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How The Shawshank Redemption Humanized Prisoners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The Shawshank Redemption came out in 1994. Although crime rates had already started falling across the country, the media (with shows like COPS) and government (Joe Biden & Bill Clinton’s push for a crime bill now considered disastrous) were still pursuing and glorifying a punitive criminal justice system. But as this excellent video by Pop Culture Detective explains, Shawshank offered 90s audiences a different view of prison and the criminal justice system.

On a narrative level The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about the power of hope in the face of extraordinary hardship. But underpinning Andy Dufresne’s story we also find a blistering critique of the prison system and criminal justice policy in the United States.

In the film, the audience gets to see the system as harsh & corrupt and the prisoners as, well, people — human beings worthy of rehabilitation. In the 25 years since Shawshank debuted (and bombed) at the box office, public opinion in America has shifted away from the punitive view of the 90s to the more humanistic perspective embodied by the film.

See also Running from COPS, Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. (via waxy)

The Otherworldly Sounds of a Giant Gong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2019

Listen in as “Gong Master Sven” plays a gong that’s 7 feet across. (No seriously, listen…it’s wild. Headphones recommended.)

Ok, show of hands. How many of you of thought it was going to sound like that? I had no idea! He barely hits it! The whole thing sounded like a horror movie soundtrack or slowed-down pop songs. Here’s another demonstration, with some slightly harder hits:

The Memphis Gong Chamber looks like an amazing place. Watching this on YouTube, we’re missing out on a lot of the low-end sounds:

And if you were actually standing here like I am, you can feel all your internal organs being massaged by the vibrations from this. It’s really quite the experience.

This guy drags some objects over a large gong and it sounds like whale song:

Ok well, there’s a new item for the bucket list. (via @tedgioia)

25 Essential Artworks of the Past 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

The NY Times convened a group of curators and artists to decide on a list of the 25 artworks made since 1970 “that define the contemporary age”. At various times, the panelists objected to the futility of such an exercise, but eventually ended up with a list that’s highly subjective, grossly incomplete, and full of great work.

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Kara Walker all made the list. Jeff Koons is listed, somewhat reluctantly both by the panel and himself: “The artist did not grant permission for the named work to be published.”

Perhaps just as interesting as the artworks is the panelists’ discussion, a mini-tour of recent art history. Artist Martha Rosler said of Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”:

“A Subtlety” made lots of people furious because it was about the history of labor and sugar in a place that was already about to be gentrified. It was this gigantic, mammy-like, sphinxlike, female object, and then it had all these little melting children. “A Subtlety” is part of a very longstanding tradition that began in the Arab world that had to do with creating objects out of clay but also out of sugar. So it’s the impacted value of extractive mining, but it’s also the impacted value of the labor of slaves. And it’s also on the site where wage slavery had occurred — sugar work was the worst. The Domino Sugar factory was once owned by the Havemeyers, and Henry Havemeyer was one of the main donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sugar king was the art king. So it had all of these things — and then there’s the idea of all these people taking selfies in front of it. It was extremely brilliant without having to say a thing.

(via @sippey)

The Biggest Nonmilitary Effort in the History of Human Civilization

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 14, 2019

aldrin-moon.jpg

Charles Fishman has a new book, One Giant Leap, all about NASA’s Apollo program to land an astronaut on the moon. He talks about it on Fresh Air with Dave Davies.

On what computers were like in the early ’60s and how far they had to come to go to space

It’s hard to appreciate now, but in 1961, 1962, 1963, computers had the opposite reputation of the reputation they have now. Most computers couldn’t go more than a few hours without breaking down. Even on John Glenn’s famous orbital flight — the first U.S. orbital flight — the computers in mission control stopped working for three minutes [out] of four hours. Well, that’s only three minutes [out] of four hours, but that was the most important computer in the world during that four hours and they couldn’t keep it going during the entire orbital mission of John Glenn.

So they needed computers that were small, lightweight, fast and absolutely reliable, and the computers that were available then — even the compact computers — were the size of two or three refrigerators next to each other, and so this was a huge technology development undertaking of Apollo.

On the seamstresses who wove the computer memory by hand

There was no computer memory of the sort that we think of now on computer chips. The memory was literally woven … onto modules and the only way to get the wires exactly right was to have people using needles, and instead of thread wire, weave the computer program. …

The Apollo computers had a total of 73 [kilobytes] of memory. If you get an email with the morning headlines from your local newspaper, it takes up more space than 73 [kilobytes]. … They hired seamstresses. … Every wire had to be right. Because if you got [it] wrong, the computer program didn’t work. They hired women, and it took eight weeks to manufacture the memory for a single Apollo flight computer, and that eight weeks of manufacturing was literally sitting at sophisticated looms weaving wires, one wire at a time.

One anecdote that was new to me describes Armstrong and Aldrin test-burning moon dust, to make sure it wouldn’t ignite when repressurized.

Armstrong and Aldrin actually had been instructed to do a little experiment. They had a little bag of lunar dirt and they put it on the engine cover of the ascent engine, which was in the middle of the lunar module cabin. And then they slowly pressurized the cabin to make sure it wouldn’t catch fire and it didn’t. …

The smell turns out to be the smell of fireplace ashes, or as Buzz Aldrin put it, the smell of the air after a fireworks show. This was one of the small but sort of delightful surprises about flying to the moon.

How Alfonso CuarĂ³n Uses Long Takes in His Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has become the modern director most associated with the long take. In this video, The Royal Ocean Film Society takes a look at the long shots in his films, from Great Expectations to Gravity to Roma and considers how his approach evolves over time and what separates them from the use of long takes as “an obnoxious mainstream gimmick”.

All of the sequences discussed in the video are available to watch in full length here.

(I looked up Cuarón’s filmography and noticed he’s only directed 5 films in the past 20 years and only 8 total. I would have guessed more.)

The Women Who Helped Pioneer Chaos Theory

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2019

The story goes that modern chaos theory was birthed by Edward Lorenz’s paper about his experiments with weather simulation on a computer. The computing power helped Lorenz nail down hidden patterns that had been hinted at by computer-less researchers for decades. But the early tenets of chaos theory were not the only things that were hidden. The women who wrote the programs that enabled Lorenz’s breakthroughs haven’t received their proper due.

But in fact, Lorenz was not the one running the machine. There’s another story, one that has gone untold for half a century. A year and a half ago, an MIT scientist happened across a name he had never heard before and started to investigate. The trail he ended up following took him into the MIT archives, through the stacks of the Library of Congress, and across three states and five decades to find information about the women who, today, would have been listed as co-authors on that seminal paper. And that material, shared with Quanta, provides a fuller, fairer account of the birth of chaos.

The two women who programmed the computer for Lorenz were Ellen Gille (née Fetter) and Margaret Hamilton. Yes, that Margaret Hamilton, whose already impressive career starts to look downright bonkers when you add in her contributions to chaos theory.

The Solitary Garden

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

In 1960, David Latimer put some compost, water, and plant seeds into a large glass jar and sealed it up. And it’s been growing like that ever since, save for when Latimer opened the bottle to water it in 1972.

Bottle Plants

It’s easy to take nature and evolution for granted but think about how marvelous this is. Over billions of years, an ecosystem evolved on Earth that can sustain itself basically forever using light from the Sun.

The plant creates energy from the sunlight via photosynthesis, using up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the bottle. When parts of the plant die, bacteria in the soil use the oxygen to break down these dead parts, releasing carbon dioxide and completing the circle. The water cycle is similarly self-refueling: whatever water the plant takes in through its roots ultimately transpires out of its leaves, condenses on the inside of the bottle, and drips back into the soil.

The Highest Resolution MRI Scan of a Human Brain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Brain High Res MRI

A team of researchers at the Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness have done an ultra-high resolution MRI scan of a human brain. The scan took 100 hours to complete and can distinguish objects as small as 0.1 millimeters across.

“We haven’t seen an entire brain like this,” says electrical engineer Priti Balchandani of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who was not involved in the study. “It’s definitely unprecedented.”

The scan shows brain structures such as the amygdala in vivid detail, a picture that might lead to a deeper understanding of how subtle changes in anatomy could relate to disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

This video above shows the scanned slices of the entire brain from side to side.

You can view/download the entire dataset of images here.

100 People Share What Drugs They’ve Done

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

The Cut asked 100 people what drugs they have done and this is what they said.

Lots of alcohol, weed, mushrooms, and molly. And one guy who smoked Altoids?

The Dirty Car Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2019

Dirty Car Art

Dirty Car Art

Dirty Car Art

Scott Wade turns the dirty windows of cars into mobile art. Here’s a look at Wade in action:

Plastic Bag Bans Might Do More Harm Than Good

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about a Vancouver store offering plastic bags with embarrassing messages on them to encourage customers to use their own bags for their groceries. Under new laws that took effect on June 1, stores in the city must stop offering paper/plastic bags or charge for them.

NPR’s Planet Money team pulled some research together that suggests that banning plastic bags might do more harm than good (at least in the short term).

Taylor found these bag bans did what they were supposed to: People in the cities with the bans used fewer plastic bags, which led to about 40 million fewer pounds of plastic trash per year. But people who used to reuse their shopping bags for other purposes, like picking up dog poop or lining trash bins, still needed bags. “What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” she says. This was particularly the case for small, 4-gallon bags, which saw a 120 percent increase in sales after bans went into effect.

Trash bags are thick and use more plastic than typical shopping bags. “So about 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags,” Taylor says. On top of that, cities that banned plastic bags saw a surge in the use of paper bags, which she estimates resulted in about 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year.

The waste issue is better, but paper bag production increases carbon emissions. And tote bags, particularly those made from cotton, aren’t great either.

The Danish government recently did a study that took into account environmental impacts beyond simply greenhouse gas emissions, including water use, damage to ecosystems and air pollution. These factors make cloth bags even worse. They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

Classic Airline Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2019

Airline Logos

Reagan Ray has collected a bunch of classic logos from American airlines, from the big ones (Delta, United) to small regional airlines (Pennsylvania Central, Cardiff and Peacock) to those no longer with us (Pan Am, TWA, Northwest). I sent him the logo for my dad’s old airline, Blue Line Air Express…I hope it makes it in!

See also Reagan’s collections of record label logos, 80s action figure logos, American car logos, VHS distributor logos, and railway logos. Careful, you might spend all day on these… (via @mrgan)

Update: Ray was kind enough to add Blue Line into the mix! Thank you!

TV & Movie Spy Scene Breakdowns from the Former CIA Chief of Disguise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

For Wired’s series Technique Critique, former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez looks at several TV shows and movies to rate how good their spy scenes are.

Mendez gives high marks to characters from Alias and The Americans for effective use of disguises and low marks to The Bourne Identity and Homeland. In relation to Philip’s disguises on The Americans, she discusses the concept of the little gray man, the CIA’s goal for its agents to look like harmless middle-aged men, something she also mentioned in this Washington Post piece:

Rhys makes the case, however, for disappearing under nothing more than a knit cap and a pair of glasses, a scruffy mustache and a messy wig. He becomes the consummate little gray man, invisible, the one nobody can remember was even on the elevator.

Mendez also talks about the three cover identities that CIA agents were not allowed to use: clergy, media figures, and Peace Corps volunteer. She previously did this video with Wired about how the CIA used disguises.

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

This wonderful site presents animations of 507 mechanical movements first published in a book by Henry T. Brown in 1868, the full title of which is:

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several of Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use

The site is a work-in-progress…not all of the movements have been animated yet. This short video shows movement #123:

You can buy a paperback version of the original book or browse/download the entire thing at the Internet Archive.

See also this great explanation of differential gears and especially Ralph Steiner’s 1930 short film Mechanical Principles, in which we see many of the mechanisms from Brown’s book actually working:

Warning: if you start Steiner’s film, you’ll probably end up watching the whole thing…it’s mesmerizing, particularly when the gears come in around ~2:30.

Green Screen Tattoos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

In order to create the illusion of motion, tattoo artists are creating tattoos with large green areas to use them as green screens for custom motion graphics. Watch the first five seconds of this video and you’ll get the gist:

(via @tedgioia)

Vintage Photos of NYC’s High Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2019

Gothamist recently posted some vintage photos of NYC’s High Line taken by Jake Dobkin back when it was still an abandoned rail line and not an immaculately designed space surrounded by luxury condos. Meg & I snuck up there in Feb 2004 and walked all the way down from 33rd St to the Meatpacking and back again. Here are a few photos I snapped that day:

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

High Line

A couple of these were kindly included in Phaidon’s book about the making-of the High Line park.

Want to Buy a Bob Ross Painting? You Can’t. (And Here’s Why.)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

During the course of his television career, Bob Ross painted more than 1000 paintings. But you never see them for sale. You can buy Bob Ross paint sets and even a waffle maker that makes waffles that look like Bob Ross — “Pour in the batter, lower the lid, and before you know it, there’s Bob Ross ready for butter and syrup.” — but good luck buying one of his actual paintings. In this charming little video from the NY Times, we learn where all of Bob Ross’s paintings are, meet the paintings’ custodians, and discover why the art isn’t for sale.

In 1994, the talk show host Phil Donahue asked Mr. Ross to “say out loud your work will never hang in a museum.”

“Well, maybe it will,” Mr. Ross replied. “But probably not the Smithsonian.”

Some of Ross’s paintings can be viewed at The Bob Ross Art Workshop & Gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Every episode of The Joy of Painting can be viewed on YouTube or sometimes streaming on Twitch. I watched on Twitch for a couple minutes just now and was tickled to catch him saying one of his signature phrases: “happy little trees”.

The Simpsons Intro Reimagined as a Russian Art Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

The Simpsons has never exactly portrayed its characters in a flattering light, but this version of the show’s title sequence reimagined as a Russian art film by Lenivko Kvadratjić is downright depressing. (via bb)

The Forgotten Power of Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

David Remnick recently interviewed Robert Caro and if you’ve read Caro’s book, Working, or the New Yorker article based on the book, there’s not much new here, but this exchange at the end is worth highlighting:

Remnick: We are living in a political moment, and when you watch the current President it seems that one of the saving graces is that, for all his erratic thinking, insulting thinking, his insults directed at minority groups — and, well, practically everyone — that he’s not that good at the exercise of power. He won the election, but if he had Johnsonian capacities in terms of the exercise of power, we might be even in deeper trouble than we already are.

Caro: Well, I think that that’s correct. And I think, [what] you say about Johnson, what does it mean to [be like] Johnson? You say, well, he wins election over Barry Goldwater, in 1964, by this tremendous majority. So the next morning he’s on the phone — or the morning after, he’s still hoarse the day of the election — calling the House Majority Leader and saying, “You know, the only thing that can hold this up here is the Rules Committee. Now is the moment to change the Rules Committee. Here’s how to do it.” And in the next couple of months he passes Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the voting-rights bill… I’m forgetting the rest of it. The most amazing — he could seize a moment because of this political genius that he has, and change, really, the face of America. It’s hard to remember a day when there wasn’t Medicare or Medicaid.

Remnick: You write in “Working” that there is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power. But there’s also great good that can come out of it. It seems to me sometimes that people have forgotten this, you write. Why have we forgotten it?

Caro: You ask very good questions. I think we’ve forgotten it because we’ve had too many Presidents who don’t use political power — you say, what are things that change people’s lives? In the last century, Social Security, Medicare-like, right now I’m working on a section that, you could say, if I wanted to call it this, is what it was like to be old and sick in America before Medicare. And as I’m doing this I’m thinking, People aren’t even going to be able to imagine this. What was it like to be old in America before Social Security? People can’t imagine it. The power of government to do good for people is immense. And I think we have forgotten that power.

A Small, Simple Hive Designed for Urban Beekeeping

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2019

B-box is a beehive designed for use in close proximity to humans, like near your house or in an urban environment. It does this by separating the honey part of the hive from the area where the bees live and limiting their access to the hive through an entrance more than seven feet above the ground. Check out this video for details:

The makers of the B-box are seeking funding for the project on Indiegogo. Very tempting! (via colossal)

How Art Arrived at Jackson Pollock

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2019

From Evan Puschak, this explanation of how art went from almost fully representational painting to abstract impressionism in about 100 years is a 6-minute whirlwind tour of modern art, from Édouard Manet to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. I always love when Puschak dips back into art…the first video of ever posted of his was about Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates.

Concept Drawings from Studio Ghibli Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Concept Art Studio Ghibli

Tales From Weirdland has a collection of posts that feature concept drawings from several Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Castle in the Sky. I poked around a little and found artwork & concept drawings from Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises, and Porco Rosso. Hand dawn and it all just pops off the screen. Wonderful.

Looks like a lot of this is available in book form as well: The Art of Spirited Away, The Art of Princess Mononoke, The Art of Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.

Curved Cityscape Panoramas

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

Lestnica

Lestnica

As a long-time fan of BERG’s Here & There projection map of Manhattan (and Inception), these bendy photos of European cityscapes by Lestnica are right up my alley (which is now above my head har har). See also Aydın Büyüktaş’s Flatland photos. (via colossal)

Jurassic Park but With Pee-Wee Herman in Place of the T-Rex

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2019

This is gold — a perfect 30 seconds of entertainment. I have watched this at least 10 times and Pee-Wee rolling around on the ground at the end cracks me up every time.

See also The “Welcome to Jurassic Park” Scene But With The Dinosaurs Digitally Removed and Jurassic Park but with the Dinosaurs from the 90s TV Show Dinosaurs.

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are Embarrassing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

A Vancouver market is handing out “embarrassing” plastic bags to customers to encourage them to remember to use reusable bags instead.

Embarrassing Plastic

Embarrassing Plastic

Embarrassing Plastic

Currently, East West charges customers five cents per embarrassing plastic bag that they take. They plan to continue handing out the specialty bags for the foreseeable future, but note that they’d rather no one take them. Instead, they hope to start a conversation about single-use plastic bags, as well as influence shoppers to bring their own bags — whether they are shopping at East West or somewhere else.

It’s a fun idea but as several people on Twitter remarked, the idea that people should be embarrassed about watching porn or seeking medical treatment is anachronistic. Besides, these bags might become a cool thing to have and use — an ironic fashion statement of sorts — defeating the original purpose in the process.

The Steep Drop in Britain’s Coal Usage

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2019

In Britain, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, no coal has been used to produce power for the last 11 days. This is an arresting chart of how quickly the country’s reliance on coal has been reduced:

Britain Coal

Britain is setting new records for going without coal-powered energy. In the latest milestone, it has gone for more than eight days without using coal to generate electricity — the longest such period since 1882.

The coal-free run comes just two years after the National Grid first ran without coal power for 24 hours.

Phasing out the heavily polluting fuel is a key step in the transition towards a net-zero carbon economy and essential to averting catastrophic climate change.

Britain still derives ~50% of its power from natural gas, but this is a very hopeful chart. “Gradually then suddenly” works against us in dealing with climate change but it also could work in our favor.

Vintage TV Test Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2019

It’s hard to believe now, but television didn’t used to be a 24/7/365 affair. TV stations stopped broadcasting late at night and when they were off the air, they would commonly display a test pattern until programming resumed in the morning.

Used since the earliest TV broadcasts, test cards were originally physical cards at which a television camera was pointed, and such cards are still often used for calibration, alignment, and matching of cameras and camcorders.

From Wikimedia Commons and Present & Correct, here are some vintage test patterns:

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

TV Test Patterns

As you might expect, the BBC test card with the girl and clown has both a backstory and a cult following.

One of the most-used test images was RCA’s “Indian-head” test pattern:

TV Test Patterns

As this annotated version shows, each of the card’s elements had a specific testing purpose:

TV Test Patterns

If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, here’s 36 minutes of vintage test patterns from all around the world:

Still Lifes of Packaged Fruits and Vegetables

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

Still Life Plastic

Still Life Plastic

Still lifes of fruits and vegetables arranged on tables and in baskets & bowls have been a staple of Western art for centuries. Spanish creative studio Quatre Caps has brought the still life into the supermarket age with their project Not Longer Life. The project was conceived to call attention to wasteful plastic packaging of fruits and vegetables, but as this post points out, packaged and pre-cut foods can be easier to eat for disabled people.

As a person with limited hand dexterity, I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food. I actively avoid eating oranges, not because I dislike them (they are definitely tasty) but because I have so much difficulty peeling them. Any attempt to peel an orange is likely to result in an unappetizing mess because I’ve squeezed the orange to hard while trying to maneuver it for peel removal.

I don’t have access to peeled oranges from my grocery store though I’d probably take advantage of them if I did. I do buy precut vegetables all the time because it is more convenient and safer for me to do so.

(via colossal)

A Crumbling Abe Lincoln

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2019

Lincoln Sand

Liberty Crumbling is sand sculptor Damon Langlois’ version of the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, which won first prize at 2019 Texas SandFest. (via colossal)

Animated Knot Tying Tutorials

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2019

Animated Knots

Animated Knots is a collection of animated tutorials on how to tie almost 200 different knots. The knots are broken down by activity (fishing, surgical, climbing, decorative) and by type (splicing, bends, quick release). You might want to start with the basic knots or the terminology page. (via dense discovery)

Restoring Vintage Toys to Like-New Condition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2019

A few months ago, I posted this video showing the restoration of a Hot Wheels car from 1971. Then today via Open Culture, I ran across the Rescue and Restore channel on YouTube, which takes rusty steel toys from as far back as the 1920s and restores them to like-new condition. Like this Tonka dump truck that I totally had when I was a kid. (Last I remember, mine was in better shape than this one, but not by much.)

It’s amazing how pristine the body is underneath all that paint and rust after he’s finished sandblasting it. Here’s a Tonka Jeep restoration:

These are surprisingly relaxing to watch, once you get past the somewhat traumatizing teardown phase.

Prince Archivist Michael Howe Discusses “Originals”

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 07, 2019

When word came out shortly after Prince’s death that his estate was looking for an archivist, I briefly imagined the position to be like a Prince librarian: documenting papers, facilitating research, etc. Now, maybe some of that stuff is also happening, but the main job of Prince’s archivist Michael Howe so far seems to be facilitating new musical releases from the huge amount of recorded material from over four decades that Prince left at the time of his death. Which is understandable, if less exciting to a nerd like me.

Schkopi.com has an interview with Howe, discussing the forthcoming release of “Originals,” an album of demo material and other recordings of Prince’s original songs which were first officially released as covers by other artists. It’s in French, but there’s some good stuff in there about the process of selecting songs for release, narrowing the album’s focus to concentrate on the 1980s, and dealing with the fact that these songs have been circulating as bootlegs among Prince superfans for years.

Here’s a short section, translated pretty capably by Google Chrome:

We decided to release this record because we think it is of quality and that Prince would have been proud of it. Our primary goal is to release albums that honor his work, and complete his official discography. We want to come out with the values of respect we owe him and the integrity that was his. Open all valves would not be a responsible act and would not meet these requirements. And even if we wanted to do it, there are so many contractual, legal and legal restrictions with the different labels that would condition what could come out, how and when. It is not that simple. We can not say “oh yes, here’s a good idea, let’s do it”.

We know that Prince was very prolific in the 80s and that many songs of this era are in the trunk. The number of unpublished songs found on the net for the following years is gradually decreasing. Was he just as prolific in the studio in the second half of the 90s and the 2000s?

He did not stop working throughout his career and he was extremely prolific during those 40 years. Even during the last third of his life, and if it was not with the same frequency, he was in the same state of mind as in the 80s and 90s.

Hence the likelihood of more archival releases to come.

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

I am here for any metaphor linking the internet and Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler writes that netizens are retreating from the public square of the internet, resulting in many private & isolated worlds that don’t communicate with each other, a la the dark forest condition in Liu’s books.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

America’s Cars Are Heavily Subsidized, Dangerous, and Mandatory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

This is a fascinating & provocative article from law professor Gregory Shill: Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It. The first line of the piece sets the stage: “In a country where the laws compel the use of cars, Americans are condemned to lose friends and relatives to traffic violence.”

Let’s begin at the state and local level. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions-laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards-zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.

Further entrenching automobile supremacy are laws that require landowners who build housing and office space to build housing for cars as well. In large part because of parking quotas, parking lots now cover more than a third of the land area of some U.S. cities; Houston is estimated to have 30 parking spaces for every resident. As UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup has written, this mismatch flows from legal mandates rather than market demand. Every employee who brings a car to the office essentially doubles the amount of space he takes up at work, and in urban areas his employer may be required by law to build him a $50,000 garage parking space.

Cars and car ownership are massively subsidized on a state, local, and federal level and our laws and regulations have built a nation where cars are mandatory and “driving is the price of first-class citizenship”.

Why are we taxing bus riders to pay rich people to buy McMansions and luxury electric SUVs?

And this speed limit thing is just eye-poppingly fucked up:

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that speed is a top risk factor in motor vehicle crashes. Yet the most prominent way of setting and adjusting speed limits, known as the operating speed method, actually incentivizes faster driving. It calls for setting speed limits that 85 percent of drivers will obey. This method makes little provision for whether there’s a park or senior center on a street, or for people walking or biking.

As a matter of law, the operating speed method is exceptional. It enables those who violate the law-speeding motorists-to rewrite it: speed limits ratchet higher until no more than 15 percent of motorists violate them. The perverse incentives are obvious. Imagine a rule saying that, once 15 percent of Americans acquired an illegal type of machine gun, that weapon would automatically become legal.

Ok, this is one of those articles where I want to excerpt every paragraph…just go read the whole thing. (via @olgakhazan)

Update: Eric Jaffe shared some interesting bits from Shill’s recent paper, Should Law Subsidize Driving?, in a Twitter thread.

Until the 1910s, “street parking was broadly outlawed: if you owned a car in a city, you were responsible for storing it, just as you would be any other piece of movable property.”

“Tax subsidies for commuting prioritize driving. Those who walk, bike, or carpool to work, and in some cases those who take transit, pay other people to drive to work.”

Never realized (or forgot) that CAFE fuel economy rules — generally a good thing — have a loophole that “light trucks” don’t need to be as fuel efficient as cars. “Light trucks” have come to mean SUVs, which means SUVs are easier to produce. No coincidence that the share of “light trucks” has soared from 20% in 1976 to 69% of market today. The upshot, of course, is that SUVs are much worse for pedestrian safety: you’re 3.4x more likely to be killed if hit by an SUV vs. a car.

What’s It Like Living with Perfect Pitch and Synesthesia?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

LJ Rich has synesthesia and perfect pitch and wrote about what that feels like for her personally.

Now, I’d like you to imagine you’re chatting with your conversation partner. But instead of speaking and hearing the words alone, each syllable they utter has a note, sometimes more than one. They speak in tunes and I can sing back their melody. Once I know them a little bit, I can play along to their words as they speak them, accompanying them on the piano as if they’re singing an operatic recitative. They drop a glass on the floor, it plays a particular melody as it hits the tiles. I’ll play that melody back — on a piano, on anything. I can accompany that melody with harmony, chords — or perhaps compose a variation on that melody - develop it into a stupendous symphony filled with strings, or play it back in the style of Chopin, Debussy or Bob Marley. That car horn beeps an F major chord, this kettle’s in A flat, some bedside lights get thrown out because they are out of tune with other appliances. I can play along to every song on the radio whether or not I’ve heard it before, the chord progressions as open to me as if I had the sheet music in front of me. I can play other songs with the same chords and fit them with the song being played. Those bath taps squeak in E, this person sneezes in E flat. That printer’s in D mostly. The microwave is in the same key as the washing machine.

I have a friend with perfect pitch and one of the first times we hung out together, the horn on a tugboat sounded and she said, “C sharp”. I looked puzzled so she explained, and then I peppered her with questions about all the other sounds around us. It was like watching a superhero do their thing.

But with great power sometimes comes great irritation. From a NY Times article about Rich:

LJ said she had been a “weird prodigy kid.” For her, perfect pitch had been a nightmare. The whole world seemed out of tune. But then teachers introduced her to Indian ragas, Gamelan music and compositions with quarter tones, unfamiliar modes and atonal structures. As her musical horizons expanded, her anxiety dissipated. (She remains exceedingly sensitive to pitch, though. Her refrigerator, for example, hums in A flat. Working from home, I hear my fridge running 12 hours a day. Blindfolded, I’m not sure I could pick the thing out of a lineup of three other refrigerators.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Conversation with Greta Thunberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Aoc Thunberg

Late last month, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and climate activist Greta Thunberg had a lengthy conversation over video chat about leadership, climate change, politics, and activism.

GT: Many people, especially in the US, see countries like Sweden or Norway or Finland as role models — we have such a clean energy sector, and so on. That may be true, but we are not role models. Sweden is one of the top 10 countries in the world when it comes to the highest ecological footprints, according to the WWF — if you count the consumer index, then we are among the worst per capita.

In Sweden, the most common argument that we shouldn’t act is that we are such a small country with only 10 million inhabitants — we should focus more on helping other countries. That is so incredibly frustrating, because why should we argue about who or what needs to change first? Why not take the leading role?

AOC: We hear the same exact argument here. And this is the United States of America! People say, “Well, we should wait for China to do something.” There’s this political culture of people trying to say America First — that the US is the best nation in the world, yet at the same time they’re saying, “Well, China’s not doing it, why should we?”

And I think it’s the same argument: are we going to choose to lead, or are we going to sit on our hands? It seems as if they take pride in leading on fracking, on being the number one in oil, in consumption, in single-use plastics. But they don’t seem to want to take pride in leading on the environment and leading for our children.

Early on in the conversation, they touched on something that’s always bothered me in news stories about or criticism of Thunberg: her age.

AOC: One of the things I’m interested in hearing from you is that often people say, “Don’t politicise young people.” It’s almost a taboo. That to have someone as young as you coming out in favour of political positions is manipulative or wrong. I find it very condescending, as though, especially in this day and age with the access to information we have, you can’t form your own opinions and advocate for yourself. I’m interested in how you approach that — if anyone brings that up with you?

GT: That happens all the time. That’s basically all I hear. The most common criticism I get is that I’m being manipulated and you shouldn’t use children in political ways, because that is abuse, and I can’t think for myself and so on. And I think that is so annoying! I’m also allowed to have a say — why shouldn’t I be able to form my own opinion and try to change people’s minds?

But I’m sure you hear that a lot, too; that you’re too young and too inexperienced. When I see all the hate you receive for that, I honestly can’t believe how you manage to stay so strong.

In disciplines as varied as academics, athletics, chess, and art, the achievements of young people are celebrated, but Thunberg expresses her ideas and opinions about how to address climate change and starts a massive movement of young people around the globe and suddenly 16 is too young to participate in our culture and political process? Bullshit.

The Marvelous Mississippi River Meander Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Harold Fisk Maps

Harold Fisk Maps

I have long admired the Mississippi River meander maps designed by Army Corps of Engineers cartographer Harold Fisk but have somehow never written a whole post about them. So when my pals at 20x200 reached out wanting me to write a blog post for them about their Fisk prints, I jumped at the chance. It gave me an excuse to write about art as time travel and, in particular, how Fisk’s clever map compresses thousands of years of a river’s activity into a single image.

It takes some imagination, but standing before a painting by Hilma af Klint, a sculpture by Bernini, or a cave painting in Chauvet, France draws you back in time in a powerful way: you know you’re standing precisely where those artists stood hundreds or even thousands of years ago, laying paint to surface or chisel to stone. Even experiencing art through prints or photographs leads the mind to consider all the cultural, political, technological, and economic things that were happening when the work was produced. Art is a doorway to past worlds.

Fisk’s maps represent the memory of a mighty river, with thousands of years of course changes compressed into a single image by a clever mapmaker with an artistic eye. Looking at them, you’re invited to imagine the Mississippi as it was during the European exploration of the Americas in the 1500s, during the Cahokia civilization in the 1200s (when this city’s population matched London’s), when the first humans came upon the river more than 12,000 years ago, and even back to before humans, when mammoths, camels, dire wolves, and giant beavers roamed the land and gazed upon the river.

You can buy prints of Fisk’s maps at 20x200…they have several available at all kinds of different sizes, framed and unframed.

Update: With LIDAR, the past meanderings of rivers can be seen more clearly (and no less artistically) than in Fisk’s maps. Here’s a LIDAR image of the Mississippi River along the border of Arkansas and Mississippi:

Mississippi Lidar

And don’t miss Daniel Coe’s morphing GIF of Fisk’s map to the LIDAR image. (via @macgbrown)

Update: Ahhh, look at this meander quilt from Timna Tarr:

Mississippi Quilt

And check out some of the other quilts in her gallery…very cool. (thx, rachel)

Update: Cathy Fussell has also created quilts based on Fisk’s maps.

I don’t know if this needs a disclaimer or not, but 20x200 paid me a modest amount to write this blog post for their site but not the post you’re reading now. 20x200 didn’t pay me to write this here post; they didn’t even ask me if I would link to their post from my site. I once wrote a slightly longer (and progressively unhinged) disclaimer for a previous post about 20x200.

The Strangest Person in the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2019

I bet this resonates with more than a few of you.

I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.

This quotation is often attributed to Frida Kahlo, but Quote Investigator tracked it back to a woman named Rebecca Katherine Martin.

How It Feels to Almost Die (and Come Back to Life)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Many years ago, Christen O’Brien had a massive pulmonary embolism and it almost killed her. In a Medium post from January, she shared her personal experience about what it felt like to almost die.

Realizing that I was dying was like being pushed into a pool. You have no thought but to hold your breath and start swimming. It was the most out of control I’d ever been in my life, yet the only option was to succumb peacefully. I could hear the percussion of my heart beating wildly, recklessly. My breath only reached my trachea now, its pathway closing in rapidly. My palms spread open to the sky, just as my dog moved to stand over me. I am here with you, I am here to protect you.

She is an angel, I thought with that same clear certainty.

She moved her body next to me, and I looked up to the sky in what I thought would be my final moments.

The clouds.

The clouds.

The clouds.

Recently, she wrote a follow-up called How It Felt to Come Back to Life.

Coming back from death showed me that the journey of life is not what we often believe. On the surface, it appears as a journey outward — toward things, people, organizations, achievements. But in truth, it is a journey inward — toward the soul. Toward becoming who you actually are, no matter how far outward you may have to travel in order to discover that all the answers are within you, where you belong.

It would be easy to misread this post as a celebration of near-death, but that’s not O’Brien’s intent. Don’t get it twisted: almost dying is not a stable way of experiencing bliss or contentment or soul-closeness (and YMMV anyway). Her point is more that in this modern world we do not know ourselves well enough to live fully and completely. But as she says, “coming back to life is not something that requires a close brush with death” — it’s something we can all do.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

From the Book of Judith comes the tale of Judith beheading Holofernes.

In the story, Judith, a beautiful widow, is able to enter the tent of Holofernes because of his desire for her. Holofernes was an Assyrian general who was about to destroy Judith’s home, the city of Bethulia. Overcome with drink, he passes out and is decapitated by Judith; his head is taken away in a basket.

The story has been a rich vein for artists to explore throughout the centuries. Michelangelo worked it into the Sistine chapel, Botticelli & Rubens painted it, and Italian painter Caravaggio’s rendition is probably the most well-known:

Caravaggio Judith

In Lyta Gold and Brianna Rennix’s entertaining ranking of 10 paintings of Judith beheading Holofernes, they put the Caravaggio at #2, with the top slot going to a painter who worked a generation later, Artemisia Gentileschi:

Gentileschi Judith

As it was from a young age in her father’s studio, her mastery is readily apparent but some context is helpful to appreciate the painting more fully. Throughout her career, Gentileschi featured women, often from mythology or the Bible, as primary subjects with real agency in her paintings. But the story of Judith and Holofernes likely appealed to her for another reason as well. When she was 17 or 18, Gentileschi was raped by her painting instructor, Agostino Tassi. He was convicted at trial, with Gentileschi having to testify in detail about the assault and submitting to torture to ensure she was telling the truth:

During the trial, she was subjected to sibille, a process in which ropes were tied to her fingers and tightened progressively. The practice was meant to divine whether or not she was telling the truth. After seven months in court, the judged finally ruled in Gentileschi’s favor. Tassi was sentenced to five years in prison, but never actually served time.

There appears to be some scholarly disagreement about this, but many believe that Judith Slaying Holofernes, first painted around the time of the trial, was a self portrait, with Gentileschi painting herself as Judith and Tassi as Holofernes. More recently, some critics & historians have tried to draw emphasis away from her assault in the interpretation of this and other paintings, focusing on her growing proficiency and not her victimhood. Whatever her intent at the time, the painting stands as a powerful statement and the young artist was able to continue painting, eventually becoming one of the most famous and sought-after artists in Europe.

By the time Gentileschi made Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, she’d received perhaps the greatest honor bestowed upon the era’s painters: induction into the Accademia del Disegno. She was the first woman to receive the distinction and, according to the 2007 catalogue for the exhibition “Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque,” it changed the course of her life.

With this badge of honor, Gentileschi could buy paints and supplies without a man’s permission, travel by herself, and even sign contracts. In other words, through painting, she had gained freedom. Gentileschi would go on to separate from her husband and live and work independently, primarily in Naples and London, for the rest of her life. All the while, she supported her two daughters, who also went on to become painters.

After her death, Gentileschi’s influence waned and her contributions were nearly forgotten. It was only in the 20th century that her work started to be recognized again. If you’d like to see Judith Slaying Holofernes in person, there are two copies of the painting. The earlier one, painted around the time of the trial, is housed at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples:

Gentileschi Judith

A copy painted a decade later (the one shown above, with Judith in yellow) is on display at the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence.

Teaching a Neural Network How to Drive a Car

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

In this video, you can watch a simple neural network learn how to navigate a video game race track. The program doesn’t know how to turn at first, but the car that got the furthest in the first race (out of 650 competitors) is then used as the seed for the next generation. The winning cars from each generation are used to seed the next race until a few of them make it all the way around the track in just the 4th generation.

I think one of the reason I find neural network training so fascinating is that you can observe, in a very simple and understandable way, the basic method by which all life on Earth evolved the ability to do things like move, see, swim, digest food, echolocate, grasp objects, and use tools. (via dunstan)

Introducing the Playdate Gaming System

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2019

Playdate

Playdate is a new handheld gaming system from Panic, the makers of FTP software. Hold on, what?! From the press release:

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

The crank made me laugh out loud — in delight, mind you. Who puts a hand-crank on the side of a handheld video game console?! A very playful Nintendo-esque touch, designed in collaboration with Teenage Engineering. There’s more info, including photos of their first prototype, in this Twitter thread.

The old school tech blogging community1 is fired up about this thing in a way I’ve not seen for years. John Gruber writes on Daring Fireball:

The idea of a new upstart, a company the size of Panic — with only software experience at that — jumping into the hardware game with a brand new platform harkens back to the ’80s and ’90s. But even back then, a company like, say, General Magic or Palm, was VC-backed and aspired to be a titan. To be the next Atari or Commodore or Apple.

In today’s world all the new computing devices and platforms come from huge companies. Apple of course. All the well-known Android handset makers building off an OS provided by Google. Sony. Nintendo.

Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun.

And from Anil Dash, Putting the Soul in Console:

I’d been given a hint a while ago that something like this was coming, but the final execution is even more delightful than I’d imagined it might be. (That crank!) More importantly, it’s captured the imagination of so many, and seems like the kind of thing that could inspire a new generation of creative people to think, “Hey, maybe good tech is something we can make ourselves.” I’ve seen it happen on Glitch, and now I see it happening around Playdate after just a few hours.

That idea, that maybe things like our gaming devices or the websites we visit should be created by people we know and like, instead of giant faceless companies, seems more essential than ever. We would never settle for replacing all of our made-with-love, locally-grown, mom’s recipe home cooking with factory-farmed fast food, even if sometimes convenience demands we consume the latter. And we shouldn’t compromise any less on making sure that some of the time we spend playing games with each other, and delighting in the promise of technology, comes from people who’ve been diligently working for years to make well-sourced, organically grown, made-with-love technology.

Playdate starts shipping in early 2020. Supplies are probably going to be limited, so if you’re interested in getting one, you should hop on their mailing list.

  1. I.e. the folks who write about technology (software, gadgets) because they love it, not the folks who write about technology (IPOs, funding rounds) because it makes them money and gives them power.

A Documentary on Jim Henson’s Creative Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2019

Defunctland has produced a six-part documentary series on Jim Henson. Each episode focuses on a different creative project that Henson did. Here’s the trailer:

The first four episodes are already out…here’s the second episode on Sesame Street:

You can watch the rest of them on YouTube.

Up in the Trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2019

Manuelo Bececco

Manuelo Bececco

Amongst much fine work on his website and Instagram, Manuelo Bececco’s photos of forest canopies are my favorites. And did you notice the crown shyness in the first photo?

Crown shyness, a phenomenon where the leaves and branches of individual trees don’t touch those of other trees, forming gaps in the canopy.

(via moss and fog)

The (Continuing) Case for Reparations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2019

Five years after The Atlantic published his The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke before a House committee and once again made the case for the United States government making reparations for slavery. Here is Coates’ full opening statement, a succinct & powerful 5 minutes:

The matter of reparations is one of making amends and direct redress, but it is also a question of citizenship. In H.R. 40, this body has a chance to both make good on its 2009 apology for enslavement, and reject fair-weather patriotism, to say that this nation is both its credits and debits. That if Thomas Jefferson matters, so does Sally Hemings. That if D-Day matters, so does Black Wall Street. That if Valley Forge matters, so does Fort Pillow. Because the question really is not whether we’ll be tied to the somethings of our past, but whether we are courageous enough to be tied to the whole of them.

The Atlantic has the full text of his statement.

Explore Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus Online

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

An 1119-page collection of papers known as the Codex Atlanticus has been completely digitized and put online to explore. The codex showcases Leonardo’s impressive range of interests and abilities, from flying machines to anatomy to weaponry to astronomy to engineering.

Several more of Leonardo’s notebooks have been put online as well…I’ve listed all of them in this post about the Codex Forster. (via open culture)

An Atlas of Space

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

Atlas Of Space

Eleanor Lutz is one of my favorite data visualizers (previously) and she’s about ready to drop her new project: An Atlas of Space.

I’m excited to finally share a new design project this week! Over the past year and a half I’ve been working on a collection of ten maps on planets, moons, and outer space. To name a few, I’ve made an animated map of the seasons on Earth, a map of Mars geology, and a map of everything in the solar system bigger than 10km.

Over the next few weeks I want to share each map alongside the open-source Python code and detailed tutorials for recreating the design. All of the astronomy data comes from publicly available sources like NASA and the USGS, so I thought this would be the perfect project for writing design tutorials (which I’ve been meaning to do for a while).

Ahhh, look at those colors! Lutz is going to be posting a new map from the project periodically over the next few weeks so follow her on Tabletop Whale, Twitter, or Tumblr to tune in.

Update: I’m keeping track of the projects that make up the atlas as they are released in updates to this post.

Keanu Reeves Keeps His Hands to Himself

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2019

When I saw this photo of Dolly Parton & Keanu Reeves after it went viral earlier this year, I noticed something interesting about it. Can you see it?

Dolly Keanu

Reeves has his arm around Parton but his hand is open and he is not grabbing or holding her body in any way. He is being warm but respectful. I’ve been thinking about that gesture ever since and was happy to run across this Twitter post by Madsthetic that shows Reeves using the same open-hand gesture with other women. For example:

Keanu Open Hand

Reeves’ move is referred to as “manner hands” in South Korea:

In the West, people are generally mocked online for doing awkward hover hands, but the Korean press seems to applaud the “manner hand” as it’s seen as respectful. Women, it seems, appreciate the “nice guy” gesture, while men probably don’t give it much thought.

Compare with, for instance, the way current Presidential candidate Joe Biden touches women.

See also Keanu Reeves Is Too Good for This World and Keanu Reeves Is a Really Nice Guy. (I had a conversation with a former Hollywood personal assistant once and she told me that there were only two nice men in Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Keanu Reeves.)

Salvador Dali’s Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Salvador Dali / Alice Wonderland

In 1969, surrealist Salvador Dali provided a set of 12 illustrations for an edition of Alice in Wonderland, a seemingly perfect match of artist to subject matter. It was released in a limited edition and copies are now a coveted collector’s item — here’s a signed copy on eBay for $10,000. Luckily, Princeton Architectural Press put out a 150th anniversary edition a few years ago that’s more manageable (Amazon).

See also a couple of Dali’s other books: a wine guide and a cookbook.

Climate Stripes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2019

Using temperature data from around the world, climate scientist Ed Hawkins has built a tool for viewing the “climate stripes” for almost any location, a data visualization that represents the change in temperature over time over the past 100+ years. For most locations, the graphs shift from blues to oranges & reds as the climate warms, neatly illustrated by the global graph:

Climate Stripes

Here’s Vermont (where I live) and Arizona:

Climate Stripes

Climate Stripes

You can see there’s more variation on the regional level than globally. Check out the graph for Mississippi:

Climate Stripes

The warming patterns for particular regions are not going to be uniform…some places are actually forecast to get cooler and wetter rather than hotter and dryer. You can create and download your own climate stripes here…perhaps you can use it to make a global warming blanket. (via riondotnu)

The Apollo 11 Mission in Realtime

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

Apollo 11 Realtime

Well, this is just flat-out fantastic. Ben Feist and a team of collaborators have built Apollo 11 In Real Time, an interactive presentation of the first mission to land on the Moon as it happened.

This website replays the Apollo 11 mission as it happened, 50 years ago. It consists entirely of historical material, all timed to Ground Elapsed Time — the master mission clock. Footage of Mission Control, film shot by the astronauts, and television broadcasts transmitted from space and the surface of the Moon, have been painstakingly placed to the very moments they were shot during the mission, as has every photograph taken, and every word spoken.

You can tune in in real time beginning July 16th, watch/experience it right now from 1 minute before launch, or you can skip around the timeline to just watch the moments you want. As someone who has been hosting an Apollo 11 in real time thing for the past 9 years, this site makes me both ridiculously happy and a little bit jealous.

I’ve only ever seen footage of the first moonwalk in grainy videos as broadcast on TV, but this site shows it in the original resolution and it’s a revelation. Here’s the moonwalk, beginning with some footage of the folks in Mission Control nervously fidgeting with their hands (skip to 5:18:00 if the video doesn’t start there):

The rest of the video for the entire mission can be found here…what a trove. This whole thing is marvelous…I can’t wait to tune in when July 16th rolls around.

Sesame Street Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2019

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Sesame Street gang dropped by NPR for one of their Tiny Desk Concerts. They sang the theme song, People In Your Neighborhood, and four other tunes.

See also this new six-part Jim Henson documentary. Oh and Philip Glass on Sesame Street.

Stone Alphabets

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2019

This is one of several alphabets assembled by Belgian type designer Clotilde Olyff from stones collected at the beach.

Clotilde Olyff

Here are a few more examples, some of which were featured in this book called 3D Typography:

Clotilde Olyff

Well, I guess I have a new beachcombing activity for when I get tired of skipping rocks.

Rating vs Ranking and the Forced Scarcity of American Excellence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

In an expanded version of his NY Times’ piece Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?, Alfie Kohn asks Can Everyone Be Excellent? In the piece, he criticizes our educational system’s practice of ranking students against each other instead of evaluating whether or not they’ve meaningfully improved or successfully learned anything.

But our little thought experiment uncovers a truth that extends well beyond what has been done to our schools in the name of “raising the bar” (a phrase, incidentally, that seems to have originated in the world of show horses). We have been taught to respond with suspicion whenever all members of a defined group are successful. That’s true even when we have no reason to believe that corners have been cut, or that the bar was suspiciously low. In America excellence is treated as an inherently scarce commodity.

Thus, rather than cheering when many people manage to do something well, we’re likely to dismiss that result as meaningless and maybe even mutter darkly about “falling standards” or “being content with mediocrity.” Success seems to matter only if it is attained by a few, and one way to ensure that outcome is to evaluate people (or schools, or companies, or countries) relative to each other. That way, even if everyone has done quite well, or improved over time, half will always fall below the median — and look like failures.

Kohn also touches on the competition inherent in our schools and youth sports:

Reframing excellence in competitive terms can’t be defended on the grounds that setting people against one another leads to improvement in their performance. Indeed, a surprisingly consistent body of social science evidence shows that competition tends to hold us back from doing our best - particularly in comparison with cooperation, in which people work with, not against, each other. Rather, excellence has been defined — for ideological reasons — as something that can’t be reached by everyone.

For the past year or so, my kids and I have been playing Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. It’s a cooperative game where the players build up individual decks of cards to collectively defeat increasingly difficult villains. I was a bit skeptical of it at first — it seemed a little tedious — but all of us grew to love the collaborative aspect of it. Instead of each of us competing to figure out the best tactics to defeat one another, we’ve had to work together on the best strategies, with long discussions in particularly tough circumstances yielding some of the best lessons. We learned that sometimes the best play for the individual is not the best play for the team. We celebrated our successes and licked our wounds together. As a result, I feel like we all know the game inside and out, better than if we’d been playing a competitive game.

High-Def Queen Victoria

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2019

In the 1890s and 1900s, the Biograph Company sent film crews around the world to capture moving images to bring them to audiences that, up until this point, had no access to seeing what life was like outside of their own locales. This footage was acquired by MoMA in 1939 but not analyzed until recently.

This footage is astoundingly crisp and clear — one of the highlights is a short clip of Queen Victoria shot on a visit to Ireland in 1900, just a year before her death. In a shot starting at 1:45, the queen is seen sitting in a carriage, exchanging greetings with well-wishers, and wearing a pair of now-trendy tiny sunglasses.

In the moving image, you get so much more — even in something as brief as this — of the personality, the presence of this woman. This is the embodiment of the British Empire, here she is, an immediate connection with a figure that everyone would have known. She’d certainly been photographed but only when you see her like this, when she’s moving, when she’s alive, when she’s in the middle of a scene, do you get the sense of being in the same world with her and really connecting to that living being that was Queen Victoria.

The film images are so incredibly clear because Biograph shot them in 68mm at 30fps, aka “the IMAX of the 1890s”.

To avoid violating Edison’s motion picture patents, Biograph cameras from 1895-1902 used a large-format film, measuring 2-23/32 inches (68 mm) wide, with an image area of 2x2½ inches, four times that of Edison’s 35mm format. The camera used friction feed instead of Edison’s sprocket feed to guide the film to the aperture. The camera itself punched a sprocket hole on each side of the frame as the film was exposed at 30 frames per second. A patent case victory in March 1902 allowed Biograph and other producers and distributors to use the less expensive 35 mm format without an Edison license, although Biograph did not completely phase out 68 mm production until autumn of 1903.

Compare the Victoria clip above with one shot by British Pathé around the same time:

More than a century after the invention of moving images, I think we still somehow underestimate the power and impact of the connection of film & video. Even now, we thrill when we open up Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat and “get the sense of being in the same world” (or even the same room) with people from around the world, living lives very different from our own. We may not experience the impact that early film audiences must have felt seeing their monarch in motion for the first time, but every video clip we see today is still a minor miracle, a time machine that brings far flung places, past & future, into our presence at the push of a button.

The Korean Invention of the Printing Press, Almost 200 Years Before Gutenberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

Jikji

M. Sophia Newman writing for Literary Hub: So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent the Printing Press.

It is important to recognize what this means. The innovation that Johannes Gutenberg is said to have created was small metal pieces with raised backwards letters, arranged in a frame, coated with ink, and pressed to a piece of paper, which allowed books to be printed more quickly. But Choe Yun-ui did that — and he did it 150 years before Gutenberg was even born.

This piece is also a good reminder that the spread of technology (and culture) depends on more than just how useful it is.

However, Korea’s printed books did not spread at a rapid pace, as Gutenberg’s books would 200 years later. Notably, Korea was under invasion, which hampered their ability to disseminate their innovation. In addition, Korean writing, then based closely on Chinese, used a large number of different characters, which made creating the metal pieces and assembling them into pages a slow process. Most importantly, Goryeo rulers intended most of its printing projects for the use of the nobility alone.

The image at the top of the post is of Jikji, the oldest existing book printed with movable metal type, made in 1377.

Only One of the World Cup-winning US Women’s National Team Is a Mom. That’s Not An Accident.

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 12, 2019

Jessica McDonald.jpg

It’s pretty well-known now that the US Women’s National Team for soccer is wildly underpaid, particularly relative to their male counterparts. But those low salaries also effect who gets to play on the team and how they live their lives. In the middle of an interview with Into the Gloss, Jessica McDonald explains how she makes it work.

I’m the only mom on the national team [USWNT]. And then amongst the National Women’s Soccer League [NWSL], there are seven of us. It’s so hard, oh my God. The best way I can describe it is that it takes a lot of mental toughness. Of my career in the NWSL, I’ve only played one season where I wasn’t a mom. Trying to figure out a routine is probably the hardest thing, and because I got traded a lot, I had to find new babysitters and child care all the time. Child care in particular was very difficult, because it’s expensive and we don’t get paid much. If I put [my son] in a daycare, that’s my entire paycheck, you know?

It’s not as if this is a problem unique to championship-winning athletes, but come on. You’d like to think, in a semi-just world, the best of the best could afford day care.

Vocal Typefaces

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

Vocal is a type foundry that makes typefaces that highlight the history of underrepresented people “from the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Argentina to the Civil Rights Movement in America”. For example, the Martin typeface is based on signs carried by marchers in the streets of Memphis after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Vocal Martin

Netflix used Martin for What Happened Miss Simone?, Liz Garbus’ Nina Simone documentary:

Vocal Martin

(via @c_wolbrecht)

Gorgeous Overwater/Underwater Shots by Tobias Friedrich

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Tobias Friedrich uses a specialized kit to make these great split shots — half underwater and half over — no need for stitching composites together in a digital darkroom.

Tobias Friedrich

Tobias Friedrich

Here’s some more info on split photography and the gear you’d need for giving it a shot. (via tmn)

Uncompetitive Purposefulness and Infinity Cake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

In her post about the book The White Cat and the Monk, Maria Popova uses this great phrase, “uncompetitive purposefulness”, which is one of those things that you hear and you’re like, riiiight, that’s how I want to be living my life.

Written as a playful ode in the ninth century, today the poem lives partway between lamentation and celebration — it stands as counterpoint to our culture of competitive striving and ceaseless self-comparisons, but it also reminds us that the accomplishments of others aren’t to the detriment of our own; that we can remain purposeful about our pursuits while rejoicing in those of others; that we can choose to amplify each other’s felicity because there is, after all, enough to go around even in the austerest of circumstances.

Just this morning I ran across a tweet from Jonny Sun:

if you cheer for people you like instead of envy them the world gets better for you and for them and for everyone involved i promise

And Jenna Wortham’s response:

the cake is big enough for everyone to have a slice. ten slices. the sheet cake can feed us all. infinity cake. infinity rewards and wins.