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“It’s Too Late”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2021

Dr. Brytney Cobia treats Covid-19 patients at the Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, a state that ranks last in the US in fully vaccinated adults. In a recent Facebook post, Cobia shares that people are willing to get vaccinated after having to watch an unvaccinated member of their family die from Covid.

I’ve made a LOT of progress encouraging people to get vaccinated lately!!! Do you want to know how? I’m admitting young healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections. One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late. A few days later when I call time of death, I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same. They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.

Heartbreaking.

Nuclear Powered Game Boy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2021

Using a small quantity of tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen) and a pair of solar panels, Ian Charnas built a nuclear powered portable game system (a knock-off Game Boy) that is capable of playing Tetris. The tritium puts out an incredibly small amount of energy, so the system uses tiny but incredibly efficient batteries that were able to power the game for an hour after charging for two months.

If you’re interested, Charnas is raffling the nuclear game system to benefit Chernobyl Children International. (via @pomeranian99)

Chess Sets Used by Jews During the Holocaust

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2021

chess set used by Jews during the Holocaust

chess set used by Jews during the Holocaust

chess set used by Jews during the Holocaust

From Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, a collection of chess sets used by Jews during the Holocaust. Some of the sets predate the war while others were made and used in camps and in hiding.

Playing chess helped to alleviate the suffering of Jews and allowed them a few brief moments of relief from the hunger, the cold and the fear, temporarily easing their loneliness and sense of isolation.

Gil Scott-Heron: Whitey on the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2021

Inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing, musician & poet Gil Scott-Heron wrote a spoken word poem called Whitey on the Moon. You can hear him recite it in the video above; here are the first few lines:

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)

Back in 2011, shortly after Scott-Heron’s death, Alexis Madrigal wrote a short appreciation of the poem:

Let me just say that his track, “Whitey on the Moon,” changed the way I thought about the space race forever. It anchored the flight into the heavens, tethering it to the persistence of racial inequality, and pulling it out of the abstract, universal realm in which we like to place our technical achievements. Though I still think the hunger for the technological sublime crosses racial boundaries, it destabilized the ease with which people could use “our” in that kind of sentence. To which America went the glory of the moon landing? And what did it cost our nation to put whitey on the moon?

Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Might Still Be Orbiting the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2021

After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon 52 years ago today in the Lunar Module (aka Eagle), they rode the ascent stage of the LM back to rendezvous with Michael Collins in the Command Module (aka Columbia). After docking, Eagle was jettisoned and the three astronauts returned to Earth in Columbia. It was presumed that Eagle orbited the Moon until eventually crashing into the surface, but a recent analysis shows that the spacecraft may have entered a stable orbit and is still circling the Moon decades after the end of the mission, a priceless artifact of an historic achievement.

Most spacecraft in lunar orbit suffer from instability in their orbits due to the ‘lumpy’ nature of the lunar gravity which tends to cause the orbits to eventually get so elliptical that they hit the moon.

However, an amateur space fan wanted to narrow down the possible impact location and used orbit modelling software to propagate the orbit forwards in time until it hit the moon. He was surprised to find that it didn’t hit the moon, and remained in a stable orbit for decades, this suggests that the Eagle may still be orbiting the moon over 5 decades after being left there.

The paper detailing the analysis suggests that if Eagle has survived, it should be detectable by radar.

Swimming Tentacled Droplets

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2021

Well, this is really quite odd. A group of scientists discovered that if they cool ordinary oily droplets floating in water down to around 2-8°C, they change shape, grow tentacles, and propel themselves around like tiny little sci-fi creatures.

Some of the particles’ facets grow while other shrink, producing a variety of geometrical forms such as kites, isosceles triangles and spiked tetrahedra. Then, from some of the sharp corners emerge tentacle-like strands, as if being extruded from a nozzle. As they grow, the strands bend into undulating shapes — and the droplets start to swim, propelled through the fluid by the tentacles’ extension.

Anti-Social Media

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2021

Roxane Gay on Why People Are So Awful Online:

Something fundamental has changed since then. I don’t enjoy most social media anymore. I’ve felt this way for a while, but I’m loath to admit it.

Increasingly, I’ve felt that online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many people feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart.

The Handshake of Generations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2021

This reading of an excerpt of Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water is a beautiful illustration of the idea of the Great Span.

Imagine that, 262 years. That’s the length of time you connect across. You’ll know the people who span this time. Your time is the time of the people you know and love, the time that molds you, and your time is the time of the people you will know and love, the time that you will shape. You can touch 262 years with your bare hands. Your great grandma taught you, you will teach your great granddaughter, you can have a direct impact on the future right up to the year 2186. Imagine that.

(via @robertsharp59)

Hilma af Klint, the Life of an Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2021

On his Art History School YouTube channel, Paul Priestley gives a short but thorough overview of the life and work of pioneering abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Hilma af Klint shared an interest in the spiritual with the other pioneers of abstract art including Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Piet Mondrian. And like Hilma af Klint many were drawn to Theosophy, which opened a route towards a new world of spiritual reality, rather than merely depicting visual impressions of the world around them.

Had she not kept her abstract work secret she would surely have held the accolade of producing the world’s first abstract paintings. Instead, Kandinsky’s paintings of 1911 would, until recently, come to be recognised as the first abstract works of art.

(via open culture)

An AI Bourdain Speaks From the Grave

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2021

I have been trying not to read too much about Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain before I have had a chance to watch it, but the few things I have read about it have given me some pause. From Helen Rosner’s piece about the film drawn from an interview with Neville:

There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “…and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.” In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

Per this GQ story, Neville got permission from Bourdain’s estate:

We fed more than ten hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model. The bigger the quantity, the better the result. We worked with four companies before settling on the best. We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony’s voice: His speaking voice versus his “narrator” voice, which itself changed dramatically of over the years. The narrator voice got very performative and sing-songy in the No Reservation years. I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that. And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.

As a post hoc ethics panel of one, I’m gonna say this doesn’t appeal to me, but I bet this sort of thing becomes common practice in the years to come, much like Errol Morris’s use of reenactment in The Thin Blue Line. A longer and more nuanced treatment of the issue can be found in Justin Hendrix’s interview of Sam Gregory, who is an “expert on synthetic media and ethics”.

There’s a set of norms that people are grappling with in regard to this statement from the director of the Bourdain documentary. They’re asking questions around consent, right? Who consents to someone taking your voice and using it? In this case, the voiceover of a private email. And what if that was something that, if the person was alive, they might not have wanted. You’ve seen that commentary online, and people saying, “This is the last thing Anthony Bourdain would have wanted for someone to do this with his voice.” So the consent issue is one of the things that is bubbling here. The second is a disclosure issue, which is, when do you know that something’s been manipulated? And again, here in this example, the director is saying, I didn’t tell people that I had created this voice saying the words and I perhaps would have not told people unless it had come up in the interview. So these are bubbling away here, these issues of consent and disclosure.

Update: From Anthony’s ex-wife Ottavia Bourdain about the statement that “Tony would have been cool with that”:

I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.

(via @drawnonglass)

Carl Sagan in 1978: Star Wars Is Too White

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

During a Tonight Show appearance in 1978, Johnny Carson asked Carl Sagan about the scientific accuracy of Star Wars. Sagan replied:

The 11-year-old in me loved them but they could have made a better effort to to do things right. A lot of different aspects of things — Star Wars starts out saying it’s on some other galaxy and then you see there’s people. Starting in scene one there’s a problem, because human beings are the result of a unique evolutionary sequence based upon so many individually unlikely random events on the Earth.

In fact, I think most evolutionary biologists would agree that if you started the Earth out again and just let those random factors operate you might wind up with beings that are as smart as us and as ethical and artistic and all the rest, but they would not be human beings. That’s for the Earth. So in another planet, different environment, very unlikely to have a human being. It’s extremely unlikely that there would be creatures as similar to us as as the dominant ones in Star Wars.

And a whole bunch of other things: they’re all white. The skin of all the humans in Star Wars, oddly enough, is like this. And not even the other colors represented on the Earth at present, much less greens and blues and purples and oranges.

Carson pushes back slightly at this point: “They did have the scene of Star Wars with a lot of strange characters.” But Sagan persists:

Yeah, but none of them seem to be in charge of the galaxy. Everybody in charge of the galaxy seemed to look like us. And I thought it was a large amount of human chauvinism.

Sagan also complained about Han Solo’s boast of doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. According to the script, this was an “obvious” lie on Han’s part to make his ship sound impressive, so Sagan missed that. But then, post-Lucas, the Kessel Run was explained in Solo: A Star Wars Story as a distance shortcut and not an elapsed completion time, so…. (via digg)

The Perfect Head Stabilization of a Hunting Red-Tailed Hawk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

I posted about the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards earlier today, but I wanted to highlight Bill Bryant’s award-winning clip of a red-tailed hawk. The hawk is hunting, floating on the wind searching for small prey, its head perfectly still while its body stabilizes around it. I could watch this clip on repeat for the rest of the day…so cool!

This is not just a thing that hawks do — see also This Owl Will Not Move His Head and The Eerie Stillness of Chicken Heads. Birds: nature’s steadycams.

Winners of the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

two eagles fighting in mid-air over a fish

closeup of a loon with water droplets on its head

two small birds walking in unison

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of the their photography competition for 2021. They also selected a top 100 from the rest of the submissions to complement the winners. The photos above are by Jerry am Ende, Sue Dougherty, and Tim Timmis. (via in focus)

PJ Harvey & Bjork Cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

This cover of the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by PJ Harvey and Bjork at the 1994 Brit Awards is kind of amazing — I’d never seen this before. The duet is a slow burn, but it really gets there in the end. BTW, this was the same night that Elton John and RuPaul performed Don’t Go Breaking My Heart together. (via @brianmcc)

“I Want You To Look Me In the Eye”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2021

Filmmaker James Robinson has an eye condition he calls “whale eyes” that causes him to see differently than (and look differently to) most people. In this short film, he makes a plea to “normal” people for acceptance of his and others’ differences.

But his video is also an essay on seeing, in the deeper sense of the word — seeing and being seen, recognition and understanding, sensitivity and compassion, the stuff of meaningful human connection.

In a society that does a lousy job of accommodating the disabled, Mr. Robinson appeals for more acceptance of people who are commonly perceived as different or not normal.

“I don’t have a problem with the way that I see,” he says. “My only problem is with the way that I’m seen.”