Punk music video (nothing wrong with that!). If all 3D movies were like that, sign me up! But otherwise, I’m gonna stick to 2D.

Urban gardens and farms can boost biodiversity because they’re not monocultural, “particularly if residents prioritize planting native species, which attract native insects like bees”.

This is a fun, uh, hypothesis: scientist speculate that aliens could be using black holes to as quantum computing devices.

Diaries of Note is publishing one historical diary entry from a different person each day of 2023, some from boldface names (Thoreau, Kafka, Mary Shelley) and others from folks you might not have heard of before.

Why Did South Koreans Get So Much Taller in the Past 100 Years?

Genetics determines most of how tall children will grow as adults, but environmental factors affect it too. As the wealth of many countries around the world has increased over the past 100 years, living conditions and access to nutrition have improved and people have gotten taller.

A century ago, humans were quite short. For example, the average South Korean woman was about 4-foot-7, or 142 centimeters, while the average American woman was about 5-foot-2, or 159 centimeters. Humans were fairly short by today’s standards, and that was true throughout nearly all of human history.

But in the past century, human heights have skyrocketed. Globally, humans grew about 3 inches on average, but in South Korea, women grew an astounding 8 inches and men grew 6 inches.

South Korea is almost unique in how quickly their population has gotten taller because they went from a relatively low-income country in the 1950s to well on their way to being a rich, industrialized country by the 90s. And the difference is particularly stark when you compare the heights of South Koreans with those of North Koreans, where the living standard is much lower and access to nutrition is restricted.

I really like the show-your-work vibe of this video, along with this recent one on the greatest unexpected performances in the NBA. These videos are not only relating something interesting to the audience, they’re showing us how the data analysis works: where the data is from, how it’s analyzed, and what it all means, which builds data and statistical literacy in a society that desperately needs it.

From a panel of critics and filmmakers comes The New Black Film Canon, the 75 greatest movies by made Black directors. So much good stuff on here.

The Mauritshuis Museum Is Showing Remixes of Girl With a Pearl Earring in Her Absence

remix of Girl With a Pearl Earring blowing a bubble

remix of Girl With a Pearl Earring made with rubber bands

remix of Girl With a Pearl Earring in bright colors

remix of Girl With a Pearl Earring made from Nespresso pods

remix of Girl With a Pearl Earring made out of the words in the painting's title

The Mauritshuis museum has loaned out Girl With a Pearl Earring to the Rijksmuseum for its blockbuster, once-in-a-lifetime Johannes Vermeer exhibition. While she’s out of the building, they’re digitally displaying dozens of renditions of the artwork submitted during an open call for entries last year. If you can’t make it to the museum in person (*sigh*), they’re showcasing some of the entries on Instagram and you can see what the in-person display looks like in this video.

Regular readers might remember that I have something of a thing for Girl/Pearl remixes. Here are just a few from the archives: Corn with a Pearl Earring, Girl with the Grande Iced Latte, Rihanna with a Pearl Earring, Girl with a Schmeared Earring, at the beach with Mona & Vincent, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Point-and-Shoot Camera, and Lego Girl with a Pearl Earring. (via colossal)

Jungle gyms (aka monkey bars) are 100 years old.

How to create a hologram by hand. Before watching this, I didn’t really know how holograms worked or how they were made and now I do.

New Ukrainian Postage Stamp Features Banksy Art and Says “FCK PTN”

Ukraine Stamp Banksy

The Ukrainian postal service has released a stamp featuring artwork by Banksy to mark the first anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion. The artist painted the image on a wall in the town of Borodianka in November 2022 and has apparently given his permission for use on the stamp. From The Guardian:

The image draws inspiration from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, known to be a black belt in judo, and depicts a young judoka representing Ukraine knocking down a grown man.

The phrase “FCK PTN” in Cyrillic has been added to the lower left part of the new stamp.

You can buy your own sheet of these stamps directly from the Ukraine postal service — they ship worldwide, in the midst of a war!

See also: you might remember that the postal service ran a contest to design a stamp that illustrated “Ukrainians’ determination to defend their land” shortly after the invasion, which resulted in several eye-catching entries.

Papercraft Models of Vintage Computers

a papercraft model of an original Apple Macintosh

a papercraft model of an IBM 5150 computer

a papercraft model of an Amiga 500 computer

Rocky Bergen makes papercraft models of vintage computers like the original Macintosh, Commodore 64, the IBM 5150, and TRS-80. The collection also includes a few gaming consoles and a boombox. And here’s the thing — you can download the patterns for each model for free and make your own at home. Neat!

The MPAA ratings of the 10 top-grossing films from each year from 1980-2022. PG-13 films dominate the domestic box office now.

A simply designed Live Word Clock that you can stream on your TV, second monitor, or art wall thingie.

American Cars Are Getting Too Big For Parking Spaces

a comparison of the size of a 1955 Fiat 600 with a 2020 GMC Yukon

The American car has gotten bigger in the past few decades but parking spot size has not kept pace.

Regardless of the cause, the end result is roughly 50 percent of the American car market switched from sedans and wagons to SUVs, especially midsize and large SUVs, chunkifying the average American car. Consider someone who switched from a Honda Civic to a Honda CR-V. This added about three inches in width. A CR-V to a Pilot, a large SUV, would add five more inches in width. This may not sound like much, but repeat for half the cars in a parking lot and it adds up. For example, in a 700-space garage, if each car is four inches wider than its predecessor, that is 233 additional feet in car width-from the goal line to the opponent’s 23 yard line on a football field-that needs to be accommodated.

The local community mailing list in the small town I live in has been discussing this issue recently. Over the past 20 years (and in my opinion, it’s really escalated in the past few years), it’s become more and more difficult to park in the lot that serves the more popular of the town’s two grocery stores, 3-4 restaurants, and a few shops. Length is more the issue here than width: we’ve got many more massive pickup trucks, SUVs, and sport utility wagons around here than we used to have, and it’s become much harder to navigate the increasingly narrow aisles between rows of parked cars. I hate parking there now — getting into or backing out of a spot often requires multiple tries and just clogs things up for everyone.

BTW, before I get any feedback like “ban cars!”, you should know that I’m a very reluctant car owner — the amount of resources America devotes to cars over better alternatives is one of the many reasons why — but biking and public transportation in rural areas with cold winters are not viable options. I try to drive as little as possible and consolidate trips, but it still ends up being thousands of miles a year. (via curious about everything)

Note: The image above from Carsized compares the size of a 1955 Fiat 600 with a 2020 GMC Yukon.

The Case For Shunning. “People like Scott Adams claim they’re being silenced. But what they actually seem to object to is being understood.”

The creepy-men-staring scene with Aubrey Plaza in The White Lotus season 2 is a nearly perfect shot-for-shot homage to a scene in Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura starring, yep, Monica Vitti.

Maria Konnikova, who wrote a whole book about con artists, on What Psychology Can Teach Us About George Santos. “Telling lies about yourself can actually make you feel more confident.”

The Last 55 Years of Best Cinematography Oscar Winners

The Oscar voters haven’t always gotten their top picks right, but there’s no denying that this visual showcase of Best Cinematography winners from 1967-2021 contains some fantastic work. Just to call out a few of the films recognized: Bonnie and Clyde; Barry Lyndon; The Killing Fields; Schindler’s List; Titanic; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Master and Commander; There Will Be Blood; Inception; Blade Runner 2049; and Dune.

There’s an interesting shift in the winners (presaged by Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977); they move away from historical realism and towards fantasy, sci-fi, and the future: Crouching Tiger (2000) and Lord of the Rings (2001) and then, more definitively, Avatar (2009) and Inception (2010). But the shift is not by any means total: The Revenant (2015), Roma (2018), 1917 (2019), and Mank (2020) are all firmly in the realist realm.

In a new Dutch reality TV series called The New Vermeer, “two professional painters and dozens of amateur artists compete to reinvent the lost works of the 17th-century master [Johannes Vermeer]”.

Ask Me Anything

So, it’s been a few months since I’ve been back to work here and perhaps some of you have noticed that I haven’t really written about my sabbatical at all. It wasn’t my intent to skip out on it, but life outside of work has been much busier than I’ve wanted or planned for and I just haven’t had the bandwidth to do it. Plus I’ve just wanted to get back in the flow here — and any extra site time has gone into shoring up some things on the backend, dealing with the Twitter API idiocy, getting in the flow on Mastodon, and thinking about how I might want the site to look/work/feel differently (all stuff that you folks don’t necessarily see day-to-day but do feel the indirect effects of).

Anyway, I thought with the sabbatical in the rear view mirror yet largely unmentioned here in detail and the upcoming 25th anniversary of the site (!!!), it would be a good time to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything). I’ve set up a form at Google to collect questions and sometime in the next couple of weeks (exact date TBD), I’ll spend an entire day answering them right here on the site (exact method of answering also TBD).

So, what would you like to know? I imagine there will be questions about the sabbatical, media diets, 25 years of blogging, membership stuff, editorial policies, my fiddle leaf fig, Mastodon, parenting, Fortnite, etc., but you can also ask about anything you might be curious about or that I might have an opinion about. It would be neat to get some questions that I’m not usually asked — but I have no idea what they would be. I don’t mind hard questions — as long as they’re thoughtful (gotcha questions will be ignored). I probably won’t get to every question, but I will answer as many as I can. Thanks and ask away!

Update: A bunch of great questions so far! Keep them coming!

This is a pretty cool design for a portfolio website.

In a recent interview, Succession creator Jesse Armstrong says that the upcoming 4th season of the show will be its last. “You know, there’s a promise in the title of ‘Succession.’ I’ve never thought this could go on forever.”

Why Do People Say “Axe” or “Aks” Instead of “Ask”?

Shetland Islanders, descendents of Jamaican immigrants living in London, and African Americans all tend to say “axe” or “aks” instead of “ask” when speaking. Linguist Geoff Lindsey traces the history of differing pronunciations of ask/aks from all the way back to the beginnings of written English up to the present day.

See also Ask or aks? How linguistic prejudice perpetuates inequality and linguist John McWhorter on The ‘ax’ versus ‘ask’ question.

First, it’s important to understand that, as English goes, “ax” is a perfectly normal thing to have happened to a word like “ask.” Take the word “fish.” It started as “fisk,” with the same -sk ending that “ask” has. Over time, in some places people started saying “fisk” as “fiks,” while in others they started saying “fisk” as “fish.” After a while, “fish” won out over “fiks,” and here we are today. The same thing happened with “mash.” It started as “mask.” Later some people were saying “maks” and others were saying “mash.” “Mash” won.

With “ask,” some people started saying “aks,” and some started saying “ash.” But this time, it wasn’t “ash” that won out. Instead, for a while “aks” was doing pretty well. Even Chaucer used it in “The Canterbury Tales,” in lines such as this one: “Yow loveres axe I now this questioun.”

There is an element of chance in how words change over time, and we will never know why “aks” and “ash” lost out to “ask.” All we know is that the people whose English was designated the standard happened to be among those who said “ask” instead of “aks” - and the rest is history.

(via @peterme

20 Mechanical Principles Combined in a Useless Lego Machine

ASMR videos don’t really do anything for me, but I could watch videos of gears and mechanisms doing their thing all day long. I watched this video of 20 mechanical Lego widgets being combined into one useless machine, absolutely rapt. Bevel gears, rack and pinion, camshaft, worm gear, universal joint, Schmidt coupling — this thing has it all.

See also Gears and Other Mechanical Things and a Treasure Trove of Over 1700 Mechanical Animations. (via the kids should see this & meanwhile)

The Anti-Defamation League: “All the extremist-related murders in 2022 were committed by right-wing extremists of various kinds” and “21 of the 25 murders were linked to white supremacists”.

The Best Mac Gaming Experience Is a PC Sitting in a Dallas Data Center. My son uses NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW streaming gaming service to play Fortnite on his Macbook - it’s not as good as on his gaming PC but it’s better than you’d think.

Portraits that famous photographers (Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa) have taken of their partners.

Netflix is releasing a director’s commentary track for Glass Onion tonight.

The Surprising Greatness of Jimmy Carter. “The Carter administration prioritized human rights to an extent that no previous president had done, and this was an extraordinarily important thing.”

Warner Bros. is gonna do another series of Lord of the Rings movies.

2023 Oscars Visual Effects Nominees Showcase

A rule of thumb for me in evaluating what movies to watch with my limited free time these days: I will often go for something visually impressive or inventive over other options. So this short reel featuring the nominees for Best Visual Effects Oscar talking about scenes from their movies — All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Top Gun: Maverick — is right up my alley. (via @tvaziri)

Typographic Portraits of People Rendered in Their Own Words

illustrated portrait of Winston Churchill

illustrated portrait of Audrey Hepburn

Phil Vance creates these wonderful typographic portraits of notable people like Audrey Hepburn, Albert Einstein, and Johnny Cash constructed from hand-painted type consisting of their own words. For instance, his portrait of Cash was created using the lyrics from his cover of God’s Gonna Cut You Down. You can check out more of Vance’s work on Instagram.

The Greatest Unexpected NBA Performances

Ok this video from The Pudding is cool for two different reasons. First, you learn about which NBA player had the most unexpectedly great performance since 1985 (e.g. when a guy who is usually good for 6-8 pts inexplicably drops 50). But, you also get a fun little tutorial in how statistical analysis works and the importance of paying attention to the right data in order to get an answer that’s actually meaningful and relevant. How to interpret data in this way is an under-appreciated aspect in the bombardment of data and statistics we see in the media these days and teaching more people about it doesn’t have to be boring or stuffy.

The Pudding also sets an example here by working in the open: the data they used for their analysis is available on Github.

“The distinction between messing with the past, and improving on the present, is a critical one,” says Maria Bustillos. “Republish Roald Dahl as he wrote, or don’t publish him at all.”

The American climate migration has already begun. “More than 3 million Americans lost their homes to climate disasters last year, and a substantial number of those will never make it back to their original properties.”

Jane Austen’s 8-bit Adventure is a Super Mario clone featuring the English novelist that runs on an NES emulator.

The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components

a cut-away photo of a jacked-in headphone plug

a cut-away photo of a circuit board

a cut-away photo of an HDMI cable

Open Circuits is a book that takes you inside the electronic components that power the modern world, with cross sections and close-up views of things like headphone jacks, chips, circuit boards, cables, etc. Lovely images — it’s like a whole little urban world down there. Buy it now at No Starch Press,, or Amazon. (via clive thompson)

A visualization of which generation controls the Senate. “A middle-of-the-pack Senator in 1947 was maybe 55 or 56-ish years old. Now, the middle seems to be 65 or 66, a whole decade older!”

Oh my, Chrome extensions really can gather a ton of data about your browsing habits with very little notice, like screenshots (incl. incognito windows), keylogging, input capturing, etc. And wow, the stealth tab.

Apple is reportedly attempting to add no-prick blood glucose monitoring to Apple Watch, using “optical absorption spectroscopy to shine light from a laser under the skin to determine the concentration of glucose in the body.”

Whoa! A24 is auctioning off props from Everything Everywhere All at Once, including the fanny pack, Raccacoonie, the hot dog fingers, and buttplug trophy. Proceeds go to Transgender Law Center, Asian Mental Health Project, and Laundry Workers Center.

Unprecedented Infrared Photos of Nearby Galaxies

a top-down view of a galaxy

a top-down view of a galaxy

I don’t know how isn’t going to turn into a JWST-only blog — it seems like there’s some never-before-seen imagery released every other week that just absolutely knocks my socks off. Like these unprecedented images of nearby galaxies that were taken to help study how individual stars affect galactic structure.

The saying goes, ‘From a tiny acorn grows the mighty oak.’ This is accurate not just here on Earth, but in our solar system and beyond. Even on a galactic scale, where individual stars and star clusters can sculpt a galaxy’s overall structure. Scientists say NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is perfectly primed to study these phenomena, and the first data is astounding astronomers.

New imagery from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument is revealing never-before-seen details into how young, newly forming stars influence the structure of the gas and dust of nearby galaxies, and therefore how they evolve over time. Areas of galaxies that once appeared dim and dark in visible light, now under Webb’s infrared eye, are glowing cavities and huge cavernous bubbles of gas and dust.

A California company is repurposing old electric vehicle batteries for electric grid storage. “Even after a battery no longer meets the needs of a car, however, it can still store enough energy to be useful on the electric grid.”

The Most Iconic Song in Cartoon History

You’ve probably never heard of Raymond Scott’s Powerhouse, even though it’s one of the most well-known songs of the 20th century. Powerhouse is the slapstick “the chase is on!” and relentless “assembly line” music that you’ve heard in many Looney Tunes shorts and other cartoons, including The Simpsons and Spongebob. Here it is in the 1946 ‘toon, Baby Bottleneck:

From Cartoon Brew’s appreciation of Powerhouse on the 86th anniversary of its recording:

I’m sure Raymond Scott never would’ve guessed that he was sealing his legacy when he sold his publishing rights to Warner Bros. Music in 1943. This little transaction gave genius composer Carl Stalling free reign to plug Raymond Scott’s melodies into his scores for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The propulsive energy of Scott’s quirky instrumental jazz compositions made perfect fodder for the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and Stalling found immediate use for his new library; Stalling’s first quotation of “Powerhouse” appears in the Frank Tashlin classic Porky Pig’s Feat (1943).

The peculiar strains of Raymond Scott’s music and the screwball slapstick of the Warner Bros. cartoons were a match made in heaven…

That CB post has a bunch of embedded videos of different uses of the song, along with this gem of Scott and his “Quintette” playing Powerhouse on TV in 1955:

(via @tcarmody)

Every decade or so, Warren Beatty slaps together a terrible Dick Tracy TV show for TCM so that he can keep the rights to the character and Disney+ or whoever can’t do a reboot/remake. Epic levels of pettiness.

A 4K restoration of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is back in theaters. Go see it if you can - I’m gutted that it’s not playing anywhere near me.

More than 2 decades after ramming Internet Explorer down everyone’s throats (and triggering an antitrust suit), Microsoft is now automatically removing IE from “any Windows computer that still has it installed”.

Watch Unreleased Footage of the First Glimpse of the Titanic Wreck

In 1986, a team led by Bob Ballard went down in a submersible to explore the wreck of the Titanic, marking the first time since its sinking in 1912 that the ship was seen by human eyes. When some of the photos and video footage they shot were released to the public, it caused a sensation. But much of the video footage has never been seen by the public — the video above is 1h 21m of “rare, uncut, and unnarrated footage” from that initial dive. (via open culture)

The NY Times long-time film critic A.O. Scott will be moving on to write “critical essays, notebooks and reviews that grapple with literature, ideas and intellectual life for the Times Book Review.”

Last Call for Kottke Hypertext Tees

two shirts, one black and one white, with a bright multi-colored 'hypertext' printed on them

Hey everyone — at the end of the day tomorrow (Feb 22), I’m going to shut off ordering for these stylish Hypertext Tees, so if you want one and haven’t ordered one yet, now’s your chance. Here’s what I wrote about the shirts earlier this month:

For much of the nearly 25-year lifespan of, the site’s tagline has been “home of fine hypertext products”. I always liked that it felt olde timey and futuristic at the same time, although hypertext itself has become antiquated — no one talks of hypertextual media anymore even though we’re all soaking in it.

And so but anyway, I thought it would fun to turn that tagline into a t-shirt, so I partnered with the good folks at Cotton Bureau to make a fine “hypertext” product that you can actually buy and wear around and eventually it’ll wear out and then you can use it to wash your car. If you want to support the site and look good doing it, you can order a Hypertext Tee right now.

A huge thank you to everyone who has ordered a shirt so far! They have proven remarkably popular — I’ve sold more than twice as many as my top-end estimate and way more than I sold the last time around.1 A few of you have tagged me on social media with shots of your shirts…keep ‘em coming!

P.S. If you want a shirt but your budget doesn’t allow for it right now, I have a small number of discount codes for free shirts (the discount covers shipping too, I think). Let me know and I’ll hook you up, no questions asked (while supplies last). Free codes are all spoken for, sorry!

  1. I mentioned the surprisingly strong sales to my 13-year-old daughter the other day and after thinking about it for a bit, she said, “Well, plain t-shirts with a simple word or logo on them are pretty popular right now, so I think you’ve tapped into that trend.” So….??!

A four-day workweek pilot was so successful most firms say they won’t go back. “15% of employees who participated said that ‘no amount of money’ would convince them to go back to working five days a week.”

Career of the future: prompt engineer (aka AI-whisperers who can get desired outputs from apps like ChatGPT, Midjourney, Bing, etc.)

In a retrospective survey of patient data, people who tested positive for Covid-19 exhibited “significantly higher risks” of many autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History

Now showing on American Experience on PBS: Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History.

For generations, Monopoly has been America’s favorite board game, a love letter to unbridled capitalism and — for better or worse — the impulses that make our free-market society tick. But behind the myth of the game’s creation is an untold tale of theft, obsession and corporate double-dealing. Contrary to the folksy legend spread by Parker Brothers, Monopoly’s secret history is a surprising saga that features a radical feminist, a community of Quakers in Atlantic City, America’s greatest game company, and an unemployed Depression-era engineer. And the real story behind the creation of the game might never have come to light if it weren’t for the determination of an economics professor and impassioned anti-monopolist.

You can watch the first ten minutes of the show on YouTube or see the whole thing on the PBS website.

See also The Antimonopolist Origins of Monopoly Differ from Hasbro’s Official Story. (via @Kitbuckley)

Hmm, the Tidbyt looks interesting: a retro-style, low-res display for your desk or bedside that can run lightweight display apps (weather, time, stock quotes, sports scores, etc.)

New Synthetic Antibiotic “Cures Superbugs Without Bacterial Resistance”

Well, this is potentially a huge deal:

In a potential game changer for the treatment of superbugs, a new class of antibiotics was developed that cured mice infected with bacteria deemed nearly “untreatable” in humans — and resistance to the drug was virtually undetectable.

Developed by a research team of UC Santa Barbara scientists, the study was published in the journal eBioMedicine. The drug works by disrupting many bacterial functions simultaneously — which may explain how it killed every pathogen tested and why low-level of bacterial resistance was observed after prolonged drug exposure.

Huge if true, etc. What really caught my attention is how they discovered this in the first place…they were working on a way to charge cell phones:

The discovery was serendipitous. The U.S. Army had a pressing need to charge cell phones while in the field — essential for soldier survival. Because bacteria are miniature power plants, compounds were designed by Bazan’s group to harness bacterial energy as a “‘microbial”’ battery. Later the idea arose to re-purpose these compounds as potential antibiotics.

“When asked to determine if the chemical compounds could serve as antibiotics, we thought they would be highly toxic to human cells similar to bleach,” said Mahan, the project lead investigator. “Most were toxic — but one was not — and it could kill every bacterial pathogen we tested.”

Here’s the original paper if you’d like to take a look.

Weather Machine, a comprehensive new API for weather data with data & forecasts from “The Weather Company, AccuWeather, AerisWeather, and many other reputable sources”.

Ford Motor Company’s “Utopian Turtletop”

a booklet with a drawing of a car called 'Uptopian Turtletop'

a drawing of a car called 'The Intelligent Whale'

In 1955, the Ford Motor Company hired poet Marianne Moore to come up with some names for their revolutionary new car. Moore ended up submitting some amazing names, including “Silver Sword”, “Intelligent Whale”, “Angel Astro”, and “Utopian Turtletop”.

What Moore lacked in corporate nomenclature experience, she made up for in enthusiasm and imagination: she submitted over two dozen names for consideration, each one more delightful — and unlikely — than the last. In the end, the poet’s suggestions were rejected and the company’s chairman himself named the vehicle. Thus was born the notorious car known as the Edsel.

Ford realized perhaps too late that they shouldn’t have, in fact, sent a poet — but we’re sure glad they did.

Back here in the present day, Pentagram commissioned the legendary Seymour Chwast to turn Moore’s amazing collection of names into a booklet of illustrations that imagine what these cars might look like.

What a lovely little adventure for Craig Mod: he got a small Japanese city a big mention in the NY Times and ended up getting wholly embraced by the city’s residents. “Morioka. Holy smokes.”

In Order to Keep Our Editorial Page Completely Balanced, We Are Hiring More Dipshits. “We believe that the truth lies in the middle. The exact mathematical middle. This holds true no matter how far right ‘the right’ actually is.”

Richard Belzer, who played detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street (and other shows), has died aged 78. “He had lots of health issues, and his last words were, ‘Fuck you, motherfucker.’”

Making a Very Tiny Watch Screw

This is pretty amazing: a guy making a 0.6mm screw for a watch using a very precise watchmaker’s lathe. It’s so small! I love that the hardest part is trying to find the impossibly tiny thing after it detaches from the high-RPM lathe. (thx, mick)

The Onion: It Is Journalism’s Sacred Duty To Endanger The Lives Of As Many Trans People As Possible. “It’s about asking the tough questions and ignoring the answers you don’t like, then offering misleading evidence…”

A US man afflicted with foreign accent syndrome after a prostate cancer diagnosis developed an “uncontrollable Irish accent” that persisted for the rest of his life.

A massive collection of travel tips from the vibrant Cup of Jo community. “Always pack a swimsuit.”

8-Bit Martial Arts Choreography

Watch as Polish dance troupe Fair Play Crew brings the twitchy movements from old school martial arts video games into the real world with a funny and perfectly choreographed routine (it starts at the 3:50 mark in the video above. It seems like they’re riffing on a few different games here — Karate on the Atari 2600, Black Belt, Karate Champ, Karateka, International Karate, and even a little Mortal Kombat — instead of just a single game.

An Introduction to the World-Renowned Architect Zaha Hadid, “the Queen of the Curve”. If you don’t know much about Hadid and her work, now’s your chance to catch up.

An interview with the cast of Star Trek: TNG on their chance to have a proper ending in season three of Star Trek: Picard. I was lukewarm on catching up on Picard (I’ve only seen s01) but will after reading this.

They’re Making a Tetris Movie. And It’s a Thriller?

Well, I was not expecting the next video game to be turned into an edgy drama (an 80s Cold War techno-thriller, no less) to be Tetris, but here we are.

Taron Egerton stars in a new Apple Original Film inspired by the true story of how one man risked his life to outsmart the KGB and turn Tetris into a worldwide sensation.

If you’d have told me that this trailer was a Saturday Night Live sketch from 6 years ago, I would have believed you — and as it is, the release date of March 31 gives me pause.1 But I’ll give it a shot.

  1. I don’t actually think this is an April Fools joke — Apple doesn’t usually go in for such nonsense.

“American drivers have a blinding headlight problem.” Increasingly prevalent trucks and SUVs are so tall that their lights shine in the faces of mere car drivers. It sucks.

“The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental is 36% higher today than it was in 2019.”

An Ode to Swearing. “You can establish familiarity, even make friends, with swearing. Start gently.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s Surprisingly Accurate Experiments with Gravity

notes and graphs from Leonardo da Vinci regarding his gravity experiments

This is super-interesting: in papers written by Leonardo da Vinci collected in the Codex Arundel, he documents experiments that show that gravity is a form of acceleration and also calculated the gravitational constant to within 97% accuracy, hundreds of years before Newton formalized gravity in theory.

In an article published in the journal Leonardo, the researchers draw upon a fresh look at one of da Vinci’s notebooks to show that the famed polymath had devised experiments to demonstrate that gravity is a form of acceleration — and that he further modeled the gravitational constant to around 97 percent accuracy.

Da Vinci, who lived from 1452 to 1519, was well ahead of the curve in exploring these concepts. It wasn’t until 1604 that Galileo Galilei would theorize that the distance covered by a falling object was proportional to the square of time elapsed and not until the late 17th century that Sir Isaac Newton would expand on that to develop a law of universal gravitation, describing how objects are attracted to one another. Da Vinci’s primary hurdle was being limited by the tools at his disposal. For example, he lacked a means of precisely measuring time as objects fell.

As the piece notes, Leonardo didn’t get things exactly right:

Da Vinci sought to mathematically describe that acceleration. It is here, according to the study’s authors, that he didn’t quite hit the mark. To explore da Vinci’s process, the team used computer modeling to run his water vase experiment. Doing so yielded da Vinci’s error.

“What we saw is that Leonardo wrestled with this, but he modeled it as the falling object’s distance was proportional to 2 to the t power [with t representing time] instead proportional to t squared,” Roh says. “It’s wrong, but we later found out that he used this sort of wrong equation in the correct way.” In his notes, da Vinci illustrated an object falling for up to four intervals of time-a period through which graphs of both types of equations line up closely.

But it’s still pretty impressive how far he did get. The piece also notes that this work was discovered because the codex was made available online to the general public, demonstrating the value of easy access of materials like this.

Interesting shapes cause crazy slow motion fluid dynamics. I am not entirely convinced this isn’t computer generated but neither am I convinced it is.

Sky Collages

a collage of different bits of sky around pole and power lines

a collage of different bits of sky around pole and power lines

I love these photographic collages by Alex Hyner centered around images of power lines — the intersections of the lines form geometric shapes that each get their own different shade and texture of sky. Such a simple idea done really well.

You can see more of Hyner’s work on Instagram or buy prints of his Skies series on his website.

Ugh, the NY Times’ dismissal of yesterday’s open letter about their coverage of trans people as “advocacy” is insulting, especially since the letter called them out for uncritically using unacknowledged anti-trans activists as sources.

Oh man, I really want to visit Studio Ghibli’s new theme park in Japan.

All the Beauty in the World

a painting of Venus & Adonis by Titian

After leaving a job at The New Yorker in the wake of his older brother’s death, Patrick Bringley spent 10 years working as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He wrote a book about his experience at the museum, All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me (ebook). From a review at NPR:

In the wake of his 27-year-old brother Tom’s death from cancer in 2008, Bringley, two years his junior, gave up a prestigious “high-flying desk job” at The New Yorker, where “they told me I was ‘going places,’” for a job in which “I was happy to be going nowhere.” He explains, “I had lost someone. I did not wish to move on from that. In a sense I didn’t wish to move at all.”

Drawn to “the most straightforward job I could think of in the most beautiful place I knew” — a job that promised room to grieve and reflect in the wake of his loss — Bringley arrived at the Met in the fall of 2008. He explains his state of mind when he pivoted toward this union position for which he donned a cheap, blue, polyester uniform and received an allowance of $80 a year for socks: “My heart is full, my heart is breaking, and I badly want to stand still a while,” he writes.

From a piece in the New Yorker in which Bringley tours his old stomping grounds:

He answered an ad in the Times and went to an open house. “They tell you the hours” — for beginners, twelve hours on Fridays and Saturdays and eight hours on Sundays — “and half the people leave,” he recalled. After a week of training (“Protect life and property, in that order,” he was told), he joined the Met’s largest department: some five hundred guards, who work in rotating “platoons.” Bringley spent the next decade at the museum, and has now written a guard’s-eye memoir, “All the Beauty in the World,” detailing a job that is equal parts dreamy, dull, and pragmatic. “You can spend an hour deciding to learn about ancient Egypt, or look around at people and write a short story about one in your head,” he explained.

Bringley’s website has a page that lists all the art he mentions in the book, with links to each artwork on the Met’s website. I love this sort of thing from authors — it’s where I found the image at the top of the page: Titian’s Venus and Adonis. You can also book a tour of the museum with Bringley.

A collection of emulated calculators from The Internet Archive. Alas, they do not have the trusty Casio fx-300H that I all but wore out in college.

“There was a time when shame was a powerful force in American politics. That time is not now.” This is the true legacy of Trump: if you’re shameless & your group stays united in support, you can do almost anything you set your mind to.

Supermassive Black Holes: A Possible Source of Dark Energy

A group of astronomers say they have evidence that links supermassive black holes at galactic centers with dark energy, the mysterious force that accounts for roughly 68% of the energy in the universe. Here’s the news release and the paper. From the Guardian:

Instead of dark energy being smeared out across spacetime, as many physicists have assumed, the scientists suggest that it is created and remains inside black holes, which form in the crushing forces of collapsing stars.

“We propose that black holes are the source for dark energy,” said Duncan Farrah, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii. “This dark energy is produced when normal matter is compressed during the death and collapse of large stars.”

The claim was met with raised eyebrows from some independent experts, with one noting that while the idea deserved scrutiny, it was far too early to link black holes and dark energy. “There’s a number of counter-arguments and facts that need to be understood if this claim is going to live more than a few months,” said Vitor Cardoso, a professor of physics at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

And here’s a short video explainer:

It’s a radical claim to be sure — it’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out in the weeks and months to come as other scientists interpret the results.

The collection of videos tagged “how things are made” at The Kid Should See This is a treasure trove of goodness.

The Economist: “Our findings suggest that the crunch caused by the war in Ukraine may, in fact, have fast-tracked the green transition by an astonishing five to ten years.”

The Winners of the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition

several rays swimming across waxy sand

closeup of a shark's eye

group of embryonic fish still attached to their egg sacs

The winners of the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition have been announced — you can check out all of the winners here. The photos above are by Gregory Sherman, Kat Zhou, and Shane Gross. Sherman’s photo of stingrays swimming near the Cayman Islands is just spectacular; I can’t stop looking at it. (via colossal & petapixel)

Blue Origin says they can make solar cells and wire from simulated lunar regolith (the rocks and dust on the Moon’s surface). “Oxygen for propulsion and life support is a byproduct.”

Roxane Gay & Debbie Millman recount their trip to Antarctica for a 60th birthday solar eclipse viewing.

An Oral History of Raccacoonie

In the midst of the zaniness of Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the funniest things I have seen in a movie theater in years: Raccacoonie. (If you know, you know.) Inverse talked to a bunch of people involved with the film about how Raccacoonie came about and what the folks at Pixar thought about the riff on Ratatouille. First off, here’s the initial mention of Raccacoonie in the movie:

The initial idea came from stories that producer Jonathan Wang would tell about his father messing up the names of American movies:

I think it’s pretty common when you have parents who are speaking English as a second language: They butcher movie titles. [My dad] would call James Bond “double seven” instead of “double-O seven.” He would just mess up movie titles all the time. My favorite one he would say was “Outside Good People Shooting” — that one is Good Will Hunting.

Costume designer Shirley Kurata added:

Being an Asian American and having parents where English isn’t their native language, I was used to hearing my parents mispronounce things. I had this memory when I was really young and I saw this word and I didn’t know what it said. I asked my mom. She was like, “Pin-oh-shee-oh.” I think both of us just laughed because we realized she totally mispronounced Pinocchio.

What did the folks at Pixar think? Of course, they loved it — because it’s great.

I never even thought about whether or not we would get a call from Disney or if Pixar was going to be mad. We did a tour of the Pixar campus and got to hang out with [animator/director] Domee Shi, and she’s so great. We were like, “Have you guys talked about, uh… us ripping off Ratatouille?” Everyone loves it there, and it seemed like no one was really upset. That was the only thing we thought of: Are we going to get flagged for this? But lawyers cleared it; everyone cleared it.

It’s worth reading the whole thing — I hadn’t realized they got Randy Newman to do a song for it.

Dozens of NY Times contributors are calling the paper out for their “editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people”.

Researchers propose adding a 4th color to stoplights to better coordinate autonomous vehicles and reduce traffic delays.

What’s Homelessness Really Like? The NY Times asked 30 people about their experiences of being homeless.

Proteins and Life: How Do Dead Things Become Alive?

DNA and RNA get all of the headlines, but it’s not difficult to argue that much of the glorious complexity and possibility of life is due to proteins. In the latest episode of Kurzgesagt, they explain the role of cellular proteins in creating life.

You are cells. Your muscles, organs, skin and hair. They are in your blood and in your bones.

Cells are biological robots. They don’t want anything, they don’t feel anything. They are never sad or happy. They just are, right here, right now. They are as conscious as a stone or a chair or a neutron star. Cells just follow their programming that has been evolving and changing for billions of years, molded by natural selection.

They are impossible machines and yet, here they are, driven entirely by the fundamental forces of the universe. The smallest unit of life, right at the border where physics becomes biology.

Sometimes, to get a truer understanding of how amazing something is, you need to hold your breath and dive in really deep. So, what are cells and how do they work?

As always, you can see a list of their sources and further reading for the video.

Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) has a new book coming out, a collaboration with caricaturists John Kascht called The Mysteries. “In a fable for grown-ups…a long-ago kingdom is afflicted with unexplainable calamities.”

A fantastic unofficial archive of Melvyn Bragg’s radio show In Our Time, organized by Dewey Decimal category and year. Related episodes, track guests across multiple episodes, reading lists, and more.

I wonder what his billionaire co-investors think about Elon Musk buying Twitter and turning it into his personal blog?

The stock market is broken. “In an ideal world, there would be no continuous trading. A series of auctions would be much more effective at providing investors with the liquidity they need.”

Tuning Into Brainwave Rhythms Dramatically Accelerates Learning in Adults. “Participants who received a simple 1.5-second visual cue at their personal brainwave frequency were at least three times faster…”

The Art of the Logo Refresh

before and after of the MailChimp logo refresh

before and after of the Eventbrite logo refresh

This is a nice little interview with designer Jessica Hische on how she steps in to help companies refresh their logos.

There are a number of reasons why companies decide that a refresh — rather than a rebrand — is the right move. Many of the companies I work with simply want a logo asset that is easier for their designers to work with. Sometimes there are issues with the current logo that make it harder to design around, or make it less flexible on different design applications. For example, logos with long ascenders and descenders create difficulties with balancing whitespace, and logos with tight counterforms or complex details don’t scale well.

Aside from adding utility, refreshes can be a nice way to make an older logo asset play well with a new brand system — we can make subtle tweaks to letterforms that make it better match new typefaces chosen for the brand or blend with the mood of photography better.

You can see a bunch of logo before & afters at Print or on her website — and her recent work for Squier is here. The differences may look negligible, but in each case, the new version is cleaner and easier to read — they just look nicer and smoother after Hische is done with them.

Review of a gasoline car from the alt-universe where EVs are standard. “Imagine if a steam locomotive had a baby with a machine gun. That’s the sort of noise that comes out of a gas car.”

Jackson Bird signs off on the last ever episode of the Cool Stuff Ride Home. kottke[dot]org was proudly affiliated with this podcast for awhile – I’m sad to see it go!

Fears about nuclear energy, and nuclear waste in particular, have been overstated. “We should celebrate what humankind can achieve with clean energy: a high quality of life for everybody, without the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels.”

Why Everything You Buy Is Worse Now

Riffing on a recent piece by Izzie Ramirez, Vo’x Kim Mas educates us on why the quality of consumer goods has dropped over the past several years.

Maybe you’ve noticed: In the past 10 years everything we buy from clothes to technology has gotten just a little bit worse. Sweaters are more likely to tear. Phones are more likely to break. Smart toasters and TVs burn out and die after only a few years. It might seem like consumer products just aren’t built to last anymore. What’s going on?

Unfortunately (and fortunately!), part of the problem is us. For decades, we’ve been conditioned to buy, buy, buy, and today it’s normal for many consumers to shop for new clothes at least once a month. In order to keep up, many companies have to prioritize making things in the fastest and least expensive way possible. To do that, they cut corners with materials and labor. In turn, quality suffers, which leaves consumers with a lot of crappy things.

The European Parliament has “formally approved a law to effectively ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the European Union from 2035”.

1923 was a seminal year for the movies.

How Vinyl Records Are Made

So, here’s how they make vinyl records at Third Man Records in Detroit. As you might expect, the process is a bit less automated than what you’d imagine for digital music media — those records are human-handled dozens of times before they are finally placed into their jackets.

Vinyl is in the real world. It’s not something that exists only on your computer or your phone, it’s three-dimensional. Your nervous system is designed to take in the sound. It heals you. It’s a nutrient. It’s like vitamins. You feel it. It’s like getting a massage or eating a beautiful sandwich.

See also this slow-motion video of a vinyl record playing, recorded with an electron microscope. You can see how the soundwaves are encoded in the grooves. (via open culture)

Teaser trailer for season three of Ted Lasso. “In this third season of Ted Lasso, the newly-promoted AFC Richmond faces ridicule as media predictions widely peg them as last in the Premier League…”

America’s teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep because school starts too early. “Despite years of evidence that starting school later promotes better health and improved grades, too few schools have adopted this measure.”

Cars are rewiring our brains to ignore all the bad stuff about driving. “People tend to have a giant blindspot when it comes to certain behaviors associated with driving, whether it’s speeding, carbon emissions, traffic crashes…”

10 rules for communicating with Gen Z online. “2. Never text without emojis or text emojis.”

These updates about the Twitter API continue to be insulting and full of bullshit. Enthusiasm. Optimal experience. What a bunch of crap.

Interesting how web3-obsessed VCs pretty much don’t care about the self-governed decentralization of the Fediverse. “web3 nonsense was never about new paradigms. It was about constructing bags and conscripting bag holders.”

The 25 most important tweets of all time?

“Australian scientists announced Friday they’ve discovered a protein in the lung that sticks to the COVID-19 virus like Velcro and forms a natural protective barrier in a person’s body to block infection.”

Likening the service and its destruction by present management to the Tower of Babel myth, Paul Ford suggests God Did the World a Favor by Destroying Twitter.

Justina Miles’ Electrifying ASL Performance of Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

This will probably get taken down soon, but in the meantime… This is the ASL performance of Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show by Justina Miles. So good — I love how her long fingers and fingernails accentuate and amplify her signing.

CNBC ran a short profile of Miles and other Super Bowl ASL performers yesterday before the game.

Miles, a Philadelphia native and current nursing student at HBCU Bowie State University, is hard of hearing, according to reporting from Billy Penn. Her mom is deaf, and her family is mixed with hearing people.

Miles was also part of the USA team that went to the 2021-22 Deaflympics in Brazil and won a silver medal as part of the 4x100 women’s track relay team. She was the valedictorian at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington D.C., according to the National Association of the Deaf.

You can find more of Miles on TikTok.

See also Translating Music Into American Sign Language and Eminem’s Lose Yourself in ASL.

George Toma, now 94, is a groundkeeper who has worked on the field for all 57 Super Bowls. “Still hale despite walking with a cane, he suffers from a lifelong case of perfectionism.”

TIL that Super Bowl halftime performers get paid union scale for their performance. Their actual pay is in exposure – a SB halftime show usually means a huge jump in album sales, tour ticket sales, etc.

Prince’s Legendary Concert at First Avenue in 1983

I have never seen this before so maybe you haven’t either: a full-length video recording of Prince and the Revolution playing at First Avenue in 1983. This show marked the first time Prince played Purple Rain in public; it’s this recording of the song (lightly edited and reworked) that you hear on the album of the same name released the next year. From a piece in The Current about the show:

Before the 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain catapulted Prince on to the national stage, there was an Aug. 3, 1983 benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre at the recently re-branded First Avenue. It was there that the budding pop star debuted much of the Purple Rain album tracks, and recorded the versions of “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m A Star” heard in the film and soundtrack.

“Those versions were almost exactly what he did live,” said longtime Prince producer David Rivkin, also known as David Z.

Since technology at the time couldn’t record wireless bass well, Rivkin said, Prince later added bass overdubs. He did some content edits, cutting the song down from about 14 to nine minutes.

“It was incredible; I mean little did I know it was gonna be that big of a recording,” Rivkin said. “Prince was really not a well-known figure back then. This is the kind of recording that launched him into super stardom.”

From Anil Dash’s piece on how Purple Rain came to be:

While Prince and the Revolution had been carefully rehearsing Purple Rain all summer, adjusting each detail of how the song was structured and played, Prince’s nearly-unequalled ability to spontaneously take a live performance to the next level was certainly on display that August night.

Exemplifying this ability is the repeated lilting motif that Prince begins playing on his guitar at 4:40 in the song. For all the countless times they’d practiced the song, even earlier on the same day as the First Avenue performance, Prince had never played this riff during Purple Rain before. In the original live show, it’s clear that Prince realizes he’s found something magical, returning again and again to this brief riff, not just on guitar but even singing it himself during the final fade of the song.

Just as striking is how this little riff shows the care and self-criticism that went into making the song Purple Rain. Like any brilliant 25-year-old guy who’s thought of something clever, Prince’s tendency when he thought of this little gem was to overdo it. In the unedited version of the song, Prince keeps playing the riff for almost another minute, pacing around the stage trying to will the audience into responding to it.

Update: From Louder, an oral history of Purple Rain and the night it was recorded.

After Melvoin’s opening acoustic chords, Bobby Z’s drums — mostly acoustic, and triggering Linn drums later added to in the mix — accompanied Prince’s singing for the first two minutes. “It’s just a back-beat and him from his guts,” Bobby says. “It’s just so raw for him. I remember those two minutes. Because the room is silent except for the pattern you’re playing. He was in the moment, and you’re in it with him, and it was a special place to be. It was a whole different planet.”

(via @peterbutler

The trailer for All That Breathes, which The Guardian called “a beautiful, meditative film about an Indian bird sanctuary”. It’s up for an Oscar and is out on HBO Max right now.

Nope, coffee won’t give you extra energy. It’ll just borrow a bit that you’ll pay back later. “While it feels energising, this little caffeine intervention is more a loan of the awake feeling, rather than a creation of any new energy.”

Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

Yesterday, Fox aired a very short, very good Rihanna concert, preceded and succeeded by a football game — you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube (possibly US-only). I caught this live and loved every second of it. The set design, choreography, costumes, the baby bump, and, of course, the music & singing: all pitch-perfect.

Update: I took out the embedded video because for some dumb reason the NFL doesn’t allow embeds on that video.

NYPL librarians have discovered that “up to 75 percent of books published before 1964 may now be in the public domain”. Rights holders used to have to renew their copyrights; most didn’t.

An imperfect list of books like Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. “Never before have I read a book and felt as seen across multiple dimensions of my personality.”

The Relentless Attack on Trans People Is an Attack on All of Us. “There is no world in which their freedom is suppressed and yours is sustained.”

Muleskinning and the Art of Slowing Down

a man sitting on a wagon being pulled by two mules

When I saw a link to Lisa Whiteman’s photo essay on “muleskinning”, I was like oh dear god what am I getting myself into here. But it turns out that a muleskinner is a mule driver, particularly one who travels by mule in groups.

I met Ronald in 2009, when I attempted to make a shot-but-never-finished documentary about him and a group of his muleskinner friends who regularly take recreational road trips across North Carolina. A “muleskinner” is the term used for a mule driver, but it also refers to the microculture of the caravan. They pull over at night to sleep on farms and in the yards of churches and friends, their sleeping bags or old quilts laid out in the backs of their wagons. They open up a can of Beanee Weenee, or splurge on a “fish dinner” — what they affectionately call a tin of sardines. Sometimes they chase it down with a few sips of homemade moonshine they’ve brought in Mason jars, sitting around a campfire and telling stories they’ve shared a thousand times.

A lovely story and photos of a US subculture I knew nothing about until today. You can check out more of Whiteman’s work on her website or on Instagram.

If they gave Oscars to books instead of movies, a neat concept from Literary Hub.

English football club Bristol City has not been awarded a penalty kick for 65 straight matches. “Amateur statisticians have created charts to demonstrate how ludicrous the streak has become.”

New Massive Image of the Milky Way with 3.32 Billion Individual Objects

image of part of the Milky Way with 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects

small portion of an image of part of the Milky Way with 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects

Thanks to a planet-wide collaboration, scientists have released an image of the Milky Way that contains 3.32 billion individually identifiable objects, most of which are stars.

Gathering the data required to cover this much of the night sky was a Herculean task; the DECaPS2 survey identified 3.32 billion objects from over 21,400 individual exposures. Its two-year run, which involved about 260 hours of observations, produced more than 10 terabytes of data.

Most of the stars and dust in the Milky Way are located in its spiral disk — the bright band stretching across this image. While this profusion of stars and dust makes for beautiful images, it also makes the galactic plane challenging to observe. The dark tendrils of dust seen threading through this image absorb starlight and blot out fainter stars entirely, and the light from diffuse nebulae interferes with any attempts to measure the brightness of individual objects. Another challenge arises from the sheer number of stars, which can overlap in the image and make it difficult to disentangle individual stars from their neighbors.

It’s worth checking out the largest size of the image published on the web (which is actually much smaller than the image’s actual size) as well as a tiny portion of the full image (second image above) that shows just how much detail is there. A zoomable interface for the entire image is available here.

Nominations for the 2023 Stunt Awards, featuring the best stunt work in films made last year. Top Gun: Maverick, RRR, and Everything Everywhere All at Once are up for multiple awards.

“This past week, a part of the sun’s surface broke off and started circling the sun’s north pole almost as if it were a giant polar vortex – and scientists don’t know why.” Pardon?!

How The Parthenon Marbles Ended Up In The British Museum

The Greek government and activists have long been calling for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to Greece. But how did the marbles get to Britain in the first place?

In the early 19th century, a British lord named Elgin removed a significant portion of the remaining marble decoration and statuary from The Parthenon in Athens and brought it back to Britain. To cover his debts, he sold the marbles to the British government and they eventually made their way into the British Museum. In the video above, Evan Puschak provides more detail about how it all went down.

For its part, the British Museum isn’t budging, although their official stance on the matter seems defensive, almost like they know they’re on thin ice, morally speaking. It’s long past time the marbles were repatriated and they should just get it over with already.

Update: This is interesting from David Allen Green: the return of the Parthenon Marbles isn’t up to the British Museum.

The fourth point is that the current legislation does make it difficult-to-impossible for the museum to dispose (to use the legal word) of the marbles as it wishes, either by returning them to Greece or otherwise.

An elaborate legal basis could, perhaps be provided, but — on balance — one suspects an English court would rule such a disposal as unlawful.

This means this is not a matter solely for the trustees of the museum (as I explain here).

For the marbles to be returned properly to Greece would require a change in primary legislation, which in turn means it has to have government support (or at least no government opposition).

(via someone I can’t remember but thank you!)

Rainbow Connection: A Benoit Blanc Mystery

a group of Muppets standing with Benoit Blanc

From comments made by Knives Out and Glass Onion director Rian Johnson, it doesn’t seem likely that a Benoit Blanc mystery movie with the Muppets or a Muppet movie with Benoit Blanc will ever happen. So, we’ll have to settle for this mashup of Blanc and The Great Muppet Caper made by Nerdist:

I dunno Johnson, that works pretty well…

The trailer for Paint, in which Owen Wilson plays a Bob Ross-type artist with his own painting show on Vermont public TV.

The New Rules?

The cover story of the current issue of New York magazine is a collection of tips, rules, and etiquette for how to behave in contemporary society (ok, urban east coast society). It’s a good list for the most part, if unnecessarily provocative in places — gotta sell those magazines and rile up whoever remains on Twitter. I snipped out several of the rules and gently annotated them with my opinionated thoughts below. Just like bloggers used to do in the olden days. Quaint!

6. Never wake up your significant other on purpose, ever.

And don’t turn on the lights when they’re asleep. Jet-lagged and want to talk? Don’t do it. Think someone is coming in to kill you? Work it out yourself.

Huh? I think it’s the “ever” that bugs me here. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sleep and if I don’t get 7-8 solid hours, I’m more or less worthless the next day. But if you actually need me at 3am, by all means, wake me up. (I feel like the person who wrote this doesn’t have children? Getting woken up in the middle of the night is de rigueur w/ kids around, so your partner rousing you in the middle of the night bc they’re, for instance, having a panic attack or are sick & wondering if they need to go to the ER not only isn’t a big deal but is part of the reason you’ve partnered up in the first place.)

27. The proper response to being told something you already know isn’t “I know.” It’s “You’re right.”

I would like to tattoo this on my son’s arm for reference; I hear “I know” from him like 90 times a day when what he really means is, “That’s right” or “Thanks for the reminder”.

30. When casually asked how you are, say “Good!”

It’s neutral and doesn’t force someone to endure a trauma dump or a spiel on how “the world is up in flames.”

I have some trouble with this one. Even when the grocery store cashier is just being polite, I sometimes answer them like my therapist is asking.

33. If you bring up astrology and it isn’t met enthusiastically, change the topic.

Not everyone believes in your made-up star bullshit.

“Made-up star bullshit”: thank you. Religion too. But this probably goes for anything — if your conversational partner isn’t digging it, move along to something else.

47. Listening is not the time for you to silently rehearse what you want to say next.

We can see your eyes glazing over.

I know what they’re trying to get at here — listening, really listening, is important! — but this isn’t great advice for folks who aren’t neurotypical… Some people simply cannot participate in conversations without being extremely in their own heads about how to respond to what is being said, especially when they don’t know their convo partner well.

50. If your burger is becoming a salad, your restaurant-order modifications have gone too far.

You’re allowed to ask for things based on allergies and preferences. But when your dish transforms into another dish, you’re a problem.

Yes, exactly. This is the dunderheaded “the customer is always right” run amok.

59. The correct number of slices of pizza to order for a group of X people is 2X + X/3.

Any fewer is for misers; any more risks catatonia. N.B.: This rule holds for “classic” New York-style pizza.

I’d never heard this rule of thumb before. Let’s see if it checks out. For 3 people, you’d get 7 slices. For 8 people, you’d get 19 slices. Everyone gets two slices, plus one out of three people gets an extra slice. I feel like this might fail sometimes with smaller groups but with larger ones, things will tend to average out more (some ppl will eat more, some less).

78. Don’t talk about a movie when leaving the theater.

You never know who might overhear you raving about the big twist or panning an actor’s overhyped performance. At a certain point, people have to accept that they’re going to hear spoilers for the film, but not three minutes before seeing it.

Yes! I am always very quiet when leaving the theater, aside from non-specific utterances like, “that was great!” It’s easy to wait like 30 seconds for when you make it to your car or out on the street.

83. Go on, take the last bite.

Nobody wants to be the person who swipes that lone, lingering croquette or slurps down the final oyster from a communal seafood tower. Are you selfish? A glutton? All of the above? No. You are sparing everyone — your guests, yourself, your server — from the limbo of leaving one last bite on a shared plate. Letting something sit on the table uneaten while the bussers wonder whether they should clear the dish: That’s not polite. It’s annoying. Eat the food! That’s why it’s there.

Oh man. As a midwesterner who went to sooooo many potlucks and church picnics as a kid, this has been a tough habit to shake — taking the last morsel of something might as well be a felony in some parts of rural Wisconsin. But I’ve learned that if you’re paying attention (which is the key to many points of etiquette), you can tell when it’s alright to take the final bite of something, when to leave it for someone else, and when to urge someone you noticed enjoying a particular dish to grab the last bit of it.

94. It’s okay to email, text, or DM anyone at any hour.

There’s nothing worse than being woken up at 2:30 a.m. with a dumb text or a Slack notification. So why did you do that to yourself? Phones and computers have great tools now to manage your time away, including setting working hours and muting types of notifications. We’re responsible for which flashing lights and noises we let into our lives. Because of that, anyone should feel free to text a friend or message a co-worker at any hour. We can’t successfully move into the future unless we recognize that the onus is on the receiver, not the sender.

No. I get that other people’s notification strategies should not be your problem, but sending work-related emails and messages at all hours may generate a corresponding pressure in recipients to be awake to respond to them and normalizes the sense that you should be on the clock 24/7/365, which is no way at all to live and should be discouraged at every turn.

108. Don’t try to help a stranger parallel park.

People should be allowed the grace to park alone without being perceived. If you are walking down the street and see that a stranger is parallel parking, avert your eyes. “What if they need my help?” you ask. You are allowed to help only if you are directly and explicitly asked to by the driver. Otherwise, keep walking — it’s what’s best for everyone.

Yes! This is related to a current pet peeve of mine here in VT: people who wave at you or flash their lights for you to turn across traffic in front of them, even though you don’t have the right of way. I get why people do this: traffic is “heavy”, they have a clearer view of oncoming traffic than you do, and/or they are trying to be nice. But in reality, it creates a dangerous situation for you: you feel rushed into accepting their offer of help and move into the intersection before you’ve checked if it’s safe. Or someone behind them gets antsy and passes them on the right and suddenly they’re in the intersection when you’re pulling out. It’s just safer and better if everyone just takes their turn when they have the right of way.

111. It’s perfectly fine to walk through someone’s scene.

Whether it’s Marty Scorsese or someone filming an outfit-of-the-day TikTok, they don’t own the sidewalk.

Absolutely. Especially with people on busy streets taking photos with digital cameras, just walk in front of them…they can always take another one.

139. Post like the wind.

On Instagram, where best practices are unspoken but nearly universal, the conventional wisdom is that you should post on your main feed no more than once a day. Infrequent posting is perfectly in line with Instagram’s social mechanisms — it maximizes likes on each post, prioritizes the consumer, and lends itself to a tasteful, optimized feed where only the best-of-the-best pics make the cut. But if you’re going to participate in social media, the only way to have any fun with it is by consciously defying the incentives it dangles in front of you. Post excessively, indulgently, tastelessly. Maybe even take some shots with the in-app camera and post them as-is (it only seems unimaginable because you’re not thinking big enough). The curated photo-dump carousel, polite and unintrusive, is dead; posting 15 individual photos to your main grid in one day is what freedom feels like.

Ha, I like this advice! But I do not do it. Curators gonna curate, so my social media is pretty metered and controlled and all that jazz. Gonna think about letting loose a bit more often.

140. Don’t post RIPs for celebrities.

“Only the most moronic amongst us post photos of famous people seconds after they die,” Keith McNally recently wrote on Instagram. “It’s not a form of respect for the dead, but an attempt to sycophantically associate themselves with the famous. It’s their 15 minutes of fame, the necrophiliac bastards.” We tend to agree: Unless David Crosby was your actual uncle, or cousin, or whatever, refrain.

Huh? No. The public displays by strangers of remembrance, condolence, and, yes, even grief in the wake of a beloved celebrity’s death is one of the best things about social media. What this point should have been instead: If the dead were monstrous, go ahead and speak ill of them after they die. When Dick Cheney finally goes, I want to hear all about how he helped fuck America up for decades to come, please and thank you.

The always-thoughtful Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: What I Think About LeBron Breaking My NBA Scoring Record. “LeBron makes me love the game again.”

Maybe the younger generation is interested in DVD menus because they never had to sit through a bunch of “interactivity” or guess at some weird interface just to watch the actual movie?

The subway in San Francisco still runs on 5 1/4-inch floppies. “Our train control system in the Market Street subway is loaded off of five-and-a-quarter inch floppy drives.”

Ted Chiang: “ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web”

This is a fantastic piece by writer Ted Chiang about large-language models like ChatGPT. He likens them to lossy compression algorithms:

What I’ve described sounds a lot like ChatGPT, or most any other large-language model. Think of ChatGPT as a blurry jpeg of all the text on the Web. It retains much of the information on the Web, in the same way that a jpeg retains much of the information of a higher-resolution image, but, if you’re looking for an exact sequence of bits, you won’t find it; all you will ever get is an approximation. But, because the approximation is presented in the form of grammatical text, which ChatGPT excels at creating, it’s usually acceptable. You’re still looking at a blurry jpeg, but the blurriness occurs in a way that doesn’t make the picture as a whole look less sharp.

Reframing the technology in that way turns out to be useful in thinking through some of its possibilities and limitations:

There is very little information available about OpenAI’s forthcoming successor to ChatGPT, GPT-4. But I’m going to make a prediction: when assembling the vast amount of text used to train GPT-4, the people at OpenAI will have made every effort to exclude material generated by ChatGPT or any other large-language model. If this turns out to be the case, it will serve as unintentional confirmation that the analogy between large-language models and lossy compression is useful. Repeatedly resaving a jpeg creates more compression artifacts, because more information is lost every time. It’s the digital equivalent of repeatedly making photocopies of photocopies in the old days. The image quality only gets worse.

Indeed, a useful criterion for gauging a large-language model’s quality might be the willingness of a company to use the text that it generates as training material for a new model. If the output of ChatGPT isn’t good enough for GPT-4, we might take that as an indicator that it’s not good enough for us, either.

Chiang has previously spoken about how “most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism”.

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.

See also Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter. (via @irwin)

A flowchart of when it’s acceptable to turn the heat on in New England. “Chrissakes, just put on a sweater! If you’re still cold in an hour (I bet you won’t be), then we can talk about touching the dial.”

Disney: Fuck Everything, We’re Doing Five Toy Storys.

John Cleese is doing a Fawlty Towers reboot.

Hatching a Teeny Tiny Zebra Finch

Leave it to The Kid Should See This for finding this gem of a video, featuring the hatching and early life of a tiny zebra finch.

This is the smallest bird I’ve ever hatched. After a little Finch had lost her partner, I was asked if she could stay in my big Aviary. When I returned home after picking her up, on the way back she had laid an egg in the little transport box! Birds only do this when they have an egg that needs to be laid. I knew there was only a small chance she would accept and hatch this egg in an actual nest herself, but I wanted to try before I set plan B in motion…

The mother bird didn’t accept the egg, it was moved to an incubator, and after a couple of weeks the tiniest bird you’ve ever seen hatches. The birth and first feeding were absolutely riveting — I was on the edge of my chair! What weird little alien creatures baby birds are. (via the kid should see this)

The Scots translation of Harry Potter is wild to listen to. (Quidditch is Bizzumbaw, Dumbledore is Dumbiedykes, and the Sorting Hat is the Bletherin Bunnet.)

Billy Mitchell and the telltale joystick. The entertaining saga of the disgraced Donkey Kong champion rolls on; this time, a photo suggests his world record was set using an improper joystick.

Where the Elements Came From

a color-coded periodic table of the elements that shows how each element was created

From Wikipedia contributor Cmglee and Astronomy Picture of the Day, a color-coded periodic table that displays which cosmic events — the Big Bang, exploding stars, merging neutron stars, etc. — was responsible for creating each element, according to our present understanding of the universe.

The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events.

The data for the table came from OSU’s Jennifer Johnson, who quotes Carl Sagan:

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.

(thx, caroline)

From Time magazine, a list of the 100 best children’s books of all time.

The Fleishman Effect. “In a city of Rachels and Libbys, [Fleishman Is in Trouble] has some New York moms worried they’re the ones in trouble.”

LeBron James Breaks Kareem’s All-Time NBA Scoring Record

Last night, in the third quarter of an eventual loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (a team name that didn’t even exist when James made his NBA debut), LA Lakers forward LeBron James broke the once-untouchable all-time NBA scoring record, formerly 38,387 points and held by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Afterward, James had this to say about the moment:

Everything just stopped. It gave me an opportunity to embrace it and look around and seeing my family, the fans, my friends. It was pretty cool. I probably can count on my hands how many times I have cried in 20 years, either in happiness or in defeat. So that moment was one of them when I kind of teared up a little bit. It was ‘I can’t believe what’s going on’ tears.

The Athletic liveblogged the occasion as it happened and detailed how James was able to break the record.

James’ path to the all-time scoring record will look much different than his predecessor, and it’s quite obvious why: 3-pointers.

The impact of long-range shooting within the NBA has grown since the league embraced 3-pointers during the 1979-80 season. How has that affected James’ path to the top of the NBA’s scoring list? During Abdul-Jabbar’s final season in 1988-89, NBA teams averaged 6.6 3-point attempts per game. This season, James is averaging 6.7 3-point attempts on his own.

But let’s pause for a tribute to man James passed for the record: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Is Greater Than Any Basketball Record.

Guided by the footsteps of Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell, Abdul-Jabbar pushed forward, stretching the limits of Black athlete identity. He was, among other qualities, brash and bookish, confident and shy, awkward, aggressive, graceful - and sometimes an immense pain to deal with. He could come off as simultaneously square and the smoothest, coolest cat in the room.

In other words, he was a complete human being, not just the go-along-to-get-along, one-dimensional Black athlete much of America would have preferred him to be.

James has run with the branding concept that he is “More Than an Athlete.” Fifty-plus years ago, Abdul-Jabbar, basketball’s brightest young star, was already living that ideal.

From The Ringer, How LeBron James Broke the All-Time Scoring Record:

Just how long has James been playing in the NBA at a high level? Long enough to face nine father-son duos in games.

LeBron James opened his NBA career on Oct. 29, 2003, scoring 25 points in 42 minutes in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. On the Kings’ bench sat Jabari Smith, a 6-foot-11 center in his third year who wouldn’t remove his warmups that night.

Nineteen years, two months and 18 days later, James would be reminded of that matchup by another Smith, Jabari Smith Jr., a rookie with the Houston Rockets who is Jabari Smith’s son.

“Hey, you played against my dad in your first NBA game ever,” the rookie told LeBron.

“Why you do that to me,” a chuckling James said, to which Smith responded, “You feel old, don’t you?”

From The NY Times, How LeBron James Outscored Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and All the N.B.A. Greats:

James had a head start on catching Abdul-Jabbar because he was drafted out of high school, which wasn’t allowed in Abdul-Jabbar’s day. Then known as Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar first spent four years at U.C.L.A., where he was one of the most dominant college basketball players in the country.

James, at 38, is one of the oldest players in the league and in his 20th season. When Abdul-Jabbar was 38, he was in just his 17th professional season. By the time he hit his 20th year, he was no longer as dominant as he had been. James, with the good timing of being able to start this journey at 18 years old, is still proving every day just how much he has left, scoring 40 points on several nights this season and almost reaching 50 in a January game against Houston. He could be the first player to score 40,000 points.

On a personal note, I’ve never been that excited about LeBron James. I don’t hate him, but I didn’t really root for him or enjoy watching him play. Part of my aversion was no doubt due to many people trying, far too early, to place James on the GOAT throne, ahead of the player I grew up watching and rooting for, Michael Jordan. If I were in charge of drafting players for an all-time team, I’d still select Jordan first — his unique combination of drive, athleticism, and skill is still, IMO, the best in the game, ever. But with his versatility and longevity, LeBron James has more than earned the status of the NBA’s greatest player of all time.

City of the Rails, a new podcast series about railroads and hobos. “When journalist Danelle Morton’s daughter skips town to hop trains, she follows her into the train yard, and across America.”

James Cameron Scientifically Tests if Jack Could Have Fit on the Door at the End of Titanic

James Cameron is not one for half-measures. When making Titanic, he used every image and description of the ship he could lay his hands on to build accurate sets & models and financed 12 dives to the ship’s actual wreckage on the bottom of the ocean floor to gather footage to use in the film. For the mega-blockbuster’s 25th anniversary, Cameron has returned his attention to Titanic, to scientifically test the fan theory that there was enough room on the door for Jack at the end of Titanic (see the video above).

In order to reexamine Jack’s final moments, Cameron enlisted help from a team of scientists and two stunt people to test four different scenarios to examine whether two people could have shared the door.

“Jack and Rose are able to get on the raft, but now they’re both submerged in dangerous levels of freezing water,” Cameron explains as the stunt people prove it.

Meanwhile in another example, Cameron details, “Out of the water, violent shaking was helping him and projecting it out, he could’ve made it pretty long, like hours.”

If you can stand the forced-cheer morning show banter, there’s a bit more footage of Cameron and the testing from Good Morning America:

Cameron’s ultimate conclusion: “Jack might’ve lived, but there’s a lot of variables.”

Rereading this classic by Frank Chimero: There is a Horse in the Apple Store. “There is a horse in the Apple Store and no one sees it but me.”

This sort of thing is infuriating: Connecticut Parents Arrested for Letting Kids, Ages 7 and 9, Walk to Dunkin’ Donuts. Kids need to develop independence away from their parents and “stranger danger” is overblown.

Fodor’s No List for 2023, a list of places you probably shouldn’t travel (because people are ruining them), e.g. Lake Tahoe, Antarctica, Venice, and Thailand.

“Layoffs do not solve what is often the underlying problem, which is often an ineffective strategy, a loss of market share, or too little revenue. Layoffs are basically a bad decision.”

Marcin Wichary’s Shift Happens, a book about the history of keyboards, is now available for purchase on Kickstarter. Instant buy for me.

The T-shirt, a Fine Hypertext Product

For much of the nearly 25-year lifespan of, the site’s tagline has been “home of fine hypertext products”. I always liked that it felt olde timey and futuristic at the same time, although hypertext itself has become antiquated — no one talks of hypertextual media anymore even though we’re all soaking in it.

And so but anyway, I thought it would fun to turn that tagline into a t-shirt, so I partnered with the good folks at Cotton Bureau to make a fine “hypertext” product that you can actually buy and wear around and eventually it’ll wear out and then you can use it to wash your car. If you want to support the site and look good doing it, you can order a Hypertext Tee right now.

two shirts, one black and one white, with a bright multi-colored 'hypertext' printed on them

The shirts are short-sleeved and available in men’s, women’s, and youth sizes in three colors (black, white, and heather black) and sizes from S to 3XL, which I hope will work for almost everyone. The text is Gotham Light (from Hoefler&Co., designed by Tobias Frere-Jones) and takes the colors of the current header background, which I brightened up to look better on the shirt. Prices are $33 for adult sizes and $29 for kids, plus shipping.

I have several Cotton Bureau shirts in my closet and the samples I ordered of the hypertext shirt look great. If you want my advice, it looks slightly better in solid black, but you can’t go wrong with any of the colors and nothing is stopping you from ordering one of each color.

The Hypertext Tee will only be available to order for the next two weeks — after that: poof, gone. So order yours today!

Look, someone made a wood automata of me blogging!

Creatures That Don’t Conform. “In the woods near her home, Lucy Jones discovers the magic of slime molds and becomes entangled in their fluid, nonbinary way of being.”

In this comic, Rueben Bolling dreams up some “non-woke” children’s books that won’t get teachers charged with felonies in fascist Florida. “The Very Fine Stop & Frisk” is particularly (depressingly) on-point.

The Snowy Day Stamps

four USPS stamps featuring the boy from The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I’d missed that the USPS released a set of stamps commemorating Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day back in 2017. From the Smithsonian National Postal Museum:

It was the first full-color picture book to have an African American protagonist. Keats received the 1963 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations.

This book was solidly in the regular reading rotation when my kids were little and I remember it fondly from my childhood as well.

How to Paint Like Hayao Miyazaki, a small guide to painting from the animation master. “What Miyazaki makes clear throughout the guide is that he is, proudly, a cheapskate who isn’t fussy about tools.”

Was not aware that Vermont has the second-highest per capita homeless rate in the US. But VT also “provides temporary shelter to a higher share of its unhoused residents than any other state”.

Neil deGrasse Tyson captained his high school wrestling team and invented a “physics-based” move called the Double Tidal Lock.

The latest update to The Sims has introduced “trans-affirming medical wearables for character customization, including binders, shapewear, and top surgery scars”.

James Webb Telescope’s Incredibly Deep View of the Universe

an image of thousands of galaxies taken by the James Webb Space Telescope

The European Space Agency has released a gobsmacking deep field image of thousands of galaxies taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

A crowded field of galaxies throngs this Picture of the Month from the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, along with bright stars crowned with Webb’s signature six-pointed diffraction spikes. The large spiral galaxy at the base of this image is accompanied by a profusion of smaller, more distant galaxies which range from fully-fledged spirals to mere bright smudges. Named LEDA 2046648, it is situated a little over a billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation Hercules.

I know we’ve seen deep field images from the Hubble, but I don’t know how you can tire of looking at actual images created by human technology that shows thousands of galaxies, billions of years, trillions of stars, quadrillions of planets, untold numbers of potential intelligences & civilizations, and who really knows what else. It boggles the mind, every time.

You can download/view a massive high-res copy of this image right here.

Update: Here’s a video that zooms in from a wide view of the Milky Way all the way into galaxy LEDA 2046648 pictured above.

Wow. (via @cparnot)

As part of this profile, David Remnick nabs the first on-the-record interview with Salman Rushdie since last year’s attempt on his life. “I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens.”

Ted Gioia offers 8 techniques for judging someone’s character (even, perhaps most usefully, your own). “See how they treat service workers. Their true self comes to the forefront.”

We are living in the corporate age of documentary: “It has become almost impossible to sort works of art or journalism from glorified reality TV or public-relations exercises.”

In order to find dangerous hydrogen fuel leaks back in the Apollo days, NASA employees used the “broom method” of holding a broom out in front of themselves to see if it caught fire – now hydrogen-sensing tape is used.

You guys, new kind of ice just dropped. The new ice “more closely resembles liquid water than any other known ices” and “may rewrite our understanding of water”.

H5N1 Bird Flu: “An Even Deadlier Pandemic Could Soon Be Here”

Zeynep Tufekci on the H5N1 strain of the avian influenza, which is showing some recent signs of spreading in mammals.

Bird flu — known more formally as avian influenza — has long hovered on the horizons of scientists’ fears. This pathogen, especially the H5N1 strain, hasn’t often infected humans, but when it has, 56 percent of those known to have contracted it have died. Its inability to spread easily, if at all, from one person to another has kept it from causing a pandemic.

But things are changing. The virus, which has long caused outbreaks among poultry, is infecting more and more migratory birds, allowing it to spread more widely, even to various mammals, raising the risk that a new variant could spread to and among people.

Alarmingly, it was recently reported that a mutant H5N1 strain was not only infecting minks at a fur farm in Spain but also most likely spreading among them, unprecedented among mammals. Even worse, the mink’s upper respiratory tract is exceptionally well suited to act as a conduit to humans, Thomas Peacock, a virologist who has studied avian influenza, told me.

The three relevant facts here are: 56% of humans who’ve contracted H5N1 have died, there are signs of spreading among mammals, and that particular mammal is “exceptionally well suited” to pass viral infections along to humans. Tufekci, who attempted to sound the alarm relatively early-on about Covid-19, goes on to urge the world to action about H5N1, before it’s too late. Will we act? (No. The answer is no.)


You know, it’s a little shocking to read about a potential solution to the Fermi paradox on a random February Monday, but here we are.

If you missed it (better vid): the Grammys incredible 50 years of hip hop performance (ffwd to ~1:46:00). Like I said, it was thrilling to see all those artists sharing a stage – none of those folks have lost a single step. Wow.

This is the best video I can find of the Grammys incredible 50 years of hip hop performance. It was thrilling to see all those artists sharing a stage – none of those folks have lost a single step. Wow.

“US still has the worst, most expensive health care of any high-income country. US health care has lagged peers for years, and the pandemic made things worse.”

“2001: A Space Odyssey” Directed by George Lucas

From YouTuber poakwoods, a pair of criss-cross mashups of Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with their directors switched. When George Lucas takes the helm of 2001, you get a more crowd-pleasing and freewheeling movie while Stanley Kubrick’s Star Wars becomes more balletic and contemplative. Both are pitch-perfect.

See also Wes Anderson’s Star Wars. (via daringfireball)

Corporations are fleecing billions of dollars from employees through title inflation: call someone a manager and they can’t get paid for their overtime work.

Viola Davis achieved EGOT status last night. Emmy: How To Get Away With Murder (actress). Grammy: Finding Me (audiobook recording). Oscar: Fences (actress). Tony: King Hedley II, Fences (both actress).

HBO’s Gritty Prestige TV Adaptation of Mario Kart

If you’ve ever wondered what HBO and the producers of The Last of Us might do with some slightly different source material, Pedro Pascal and the cast of Saturday Night Live took a crack at a gritty adaptation of Mario Kart. I mean, I would 100% watch this.

SNL’s Big Hollywood Quiz deftly lampoons our current celebrity & streaming media overload.

Gene editing company Colossal Biosciences is going to try to bring back the dodo bird. It wouldn’t be an exact replacement…more of a dodo-ish pigeon.

The wind chill on Mount Washington in NH dropped to -108°F last night, setting a record for the lowest wind chill ever recorded in the US. (The “feels like” temp at my place in VT last night was about -50°F.)

It’s so cold in New England right now that “the troposphere could dip below the summit of Mount Washington”, which would then be briefly located *in the stratosphere*. WHAT?! This is literally a plot point in The Day After Tomorrow.

How Fairy Tales Break All The Rules

Fairy tales are fun to read not least because they violate every rule of what makes “good” literary fiction:

Instead of “show don’t tell,” fairy tales prioritize telling over showing. Instead of demanding “round characters,” fairy tales embrace flat ones. Instead of logical “worldbuilding,” fairy tales operate with a surreal dream logic in abstract settings. Instead of starting “in media res,” they start “once upon a time.” Instead of “telling the story only you can tell,” fairy tales ask you to retell stories that have been told for centuries. So on and so forth.

In The Writer’s Notebook, Kate Bernheimer identifies four key structural qualities of fairytale storytelling:

Flatness—specifically flatness of character. Fairy tales don’t delve into the psychology or interiority of characters, and typically limit them to one or two adjectives. The beautiful princess. The evil king. Etc. Similarly, fairy tales don’t have traditional character arcs or worry about “dynamic characters.” The evil witch at the start is probably going to be an evil witch at the end.

Abstraction—a general minimalism of description. Only a few colors are used and details are abstracted. “A young woman lived in a small house by the dark woods,” rather than a detailed layout of the house and a catalogue of the the types of trees in the forest.

Intuitive logic—essentially a dream logic or poetic logic, not far removed from what we would call “surrealism” or “magical realism” in a contemporary story.

Normalized magic—probably self-explanatory: magic is normalized. Characters are unsurprised if a cat begins to talk or a mermaid swims by. There is no SFF worldbuilding to explain or rationalize the fantastic elements.

Lincoln Michel, who wrote this summary, adds two more:

Open artifice—fairy tales eschew the standard methods of hiding fictional artifice and instead present themselves as pure story. As yarn, joke, fable. Fairy tale narrators often interject commentary or address the reader. And the classic fairy tale frame tells us we’re entering and then leaving pure story. These days, the classic frame has been reduced to “Once upon a time…” and “…happily ever after.” In traditional fairy tales, the openings and closings were even more overt in telling you “this isn’t real”: “Once there was, there never was” to start, say, and something absurd like the following to close: “I was also there in my red trousers and ate a lentil on a spit and if that lentil fits on the spit then you also have to believe my tale.”

A non-setting—fairy tales typically take place in a vague non-setting, in which we are never pinned down in specific time periods or locations. “Once upon a time a beautiful princess lived in a golden castle” instead of “In the 12th century, the heir to the Hapsburg dynasty lived in a castle by the Aar river” or what not. Specific names, dates, and locations—whether real or invented—deflate the fairy tale mode.

All of this again is contrary to the rulebound advice writers get for modern storytelling, making fairytales (in Michel’s formulation) “a kind of MFA antidote.” Stories seem to work when they have rules; it doesn’t always seem to matter what those rules are.

Another Rosetta Stone

The 4,000-year-old tablets reveal translations for 'lost' language, including a love song. (Image credit: Left: Rudolph Mayr/Courtesy Rosen Collection. Right: Courtesy David I. Owen)<br />

Two ancient clay tablets discovered in Iraq in the 1980s and possibly smuggled illegally to the United States during the Iran-Iraq War (!) bear cuneiform-like writing. But while one of the scripts is in Akkadian, a kind of Babylonian lingua franca that is well-known to scholars of ancient writing, the other is in Amorite, a “lost” Semitic/Canaanite language that is not well-attested elsewhere. Put the two together, and you have another Rosetta Stone for deciphering an ancient script scholars otherwise couldn’t read.

The account of the Amorite language given in the tablets is surprisingly comprehensive. “The two tablets increase our knowledge of Amorite substantially, since they contain not only new words but also complete sentences, and so exhibit much new vocabulary and grammar,” the researchers said. The writing on the tablets may have been done by an Akkadian-speaking Babylonian scribe or scribal apprentice, as an “impromptu exercise born of intellectual curiosity,” the authors added.

Yoram Cohen, a professor of Assyriology at Tel Aviv University in Israel who wasn’t involved in the research, told Live Science that the tablets seem to be a sort of “tourist guidebook” for ancient Akkadian speakers who needed to learn Amorite.

One notable passage is a list of Amorite gods that compares them with corresponding Mesopotamian gods, and another passage details welcoming phrases.

“There are phrases about setting up a common meal, about doing a sacrifice, about blessing a king,” Cohen said. “There is even what may be a love song. … It really encompasses the entire sphere of life.”

Amorite is a western Semitic language, like ancient Hebrew, but these tablets, estimated to be 4000 years old, are at least 1000 years older than any extant Hebrew writing. (The Amorites were one of the frequent enemies of the ancient Hebrews.)

Layoffs on TikTok

Just about everything on the web is on TikTok, and going viral there too, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that people who’ve been laid off are there too, trying to figure out what it all means.

Part of me is cynical about this. You mean that as people, we’re so poorly defined without our jobs that our only resource is to grind out some content about it? But on the other side of the coin, making content is what human beings do. Other animals use tools, but do they make content? Apart from some birds, probably not.

My favorite TikTok layoff video is by Atif Memon, a cloud engineer who offers a clear-eyed appraisal of her situation:

@atif_kaloodi So true !! #cloudengineer #sysadmin #layoffs #microsoftlayoffs #googlelayoffs original sound - Atif Memon

“At the company offsite, we celebrated our company tripling its revenue in a year. A month later, we are so poor! Who robbed us?”

“Even if ChatGPT can take away our jobs, they’ll have to get in line behind geopolitics and pandemic and shareholders and investors. I lost my job because the investors of the company were not sure will become 400x in the coming year. ‘How will we go to Mars?’ Someone else lost their job because the investors thought ‘Hmm, if this other company can lay off 12k people and still work as usual, shouldn’t we also try?”

“Artificial intelligence can never overtake human paranoia and human curiosity. AI can only do what human beings have been doing. Only humans can do what no human has done before.”

A lot to chew on in four minutes.

Update: Apparently this is not native to TikTok, but was posted to YouTube by a comedian, Aiyyo Shraddha. It really is a perfect TikTok story! The video is a ripoff.

The Italian Futurists declared war on pasta on the early 20th century. “Too traditional!” said Filippo Marinetti. “Holding us back!” - so of course they named a pasta sauce after him.

A Eulogy for Gawker. Despite having designed the logo & the initial website (for a pittance, I might add), I do not have fond feelings for Gawker. “Gawker sometimes bullied people, and it sometimes punched down.”

Another Castle Built On Shit

A mockup of a California vanity licnese plate reading ASSMAN7

Twitter has announced that it will end free access to its API, likely bringing to an end most of the sites’ popular bot accounts (including @kottke, which powers this site’s QuickLinks feature). At BuzzFeed, Katie Notopoulos and Pranav Dixit interviewed some of the bots’ creators.

Daniel, the 23-year-old student in Germany behind @MakeItAQuote, told BuzzFeed News he would have never started it if there were a fee attached. “It’s a step in the wrong direction, as most of the API usage brings a lot of value to the platform,” he said. “And the fact that even myself, operating one of the biggest bots on the platform, has to consider shutting it down is very concerning. There are a lot of awesome, less popular bots. I don’t think any of them can be sustainable.”

I think @oliviataters creator Rob Dubbin may have said it best:

“Vichy Twitter had already stopped being a cool place to put bots or art in general, but the fact that until today you could still run your bots if you wanted to was a tether to a better time in its history, when it was more of a social canvas for goofy experimentation and feedback,” Dubbin told BuzzFeed News. “Is charging for API access a good business idea? Who cares! It’s another castle built on shit.”

You can follow the @kottke bot anywhere on the Fediverse. RSS remains free.

Kafka’s Diaries / The Writer’s Desk as Theater

kafka theater wide.png

Franz Kafka’s Diaries, a combination of a private journal and a sketchbook for stories and essays, have been available in English since 1948, but in a much altered form, prepared by Kafka’s friend and literary executor Max Brod (who famously ignored his friend’s instructions to burn whatever remained). Brod tidied up the diaries for publication, removing multiple aborted drafts and excising anything that he thought might be embarrassing.

A new German edition published in 1990 restored some of the chaos to Kafka’s diaries, but it’s only in this year that the unexpurgated diaries have been translated into English, by Ross Benjamin. The overall impression is of a Kafka who is less censored, more frank, more Jewish, and funnier, but also remorseless in his self-upbraiding to write more, to write better, to write something true.

The translation is not always as sure-footed as its predecessor; sometimes its literalness ignores idioms and hews too closely to the original punctuation, producing a clumsy impression where Kafka’s German is as graceful and artful as ever.

Here is Benjamin’s version of one of my favorite early passages of the Diaries, from Notebook 2, written over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1910:

24 (December 1910) Now I have taken a closer look at my desk and realized that nothing good can be done on it. There’s so much lying around here, forming a disorder without regularity and without any compatibility of the disordered things, which otherwise makes every disorder bearable. Let there be whatever disorder there may on the green cloth, the same was allowed in the orchestra of old theaters. But the fact that from the standing room…

25 (December 1910)… from the open compartment under the upper part of the desk there are brochures, old newspapers, catalogues picture postcards, letters, all partly torn, partly opened coming out in the form of a staircase, this undignified state spoils everything. Individual relatively huge things in the orchestra appear in the greatest possible activity, as if it were permitted in the auditorium of the theater for the merchant to put his account books in order, the carpenter to hammer, the officer to brandish his saber, the priest to speak to the heart, the scholar to the intellect, the politician to the public spirit, for lovers not to restrain themselves, etc. Only on my desk the shaving mirror stands upright, the way one needs it for shaving, the clothes brush lies with its bristle surface on the cloth, the wallet lies open in case I want to pay, from the key ring a key sticks out ready for work and the tie is still partly looped around the taken-off collar. The next higher open compartment, already hemmed in by the small closed side drawers, is nothing but a junk room, as if the low balcony of the auditorium, basically the most visible part of the theater were reserved for the most vulgar people for old bon vivants, among whom the filth gradually comes from the inside to the outside, coarse fellows who let their feet hang down over the balcony railing, families with so many children that one takes only a brief glance without being able to count them introduce here the filth of poor nurseries (indeed there’s already a trickling in the orchestra) in the dark background sit incurably sick people, fortunately one sees them only when one shines a light in, etc. In this compartment lie old papers I would have long since thrown away if I had a wastepaper basket, pencils with broken points, an empty matchbox, a paperweight from Karlsbad, a ruler with an edge the bumpiness of which would be too awful for a country road, many collar buttons, dull razorblades (for them there is no place in the world), tie clips and another heavy iron paperweight. In the compartment above —

Wretched, wretched and yet well meant. Yes, it’s midnight, but since I’ve slept very well, that is an excuse only insofar as during the day I would have written nothing at all. The burning electric light, the silent apartment, the darkness outside, the last waking moments they give me the right to write and be it even the most wretched things. And this right I use hastily. So that’s who I am.

Ted Gioia on ChatGPT as a confidence game: “The con artist always gives people exactly what they want. And in a post-truth society, nobody does this better than AI.”

Jamelle Bouie: “I think it’s worth saying, again, that the institution of American policing lies outside any meaningful democratic control.”

“In academia the Soviet Jew has long been seen as an ideological suitcase ripe for stuffing.” Gary Shteyngart reviews a new book about the national ethnic group that’s usually been marked more by what it’s not than what it is:

The True Origins of Lorem Ipsum


“Lorem ipsum” is a shorthand for placeholder text, usually beginning with this not-quite-meaningful-Latin phrase. Many folk genealogies date the practice to the Latin-loving Renaissance humanists, and who knows? Maybe Aldus Manutius did have some dummy Latin that he liked to use to test a page design. But it probably wasn’t the same text we use today, and Aldus himself only enters the story in a marginal way.

Jack Shepherd argues persuasively for a much more recent lorem ipsum origin story.

The source text is definitely Cicero, although it’s two mishmashed quotes from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (About the Ends of Good and Evil) with words cut in half:

lorem ipsum loeb 1914.png

You’ll notice that this image, from the Loeb Classical Library 1914 opposing-face translation of Cicero’s work, doesn’t cut off “delorem ipsum,” or rather it does: this page is the second half of the cut. And that’s one clue that we have that this particular truncation of the text is a twentieth century practice, not a fifteenth century one.

The earliest example that anyone seems to have been able to find of Random Selections of the 1914 Loeb Facing Translation of Sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of Cicero’s De Finibus Used as Dummy Text (aka, mercifully, Lorem Ipsum) is from the 1960s. At the time, if you wanted to mock up an ad or a flier for a punk show and you didn’t have a bunch of bespoke font settings on your Imperial Model 70 typewriter, your best bet was a British company called Letraset, which sold adhesive transfer sheets with different typefaces.

Letraset used Lorem Ipsum in their advertisements, and the layout-design software company Aldus (maker of the popular PageMaker layout tool) duplicated the practice in the ’80s, which is presumably the origin point of ChatGPT’s tall tale about Aldus Manutius using Lorem Ipsum in the 16th Century.

Aldus Pagemaker Lorem Ipsum.png

You might feel a little deflated by this revelation. You mean, that’s it? It’s been software all along? We don’t stand in a noble tradition of humanist lettersetters?

Ah, but the thing is we do! Nothing screams “Renaissance humanism” more than inventing a practice and then assigning it a venerable pseudo-archaic origin. Imitation here is genuinely the sincerest form of flattery. This is perfect.

What’s the most successful Hollywood movie of all time? By gross = Avatar. By inflation-adjusted gross… still Avatar. But if you start to look at other metrics, like return on investment, the data gets a little more surprising…

The Academy loves the gritty, gory new German adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, rewarding it with nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Who hates it? German critics.

We Don’t Need To Go To Mars

Buckle up, this one is fun: Maciej Cegowski has begun what promises to be a multi-part essay arguing against a crewed mission to Mars. It’s called “Why Not Mars,” it’s 8000 words long, with 66 footnotes, and it sings. I’m not even sure I agree, but I enjoy the hell out of it.

The goal of this essay is to persuade you that we shouldnt send human beings to Mars, at least not anytime soon. Landing on Mars with existing technology would be a destructive, wasteful stunt whose only legacy would be to ruin the greatest natural history experiment in the Solar System. It would no more open a new era of spaceflight than a Phoenician sailor crossing the Atlantic in 500 B.C. would have opened up the New World. And it wouldnt even be that much fun.

A few choice lines:

Even billionaires who made their fortune automating labor on Earth agree that Mars must be artisanally explored by hand.
There is a small cohort of people who really believe in going to Mars, the way some people believe in ghosts or cryptocurrency, and this group has an outsize effect on our space program.
I think it’s time we brought the Mars talk down to earth, and started approaching a landing there as an aerospace project rather than the fulfillment of God’s plan.
The things that make going to Mars hard are not fun space things, like needing a bigger rocket, but tedious limits of human physiology.
I would compare keeping primates alive in spacecraft to trying to build a jet engine out of raisins. Both are colossal engineering problems, possibly the hardest ever attempted, but it does not follow that they are problems worth solving.
I would pay large sums of American money to be a fly on the wall at the meeting where someone tries to pitch senior career civil servants on working for Elon Musk.

And so forth. If you don’t find yourself persuaded, you should at least be hectored into entertainment. (And what a position it is, to be a citizen of a civilization in the 21st century, where one ought to be persuaded to attempt interplanetary flight).

Via Baratunde Thurston.

The Tenth Anniversary of the Twentieth Anniversary Groundhog Day Liveblog

Weatherman Phil Connors and would-be-acquaintance Ned Ryerson smile grimly at each other in a still from Groundhog Day

I know, I know — recursive humor is tricky, and most of the time, it doesn’t really work. But I was nearly as thrilled as Ned Ryerson bumping into an old friend when I noticed that my guestblogging time was going to coincide with the Thirtieth Anniversary of the classic Bill Murray / Andie MacDowell / Harold Ramis romantic comedy Groundhog Day — i.e., the tenth anniversary of’s 2013 twentieth anniversary Groundhog Day liveblog, written by Jason Kottke, Aaron Cohen, Sarah Pavis, and me.

Can you believe it’s been ten years? Feels like both just one day and a whole lifetime. It’s true; sometimes today is tomorrow.

For those few of you not content with reliving old Groundhog Day content, here are some deleted scenes of Phil Connors shooting pool and bowling a perfect game. (Look how gloriously 1993 it is! Scoring by hand!)

Bookforum the magazine has ceased publication, but Bookforum the website has (probably temporarily) made its full archive open to the public

“The Coding Is The Easy Part”: A Conversation About Accessibility In Journalism

below a traditional keyboard is a braille interface for computing for sight-impaired users

I enjoyed this Nieman Lab interview with Holden Foreman, the first-ever Accessibility Engineer at the Washington Post. I’m particularly pleased to see that Foreman is thinking about accessibility as, well, not solely a problem that can be solved by better engineering:

The coding is the easy part. Centering our work in listening, and elevating voices that have long been marginalized, is essential to improving accessibility in journalism. Trust has to be earned, and I think this is the biggest opportunity and challenge of being the first in this role. It’s counterproductive for accessibility work to be siloed from broader audience engagement and DEI work. Keeping that in mind, a lot of my initial work has included conversations with various stakeholders to get a better understanding of where and how engineering support, education, and documentation are needed. Accessibility may be viewed as a secondary concern or just a technical checklist if we don’t engage with real people in this area just as we do in others…

It’s essential to think about accessibility not just in the context of disability but also in the context of other inequities affecting news coverage and access to news. For instance, writing in plain language for users with cognitive disabilities can also benefit users with lower reading literacy. [The Post published a plain language version of Foreman’s introductory blog post.] Making pages less complex can make them more user-friendly and also possible to load in the first place for folks in areas with bad internet, etc…

There are nuances specific to the accessibility space. Not everyone with a disability has access to the same technology. Screen reader availability varies by operating system. JAWS, one of the popular screen readers, is not free to use. And there are many different types of disability. We cannot focus our work only on disabilities related to vision or hearing. We need separate initiatives to address separate accessibility issues.

Ultimately, better accessibility tools for disabled users translates to better services for everyone. That’s not the only reason to do it, but it is an undeniable benefit.

“If you had to make a list of the 10 most important airplanes ever built since the Wright Flyer, the 747 needs to be on that list. It was a quantum leap.”

Cell Phones In Prison

a sketch of different ways cellular phones are used by prisoners. 1) two women view an image of children in a field outside 2) a man uses a cell phone to make money 3) an older man uses a phone as a study aid

In most jails and prisons, cellular phones are considered contraband and can be confiscated if they’re found in a prisoner’s possession. If they’re lucky, that’s the limit of the punishment. But just because something isn’t allowed doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and phones inside lockup are popular for most of the same reasons they’re popular on the outside: they’re fun, useful tools for work or communication.

Keri Blakinger writes about the wide range of uses inmates have found for mobile phones:

Most of what I knew about illicit electronics came from press releases and news stories that offered example after example of all the bad things people could do with contraband phones, things like trafficking drugs, making threats and running scams. While it’s true those things can happen, over the past three years I’ve also seen a lot of people use their phones for good. Some use them to self-publish books or take online college classes. Others become prison reform advocates, teach computer skills, trade bitcoin or write legal briefs. I’ve seen a whole plethora of savvy and creative uses that fly in the face of stereotypes about people behind bars. “Our cell phones have saved lives,” a man in prison in South Carolina told me.

Along with communication, activism, and journalism, cell phones are popular not least because they can be used for profit (helped, not hindered, by the peculiarities of the prison economy):

Even though contraband phones can cost anywhere from around $300 to $6,000, sometimes the devices pay for themselves, because a lot of prisoners use them to earn money. One Texas prisoner I interviewed had been selling his artwork online, while others say they have used their phones to learn how to trade stocks or do online gig work. More commonly, I know guys who use their phones to get work as freelance writers. You might read their stories and not even know the author penned them from prison. Unfettered internet access makes research quicker, and one man explained that a pricey contraband phone can still end up being cheaper and more reliable than communicating in approved ways.

“Typewriter ribbons here are extortionately priced,” one federal prisoner explained. “Talk-to-text makes writing articles so much cheaper, even including the cost of the phone and the rate plan”… Some people earn money by renting out their phones or charging people to use them as hotspots to secretly connect their prison-issued tablets to the internet. “You can buy hotspot time for $1 a day,” a prisoner in one Southern state told me. “A dollar is two ramen noodle soups, and that’s how it’s paid for.”

But the most popular use for a phone in jail or prison is simply to keep in touch with friends and family outside.

When the California prisoner I spoke to got his first phone about a decade ago, the first thing he did, he said, was call his wife and ask to speak to his son. Ordinary uses like that, he said, are why most people in prison want phones.

“I mean, there are some people where you might have legitimate concerns about them having phones, and they might want to order a hit,” he said. “But in the prison I’m at, the only thing we want to order is a pizza.”

Dr Dre’s 1992 album The Chronic is once again available on music streaming services for its 30th anniversary (which, yes, was technically back in December). Enjoy!

Google’s MusicLM Generates Music from Text

A screenshot of Google's Music LM's examples of Painting Captioning Conditioning — Dali's the Persistence of Memory, a portrait of Napoleon, and Henri Matisse's Dance are all converted to captions and then music is created from the captions

Google Research has released a new generative AI tool called MusicLM. MusicLM can generate new musical compositions from text prompts, either describing the music to be played (e.g., “The main soundtrack of an arcade game. It is fast-paced and upbeat, with a catchy electric guitar riff. The music is repetitive and easy to remember, but with unexpected sounds, like cymbal crashes or drum rolls”) or more emotional and evocative (“Made early in his career, Matisse’s Dance, 1910, shows a group of red dancers caught in a collective moment of innocent freedom and joy, holding hands as they whirl around in space. Simple and direct, the painting speaks volumes about our deep-rooted, primal human desire for connection, movement, rhythm and music”).

As the last example suggests, since music can be generated from just about any text, anything that can be translated/captioned/captured in text, from poetry to paintings, can be turned into music.

It may seem strange that so many AI tools are coming to fruition in public all at once, but at Ars Technica, investor Haomiao Huang argues that once the basic AI toolkit reached a certain level of sophistication, a confluence of new products taking advantage of those research breakthroughs was inevitable:

To sum up, the breakthrough with generative image models is a combination of two AI advances. First, there’s deep learning’s ability to learn a “language” for representing images via latent representations. Second, models can use the “translation” ability of transformers via a foundation model to shift between the world of text and the world of images (via that latent representation).

This is a powerful technique that goes far beyond images. As long as there’s a way to represent something with a structure that looks a bit like a language, together with the data sets to train on, transformers can learn the rules and then translate between languages. Github’s Copilot has learned to translate between English and various programming languages, and Google’s Alphafold can translate between the language of DNA and protein sequences. Other companies and researchers are working on things like training AIs to generate automations to do simple tasks on a computer, like creating a spreadsheet. Each of these are just ordered sequences.

The other thing that’s different about the new wave of AI advances, Huang says, is that they’re not especially dependent on huge computing power at the edge. So AI is rapidly becoming much more ubiquitous than it’s been… even if MusicLM’s sample set of tunes still crashes my web browser.

Michael Jackson’s nephew Jaafar (one of Jermaine’s sons) will play MJ in a new biopic directed by Antoine Fuqua (Emancipation) and produced by Graham King (Bohemian Rhapsody)

Were the Earliest Cave Paintings Calendars?

A series of early cave paintings isolating proto-writing elements

Since striking ancient cave paintings in southern Europe were first discovered more than a century ago, modern humans have tried to figure out if they have a meaning beyond being staggering works of art. Are they early animations? Examples of a primeval need to tell stories? An antique backdrop for us to project contemporary mistakes?

A new theory proposes that the repeatedly occurring nonfigurative signs (the ones that don’t look like anything concrete) are a kind of protowriting. This guess has been floated before, but this time, a number of earlier proposals are synthesized, and there’s a semantics attached: the symbols in the caves, these researchers argue, were used to mark time:

We hypothesize that the number of lines/dots, or the ordinal position of symbols, in sequences associated with depictions of prey taxa in Upper Palaeolithic art, convey information about events in those animals’ annual lives important to hunter-gatherers, expressed in lunar months RBS, i.e. anchored to the start of the bonne saison. That information is likely to reflect birthing, and possibly mating and/or migration of the animals of concern in the region in which the images are found (or originated).

A relatively simple statistical analysis shows good correlation with the number of marks and the number of lunar months between cycles of mating/birthing. In this way, early hunter/gatherers might have been able to track the availability of bird eggs, or to find new prey.

This would be a revolution in the history of recorded information:

Although a series of marks can of course be ambiguous, the Upper Palaeolithic written system was thus clear, unambiguous and permanent, and could have widespread meaning irrespective of any linguistic barriers (about which, of course, we know nothing), particularly given the fact that our database contains samples from across western—and some central—Europe. It made possible the accumulation and transmission of intelligible information over multiple generations, independent of the need to maintain parallel oral explanations (although of course we do not propose that these simply disappeared). This was clearly much more than a simple ‘tally’ of accumulated information. We believe that the numeric notational marks associated with the animals constituted a calendar, and given that it references natural behaviour in terms of seasons relative to a fixed point in time, we may refer to it as a phenological calendar, with a meteorological basis. It may be of greater significance, however, that it significantly backdates by thousands of years the permanent combination of information (in the form of numerosity/ordinality) with its subject (the animal/symbol).

But is it writing?

In our reading, the European Upper Palaeolithic system functioned to record a subject and information about the behaviour of that subject expressed in relation to natural events; it therefore expressed far more than the tablets recording numbers of commodities from Uruk-period Mesopotamia (Steinkeller 1992). In the sense of the Sumerological use of the terms, we suggest that we can accord it the function of a script. But could the information that it recorded really be intelligible without at least the underpinning nouns for the animals, the moon and its phases, and the bonne saison and its defining events, in addition to the actions of mating and birthing? We will presumably never know the specific words for these in whatever languages were spoken in Upper Palaeolithic Europe, but we can assume that our script could be communicated orally by using them. Is this, then, not the definition of writing?

We may not be convinced that the Upper Palaeolithic sequences and associated symbols can be described as written language, given that they do not represent grammatical syntax, but they certainly functioned in the same way as proto-cuneiform… We do not want to press the controversial (and in many senses, semantic) question of whether writing was a Palaeolithic invention; perhaps it is best described as a proto-writing system, an intermediary step between a simpler notation/convention and full-blown writing. Assuming we have convinced colleagues of our correct identification, there will no doubt be a lively debate about precisely what this system should be called, and we are certainly open to suggestions. For now, we restrict our terminology to proto-writing in the form of a phrenological/meteorological calendar. It implies that a form of writing existed tens of thousands of years before the earliest Sumerian writing system.

To translate this out of scholarly passive-aggressiveness: “you don’t have to call it writing if you want to be dicks about it, but we all know it’s writing, chumps.”

Apollo, As Seen by Young Girls

Three girls quoted in a 1971 Billings Gazette article about the Apollo program — Betsy Longo, Amy Ponich, Jennifer Dettmann

On February 7, 1971, the Billings Gazette, a local Montana newspaper, ran a story by Carol Perkins titled “Apollo — As Kids See It.” They interviewed young kids, from 5 to 11, and a range of boys and girls, to get their opinion about NASA’s then-current manned moon missions. Paleofuture’s Matt Novak zeroes in on the girls:

“I wouldn’t like to go to the moon. It’s not really a place for girls,” said 7-year-old Joan Anderson, who would be about 58 years old now.

“I think it would be fun to marry an astronaut. He would be rich and famous,” said 5-year-old Gail Standard.

“He’d be gone away a lot, so I would go with him. I’d wear a girl’s astronaut uniform and cook a lot of potatoes,” said 6-year-old Jennifer Dettmann, speaking of her potential astronaut husband.

There are a lot of myths about the Apollo space program. Chief among them is that most Americans fervently supported the space program’s enormous costs. In reality, most Americans of the 1960s thought the Apollo space program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer funds, with many people asking why that money wasn’t being spent to fight homelessness or hunger in the U.S.—the same criticisms you hear today.

In fact, one of the girls quoted in the article, 11-year-old Betsy Longo, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think they should use so much money to go to the moon,” Longo said. “They should use it to stop cancer and help people here on Earth.”

One 10-year-old, Amy Ponich, was the only girl in the article who seemed receptive to the idea that she could have a role to play in America’s exploration of space, telling the reporter that she wanted to be a scientist to “discover more frontiers.”

“We need to know what the moon is made of and how it related to the Earth,” Ponich said.

The US Apollo program only included men, but the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983, twelve years after this article. Since the Apollo program ended in 1972, no human beings have landed on the moon.

Archives · January 2023