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W.E.B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits of Black American Circa 1900

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the hand-drawn infographics of W.E.B. Du Bois, noting that the great African American author, sociologist, historian, and activist was also a hell of a designer. Now Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert have collected Du Bois’ data portraits of black America into a new book, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.

Web Du Bois Infoviz

Web Du Bois Infoviz

The colorful charts, graphs, and maps presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition by famed sociologist and black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois offered a view into the lives of black Americans, conveying a literal and figurative representation of “the color line.” From advances in education to the lingering effects of slavery, these prophetic infographics — beautiful in design and powerful in content — make visible a wide spectrum of black experience.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits collects the complete set of graphics in full color for the first time, making their insights and innovations available to a contemporary imagination. As Maria Popova wrote, these data portraits shaped how “Du Bois himself thought about sociology, informing the ideas with which he set the world ablaze three years later in The Souls of Black Folk.”

Celebrity Then & Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

Ard Gelinck photoshops celebrities posing with their younger selves and posts the results on Instagram.

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

The Hoover Dam’s “Hidden” 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

There’s a little-known monument located at the site of the Hoover Dam that shows the progression of “North Stars” as the Earth moves through its 25,772-year change of rotational axis. Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation couldn’t find much public documentation related to this celestial map, so he did some research.

I now had some historical text and photos, but I was still missing a complete diagram of the plaza that would allow me to really understand it. I contacted the historian again, and she obtained permission from her superiors to release the actual building plans. I suspect that they generally don’t like to release technical plans of the dam for security reasons, but it seems they deemed my request a low security risk as the monument is not part of the structure of the dam. The historian sent me a tube full of large blueprints and a CD of the same prints already scanned. With this in hand I was finally able to re-construct the technical intent of the plaza and how it works.

In order to understand how the plaza marks the date of the dam’s construction in the nearly 26,000-year cycle of the earth’s precession, it is worth explaining what exactly axial precession is. In the simplest terms, it is the earth “wobbling” on its tilted axis like a gyroscope — but very, very slowly. This wobbling effectively moves what we see as the center point that stars appear to revolve around each evening.

Presently, this center point lies very close to the conveniently bright star Polaris. The reason we have historically paid so much attention to this celestial center, or North Star, is because it is the star that stays put all through the course of the night. Having this one fixed point in the sky is the foundation of all celestial navigation.

Here are some explanatory notes that Rose wrote over the blueprints of the monument showing how to read the map:

Hoover Celestial Map

The Water Dancer, a Forthcoming Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

Having thoroughly conquered the world of nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates now has his sights set on fiction. His first novel, The Water Dancer, is due out in September. Here’s the cover and a synopsis:

Water Dancer Coates

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage — and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child — but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn’t understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram’s private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he’s ever known.

The NY Times has a bit more info here about the book.

Fan Ho’s Street Photography of 50s & 60s Hong Kong

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

Fan Ho

Fan Ho

When he was a teenager, Fan Ho grabbed his father’s camera and started documenting street scenes in Hong Kong. From there, he built up a documentary body of work that puts him among the great practitioners of street photography.

Dubbed the “Cartier-Bresson of the East”, Fan Ho patiently waited for ‘the decisive moment’; very often a collision of the unexpected, framed against a very clever composed background of geometrical construction, patterns and texture. He often created drama and atmosphere with backlit effects or through the combination of smoke and light. His favorite locations were the streets, alleys and markets around dusk or life on the sea.

What made his work so intensely human is his love for the common Hong Kong people: Coolies, vendors, hawkers selling fruits and vegetables, kids playing in the street or doing their homework, people crossing the street… He never intended to create a historic record of the city’s buildings and monuments; rather he aimed to capture the soul of Hong Kong, the hardship and resilience of its citizens.

Before his death a few years ago, Ho selected some images from his archives that have become the basis of a new show at the Blue Lotus Gallery.

The photographic selection expressed in this new body of work feels more natural, indeed closer to documentary and pure street photography compared to his previously highly stylised approach. In his own manifesto ‘Thoughts on Street Photography’ which he wrote at the age of 28, and of which carefully selected quotes can be found throughout the book, he explains, “my realistic street photos are rarely selected. Pictorial aesthetics and images with a sense of humour are still the key for salon photos but I expect changes to happen soon. In the meantime, I will just keep trying.”

(via moss & fog)

Lego Prosthetic Arms

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

19-year-old bioengineering major David Aguilar, aka Hand Solo, has built himself a series of prosthetic arms out of Lego. In this short video, he shows off some of the arms, including his latest 4th generation model:

He built his first Lego prosthetic limb when he was 18. According to this Reuters article, Aguilar names his arms using the same system as Iron Man uses for his armor suits (MK-1, MK-II, etc.) and wants to build low-cost prosthetics after he graduates from college.

The Evidence Mounts: Uber/Lyft Are Bad for Our Cities

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

At Streetsblog, Angie Schmitt has compiled a handy list of all the ways in which ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft are having significant negative effects on our cities, the environment, and our health.

Uber and Lyft are just crushing transit service in the U.S. A recent study estimated, for example, they had reduced bus ridership in San Francisco, for example, 12 percent since 2010 — or about 1.7 percent annually. And each year the services are offered, the effect grows, researcher Gregory Erhardt found.

Every person lured from a bus or a train into a Lyft or Uber adds congestion to the streets and emissions to the air. Even in cities that have made tremendous investments in transit — like Seattle which is investing another $50 billion in light rail — Uber and Lyft ridership recently surpassed light rail ridership.

Transit agencies simply cannot complete with private chauffeur service which is subsidized at below real costs by venture capitalists.

Uber and Lyft (and their investors) clearly aren’t going to stop…it’s up to cities and communities to take action. They can’t just let these companies ruin their transit until ride sharing is the only thing left.

On the Health Benefits of Sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

In this piece for The Guardian, Matthew Walker says that sleeping well is the best thing you can do for your health. Here are just a couple of examples:

Routinely sleeping less than six hours a night also compromises your immune system, significantly increasing your risk of cancer. So much so, that recently the World Health Organization classified any form of night-time shiftwork as a probable carcinogen.

Inadequate sleep — even moderate reductions of two to three hours for just one week — disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke and congestive heart failure.

A lack of sleep may also increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, decrease your athletic performance, make it more difficult to control your appetite, and have mental health consequences. Walker, who is the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, says we should change our cultural attitudes towards sleep.

I believe it is therefore time for us, as individuals and as nations, to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep, without embarrassment or the terrible stigma of laziness. I fully understand that this prescription of which I write requires a shift in our cultural, professional, and global appreciation of sleep.

In my media diet roundup post for 2018, I said that getting adequate sleep has “transformed my life” and that sleep is “even lower-hanging self-help fruit than yoga or meditation”. I have not been sleeping well for the past several weeks and it’s taking a toll: I’ve been sluggish, eating poorly & erratically, feeling down, and not anywhere near my peak mental performance. This morning I woke up at 4am, couldn’t really get back to sleep, and I feel like I’m running at 60% capacity, 65% tops.

Paper Mario Bros

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

I love the aesthetic of Paper Mario Bros, a hand-drawn stop motion animation of World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. The artist, @KisaragiHutae6, drew the world in their notebook and shared some behind-the-scenes techniques on Twitter…how they crumpled the paper for stomped-on Goombas, etc.

Paper Mario How To

(via digg)

A Gesture-Controlled Touchscreen Calculator Watch from 1984

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

In 1984, Casio released their AT-552 Janus watch, which had a feature that seems years ahead of its time to these modern eyes: a calculator that worked by drawing numbers and arithmetic operators right on the screen. Check out this demo:

As the video notes, this touchscreen tech didn’t take off back in the 80s because it was quite unreliable.

BBC Earth Announces Five New Nature Documentaries, Including “Planet Earth III”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

The team at BBC Earth have announced that they’re working on five new nature documentary series set to air in the next few years, including Planet Earth III and One Planet: Seven Worlds, narrated by David Attenborough. Here’s a teaser trailer:

Fantastic news…Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II are two of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years. There’s more information about the new shows in these two BBC press release.

Perfect Planet will be a unique fusion of blue chip natural history and earth sciences explaining how the living planet operates. This five part series will show how the forces of nature — weather, ocean currents, solar energy and volcanoes — drive, shape and support Earth’s great diversity of life. It will broadcast in 2020.

Frozen Planet II will take audiences back to the wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctica. Ten years on from the original Frozen Planet, this series tells the complete story of the entire frozen quarter of our planet that’s locked in ice and blanketed in snow. It will broadcast in 2021.

Planet Earth III will be the most ambitious natural history landmark ever undertaken by the BBC. Combining the awe and wonder of the original Planet Earth, the new science and discoveries of Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, and the immersive character-led storytelling of Dynasties, the series will take the Planet Earth experience to new heights. It will broadcast in 2022.

One Planet: Seven Worlds, airing sometime later this year, will consist of seven episodes, one for each of the world’s seven continents.

Millions of years ago incredible forces ripped apart the Earth’s crust creating seven extraordinary continents. This series will reveal how each distinct continent has shaped the unique animal life found there.

We will discover why Australasia is full of peculiar and venomous wildlife; why North America is a land of opportunity where pioneers succeed; and what the consequences are for life racing to compete on the richest of all continents, South America.

Attenborough is narrating this series but it’s not clear whether he’ll be doing the same for Frozen Planet II or Planet Earth III. For one thing, the man is 92 years old and for another, Netflix is luring the BBC’s talent with promises of bigger budgets and wider reach.

A Flyover of Europa

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2019

Using recently processed data from the Galileo probe, NASA-JPL software engineer Kevin Gill created this low-altitude flyover of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

The surface was imaged between 1996 & 1998 and is made up of a water-ice crust. Despite the cracks and streaks that you can see in the video, Europa actually has the smoothest surface of any object in the solar system.

These images are not super high-res because they were taken with equipment designed and built in the 80s. But we’re going to get a better look at Europa soon…both ESA’s JUICE probe and NASA’s Europa Clipper are planning on imaging the moon in the next decade.

Me Cookie Monster. Ask Me Anything.

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

cookie-monster-journalist.jpg

We’ve established that I’m a huge fan of Cookie Monster, the most orally challenged but also the most literarily adept muppet. But even with those cards on the table, this Reddit AMA is something special.

Q: Is there anything you won’t eat? I mean, I’ve seen you eat a typewriter before…

A: Me stay away from anything in Oscar’s trashcan. Otherwise me not picky.

Q: My 7-year-old daughter is about to start selling cookies for Girl Scouts. Do you have any advice for her?

A: Don’t eat the product!

Q: There’s been a lot of famous people who have come to visit you and your friends on Sesame Street! Did any of those guests give you a cookie?

A: Me friends have surprised me with lots of cookies! Sir Ian Mckellan even gave me two cookies!

Q: Who would you most like to sing a “C is for Cookie” duet with?

A: Me would love to sing duet with Lady Gaga. Me and me friends are monsters after all. Me hope she see dis!

Q: What is the optimum number of chocolate chips per cookie?

A: Me always say the more the merrier. Me think me need at least 3.14 chocolate chippies per nom nom. MMM pi

Q: If you could only eat one type of cookie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Wow! Me didn’t realize these question be so hard. If me had to choose just one cookie, me would have to pick me Mommy’s classic chocolate chippie!

Q: We know cookies are your favourite food. What is your second favourite food?

A: Can me say more cookies…?
A2: Me thought it over. Definitely “more cookies.”

Q: My son is your biggest fan in the world. His name is Nico and he’s almost 2. Any words of advice for him???

A: Me think it important to always share your cookies. Me know it hard to do sometimes, but it da kind thing to do.
A2: Oh, and HI NICO! Me love you!

Q: What was it like working with Jim Henson?

A: Me never sure what he did, but he always around to lend a hand and give me cookie!

Q: How’s the rent on Sesame Street?

A: Me think you confused…. Rent played on different street, me think Broadway?

It goes on and on like this. Maybe I’m too much of a softie (probably underbaked… god, it’s contagious), but I love this.

Remembering J Dilla On His 45th Birthday

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

Donuts.jpg

On his 32nd birthday, February 7, 2006, J Dilla (born James Dewitt Yancey, in Detroit, MI) released an unusual instrumental album called Donuts. Three days later, he was dead, from complications of lupus. Since then, February 7 has become an especially important day for fans of Dilla and Donuts, and this year (which would have been his 45th birthday) was no different.

His local alt-weekly, the Metro Times, gathered a collection of memories from other top producers and collaborators, including Q-Tip, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and T3 from Slum Village, the underground hip-hop group to which Dilla belonged for years.

At High Snobiety, Danny Schwartz published a lengthy tribute to and analysis of Dilla’s contributions to musical history:

J Dilla operated within the rich tradition of sampling, and like many other hip-hop producers, he used the MPC to layer jazz, soul, fusion, and other styles of music on top of breakbeats. What distinguished Dilla from everyone else was his holistic approach that imbued his massive production catalogue with a dynamic range of sounds and textures. His most important innovation was that he turned off the ‘quantize’ feature of the MPC, so that his kicks and hats might arrive significantly before or after the beat. To put it another way, he loosened his beats from their rhythmic bedrock; they were not rigid, but gambled forward with a woozy lilt. One could easily argue that Dilla and Lex Luger influenced the rhythmic sensibilities of pop music more than anyone else since funk drummers like James Brown’s Clyde Stubblefield. Dilla was a perfectionist, and his rhythmic idiosyncrasies, however off-grid, were perfectly calibrated; like Gandalf, he arrived precisely when he meant to.

An MPC is a sampling machine. A little over a year ago, Vox put together a nice little video specifically about Dilla’s idiosyncratic, influential use of his MPC3000:

A 2006 feature in The Fader has memories from everyone from Madlib to Erykah Badu, but Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey (affectionately known as “Ma Dukes”) talks specifically about Donuts, probably Dilla’s most famous album (although you’re sure to start a fight if you call it or any other of his albums his “best”):

I knew he was working on a series of beat CDs before he came to Los Angeles. Donuts was a special project that he hadn’t named yet. This was the tail end of his “Dill Withers” phase, while he was living in Clinton Township, Michigan. You see, musically he went into different phases. He’d start on a project, go back, go buy more records and then go back to working on the project again. I saw it because I was at his house every day, all day. I would go there for breakfast, go back to Detroit to check on the daycare business I was running, and then back to his house for lunch and dinner. He was on a special diet and he was a funny eater anyway. He had to take 15 different medications, we would split them up between meals, and every other day we would binge on a brownie sundae from Big Boys. That was his treat.

I didn’t know about the actual album Donuts until I came to Los Angeles to stay indefinitely. I got a glimpse of the music during one of the hospital stays, around his 31st birthday, when [friend and producer] House Shoes came out from Detroit to visit him. I would sneak in and listen to the work in progress while he was in dialysis. He got furious when he found out I was listening to his music! He didn’t want me to listen to anything until it was a finished product. He was working in the hospital. He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change. “Lightworks,” oh yes, that was something! That’s one of the special ones. It was so different. It blended classical music (way out there classical), commercial and underground at the same time.

At okayplayer, Elijah C. Watson focused on Dilla’s influence on contemporary hip-hop artists, especially the emerging subgenre of lo-fi hip-hop:

Also called “chill-hop,” “jazzy hip-hop,” or the more specific “lo-fi hip-hop radio for studying, relaxing, and gaming,” lo-fi hip-hop has become a subgenre and subculture. It’s a subgenre featuring instrumentals rooted in the melancholy melodies of jazz and boom-bap drums of golden age hip-hop.

Playlists dedicated to lo-fi hip-hop can be found on music streaming services but YouTube serves as its primary base (with a looped image of an anime scene often being featured.) Channels like Chillhop Music, ChilledCow, and Private ChillOut offer 24/7 streams of the subgenre — the subscriber count anywhere from 102,000 to 2,500,000. Through these channels, the aesthetic of lo-fi hip-hop is best experienced. Fans from across the world listen to the tracks and engage with each other in real time, all while a looped image of an animated character writing or working on a laptop is featured.

At Ambrosia For Heads, Dan Charnas discusses his research for his forthcoming academic book, DillaTime: How a Hip-Hop Producer Reinvented Rhythm and Changed the Way Musicians Play:

[J Dilla’s] story gets complicated first as he encounters some of the pains of the business and then, later, illness. The thing he most wants to do becomes harder and harder for him to do. But that laser focus, as his friends and family have painstakingly documented, remains until his final hour. Talk about triumph and pain mixed together. One of the things I’ve grappled with since the day I walked into his basement in 1999 is why people have such an overwhelming emotional connection to this person and his work. And one of the answers I’ve come to is that, in every piece of music, we can somehow sense that overwhelming will and spirit…

My co-author, Jeff Peretz, and I took about 20 students to Detroit in 2017 as a part of my Dilla course at the Clive Davis Institute… The Detroit experience was a real eye-opener for our students. Context and environments are crucial to understanding. I’ll tell you one of the things that always strikes me about the D: everyone in Detroit always seems to be building something. Dilla’s ‘Uncle Herm’ isn’t just a chef and baker—he gutted and built the donut shop with his own two hands.

Hanif Abdurraqib contributed this unforgettable anecdote

We miss you, Jay. You should still be here.

Skipping Stones: “Every Throw Is a Complete New Puzzle”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2019

In this video, Wired’s Robbie Gonzalez talks to world record stone skipper Kurt Steiner, who achieved 88 skips with a stone in 2013. Steiner shares some of his techniques with Gonzalez and quickly gets him throwing better.

This video might be totally uninteresting to everyone reading this, but I just had to post it. I love skipping rocks. Ever since I was a little kid, it’s been one of my favorite things to do whenever I’m at a lake or quiet river. I may or may not have a stack of stones appropriate for skipping on the shelf next to my spare change jar. My personal record is somewhere in the mid-to-upper 20s…this throw was in that ballpark. After watching Steiner throw, I’m excited to get out in the spring and try hitting the water a little closer (and harder) than I normally do.