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A map of Odysseus’ travels in The Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

Odyssey Map

I’m currently reading Emily Wilson’s recent translation of The Odyssey, but until I looked at this map of Odysseus’ journey, I had little idea how scenic his route home was.1 The gods were hella pissed! All this time, I’d been imagining him pinballing around amongst the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, but the gods and fates blew Odysseus and his men to all corners of the Mediterranean Sea: Italy, Africa, and even Ibiza in Spain. That dude was LOST. (via open culture)

  1. The geography of The Odyssey is not quite as simple as this…you can read all about it here.

Maira Kalman’s books for kids featuring Max the dog

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

Max In Love

The New York Review is reissuing five of legendary illustrator Maira Kalman’s books for children that were originally published in the 90s. The books feature the adventures of Max the dog: Hey Willy, See the Pyramids, Swami on Rye: Max in India, Max Makes a Million, Max in Hollywood, Baby, and Ooh-la-la (Max in Love).

Kalman is a wonderful illustrator, one of my favorites. You can check out more of her work on her website.

Update: The Cut ran a long profile of Kalman by Rumaan Alam last month.

The fascinating history of the “orchestra hit” in music

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

I’m a big fan of Estelle Caswell’s Earworm series for Vox, and this most recent one might be my favorite. It’s about the “orchestra hit” sound that became super popular in the 80s…but which has its origins in an unauthorized sample of Igor Stravinsky included with an influential digital audio workstation invented in the late 70s.

If you listen to the first few seconds of Bruno Mars’ “Finesse” (hint: listen to the Cardi B remix) you’ll hear a sound that immediately creates a sense of 80s hip-hop nostalgia. Yes, Cardi B’s flow is very Roxanne Shante, but the sound that drives that nostalgia home isn’t actually from the 1980s.

Robert Fink and the inventor of the Fairlight CMI, Peter Vogel, help me tell the story of the orchestra hit — a sound that was first heard in 1910 at the Paris Opera where the famed 20th century Russian composer Stravinsky debuted his first hit, The Firebird.

Here’s the isolated sound from the original sample:

I love that all these musicians in the 80s got excited about a bit of classical music composed for a 1910 ballet, to the point where it became perhaps the signature sound of the decade.

The popularity of the orchestra hit is also a good reminder about the power of default settings. The musicians and producers who used the Fairlight CMI could record and sample any sound in the world but they ended up using this one included with the machine. Even the heavyweights — Herbie Hancock, Afrika Bambaataa, etc. — went with a default sample.

Caswell made a playlist of songs that feature the orchestra hit, with songs from Keith Sweat, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, U2, and The Smiths. Not included is the song it was sampled from…you can listen to that here.

Old memories, accidentally trapped in amber by our digital devices

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2018

Part of what humans use technology for is to better remember the past. We scroll back through photos on our phones and on Instagram & Flickr — “that was Fourth of July 5 years ago, so fun!” — and apps like Swarm, Timehop, and Facebook surface old locations, photos, and tweets for us on the regular. But sometimes, we run into the good old days in unexpected places on our digital devices.

Designer and typographer Marcin Wichary started a thread on Twitter yesterday about “UIs that accidentally amass memories” with the initial example of the “Preferred Networks” listing of all the wifi networks his computer had ever joined, “unexpected reminders of business trips, vacations, accidental detours, once frequented and now closed cafés”.

Digital Memories

Several other people chimed in with their own examples…the Bluetooth pairings list, the Reminders app, the list of alarms, saved places in mapping apps, AIM/iChat status message log, chat apps not used for years, the Gmail drafts folder, etc.

John Bull noted that his list of former addresses on Amazon is “a massive walk down memory line of my old jobs and places of residence”. I just looked at mine and I’ve got addresses in there from almost 20 years ago.

Steven Richie suggested the Weather app on iOS:

I usually like to add the city I will be travelling to ahead of time to get a sense of what it will be like when we get there.

I do this too but am pretty good about culling my cities list. Still, there are a couple places I keep around even though I haven’t been to them in awhile…a self-nudge for future travel desires perhaps.

Kotori switched back to an old OS via a years-old backup and found “a post-breakup message that came on the day i switched phones”:

thought i moved on but so many whatifs flashed in my head when i read it. what if i never got a new phone. what if they messaged me a few minutes earlier. what if we used a chat that did backups differently

Similarly, Richard fired up Google Maps on an old phone and was briefly transported through time and space:

On a similar note to both of these, a while ago I switched back to my old Nokia N95 after my iPhone died. Fired up Google Maps, and for a brief moment, it marked my location as at a remote crossroads in NZ where I’d last had it open, lost on a road trip at least a decade before.

Matt Sephton runs into old friends when he plays Nintendo:

Every time my friends and I play Nintendo WiiU/Wii/3DS games we see a lot of our old Mii avatars. Some are 10 years old and of a time. Amongst them is a friend who passed away a few years back. It’s always so good to see him. It’s as if he’s still playing the games with us.

For better or worse, machines never forget those who aren’t with us anymore. Dan Noyes’ Gmail holds a reminder of his late wife:

Whenever I open Gmail I see the last message that my late wife sent me via Google chat in 2014. It’s her standard “pssst” greeting for me: “aye aye”. I leave it unread lest it disappears.

It’s a wonderful thread…read the whole thing.

I encounter these nostalgia bombs every once in awhile too. I closed dozens of tabs the other day on Chrome for iOS; I don’t use it very often, so some of them dated back to more than a year ago. I have bookmarks on browsers I no longer use on my iMac that are more than 10 years old. A MacOS folder I dump temporary images & files into has stuff going back years. Everyone I know stopped using apps like Path and Peach, so when I open them, I see messages from years ago right at the top like they were just posted, trapped in amber.

My personal go-to cache of unexpected memories is Messages on iOS. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the list, I can find messages from numbers I haven’t communicated with since a month or two after I got my first iPhone in 2007.

Digital Memories

There and elsewhere in the listing are friends I’m no longer in touch with, business lunches that went nowhere, old flames, messages from people I don’t even remember, arriving Lyfts in unknown cities, old landlords, completely contextless messages from old numbers (“I am so drunk!!!!” from a friend’s wife I didn’t know that well?!), old babysitters, a bunch of messages from friends texting to be let into our building for a holiday party, playdate arrangements w/ the parents of my kids’ long-forgotten friends (which Ella was that?!), and old group texts with current friends left to languish for years. From one of these group texts, I was just reminded that my 3-year-old daughter liked to make cocktails:

Digital Memories

Just like Sally Draper! Speaking of Mad Men, Don’s correct: nostalgia is a potent thing, so I’ve got to stop poking around my phone and get back to work.

Update: I had forgotten this great example about a ghost driver in an old Xbox racing game.

Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together — until he died, when i was just 6.

i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.

but once i did, i noticed something.

we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.

and once i started meddling around… i found a GHOST.

See also this story about Animal Crossing. (via @ironicsans/status/996445080943808512)

A short animated explanation of Stoicism

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

From TED-Ed, Massimo Pigliucci, and Compote Collective, a short animated introduction to the philosophy of Stoicism.

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things.

Pigliucci recorded a 50-minute presentation about Stoicism if you’d like to learn more. (via open culture)

Intricate miniature models of rusty things

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

Eddie Putera makes incredibly detailed scale models and miniature scenes, often of rusting and decaying things.

Eddie Putera

Eddie Putera

I love his rusted-out smartphone:

Eddie Putera

You can follow Putera’s work on Instagram and purchase some of his pieces on his website (not photos, the actual miniature models).

The cultural shift from not selling out to blowing up

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

In an essay called After Authenticity, Toby Shorin writes:

I haven’t heard about anyone selling out in a long while. Sometime between 2008 and 2018, capitalizing on your success as an artist to build a skate brand went from being reprehensible to being the thing that everyone is doing.

This reminds me of something Jonah Peretti used to talk about all the time, the indie rock mentality vs. the hip hop mentality. From this 2010 New Yorker article:

“Remember, you’re not selling out,” Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of the Huffington Post, told Denton. “You’re blowing up. Think in terms of hip-hop, not indie rock.”

And in this 2012 interview with Sarah Lacy (partial transcript):

I think hate is good way to build community among a small group. It’s like, “We read Gawker, and we hate those fuckers at Conde Nast and we hate the person who is just a blowhard and drives around in a car and makes more money than me. We hate the celebrity at the party, but I was at a party with a celebrity.”

That’s good for creating an in-group of “we’re the cool kids”, and I see it more as like an indie rock mentality. It’s like “my band is good and all the other bands suck”. That builds a close feeling. Contrast indie rock to hip hop, where it’s like you don’t sell out you blow up.

For me, I grew up listening to hip hop, I grew up in Oakland. It’s a little bit more like, “let’s try to make something that doesn’t suck, let’s try to do great stuff, let’s try to make big things”. But it’s a little bit less of, “let’s create an in-crowd and define all the things that that in-crowd hates so that we all feel closer to each other”.

Over the last decade, hip hop won and indie rock lost (culturally speaking) and as a result, blowing up has become preferable to not selling out.

Can bacteriophages rescue us from drug-resistant bacteria?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2018

Last month when I posted a video comparing the sizes of various microorganisms, I noted the weirdness of bacteriophages, which are bacteria-killing viruses that look a bit like a 20-sided die stuck on the top of a sci-fi alien’s body.

Bacteriophages are really real and terrifying…if you happen to be a bacteria. Bacteriophages attack by attaching themselves to bacteria, piercing their outer membranes, and then pumping them full of bacteriophage DNA. The phage replicates inside of the bacteria until the bacteria bursts and little baby bacteriophages are exploded out all over the place, ready to attack their own bacteria.

I couldn’t find a good explainer (video or text) about these organisms, but over the weekend, Kurzgesagt rode to the rescue with this video. In the second part of the video, they discuss whether bacteriophages might form the basis of an effective treatment for antibiotic-resistant infections.

Ask A Native New Yorker (and Gothamist!) is back

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2018

New York City got an injection of good news earlier this year when WNYC announced they were buying Gothamist with an eye toward relaunching the site. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to procure additional funding, the site has resumed its dogged coverage of NYC.

Also back is Jake Dobkin’s great advice column, Ask A Native New Yorker. Past installments have considered burning NYC questions like Should I Buy A Mattress On Craigslist?, Should I Move Upstate?, and Is It Wrong To Read Over Someone’s Shoulder In The Subway? The series relaunched with this question: What Should I Do About My White Neighbor’s ‘Thug Life’ Doormat?

Some things never change, like gentrifiers still acting like jackasses to their new neighbors. Take this doormat: your new neighbor from Long Island probably just thought it was a cute demonstration of her realness-after all, Tupac did grow up in Harlem. She probably wasn’t even alive when his “Thug Life” album came out in 1994; it likely just seeped into her consciousness as an Internet meme, or however young people get their culture these days. What she’s failed to consider, obviously, is how other residents of the building might feel about them literally stomping on the legacy of one of the most mourned and respected rappers of all time, or the message it sends when white people appropriate the culture of black people for use as ironic home decor.

In the most recent one, published today, a reader asks: Can I Ask A Dog To Give Up Its Subway Seat?

You shouldn’t have to ask the dog, or its owner, for the seat, because the law is quite clear on this: “no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.”

There is of course an exception for “working dogs for law enforcement agencies,” “service animals,” animals-in-training, and the like, but all of them “must be harnessed or leashed.” The law clearly does not include “emotional support” dogs, and no, that letter you made your therapist write (or bought from the internet) to get your canine friend on airplane won’t help.

But Dobkin doesn’t just leave it at that…as with many of his answers, he considers the situation from the perspective of all the parties involved (the questioner, the dog, the dog owner, the MTA, fellow passengers) and then widens the scope of his answer to include NYC’s growing mass transit crisis. Good stuff.

Life in the far north

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

arctic map.png

Two stories about human settlements in the arctic north caught my eye this week. The first is about polar bear patrols in western Alaska, who try to keep bears away from towns without hurting or killing them.

“It would have been better if we would have hazed him more towards the airport, instead of through town,” says Casey Tingook, Oxereok’s nephew. He also suggests that the snowmobile passenger carry the team’s radio instead of the driver to reduce the interference from engine noise. The discussion turns to communication and how to give the village the all-clear once a bear is gone. It’s decided that phone calls should go out to houses on the fringes of town, where the bears are most likely to appear, so word can spread naturally inward from there. The men talk through their options for another few minutes and then head back out into the darkness to face their next bear.

The second story explains how melting permafrost has worsened a housing crisis throughout the Arctic region, specifically in Canada’s Nunavut territory:

In Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian province Nunavut, a good home is hard to find. An efficiency apartment runs around $2,000 a month, while a two-bedroom house will cost about $3,500. These New York prices are shocking in a small, remote town of about 7,500 people. And there still aren’t enough homes for everyone….

The main problem has to do with soil moisture. When water freezes, it expands, so the ground rises; conversely, when it thaws and the soil contracts, the ground sinks. Permafrost in many places across the Arctic is now locked in a pattern of thawing and refreezing each new season, when once it remained steady. The ground rises and sinks with each change in the weather.

Across the Arctic, roads and buildings buckle along with the ground. Russia is home to some of the largest cities in the Arctic, which are undergoing profound changes because of permafrost thaw. In the coal-mining town of Vorkuta, about 40 percent of buildings have become deformed from changes in the ground. In Norilsk, the largest city built on permafrost, about 60 percent of buildings have been damaged by permafrost thaw, and 10 percent of the houses in the city have been abandoned. Most of the changes happen gradually, but they can render buildings dangerous once they begin; a few years ago in Norilsk, a cement slab broke a doctor’s legs when a building shifted and crumbled.

I guess I’m continually amazed at how modern humans live in worlds that weren’t built for them, but find a way to adapt to them anyways. And while the arctic is an extreme example, it’s also a reminder that — not to get too existential — none of this was built for us. And none of us were made for this. We are not at home here.

You can buy almost everything local, except for grain

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

A number of bakers, farmers, and enthusiasts are trying to create a market for small-batch, locally-grown grain and flour, using either regional varieties or more exotic, specialty grains. They’re bumping up against an infrastructure that does one thing, and does it very well: process, market, and distribute commodity grain.

The emerging market for heritage and source-verified grains doesn’t really have a supply bottleneck, nor is there a lack of consumer demand. Instead, the missing piece is infrastructure for the wholesale buyer. Hungry as they are for local wheats, bakers are trying to drink from an ocean with a straw.

The biggest benefit to a different kind of wholesale system (besides consumers looking for a wider variety in their baked goods) would be to wheat farmers, who’ve seen revenues plummet on the global grain exchange. Cheap food comes at a cost.

The visual divide

posted by Tim Carmody   May 11, 2018

This story on the merger of two eyeglass giants, Essilor (“a French multinational that controls almost half of the world’s prescription lens business and has acquired more than 250 other companies in the past 20 years”) and Luxottica (“an Italian company with an unparalleled combination of factories, designer labels and retail outlets,” including Ray-Ban and LensCrafters) also contains this appraisal of the state of vision across the globe:

No one is exactly sure what it is about early 21st-century urban living - the time we spend indoors, the screens, the colour spectrum in LED lighting, or the needs of ageing populations - but the net result is that across the world, we are becoming a species wearing lenses. The need varies depending where you go, because different populations have different genetic predispositions to poor eyesight, but it is there, and growing, and probably greater than you think. In Nigeria, around 90 million people, or half the population, are now thought to need corrective eyewear…. An estimated 2.5 billion people, mostly in India, Africa and China, are thought to need spectacles, but have no means to have their eyes tested or to buy them.

“Eye-health campaigners call it the largest untreated disability in the world,” says the author. “It is also a staggering business opportunity.”

Dollar Street

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

Dollar Street is a project by Anna Rosling Rönnlund that imagines the world as a street ordered by income…poor families live at one end and rich families live at the other. A team of photographers went out and photographed the everyday items owned by families of all income levels — shoes, toothbrushes, TVs, beds, lights, sinks — so that visitors to the site can see how much income affects how families live.

Everyone needs to eat, sleep and pee. We all have the same needs, but we can afford different solutions. Select from 100 topics. The everyday life looks surprisingly similar for people on the same income level across cultures and continents.

Rönnlund explained her project at TED recently:

Bill Gates, who lives just one house in from the very end of the street (Bezos currently occupies the cul de sac), wrote about Dollar Street recently:

Income can often tell you more about how people live than location can. Whenever I visit a new place, I look for clues about which income level local families live on. Are there power lines? What kind of roofs do the houses have? Are people riding bikes or walking from place to place?

The answers to these questions tell me a lot about the people there. If I see power lines, I know homes probably have electricity in this area — which means that kids have enough light to do their homework after the sun sets. If I see patchwork roofs, families likely sleep less during the rainy season because they’re wet and cold. If I see bikes, that tells me people don’t have to spend hours walking to get water every day.

However, Gates’ conclusion — “It’s a beautiful reminder that we have more in common with people on the other side of the world than we think” — is not what I would take away from this. (via @roeeb/status/994474179339501568)

A 1915 short documentary about the evolution of the bicycle

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

This is a French film from 1915 that shows the evolution of the bicycle from 1818 to what is pretty much the rear chain-driven bicycle of today. The intertitles are in Dutch, but Aeon has helpfully translated them into English.

9. In 1878, Renard created a bicycle with a wheel circumference of more than 7 feet. Just sitting down on one of these was an athletic feat!

Open Culture shared a similar film made by British Pathé in 1937.

We found love in a hopeless battle royale game

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2018

I love this little piece by Robin Sloan about the world’s current video game obsession Fortnite Battle Royale, its relation to Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy, and how humans can turn zero-sum situations into nonzero-sum ones.

Worse, and predictably: I’d offer my heart and it would be accepted — I knew this because I received a heart in return, sometimes a merry dance emote — and then, delighted with our teamwork, I would turn around and … get blasted in the back.

I tried this negotiation many times with no success at all and my “Is this it?” curdled into “Is this us?” These were just the rules of the game — its very design — but even so. What a dire environment. What a cruel species!

Then, one night, it worked. And, in many games since, it’s worked again. Mostly I get blasted, but sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, the possibilities bloom. Sometimes, after we face off and stand down, the other player and I go our separate ways. More frequently, we stick together. I’ve crossed half the map with impromptu allies.

A book I think about a lot is Robert Wright’s Nonzero, in which he argues, contrary to conventional wisdom about capitalistic competition, that much of human progress comes about through cooperation and that the effect increases as the complexity of the possible cooperation increases. As Sloan notes, the brute force of 1 vs 1 vs 1 vs 1 can get a bit boring after awhile, but add a simple way to communicate with other players and suddenly there’s more you can do with the game.