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Anthropocene, a new film about how humans are changing the Earth forever

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

From Edward Burtynsky (known around these parts for his aerial photographs of industrial landscapes) and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal & Nicholas de Pencier comes a film called Anthropocene.

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming. Terraforming of the earth through mining, urbanization, industrialization and agriculture; the proliferation of dams and diverting of waterways; CO2 and acidification of oceans due to climate change; the pervasive presence around the globe of plastics, concrete, and other technofossils; unprecedented rates of deforestation and extinction: these human incursions, they argue, are so massive in scope that they have already entered, and will endure in, geological time.

The film is one part of a larger “multimedia exploration” of the human epoch, which will include a book of new photography from Burtynsky, a traveling museum exhibition, interactive VR & AR experiences, and an educational program.

The film is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Update: In this video for Canadian Geographic, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, talks with Burtynsky, Baichwal, and de Pencier about this project.

How to ask a favor

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 20, 2018

Some very useful advice from Valet magazine (which I confess I don’t read — thanks Yuri Victor!) on how to ask for a favor. It’s step by step and super simple:

  1. Be direct with your request;
  2. Give your reason why;
  3. Provide an opportunity for escape.

This last step, in particular, is nicely articulated:

This is really just good manners and keeps your relationship in good standing. It shows the other person you respect their time and that this isn’t a guilt trip. When you ask a favor, always offer the other person the opportunity to easily and graciously decline. End your request with something like, “I understand if you can’t do this now,” or “Please don’t feel obligated, if you aren’t comfortable with this.” Say this and mean it. Because a favor you aren’t able to refuse isn’t a favor at all. It’s an order or a command.

You can embroider this with lots of detail specific to the kind of behavior you’re asking for, but the core here is pretty spot-on. There’s also a nice bit of advice for folks granting a favor, that basically boils down to “do it or don’t do it, but don’t be a jerk about it.”

Film and Furniture, a site about the decor in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2018

On Film and Furniture, you’ll find info about the production and set designers of films & TV shows and features about the furniture and wallpaper in Phantom Thread, the Parr’s massive new home in Incredibles 2 (Pixar listed the place on Zillow), and some of the cooler items from Blade Runner 2049.

Overlook Hotel Rug

They also have a store from which you can buy items from your favorite movies: whiskey tumblers from Blade Runner, a sofa from Ex Machina, lounge chairs from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, of course, the Overlook Hotel rug from The Shining. (thx to several ppl who sent this in)

Breathtaking aerial videos of the Kilauea volcano erupting

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2018

Mick Kalber is posting daily flyover videos of the eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. This one, from June 23, is one of the better ones from the past week and features a frothing ocean of erupting lava and a speedily flowing river of molten rock.

The Volcano Goddess, Pele is continually erupting hot liquid rock into the channelized rivers leading to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the fountaining activity is still confined within the nearly 200-foot high spatter cone she has built around that eruptive vent. Her fiery fountains send 6-9 million cubic meters of lava downslope every day… a volume difficult to even wrap your mind around!

According to the USGS, the temperature of the lava when it erupts is around 2140 °F, which is pretty hot but not as hot as a kiln can get when firing some high-fire clays and porcelains. (thx, christopher)

Live TV coverage of the Apollo 11 landing and Moon walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2018

Apollo 11 TV Coverage

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress and said:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

A little more than 8 years later, it was done. On July 20, 1969, 49 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, took a walk, and returned safely to Earth a few days later. And the whole thing was broadcast live on television screens around the world.

For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. Just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here’s the schedule (all times EDT):

4:10:30 pm: Moon landing broadcast starts
4:17:40 pm: Lunar module lands on the Moon

4:20:15 pm: Break in coverage

10:51:27 pm: Moon walk broadcast starts
10:56:15 pm: First step on Moon
11:51:30 pm: Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew
12:00:30 am: Broadcast end (on July 21)

You can add these yearly recurring events to your calendar: Moon landing & Moon walk.

Here’s what I wrote when I launched the project, which is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done online:

If you’ve never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I’ve watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I’m struck by two things: 1) how it’s almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Andrew Chaikin’s account of the Apollo program, A Man on the Moon, and the chapter about Apollo 11’s Moon landing was riveting.1 I’ve watched the TV footage & listened to the recordings dozens of times and I was still on the edge of my seat, sweating the landing alongside Armstrong and Aldrin. And sweating they were…at least Armstrong was. Take a look at his heart rate during the landing; it peaked at 150 beats per minute at landing (note: the “1000 ft altitude” is mislabeled, it should be “100 ft”):

Neil Armstrong's heart rate during the Apollo 11 Moon landing

For reference, Armstrong’s resting heart rate was around 60 bpm. There are a couple of other interesting things about this chart. The first is the two minutes of missing data starting around 102:36. They were supposed to be 10 minutes from landing on the Moon and instead their link to Mission Control in Houston kept cutting out. Then there were the intermittent 1201 and 1202 program alarms, which neither the LM crew nor Houston had encountered in any of the training simulations. At the sign of the first alarm at 102:38:26, Armstrong’s heart rate actually appears to drop. And then, as the alarms continue throughout the sequence along with Houston’s assurances that the alarm is nothing to worry about, Armstrong’s heart rate stays steady.

Right around the 2000 feet mark, Armstrong realizes that he needs to maneuver around a crater and some rocks on the surface to reach a flat landing spot and his heart rate steadily rises until it plateaus at the landing. At the time, he thought he’d landed with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining. That Neil Armstrong was able to keep his cool with unknown alarms going off while avoiding craters and boulders with very little fuel remaining and his heart rate spiking while skimming over the surface OF THE FREAKING MOON doing something no one had ever done before is one of the most totally cold-blooded & badass things anyone has ever done. Damn, I get goosebumps just reading about it!

Update: The landing broadcast just aired and I wanted to explain a little about what you saw (you can relive it here).

The shots of the Moon you see during the landing broadcast are animations…there is obviously no camera on the Moon watching the LM descend to the surface. There was a camera recording the landing from the LM but that footage was not released until later. This is in contrast to the footage you’ll see later on the Moon walk broadcast…that footage was piped in live to TV screens all over the world as it happened.

The radio voices you hear are mostly Mission Control in Houston (specifically Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, who acted as the spacecraft communicator for this mission) and Buzz Aldrin, whose job during the landing was to keep an eye on the LM’s altitude and speed — you can hear him calling it out, “3 1/2 down, 220 feet, 13 forward.” Armstrong doesn’t say a whole lot…he’s busy flying and furiously searching for a suitable landing site. But it’s Armstrong that says after they land, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”. Note the change in call sign from “Eagle” to “Tranquility Base”. :)

Two things to listen for on the broadcast: the 1201/1202 program alarms I mentioned above and two quick callouts by Charlie Duke about the remaining fuel towards the end: “60 seconds” and “30 seconds”. Armstrong is taking all this information in through his earpiece — the 1202s, the altitude and speed from Aldrin, and the remaining fuel — and using it to figure out where to land.

The CBS animation shows the fake LM landing on the fake Moon before the actual landing — when Buzz says “contact light” and then “engine stop”. The animation was based on the scheduled landing time and evidently couldn’t be adjusted. The scheduled time was overshot because of the crater and boulders situation mentioned above.

Cronkite was joined on the program by former astronaut Wally Schirra. When Armstrong signaled they’d landed, Schirra can be seen dabbing his eyes and Cronkite looks a little misty as well as he rubs his hands together.

  1. The book is read by Bronson Pinchot, who played Balki Bartokomous on the 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers. He is a fantastic audiobook narrator.

A movie adaptation of Sapiens is coming

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Ridley Scott and Asif Kapadia are working on a film adaptation of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator, Alien) is producing while Kapadia (the excellent documentaries Amy & Senna) will direct. Harari, you’ll recall, is a Prophet and states in Sapiens that the Agricultural Revolution is “history’s biggest fraud”.

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

The trailer for a HBO documentary on Robin Williams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

In mid July, HBO will premiere a 2-hour documentary about Robin Williams called, cheekily, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. Here’s the trailer:

The film explores his extraordinary life and career, revealing what drove him to give voice to the characters in his mind. With previously unheard and unseen glimpses into his creative process through interviews with Williams, as well as home movies and onstage footage, this insightful tribute features in-depth interviews with those who knew and loved him, including Billy Crystal, Eric Idle, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Pam Dawber and his son, Zak Williams.

Remembering the girls of the Leesburg Stockade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

In Georgia in 1963, 15 African-American girls aged 12 to 15 were arrested for trying to buy movie tickets at the whites-only theater entrance. They were arrested and held without charge for up to 45 days, their parents unaware of their whereabouts.

Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

Leesburg Stockade

Sickening. And to top it off, their parents each had to pay a $2 boarding fee when the girls were finally released. The Leesburg Stockade incident is a timely reminder that tyrants in America on the wrong side of justice have often separated children from their parents for political leverage. It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now.

Hidden treasures of Amsterdam’s river

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 02, 2018

Amsterdam Objects.png

Between 2003 and 2012, civil engineers in Amsterdam excavated a brand-new North-South metro line along the banks of the river Amstel. A website (thankfully available in Dutch and English) documents what they found.

Rivers in cities are unlikely archaeological sites. It is not often that a riverbed, let alone one in the middle of a city, is pumped dry and can be systematically examined. The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together. Damrak and Rokin proved to be extremely rich sites on account of the waste that had been dumped in the river for centuries and the objects accidentally lost in the water. The enormous quantity, great variety and everyday nature of these material remains make them rare sources of urban history. The richly assorted collection covers a vast stretch of time, from long before the emergence of the city right up to the present day. The objects paint a multi-facetted [sic] picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam. Every find is a frozen moment in time, connecting the past and the present. The picture they paint of their era is extremely detailed and yet entirely random due to the chance of objects or remains sinking down into the riverbed and being retrieved from there. This is what makes this archaeological collection so fascinating, so poetically breathtaking and abstract at one and the same time.

If you don’t love browsing through lost IDs, credit cards, and everyday coins, a section called “Object Stories” highlights the more noteworthy finds: batteries from the 19th century, stoneware jugs and tankards from the 16th century, pieces of samurai swords, and more.

A sad update about a scissors maker that went viral

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

Back in 2014, a lovely short film by Shaun Bloodworth called The Putter went viral. The film shows Cliff Denton making scissors for Ernest Wright & Sons. Denton works for the company as a putter, short for putter togetherer.

Before the film, business at the firm was so slow that staff were only working two days a week. When the video took off online, the company received two years’ worth of orders in a single day. Two years later in June 2016, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign for a throwback pair of kitchen scissors and ended up making four times their goal from more than 3600 backers.

Outwardly, this seemed to be one of those stories about how an old school company found a new audience and a second chance on the internet. But internally the company was struggling, hamstrung by a series of setbacks. Problems with design and machining the new scissors model delayed production for a year and two key employees, including putter Cliff Denton, were off the job due to illness. Shaun Bloodworth, the filmmaker, died waiting for a liver transplant. And then in February 2018, the news broke that Nick Wright, the company’s managing director, had died suddenly.

Under new leadership, the company vowed to carry on and fulfill all of the Kickstarter orders, but a message to Kickstarter backers yesterday revealed the company was deep in debt and would be “going into receivership”. It also revealed that Wright had taken his own life. Here’s the full message from Pam Addy, the current managing director of Ernest Wright & Sons. (Note: this includes a portion of a final letter written by Wright before he died.)

Hello everyone, this is Pam.

Following the death of Nick Wright, who took his own life in February, myself and the rest of the Ernest Wright team have endeavored to honour all you Kickstarter backers who pledged money for the Kutrite design of kitchen scissors. Unfortunately, only now am I aware of the extent of the business debt incurred prior to my taking over as Director on March 22 2018, so it is with great sadness I announce that Ernest Wright & Son Ltd will be going into receivership.

If you have not received your goods, you will be contacted by the Insolvency Practitioner in due course. Following advice from them, if you paid by Credit Card you may wish to contact your card provider, to see whether they will refund you the money paid.

Nick wrote a final letter. In this letter were personal messages including one to Kickstarter people:

“I tried so hard, this was no scam, I just could not make it happen. Too much pressure, not enough resource or time. I am so very genuinely sorry to you all.”

What a sad situation for Wright’s family and the company. It’s tempting to want to draw conclusions between the finances, the campaign, and Wright’s death, but we don’t actually know much about the situation. But I do think this highlights the potential disconnects between mental health & business, publicity & success, and success & happiness. The internet can seem so intimate but ultimately it’s a thin view of an individual’s or company’s reality. (thx, dawn)

Watch Eloma Simpson Barnes channel Martin Luther King Jr. in a thrilling oration

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

On Twitter this morning, Craig Mod asked:

What’s the best conference talk/public speech you’ve seen? Topic can be anything. Just the most engaging talk you’ve been present for?

And bonus points: Is there any one particular speaker who’s so good you make an effort to see?

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and seen some very engaging speakers, but the one that sticks out most in my mind is Eloma Simpson Barnes’ performance of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech at PopTech in 2004 (audio-only here).

Her oration is actually a combination of excerpts from two King speeches: his address at the Great Walk to Freedom in Detroit in June 1963 and his Drum Major Instinct sermon given at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in February 1968. King’s Detroit address is notable for being a test run of sorts for his I Have a Dream speech in Washington D.C. two months later. If you look at the Detroit transcript, you’ll notice some familiar words:

And so this afternoon, I have a dream. (Go ahead) It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers.

I have a dream this afternoon (I have a dream) that one day, [Applause] one day little white children and little Negro children will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters.

In the Drum Major Instinct sermon given two months to the day before his assassination, King told the congregation what he wanted to be said about him at his funeral:

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Some of the power of Barnes’ performance is lost in the video, particularly when audio from King’s actual speeches are available online, but sitting in the audience listening to her thundering away in that familiar cadence was thrilling. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to experience the real thing.

How one man rigged McDonald’s Monopoly and stole millions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

For years, Jerry Jacobson was in charge of the security of the game pieces for McDonald’s Monopoly, one of the most successful marketing promotions in the fast food giant’s history. And for almost as long, Jacobson had been passing off winning pieces to family, friends, and “a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers”, to the tune of more than million in cash & prizes.

Dent’s investigation had started in 2000, when a mysterious informant called the FBI and claimed that McDonald’s games had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry.” The person revealed that “winners” paid Uncle Jerry for stolen game pieces in various ways. The $1 million winners, for example, passed the first $50,000 installment to Uncle Jerry in cash. Sometimes Uncle Jerry would demand cash up front, requiring winners to mortgage their homes to come up with the money. According to the informant, members of one close-knit family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million dollar prizes and a Dodge Viper.

When Dent alerted the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, executives were deeply concerned. The company’s top lawyers pledged to help the FBI, and faxed Dent a list of past winners. They explained that their game pieces were produced by a Los Angeles company, Simon Marketing, and printed by Dittler Brothers in Oakwood, Georgia, a firm trusted with printing U.S. mail stamps and lotto scratch-offs. The person in charge of the game pieces was Simon’s director of security, Jerry Jacobson.

One of the winners, Jerry Columbo, a partner of Jacobson’s who was allegedly a member of the Mafia, even appeared in this TV commercial holding an oversized novelty key to a car he had “won”:

At the height of the scam, no normal person won any of the best Monopoly prizes…they were all arranged by Jacobson. This has to become a movie, right?

I remember when the Monopoly game started. We didn’t eat out that much when I was a kid, but we still played a few times here and there. But I distinctly remember studying the game board, looking at the odds of winning, and figuring out how they must restrict some single game pieces to make it all work. You could get Park Places all day long, but you’d never ever see a Boardwalk. After that realization, I lost interest in playing. It was an early lesson about not spending too much time and energy striving for unattainable goals. Besides, those delicious McDonald’s fries were reward enough.

Update: Ah, a movie version of the story is in the works with Matt Damon playing Jacobson and Ben Affleck directing.

If Beale Street Could Talk

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Director Barry Jenkins is back with his first feature film since Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar in 2016. It’s called If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of a 1974 novel of the same name by James Baldwin.

In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

The trailer looks amazing…can’t wait to see this one.

Computer-optimized floor plans

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Optimized Floor Plans

Joel Simon used a generative design process powered by a genetic algorithm to optimize the floor plans of buildings for different characteristics. That is, the algorithm “grew” buildings that had ideal floor plans for minimizing construction materials, shortest fire escape paths, and access to views — without worrying about how the buildings would actually be constructed.

The results were biological in appearance, intriguing in character and wildly irrational in practice.

As building materials and techniques continue to develop beyond the rectilinear bricks and concrete blocks, the “wildly irrational in practice” bit will become increasingly irrelevant. (via bb)

The chaotic clouds of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2018

Jupiter Clouds Swirl

This newly released photo of the chaotic clouds of Jupiter would make a great marbled paper pattern.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this color-enhanced image at 10:23 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (1:23 a.m. EDT on May 24), as the spacecraft performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 9,600 miles (15,500 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops, above a northern latitude of 56 degrees.

The region seen here is somewhat chaotic and turbulent, given the various swirling cloud formations. In general, the darker cloud material is deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere, while bright cloud material is high. The bright clouds are most likely ammonia or ammonia and water, mixed with a sprinkling of unknown chemical ingredients.

You can view a “charmingly British” short film about making marbled paper right here.

Goodbye, LeBron; Love, the Midwest

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 02, 2018

LeBron - Kid.jpg

I don’t live in Cleveland or Akron. I live, and grew up, just north of Detroit, in an inner-ring suburb known for Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and multiple expressways.

I didn’t live in the midwest for LeBron’s first run with the Cavs. I lived in Philadelphia, a city that was sports-crazy in its own aggro east-coast way, but didn’t live and die with its sports teams in the same all-enveloping way. Any city with an Ivy League campus has pockets of people who don’t notice sports at all.

When LeBron moved to Miami, I moved to New York. It made sense for both of us; a better job on a bigger stage, hopefully a better life. But soon enough, we were both headed back to the Midwest; we were both headed back home.

For a hot minute, I thought we were both headed to Philadelphia again. But some dreams are too good to be true.

The Midwest is sports-crazy; the midwest is sports-starved. Free agents don’t want to play here. Owners don’t want to spend money. Championships cluster on the coasts.

When teams like the Warriors win, it’s compounded good news for a team moving to take advantage of San Francisco’s riches. When the Cubs or Packers or Cavs win, we talk about century-long curses lifted, quaint tales of tiny markets that could, and the uplift of entire regions.

Of the twenty best basketball players who ever played, nine of them have played for the Los Angeles Lakers. (Yes, I’m counting Karl Malone.) Only two ever played for Cleveland. (One of them was washed-up Shaq.)

Three of the best five — LeBron, Jordan, and Kareem — played in the Midwest. Two of them left for LA.

It was special to have LeBron James in the Midwest. In the age of player empowerment he ushered in, to play for a man he hated, at a time when blue states have flipped to red, when billionaire oligarchs are buying up whole cities, and the national discourse tries to erase everything in the region but its white reactionaries, LeBron was the best of us. He stood up, somehow taller and more regal than the sea of tall, regal men, unafraid to tell the truth. Through Ferguson, through Tamir Rice, through Trump and Trumpism, he stood up and told the truth. I won’t forget it.

He also dragged four outmatched teams to four straight Finals through sheer talent, intelligence, and force of will. I won’t forget that either.

I’m not happy he’s going to the Lakers. (As a Pistons and Sixers fan, we have history. However, I am cool with him getting out of the Eastern Conference.) But I’m happy in the hope that he will get to be happy.

Update: Strongly recommend today’s The Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst, which digs into the tick-tock and the fallout of LeBron going to the Lakers, including some midwestern angst over what it means as a midwesterner to have so many of the good players bound to the coastal metropoles.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: we are all confident idiots

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2018

In a lesson for TED-Ed, David Dunning explains the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a cognitive bias in which people with lesser abilities tend to rate themselves as more proficient than they are.

Interestingly, this effect not only applies to those with lower abilities thinking they are better but also to experts who think they’re not exceptional. That is, the least & most skilled groups are both deficient in their ability to evaluate their skills.

Dunning also wrote a longer piece for Pacific Standard on the phenomenon.

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize — scratch that, cannot recognize — just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers — and we are all poor performers at some things — fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Confidence feels like knowledge. I feel like that simple statement explains so much about the world.

See also Errol Morris’ series for the NY Times about humanity’s unknown unknowns.

In closing, I’ll just note that thinking you’re impervious to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is itself an example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. (via open culture)

The Language of the Trump Administration Is the Language of Domestic Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

Jessica Winter writing for the New Yorker:

In the final scene of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary “Domestic Violence,” police in Tampa arrive late at night to the home of a man who is drunk and a woman who is sick. The man has called the police because he is angry that the woman, who is desperate to sleep, is “neglecting” him. Minute by minute, it becomes chillingly clear that the man wants her removed from the house before his anger turns into physical violence. In his mind, the woman’s misdeeds — to be ill; to need rest; to wish to remain in her own home — transform him into an instrument of pain, one that she is choosing to wield against herself. He raises his hands over his head in a gesture of surrender. It’s all her fault. He can’t help it. One of the abuser’s most effective tricks is this inversion of power, at the exact moment that his victim is most frightened and degraded: Look what you made me do.

Look what you made me do has emerged as the dominant ethos of the current White House. During the 2016 Presidential race, many observers drew parallels between the language of abusers and that of Trump on the campaign trail. Since his election, members of the Trump Administration have learned that language, too, and nowhere is this more vivid than in the rhetoric they use to discuss the Administration’s policies toward the Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border.

As Tim tweeted the day after Inauguration Day in 2017, “The President is an abuser. A lot of us are (re)discovering, and (re)deciding, how we react to being abused.”

The dinosaur-killing asteroid that struck Earth was unbelievably huge and fast

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

Humans are so small compared to the size of the Earth, it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend the scale of things like, say, the massive meteorite that struck the Yucatan peninsula about 66 million years ago, an event that triggered the mass extinction of plants and animals, including the dinosaurs. In his recent book, The Ends of the World, Peter Brannen takes a crack at explaining just how big the meteorite was and how quickly the event occurred.

“The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers — probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.”

These numbers are precise without usefully conveying the scale of the calamity. What they mean is that a rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“The pressure of the atmosphere in front of the asteroid started excavating the crater before it even got there,” Rebolledo said. “Them when the meteorite touched ground zero, it was totally intact. It was so massive that the atmosphere didn’t even make a scratch on it.”

Unlike the typical Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.

“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon,” I asked.

“Yeah, probably.”

I don’t know if your eyes are as wide as mine are about now but…

The etymology of “orange”: which came first, the color or the fruit?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Orange Painting

The human eye can see millions of colors but it can take awhile for language to catch up. Take the color orange. Until the 16th century, there was no word for that color in English and even then, when writers referenced it, they said something like “that thing that is the color of an orange”.

Orange, however, seems to be the only basic color word for which no other word exists in English. There is only orange, and the name comes from the fruit. Tangerine doesn’t really count. Its name also comes from a fruit, a variety of the orange, but it wasn’t until 1899 that “tangerine” appears in print as the name of a color-and it isn’t clear why we require a new word for it. This seems no less true for persimmon and for pumpkin. There is just orange. But there was no orange, at least before oranges came to Europe.

This is not to say that no one recognized the color, only that there was no specific name for it. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the rooster Chaunticleer dreams of a threatening fox invading the barnyard, whose “color was betwixe yelow and reed.” The fox was orange, but in the 1390s Chaucer didn’t have a word for it. He had to mix it verbally. He wasn’t the first to do so. In Old English, the form of the language spoken between the 5th and 12th centuries, well before Chaucer’s Middle English, there was a word geoluhread (yellow-red). Orange could be seen, but the compound was the only word there was for it in English for almost 1,000 years.

Also, it has never occurred to me before reading this that “chromatically brown is a low-intensity orange”. !!! Anyway, this piece is an excerpt from the book On Color.

See also literature’s slow invention of the color blue. Orange painting by James Shull (via jodi)

Clunky touchscreens are easier to use than slick ones

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 03, 2018

Clunky Touchscreen.png

I really enjoyed Amber Case’s essay “The Hidden Cost of Touchscreens.” It’s a quick but surprisingly thorough look at where touchscreen interfaces are inappropriate or just plain go wrong.

For instance, touchscreens in cars are problematic for anything that’s going to be used during driving, because well, touchscreens require looking at a thing. For muscle memory and mission-critical tasks, physical buttons are better.

But I also appreciated her nuanced, experience-driven take on ways to improve touchscreen design, where too often clean aesthetics have pushed out strict usability.

Touchscreen design could benefit from some basic design principles. Color-based interfaces take less time to parse when they are glanced at. Image-based interfaces take longer for the brain to process, and the lack of contrast can be confusing, because each item must be distinguished from adjacent items. When so many images look alike, service workers must rely on position and muscle memory for speedy use.

When I worked in food service and in the mailroom, the uglier touchscreens were always easier to work with. They were color coded with bright, contrasting colors, making the boundaries between numbers or items very obvious. I found that the colors reduced mistakes. I’d usually tap the right items after barely even glancing at the interface. After a while, I’d only check the screen for mistakes at the end of the process, before submitting an order or printing a receipt.

I think touchscreens in general are more usable now than they used to be, simply because of learning effects: more of us are used to dealing with touch interfaces in lots of different contexts, and we translate that familiarity wherever we go. At a certain point, though, we bump up against some hard limits of the human brain, eyes, and hands. Trying to fight against those hardly ever turns out well.

A quick visual story about welfare myths and food aid in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

From CityLab visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger, How the Other Half Eats, a look at the myths surrounding welfare and how food aid (in the form of SNAP) works in the US.

Food Aid in the USA

And don’t skip the extensive list of sources and recommended reading at the end of the piece…lots to dig into there.

Country Time will cover illegal lemonade stand fines and fees this summer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

The makers of Country Time Lemonade are running a unique promotion this summer. If you’re the parent of a child 14 or younger who has incurred a fine for running an unlicensed lemonade stand or who has paid for a permit, Country Time will “cover your fine or permit fees up to $300”. This video explains (ok, I lol’d at “tastes like justice”):

Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. (including D.C.), who are the parents or legal guardians of a child 14 years of age or younger operating a lemonade stand. Program ends 11:59pm ET on 8/31/18 or when $60,000 worth of offers have been awarded, whichever comes first.

In a related promotion, Domino’s Pizza is working to fix potholes in streets around the US.

I guess it’s nice of these companies to step in here, but it’s sad that America’s crumbling infrastructure and antiquated legal system have become promotional opportunities for massive multinational corporations that spend millions each year trying to avoid paying local, state, and federal taxes that might conceivably go towards fixing problems like this in a non-ad hoc way. But hey, pizza and lemonade, mmmmmm.

How to see kung fu films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

In this video, MoMA film curator La Frances Hui gives us a very quick and informative overview of what to look for when watching kung fu and martial arts films. Aside from Jackie Chan & more recent stuff like Crouching Tiger & Hero, I’ve never been super into martial arts movies, but after watching this, I’m excited to watch some of Lau Kar-leung’s films, particularly The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime). Lau also directed and did the fight choreography for Drunken Master II, a favorite of mine that I haven’t seen in awhile.

America’s inhumane child separation policy & our border concentration camps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

Child Separation

No use sugar-coating it: the federal government of the United States of America now has a policy of taking children away from their families when they attempt to enter the US to request political asylum from violence & hardship in their native countries. These children and their parents are placed into concentration camps. The government is doing this as a deterrent for further immigration and for political leverage.

But Mr. Miller has expressed none of the president’s misgivings. “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he said during an interview in his West Wing office this past week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Texas Monthly interviewed Anne Chandler, the director of a nonprofit that focuses on helping immigrant women and children. She spoke about what the zero tolerance policy means:

TM: So, just so I make sure I understand: the parents come in and say, “We’re persecuted” or give some reason for asylum. They come in. And then their child or children are taken away and they’re in lockup for at least six weeks away from the kids and often don’t know where the kids are. Is that what’s happening under zero tolerance?

AC: So the idea of zero tolerance under the stated policy is that we don’t care why you’re afraid. We don’t care if it’s religion, political, gangs, anything. For all asylum seekers, you are going to be put in jail, in a detention center, and you’re going to have your children taken away from you. That’s the policy.

Children and their parents are being held in private jails1 built and operated at the US government’s behest.

Colleagues at a government-contracted shelter in Arizona had a specific request for Antar Davidson when three Brazilian migrant children arrived: “Tell them they can’t hug.”

Davidson, 32, is of Brazilian descent and speaks Portuguese. He said the siblings — ages 16, 10 and 6 — were distraught after being separated from their parents at the border. The children were “huddled together, tears streaming down their faces,” he said.

Officials had told them their parents were “lost,” which they interpreted to mean dead. Davidson said he told the children he didn’t know where their parents were, but that they had to be strong.

“The 16-year-old, he looks at me and says, ‘How?’” Davidson said. As he watched the youth cry, he thought, “This is not healthy.”

Yesterday, some reporters were allowed a brief look inside one of these jails in Texas:

Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.

One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she didn’t know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she had to show others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.

The traumatic effects of being kept away from parents are deep and long lasting. Dell Cameron shares his story of being separated from his parents as a child.

The trauma came from being separated from parents, who I knew were out there, and when I saw them, would tell me they were doing everything to get me home. But it took years. Hope is what I lost as a child. It was destroyed by the state.

When on occasion my dad was allowed to visit, watching him leave utterly destroyed me. I mean, I’d fly into insanity. I would pick up things and smash windows once his truck drove around the corner. Then I’d be punished, very harshly.

When I was 10 or 11 I got out. I was in custody for damn, most of my childhood. It was impossible to acclimate. I didn’t fit anywhere. I had no comprehension of freedom, as my dad’s step kids understood it. I didn’t understand I could walk outside without permission… for months

When this Guatemalan woman and her son tried to enter the United States, they were separated and she was sent back to Guatemala while her 8-year-old son remains in one of the camps in the US. This is going to do unimaginable harm to this child, not to mention to his mother and everyone else in the family.

They’d had a plan: Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez packed up what little she had in Guatemala and traveled across Mexico with her 8-year-old son, Anthony. In a group, they rafted across the Rio Grande into Texas. From there they intended to join her boyfriend, Edgar, who had found a construction job in the United States.

Except it all went wrong. The Border Patrol was waiting as they made their way from the border on May 26, and soon mother and son were in a teeming detention center in southern Texas. The next part unfolded so swiftly that, even now, Ms. Ortiz cannot grasp it: Anthony was sent to a shelter for migrant children. And she was put on a plane back to Guatemala.

“I am completely devastated,” Ms. Ortiz, 25, said in one of a series of video interviews last week from her family home in Guatemala. Her eyes swollen from weeping and her voice subdued, she said she had no idea when or how she would see her son again.

As the federal government continues to separate families as part of a stepped-up enforcement program against those who cross the border illegally, the authorities say that parents are not supposed to be deported without their children. But immigration lawyers say that has happened in several cases. And the separations can be traumatic for parents who now have no clear path to recovering their children.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch recently visited a “processing facility” (the scare quotes are his) and declared it to be “nothing short of a prison”.

I just exited a border patrol “processing facility” known as the “icebox.” It is nothing short of a prison.

I saw chain link cages full of unaccompanied children. They sat on metal benches and stared straight ahead silently

And I met a woman named Reina who was being extorted in Guatemala. She traveled 14 days with her 13 year old daughter and turned herself in at the border for asylum.

She hasn’t seen her daughter in two days and didn’t know where she was. No one had told her that her daughter had been taken to a shelter.

Today, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called for the US to stop the practice of separating children from parents.

The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday entered the mounting furor over the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents, calling for an immediate halt to a practice he condemned as abuse.

United States immigration authorities have detained almost 2,000 children in the past six weeks, which may cause them irreparable harm with lifelong consequences, said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

He cited anobservation by the president of the American Association of Pediatrics that locking the children up separately from their parents constituted “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Mr. al-Hussein said.

If you’re feeling helpless and powerless about this (and I admit that I very much do), Slate and The Cut have listed some ways that you can help the families and children involved and fight for a more humane policy for those seeking a better life here in America.

Photo above by Getty photographer John Moore.

Update: From ProPublica, Listen to Children Who’ve Just Been Separated From Their Parents at the Border.

The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Holy hell.

Update: Drs. Margaret Sheridan and Charles Nelson writing for the NY Times about a study they conducted that shows how adversely family separation affects children.

As members of a team of researchers who have investigated the impact of separating children from their parents during early childhood, we were struck by another aspect of this news: In an effort to increase security, the Trump administration has hit upon a policy that we know is actually likely to increase delinquency and criminality among these children in the future. While trying to protect American citizens, the administration may be placing them in greater jeopardy.

If we have learned nothing else in the past 50 years of research on child development, it is that children do best in families and that violating this norm has terrible effects.

  1. Many news organizations are using the words “facility” or “shelter” but that terminology implies that people are free to leave, which they are not, and this definitely isn’t sheltering. These are jails and concentration camps (so says a women who wrote a history of concentration camps) and I will refer to them as such. Language is important.

Sci-fi spaceship designs inspired by everyday objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2018

Eric Geusz

Eric Geusz

Eric Geusz

Eric Geusz takes everyday objects like can openers, tongs, and potato peelers and turns them into spaceships that wouldn’t look out of place in Star Wars or Star Trek.

Wine and storytelling

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 08, 2018

At Vinepair, Felix Salmon waxes metaphysical on the value of mythology and narrative in shaping our experience of food and drink.

The amount that we enjoy a bottle of wine is a direct function of the stories we tell about it. Once you’re telling stories about the winemaker, about the soil, about the grapes, about the cool dog that patrols the vines, you’re invested.

If they’re personal stories then you’re even more invested. If you’ve met the winemaker, seen the grapes, had the dog cuddle up at your feet while you were tasting your fourth bottle, that’s going to further deepen your personal connection to the wine. But if you’re one degree of separation away, and that one degree of separation is an enthusiastic worker at Chambers Street Wines to whom you have some kind of personal connection, then that’s great, too.

It’s much better, in fact, than the kind of wine-snob knowledge that allows people to identify wines in blind tastings or wax authoritative on the subject of malolactic fermentation. Knowledge is a dispassionate, Apollonian thing; stories are where we find Dionysian pleasure.

One of the myths Salmon zeroes in on is terroir, which has functioned almost as a kind of auteur theory for wine, and (like auteur theory in cinema) is almost definitely more a 20th century French propaganda campaign than a demonstrable fact. But, Salmon also says, the fact that it’s propaganda doesn’t really matter: the stories add value to the experience beyond their demonstrable truth. And when we eat or drink, it’s the experience, not the demonstration, that matters most.

(Via @hels.)

America’s ramen obsession

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2018

The latest video in the New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession tracks the transformation of ramen from a cheapo dorm room food to current culinary obsession showing no signs of abating. I ate the cheap ramen in college, dined at David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar early on, and might pick ramen as my death-bed food,1 so I guess this video was pretty much made for me. Honestly the toughest part about where I live right now is the 2-hour roundtrip drive to eat ramen.

  1. Specifically, I would have a bowl of the shoyu ramen from Ivan.

Did blogs ruin the web? Or did the web ruin blogs?

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 05, 2018

Here are three essays that make very different arguments but are worth reading, and (I think) worth reading together.

1. “How the Blog Broke the Web,” by Amy Hoy. Hoy’s essay is alternately nostalgic for the early days of blogs and smartly critical of the choices that were made then and how they affected the later development of the web.

Suddenly people weren’t creating homepages or even web pages, but they were writing web content in form fields and text areas inside a web page.

Suddenly, instead of building their own system, they were working inside one.

A system someone else built.

In particular, Hoy argues, the push towards chronological organization and frequent chronological updates privileged blogs over other kinds of early web production, and drove out sites that had a weirder, more perpendicular relationship to time.

2. Dave Winer, “What Became of the Blogosphere? Winer is focused on a narrower problem, but he gives it wide implications.

What changed is we lost the center. I know something about this because I created and operated weblogs.com. It worked at first, but then the blogosphere grew and grew, and weblogs.com didn’t or couldn’t scale to meet it. Eventually I sold it because it was such a personal burden for me.

The blogosphere is made of people, but the people treated the center like a corporation, and it wasn’t. If we ever want to reboot the center, there has to be a cooperative spirit, and a limit to its scope to avoid the scaling problems. You can’t put a big corp at the center of something so independent, or it ceases to be independent…

There used to be a communication network among bloggers, but that’s gone now.

3. Navneet Alang, “Ding Dong, The Feed Is Dead.” Alang is interested in how the disappearing story is coming to displace the chronological archive.

Even if a tweet didn’t ruin your life, you still have an archive of embarrassment that Facebook has diligently saved for you: ill-advised jokes, too-earnest expressions of emotion, and photos in which we simply look terrible. While movements like #deletefacebook were ostensibly about protecting your data from corporations, perhaps they also reflected a desire for another kind of privacy: a way to just erase all that unflattering history.

What happens next is probably not the overthrow of Facebook or Twitter especially now that those platforms are making a lot of noise about how they want to change. The need for an online presence, even if it’s just LinkedIn, is a big historical shift, not just a fad. But instead of a handful of big, public platforms, I wonder if we can expect a proliferation of smaller, more private platforms to find their place. Not only are they safer and friendlier, but they also foster a loyalty and intimacy that the big networks simply can’t….

These smaller, temporary spaces produce a similar effect to traditional social media—a space to vent and laugh and carebut without the downsides of a public forum.

There are some things that reverse chronology is good for, and some things where it isn’t. There are some cases where a greater visibility and intercommunication is exactly what you want, and some where you want the exact opposite. But we’re also riding the wave of dozens if not hundreds of subtly shaping decisions that are not ours, and maybe were never ours. We can only change them if we understand them first.

That’s a tall order for anyone, even if you weren’t here for the entire history of how everything unfolded in the first place.

The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2018

I watched RBG last night, the documentary film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What a remarkable person she is. Here’s the trailer:

If you’ve seen the movie (or even if you haven’t), Jeffrey Toobin’s 2013 New Yorker profile of Ginsburg goes easier on the memes and deeper into her legal process and views.

At this point, Ginsburg was a leader on the legal side of the women’s movement, especially when she became the first tenured woman at Columbia Law School, in 1972. She co-founded the first law review on women’s issues, Women’s Rights Law Reporter, and co-authored the first casebook on the subject. Also in 1972, she co-founded the women’s-rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. When Sally Reed took her case to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg volunteered to write her brief.

“In very recent years, a new appreciation of women’s place has been generated in the United States,” the brief states. “Activated by feminists of both sexes, courts and legislatures have begun to recognize the claim of women to full membership in the class ‘persons’ entitled to due process guarantees of life and liberty and the equal protection of the laws.” In an opinion for a unanimous Court in Reed v. Reed, Chief Justice Burger overturned the Idaho law as “the very kind of arbitrary legislative choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Sex discrimination, in other words, was unconstitutional. Susan Deller Ross, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who also worked as a lawyer on sex-discrimination cases during this period, said of Ginsburg, “She helped turn the Court a hundred and eighty degrees, from a very hands-off attitude, which had often been expressed very cavalierly, to one where they struck down law after law that treated the sexes differently.”

Building on the Reed precedent, Ginsburg launched a series of cases targeting government rules that treated men and women differently. The process was in keeping with Ginsburg’s character: careful, step by step. Better, Ginsburg thought, to attack these rules and policies one at a time than to risk asking the Court to outlaw all rules that treated men and women differently. Ginsburg’s secretary at Columbia, who typed her briefs, gave her some important advice. “I was doing all these sex-discrimination cases, and my secretary said, ‘I look at these pages and all I see is sex, sex, sex. The judges are men, and when they read that they’re not going to be thinking about what you want them to think about,’” Ginsburg recalled. Henceforth, she changed her claim to “gender discrimination.”

The piece mentions an impromptu serenade of opera fan Ginsburg by Plácido Domingo at Harvard…it’s a cute moment:

For a deeper dive, the best books about Ginsburg are The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Scott Dodson, My Own Words (a collection of her writing), and the more fun Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik.

NYC is boring

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

In The Death of a Once Great City Kevin Baker argues that the current affluence of NYC has made the city “unremarkable” and “boring”.

New York has been my home for more than forty years, from the year after the city’s supposed nadir in 1975, when it nearly went bankrupt. I have seen all the periods of boom and bust since, almost all of them related to the “paper economy” of finance and real estate speculation that took over the city long before it did the rest of the nation. But I have never seen what is going on now: the systematic, wholesale transformation of New York into a reserve of the obscenely wealthy and the barely here — a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncrasy, the complexity, the opportunity, and the roiling excitement that make a city great.

As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

Maps of the spread of the Agricultural & Industrial Revolutions

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2018

This is a map showing the spread of the cultivation of crops across Europe.

Map of the spread of the Agricultural Revolution

The legend is a bit hard to read, but the map indicates that it took ~2000-4000 years for farming to spread from Turkey to Britain. Several thousand years later, the Industrial Revolution boomeranged back out from Britain across Europe:

Map of the spread of the Industrial Revolution

The dates and areas on both of these maps are rough & approximate1 but the important thing to notice here is the acceleration of the pace of technology. The technology of farming (seeds, techniques, tools, etc.) took thousands of years to spread across Europe but the expansion of industrial technology happened on the order of decades in the mid 19th century. That’s an incredible quickening.

And now? Seconds.2 An app launched in China can be downloaded moments later in a cottage in England or a cabin in Quebec and cutting edge scientific papers published in Brazil can be accessed almost instantaneously in India or Kenya. That’s fast enough that plotting it on a map doesn’t make sense…charts like these tell the story of technology adoption much better:

Technology Adoption

Time To 50 Million Users

  1. Maps like these are necessarily approximate, interpretive, and can change due to new discoveries and such. I’m not gonna give you a full rundown on the current state of the research into the spread of farming and industrialization. Check out Wikipedia (farming, industrialization) and work your way elsewhere if you’re really interested.

  2. Acknowledging that just because something can be distributed worldwide in a couple seconds doesn’t mean everything is equally available in every part of the world. Even now, the William Gibson quote still holds: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

This nonsense of earning a living

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2018

From a 1970 issue of New York magazine, Buckminster Fuller on the massive economic lever of technology:

We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

That was written almost 50 years ago…the capability of technology to generate wealth has increased greatly since then.

10 hours of extremely relaxing ocean scenes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2018

From BBC Earth, the team behind Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II, a 10-hour video of soothing oceanscapes: whales swimming, jellyfish pulsing, fish swarming, sharks circling, and rays swooping.

This is super chill, but if I were an EDM DJ, I’d put this up on the screen behind me during my shows and just go nuts with the music.

See also 40+ hours of relaxing Planet Earth II sounds.

The comic tragedy of Balloonfest ‘86

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2018

In September 1986, as part of a United Way fundraiser, the city of Cleveland released 1.5 million balloons simultaneously in a bid to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. As this short documentary by Nathan Truesdell shows, things didn’t really go according to plan.

Nathan Truesdell’s short documentary, Balloonfest, depicts the helium-filled spectacle using archival news footage from local television stations. When the balloons are first released, they form a mass of colorful orbs that wraps around Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, by turns resembling a meteorological phenomenon, a mushroom cloud, or a locust infestation. The image is both awe-inspiring and haunting.

The local news footage is kind of amazing. One of the news reporters inexplicably kisses a woman goodbye he’d just interviewed on-air. When the balloons are released, another commentator screams that America doesn’t have crappy ol’ Cleveland to kick around anymore because baaaallllllloooooooooooons!!

I remember seeing this stunt when I was a kid, probably on Tom Brokaw on NBC’s Nightly News broadcast. This kind of ballooning was big in the mid-80s. Right around the same time, we did a balloon release at school. Each student tied a card with their name and the school’s address on it onto a helium balloon in the hope that whoever found the balloon would write back with their location, which locations would collectively be plotted on a map for unspecified learning purposes. I never heard back about my balloon, and I don’t think anyone else did either.

Balloon messaging turns out to be a very low bandwidth communications medium — and not very good for the environment either. Sometime after Balloonfest ‘86, mass balloon releases began to be discouraged as people realized it was actually just littering on a massive scale and harmful to wildlife. Fun while it lasted though, I guess.

We should be building cities for people, not cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

Devon Zuegel says that our cities and the people who live in them would be much better off if we designed them around people and not cars.

Unfortunately, America’s inherited infrastructure is more like the old Embarcadero Highway than the boulevard that replaced it. Urban planners spent the 20th century building cities for cars, not people, and alternatives to driving have been systemically undervalued. This legacy has resulted in substandard health outcomes, missed economic opportunities, and a shortage of affordable housing.

We can’t wait around for another earthquake to reverse generations of bad policy. Luckily, it doesn’t require a natural disaster to begin reshaping our infrastructure. Small changes can have an outsized impact in expanding alternatives for how people move around. Rebuilding our infrastructure to enable walking, cycling, and mass transit would bring health and economic benefits that far outweigh its price tag.

People who live in rural areas more or less need their own cars in order to do anything, but private cars in cities are much less necessary. Cities should optimize for buses, subways, cyclists, and pedestrians — they get people to where they’re going without all the outsized infrastructure, waste, and pollution. *repeatedly sticks pin into voodoo doll of Robert Moses*

Update: Alissa Walker writing for Curbed: Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets. (because there’s still too much space allocated to cars).

Market Street offers a glimpse of how contemporary U.S. cities might be edging towards that shared-street mentality (a proposal to completely ban private cars from the street was ahead of its time). But it also illustrates something else — if you give people ample space to move at a safe speed using the mode of their choice, anyone can use the street.

All over the country, city leaders are spending their summers devoting careful thought to the number of rentable e-bikes that can be deployed on streets at once, where electric scooters might be parked, and how dockless companies should be punished for violating these terms. Just this week, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which collates best practices from its 62 member cities, released draft guidelines around the regulation of “small vehicles.”

Yet largely absent from these decisions — at least the public-facing ones — are how cities plan to quickly and dramatically reconfigure their streets to allow people to actually use anything but a car.

An orchestral take on Ibiza club hits

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

Gosh, I don’t know what micro-fraction of regular readers are going to be interested in this, but I sure was! In 2015, DJ Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra (under director Jules Buckley) collaborated on a performance of a bunch of Ibiza club hits from the likes of Moby, Fatboy Slim, Orbital, Brainbug, and Daft Punk. Here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs they covered.

Did I get goosebumps when the violins started in on Robert Miles’ Children? Possibly! Some of this stuff was the soundtrack to my web design work & play in the late 90s. kottke.org circa 1999 was at least 20% Fatboy Slim, Orbital, BT, Robert Miles, The Orb, and Daft Punk.

Update: And here’s an album of the performance itself on Spotify as well as a subsequent album featuring different club tracks. Tong and the orchestra are also touring the show around England, Ireland, and Scotland.

The web’s transition from nomadism to feudalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2018

This comparison by designer Alexander Singh of the development of the web from home pages to massive content farms like Facebook with the development of agriculture really got some of the ol’ neurons firing.

Over the past 25 years, the web appears to have transitioned from a primarily nomadic culture to a mostly agrarian one, mirroring the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago.

The simplicity of HTML-only site building, spaces like Geocities & Angelfire, and cultural artifacts such as web rings coupled with poor search engine tech saw us navigate the web like nomads: from point to point, link to link.

The web has developed & so have the skills necessary to build within it. HTML was easy. CSS took a little more time & JS more again, alienating most and establishing a class hierarchy. Discovery was solved, weakening point-to-point navigation.

The literate Priesthood can still build & interface with the web, but the vast majority of people are relegated to the peasantry. “Fortunately” for them, motivated benefactors have offered a Faustian bargain to make their lives “easier”.

Corporate Feudalism has emerged to create centralized, “safe” spaces for the peasantry to work & play. Attention is farmed and sold in exchange for convenience, protection, mediated self-expression & an indifferent audience. You can do anything if it’s within their borders.

Very interesting. What comes next? What does the web’s Renaissance or Enlightenment look like? (via @pieratt)

Cross-section time lapse of a kidney bean growing into a plant

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2018

It’s fun to watch this kidney bean grow into a plant over the course of 25 days to the strains of The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss. Thanks to this cross-sectional view, you can see the main root push down into the soil and the tendrils branching out to anchor the plant for its remarkable vertical growth to come.

Freddish, the special language Mister Rogers used when talking to children

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2018

Maxwell King, the former director of the Fred Rogers Center and author of the forthcoming book The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, shared an excerpt of the book with The Atlantic about how much attention Rogers paid to how children would hear the language on the show. For instance, he changed the lyrics on Friday’s installment of the “Tomorrow” song he sang at the end of each show to reflect that the show didn’t air on Saturdays.

Rogers was so meticulous in his process for translating ideas so they could be easily understood by children that a pair of writers on the show came up with a nine-step process that he used to translate from normal English into “Freddish”, the special language he used when speaking to children.

1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street.

2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.

3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, Ask your parents where it is safe to play.

4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.

5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.

6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.

7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.

8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.

9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

These are boss-level communication skills. Steps 6 & 8 are particularly thoughtful. Using language like “your favorite grown-ups” instead of “your parents” is often decried these days as politically correct nonsense but Rogers knew the power of caring language to include as many people as possible in the conversation.1

You can also see Rogers’ care in how he went back and fixed problematic language in old shows.

But as the years would go on, he would find things that had happened in old episodes that didn’t feel current, where maybe he used a pronoun “he” instead of “they” — or he met a woman and presumed that she was a housewife. So he would put on the same clothes and go back and shoot inserts and fix old episodes so that they felt as current as possible, so that he could stand by them 100 percent.

Fred Rogers understood more than anyone that paying attention and sweating the details is a form of love. It was never enough for him to let you know that he loved you. He made sure to tell you that he loved you “just the way you are” and that made all the difference.

  1. As opposed to those who, for instance, refuse to use people’s preferred pronouns or can’t bring themselves to use “they/their” instead of “he/his” in writing. Those refusals are also an exercise of power, against individuals or marginalized groups, based on fear, uncertainty, and hate.

The insides of everyday items, animated

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2018

On Tinker Fridays, industrial designer dina Amin takes apart an item and makes a playful stop motion animation out of its parts.

I spent 2016 taking products that people decided to throw away apart and showing people (not the ones who threw away those products, but others on Instagram) what’s inside and transformed all the pieces to lil creatures by the magical power of stop motion.

You can find more of Amin’s work on her website, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram. (thx, samira)

Virtually reality

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2018

From Vladimir Tomin, a fun augmented reality video where he uses a set of image editing tools to manipulate the scenery in fanciful ways. (It’s kinda hard to describe this…just give it 5 seconds and you’ll get the idea.)

(via Instagram’s explore page (yes, I’m the guy who uses the IG explore page))

TANK, a 2-minute visual homage to 80s vector arcade games (and Tron)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2018

TANK is a short animation by Stu Maschwitz that’s based on the look of vector arcade games from the 80s like Battlezone, Tempest, Asteroids, and Star Wars. And a sprinkling of Tron for good measure.

If you’re interested in how the video was made, Maschwitz did a 20-minute making of video that’s actually really interesting. I don’t know why I said “actually” there…I love watching how creative people make things. Maybe because the length is daunting? Anyway, how he reverse engineers this style using a modern visual effects software package is worth watching…the attention to detail is *kisses fingers*.

The way I made TANK is a little crazy. I made it entirely in Adobe After Effects, with equal parts animation elbow grease and nerdy expressions madness. This video is part behind-the-scenes, part After Effects tutorial, and part therapy session.

Maschwitz also shared some of assets & software he used, including an After Effects template you can use to make your own vector animations.

See also recreating the Asteroids arcade game with a laser. (thx, ben)

Cooking Babylonian stews, the oldest recipes ever found

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

The Yale Babylonian Collection has four cuneiform tablets that contain the world’s oldest known food recipes — nearly four thousand years old. Scholars think the recipes weren’t everyday cuisine, but dishes prepared for royal houses, because they’re 1) fairly complex and 2) written down. A Yale-Harvard team decided to cook three of the recipes (two lamb stews, one vegetarian) for an event at NYU called “An Appetite for the Past.”

The undertaking was not without its challenges, says [Yale curator Agnete] Lassen. “Not only were some of the ingredients that were used during this time period not available, but two of the tablets are poorly preserved — there are big holes in them. Some of these terms that appear in the Akkadian original are difficult to translate because these are words that don’t appear very often in the other texts that we have and that makes it very difficult to decipher them.”

“Having an understanding of what the food is supposed to feel and taste like is very important,” says Lassen. “We didn’t know what we were looking for. When we were recreating one of the recipes I kept thinking they were doing this wrong, ‘this is not how I would make this.’ And then when it had boiled for a while it suddenly transformed itself into something delicious.”

I wonder which of our recipes will still survive in four thousand years, and what historians of the future will make of the people who ate this food.

Update: University of Chicago Press has a book of ancient Mesopotamian recipes. “Offering everything from translated recipes for pigeon and gazelle stews, the contents of medicinal teas and broths, and the origins of ingredients native to the region, this book reveals the cuisine of one of history’s most fascinating societies.” I’ve never eaten pigeon, but people I know who have say it’s delicious. (I don’t know anyone who’s eaten gazelle.) Via Amy Drummond.

Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever human

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

When I was a kid, I devoured books like locusts ravage crops on the plains. My sister and I would go to the library, get 5 or 6 books each, and when I was done reading all of mine, I’d read hers — Little Women, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club…I was not picky. I read Roald Dahl, all the Little House books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Encyclopedia Brown, E.B. White, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, all kinds of biographies of famous people, and almost everything else in our local library. Reading was how I learned about the world outside my tiny town. Reading was how I came to know about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man.

In 1981, when I was 8 years old, our household acquired two books that I would read more than any other during my childhood: a set of World Book encyclopedias and the Guinness Book of World Records.1 The encyclopedia, a prized family possession, sat on a shelf in the living room and one of my favorite things was to grab a random volume, crack it open to a random page, and start reading. The Guinness Book of World Records, in contrast, sat on a small table in the bathroom; I read it while sitting on the toilet.

The first few pages of the book, which I am pretty sure is still sitting on that table in my dad’s bathroom, contained records related to the human body. I particularly remember reading about Robert Earl Hughes, then the world’s heaviest human, and The McGuire Twins, the world’s heaviest twins; they liked to ride motorcycles:

Mcguire Twins

But most captivating part of that book was the section about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person: 8ft 11in tall, shoe size of 37AA, wingspan of 9.5 feet, and he could carry his father up the stairs at age 9, a feat unimaginable by a scrawny Wisconsin boy of the same age. The tallest person I’d ever seen up until then was probably like 6’3” — a man almost 9 feet tall was like something out of the stories I read from the library. Who needs fiction when you’ve got facts like these?

I hadn’t thought about any of this in years until I ran across a short video of Wadlow the other day (there’s more footage here, here, and elsewhere on YouTube):

Holy shit. Suddenly this almost mythical person from my childhood is walking across my screen! Digging a little, I found the Retronaut’s collection of Wadlow photos, only a couple of which were included in my Guinness book. Here’s Wadlow at 10 years old, when he was already 6’5”:

Robert Wadlow

And here are a couple more photos that show just how tall he was:

Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow

You can read more about Wadlow on Wikipedia, on Retronaut, or, yes, on the Guinness World Records site. I don’t care what anyone says…the World Wide Web is still a marvel. It brought Robert Wadlow alive for me, all these years later. What a thing.

  1. I will leave as an exercise to the reader how these books massively influenced my current choice of vocation.

Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

In a review of William T. Vollman’s Carbon Ideologies, a two-volume set of books that the review calls “the Infinite Jest of climate books”, Wen Stephenson succinctly answers a question about our climate that is on many people’s minds: Are we completely fucked because of climate change?

Yes, of course, we’re fucked. (Though it’s important to specify the “we” in this formulation, because the global poor, the disenfranchised, the young, and the yet-to-be-born are certifiably far more fucked than such affluent, white, middle-aged Americans as Vollmann and myself.) But here’s the thing: with climate change as with so much else, all fuckedness is relative. Climate catastrophe is not a binary win or lose, solution or no-solution, fucked or not-fucked situation. Just how fucked we/they will be — that is, what kind of civilization, or any sort of social justice, will be possible in the coming centuries or decades — depends on many things, including all sorts of historic, built-in systemic injustices we know all too well, and any number of contingencies we can’t foresee. But most of all it depends on what we do right now, in our lifetimes. And by that I mean: what we do politically, not only on climate but across the board, because large-scale political action — the kind that moves whole countries and economies in ways commensurate with the scale and urgency of the situation — has always been the only thing that matters here. (I really don’t care about your personal carbon footprint. I mean, please do try to lower it, because that’s a good thing to do, but fussing and guilt-tripping over one’s individual contribution to climate change is neither an intellectually nor a morally serious response to a global systemic crisis. That this still needs to be said in 2018 is, to say the least, somewhat disappointing.)

I got this via Robinson Meyer, who calls it “as good an answer as I’ve seen”.

How tree trunks are cut to produce lumber with different shapes, grains, and uses

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2018

Trees Wood Cut

At ArchDaily, José Tomás Franco walks us through the cut patterns that are most used to saw wood into different shapes & sizes.

The lumber we use to build is extracted from the trunks of more than 2000 tree species worldwide, each with different densities and humidity levels. In addition to these factors, the way in which the trunk is cut establishes the functionality and final characteristics of each wood section. Let’s review the most-used cuts.

Each cut pattern produces wood with grain patterns and composition that makes it more or less suited to particular uses. For instance, the “interlocked cut” produces thin boards that are “quite resistant to deformation”.

Trees Wood Cut Example

The weird and wonderful American roadtrip with John Margolies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

For more than 30 years beginning in the 1960s, photographer John Margolies criss-crossed the USA documenting the roadside architecture of a pre-corporate America, taking photos of diners, weird sculptures, mini golf courses, and signs that don’t exist anymore in great numbers.

Before the advent of corporate communications and architectural uniformity, America’s built environment was a free-form landscape of individual expression. Signs, artifacts, and even buildings ranged from playful to eccentric, from deliciously cartoonish to quasipsychedelic. Photographer John Margolies spent over three decades and drove more than 100,000 miles documenting these fascinating and endearingly artisanal examples of roadside advertising and fantasy structures, a fast-fading aspect of Americana.

In addition to publishing his work in a book, Margolies released his images into the public domain. The Library of Congress has posted over 11,000 of his photos online, a treasure trove of 60s & 70s Americana. Good luck spending less than 30 minutes poking around in there…

Welcome to Marwen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2018

Mark Hogancamp was beaten by five men outside a bar and left for dead. He spent nine days in a coma, lost his memory, and spent over a year in physical therapy. As part of his recovery, Hogancamp built a meticulously constructed WWII town in his backyard that he called Marwencol.

When his state-sponsored rehabilitative therapies ran out, Mark took his recovery into his own hands. In his backyard, he created a new world entirely within his control — a 1:6 scale World War II town he named Marwencol. Using doll alter egos of his friends and family, his attackers and himself, Mark enacted epic battles and recreated memories, which he captured in strikingly realistic photographs. Those photos eventually caught the eye of the art world, which lead to a series of gallery exhibitions, the award-winning documentary “Marwencol,” the acclaimed book “Welcome to Marwencol,” and a new identity for a man once ridiculed for playing with dolls.

Robert Zemeckis has turned Hogancamp’s story into a movie starring Steve Carell called Welcome to Marwen. Here’s the trailer; it comes out in December 2018:

In 2010, Jeff Malmberg made a documentary about Hogancamp & and his project. It’s a little hard to find these days despite a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but you can watch it on Amazon w/ a trial subscription or buy it on iTunes. Here’s the trailer:

Hogancamp also collected some of the photos of Marwencol into a book.

What made the Nazis possible? Why didn’t anyone stop them?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

With an eye on the current political situations in the US, Turkey, Russia, and China, Cass Sunstein reviews three books that shed light on how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century by Konrad Jarausch, and Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner.

Mayer’s book was published in 1955 and consisted of post-war interviews with normal German people (janitor, baker, teacher) who had been Nazi party members. Their recollection of what had happened differed somewhat from the rest of the world’s.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we — you and I — saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

They also denied the Holocaust had happened. They didn’t see it because their lives were just fine (up until the war started).

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

This reminded me of how ISIS improved the lives of many in Iraq & Syria by fixing electrical problems, regularly collecting garbage, and focusing on law & order. The quotes around “everybody” in the last line of that paragraph also reminded me of the criticism1 directed at people like Steven Pinker, Bill Gates, or Hans Rosling who insist the world is getting better. Better for whom? Everybody?

See also the Sunstein-edited Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

  1. It’s interesting that this post was deleted from the TED blog. I wonder why?

Gmorning, Gnight!, a book of affirmations from Lin-Manuel Miranda

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

Gmorning Gnight

On Twitter, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda often begins and ends his days by posting affirmations for his fans & readers. Stuff like:

Good night. Your mind is yours alone and you decide who and what gets in. Draw the curtains. Make yourself at home.

Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Gnight. Don’t forget to look up your work & let real life in. It makes your work better.

Good morning. You are perfectly cast in your life. I can’t imagine anyone but you in the role. Go play.

Miranda has collaborated with illustrator Jonny Sun on a collection of this inspirational tweets called Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You. It’s out in October, but you can pre-order it now. It doesn’t fit the theme but I hope they found a way to fit this all-time Hall of Fame tweet in there.

Google’s keyword voids

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 06, 2018

This was a new term for me:

keyword void, or search void, n.: a situation where searching for answers about a keyword returns an absence of authoritative, reliable results, in favor of “content produced by a niche group with a particular agenda.”

An article by Renee DiResta at Wired uses the example of Vitamin K shots, a common treatment given to newborn babies at hospitals, but whose top search results are dominated by anti-vaccination groups.

There’s an asymmetry of passion at work. Which is to say, there’s very little counter-content to surface because it simply doesn’t occur to regular people (or, in this case, actual medical experts) that there’s a need to produce counter-content. Instead, engaging blogs by real moms with adorable children living authentic natural lives rise to the top, stating that doctors are bought by pharma, or simply misinformed, and that the shot is risky and unnecessary. The persuasive writing sounds reasonable, worthy of a second look. And since so much of the information on the first few pages of search results repeats these claims, the message looks like it represents a widely-held point of view. But it doesn’t. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, and it’s potentially deadly.

I wondered what other examples of keyword voids might be out there, so I searched for it. Unsurprisingly — in retrosepect — you don’t get a lot of relevant results. It’s mostly programming talk, when you literally want a function to return no results.

Open offices result in less collaboration among employees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

In a recent study called The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration, a pair of researchers tracked the digital and real life interactions of workers at a company that shifted to an open office plan before and after the shift. Here were the two key findings of the study:

Contrary to what’s predicted by the sociological literature, the 52 participants studied spent 72% less time interacting face-to-face after the shift to an open office layout. To make these numbers concrete: In the 15 days before the office redesign, participants accumulated an average of around 5.8 hours of face-to-face interaction per person per day. After the switch to the open layout, the same participants dropped to around 1.7 hours of face-to-face interaction per day.

At the same time, the shift to an open office significantly increased digital communication. After the redesign, participants sent 56% more emails (and were cc’d 41% more times), and the number of IM messages sent increased by 67%.

That’s a pretty dramatic shift…and productivity suffered. The authors theorized that the lack of physical boundaries in the open office made constructing social barriers necessary.

Like social insects which swarm within functionally-determined zones ‘partitioned’ by spatial boundaries (e.g. hives, nests or schools), human beings — despite their greater cognitive abilities — may also require boundaries to constrain their interactions, thereby reducing the potential for overload, distraction, bias, myopia and other symptoms of bounded rationality.

This jibes with my experience working in open offices. For almost 10 years, I worked in an open office plan at Buzzfeed. In the beginning, when there were just a few of us, the level of IRL interaction was high. But as the number of people in the office increased past a certain point, people spent more and more time at their desks, headphones on, ignoring everything but their screens. And yet companies keep doubling down on this…

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

Artist, writer, and thinker James Bridle is an interesting fellow. He coined the term New Aesthetic in 2011. Dronestagram was a three-year project where he posted satellite photos of drone strike locations to social media. He built a trap for self-driving cars. Last year, he wrote a widely read essay on how YouTube’s recommendation algorithms are being used “systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale”.

New Dark Age

In his forthcoming book, Bridle argues that we’re living in a New Dark Age, where it’s not so much the lack of information as too much information that’s the issue.

In actual fact, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the accessibility of information, we’re living in a new Dark Age.

From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.

As I wrote recently, “we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason”.

Update: The Guardian has an extended excerpt of Bridle’s book.

Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something numinous, almost impossible to grasp. We work in it; we store and retrieve stuff from it; it is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is. But there’s a problem with this metaphor: the cloud is not some magical faraway place, made of water vapour and radio waves, where everything just works. It is a physical infrastructure consisting of phone lines, fibre optics, satellites, cables on the ocean floor, and vast warehouses filled with computers, which consume huge amounts of water and energy. Absorbed into the cloud are many of the previously weighty edifices of the civic sphere: the places where we shop, bank, socialise, borrow books and vote. Thus obscured, they are rendered less visible and less amenable to critique, investigation, preservation and regulation.

Being the book, an interview with an audiobook narrator

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2018

If you grew up in the 80s, you might remember Bronson Pinchot as Balki Bartokomous in Perfect Strangers or Serge in Beverly Hills Cop. But Pinchot has built a second career as an award-winning audiobook narrator. I recently listened to him read A Man on the Moon and while the story of the Apollo program is engrossing all by itself, his narration is fantastic. This interview of Pinchot by Jeff VanderMeer (author of the Southern Reach trilogy) is really interesting, particularly the bits about how he approaches his work.

Q: Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

A: I do, though, like all philosophical resolutions, I only intermittently achieve it. The essential task facing the narrator is to identify or invent a vivid personal definition of what “narrating” ought to be. I am uncomfortable with the chilliness of the word narration. It sounds very much outside the action - the voice on a National Geographic educational film intoning, “These giraffes are just learning how to mate”; or my mother, upon Audrey Hepburn’s entrance in My Fair Lady, informing the room: “She used to have such big doe eyes; what happened to her eyes?”

Simply “reading a book” aloud in an airless audio booth is the kind of mental and physical punishment only ever glimpsed in the lower section of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it. In any case, if an audiobook listener doesn’t have the time to curl up with the actual physical text, he or she still yearns for, and deserves, the experience of being carried away by the author’s vision.

Maps of love

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 03, 2018

Land of Matrimony - 1772.jpg
The Land of Matrimony, 1772

The Public Domain Review has an interesting collection of allegorical maps of love, courtship, and marriage, in multiple languages and styles, from the 17th to the 19th century. I’m partial to this very early map, La Carte de tendre; “conceived by Madeleine de Scudéry for inclusion in her novel Clélie (1654-61) and engraved by François Chauveau.”

La Carte de Tendre - 1654.jpg

Here one can travel, by following the river of Inclination, from the town of Nouvelle Amitié (New Friendship) in the south to the town of Tendre (Love) in the north — that is if one can avoid the various pitfalls and obstacles which line the route, including the strangely inviting Lac D’Indiference (Lake of Indifference).

Maps were the memes of their time.

The story of the last survivor of the Atlantic slave trade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2018

In the late 1920s & early 1930s, African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston interviewed an Alabama man named Cudjo Lewis about his life. Lewis was the last survivor of the last slave ship to arrive in America in 1860, decades after the international slave trade had been made illegal in the US. Hurston attempted to publish Lewis’ story as a book, but her extensive use of Lewis’ “unique vernacular” kept publishers away. Last month, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was finally published.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past-memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Cudjo Lewis

Vulture has an excerpt of the book.

De King of Dahomey, you know, he got very rich ketchin slaves. He keep his army all de time making raids to grabee people to sell. One traitor from Takkoi (Cudjo’s village), he a very bad man and he go straight in de Dahomey and say to de king, “I show you how to takee Takkoi.” He tellee dem de secret of de gates. (The town had eight gates, intended to provide various escape routes in the event of an attack.)

Derefore, dey come make war, but we doan know dey come fight us. Dey march all night long and we in de bed sleep. It bout daybreak when de people of Dahomey breakee de Great Gate. I not woke yet. I hear de yell from de soldiers while dey choppee de gate. Derefore I jump out de bed and lookee. I see de great many soldiers wid French gun in de hand and de big knife. Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and dey ketch people and saw de neck wid de knife den dey twist de head so it come off de neck. Oh Lor’, Lor’! I see de people gittee kill so fast!

There’s an audiobook version as well…I bet it’s amazing to listen to.

What the uncharted territories of outer space might look like…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

Harkening back to when visual effects teams used colorful liquids & chemicals to simulate space travel for films like 2001, Helios uses those same techniques to visualize “what the uncharted territories of outer space might look like”.

Helios considers what the uncharted territories of outer space might look like. It was created as a passion project in my basement studio using various liquids and chemicals. It is staged as an audiovisual stimulus inspired by the aesthetics of vintage NASA space travel.

Having spent my entire childhood in an area lacking both basic infrastructure and light pollution, I developed an escapist obsession for watching the night sky and contemplating. I would constantly get on people’s nerves asking: “What do the limits of the universe look like? And what’s behind that?”

Here’s a look at the process behind the video, along with some high-resolution screencaps.

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

In Here Are the 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People, Cloe Madanes gives us some advice at how to succeed at self-sabotage (or, really, how to avoid it).

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

See also seven helpful tips on how to be miserable.

Barack Obama’s 2018 Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2018

President Obama is heading to Africa this week for the first time since he left office. In preparation, he shared a recommended summer reading list that’s heavy on African authors. Here’s the full list:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history — and then go out and change it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

The Return by Hisham Matar
A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes
It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.

One of the books on my summer reading list is The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu, recommended to me by a reader a few months ago.

Each of us has a deep need to forgive and to be forgiven. After much reflection on the process of forgiveness, Tutu has seen that there are four important steps to healing: Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and renewing or releasing the relationship. Forgiveness is hard work. Sometimes it even feels like an impossible task. But it is only through walking this fourfold path that Tutu says we can free ourselves of the endless and unyielding cycle of pain and retribution.