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Hisako Koyama, the Woman Who Stared at the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

In the history of science, there are women who have made significant contributions to their field but haven’t gotten the recognition that their male peers have. The field of astronomy & astrophysics in particular has had many female pioneers — Vera Rubin, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Annie Jump Cannon, Nancy Grace Roman, Maria Mitchell, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Caroline Herschel, Williamina Fleming, and many others. Add to that list Hisako Koyama, a Japanese astronomer whose detailed sketches of the Sun over a 40-year period laid the foundation for a 400-year timeline of sunspot activity, which has aided researchers in studying solar cycles and magnetic fields.

Ms. Koyama was a most unusual woman of her time. As a scientist, she bridged the amateur and professional world. She preferred “doing” activities: observing, data recording, interacting with the public, and writing. No doubt many Japanese citizens benefited from personal interaction with her. The space and geophysics community continues to benefit from her regular and precise observations of the Sun. Although we know very little of her young personal life other than she was relatively well educated and had a father who supported her desire to view the skies by providing a telescope, we can see from snippets in Japanese amateur astronomy articles that she had a passion for observing, as revealed in her 1981 article: “I simply can’t stop observing when thinking that one can never know when the nature will show us something unusual.”

Here are a few of her sunspot sketches, the top two done using her home telescope and the bottom one using the much larger telescope at the National Museum of Nature and Science (that shows the largest sunspot of the 20th century):

drawings of sunspots on the Sun by Hisako Koyama

drawings of sunspots on the Sun by Hisako Koyama

(via the kid should see this)

1000 Musicians Play Rock Songs From Nirvana, Queen, etc.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

Before I clicked play on the video embedded above of 1000 musicians playing Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters, I assumed it was going to be kind of a mess, a muddled wall of sound. Instead, I was surprised to hear something almost magical, a rock anthem played with the fullness of a orchestra or chorus, the band and the crowd merged into a single, gorgeously layered entity. I was moved by it, almost immediately. All those drummers pounding away on their drum kits in unison! You can check out this playlist for more 1000 musician versions of rock songs, including Seven Nation Army (White Stripes), We Will Rock You (Queen), and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana):

I also have to say that these videos hit me harder now, 15 months into a global pandemic that kept my family and I separated from all but a narrow slice of the world, than they would have before, especially now that things are starting to loosen up a bit and I am able to safely socialize with other vaccinated folks in person. Seeing thousands of people collectively engaged something so joyful is both a reminder of what we lost during the pandemic and what we stand to gain if we can manage to contain the virus worldwide. I think this is the reason why this video of a flash mob performing Ode to Joy went viral early on in the pandemic. All the feels. (another great find via openculture)

Your Wild and Precious Life

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

How do you know what to do with your life? The introduction to this new and uncharacteristically existential Kurzgesagt video is some real truth:

Wrapping your mind around your life is pretty hard, because you are up to your neck in it. It’s like trying to understand the ocean while learning how to swim. On most days you are busy just keeping your head above water. So it is not easy to figure out what to do with your life and how to spend your time. There are a million distractions. Your family, friends and romantic partners, boring work, and exciting projects. Video games to play and books to read. And then there is your couch that somebody needs to lie on. It’s easy to get lost.

Thinking about this stuff can be kind of a downer, as the writer of this video admits in a comment:

It’s so easy to get lost in your daily life: there are so many “urgent” and “annoying” things that you forget that actually every day is special, sort of. And even more so the days we have with friends and family. I know watching a video like this can hit pretty hard. But at least for me, the message it tries to convey does make me actually change my behavior. Reprioritize things. You know. Hope it had a similar effect for some of you.

See also Your Life in Weeks by Tim Urban.

We Know What You Did During Lockdown

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

After watching this short film on how much data private companies are able to gather about you (data that we willingly give them in some cases), you might be forgiven for thinking that, never mind some far flung future, we are living in a full-on dystopia right now. The set design, the acting, the positioning of the tables, the see-through table tops, the laptop vs. notebook…this was really well done. When the interrogator got up from his desk, I viscerally felt the invasion of privacy.

The World’s Greatest Card Trick Can’t Be Taught

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2021

World-renowned magician David Berglas, now 94 years old, does a card trick that’s so effortlessly simple and dazzling that no one has figured it out and Berglas himself says it cannot be taught.

The trick is a version of a classic plot of magic, called Any Card at Any Number. These tricks are called ACAAN in the business.

ACAAN has been around since the 1700s, and every iteration unfolds in roughly the same way: A spectator is asked to name any card in a deck — let’s say the nine of clubs. Another is asked to name any number between one and 52 — let’s say 31.

The cards are dealt face up, one by one. The 31st card revealed is, of course, the nine of clubs. Cue the gasps.

There are hundreds of ACAAN variations, and you’d be hard pressed to find a professional card magician without at least one in his or her repertoire. (A Buddha-like maestro in Spain, Dani DaOrtiz, knows about 60.) There are ACAANs in which the card-choosing spectator writes down the named card in secrecy; ACAANs in which the spectator shuffles the deck; ACAANs in which every other card turns out to be blank.

For all their differences, every ACAAN has one feature in common: At some point, the magician touches the cards. The touch might be imperceptible, it might appear entirely innocent. But the cards are always touched.

With one exception: David Berglas’s ACAAN. He would place the cards on a table and he didn’t handle them again until after the revelation and during the applause. There was no sleight of hand, no hint of shenanigans. It was both effortless and boggling.

Of course, his unwillingness to reveal how the trick works or even that he is unable to show someone else how to do it could be part of the trick. But in recent years, Berglas has pulled back the curtain on most of his other tricks, like the time he made a grand piano vanish into thin air, explained by Berglas himself in a YouTube video:

But not this card trick, as the author of the Times’ piece discovers. A delightful read.

Update: Part of the reason I love publishing posts like this (about magic and unknowable tricks) is that I know I’m gonna get some great feedback. In 2011, Richard Kaufman wrote a book called The Berglas Effects with the participation of Berglas himself in which his version of ACAAN is explained at length. Here’s Kaufman himself remarking on the Times story:

The writer is under the odd impression that “The Berglas Effect” has never been explained and is not explained in my book. There are 75 pages devoted to it.

So…huh. I wonder what the book says about the trick? (thx, bill)

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai, Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

Great Art Explained is a super YouTube series that I am somehow just now learning about that, uh, explains great art. Host James Payne has done about a dozen videos on pieces like Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and Untitled (Skull) by Jean-Michel Basquiat. His latest is about The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai.

In 1639 Japan closed its borders and cut itself off from the outside world. Foreigners were expelled, Western culture was forbidden, and Entering or leaving Japan was punishable by Death. It would remain that way for over 200 years.

It was under these circumstances that a quintessentially Japanese art developed. Art for the people that was consumed on an unprecedented scale.

Really interesting stuff. Subscribed.

See also several different versions of The Great Wave print and The Art of Traditional Japanese Printmaking. (via open culture)

Trillions and Trillions and Trillions of Stars

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

photo of a cluster of galaxies

This is a photo of a tiny tiny snippet of the universe, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Every object you see in the photo is a staggeringly massive galaxy that contains hundreds of billions of stars along with all sort of other things.

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is well over one hundred thousand light years across. We only see a pitiful portion of it. Although it contains several hundred billion stars in its expanse, we can only see a fraction of a fraction of them.

And even that doesn’t fully capture the essence of a galaxy, which also has planets, gas, dust, dark matter, and more. Galaxies are colossal objects, their true nature only becoming apparent to us a century ago.

I know I’ve posted photos like this before, but every time I see something like this, my mind boggles anew at the sheer scale and magnitude of it all and I just have to share it.

P.S. And Earth contains the only sentient life in the entire universe? Lol.

When a Raindrop Falls in the US, Where Does It End Up?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

map showing the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

a satellite fly-through view of the path of a raindrop that fell in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico

Using data from the United States Geological Survey, River Runner visualizes the path taken by a raindrop from its landing spot to its eventual endpoint. Just click on any spot in the US and it maps out the path the drop would take, complete with a satellite fly-through of the route. I spent many happy minutes playing with this, although the endpoint of “Canada” for a raindrop that lands in my Vermont yard was somewhat unsatisfying.

See also The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps and a map of all of the rivers in the US. (via waxy)

A Map of the Internet 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2021

a map of the Internet 2021

detail of a map of the Internet 2021

Translating sites, search engines, social networks, browsers, ISPs, and other internet entities into geographic features, Martin Vargic has created a map of the internet circa 2021.

It includes several thousand of some of the most popular websites, represented as distinct “countries”, which are grouped together with others of similar type or category, forming dozens of distinct clusters, regions and continents that stretch throughout the map, such as “news sites”, “search engines”, “social networks”, “e-commerce”, “adult entertainment”, “file sharing”, “software companies” and so much more. In the center of it all can be found ISPs and web browsers, which form the core and backbone of the internet as we know it, while the far south is the domain of the mysterious “dark web”.

See also an actual map of the known internet from May 1973.

100 Visions of Motherhood

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

a woman raises a smiling child in the air

a woman carrying two children

a very fashionable woman poses next to an equally fashionable girl

Curated by The Luupe, this is “a collection of photographs and words celebrating the complexities of motherhood”. And somehow even 100 photographs don’t adequately capture the vast experience of motherhood around the world. Photos above by Dee Williams, Brittany Marcoux, Diane Allford (via storythings)

A Visualization of American Age Generations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

a stacked bar chart showing the relative population distribution of age generations from 1920 to the present

From Flowing Data, a stacked bar chart showing the relative population distribution of age generations from 1920 to the present. The thing that’s really apparent to me in this graph is how the size, increased life expectancy, and better quality of life of the Silent and (especially) Baby Boomer generations really shifted the social order in America. It’s a triple whammy: this large group of very healthy people stuck around so much longer than the previous generations that they were able to keep their wealth and political/corporate power instead of handing it off to the next generations. It’s a generational firewall — they didn’t leave any room for their children or grandchildren. Instead, Gen X and Millennials got branded as lazy/apathetic and financially careless. (via @mikey_two)

The Continuing Trauma of the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

Because of the remarkable Covid-19 vaccines, the pandemic is easing in America. In many parts of the country, things are returning to some semblance of normal, whatever that means. But many will continue to struggle and come to terms with what happened for awhile longer. Ed Yong, What Happens When Americans Can Finally Exhale:

But there is another crucial difference between May 2020 and May 2021: People have now lived through 14 months of pandemic life. Millions have endured a year of grief, anxiety, isolation, and rolling trauma. Some will recover uneventfully, but for others, the quiet moments after adrenaline fades and normalcy resumes may be unexpectedly punishing. When they finally get a chance to exhale, their breaths may emerge as sighs. “People put their heads down and do what they have to do, but suddenly, when there’s an opening, all these feelings come up,” Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, told me. Lipsky has spent decades helping people navigate the consequences of natural disasters, mass shootings, and other crises. “As hard as the initial trauma is,” she said, “it’s the aftermath that destroys people.”

And it wasn’t just the pandemic:

Not everyone will feel this way. Perhaps most Americans won’t. In past work, Silver, the UC Irvine psychologist, found that even communities that go through extreme traumas, such as years of daily rocket fire, can show low levels of PTSD. Three factors seem to protect them: confidence in authorities, a sense of belonging, and community solidarity. In the U.S., the pandemic eroded all three. It reduced trust in institutions, separated people from their loved ones, and widened political divisions. It was something of a self-reinforcing disaster, exacerbating the conditions that make recovery harder.

Also, let’s not forget: “Globally, the pandemic is set to kill more people in 2021 than in 2020.”

The Last Words of Quintin Jones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2021

Last week, I posted about Texas death row inmate Quintin Jones and his plea for clemency in the face of his pending execution. Again, here is his video message to Texas governor Greg Abbott:

On Wednesday evening, in the presence of two outside witnesses, Texas killed Quintin Jones. Two journalists who were to bear witness to the execution for the public were not called into the prison by officials who somehow “forgot” to do so:

Absent were two journalists who had been scheduled to attend the execution but whom prison officials said they had accidentally failed to summon.

Before he died, a video director for the NY Times recorded a short video of Jones’ last words to the public, in which he thanked everyone for helping him be a better person and even asked viewers to consider the trauma that death row prison guards endure in the course of doing their jobs. A separate statement of his last words was recorded by prison officials:

“Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made,” Mr. Jones said, according to those state prison records. “They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness.”

Then he said, “I’m done, warden.” He was pronounced dead at 6:40 p.m.

That same day, Governor Abbott, who is a member of the so-called “pro-life” Republican party, signed a law that bans abortions in Texas after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is before many women are even aware they are pregnant.

How to Take the Perfect Nap

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

As someone who is mostly unable to nap, I’ve always felt a twinge of envy towards those who can shut their eyes, drift off for 20 minutes, and awake refreshed & raring to go. Maybe I’ll have better luck after watching this TED-Ed lesson by sleep researcher Sara Mednick (author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.), which explains when and how long you should nap for optimal results. (via open culture)

“Every Child on Their Own Trampoline”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

I suspect that if you read this site with any regularity, the pandemic has you thinking about our society’s prioritization of the rights & desires of the individual versus the needs of the community. Using the purchase of a backyard trampoline for his kids as a jumping off point, Jeremy Williams wonders if we haven’t “tipped too far towards private consumption”.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

(via dense discovery)