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“Profoundly Unequal” US is Unprepared for the Next Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2021

Ed Yong: We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic. The US is throwing too little money at high-tech, ultimately private sector solutions but much of the problem comes down to our underfunded public health system and “profoundly unequal society”.

“To be ready for the next pandemic, we need to make sure that there’s an even footing in our societal structures,” Seema Mohapatra, a health-law expert at Indiana University, told me. That vision of preparedness is closer to what 19th-century thinkers lobbied for, and what the 20th century swept aside. It means shifting the spotlight away from pathogens themselves and onto the living and working conditions that allow pathogens to flourish. It means measuring preparedness not just in terms of syringes, sequencers, and supply chains but also in terms of paid sick leave, safe public housing, eviction moratoriums, decarceration, food assistance, and universal health care. It means accompanying mandates for social distancing and the like with financial assistance for those who might lose work, or free accommodation where exposed people can quarantine from their family. It means rebuilding the health policies that Reagan began shredding in the 1980s and that later administrations further frayed. It means restoring trust in government and community through public services. “It’s very hard to achieve effective containment when the people you’re working with don’t think you care about them,” Arrianna Marie Planey, a medical geographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me.

How the Human Immune System Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

In the first part of a multi-video series on how the human immune system works, Kurzgesagt describes how the system’s first lines of defense work when your body is invaded by microorganisms.

The human immune system is the most complex biological system we know, after the human brain, and yet, most of us never learn how it works. Or what it is. Your immune System consists of hundreds of tiny and two large organs, it has its own transport network spread throughout your body. Every day it makes hundreds of billions of fresh cells.

It is not some sort of abstract entity. Your immune system is YOU. Your biology protecting you from the billions of microorganisms that want to consume you and from your own perverted cells that turn into cancer.

Kurzgesagt founder Philipp Dettmer is publishing a companion book to the series, Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive; it’s out in late September.

I have read a lot about the human immune system over the past 18 months, but this video was still helpful in understanding how it all fits together. For more information, consult their extensive list of sources or watch their earlier video on what the SARS-CoV-2 virus does to a human body.

American Freestyle Canoeing Is Like Dancing on Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2021

Here’s the thing about humans: they will danceify every possible activity — and canoeing is no exception.

American Freestyle canoeing is the art of paddling a canoe on flat water with perfect control of its movements. The canoe is usually leaned over to the side to help the boat turn sharply and efficiently and paddle strokes are taken on either side of the canoe depending on the individual move. Balance, paddle placement and turn initiation are a few keys to this control. Since the movements seem dance-like, some practice this art timed to music, which is the ultimate in control.

The vest & bow tie, the choice of music (The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh), his control of the canoe — it’s all perfect.

See also It’s Reflective Fjord Season, Watch As a Master Woodworker Turns a Giant Log into an Elegant Dugout Canoe, and Kayaking Down a Drainage Ditch. (via life is so beautiful)

Bike Riding the Rails

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

File this under Things I Definitely Want to Do Sometime: riding electric-assist railbikes through a California redwood forest. Check out how fun this looks:

From the LA Times:

To pedal the rails at Fort Bragg, you book a trip, show up at the station, settle into a vehicle, don a helmet and seat belt, pedal through four downtown intersections (train signals halt traffic) and pass a cemetery.

Then suddenly you’re in the woods, hearing only birdsong and the gentle hum of wheels on tracks. There’s no need to exert yourself pedaling: The railbikes, which weigh about 250 pounds each, are outfitted like e-bikes with quiet electric motors that can push you along at 10 mph even if you don’t pedal.

(via the morning news)

The Parents Are Not Alright

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

Dan Sinker writes for The Atlantic about how navigating Covid risks, politically motivated bullshit, and America’s failing infrastructure has broken parents during the pandemic: Parents Are Not Okay.

Instead it was a year in limbo: school on stuttering Zoom, school in person and then back home again for quarantine, school all the time and none of the time. No part of it was good, for kids or parents, but most parts of it were safe, and somehow, impossibly, we made it through a full year. It was hell, but we did it. We did it.

Time collapsed and it was summer again, and, briefly, things looked better. We began to dream of normalcy, of trips and jobs and school. But 2021’s hot vax summer only truly delivered on the hot part, as vaccination rates slowed and the Delta variant cut through some states with the brutal efficiency of the wildfires that decimated others. It happened in a flash: It was good, then it was bad, then we were right back in the same nightmare we’d been living in for 18 months.

And suddenly now it’s back to school while cases are rising, back to school while masks are a battleground, back to school while everyone under 12 is still unvaccinated. Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives-except this time, no matter what, kids are going back.

Almost every parent I know is struggling with exactly this: trying to keep their kids (and family and friends) safe from Covid-19 while balancing the social & emotional wellbeing of everyone concerned and not getting a lot of help from their governments or communities. Remote school is no longer an option, few infrastructure upgrades have been made to improve ventilation in schools, no vaccine mandates for teachers or staff, parents fighting administrators about vaccine & mask mandates, and everyone is trying to do complex risk calculations about sending their can’t-yet-be-vaccinated kids into buildings with other kids whose parents, you suspect, are not vaccinated and aren’t taking any precautions in states where Delta is endemic. All while trying to work and remain sane somehow? And most of the parents I know have resources — they have steady income & savings, live in safe communities, and have friends & family to fall back on when times get tough. Those who don’t? I truly do not know how they are doing any of this without incurring significant, long-term trauma for parents and kids. We, inasmuch as we’re still a “we” in America, are failing them all.

The Simple Physics Trick That Helps Trains Stay on Their Tracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2021

Train wheels do not sit completely flat on the tracks — they’re designed with a slight taper that increases the stability of the train and allows the train to go around curves without any of the wheels skidding. In this short video, Tadashi Tokieda explains how those conical wheels keep trains on track.

See also Richard Feynman’s explanation of this and this science project at Scientific American. (via the prepared)

Mesmerizing Matchstick Stop Motion Video

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

Usually when I post these sorts of non-narrative videos — in this case, a series of creative stop motion vignettes featuring matchsticks made by Tomohiro Okazaki — I say something to the effect of “I could have watched this all day” or “I wish this video were longer” because they’re often quite short. Well, this one is seven and a half minutes long and I still wish it had gone on for longer. Ok sure, you get the point after awhile, but each successive animation is just as inventive than the last that it kept me hooked.

How to Cut & Serve Every Different Kind of Cheese

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

Join cheesemonger Anne Saxelby as she shows us how to cut, serve, store, and accompany more than two dozen cheeses that cover the entire spectrum of cheese-dom, from Parmigiano-Reggiano to Cheddar to Roquefort to Burrata. This video is like a private cooking class with a very thoughtful & knowledgable host — and it made me incredibly hungry. A good pairing might be Saxelby’s recent book, The New Rules of Cheese.

But….. at the first mention of the word “fridge”, I could not help but think of this classic interview with French marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille: In America, the Cheese Is Dead.

For example, if I know that in America the cheese is dead, which means is pasteurized, which means legally dead and scientifically dead, and we don’t want any cheese that is alive, then I have to put that up front. I have to say this cheese is safe, is pasteurized, is wrapped up in plastic. I know that plastic is a body bag. You can put it in the fridge. I know the fridge is the morgue; that’s where you put the dead bodies. And so once you know that, this is the way you market cheese in America.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2021

the Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in a layer of fabric

the Arc de Triomphe, wrapped in a layer of fabric

For the next two weeks, L’Arc de Triomphe in Paris will be wrapped, an installation that realizes a project begun by the late husband and wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1961.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, a temporary artwork for Paris, is on view for 16 days from Saturday, September 18 to Sunday, October 3, 2021. The project has been realized in partnership with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and in coordination with the City of Paris. It also receives the support of the Centre Pompidou. The Arc de Triomphe is wrapped in 25,000 square meters of recyclable polypropylene fabric in silvery blue, and with 3,000 meters of red rope.

In 1961, three years after they met in Paris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating works of art in public spaces. One of their projects was to wrap a public building. When he arrived in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the Arc de Triomphe and had been attracted by the monument ever since. In 1962, he made a photomontage of the Arc de Triomphe wrapped, seen from the Avenue Foch and, in 1988, a collage. 60 years later, the project will finally be concretized.

Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and Christo followed in 2020, so the project was completed by their team according to their wishes. I would have liked to have seen this in person…The Gates in NYC were wonderful.

Rock & Roll Pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2021

If you’re talking about the origins of rock & roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe has to be included in those conversations. Her early fusion of gospel, the blues, and the electric guitar (as on 1944’s Strange Things Happening Every Day, a contender for the first rock & roll record) had a huge influence on men like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley, who ended up winning much of the credit for this innovation. This 60-minute BBC documentary from 2011 is a good place to start learning about Tharpe — part 1 is embedded above and here are parts two, three, and four.

I found this via Ted Mills at Open Culture, who writes:

As the doc makes clear, Tharpe had a rebellious streak, didn’t do what she was told, and pushed boundaries in a very segregated America. She invited the all-white Jordanaires to tour with her, surprising house managers and booking agents alike. And she carried on a love affair and creative partnership with fellow gospel singer Marie Knight for decades, very much on the down low.

So perhaps this is the reason Tharpe has not been on our collective radar — we’ve been slow to admit that rock guitar was created by a queer black woman devoted to the Lord.

And if you want to see the whole clip of Tharpe performing Didn’t It Rain from the opening scene of the documentary, there’s really not a better way to spend eight minutes (bc you’ll probably want to watch it twice):

Damn.

What’s the Proper Metaphor for the Covid Vaccine?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

For The Atlantic, Katherine Wu writes about the difficulty of communicating how vaccines work and how they protect individuals and communities from disease: Vaccines Are Like Sunscreen… No, Wait, Airbags… No, Wait…

Unfortunately, communal benefit is harder to define, harder to quantify, and harder to describe than individual protection, because “it’s not the way Americans are used to thinking about things,” Neil Lewis, a behavioral scientist and communications expert at Cornell, told me. That’s in part because communal risk isn’t characteristic of the health perils people in wealthy countries are accustomed to facing: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer. Maybe that’s part of why we gravitate toward individual-focused comparisons. Slipping into a pandemic-compatible, population-based frame of mind is a big shift. In the age of COVID-19, “there’s been a lot of focus on the individual,” Lewis told me. That’s pretty at odds “with how infection works.”

As someone who has struggled with analogizing the virus & vaccines, I was nodding my head a lot while reading this. Something I’ve noticed in recent years that Wu didn’t get into is that readers desire precision in metaphors and analogies, even though metaphor is — by definition! — not supposed to be taken literally. People seem much more interested in taking analogies apart, identifying what doesn’t work, and discarding them rather than — more generously and constructively IMO — using them as the author intended to better understand the subject matter. The perfect metaphor doesn’t exist because then it wouldn’t be a metaphor.

Black Film Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Black Film Archive

Black Film Archive is a collection of links to films made by Black filmmakers & actors from 1915 to 1979 that are available to stream online. Maya Cade writes about why she created this archive.

The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be.

The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry).

Films, by their very nature, require a connection between creator and audience. This relationship provides a common thread that is understood through conventional and lived knowledge to form thought and to consider. Not every filmmaker is speaking directly to Blackness or Black people or has the intention to. Some films listed carry a Black face to get their message across. But presented here, these films offer a full look into the Black experience, inferred or real, on-screen.

What a great open resource — exactly what the internet is for. You can read more about the archive on Vulture and NPR.

Size Comparison: The Largest Black Hole in the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

Black holes are the largest single objects in the universe, many times larger than even the biggest stars, and have no upper limit to their size. But practically, how big is the biggest, heaviest black hole in the universe? (A: More massive than the entire Milky Way.)

The largest things in the universe are black holes. In contrast to things like planets or stars they have no physical size limit, and can literally grow endlessly. Although in reality specific things need to happen to create different kinds of black holes, from really tiny ones to the largest single things in the universe. So how do black holes grow and how large is the largest of them all?

Videos about space are where Kurzgesagt really shines. I’ve seen all their videos about black holes and related objects, and I always pick up something I never knew whenever a new one comes out. This time around, it was quasistars and the surprisingly small mass of supermassive black holes located at galactic centers compared to the galaxies themselves.

The Crane That Fell in Love With Her Human Keeper

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2021

Walnut is a white-naped crane that lives in a Virginia endangered species breeding facility. She’s 23 years-old, was raised by humans, and developed a reputation for murdering potential mates. But Walnut eventually found a good match in bird keeper Chris Crowe, a 42 year-old human who she has bonded with. Crowe, as part of his duties at the zoo, has embraced his role as Walnut’s mate in order to inseminate her with semen from a male crane.

That summer, however, Crowe noticed that Walnut seemed interested in, well, him. When Crowe stopped by her yard, she would bow her head and raise her wings — motions that Crowe now recognizes as the first moves of a mating dance. “At first, I thought that she was just excited to see me,” Crowe says. “But then I’d see the other pairs doing the same things, and it kind of dawned on me.” Crowe accepted Walnut’s invitation to dance. Though he felt a little silly, he bobbed his head when Walnut bobbed hers, and raised and lowered his arms like wings. The two circled each other, and sometimes Walnut would make a loud, trumpeting call — the beginning of the white-naped crane love duet. If no one was around, Crowe would try to do the male part of the song — making a Homer Simpson-like “woo-hoo” — but Walnut never found his efforts satisfactory.

As the weather cooled, so did Walnut’s ardor. But in the spring, Walnut began greeting her keeper with bows again. This gave Crowe an idea: If Walnut thought he was her mate, maybe Crowe could make that year’s artificial insemination less stressful for both of them. “If we could get her able to do it without catching her, there’s no stress, no risk of injury,” Crowe says. “It’s much better for us and for the crane.” Lynch agreed. “As far as we knew, it had never been done before, but it seemed like a good thing to try,” he recalls.

Walnut no longer needs to be inseminated to help save her species but since cranes mate for life, her relationship with Crowe continues.

Like an old couple, Crowe and Walnut have fallen into a comfortable routine. After “mating” with Crowe, Walnut will often lay unfertilized eggs. Crowe replaces them with fake ones; the real ones would rot and get eaten by crows, which would prompt Walnut to lay more. The bird then spends long hours sitting on the dummy eggs, so Crowe helps her out whenever he gets the chance. “I go over and stand near the nest and I say, ‘You take a break.’ And she’ll wander off. She’ll go down into the creek and take a bath. Then she walks back after 15 or 20 minutes, and she’s ready to sit back on the nest again.”

Though he does his best to not be a deadbeat dad, Crowe knows he falls short of crane standards. These are creatures that, once paired up, rarely lose sight of their partner; Crowe, in contrast, disappears every weekend. But despite Crowe’s shortcomings, Walnut loves him unconditionally. In fact, this 12-pound bird’s capacity for boundless affection sets a standard that we all could learn from, Crowe says. “The ideal partner doesn’t exist. You have to accept certain things that people can’t change,” he explains. “I mean, she puts up with me even though I can’t dance or sing.”

The Topography of Tears

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

microscopic image of dried tears

microscopic image of dried tears

microscopic image of dried tears

For her project Topography of Tears, Rose-Lynn Fisher used a microscope to photograph the crystalized patterns of dried human tears. Part of why the images all look different is because tears are made up of varying chemicals depending on why they’re made.

Scientifically, tears are divided into three different types, based on their origin. Both tears of grief and joy are psychic tears, triggered by extreme emotions, whether positive or negative. Basal tears are released continuously in tiny quantities (on average, 0.75 to 1.1 grams over a 24-hour period) to keep the cornea lubricated. Reflex tears are secreted in response to an irritant, like dust, onion vapors or tear gas.

All tears contain a variety of biological substances (including oils, antibodies and enzymes) suspended in salt water, but as Fisher saw, tears from each of the different categories include distinct molecules as well. Emotional tears, for instance, have been found to contain protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress.

This project is also available in book form. (via austin kleon)

Update: Per an email from the photographer, I’ve corrected the post above to note that these images were taken with a normal optical microscope, not a scanning electron microscope. Thx, Rose-Lynn!

How Directors Shoot Films at Three Different Budget Levels

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

The YouTube channel In Depth Cine has been looking at how directors like Spike Lee, Alfonso Cuarón, Martin Scorsese, and Wes Anderson shoot films at three different budget levels, from the on-a-shoestring films early in their careers to later blockbusters, to see the similarities and differences in their approaches. For instance, Wes Anderson made Bottle Rocket for $5 million, Rushmore for $10 million, and Grand Budapest Hotel for $25 million:

Steven Spielberg shot Duel for $450,000, Raiders of the Lost Ark for $20 million, and Saving Private Ryan for $70 million:

Christopher Nolan did Following for $6,000, Memento for $9 million, and Inception for $160 million:

You can find the full playlist of 3 Budget Levels videos here. (This list really needs some female directors — Ava DuVernay, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow would be easy to do, for starters. And Chloé Zhao, after The Eternals gets released.)

Watch Flamingos Eat Underwater

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2021

As we learned from reading about the pink salt ponds of Camargue, France, flamingos get their distinctive pink coloring from the food that they eat — halophile algae and tiny animals like shrimp that feed on the algae. In this video from the San Diego Zoo, we get to see an underwater view of a flock of flamingos, at once graceful and gawky, feasting on the tiny critters. What a neat view! (via colossal)

The Circular, Drought-Resistant Gardens of Senegal

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2021

As part of the Great Green Wall initiative, Senegal has been building circular, drought-resistant gardens to keep the Sahara desert from spreading any further. The Kid Should See This explains how they work:

These Senegalese farmers plant the spiraling gardens with a plan to hold water: Medicinal plants in the inner circle, three rows of vegetables, with fruit and nut trees next. The outer circles are created with large baobab trees and African mahogany trees.

The Trailer for The Matrix Resurrections

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES. YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YESSSSSSS!!!!! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!! YES!!!!

Yes. Fuck yes.

Attention Deconcentration and the Secrets of Freediving

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

This is a lovely, almost poetic piece by Daniel Riley about the sport of freediving and one of the best freedivers in the world, Alexey Molchanov.

Freediving is, after all, a lifelong opportunity to radically reshape one’s body and mind in the process. In pursuing depth, humans must train their lungs and brains to unlock secret sources of clarity and strength and oxygen and potential that are hidden within the body. They are secrets that, once revealed, make the divers not just more effective at their craft, they argue, but more effective, conscious, skillful, and thoughtful as human beings. There is a shift in perspective. A global realignment within one’s consciousness. The look in their eyes when they talk about this thing…every diver who’s gone truly deep sounds like those rarest of individuals who’ve seen the earth from the moon, or died and been resuscitated.

Alexey learned how to excel in the sport of freediving from his mother Natalia Molchanova:

When Alexey was younger, his mother, Natalia Molchanova, was the world’s best freediver, a distinction that she held for many years. She was a pioneer in the sport and the practitioner of a mind-and-body-control technique called “attention deconcentration.” She passed her secrets to her son, who perfected them and uses the regimen to reach a state of intense calm. By doing so, he can slow his heart rate, his metabolic rate, while simultaneously slowing the activity of his brain and his body. His focus deepens. He relaxes to the point of seeming asleep. He takes deep, drowsy breaths, like a summer breeze filling a sail.

I first learned about freediving from Alec Wilkinson’s 2009 piece in the New Yorker, where Natalia explained attention deconcentration:

To still the unbidden apprehensions that might interfere with her dive - what she describes as “the subjective feeling of empty lungs at the deep” — Molchanova uses a technique that she refers to as “attention deconcentration.” (“They get it from the military,” Ericson said.) Molchanova told me, “It means distribution of the whole field of attention — you try to feel everything simultaneously. This condition creates an empty consciousness, so the bad thoughts don’t exist.”

“Is it difficult to learn?”

“Yes, it’s difficult. I teach it in my university. It’s a technique from ancient warriors — it was used by samurai — but it was developed by a Russian scientist, Oleg Bakhtiyarov, as a psychological-state-management technique for people sho do very monotonous jobs.”

I asked if it was like meditation.

“To some degree, except meditation means you’re completely free, but if you’re in the sea at depth you will have to be focussed, or it will get bad. What you do to start learning is you focus on the edges, not the center of things, as if you were looking at a screen. Basically, all the time I am diving, I have an empty consciousness. I have a kind of melody going through my mind that keeps me going, but otherwise I am completely not in my mind.”

After reading both of these great pieces, you can check out one of Molchanov’s recent world record dives:

Simpson’s Paradox, a Mindblowing Statistical Gotcha

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2021

Even for mathematically minded folks, statistics can be hard to grasp. Take statistical paradoxes for example: Simpson’s Paradox is a real mind-boggler. Ryan Anderson explains this paradox in a recent issue of Why is this interesting?

It’s simple to describe, yet it still stops me in my tracks when I see it in the wild. The paradox is that a measurable effect on a large population disappears, or even reverses when that population is split into subgroups. The cause of these results is almost always a material change in the denominators from one period to the next.

Showing is easier than telling with paradoxes, so here is a classic example: In 1995 and 1996, David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter in each year. However, Jeter had a higher cumulative batting average over those two years.

It’s true; look:

comparison of batting averages

Anderson continues:

How does this work? Jeter’s 1996 stats accounted for over 92% of his total performance over the two years, as he was 20 years old and only called up to the major league for a few games in 1995. Meanwhile, Justice’s 1996 stats were only 25% of his total performance due to a separated shoulder he suffered barely two months into the season. So while Justice performed better on smaller sample size, Jeter’s 183 hits in 1996 were the strongest signal for overall performance.

Read the rest of the piece; he goes on to connect statistical paradoxes to efforts to mislead people about the pandemic and vaccine effectiveness.

Update: A pair of videos on Simpson’s Paradox, in case you need some more explanation or examples.

(thx, @JunieGrrl)

Magnificent Cumulonimbus Mammatus Clouds

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

cumulonimbus mammatus clouds

Back in 2012, Michael F. Johnston captured a particularly spectacular mammatus cloud over Regina, Saskatchewan. I don’t know how much of a cloud enthusiast Johnston is, but I got pretty excited when I captured these mammatus clouds at sunset a couple of years ago.

Meditative Zen Garden Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2021

Soothing, relaxing, meditative, mesmerizing — just a few of the ways to describe Yuki Kawae’s video of creating different patterns in his zen garden. I guess I could say more about it, but it’s pretty simple: if you want to relax and chill out for awhile, watch Kawae make patterns in the sand. (via colossal)

Crocheted Pasta!

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

pasta shapes made from crocheted fabric

Omg look at these adorable crocheted pasta shapes made by Normalynn Ablao. Her pattern for the pasta is available on Etsy, as are patterns for burritos & taco bowls, mozzarella sticks, and cinnamon rolls.

Meet Lizzie Armanto, Olympic Skateboarder

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

The 2020 Summer Olympics are over, but it’s never too late to find inspiration in the athletes who competed. For the New Yorker, Nathan Fitch made a short film about professional skateboarder Lizzie Armanto, who was then preparing to represent Finland in the first ever skateboarding competition at the Olympics.

“There [are] no masters,” Armanto says. “And even the people that we call masters — they haven’t done every trick. No one can do everything on a skateboard at all times without failing. Everyone falls, and everyone will have something that they can work on.”

Armanto didn’t medal at these Games — she broke several bones and underwent surgery after a skating accident in late 2020 and was perhaps still recovering from that. But she represented Finland and her sport in fine style; she helped design the uniforms she wore:

Those distinctive squiggles were actually an homage to Finland, the country Armanto was competing for. Specifically, she was inspired by architect and designer Alvar Aalto. “In 1939, he designed a kidney-shaped swimming pool which became synonymous with pool skateboarding much later in the ’70s,” Armanto says. “The various patterns on the jumpsuits are modeled after empty swimming pools around the world.”

(thx, pete)

Colorful Pencil Portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2021

colorful portrait of a woman wearing glasses

colorful portrait of Steve Buscemi

Loving these portraits from Lui Ferreyra, particularly the top one, which is a little Impressionistic — the colors remind me particularly of van Gogh and Seurat. Ok fine, it’s not Impressionism but it’s not not Impressionism either. (via colossal)

Finalists in the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2021

grumpy bird

happy insect

monkey lands on wire

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards: always a bright spot in the world these days. This year, the thousands of photos have been narrowed down to 42 finalists, including the three very expressive animals above. Good luck to all the contestants — the winners will be announced in October.

“Caffeine Was an Amazing Aid to the Rise of Capitalism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

In this video, Michael Pollan explains how caffeine is woven into the fabric of modern society. Here’s the short version of how that came to be: People used to drink a lot of alcohol because water was unsafe, so folks were often in a sort of low-grade stupor. When coffee hit Europe, it provided the stimulation, focus, and energy necessary for people to work better and longer. Voila, the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

You can read more about caffeine in Pollan’s latest book This Is Your Mind on Plants (excerpt here) or in his 2020 audiobook called Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

“Art Is Everything”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

In this wonderful short documentary by Lydia Cornett, we meet Yves Deshommes and observe him moving through his many responsibilities and interests in life, including being an NYC concierge, art dealing, raising his daughter, playing the violin, and helping his home country of Haiti.

Deshommes, who grew up in Haiti, came to New York on a student visa in 1985. He was seventeen years old, and when his visa expired he became undocumented. He lived with an older brother and took classes day and night and through the summer in order to finish high school in two years. “I became a man the moment I set foot on U.S. soil, full of responsibility,” he told me. He started playing the violin a few years later, with teachers at the Harlem School of the Arts. He was soon practicing several hours a day and working long shifts at Pizza Hut. He felt that he was too old to train as a professional, but his practice had become central to his life: “Music was the escape, music was the goal. Music was what made me achieve great things,” he said. “The violin gives me a discipline where I feel I can conquer anything.”

Among Giants

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

Among Giants is a short documentary about a group of activists who lived in the trees of a Humboldt County redwood forest for four years in order to stop logging in the area.

Risking injury and incarceration, an environmental activist disrupts the clear-cutting of an ancient redwood grove by sitting on a tiny platform a hundred feet up in the tree canopy. Already three years into the tree-sit when filming begins, AMONG GIANTS blends vérité cinematography with intimate personal reflection to create a vivid picture of life in the trees and the unwavering dedication of the activists.

The activists’ tree-sit was successful — 1000 acres of the redwood forest were transferred to a public trust to create the McKay Community Forest. (via the morning news)

Disgustingly Beautiful Mold Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2021

colorful mold in a petri dish

colorful mold in a petri dish

colorful mold in a petri dish

colorful mold in a petri dish

Artist Dasha Plesen combines molds, bacteria, spores, and other objects in petri dishes to create these colorful abstract photographs. You can find more of her work on Behance and Instagram. (via neatorama)

The Era of Rapid Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released their summary report on the climate emergency, which warns that our climate is now changing rapidly almost everywhere and immediate & massive action is necessary. The press release starts:

Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released today. Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion — such as continued sea level rise — are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.

However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize, according to the IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on July 26.

This is a huge deal — all 195 member governments had to approve the findings and language in this report and the report is not ambiguous. From Eric Holthaus:

The report’s main takeaway, put in a single sentence directly quoted from the report’s press release: “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.”

That means “immediate, rapid, large-scale” change is what we MUST demand — there’s a vastly limited future for all of us if it doesn’t happen right away.

The most striking part of the report to me is its of use the word “rapid” prominently, which to me is a major change from past reports.

The era of rapid climate change has begun. Both a rapid escalation of consequences, and a rapid escalation of solutions. Time has run out for anything but radical change.

To me, the report is equal parts depressing and galvanizing.

It will take several years, even in the best possible scenario, to see the positive effects of rapidly reductions in emissions. But that’s not so different from every other worthwhile investment we make — from going to school, to going to therapy, to building bike lanes, to forming communities of mutual aid. Every worthwhile thing takes time. And, if we believe this report, the next 20-30 years is the most important time of our whole lives.

A Restored Vermeer Painting, Now with Bonus Cupid

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2021

a restored version of Johannes Vermeer's painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window alongside the painting before restoration

Only 34 paintings by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, art history’s foremost painter of Side Views of People Doing Things Near Windows, have been known to survive to the present day, so when one of them is restored, it’s a big deal. The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden shared the first image of the completed restoration of Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window — and you might notice a pretty big change on the wall behind the girl.

The painting has been in the museum’s collection for more than 250 years and the hidden Cupid had been known about since an x-ray in 1979 and infrared reflectography in 2009. It had been assumed that the artist himself had altered the composition by covering over the painting of Cupid.

But when a major restoration project began in May 2017, conservators discovered that the paint on the wall in the background of the painting, covering the naked Cupid, had in fact been added by another person. When layers of varnish from the 19th century began to be removed from the painting, the conservators discovered that the “solubility properties” of the paint in the central section of the wall were different to those elsewhere in the painting.

Following further investigations, including tests in an archaeometry laboratory, it was discovered that layers of binding agent and a layer of dirt existed between the image of Cupid and the overpainting. The conservators concluded that several decades would have passed between the completion of one layer and the addition of the next and therefore concluded that Vermeer could not have painted over the Cupid himself.

There is a certain aesthetic amenity to the bare wall in the altered version but maaaybe the original Cupid lends the painting some figurative meaning?

This Virus Shouldn’t Exist (But it Does)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

In one of their most popular videos in awhile, kottke.org favorite Kurzgesagt tells us about something I’d never heard of before: giruses. These giant viruses have only been discovered within the last 20 years and are so large and contain so much genetic material that maybe they are actually alive?

Hidden in the microverse all around you, there is a merciless war being fought by the true rulers of this planet, microorganisms. Amoebae, protists, bacteria, archaea and fungi compete for resources and space. And then there are the strange horrors that are viruses, hunting everyone else. Not even being alive, they are the tiniest, most abundant and deadliest beings on earth, killing trillions every day. Not interested in resources, only in living things to take over. Or so we thought.

It turns out that there are giant viruses that blur the line between life and death — and other viruses hunting them.

Every Sport a Bowling Ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2021

What if you substituted a bowling ball for the ball in sports like ping pong, golf, cricket, tennis, and soccer — but also in darts and skeet shooting? This very funny video imagines just that.

Drone Panorama of Cao Bang

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2021

panoramic drone photo of a green mountainous landscape in Vietnam

Stunning photo by Pham Huy Trung of Cao Bằng, Vietnam. When I first saw this on Instagram, I thought it was an illustration; it took several looks to convince myself it wasn’t.

Caffeine, the World’s Most Popular Psychoactive Drug

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2021

In an excerpt from his new book This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan writes about caffeine, a performance enhancing drug that humans seemingly cannot get enough of.

Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections — all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness — the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.

The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.

I particularly enjoyed — and by enjoyed I mean “found uncomfortably true” — this line:

Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates.

For more information on how caffeine enabled the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, check out Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses.

Track Star Races the NYC Subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

BuzzFeed enlisted NYU track athlete Jon Diaz to help answer a burning question: Can a fast runner beat an NYC subway train from one station to the next? I don’t want to spoil the answer, but they probably wouldn’t have made the video if he’d failed, right? (via clive thompson)

Update: See also subway races in other cities like London & Paris. (via @philipkennedy)

Lego Versions of Iconic Album Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2021

album cover for Nirvana's Nevermind built with Lego bricks

album cover for Madonna's True Blue built with Lego bricks

album cover for Radiohead's The Bends built with Lego bricks

album cover for Janet Jackson's Janet built with Lego bricks

Check out these iconic album covers rendered in Lego by Adnan Lotia on Instagram. (thx, jenni)

Animated Embroidery

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2021

I love these little stop motion videos by Huw Messie (using Processing, I think) that use embroidery for the animation.

You can check out more of Messie’s work on Vimeo, Instagram, and NFT repository hic et nunc.

Getting into the Delta Variant Mindset

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2021

I’m just going to go ahead and say it right up front here: if you had certain expectations in May/June about how the pandemic was going to end in the US (or was even thinking it was over), you need to throw much of that mindset in the trash and start again because the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has changed the game. I know this sucks to hear,1 but Delta is sufficiently different that we need to reset and stop assuming we can solely rely on the vaccines to stop Covid-19 from spreading. Ed Yong’s typically excellent piece on how delta has changed the pandemic’s endgame is helping me wrap my head around this.

But something is different now — the virus. “The models in late spring were pretty consistent that we were going to have a ‘normal’ summer,” Samuel Scarpino of the Rockefeller Foundation, who studies infectious-disease dynamics, told me. “Obviously, that’s not where we are.” In part, he says, people underestimated how transmissible Delta is, or what that would mean. The original SARS-CoV-2 virus had a basic reproduction number, or R0, of 2 to 3, meaning that each infected person spreads it to two or three people. Those are average figures: In practice, the virus spread in uneven bursts, with relatively few people infecting large clusters in super-spreading events. But the CDC estimates that Delta’s R0 lies between 5 and 9, which “is shockingly high,” Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told me. At that level, “its reliance on super-spreading events basically goes away,” Scarpino said.

In simple terms, many people who caught the original virus didn’t pass it to anyone, but most people who catch Delta create clusters of infection. That partly explains why cases have risen so explosively. It also means that the virus will almost certainly be a permanent part of our lives, even as vaccines blunt its ability to cause death and severe disease.

And a reminder, as we “argue over small measures” here in the US, that most of the world is in a much worse place:

Pandemics end. But this one is not yet over, and especially not globally. Just 16 percent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated. Many countries, where barely 1 percent of people have received a single dose, are “in for a tough year of either lockdowns or catastrophic epidemics,” Adam Kucharski, the infectious-disease modeler, told me. The U.S. and the U.K. are further along the path to endemicity, “but they’re not there yet, and that last slog is often the toughest,” he added. “I have limited sympathy for people who are arguing over small measures in rich countries when we have uncontrolled epidemics in large parts of the world.”

Where I think Yong’s piece stumbles a little is in its emphasis of the current vaccines’ protection against infection from Delta. As David Wallace-Wells explains in his piece Don’t Panic, But Breakthrough Cases May Be a Bigger Problem Than You’ve Been Told, vaccines still offer excellent protection against severe infection, hospitalization, and death, but there is evidence that breakthrough infections are more common than many public health officials are saying. The problem lies with the use of statistics from before vaccines and Delta were prevalent:

Almost all of these calculations about the share of breakthrough cases have been made using year-to-date 2021 data, which include several months before mass vaccination (when by definition vanishingly few breakthrough cases could have occurred) during which time the vast majority of the year’s total cases and deaths took place (during the winter surge). This is a corollary to the reassuring principle you might’ve heard, over the last few weeks, that as vaccination levels grow we would expect the percentage of vaccinated cases will, too — the implication being that we shouldn’t worry too much over panicked headlines about the relative share of vaccinated cases in a state or ICU but instead focus on the absolute number of those cases in making a judgment about vaccine protection across a population. This is true. But it also means that when vaccination levels were very low, there were inevitably very few breakthrough cases, too. That means that to calculate a prevalence ratio for cases or deaths using the full year’s data requires you to effectively divide a numerator of four months of data by a denominator of seven months of data. And because those first few brutal months of the year were exceptional ones that do not reflect anything like the present state of vaccination or the disease, they throw off the ratios even further. Two-thirds of 2021 cases and 80 percent of deaths came before April 1, when only 15 percent of the country was fully vaccinated, which means calculating year-to-date ratios means possibly underestimating the prevalence of breakthrough cases by a factor of three and breakthrough deaths by a factor of five. And if the ratios are calculated using data sets that end before the Delta surge, as many have been, that adds an additional distortion, since both breakthrough cases and severe illness among the vaccinated appear to be significantly more common with this variant than with previous ones.

Vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself and your community from Covid-19. The vaccines are still really good, better than we could have hoped for. But they’re not magic and with the rise of Delta (and potentially worse variants on the horizon if the virus is allowed to continue to spread unchecked and mutate), we need to keep doing the other things (masking, distancing, ventilation, etc.) in order to keep the virus in check and avoid lockdowns, school closings, outbreaks, and mass death. We’ve got the tools; we just need to summon the will and be in the right mindset.

  1. In a tweet introducing his piece, Yong says “Many folks are upset & confused by the last month” and that’s right where I am with this. Maybe you are too. I’m expecting to get angry email about this post, calling it alarmist. But Covid is different now and thinking our same March 2021 thoughts about it isn’t going to help ourselves, our families, or our communities. The sooner we can regroup, the better.

What Would Life on a Flat Earth Be Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2021

So let’s say, for the sake of argument and against all scientific evidence to the contrary, the Earth was flat instead of being an oblate spheroid. What would life on a flat Earth be like? Well for one thing, gravity would present some challenges. From a 2018 piece by Doug Main at the Columbia Climate School:

People who believe in a flat Earth assume that gravity would pull straight down, but there’s no evidence to suggest it would work that way. What we know about gravity suggests it would pull toward the center of the disk. That means it would only pull straight down at one point on the center of the disk. As you got increasingly far from the center, gravity would tug more and more horizontally. This would have some strange impacts, like sucking all the water toward the center of the world, and making trees and plants grow diagonally, since they develop in the opposite direction of gravity’s pull.

And even more than that, gravity would tend to pull a flat disc shape back into a spheroid, so absent an intense spinning force (for which there is zero evidence) or some other completely unknown effect, a flat Earth couldn’t even exist:

For Earth to take the shape of a flat disk in the first place, gravity — as we know it — must be having no effect. If it did, it would soon pull the planet back into a spheroid.

A flat Earth would also likely not have a magnetic field (or at least one that is scientifically possible), meaning no atmosphere:

Deep below ground, the solid core of the Earth generates the planet’s magnetic field. But in a flat planet, that would have to be replaced by something else. Perhaps a flat sheet of liquid metal. That, however, wouldn’t rotate in a way that creates a magnetic field. Without a magnetic field, charged particles from the sun would fry the planet. They could strip away the atmosphere, as they did after Mars lost its magnetic field, and the air and oceans would escape into space.

Oh and no tectonic plates, volcanos, mountains, etc. Or GPS. Or weather. Or satellites. Or different night skies in, say, South Africa and Denmark. Or the Sun behaving the way it does in respect to the Earth. Or air travel. Or plant and animal life as it exists presently. To suppose a flat Earth also supposes that physics doesn’t explain our observable universe the way in which it reliably and comprehensively does. The simplest, best evidence for a round Earth is that we’re here living on it in the manner in which we are living on it.

A million people can call the mountains a fiction, yet it need not trouble you as you stand atop them.

See also What If the Earth Suddenly Turned Flat?, Flat Earthers and the Double-Edged Sword of American Magical Thinking, and Flat Earthers Listening to Daft Punk.

Lora Webb Nichols’ Photographic Chronicle of the 20th Century American West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2021

a woman stands in front of a car wearing a deerskin suit

a double exposed photo of a woman playing a banjo

a woman with very long hair bends over to show it off

This is fantastic: for more than 60 years beginning in 1899, Lora Webb Nichols captured and collected about 24,000 photographs of life in a small copper-mining town in Wyoming.

On October 28, 1899, Lora Webb Nichols was at her family’s homestead, near Encampment, Wyoming, reading “Five Little Peppers Midway,” when her beau, Bert Oldman, came to the door to deliver a birthday present. The sixteen-year-old Nichols would marry the thirty-year-old Oldman the following year, and divorce him a decade later. The gift, however — a Kodak camera — would change the course of her life. Between 1899 and her death, in 1962, Nichols created and collected some twenty-four thousand negatives documenting life in her small Wyoming town, whose fortunes boomed and then busted along with the region’s copper mines. What Nichols left behind might be the largest photographic record of this era and region in existence: thousands of portraits, still-lifes, domestic interiors, and landscapes, all made with an unfussy, straightforward, often humorous eye toward the small textures and gestures of everyday life.

You can browse the collection of her photos at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

Household Surrealism by Helga Stentzel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2021

an orange blanket and a book arranged on a sofa to look like a fox

two windows and some hanging laundry that look like a face

two washing machines and socks hanging on a laundry basket that look like a face

Often using the phenomenon of pareidolia, Helga Stentzel arranges common household items to resemble faces, animals, and other fun characters. You can find prints of some of her creations on her website.

Full Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2021

a full moon with a very colorful surface

The full moon was wonderful last night and Andrew McCarthy captured this colorful image of our nearest celestial companion. McCarthy explained where all those colors come from:

Back to this image, this was captured through a telescope and involved capturing thousands of frames to reveal the details. But what about the colors? The moon is gray, of course, but not *perfectly* gray. Some areas have a subtle blue tint, and others have a more orange tint. By teasing out those subtle colors, I can reveal the mineral composition of the moon! Blues denote titanium presence, while orange shows iron and feldspar present in the regolith. You can also see how impacts paint the surface with fresh color in the ejecta as they churn up material.

A print is available, but only for a very limited time (~6 more hours as of pub time).

Previously Unpublished Photos of Indigenous Culture in Alaska Circa 1927

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2021

a woman and child

a group of four smiling women

a man wearing a fur coat

In 1927, photographer and ethnologist Edward S. Curtis travelled to the US territory of Alaska to photograph indigenous peoples and their cultures for his seminal work, The North American Indian. Some of the photos he took in Alaska were never published and make up a new exhibition at the Muskegon Museum of Art, Edward S. Curtis: Unpublished Alaska, The Lost Photographs.

Begun in 1906, The North American Indian was the defining passion of Curtis’s life, an attempt to record, in writing and photography, the lives of the Indigenous peoples of the Southwestern, Western, and Northwestern United States. This trip, planned for a single season, would be the final voyage to complete his epic quest. Curtis took hundreds of images on his journey, only part of which were ultimately published. The rest sat, unseen, passed down through the family until today.

Edward Curtis: Unpublished Alaska, The Lost Photographs presents, for the first time to the public, images made from the unused original negatives. Over 100 images will comprise the exhibition, along with excerpts from the personal journals of Curtis and his daughter Beth that describe their often harrowing adventures in the Bering Sea.

You can see a selection of these photos online here and previously published photos by Curtis in Northwestern’s archive.

Update: Curtis’s photos are the subject of controversy and criticism, some of which you can read about here.

The North American Indian is a seminal and controversial blend of documentary and staged photography — one which contributes to much of the foundational imagery and, often-stereotypical, understanding possessed by white America about some 82-plus native tribes that the United States eradicated over a century of colonization. Much has been made about the complexities, contradictions, and conflicts of interest in Curtis’s masterwork, by Native and non-Native scholars. Some argue that in staging photographs and, at times, adding props or accessories, Curtis took liberties with the concept of ethnography, both imposing and reinforcing white notions of Native American appearances and culture. Others argue that without Curtis, there would be hardly any extant imagery of the cultural heritage of the tribes he worked with.

Everyday Paparazzi

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2021

a man dressed in a wide brimmed hat, vest, and black boots walks down the street

two women walk arm in arm down the street

a man and a woman walk arm in arm down the street

Johnny Cirillo photographs people on the streets of New York in the style of paparazzi (half a block away with a long lens) and posts them, with permission, to his Instagram account. From an interview with Cirillo in Vogue:

I decided early-on that if I was going to shoot candids of New Yorkers, I didn’t want it to be with a wide lens, up-close in their faces. I started using a 200mm lens so that I could be half a city block away from the subject. It’s similar to the way paparazzi shoot, and all my subjects are celebrities to me, so it’s fitting in that respect.

(via life is so beautiful)

Here’s Why You’ll Fail the Milk Crate Challenge

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Bored of dying from Covid-19, Americans have dreamed up a more entertaining way to mortally wound themselves: the milk crate challenge. Wired asked structural engineer Dr. Nehemiah Mabry (who explained the different types of bridges to us earlier in the year) to explain the physics behind the challenge and why you shouldn’t attempt it. (via @pomeranian99)

Holographic Chromed Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2021

colorful NASA logo

colorful Apple logo

colorful Burger King logo

colorful Prada logo

colorful Star Wars logo

I love these colorfully chromed-out logos designed by Martin Naumann — you can find dozens of them on his Instagram and at Behance. You can also buy an icon set of these logos for your phone.

As he explained on Behance, Naumann’s process for designing these is surprisingly simple — he zooms way in on RGB noise to generate a background gradient, blurs the logo, and then refracts the background using the height map. Cool! (via moss & fog)

Is the 3-Pointer Breaking Basketball?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2021

The three-point shot has become the focus of the offensive strategy of every successful NBA team. But is it also making the game boring?

The math states that scoring one-third of your shots from behind the 3-point line is as good as scoring half your shots from inside the line. In other words: Shooting as many 3s as possible will likely lead to a higher score.

The league took notice, and teams and players followed suit. 3s have become so prevalent in recent years that fans are criticizing the league for being oversaturated with them. Critics worry that the game is on the verge of becoming boring because everyone is trying to do the same thing. And that’s led some to wonder if the NBA should move the 3-point line back.

Check out the “additional reading” in the YouTube description, like The NBA is at a breaking point with three-point shooting and Is It Time to Move the NBA 3-Point Line Back? (2014).

Robots Doing Parkour

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2021

Well. The robots sure are getting good at moving around — running, jumping, doing flips, casually vaulting over railings like an eighth grader trying to impress friends. It is eerie and weird and uncanny and all other such adjectives watching these machines smoothly caper around like humans. Even in the blooper reel they seem really toddler-esque.

The Walk of Life Hypothesis

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2021

The Walk of Life Project has set out to prove a simple hypothesis: Walk of Life by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie. Like There Will Be Blood:

Or Dr. Strangelove:

Or Terminator 2:

Case closed, I think! (via fave 5)

Hall & Oates × Nine Inch Nails

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2021

A mashup of I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) by Hall & Oates and Closer by Nine Inch Nails. It’s perfect, absolutely perfect, like dipping french fries into a Frosty or rolling in the snow after the sauna. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I want to fuck you like an animal
(I can’t go for that)
I want to feel you from the inside
(No can do)

I got this from Dave Pell at Nextdraft — he said simply “trust me” and I’m glad I did.

See also Taylor Swift × Nine Inch Nails and Carly Rae Jepsen × Nine Inch Nails, both of which are better than they should be.

How to Solve Thorny Global Problems

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

Within the past 50 years, the global community has solved two huge problems that had the potential to harm every person on Earth. Smallpox once killed 30% of the people who contracted the disease but through the invention of an effective, safe vaccine and an intense effort that began in the 1960s, smallpox was completely eradicated by 1980. In the 1980s, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer that protects the Earth from UV radiation; further depletion would have caused major problems with the world’s food supply and an epidemic of skin cancer. Forty years later, we’ve virtually eliminated the chemicals causing the depletion and ozone losses have stabilized and have recently shown improvement.

So how did we do it? The short video above talks through each of challenges, how they were met (science + politics + a bit of luck), and how we might apply these lessons to the big problems of today (climate emergency, the pandemic).

The Nature Conservancy’s 2021 Global Photo Contest Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2021

a gorilla surrounded by butterflies

an alligator carcass on dry, cracked soil

an overhead view of a boat surrounded by lily pads

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit organization focused on conservation and addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. The winners of their 2021 Global Photo Contest have interpreted the Conservancy’s mission in a number of different ways. Above are three of my favorite shots from the contest; photo credits from top to bottom: Anup Shah, Daniel De Granville Manço, Manh Cuong Vu.

This App Identifies Birds by Their Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2021

a bird singing and the Merlin app identifying what kind of bird it is

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently added the ability to identify birds from hearing their birdsong to their Merlin Bird ID app — a “Shazam for bird songs” as Fast Company says. You just start recording with your phone and the app starts telling you the birds it’s hearing. Here’s how it works:

Automatic song ID has been a dream for decades, but analyzing sound has always been extremely difficult. The breakthrough came when researchers, including Merlin lead researcher Grant Van Horn, began treating the sounds as images and applying new and powerful image classification algorithms like the ones that power Merlin’s Photo ID feature.

“Each sound recording a user makes gets converted from a waveform to a spectrogram-a way to visualize the amplitude [volume], frequency [pitch], and duration of the sound,” Van Horn says. “So just like Merlin can identify a picture of a bird, it can now use this picture of a bird’s sound to make an ID,” Van Horn says.

This pioneering sound-identification technology is integrated into the existing Merlin Bird ID app, meaning Merlin now offers four ways to identify a bird: by a sound, by a photo, by answering five questions about a bird you saw, or by exploring a list of the birds expected where you are.

Margaret Renkl tried the app out and it seems to work pretty well:

I set my phone down on the table on my back deck, opened the Merlin app, chose “Sound ID” and hit the microphone button. Immediately a spectrogram of sound waves began to scroll across the screen. Every time a bird sings, the sound registers as a kind of picture of the song. By comparing that picture with others in its database, the app arrives at an ID.

I watched as Merlin rolled out the names of bird after bird — tufted titmouse, European starling, Carolina chickadee, northern cardinal, American crow, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, house wren, American goldfinch, blue jay, eastern bluebird, American robin, Carolina wren, house finch. It didn’t miss a single one.

What amazed me was not merely the accuracy of the ID but also the way the app untangled the layers of song, correctly identifying the birds that were singing in my yard, as well the birds that were singing next door and the birds that were singing across the street. If the same bird sang a second time, the app highlighted the name it had already listed. Watching those highlights play across the growing list of birds was almost like watching fingers fly across a piano keyboard.

See also this video review. You can download the app here. I’m going to give this a shot over my lunch hour today. I try to eat outside when the weather is nice and there are always birds out singing.

The Trailer for The Beatles: Get Back

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2021

If you’re even just a little bit interested in The Beatles, popular music, or making creative work, The Beatles: Get Back looks really good. Directed by Peter Jackson and utilizing dozens of hours of footage shot in 1969, this six-hour series documents the Beatles recording Let It Be, their final studio album release, and playing their infamous rooftop concert. The series premieres on Disney+ on November 25 and an accompanying book is out now.

Previously: a six-minute preview of the series introduced by Jackson.

Trailer for PT Anderson’s Licorice Pizza

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2021

I don’t know anything about this film but if you like PT Anderson, you’ll probably like this. From the synopsis:

“Licorice Pizza” is the story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and falling in love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film tracks the treacherous navigation of first love.

Limited release in theaters on Nov 26, opens wide on Dec 25.

The Many Colors of the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2021

the Moon in 48 different colors, arranged in a spiral shape

Marcella Giulia Pace photographed the Moon in 48 different hues and arranged them in a lovely spiral pattern.

I have collected some of my Full Moon shots taken over the past 10 years. I selected the shades of color with which the Moon was filmed in front of my lens and my eyes.

The atmosphere gives different colors to our satellite (scattering) based on its height with respect to the horizon, based on the presence of humidity or suspended dust. The shape of the Moon also changes: at the bottom of the horizon, refraction compresses the lunar disk at the poles and makes it look like an ellipse.

Prints of the image are available. (via @djacobs)

Fiat’s Rooftop Racetrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2021

a photo of the racetrack on top of the Fiat factory in Turin, Italy

a photo of the racetrack on top of the Fiat factory in Turin, Italy

When it was built in the 1920s in Turin, Italy, the Fiat factory was designed with a racetrack on the top of the building, both for car testing purposes and for racing.

The factory’s best-known symbol is the test track, which is a superb piece of design modeling, and construction that occupies the whole roof surface of the workshops. Two 443 meters straights, joined by parabolic bends, form a continuous track for testing the cars.

Originally, as soon as the cars left the assembly lines they could flow directly upward to the test track through the snail-shaped ramps completing the whole processing cycle inside the factory. Moreover, these spiraling ramps inside the building allowed the cars to be driven back down and into showrooms.

The track was a little over 1/2 mile long. Many more views at Rare Historical Photos. (via @laxgani)