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How A 1979 Email Chain Letter Helped Give Birth to Our Social Internet

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

Spocks-death.jpg

The Internet connects various bodies of knowledge and enables all sorts of private communication and coordination. It’s also clear in 2018, and has been for twenty-five years, that the Internet supports a variety of social media: public and semi-public communication for entertainment and cultural purposes.

Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol and general internet pioneer, traces the emerging social use of the Internet to an unlikely candidate: a 1979 chain email from MIT’s Artificial Intelligence labs, titled “SF-LOVERS,” that asked Cerf and his colleagues at DARPA and elsewhere in the network of networks called ARPANET to weigh in on their favorite science fiction authors.

Because the message had gone out to the entire network, everybody’s answers could then be seen and responded to by everybody else. Users could also choose to send their replies to just one person or a subgroup, generating scores of smaller discussions that eventually fed back into the whole.

About 40 years later, Cerf still recalls this as the moment he realized that the internet would be something more than every other communications technology before it. “It was clear we had a social medium on our hands,” he said.

The thread was a hit. It also created what might be thought of as the first online social network. Though individuals had been connected via this internet before, this was the first time they were using it for social interactions and, importantly, building a larger community identity through these personal connections. After SF-LOVERS came YUMYUM, another chain email that debated the quality of restaurants in the new Silicon Valley. (In-house gourmet chefs were still decades away.) Then WINE-TASTERS appeared, its purpose self-evident. The socialization also inspired more science with HUMAN-NETS, a community for researchers to discuss the human factors of these proto-online communities.

In the 1980s, these chain emails saw the first use of spoiler alerts, for the death of Spock in The Wrath of Khan (oops, sorry if I spoiled that for you), and emoticons: “:-)” to indicate a joke and “:-(” to indicate a non-joke. (I’d say the semantics of those has drifted over the years.)

And here we are, almost forty years later, still doing the same shit, only with slightly more sophistication and bandwidth, on the commercial successors to those early email threads.

Contemporary Versions of WPA Public Service Announcement Posters

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 12, 2018

For Topic, MGMT. Design created a series of 2018 updates to the iconic WPA public service announcement posters from the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the posters are directly imitating specific WPA posters; others have a looser inspiration.

For example, here’s a “Don’t Mix ‘Em” WPA poster:

WPA-1934-1.jpeg

And here’s the corresponding 2018 version:

WPA-2018-1.jpeg

And the rest of the contemporary series:

WPA-2018-2.jpeg

WPA-2018-3.jpeg

WPA-2018-4.jpeg

WPA-2018-5.jpeg

In the accompanying essay, the designers write that “we noticed that the advertising of the 1930s and ’40s seemed far less cynical or manipulative than it is today… Today’s distribution methods have created a relentless flood of messages, putting a torrent of information in the palm of your hand. How the public values, rejects, or embraces this version of public information is up to them.”

The other obvious difference is the overall mood of the messages. The WPA posters are direct, imperative, and point towards solutions, even when they’re being particularly grim about it. The contemporary versions are ironic, diffident, and uncertain about solutions — or at least, uncertain about solutions that can be reduced to a bold-type message across a poster. (Except “Don’t Send Dick Pics.” That one, they’ve got nailed.)

At the same time, there’s a yearning for that level of clarity, aesthetically if not intellectually. All of this seems frustrating but basically honest about the mood and limitations of this political moment.

Jackson Pollock 51

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2018

In 1950, Swiss photographer Hans Namuth took some photos of Jackson Pollock painting some of his drip paintings, which were used to illustrate a 1951 article in ArtNews. Along with photos published alongside a piece in Life in 1949, they made Pollock and his unusual technique famous.

Namuth returned with a film camera and captured the artist painting in full color motion in a short film called Jackson Pollock 51.

In the film, you can see the physicality and performative aspect of Pollock’s work, the near repetition, the footwork, the precise imprecision of his arm movements, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Pollock narrates part of the film:

I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in the big area. Having the canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way, I can walk around it, work from all four sides, and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West.

At one point, Pollock paints on glass and Namuth shoots from underneath, so you can see how it looks from the point of view of the canvas. A 1998 NY Times piece by Sarah Boxer has an account of how the photos and film were captured, including a series of incidents that brought the Namuth/Pollock collaboration (and, some say, Pollock’s life six years later) to an end:

When Pollock and Namuth came in from outside, blue from the cold, the first thing Pollock did was pour himself a tumbler of bourbon. It was the beginning of the end. Pollock had been sober (some say) for two years. Soon Namuth and Pollock got into an argument — a volley of “I’m not a phony, you’re a phony.” Then Pollock tore a strap of cowbells off the wall and started swinging it around.

With the dinner guests seated and food on the table, Pollock and Namuth continued to argue. Finally Pollock grabbed the end of the table, shouting “Should I do it now?” to Namuth. “Now?” Then he turned over the whole table, plates, glasses, meat, gravy and all. (There is a scholarly disagreement about whether it was turkey or roast beef.) The dogs lapped at the glassy gravy. Krasner said, “Coffee will be served in the living room.”

After that night, Pollock never stopped drinking. He didn’t bring in the glass painting (“No. 29, 1950”) until it was covered with rain and leaves. He returned to a more figurative style of painting. Six years later, bloated, depressed and drunk, he drove his car into a tree, killing himself and a friend.

(via open culture)

Oh, the Boston Dynamics Robot Can Do Parkour Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

I’ve watched this a dozen times now and it looks fake and I can’t figure out quite why. Is it the uncanny valley at work? This thing moves mostly like a human would…but not entirely. Look at the robot when it hops over the log. It appears too effortless…not enough recoil on the landing or something. And going up the steps, it looks like it’s levitating, like how CG characters sometimes move, unaffected by actual contact with surfaces. See also the robot’s casual gymnastics.

A Brief History of America’s Shameful Inaction on Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Vox has updated their video on how US politicians talked about climate change over the past 12 years. Until recently, climate change was more or less a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike publicly acknowledged that climate change was happening, that humans were at least partially responsible, and that we needed to do something about it. Perhaps Republicans were a little less sincere in their desire for action and all politicians were not as urgent in their response as the situation required, but at a minimum, they all believed what scientists were saying.

Then, as this video shows, after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, things shifted. Republicans increasingly came out saying, well, the science isn’t settled on this, we don’t know what is causing climate change, so we’re not going to do anything about it. They did this in part because their big political donors wanted them to.

Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Government rules intended to slow climate change are “making people’s lives worse rather than better,” Charles Koch explained in a rare interview last year with Fortune, arguing that despite the costs, these efforts would make “very little difference in the future on what the temperature or the weather will be.”

I posted about the first installment of this video last year and watching it again hit me about as hard as it did the first time around. The amount of cynicism and lack of integrity & sense of duty here is staggering. What tiny tiny minds. [Insert a lot of swearing about Republicans here that I will get email about so I’ll just save us all some time and skip it. But seriously, fuck these assholes.]

Trippy Geometric Illustrations by Andy Gilmore

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

The NY Times article about the Event Horizon Telescope that I wrote about here introduced me to Andy Gilmore’s geometric illustrations.

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Andy Gilmore

Really lovely stuff. More on his Instagram.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Role of Artists in Society

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

In times of turmoil, it can be tough to feel like the work you do to support you and your family is also nourishing to society, if you’re doing “enough”. For artists and writers at least, Kurt Vonnegut had a compelling call to duty as messengers from the near future. As part of an address to the American Physical Society published as “Physicist, Heal Thyself” in the Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1969, the author wrote:

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

He said something similar in a 1973 interview in Playboy:

Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society — just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. But it made no difference whatsoever. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists — all artists — should be treasured as alarm systems.

(via nitch)

Fly Me to the Moonmoon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2018

Moonmoon

In a paper called “Can Moons Have Moons?”, a pair of astronomers says that some of the solar system’s moons, including ours, are large enough and far enough away from their host planets to have their own sizable moons.

We find that 10 km-scale submoons can only survive around large (1000 km-scale) moons on wide-separation orbits. Tidal dissipation destabilizes the orbits of submoons around moons that are small or too close to their host planet; this is the case for most of the Solar System’s moons. A handful of known moons are, however, capable of hosting long-lived submoons: Saturn’s moons Titan and Iapetus, Jupiter’s moon Callisto, and Earth’s Moon.

Throughout the paper, the authors refer to these possible moons of moons as “submoons” but a much more compelling name has been put forward: “moonmoons”.

Moonmoon is an example of the linguistic process of reduplication, which is often deployed in English to make things more cute and whimsical. In the pure form of reduplication, you get words like bonbon, choo-choo, bye-bye, there there, and moonmoon but relaxing the rules a little to incorporate rhymes and near-rhymes yields hip-hop, zig-zag, fancy-shmancy, super-duper, pitter-patter, and okey-dokey. And with contrastive reduplication, in which a word repeats as a modifier to itself:

“It’s tuna salad, not salad-salad.”
“Does she like me or like-like me?”
“The party is fancy but not fancy-fancy.”
“The car isn’t mine-mine, it’s my mom’s.”

Fun! And astronomy should be fun too. Let’s definitely call them moonmoons.

Miniature Replicas of Japanese Kodokushi (“Lonely Deaths”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Dying alone in Japan is so common that they have a term for it: kodokushi (“lonely death”). Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up apartments after people die and for awhile now, she’s been creating miniature replicas of some of the rooms that she’s cleaned. Note: some of these images might be a little disturbing.

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kojima has been working for the clean-up company for about 4 years and explains that she cleans on average 300 rooms per year. To preserve and document the scene, the company always takes photographs of the rooms in case relatives want to see them. However, Kojima noticed that the photographs really don’t capture the sadness of the incident. And while she had no formal art training, she decided to go to her local craft store and buy supplies, which she used to create her replicas. She sometimes uses color-copies of the photographs, which she then sculpts into miniature objects. Kojima says that she spends about 1 month on each replica.

Pantsdrunk, the Finnish Art of Relaxation

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Kalsarikanni

You’ve likely heard of hygge, the Danish word for a special feeling of coziness that’s been productized on Instagram and elsewhere to within an inch of its charming life. The Finns have a slightly different take on the good life called kalsarikännit, which roughly translates to “pantsdrunk” in English. A promotional site from the Finnish government defines it as “the feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear — with no intention of going out”. They made the emoji above to illustrate pantsdrunkenness.1

Finnish journalist Miska Rantanen has written a book on kalsarikännit called Päntsdrunk (Kalsarikänni): The Finnish Path to Relaxation.

When it comes to happiness rankings, Finland always scores near the top. Many Finnish phenomena set the bar high: the best education system, gender equality, a flourishing welfare state, sisu or bull-headed pluck. Behind all of these accomplishments lies a Finnish ability to stay calm, healthy and content in a riptide of endless tasks and temptations. The ability comes from the practice of “kalsarikanni” translated as pantsdrunk.

Peel off your clothes down to your underwear. Place savory or sweet snacks within reach alongside your bed or sofa. Make sure your television remote control is nearby along with any and all devices to access social media. Open your preferred alcohol. Your journey toward inner strength, higher quality of life, and peace of mind has begun.

Kalsarikännit isn’t as photogenic as hygge but there is some evidence of it on Instagram. As Rantanen explains, this lack of performance is part of the point:

“Pantsdrunk” doesn’t demand that you deny yourself the little things that make you happy or that you spend a fortune on Instagrammable Scandi furniture and load your house with more altar candles than a Catholic church. Affordability is its hallmark, offering a realistic remedy to everyday stress. Which is why this lifestyle choice is the antithesis of posing and pretence: one does not post atmospheric images on Instagram whilst pantsdrunk. Pantsdrunk is real. It’s about letting go and being yourself, no affectation and no performance.

I have been off alcohol lately, but kalsarikännit is usually one of my favorite forms of relaxation, particularly after a hard week.

  1. That’s right, the Finnish government made emoji of people getting pantsdrunk. Americans are suuuuuper uptight.

The Best Obituary Ever?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

A Wilmington, Delaware man named Rick Stein recently died and his obituary is one of the most unique and entertaining I have ever read.

Stein’s location isn’t the only mystery. It seems no one in his life knew his exact occupation.

His daughter, Alex Walsh of Wilmington appeared shocked by the news. “My dad couldn’t even fly a plane. He owned restaurants in Boulder, Colorado and knew every answer on Jeopardy. He did the New York Times crossword in pen. I talked to him that day and he told me he was going out to get some grappa. All he ever wanted was a glass of grappa.”

Stein’s brother, Jim echoed similar confusion. “Rick and I owned Stuart Kingston Galleries together. He was a jeweler and oriental rug dealer, not a pilot.” Meanwhile, Missel Leddington of Charlottesville claimed her brother was a cartoonist and freelance television critic for the New Yorker.

One thing is certain: Stein and his family have a good sense of humor. My condolences to them on their loss. (via @mkonnikova)

Music Can Save Lives: A Playlist for Perfect CPR Chest Compressions

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

If you’re ever called on to perform CPR in an emergency but you don’t have training, the American Heart Association recommends performing “Hands-Only CPR”. There are two easy steps: you call 911 and then you press hard and fast in the center of the person’s chest 100-120 times per minute. As their fact sheet explains, familiar music can help maintain the proper tempo.

Song examples include “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira” or “Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. People feel more confident performing Hands-Only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct rate when trained to the beat of a familiar song.

When performing CPR, you should push on the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute, which corresponds to the beat of the song examples above.

New York Presbyterian Hospital maintains a Spotify playlist of “Songs to do CPR to” that hit that 100-120 bpm sweet spot.

The playlist includes songs familiar to lifesavers of all generations, from Book of Love by the Monotones to Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd to Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles to Sorry by Justin Bieber. Stayin’ Alive or Justin Timberlake’s Rock Your Body are probably more appropriate to the situation, but should the need arise, my go-to CPR song is now Crazy in Love. Who knows, Beyoncé might help save someone’s life someday. (via @juliareinstein)

Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2018 Underwater Photo Contest Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Scuba Diving magazine has announced the winners of their 2018 Underwater Photo Contest. The whale photo above is by Rodney Bursiel (see more of his whale and dolphin photos) and the one below is by Cai Songda.

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Earth-Sized Telescope Aims to Snap a Photo of Our Galactic Black Hole

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Astronomers behind the Event Horizon Telescope are building a virtual telescope with a diameter of the Earth to photograph the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The idea is that different observatories from all over the surface of the Earth all look at the black hole at the same time and the resulting data is stitched together by a supercomputer into a coherent picture. Seth Fletcher wrote a great piece about the effort for the NY Times Magazine (it’s an excerpt from his new book, Einstein’s Shadow: A Black Hole, a Band of Astronomers, and the Quest to See the Unseeable):

Astronomical images have a way of putting terrestrial concerns in perspective. Headlines may portend the collapse of Western civilization, but the black hole doesn’t care. It has been there for most of cosmic history; it will witness the death of the universe. In a time of lies, a picture of our own private black hole would be something true. The effort to get that picture speaks well of our species: a bunch of people around the world defying international discord and general ascendant stupidity in unified pursuit of a gloriously esoteric goal. And in these dark days, it’s only fitting that the object of this pursuit is the darkest thing imaginable.

Avery Broderick, a theoretical astrophysicist who works with the Event Horizon Telescope, said in 2014 that the first picture of a black hole could be just as important as “Pale Blue Dot,” the 1990 photo of Earth that the space probe Voyager took from the rings of Saturn, in which our planet is an insignificant speck in a vast vacuum. A new picture, Avery thought, of one of nature’s purest embodiments of chaos and existential unease would have a different message: It would say, There are monsters out there.

A video by the EHT team says that imaging the black hole is like trying to count the dimples on a golf ball located in LA while standing in NYC.

EHT team member Katie Bouman also did a TEDx talk on the project.

P.S. There’s a cloud near the center of the galaxy that tastes like raspberries and smells like rum.

Daniel Radcliffe, Checker of Facts

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

As research for a role in a Broadway play, Daniel Radcliffe recently did a stint as a fact-checker for the New Yorker. They had him fact-check a piece on a NYC restaurant called Oxomoco.

“Hi, Justin. I’m Dan, at The New Yorker,” Radcliffe began, twiddling a red pencil. “Some of these questions are going to feel very boring and prosaic to you,” he warned. “So bear with me. First off, your surname: is that spelled B-A-Z-D-A-R-I-C-H?” (It is.) “Does the restaurant serve guacamole?” (Yes.) “In the dip itself, would it be right to say there are chilies in adobo and cilantro?” (No adobo, but yes to the cilantro.) “Is there a drink you serve there, a Paloma?” (Yes.) “And that’s pale, pink, and frothy, I believe?” (Correct.) “Is brunch at your place-which, by the way, sounds fantastic-served seven days a week?” (Yes.) “That’s great news,” Radcliffe said, “for the accuracy of this, and for me.”