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All These Balls Are the Same Color?!

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

optical illusion where several balls that appear to be the same color actually aren't

Oh dear, this illusion just totally broke my brain. No can write now. Somehow all same ball colors. What world? What earth? Why live? (Even after reading and seeing the explanation, I had to drag this into my photo editing app to verify it with my own eyes. True true. Oh, humanity.) (via @flyosity)

A Reevaluation of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

A new documentary film called Carterland and Jonathan Alter’s biography His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life (ebook) are among the recent media attempting to reconsider and recontextualize the presidency of Jimmy Carter. From Megan Mayhew Bergman in The Guardian:

“Here’s what people get wrong about Carter,” Will Pattiz, one of the film’s directors tells me. “He was not in over his head or ineffective, weak or indecisive — he was a visionary leader, decades ahead of his time trying to pull the country toward renewable energy, climate solutions, social justice for women and minorities, equitable treatment for all nations of the world. He faced nearly impossible economic problems — and at the end of the day came so very close to changing the trajectory of this nation.”

Will’s brother, Jim, agrees. “A question folks should be asking themselves is: what catastrophes would have befallen this country had anyone other than Jimmy Carter been at the helm during that critical time in the late 1970s?”

I’m gonna need a three-episode series about Carter on You’re Wrong About, stat. If there’s any justice in the world (wait, don’t answer that), in 50 years’ time Ronald Reagan’s presidency will be considered the disaster that is was and Carter’s will look better in comparison.

If you’re interested in seeing Carterland, it looks as though it’s not out widely quite yet — the only place I could even find a trailer is on this Atlanta Film Festival page (click “Play Trailer” at the bottom of the page).

Michael Lewis’s New Book About the Pandemic (and Who Should Have Been in Charge)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

book cover for The Premonition by Michael Lewis

When large, seemingly sudden systemic failures occur, Michael Lewis is one of those writers who’s just waiting to pounce on it and tell us all about it. So it’s not a surprise to see that his new book comes out tomorrow: The Premonition: A Pandemic Story (ebook). From a Time interview with Lewis:

The Premonition makes sense of the COVID-19 pandemic through three people, each of whom knows a great deal about how to stop it-and none of whom is ever approached by the U.S. government: A “redneck epidemiologist” named Carter Mercher who had written the closest thing the government had to a pandemic strategy; Joe DeRisi, a McArthur Fellow who once built a chip containing all the world’s viruses; and Dr. Chastity Dean, an obscure local health official in California.

And from a mainly positive review by the NY Times’ Jennifer Szalai:

True to form, Lewis makes few grand claims for what he finds, preferring instead to let the curated details speak for themselves. “I like to think that my job is mainly to find the story in the material,” he writes in the prologue. “I think this particular story is about the curious talents of a society, and how those talents are wasted if not led. It’s also about how gaps open between a society’s reputation and its performance.”

The main question running through “The Premonition” is how, when it came to the initial Covid response, a very rich country that was ranked first globally in pandemic readiness in 2019 managed to incentivize almost all the wrong things.

Of course, this is the reality that all of us have been living for the past year, so the failures of the system don’t come as much of a surprise. Still, Lewis finds ways not just to showcase the brokenness of the system writ large but to zoom in on the sand in the gears.

But Szalai also notes the drawback of most of Lewis’s books:

This method of hewing so tightly to his characters’ perspectives gives Lewis’s narrative its undeniable propulsion, but it also comes at a cost. He doesn’t supply any endnotes, or even a sense of how many people he talked to. His main characters are presented to us as they would undoubtedly like to appear: charmingly obsessive, unwaveringly principled and unfailingly right.

You can listen to a brief interview with Lewis on NPR’s Morning Edition.

An Iconic Prince Guitar Solo, Reborn

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

In a career filled with iconic performances, one of the standout Prince moments came at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for George Harrison. On stage to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps were Harrison’s son Dhani, music legends Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Steve Winwood, and Prince. At about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, Prince absolutely rips the place apart with a 3-minute guitar solo for the ages. If you’ve never seen this, make sure you watch all the way to the end.

Video of the performance has been available online for years, but producer Joel Gallen recently uploaded a recut version (embedded above) that focuses more on Prince during the solo. As with all things Prince, Anil Dash shared some context for the performance, including this amazing detail about what happened to the guitar that Prince threw into the air: “long-time guitar tech Takumi Suetsugu caught the guitar & handed it to Oprah”. AS YOU DO. Dash also shared this photo by Afshin Shahidi of Prince walking, guitar in hand and seemingly unnoticed in NYC, to rehearsals for the Hall of Fame ceremony in question.

Prince walking in NYC with his guitar in hand

Update: This is a great oral history of the ceremony written in 2016.

Tom sort of went over to him and said, “Just cut loose and don’t feel sort of inhibited to copy anything that we have, just play your thing, just have a good time.” It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.

Aerial Footage of Chicago from a Dirigible (1914)

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

From the US National Archives, an 8-minute film of aerial footage filmed from a dirigible piloted by Roy Knabenshue in 1914. I am not super familiar with Chicago and the architecture of the time, but given the city’s role in the development & popularization of the skyscraper, I bet there are some amazing views in here of iconic buildings not so long after they were constructed as well as some buildings and spaces that no longer exist.

If you wish, you can also watch the upsampled, colorized, and “AI enhanced” version of this video. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of these, uh, restorations. We shouldn’t accept crappy colorization of historic B&W films just because an AI did it. (via @davidplotz)

A Revolutionary NES Tetris Technique Gaining Steam

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

The NES version of Tetris has been out in the world for more than 30 years now. Somehow, using the same controllers and human hands that have been in use all this time, a new technique has been invented that’s resulting in scores and maneuvers that no one using The Old Ways could have dreamed of. One YouTube commenter sums it up:

The fact that we are still out here revolutionizing the mere concept of pressing a button on a controller that is almost 40 years old. I love this community.

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

See also Jacob Sweet’s piece from the New Yorker a couple of months ago, The Revolution in Classic Tetris, which contains this unbelievable tidbit:

Dana Wilcox, one of the highest-scoring players on the Twin Galaxies leaderboard, discovered that she’d played for twenty years without knowing that the blocks could be spun in either direction.

(via robin sloan)

Magnus Carlsen’s Remarkable Memory

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

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

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

Update: Former world champion Garry Kasparov:

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

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

The 1619 Project Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

1619 Project Book

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

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

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

1619 Project Book

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Finalists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 finalist

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

Paddington in Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2021

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

Paddington in Film

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

Desus and Mero Go to the Met Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

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

Healing Grid Optical Illusion

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Healing Grid

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

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

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

(via @kanair)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Animated Primer on Black Holes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

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

The Tight Fit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

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

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

(via @johnpavlus)