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Hear the First Sounds Ever Recorded on Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2018

NASA’s InSight mission recently landed on Mars and like other missions before it, the lander is a equipped with a camera and has sent back some pictures of the red planet. But InSight is also carrying a couple of instruments that made it possible to record something no human has ever experienced: what Mars sounds like:

InSight’s air pressure sensor recording the sound of the wind directly and the seismometer recorded the sounds of the lander’s solar panels vibrating as Martian winds blew across them.

Two very sensitive sensors on the spacecraft detected these wind vibrations: an air pressure sensor inside the lander and a seismometer sitting on the lander’s deck, awaiting deployment by InSight’s robotic arm. The two instruments recorded the wind noise in different ways. The air pressure sensor, part of the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS), which will collect meteorological data, recorded these air vibrations directly. The seismometer recorded lander vibrations caused by the wind moving over the spacecraft’s solar panels, which are each 7 feet (2.2 meters) in diameter and stick out from the sides of the lander like a giant pair of ears.

The sounds are best heard with a good pair of headphones.

The Incans didn’t write, but they had a powerful, intricate culture that counted (and maybe, recorded history and told stories?) using an intricate series of knots in cords that we’re only beginning to understand

Google’s very good Arts & Culture app now lets you experience Vermeer’s paintings in 3D virtual reality (but you know, on your phone):

At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen sings the praises of one of my all-time favorite kids’ shows, Square One Television. Especially good are her reflections on the show’s best segment, MATHNET

It's that time of year again: instructions for making your own John McClane crawling through the air ducts in Die Hard Christmas tree ornament

The trailer for Avengers 4 is out

Could this new "dark fluid" theory explain the universe's missing matter? "In the new study, I propose a modification to Einstein’s theory of general relativity to allow negative masses...to be created continuously."

The typography of Wall-E, an excerpt from the Typeset in the Future book about the typography of sci-fi movies

Iranian families separated by the travel ban are using a library straddling the Vermont/Canadian border to hold family reunions

"2 New Yorkers Erased $1.5 Million in Medical Debt for Hundreds of Strangers". Feel-good story or an indicator of our society's massive structural defects?

After 150 episodes, Hrishikesh Hirway is stepping down as the host of the excellent Song Exploder podcast

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

Love Letters to Mars

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

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Rebecca Boyle is one of my favorite science writers. In two recent pieces, she takes on our nearest, most Earth-like neighbor, Mars. The first is about a team of scientists doing research on extremophiles in South America.

The Atacama Desert stretches 600 miles south from the Peruvian border, nestled between the Pacific Cordillera and the Andes, “a cross extended over Chile,” in the words of the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita. Some parts of it are so devoid of life that their microbe-per-inch count can compete with near-sterile hospital surgical suites. Some areas of the Atacama, Earth’s driest nonpolar desert and the oldest desert anywhere, have been rainless for at least 23 million years, and maybe as long as 40 million years. Carbon cycling happens on timescales of thousands of years, comparable to Antarctic permafrost and places deep within Earth’s crust; the Atacama contains some of the most lifeless soils on the planet. The Atacama is one reason that Chile has become a haven for astrobiologists and astronomers: Its pristine dark skies offer an unparalleled view of the stars, and its depleted desert offers a peerless lab for studying the dry limits of life, including how life might survive among those stars. And honestly, it just looks a lot like Mars. It is the closest that these astrobiologists will ever get to the planet that occupies their grant proposals and their imaginations.

I’m neither an astrobiologist nor a professional astronomer, but I spend a lot of time thinking about Mars. I keep tabs on the robots spread across its surface and in its orbit, and sometimes I check their nightly photo downloads. The Atacama is not a giant leap from the Mars of my mind. As I drove up the coast, I found the view so much more like Mars than Earth. There are no palm trees or tourists or bleating gulls. There is nothing but brown, tumbling tanly down the hills, darkening to chocolate inside shadowy ravines and runnels, bleaching to an impoverished shade of cardboard, and crumbling into fine white beach before being swallowed by the cobalt hues of sea and sky. With no trees or succulents or even a blade of grass—not a smidge of green—the only disruption in the brown is a strip of asphalt, Ruta 1. With my cruise control set and David Bowie blaring, I pictured myself driving through Meridiani Planum, a vast equatorial Martian plain, en route to visit the Opportunity rover. The only reminders of other humans were the grim commemorations of car-wreck victims: Almost every mile of Ruta 1 is marked with roadside shrines to the dead…

Salar Grande was once a coastal inlet, much like today’s San Francisco Bay. It dried up between 1.8 and 5.3 million years ago, leaving behind a salt flat between 225 and 300 feet thick. The salar is therefore an analogue for the last time Mars was habitable, after Mars’ oceans, if there were any, dried up, when Martian ecosystems became concentrated in smaller places. And, like Mars itself, the Atacama is a glimpse into Earth’s own future. One day, billions of years from now, all of Earth may resemble this parched land of fissures and knobs, after our own oceans boil away, after the last trees fall, after the algae are all that is left of us.

“In the beginning,” Davila said, “there was bacteria. And at the end, there will be bacteria.”

The second piece is literally a letter, written to the Curiosity Rover that’s explored the red planet since 2012.

I think of you often. For much of this year, I saw Mars shining red in the window right above my computer. It was nice, like keeping an eye on you. And when I went to Mars earlier this year—actually the Atacama, a desert at the bottom of this world—the landscape made me think of you a lot. It made me grateful for the Mars you gave me, the Mars of my mind. Even more than your forebears did, you helped me understand why Mars stands out among the planets.

Earth’s other neighbors are interesting, sure. Jupiter is a peach-and-tan inkwell stirred with gothic darkness. Saturn and its orrery of moons trace feverish circles, as if brushed onto the void by the painter Kandinsky. Uranus and Neptune are the plain Christmas ornaments I hang next to the ornate ones, just to make the tree seem less busy. Mercury is a purple version of the moon, and Venus is a blast-furnace hellscape.

But Mars, little red Mars—it’s just like home. When you gaze out on the Murray Buttes, I see my Rocky Mountains.

That Mars — so like our world, yet so unlike it. Like a lover who understands and compliments us through similarity amid difference. It may be in the distance, but it is next.

And its visitors, like Curiosity, are already our friends:

I admire Juno’s photos of Jupiter and Cassini’s photos of Saturn, sure, but I don’t see the spacecraft in those images. And that means I don’t see myself. My connection to Mars comes from seeing you there. Seeing the terrain as you see it, that’s wonderful—but seeing you seeing it, feeling the photographer’s undeniable presence, is transformative.

Update: Boyle wrote a coda to her two pieces on Mars today for Last Word on Nothing. It’s Earth-focused, but then again, Earth is a very strange planet too:

At one point, after a couple hours of driving south, I needed a break. I needed to smell the ocean, mere feet to my right. I pulled over to the shoulder, parked my silver SUV on the sand, and walked a few feet. I was completely on my own. I saw nothing alive—no gull, no driver, no seaweed, no plant. I stared at the Pacific and felt my chest tighten. I was thousands of miles from my family, and I have never felt more alone.

The ocean was loud, dashing against dark rocks, and within a minute I felt like its rhythm was a part of me. It was going to swallow me and the sun was going to drive me mad. I strained to see anything else alive, some sign that I was still on Earth, but I saw nothing but sand and blue.

I squinted for a minute. The entire planet looks like this, from a great distance. From the Moon, you can make out the continents, patches of brown and green beneath a light frosting of clouds. But the general impression of Earth is one of blue and white. Ocean and sky. Our blue marble.

I listened to the Pacific and took a step forward. I was on Earth. I was so lucky to be here. So goddamn lucky I suddenly wanted to scream. Do you know how rare it is to have a planet covered in water? How precious it is to get out of the car, walk a few feet, and touch the ocean? It was the deep blue of my daughter’s eyes. This water is flowing through me, through her, through all of us here, together. Is this enlightenment? I thought to myself. I don’t know enough about Buddhism.

It was hard to get back in the car after that. But I feared that if I didn’t, the Pacific would rise up and consume me, swallow me whole before I had a chance to tell anyone I saw it. I had to tell her what I saw.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Reviewed

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

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Isabel Wilkerson, writing for The New York Times, has the definitive review of Michelle Obama’s juggernaut of a book:

One of the great gifts of Obama’s book is her loving and frank bearing-witness to the lived experiences of the black working class, the invisible people who don’t make the evening news and whom not enough of us choose to see. She recreates the dailiness of African-American life — the grass-mowing, bid-whist-playing, double-Dutch-jumping, choir-practicing, waiting-on-the-bus and clock-punching of the ordinary black people who surrounded her growing up. They are the bedrock of a political party that has all too often appeared to take their votes for granted in the party’s seeming wistfulness for their white equivalents (for whom the term “working class” has come to stand in public discourse).

Like many Americans, Obama’s parents made do with what they had and poured their energy into their children, who they hoped would fulfill the families’ as yet unrealized aspirations. The parents bought them a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica and insisted on proper diction. They went on Sunday drives to a richer neighborhood known as Pill Hill (after the number of black doctors living there) in her father’s Buick Electra, looking at houses they could only dream of. Michelle’s father suffered from multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease, and his beloved Buick gave him mobility that his legs alone could not. He never complained and rarely spoke of his condition, she says, but it was a daily consideration. “Our family was not just punctual,” she writes. “We arrived early to everything.” This was in part to allow time for any contingency, given her father’s declining strength, a habit that instilled in her the value of planning and vigilance in one’s life. Her mother kept their cramped apartment in such good order that years later Obama would remember how it smelled: “It’s because of my mother that still to this day I catch the scent of Pine-Sol and automatically feel better about life”…

We see her father’s diminishing health and his uncompromising work ethic. At one point, he used a motorized scooter to get from boiler to boiler. “In 26 years, he hadn’t missed a single shift,” she writes. We feel her heartbreak as she loses her father to the disease he refused to let define him. By then, Obama was a grown woman, grieving and even more appreciative of her parents’ sacrifices for her sake. Her parents had never taken trips to the beach or gone out to dinner. They didn’t own a house until Aunt Robbie bequeathed them hers when Michelle was halfway through college. “We were their investment, me and Craig,” she writes. “Everything went into us.”

It also includes a tidy capsule of her and Barack’s unusual, unlikely-yet-inevitable courtship:

How their office relationship turned into a quick-moving romance that summer, how the box-checking pragmatist warmed to the loose-limbed free spirit, is a delight to read, even though, or perhaps because, we know the outcome. His cerebral intensity was clear from the start. One night, soon after they had become a couple, she woke to find him staring at the ceiling, apparently troubled. She wondered if their new relationship was on his mind, or perhaps the death of his father. “‘Hey, what are you thinking about over there?’ I whispered. He turned to look at me, his smile a little sheepish. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking about income inequality.’”

He struck her as a visionary with no material interests. The first time she visited him in Cambridge during the long-distance phase of their young relationship, he picked her up in a “snub-nosed, banana-yellow Datsun” with a “four-inch hole in the floor” and a tendency to spasm “violently before settling into a loud, sustained juddering.” She knew then that “life with Barack would never be dull,” she writes. “It would be some version of banana yellow and slightly hair-raising.”

And her lack of interest in politics:

After a series of unlikely events, among them scandals forcing one opponent after another to drop out of the race, Barack won. Michelle, against the advice of a veteran Senate wife, chose not to move their family to Washington. “None of this had been my choice in the first place,” she writes of the stress of being a politician’s wife and managing a household while her husband commuted from the capital when he could. “I didn’t care about the politics per se, but I didn’t want to screw it up.” When Barack began mulling a run for the White House and consulting trusted advisers, “there was one conversation he avoided having,” she writes, “and that was with me. He knew, of course, how I felt.”

This was where their temperaments and upbringing were at odds. She wanted the kind of family stability she had grown up with. “Barack had always had his eyes on some far-off horizon, on his notion of the world as it should be,” she writes. “Just for once, I wanted him to be content with life as it was.” By then, they had been through five campaigns in 11 years. “Each one had put a little dent in my soul and also in our marriage,” she writes. Bottom line: She didn’t want him to run for president, especially not then. They talked about it over and over. She agreed to support him, she writes, because “I loved him and had faith in what he could do.” Speaking in London in early December, she was more candid, saying “deep down” she believed “there’s no way he’s going to win. And we can just sort of get this out of the way. … That was my whole plan.”

Funny story! Barack Obama won the nomination and then the Presidency, becoming the first black President of the United States and winning two terms, thrusting Michelle into a role she never wanted but seemed to be made for.

As a young girl, she had modest aspirations: a family, a dog and “a house that had stairs in it — two floors for one family.” She had grown up in a 900-square-foot attic apartment. Now, at the end of Inauguration Day, she was the first lady, moving into a home with “132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 28 fireplaces spread out over six floors,” and a staff of ushers, florists, housekeepers, butlers and attendants for her every need. Three military valets oversaw the president’s closet. “You see how neat I am now?” he said to her one day. She had seen, she said, smiling back, “and you get no credit for any of it.”

It’s a shame that Michelle dislikes politics so much. I think if she chose, she could be an even better President than her husband. And I liked him a lot.

Metallic Pinatas Inspired By Medieval Illuminations

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

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Roberto Benavidez is a Los Angeles-based artist who previously created a series of piñatas inspired by the art of Hieronymous Bosch, as well as a magnificent series of sculpted birds. His latest project, “Illuminated Piñata,” is inspired by mythical creatures found in the illuminations from medieval manuscripts. They are gorgeous, multidimensional, and inspiring. Here are just a few of them.

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Via Colossal.

Into the Spider-Verse is One of the Five Best Superhero Movies Since Blade

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

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Since 2014, Abraham Riesman has kept a regularly updated list of the best superhero movies since Blade. This is partly an arbitrary starting point (would it really be so hard to rank the early Superman and Batman movies too?), and partly not: Blade moved away from the Superman and Batman top character mini-franchises, kicked off Marvel’s entry into modern superhero cinema, and started the pattern of every-other-year/no, every-year/wait-how-many-superhero-movies-are-out-this-year? sprawling multiverses we associate with the genre(s) today.

While there were a lot of superhero movies between 1998 and 2014, there have been, um, a lot more since. And some of the very best ones, too. “When I did the first edition of this list in the fall of 2014, I did not in any way predict that it would become my life’s work in the way it has,” Abe writes.

Today, a new entry cracks the top five. Abe rates the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring the former Ultimate Comics hero Miles Morales, fifth on his list, well ahead of the rest of the Spider-movies and just behind the highly revered The Dark Knight. Abe writes:

The unassuming and artistic Miles, a more recent addition to the comics’ Spider-canon, feels new and Zeitgeist-y in a way that Peter hasn’t in decades, and we want desperately for him to find his footing as he tries to be a hero. Luckily, he has the assistance of an array of other Spider-people from alternate dimensions — a gimmick common in comics, never before dared on the big screen, and here executed with deft and thrilling elegance. The story, performances, and jokes are all top-flight, but perhaps the greatest delight is the film’s awe-inspiring mastery of visual whizbang: Rather than try to ape reality, everyone is designed to evoke a feeling, be it the hulking intimidation of the inhumanly massive Kingpin or the proud wackiness of the stoutly cartoony Spider-Ham. It’s a damn shame that Lee and Ditko both died a matter of weeks and months before they could see the release of Into the Spider-Verse (though the famously reclusive Ditko wouldn’t have watched it, anyway), but their beloved baby is in good hands.

I love Miles Morales, and can’t wait to see him on screen. It’s been surprising that Marvel and DC haven’t done more with animation outside of television: cartoons are proven family-friendly money makers at the box office, and there’s a natural connection between comics and animation. Here’s hoping this spurs the superhero cabal to give more formats a try.

Miles is also in a new comic book series, written by Saladin Ahmed and drawn by Javier Garrón. Issue #1 comes out next Wednesday, December 12.

How to Spot a Fake Jackson Pollock Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2018

Forensic scientist Thiago Piwowarczyk and art historian Jeffrey Taylor are often called upon to authenticate purported paintings by well-known artists. Using a drip painting resembling Jackson Pollock’s work, they show how they use historical research, hardcore science, and good-ol’ human observation. The steps they go through are:

1. Provenance research. Is there any documentation of the artist painting this? Who owned it and when? Forged documentation can be an issue here.

2. Visual analysis. Does the material used for the painting fit the artist and the timeframe? Often, a forger won’t sign a fake to mitigate any potential legal ramifications.

3. Photography and ultraviolet analysis. Was the canvas reused? Is there an under-painting or drawing?

4. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. What elements are present in the paint? Do they match those in the paints normally used by the artist?

5. Microscopy & Raman spectroscopy. What kind of paint was used? Did that paint exist when the artist was working?

Super interesting. All of the craft aside, Piwowarczyk also says that “if the deal is too good, there’s something wrong”. $25,000 for a Pollack? Nope. (via open culture)

Time Lapse Photos of Nighttime Airport Traffic

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Pete Mauney

Pete Mauney

Pete Mauney spends his nighttime hours hunkered down near airports to capture these these time lapse photos of arriving and departing air traffic. (He does a similar thing with fireflies.)

On Facebook, Mauney is selling prints of some of these photos, hand-printed and quality guaranteed.

All prints are lovingly made by myself and print robot Epson 3880. They are fully archival and should last until well after I am dead, assuming they are properly cared for. I am super uptight/compulsive and quality control is strict. I spent many years making my living as an exhibition printer and no image of mine will leave my hands unless I am happy with it. If something not up to spec manages to squeak through, I will happily replace.

The post also doubles as a look into the process of photography & printmaking and how to price your art.

Pricing is the hard part for me. On one side there is there $12 in materials that that make and pack each print for shipping and the minimal labor involved in making the physical objects once the hard work in photoshop is already done. Based on that I could sell them for $15 and make a profit. Then, of course, are the hours spent processing and compositing each image. Oh, and then, there is the time spent driving and flying and and actually making the images. And days spent on Google Maps and Flight Aware observing flight patterns and planning my routes and locations. The mosquitoes. Hypothermia.

But, really, I am OK with doing all of that because I will do it regardless of whether I am getting paid or not (see “compulsive” above). I do it because I fucking love it. The point of all this is not to justify my labor and obsessions. The point of this is to pay for an awesome show so I can share these in the real world with other real humans like yourselves. As stated previously, all proceeds from this sale will go towards production, materials, software, prints, monitors, frames, and all the other inevitable costs that I can’t think of right now and that keep me up at night.

I read something years ago about the expense of art and photography that’s always stuck with me. Time, materials, and equipment are one part of the equation, but really what you are paying for is the lifetime of expertise, the hundreds of thousands of their previous shots and an aesthetic honed to a razor-sharp edge. $5000 for shoot by someone who knows exactly how to get the perfect shot in just 20 minutes can seem like an outrageous price (that’s $15,000/hour!), but $1000 for an two-hour-long shoot by some doofus often isn’t going to get you the result you actually need.

So yeah, drop Mauney a line and get some great prints delivered in time for the holidays. (via jen bekman)

Computer Simulations of Black Hole Mergers Observed by LIGO

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

As of December 1, 2018, the LIGO experiment has detected gravitational waves from 10 black hole merger events. In the computer simulations shown in this video, you can see what each of the mergers looked like along with the corresponding gravitational waves generated and subsequently observed by the LIGO detectors.

The Best Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Best Books 2018

2018 was the year that tsundoku entered our cultural vocabulary. It’s a Japanese word that doesn’t translate cleanly into English but it basically means you buy books and let them pile up unread. The end-of-the-year book lists coming out right now won’t help any of us with our tsundoku problems, but there are worse things in life than having too many books around. I took at look at a bunch of these lists and picked out some of the best book recommendations for 2018 from book editors, voracious readers, and retailers. Let’s dig in.

The NY Times published three different lists: The 10 Best Books of 2018 (as chosen by the editors of the Times Book Review), the 100 Notable Books of 2018, and the Times Critics’ Top Books of 2018. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and David Blight’s Frederick Douglass both appear on these lists and I’ve seen them on many other lists as well.

I am delighted to see Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ memoir Small Fry on the Times’ top 10 list as well. I’m gonna have more to say about this in an upcoming post, but in an era where we’re re-evaluating the importance of the personal conduct and personalities of the people running massive tech and media companies, this book did not get the attention it deserved, particularly in the tech press.

Tyler Cowen, who samples upwards of 1800 books every year, has led me to many of my favorite reads over the years. He has two lists this year: the best non-fiction books of 2018 and the best fiction of 2018. His top fiction pick overall is Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, which I have been banging on about for several months as well. Another of his fiction picks is Circe by Madeline Miller, which is another contemporary reinterpretation of Greek mythology from the perspective of a woman. I’m 3/4s of the way through Circe right now and I might like it even more than The Odyssey. Among the nonfiction picks, I can testify to the greatness of Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet (my review is here and the book’s topic also featured in Avengers: Infinity War) and am most interested in checking out W. J. Rorabaugh’s Prohibition: A Concise History, having watched the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary on it earlier this year.

Amazon’s editors selected Tara Westover’s Educated as their top book of the year. Also on the list is Tommy Orange’s There There, which appears on many other lists as well. Amazon’s This Year in Books is also worth a look…it is definitely not the critic’s view of what we read: the most-sold fiction book was Ready Player One and the most-sold nonfiction book was Michael Wolf’s book about Trump, Fire and Fury.

NPR’s 2018 Book Concierge contains hundreds of books in more than two dozen categories. The Rather Short filter appeals to me and I found on there Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk and Denis Johnson’s The Largess of the Sea Maiden.

Barbara Kiser, books columnist for Nature, picked The Best Science Books of 2018. I noticed one of her selections on a few other lists as well: The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen.

Eater calls Anita Lo’s Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One the best cookbook of the year. And from Book Riot’s The 25 Best Cookbooks of 2018 To Get You In The Kitchen, here’s Snoop Dogg’s cookbook From Crook to Cook. Bow wow wow, yummy yum.

For The Guardian’s Best Books of 2018, a group of authors including Hilary Mantel, Chris Ware, and Yuval Noah Harari share their top picks of the year. Mantel, the author of an excellent pair of books on Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) recommends Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography of Cromwell, who was Henry the VIII’s chief minister, a key figure of the English Reformation. Harari recommends Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, which also features on a number of other lists. Oh, and Yotam Ottolenghi highlights Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit, a cookbook “designed to help creative cooks develop their own recipes”.

The National Book Award for fiction went to The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, the nonfiction award went to The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke by Jeffrey Stewart, and the poetry award went to Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency. Check out the other winners and runners-up here. The Man Booker Prize went to Anna Burns for her novel Milkman.

Bill Gates’ 2018 list is pretty eclectic, with books about meditation and military AI. A more standard pick for him is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

Transportation-less Transportation

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Google finally announced a consumer service around the self-driving car technology they’ve been developing for almost a decade. Waymo One is basically a taxi hailing service backed by a fleet of automated cars. The promotional video for the service is an upbeat but ho-hum reminder of the convenience of app-hailed transportation:

But there’s a voiceover line about halfway through that gets at the heart of why self-driving cars seem so compelling to people:

What if getting there felt like being there?

Sure, it’s not so much the destination that matters, it’s the journey…but commuting isn’t a journey. People in cities spend a lot of their time in rooms: working, reading, drinking, chatting, etc. Waymo’s cars aren’t quite rooms, but that’s where they’re headed: private rooms for hire that also get you from one place to another. It’s WeWork on wheels, a mobile Starbucks, a portable third place. Along the way, you could have a beer or coffee, do karaoke, make some work calls, watch a movie, chat with friends, make out, or answer some emails. C-suite executives with dedicated chauffeured transportion are already doing this with custom vans. Private jets are essentially vacation homes that can travel anywhere in the world. (Cruises offer this experience too.) If Waymo (or someone else) can make this happen for a much larger segment of the population, that’s a compelling service: transportation-less transportation.

Optician Sans

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Optician Sans

Eye charts at your optometrist’s office typically only have 10 letters on them: CDHKNORSVZ. Inspired by that lettering, creative agency ANTI Hamar and typographer Fábio Duarte Martins have expanded that abbreviated alphabet into a free font with a full alphabet called Optician Sans. Here’s a video look at how they did it:

(via khoi)

How People Ate in Medieval England

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

In this episode of Modern History, Jason Kingsley and Chris Carr talk about the kind of food that an English knight would encounter on the road…i.e. what might commonly be termed “peasant food”. Depending on what was in season, the midday meal offered would be the sort of farm-to-table artisanal fare that urban dwellers crave at their neighborhood bistro on date night: house-brewed beer, artisan bread made from interesting grains, fresh salmon, peas from the garden, and a drizzled sauce made from an unusual herb.

The pair discuss what a knight would eat at home in a follow-up episode. A knight’s dedicated cook would consult with his physician on dietary matters and the ingredients and level of processing would reflect the knight’s higher status in society, e.g. his bread would be white and not dark, basically the opposite of today.

Kenny G and How Smooth Jazz Took Over the 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

Jazz crossed over into pop music territory in the 70s, with jazz artists like Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson gaining airplay on the radio but losing the respect of “straight-ahead” jazz critics & peers. One reviewer wrote of a popular album by Benson:

Hearing George Benson on this album is like watching Marlon Brando in the Three Stooges movie. Such is the relationship between the artist and the “art”.

In this third installment of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell charts the rise of smooth jazz from its beginnings in the 70s right on through to Kenny G and the format’s eventual crash in the 2000s. There’s also a Spotify playlist of smooth jazz standards in case you’re in the mood to hear more.

Also, how perfect is it that the term “smooth jazz” was coined by a participant during a focus group convened by a market research firm? That’s so smooth jazz.

52 Things Learned in 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2018

Consultant Tom Whitwell is back this year with 52 things he learned in 2018.

4. 35% of Rwanda’s national blood supply outside the capital city is now delivered by drone. [Techmoran]

13. US nuclear testing between the 1940s and 1970s may have killed as many Americans (from radioactive pollution) as were killed by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [Tim Fernholz]

26. Men who’ve experienced earthquakes are willing to take more risks and gamble more. Women show no such effect. [Chie Hanaoka & co]

51. Vanilla pods now cost $500/kg, roughly the same as silver. Madagascan farmers have briefly become vanillionaires, causing chaos in areas where the nearest bank might be a day’s walk away. [Annah Zhu]

Check out his lists from 2017 and 2016.