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Tiny Impressionist Oil Paintings Inside the Covers of Altoids Tins

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2019

Matthew Betancourt

Matthew Betancourt

Painter Matthew Betancourt paints these miniature works of art inside the covers of Altoids tins. Aside from the playfulness and cuteness factor, I love that he uses the bottom half of the tin as a palette and it’s displayed along with the finished painting. You get to see the process along with the work. It’s something that Betancourt plays with even more on his Instagram account, where he displays subject, palette, and finished product all in one go:

Matthew Betancourt

(thx, brandon)

Birds in the Ancient World

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 26, 2019

Prometheus.jpg

Birds play an outsized role in most cultures’ collective imaginations, which makes sense; they’re our near neighbors, yet retain a kind of strangeness that’s best embodied in their most singular characteristic, flight. If anything, birds played a larger role in the ancient and classical world, since they were seen as even closer to the human universe. As Reyes Bertolin Cebrian writes in her review of Jeremy Mynott’s Birds In The Ancient World:

Birds lived much closer to humans in the ancient world than they do today. There were more birds and more kinds of birds in evidence and they shared the space in the cities and in the fields.

So birds dotted both the mythologies and the daily lives of ancient peoples. Even “the world would have sounded rather different from ours since there was a greater abundance of wildlife and at the same time there were less mechanical noises to compete against,” making birdsong both more familiar and giving it greater importance. Birds were important for hunting and agriculture, but also for magic and ritual, with augury (observing the flight of birds) as the most important.

According to Cebrian, Mynott’s book is written more for bird lovers and the general public than a specialized classicist audience; all classical quotations are given in translation and very little special apparatus is needed.

(Via The Browser)

How Leonardo Constructed a Satellite-View Map in 1502 Without Ever Leaving the Ground

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Have you ever wondered how mapmakers made bird’s-eye-view maps before the invention of satellites or even hot air balloons? I have and was glad to find Phil Edwards’ video on the subject:

Leonardo da Vinci is justly famous for a lot of different things, but we’ve heard somewhat less about his mapmaking prowess than his painting or mechanical designs. His 1502 map of the Italian town of Imola is the oldest surviving example of an ichnographic (i.e. bird’s-eye-view) map of a place, a type of map that is ubiquitous today in the form of satellite imagery.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Here is Leonardo’s Imola map (cropped) compared with a contemporary satellite image:

Leonardo Imola Map

Leonardo Imola Map

As Edwards notes in the video, Leonardo’s map is not strictly an illustration or drawing of a place but more of an infographic. We take this type of map for granted now, but 500 years ago, that shift was a genuine innovation.

The Fantastical Drawings of an Inventive 15th-Century Italian Engineer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

Sometime in the early 15th century, an Italian engineer and inventor Johannes de Fontana produced a sketchbook that would later be called the Book of Warfare Devices. Its pages were filled with Fontana’s ideas for all kinds of inventions, projects, and fantastical machines.

Johannes de Fontana

Johannes de Fontana

Johannes de Fontana

Fontana imagined a wide array of projects: mechanical camels for entertaining children, mysterious locks to guard treasure, flame-throwing contraptions to terrorize the defenders of besieged cities, huge fountains, musical instruments, actors’ masks, and many other wonders. One of the most remarkable features of his ideas is that many of them are impossible to execute: they simply do not conform to the principles of mechanics. This gives them great charm and makes them more interesting, perhaps, than his more rational or practical proposals. We see similar impractical designs in the very few other engineers’ books extant from this early period, most notably in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

When I first saw his work, my mind immediately thought of Leonardo as well, although Fontana’s drawings were less polished and modern than even those of his contemporaries:

The towers and rockets, water and fire, nozzles and pipes, pulleys and ropes, gears and grapples, wheels and beams, and grids and spheres that were an engineer’s occupation at the dawn of the Renaissance fill Fontana’s sketchbook. His way of illustrating his ideas, however, is distinctly medieval, lacking perspective and using a limited array of angles for displaying machine works. He drew according to the methods practiced in the previous century, not those of the Italy of Alberti and Brunelleschi in which he lived. He used liberal splashes of ochre to animate his mechanical monsters and devils with the effects of fire.

You can explore the entire sketchbook here…browsing via thumbnail view is probably easiest. (via open culture)

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)

As if Tori Amos could get any cooler

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

I must have been reading the wrong magazines as a teen, because I only recently found out that Tori Amos has been quite open in interviews about being into psychedelics in the 80s and 90s (and I was VERY into both Tori and magazines in the mid-90s). Most of these mentions only live on via old websites where fans painstakingly transcribed the interviews, so to preserve that fanzine quality I’ve left the typos intact. But first, a little primer on Tori, in case you weren’t an alt kid in the 90s.

The flame-haired daughter of a Methodist minister who grew up in Maryland, Tori was a piano prodigy from the age of 2 who left the church behind for music. She moved to Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 21 and by 1986 was frontwoman to the synthpop group Y Kant Tori Read. The band was a flop by 1989, so in order to fulfill her contract with Atlantic Records she went out on her own. The resulting solo debut, Little Earthquakes, included a song honestly portraying her rape, alongside many solid, singalong-worthy tracks. She was a bit more raw, confessional, and vulnerable than the other female singer/songwriters who came up in the 90s, and thusly became a goddess among alternative rock-listening girls of my post gen-X cohort. You may just want to cue up Boys for Pele now (the third track off her 1996 album, Father Lucifer, was said to be written after an ayahuasca journey) . Ok, onto the drugs.

tori-Q-magazine.png

From a Q magazine article in 1998:

“Yeah, there was a period in the late ’80s where I was working with different shaman,” she says. “Myself and a friend Beene would take Iowaska - but it wouldn’t be in the liquid form, it would be a freeze-dried pill - and mushrooms. Some of those trips were eighteen hours long and I’ll never forget, once I ended up sitting by the bush trying to ask the flowers why they didn’t like me. It’s like, Why can’t I be your friend? I was crawling out of my skin at that time. In my twenties I was really…I was just losing my mind.”

In Esquire UK in 1999, when asked if she’d done hallucinogens lately:

Not very recently. I have Datura in my garden, but my gardener told me that some people oversteep it in water and then it’s poison and you die. I did a few 18-hour trips with a Shaman in the canyons in LA in the 80s. I’m glad I did it. And I’d do extasy journeys with women friends, Things are said that I couldn’t have heard or have said over a cup of coffee.

Q magazine, September 2001:

“It’s not like I’ve never done cocaine but, on the whole, if I can’t see dancing elephants I’m not interested,” she said.

“The drug which had a big effect on me was ayahuasca. It comes from a vine in the Amazon and you ingest it. You know that stuff they take in The Emerald Forest? It’s like that. I was hanging around with some medicine women and they suggested I try it. I was very lucid but felt like I was walking around in Fantasia, having a conversation with myself.

“It isn’t like acid. It’s more emotional, more mental. But it can grab you by the balls and just shove you up against the wall. I’ve been in a room with a woman who was literally trying to bite her own arm off. And this lasted for 15 hours. I wasn’t scared — just scared that I’d make a fool of myself. The funny thing was, I kept laughing and laughing, rather than sitting in the corner being intense. Then, every so often, I’d say, I’m in a really rough patch. And one of the medicine women would come over and reassure me that everything was going to be alright…

“I haven’t taken it in a couple of years now. You can only really do it once in a blue moon. But the wild thing is that sometimes I only have to smell something and I’m right back there again, high as a kite.”

Apparently I just needed access to UK magazines, which were certainly hard to come by in mid-90s Vermont. Also, this feels like the right place to thank Becky G. for giving me a tape in calc class (fall 1995?), titled “Becky made a tape for you / and gave you Tori Amos.” I would love to close this post with a scan of the Polaroid of me, wearing a classic Ben & Jerry’s tee, posed with Tori on her summer 1998 tour when I won tickets to a soundcheck and meet-and-greet before the show. Still likely one of the most surreal moment of my life. She told me she liked my name. Thanks to my local radio station WEQX for the tickets and the memory.

Going Real Estate Shopping in a Climate Change-Threatened Miami

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Sarah Miller went looking for real estate in Miami, a place where the sea level could rise between one and three feet in the next 30 years. As she discovered, the real estate agents there have gotten good at deflecting buyers’ concerns about such matters.

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”

Wow, I said, just in the last three years… “They’re not worried about sea level rise?”

“It’s definitely something the city is trying to combat. They are fighting it, by raising everything. But so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

I couldn’t wait to steal this line, slightly altered. “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

Later, I texted Kristina Hill, an associate professor of urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose main work is helping coastal communities adapt to climate change. I told her that a real estate agent had just told me hurricanes were weaker near Sunset Harbour, because it was in the east side of Miami, and hurricanes come from the south. She wrote back, “That’s ridiculous!”

The analysis of why Amsterdam and Miami are quite dissimilar when it comes to their respective responses to climate change is enlightening.

The Big Plan in the Netherlands depends on walls. Since Miami is built on limestone, which soaks up water like a sponge, walls are not very useful. In Miami, sea water will just go under a wall, like a salty ghost.

The Motorbikes of Taiwan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2019

From Hiroshi Kondo, a mesmerizing short film called Multiverse of the motorbike-jammed streets of Taiwan. Right around the 50 second mark, Kondo starts to use a clever time lapse technique to highlight individuality within the bustling mass of traffic. It’s a really cool effect and reminded me of this clip art animation by Oliver Laric. (via colossal)

Today in female representation

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 04, 2019

knock-down-the-house-still.png

Knock Down The House follows four grassroots female candidates through their mission-driven campaigns to unseat incumbents during the 2018 midterm elections. The documentary, which won Festival Favorite at Sundance this January, will be released by Netflix on May 1. New Yorkers will be able to see it in an advance screening (including a Q&A with director Rachel Lears) at IFC Center on April 23.

elizabeth-holtzman-us-rep-from-brooklyn.png
Audrey Gelman takes us into the NY Times photo archives to tell the story of the women who brought power and voice to representative democracy long before AOC was a glimmer of hope for New Yorkers.

Time and again, women candidates have been met with derision or dismissed as “long shots” — in many cases, both. Take Elizabeth Holtzman: In 1972, the then-31-year-old stunned the whole of Washington when she upset a powerful 50-year male incumbent in the Democratic primary, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. (Sound familiar?)

And, of course, you can’t talk about women in politics without talking about Shirley Chisholm, a once-in-a-generation force for change who represented her Brooklyn district from 1969 to 1983. As she put it, “My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency.” Despite her fearlessness — or, more aptly, because of it — opponents dismissed her, she said, as just a “little schoolteacher.” (She had been an educator before taking office.)

us-reps-shirley-chisholm-et-al.png

The photos alone are worth the click, but don’t miss Gelman’s sharp born-and-bred New Yorker observations.

Sweet Little Rain, a Coffee Drink Built for Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

Sweet Little Rain

This drink from Chinese coffee chain Mellower Coffee is called Sweet Little Rain. A puff of cotton candy is suspended over a steaming cup of Americano. The heat from the coffee melts the cotton candy, which drips into the cup and sweetens the coffee. It is both a little bit of genius and unabashedly constructed for creating the perfect Instagram moment.

Bill Nye to Climate Change Naysayers: “Grow the Fuck Up”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discusses the Green New Deal and carbon pricing. Oliver invited beloved children’s science educator Bill Nye to help him explain a few things and Nye delivered a short but passionate speech about what’s at stake in the political battle over climate change:

I’ve got an experiment for you. Safety glasses on. By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is: the planet’s on fucking fire!

There are a lot of things we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not. Nothing’s free you idiots! Grow the fuck up, you’re not children anymore. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12. But you’re adults now and this is an actual crisis, got it? Safety glasses off, motherfuckers.

The entire segment is worth watching (particularly if you haven’t been keeping up on what the Green New Deal actually is) but Nye’s closing remarks are at ~18:30 for the impatient.

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!

Too Much Will Cause Damage

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Too Much Will Cause Damage

Jenny Holzer, in the collection at MoMA.

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2019

Mirror Light Cover

Hear ye, hear ye! The third book in Hilary Mantel’s excellent Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been announced. The Mirror & the Light picks up where the previous book left off, with (spoilers!) the execution of Anne Boleyn, and covers the final years of Cromwell’s life.

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

I loved both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and am really looking forward this one coming out next March. Preorder now!

The Failure of the Great Tip-Free Restaurant Experiment

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

Over the past three years, a number of restaurants across the geographic and economic spectrum of America have experimented with eliminating tipping. The practice is outdated, creates a difficult-to-justify wage imbalance between servers and cooks, and can result in mistreatment of staff (racism, sexual harassment) because of the fucked-up power dynamic it creates.

But as Grub Street’s Nikita Richardson writes, the no-tip test has largely failed, with many of those places going back to the old ways. This happened for three main reasons:

1. No tips meant higher prices printed on the menu, and customers stayed away from what they perceived as more expensive meals. That $12 burger became a $14.50 burger and all of a sudden, people knew what they were actually paying for their food. What’s interesting is that in another situation (say, having to pay to check a bag on a flight), people would be upset at not knowing the price up front and having a “hidden charge” added to their bill when they’re drunk and happy at the end of a meal.

2. Servers can make more at tipping restaurants. Places that went tip-free lost a bunch of their staff to places that still had tipping.

Meanwhile, by raising menu prices and thus revenues, the extra money would go toward higher wages for kitchen staff, who could start making $12 to $15 an hour at a time when the state minimum wage was $8.75.

But, it turned out, many front-of-house staffers were more concerned with making money than with maintaining the moral high ground. This February, Meyer admitted that he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his “legacy” staffers since 2015. (One Meyer employee told Grub last year that her wages dropped from $60,000 per year to $50,000 under the new policy.) While he insisted that the employees that replaced them “understand ‘Hospitality Included’ and are thrilled about it,” added employee attrition in an industry where turnover is already 1.5 times that of the private sector average has to hurt.

My regular NYC spot was one of the restaurants that experimented with eliminating tipping, and I can report that the staff was indeed quite skeptical about it and they switched back to the old method very soon. (I believe they kept the raises for the chefs though somehow.)

3. Tips make diners feel powerful. With tipping, you become the boss of your server or bartender and are responsible for a large chunk of their take-home pay.

Generally speaking, Americans hated the practice of tipping when it was first introduced in the late 19th century, perceiving it as a form of bribery for service workers who should simply do their jobs. But as we’ve adjusted to it, tipping has become undeniably intertwined with a sense of power.

Short of walking into the kitchen and telling off the chef, tipping is the easiest way to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a dining experience.

As a customer, I loved not tipping. I don’t feel the need to have power over the staff in a restaurant, I want cooks & chefs to get paid as well as servers, and I’ve acclimated to factoring the tip into my dining expenses. But it seems that Americans in the aggregate do care about those things, and so here we are.

And if we’re going to have tipping in restaurants, we should all know how it works.

If you can’t afford to tip 20 percent of the total amount that you spend at a restaurant, you can’t afford to eat at that restaurant.

And if your meal is bad?

You still tip. If something truly egregious happened, you ask to speak privately with a manager. If you do not want to speak privately with a manager, and would rather correct this perceived slight by tipping less or not tipping at all, you do not actually care about your perceived slight; you’re just using it as an excuse to be a dick.

Eight Ways to Teach Climate Change in School

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2019

According to a poll conducted by NPR/Ipsos, over 80% of American parents want climate change to be taught in our schools, but only 42% of the teachers polled say that they teach it in their classrooms.

If they don’t hear about it at home, will kids learn about climate change in school? To answer this question, NPR/Ipsos also completed a nationally representative survey of around 500 teachers. These educators were even more likely than the general public to believe in climate change and to support teaching climate change.

In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.

But in practice, it’s more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.

The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it’s outside their subject area.

NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz shared 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom, regardless of what subject you teach.

5. Assign a research project, multimedia presentation or speech.

Gay Collins teaches public speaking at Waterford High School in Waterford, Conn. She is interested in “civil discourse” as a tool for problem-solving, so she encourages her students “to shape their speeches around critical topics, like the use of plastics, minimalism, and other environmental issues.

I am, however, still hung up on the 12% of teachers polled who said that the world’s climate is not changing.

Climate Poll Teachers

Life Aboard a Finnish Icebreaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

Monocle has produced a pair of videos about what Finland’s fleet of icebreakers do and what daily life is like for the crew.

In the second video, I was most interested in how life aboard icebreakers has changed now that wifi and personal TVs & DVD players are ubiquitous. Crew members are able to speak & video chat with their families daily (instead of every few weeks or months as in the past) and as a result, they feel less isolated and closer to their loved ones. But at the same time, access to the internet and TVs in each cabin results in less on-board socialization among the crew, which perhaps makes for a less tight-knit group. Extrapolating to society at large is left as an exercise to the viewer.

See also the Relaxing Sounds of an Arctic Icebreaker. (via why is this interesting?)

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.)

Hollywood Dream Machines: an Exhibition of Vehicles from Sci-Fi Movies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2019

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

Hollywood Dream Machines

An exhibition called Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy just opened at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA. It features more than 50 vehicles from sci-fi and fantasy films like Blade Runner, Iron Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, Black Panther, Minority Report, Star Wars, Speed Racer, Back to the Future, and Tron: Legacy. The exhibition runs through March 2020.

MIT Robot Solves Rubik’s Cube in 0.38 Seconds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2019

A robot built by a pair of engineering students at MIT can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 0.38 seconds (which happens to be 19 minutes and 59.22 seconds shorter than my fastest time):

0.38 seconds is over in an almost literal flash, so the video helpfully shows this feat at 0.25x speed and 0.03x speed. I bet when they were testing this, they witness some spectacular cube explosions. (via @tedgioia)

Diego Maradona

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2019

Asif Kapadia, the director of Senna and Amy, has directed a documentary film about footballer Diego Maradona, one of the best to ever lace up the cleats.

Having never won a major tournament, ailing football giant SSC Napoli had criminally underachieved. Their fanatical support was unequalled in both passion and size. None was more feared. But how they ached for success…

On 5th July 1984, Diego Maradona arrived in Naples for a world-record fee and for seven years all hell broke loose. The world’s most celebrated football genius and the most dysfunctional city in Europe were a perfect match for each other.

Maradona was blessed on the field but cursed off it; the charismatic Argentine, quickly led Naples to their first-ever title. It was the stuff of dreams.

But there was a price… Diego could do as he pleased whilst performing miracles on the pitch, but when the magic faded he became almost a prisoner of the city.

The film will debut at Cannes and HBO just bought the TV and streaming rights. Senna is one of my all-time favorite documentaries, so I’m excited for this one.

Update: I’ve embedded the full trailer above and moved the teaser down here:

The Beautiful Emergent Architecture of Crystals

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2019

Arctic is a new video from the Beauty of Science crew (previously featured here) that reveals the beauty of crystal formation.

There’s a kinship between how crystals form and how towns & cities develop (as in these generated medieval town maps or Manhattan below 14th Street) or how flowing water interacts with earth:

Crystals Cities

Crystals Rivers

Crystal, towns, and rivers all act according to similar principles governing the formation of things from points and edges. What a world. (via colossal)

Barack Obama’s Spring 2019 Book Recommendations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

Moment Of Lift

In a recent Facebook post, President Obama 1 shared a few books that he’s been reading recently. At the tippy top is Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

When you lift up women, you lift up everybody — families, communities, entire countries. That’s not just the right approach; it’s backed up by research and countless real-world examples. In her book, Melinda tells the stories of the inspiring people she’s met through her work all over the world, digs into the data, and powerfully illustrates issues that need our attention — from child marriage to gender inequity in the workplace. I’ve called Melinda an impatient optimist and that’s what she delivers here — the urgency to tackle these problems and the unwavering belief that solving them is indeed possible.

From a short excerpt of the book:

In my travels, I’ve learned about hundreds of millions of women who want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t. They have no access to contraceptives. And there are many other rights and privileges that women and girls are denied: The right to decide whether and when and whom to marry. The right to go to school. Earn an income. Work outside the home. Walk outside the home. Spend their own money. Shape their budget. Start a business. Get a loan. Own property. Divorce a husband. See a doctor. Run for office. Ride a bike. Drive a car. Go to college. Study computers. Find investors. All these rights are denied to women in some parts of the world. Sometimes these rights are denied under law, but even when they’re allowed by law, they’re still often denied by cultural bias against women.

Two of the top ten solutions on Paul Hawken’s list for slowing the effects of climate change are “educating girls” and “family planning”, which taken together would have a greater impact on reversing climate change than any other thing on the list.

Obama also recommends Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a book I’ve been curious about ever since it was published. Friends have recommended it and the cover always catches my eye in the bookstore even though I’m never specifically looking for it. I don’t even know why I’ve been resisting it…just ordered it!

  1. President Obama. That two-word phrase still fills me with so many conflicting emotions that I can’t even process it. I imagine it’s the same way for a lot of other people (on both sides of the political spectrum).

Fan-Made Productions Celebrate Alien’s 40th Anniversary

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2019

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Alien, 20th Century Fox commissioned six fan-made short films that continue the story of the Alien universe. Here’s the first film, Harvest:

The rest of the films can be watched here. According to Michael Nordine at IndieWire, Alone is the pick of the litter:

However good these films are, I’ll wager that none of them are as charming as the stage production of Alien put on by students at North Bergen High School. The play garnered so much attention that Sigourney Weaver showed up to an encore performance. You can watch the whole performance here with an intro by Weaver (skip to ~3:00):

Pulling Birds From the Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

For his photo series The Pillar (which is also a book), Stephen Gill set up a camera next to a post near his home in Sweden and set the shutter to fire when a motion sensor was triggered. “I decided to try to pull the birds from the sky,” he said.

Stephen Gill Pillar

Stephen Gill Pillar

A selection of Gill’s photographs were published by the New Yorker, accompanied by a wonderful short essay by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

A pillar knocked into the ground next to a stream in a flat, open landscape, trees and houses visible in the distance, beneath a vast sky. That is the backdrop to all the photographs in Stephen Gill’s book “The Pillar.” We see the same landscape in spring and summer, in autumn and winter, we see it in sunshine and rain, in snow and wind. Yet there is not the slightest bit of monotony about these pictures, for in almost every one there is a bird, and each of these birds opens up a unique moment in time. We see something that has never happened before and will never happen again. The first time I looked at the photographs, I was shaken. I’d never seen birds in this way before, as if on their own terms, as independent creatures with independent lives.

Norway’s Proposed New Passports Are Beautiful

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2019

Back in 2014, a design studio called Neue won a national competition to redesign the Norwegian passport. What they came up with is bold and beautiful.

Norway New Passport

Norwegian landscapes fill the visa pages:

Norway New Passport

And if you shine a UV light on them, you can see the aurora borealis:

Norway New Passport

The landscapes surrounding us give a sense of belonging and pride, and fill a symbolic function for the entire nation. Images of scenery and landscape can easily become cliches, but by being widely accepted and deeply rooted in Norwegian culture, they are also very easy to identify with. In addition, to Norwegians, nature is more than beautiful scenery. It supplies us with rich fisheries, clean hydroelectric power, and various other industries.

I don’t think this new design has launched though…beyond a flurry of press about the competition back in 2014, I couldn’t find any evidence of the new design in the wild. (via dense discovery)

Some thoughts on dressing for battle

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

gas-station-jumpsuit-high-maintenance.png

Eva Hagberg Fisher’s piece on the nuances of dressing for the public scrutiny of fighting sexual harassment has really stuck with me.

Over the last year and a half, I have needed a lot of outfits. I have also needed to be consistent. I have needed to be ready, at every moment, to be seen as both a poverty-stricken graduate student and a reliable adult. As an accuser, I need to be a news-team-ready correspondent and someone who certainly wasn’t doing this for the limelight. I didn’t know any of this when I started. I learned this all on the full-time job that is being an objector to sexual harassment in America.

She’d made an 11-page report about the sexual harassment she’d endured from her graduate school advisor.

But at the time, I just wanted to be credible. Strong. I didn’t want to look like what I imagined a victim looks like. I didn’t want to look so downtrodden that I would look obsessed with being a victim, as it was suggested. I didn’t want to look so feminine and girlish that I wouldn’t be taken seriously; I’d seen the way young-looking women are treated. And yet, I didn’t want to look too aggressive, too much like a “rabble-rouser” with an “agenda.” Of course I had been cautioned about that.

Her writing is clear and wise here. (If you want to read more, she released a memoir on a completely different topic this winter.)

Brooklyn Based noted recently that, in spring fashion trends, we’ve gone back to our Rosie the Riveter roots. Instead of replacing men in the workplace during wartime, the war we’re fighting is now for fair treatment, opportunities for advancement, and equal pay.

The jumpsuit that’s now so on trend should not be confused with the romper or those silky one-pieces that look fragile, dressy and flattering. These are mechanic coveralls, reminiscent of “Rosie the Riveter” and all the World War II ladies who worked in factories. Yet the origins of jumpsuits for women are strictly fashion. “Elsa Schiaparelli was the first Paris couturier to design jumpsuits; she was known for hanging with the Surrealists and designing with their inspiration,” says Lisa Santandrea, adjunct professor of Fashion History at Parsons. “The Met has a one-piece sleeveless Schiaparelli jumpsuit from 1930—but later in the 1930s, she designed a more work-a-day design with long sleeves and, importantly, pockets. Pockets mean no purses, and that’s more freedom.”

But really, it’s all about how closely aligned you are to power. If you’re part of it rather than fighting against it, you have more options. When you’ve proven yourself, you don’t have to try as hard. And age is a factor. Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco (who happens to have a new book of essays out now)
touched on this in a recent interview with ITG.

When I was an intern in ‘96, if you were a woman who wanted to be on the House floor, you had to wear a skirt and pantyhose. I really felt I had to act a very specific way. Entering the White House with Obama, he was like, ‘I don’t care what you’re wearing, you’re getting the job done.’ When we were dealing with crazy things, if I came in in corduroy pants and a puffy vest, POTUS never said a word. The more that I could actually be myself, the more successful I was, because I wasn’t putting up a façade. I think that we have come a long way, but women are still judged for what they wear. But it’s a double-edged sword—my style’s my style, and I don’t want to not have style so people don’t talk about me.

While working last year in a leadership position in an office where I was ten to fifteen years older than most of the team, I rotated between a Rachel Comey denim jumpsuit and a vintage white Gitano romper. When I joined the company, there were jokes about me as a mom figure (which mostly came from the male boss, of course). Who has time to put together an outfit when you’re busy getting stuff done and trying to assert authority? A jumpsuit is essentially a less feminine dress, just as comfortable, but with pockets. The millennial women in the office often complimented my outfits; one man remarked that I looked like a mechanic. But it’s not about the male gaze, is it?

NXIVM co-founder admits guilt

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

Nancy Salzman, co-founder of “sex cult” NXIVM, plead guilty to charges of digitally monitoring members to prevent them from leaking information. She’s the first to plead guilty from the leaders facing criminal charges. Founder Keith Raniere has yet to appear in court, but there have been new charges leveraged against him.

The details surrounding this organization are truly bonkers and quite disturbing. If power dynamics of cults and the psychology of self-help seekers are of interest, I highly recommend season 1 of CBC podcast Uncover, in which journalist Josh Bloch interviews his childhood friend about her escape from the leadership circle of the organization.

Talking Chewbacca: “Where the Hell Have You Been?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2019

This is neat: Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca speaking English to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in a scene from Empire Strikes Back:

Mayhew’s dialogue provided context for Ford to play off of. Chewbacca’s more familiar voice was dubbed over the on-set dialogue in post production — listen to Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt describe how he created Chewie’s voice in this video at ~26:18. Mayhew passed away last week at the age of 74.

See also David Prowse’s on-set dialogue as Darth Vader, or as the other cast members called him, Darth Farmer (at 6:05 in the video). (via laughing squid)

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.

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.

The Rise of Selective Empathy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

Over the past 20 years, the kind of empathy practiced by many Americans has shifted from a universal empathy — putting yourself into the shoes of someone you don’t know and might even dislike — to a more selective empathy that only works with people “on your team”.

Researchers who study empathy have noticed that it’s actually really hard to do what we were striving for in my generation: empathize with people who are different than you are, much less people you don’t like. But if researchers set up a conflict, people get into automatic empathy overdrive, with their own team. This new research has scrambled notions of how empathy works as a force in the world. For example, we often think of terrorists as shockingly blind to the suffering of innocents. But Breithaupt and other researchers think of them as classic examples of people afflicted with an “excess of empathy. They feel the suffering of their people.”

Breithaupt called his new book The Dark Sides of Empathy, because there’s a point at which empathy doesn’t even look like the kind of universal empathy I was taught in school. There is a natural way that empathy gets triggered in the brain — your pain centers light up when you see another person suffering. But out in the world it starts to look more like tribalism, a way to keep reinforcing your own point of view and blocking out any others.

Here’s the description of Breithaupt’s book:

Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people often commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification and a desire to increase empathy. Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts or exploiting others.

(via tmn)

Good Things By Their Nature Are Fragile

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

From a 2005 post by Michael Barrish:

In 1988 Laura and I created a three-stage model of what we called “living process.” We called the three stages Good Thing, Rut, and Transition. As we saw it, Good Thing becomes Rut, Rut becomes Transition, and Transition becomes Good Thing. It’s a continuous circuit.

A Good Thing never leads directly to a Transition, in large part because it has no reason to. A Good Thing wants to remain a Good Thing, and this is precisely why it becomes a Rut. Ruts, on the other hand, want desperately to change into something else.

Transitions can be indistinguishable from Ruts. The only important difference is that new events can occur during Transitions, whereas Ruts, by definition, consist of the same thing happening over and over.

Oh my, this is going to have me thinking about some things for a good long while. (via @ginatrapani)

Simon Being Taken to Sea for the First Time Since His Father Drowned

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2019

Chris Killip

This photograph was taken by Chris Killip in 1983 in the British coastal village of Skinningrove. According to Killip, it shows a difficult but necessary moment in a young man’s life, rebuilding his trust in the life-giving sea.

It was a fishing village and it was very difficult to gain access to photograph there. Simon’s father had drowned in an incident at sea. They had this ritual where they came out and took Simon out to sea so that he wouldn’t become fearful of it. It’s very formal. He’s dressed very formally. I was on the boat and nobody spoke.

What an intimate moment. You can read more about Killip and his process here. In this short film by Michael Almereyda, Killip talks about the time he spent photographing in Skinningrove:

Nellie Bowles on how we live in the future

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

I’m such a fan of Nellie Bowles. She covers tech for the NY Times, but has essentially created a beat that is the perfect encapsulation of late-stage capitalism. She captures both internet culture and the new tech economy in a way that could read as satire but it’s all too real. Here’s a look at some of her recent pieces that stuck out in my mind.

She’s starting a series of explainers. First up: Why Is Silicon Valley So Obsessed With The Virtue of Suffering?

Stoicism has been the preferred viral philosophy “for a moment” for years now — or two decades, by one count. The topic of Stoicism usually comes up in the Valley in terms of the maintenance of the personal life. Start-ups big and small believe their mission is to make the transactions of life frictionless and pleasing. But the executives building those things are convinced that a pleasing, on-demand life will make them soft. So they attempt to bring the pain.

Ok. But then she gets right down to it:

Instead, Stoics believed that everything in the universe is already perfect and that things that seem bad or unjust are secretly good underneath. The philosophy is handy if you already believe that the rich are meant to be rich and the poor meant to be poor.

Is post-tech the new high-tech? Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good

The rich do not live like this. The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them. Conspicuous human interaction — living without a phone for a day, quitting social networks and not answering email — has become a status symbol.

All of this has led to a curious new reality: Human contact is becoming a luxury good.

As more screens appear in the lives of the poor, screens are disappearing from the lives of the rich. The richer you are, the more you spend to be offscreen.

As much as I want to hate this, I don’t (and El Pescadero is lovely): A New Luxury Retreat Caters to Elderly Workers in Tech (Ages 30 and Up)

Their anxieties are well founded. In Silicon Valley, the hiring rate seems to slow for workers once they hit 34, according to a 2017 study by Visier, a human-resources analytics provider. The median age of a worker at Facebook, LinkedIn and SpaceX is 29, according to a recent analysis by the workplace transparency site PayScale.

At Modern Elder, several people introduced themselves by rounding up their ages — one woman said she was “soon to be 39,” another was “almost 42,” and a third was “pretty soon looking at 50.” Some said they chose to come south because they thought vacationing would be more serene without 20-somethings in the mix.

I hope we see a book from Nellie Bowles soon. Who else is helping make sense of this bizarre future we live in?

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.

The Beautiful Ones, a Forthcoming Memoir From Prince

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2019

The Beautiful Ones

Before his death in 2016, Prince had begun work on a memoir about his wonderfully creative life. The Beautiful Ones, due out in October 2019, will incorporate the 50 hand-written pages the artist had completed before he died, along with other writings, personal photos, and handwritten lyric sheets.

The Beautiful Ones is the story of how Prince became Prince — a first-person account of a kid absorbing the world around him and then creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and fame that would come to define him. The book is told in four parts. The first is composed of the memoir he was writing before his tragic death, pages that brings us into Prince’s childhood world through his own lyrical prose. The second part takes us into Prince’s early years as a musician, before his first album released, through a scrapbook of Prince’s writing and photos. The third section shows us Prince’s evolution through candid images that take us up to the cusp of his greatest achievement, which we see in the book’s fourth section: his original handwritten treatment for Purple Rain — the final stage in Prince’s self-creation, as he retells the autobiography we’ve seen in the first three parts as a heroic journey.

The book is being produced in partnership with his estate, which is also behind the forthcoming Netflix documentary series about Prince directed by Ava DuVernay.

The project has the full cooperation of the late artist’s estate, which is providing with interviews, archival footage, photos and archive access. The multiple-part documentary will cover the artist’s entire life.

The book and documentary sound similar…I wonder if they’ll share a title?

How Does Venice Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

The canals, the sewers, the buildings, the bridges and the rest of the Venice’s infrastructure has all been engineered to deal with a particularly challenging environment: not-particularly-solid ground constantly battered by salt water. In this short film, we learn how the city works and what steps have been taken over the centuries to ensure the smooth function of the city.

Whether Venice can survive the severe sea level rise coming in the next few decades is still an open question. (thx, david)

The Ecological Footprint of Fish

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2019

Ecological Fish Footprint

Artist duo Chow and Lin have produced a visual representation of the amount of small fish it takes to produce large farm-raised fish in China. The three big fish in the middle of the graphic eat all of the other fish surrounding them before they’re harvested.

We examined the impact of farm fishing through the large yellow croaker (大黄鱼) which is China’s most popular fish.

Working with scientists, fish experts and local government officials, we traversed 4 towns in Fujian China to build a tessellated mosaic of fish portraits to see how much wild small fish is needed to sustain fish farming.

The answer is 7.15kg, 39 species, more than 4000 wild small fish to raise a single kilogram of large yellow croaker.

The Little Book of Fixers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Jan Chipchase’s Studio D has recently released their latest booklet, The Little Book of Fixers.

Fixers and guides are core to the way we operate — to complement the skills and address the weaknesses of international teams tasked with documenting and decoding cultures across the globe. Fixers and guides are crucial for knowing the best neighbourhood for the team to be situated, recruiting suitable participants, identifying nascent behaviours and critically discussing the trajectories that put the data into a broader societal perspective. Working with fixers enables research projects to go beyond the veneer of a culture, to truly understand the forces shaping society.

The Little Book of Fixers

I continue to find the output of Studio D and Chipchase fascinating — see 61 Glimpses of the Future for example. Hiring fixers is not something most of us will ever need to do, but creatively and respectfully choosing guides when interacting and intersecting with cultures different from our own is always going to be relevant.

You can order The Little Book of Fixers directly from Studio D or via Amazon (which I’m assuming is written in English and not “Middle English” as Amazon says).

What Illegal Abortion Was Like in the 1960s

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2019

Diane Munday, an 86-year-old women’s rights activist, recalls what illegal abortion had been like in the UK in the 1960s.

“Women would drink bleach to try to induce miscarriage. They would have very hot baths, or move heavy furniture, or try to do it themselves with a needle or a crochet hook,” says Munday.

As a result, an underground network of backstreet abortionists ran quietly across the country. Some of them, says Munday, became involved by force. It was not unknown for women who had carried out abortions for their close friends and family to be blackmailed by desperate pregnant women who threatened to report them to the police if they didn’t help them, too. Like women who had abortions, those who carried out the procedure illegally could be sent to prison.

“These people were unskilled. Some might have had a bit of nursing experience or had worked in a hospital, or carried out procedures for a friend or daughter,” says Munday.

Munday became active in the campaign to legalize abortion in the UK after she had one herself following giving birth to three children in less than four years.

See also Harrowing Illegal Abortion Stories from Before Roe v. Wade.

Identical Twins Who Look Nothing Alike

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2019

Adam and Neil Pearson are identical twins who have neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that affected the two of them quite differently.

“I was always aware that I had the same condition as him, but also fully aware that he had the facial disfigurement and I didn’t,” Neil says in the film. Adam suffers from benign tumors that began forming on his face when the Pearsons were boys. They grew progressively worse over time. In school, he endured much bullying-“one of the worst things a human can do to another human,” as he describes it in the film. As an adult, Adam explains that he can never go anywhere without being gaped at. Neil, meanwhile, appears physically unscathed but experiences neurological problems that severely impair his memory.

(via @luvmyptcruiser)

“I, Pastafari”, a Documentary Film About the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

In 2005, Bobby Henderson wrote an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education about their decision to allow teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classrooms. In it, he introduced the world to the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I’m writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster quickly became an internet meme and, shortly thereafter, an actual religion. *nudge nudge wink wink*

Touched Noodly Appendage

I, Pastafari is a feature-length documentary about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its adherents, the Pastafarians.

I, Pastafari is a story about a few brave Pastafarians, evangelizing the message of the FSM, while fighting against intolerant skeptics, for the freedom to access religious privileges in law granted to other “real” religions. In a time of flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, fake news, and alternative facts, the Pastafarians may be the savior the world has been waiting for. R’Amen.

I have a bad feeling that what started out as a satirical criticism of religion will be an actual religion in the future whose adherents won’t see the irony in or damage done by that shift. That’ll be fun.

A Short History of Black Holes on Radio Telescopes

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

So, you’ve probably heard by now that we have our first ever photographs of a black hole and its event horizon. But it’s not like black holes have just been theoretical entities this entire time, awaiting photography’s blessing to finally be anointed as real. We’ve been detecting black holes for a long time now using radio telescopes and infrared cameras. It may be outside the visible spectrum, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t real, son!

The story begins in the mid-1900s when astronomers expanded their horizons beyond the very narrow range of wavelengths to which our eyes are sensitive. Very strong sources of radio waves were discovered and, when accurate positions were determined, many were found to be centered on distant galaxies. Shortly thereafter, radio antennas were linked together to greatly improve angular resolution. These new “interferometers” revealed a totally unexpected picture of the radio emission from galaxies—the radio waves did not appear to come from the galaxy itself, but from two huge “lobes” symmetrically placed about the galaxy….

Ultimately this led to the technique of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), in which radio signals from antennas across the Earth are combined to obtain the angular resolution of a telescope the size of our planet! Radio images made from VLBI observations soon revealed that the sources at the centers of radio galaxies are “microscopic” by galaxy standards, even smaller than the distance between the sun and our nearest star.

When astronomers calculated the energy needed to power radio lobes they were astounded. It required 10 million stars to be “vaporized,” totally converting their mass to energy using Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2! Nuclear reactions, which power stars, cannot even convert 1 percent of a star’s mass to energy. So trying to explain the energy in radio lobes with nuclear power would require more than 1 billion stars, and these stars would have to live within the “microscopic” volume indicated by the VLBI observations. Because of these findings, astronomers began considering alternative energy sources: supermassive black holes.

We’ve also been tracing the orbits of planets, stars, and other objects that do give off conventional light. All this tracks back to suggest the supermassive black holes that Laplace et al first theorized about hundreds of years ago.

So, we knew what we were looking for. That’s how we were able to find it. And boom! Now we’ve got its photograph too. No more hiding from us, you goddamn light-devouring singularities. We’ve got your number.

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.

Revisiting Chernobyl

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

estimated-number-of-deaths-from-the-chernobyl-nuclear-disaster_v1_850x600.png

I’ve spent the last few years fascinated by the Chernobyl disaster. This fascination partly grew out of my interest in the Flint Water Crisis, which was directly compared to Chernobyl in a story I wrote about it. (One of the things people forget is that Chernobyl poisoned the water table for a huge region.)

Looking Again At Chernobyl” reviews two books: Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham, and Manual For Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, by Kate Brown.

The similarities with Flint start in the opening paragraph:

Catastrophes happen when a large system gets so out of sync with its environment that a tiny tweak can crash it to the ground. It’s happened to oil rigs, spacecraft and mines. Afterward, committees blame the people who did the tweaking. But what matters is how the system became unstable and crashed, the atmosphere that caused it and the aftereffects. In these two books about the April 1986 explosion of the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, “Midnight in Chernobyl” focuses on the first and second, “Manual for Survival” on the third.

It’s probably fair to say that we’ve spent the last thirty years acting as if we don’t live in a post-Chernobyl world.

Robert P. Crease, the reviewer, seems most taken with Higginbotham’s book:

Adam Higginbotham’s “Midnight in Chernobyl” is a gripping, miss-your-subway-stop read. The details of the disaster pile up inexorably. They include worn control rod switches, the 2,000-ton reactor lid nicknamed Elena, a core so huge that understanding its behavior was impossible. Politicians lacked the technical knowledge to take action, while scientists who had the knowledge feared to provide it lest they lose their jobs or lives…

The explosion occurs less than 100 pages into this 366-page book (plus more than 100 pages of notes, glossary, cast of characters and explanation of radiation units). But what follows is equally gripping. Radio-controlled repair bulldozers became stuck in the rubble. Exposure to radiation made voices grow high and squeaky. A dying man whispered to his nurse to step back because he was too radioactive. A workman’s radioactive shoe was the first sign in Sweden of a nuclear accident 1,000 miles upwind. Soviet bigwigs entered the area with high-tech dosimeters they didn’t know how to turn on. Investigations blamed the accident on six tweakers, portrayed them as “hooligans” and convicted them. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear), which is to radiation studies something like what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) is to assessing human-induced climate effects, struggled to make sense of changing and confusing information.

Brown’s book is trying to do something very different, and Crease finds it correspondingly more complicated to evaluate:

Kate Brown’s “Manual for Survival” has a different style and emphasis. Its aim is to be an exposé of the attempts to minimize the impact of Chernobyl. The disaster was less an accident, says Brown, a historian at M.I.T., than “an exclamation point in a chain of toxic exposures that restructured the landscape, bodies and politics.” Unscear’s publications were cover-ups, and radiation-related maladies are “a dark horseman riding wild across the Chernobyl territories.” Brown undertook the book so as not to become “one of those duped comrades who found out too late that the survival manual contained a pack of lies.”

Around 2014, Brown began interviewing people in the affected areas, and sought measurements of radioactivity in such things as wool, livestock and swamps. Her stories are affecting, yet it is hard to evaluate memories and anecdotes. It is also hard to evaluate measurements. These are meaningful only within the tangled web of factors that radiation epidemiologists consider — including type and time-span of dose, pathways through the body, susceptibility of individual tissues and background radiation — as well as health issues like alcohol, obesity and stress.

Brown deserves credit, though, for wading into these murkier waters, because the murky waters is where we are. Part of reckoning with Chernobyl means admitting everything we don’t know. We don’t know the full health effects of the disaster. We don’t know how many people died. We don’t know how many lives were lost to neglect and cover-up. We don’t know how many could have been saved.

Part of what it means to actually live in a post-Chernobyl world is to accept that our most vital infrastructure is always threatened; that the threats it poses are always disproportionately affecting a society’s most vulnerable citizens; and that its threats are always downplayed by a society’s most powerful and directly responsible members, out of ignorance and fear.

That’s the lesson of Chernobyl. That’s the lesson of Flint. That’s the lesson of the future, which it never seems to hesitate to teach.

Rob Walker’s Exercises for Noticing New Things

posted by Tim Carmody   May 10, 2019

Rob Walker’s new book The Art of Noticing is out now. The book is structured as a series of 131 exercises, and in an interview conducted by the book’s publisher, Walker explains a few of them.

KPG: If you were going to a new city or destination, which exercises would you recommend trying as a way to better explore a new place?

RW: One would be Get There The Hard way. At least once during your trip, go to some destination without taking directions from your phone. Plan out a route in advance—you can consult a paper map if you want, or written directions, just don’t rely on your phone—and if you get confused, ask someone for help. Be engaged with the space you’re in and the people you’re around, find your way, and be open to discovery as you go.

The other is Eat Somewhere Dubious. Have one meal at a restaurant that you didn’t find on Yelp or through any sort of recommendation and that doesn’t even look trendy or hip. First you’ll have fun keeping an eye out for it: “Is THAT our dubious restaurant?” Second, even if you have a mediocre meal, you’ll have an unpredictable experience! And this, by the way, is how the best food writers make discoveries and find the places that later get hot on Yelp. So maybe you’ll get lucky.

KPG: How can parents help their children be better observers? Which exercises would you recommend they do with their kids? (Any of these particularly great for long road trips or plane rides?)

RW: The one-object scavenger hunt is an easy one: let’s look for security cameras, or let’s look for flowers. Or maybe you let her or him pick what you’ll look for together. A friend of mine does a version of this while walking his son to school, and it’s “who can spot something gross?” Whatever it is you choose, you can both participate, and it gets kids involved in the world.

But something else I’d say here is that kids are often already quite good at converting everything to a game, and at seeing the world with fresh eyes—I mean, they have fresh eyes. There’s a specific exercise in the book to try to see the world as a child would, so if you actually have a child handy, maybe just try to tune into what they’re tuned into, and why, and what they make of it. Encourage their noticing by participating in it with them.

The question I would ask Walker is this: what are the limitations of structuring your book as a series of discrete exercises, rather than some other way?

The trouble I see is all in converting a book about noticing new things into making a book where noticing new things can be made useful. So everything is structured as an exercise for students, or as a way for folks in the business world to hone their “competitive edge.” It’s a byproduct of creating a buying audience for the book more than creating the serendipity of noticing as such. So there’s a lot here that appeals to me, but a lot that equally turns me off.

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.

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Physical Data Visualizations

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2019

For almost as long as we’ve had civilization, people have been making data visualizations.1 The availability of paper and screens has exploded their creation in the last few hundred years, but the earliest visualizations were made from physical objects. This list contains more than 300 examples of physical visualizations and related artifacts and is absolutely fascinating (the older artifacts in particular). Take these stick charts from the Marshall Islands for example:

Marshall Islands Stick Map

These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862.

The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and islands.

And Yakama time balls:

Yakama Time Ball

Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply time ball.

A young woman would use a time ball to record her courtship, marriage, and other experiences using a system of knots and beads that only she could decipher. As she grew older, a woman might have several time balls with which to share her life story or keep those memories private. When she passed on, they were buried with her.

The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred. The women would sometimes divide the twine into 25-year lengths to make it more manageable. When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred. They could easily recount when their children were born, when they moved away, and other major experiences.

You can read more about stick maps in the Smithsonian magazine and more about time balls at the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel.

  1. And visualizations probably enabled civilization. Or is it the other way around?

A Catalogue of Lost 16th-Century Books

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 12, 2019

Catalog of Epitomes.jpg

Hernando Colón was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. He was also one of the great book collectors of 16th century Europe, having traveled extensively and assembled a library of about 15,000 volumes.

What’s left of Colón’s library has been housed in Seville Cathedral since 1552. The other evidence of the library is a catalogue, with epitomes and summaries of the books in the collection. But the catalog itself, called the Libro de los Epítomes, was thought to be lost, until it was identified in an unlikely collection belonging to “Árni Magnússon, an Icelandic scholar born in 1663, who donated his books to the University of Copenhagen on his death in 1730.”

The discovery in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen is “extraordinary”, and a window into a “lost world of 16th-century books”, said Cambridge academic Dr Edward Wilson-Lee, author of the recent biography of Colón, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books.

“It’s a discovery of immense importance, not only because it contains so much information about how people read 500 years ago, but also, because it contains summaries of books that no longer exist, lost in every other form than these summaries,” said Wilson-Lee. “The idea that this object which was so central to this extraordinary early 16th-century project and which one always thought of with this great sense of loss, of what could have been if this had been preserved, for it then to just show up in Copenhagen perfectly preserved, at least 350 years after its last mention in Spain …”

Another choice quote from Wilson-Lee:

After amassing his collection, Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes, ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato, which Wilson-Lee dubbed the “miracle of compression”.

Because Colón collected everything he could lay his hands on, the catalogue is a real record of what people were reading 500 years ago, rather than just the classics. “The important part of Hernando’s library is it’s not just Plato and Cortez, he’s summarising everything from almanacs to news pamphlets. This is really giving us a window into the entirety of early print, much of which has gone missing, and how people read it - a world that is largely lost to us,” said Wilson-Lee.

What a wonder.

How Amazon Created Prime

posted by Tim Carmody   May 03, 2019

I recently had to put my Amazon newsletter, The Amazon Chronicles, on a two-month hiatus because I’m going to have surgery to replace my shoulder. So what should happen the day after I make my announcement? One of the very best Amazon reporters, Recode’s Jason Del Rey, comes out with an oral history of Amazon Prime, the membership program that covers free fast shipping, digital media, and more — and arguably, the innovation that pushed Amazon past eBay and Walmart to become the retailer of first resort.

Charlie Ward (former Amazon principal engineer; current Amazon VP, technology)

I’m a one-click addict. I hate having to go through the order pipeline and choose everything again and again and again. And … I couldn’t use one click with Super Saver Free Shipping.

I kind of have a perfectionist type of mentality. Things kind of irritate me and get more and more irritating over time and it was just really confirmed to me that I couldn’t make it better. So I threw out this problem to the group: “Wouldn’t it be great if customers just gave us a chunk of change at the beginning of the year and we calculated zero for their shipping charges the rest of that year?”

And we kind of had a small pause, a moment where we all looked at it as like, “Is Charlie crazy?”

See also this digital media pullquote which Peter Kafka pointed out on Twitter.

Bill Carr (former Amazon VP of digital music and video)

Netflix had a budget which — and you’re going to laugh when I tell you the scary number — was $35 million dollars a year on video content. These were fixed costs. This meant they’d go and buy the rights to movies and TV shows from the studios for $35 million a year and it didn’t matter whether they had one viewer or 100 million viewers, that’s what they’re going to pay. Well, that’s not the business Amazon was in.

We were giving much more than $35 million a year to the motion-picture studios at the time. But it was a daunting thing to commit to it on a fixed-fee basis with no knowledge of how we’re going to actually get any subscribers. In the 2008, ‘09, ‘10 era, that was a scary amount of money.

And I remember then Jeff finally goes, “I’ve got an idea.” And in typical Jeff fashion he picked something that was not on the list at all and he said, “Let’s make it part of Amazon Prime.” And we looked at him like there are arms and legs growing out of his head. Like, “What are you talking about? Amazon Prime? That’s the free shipping program.”

And the principle that Jeff realized was that we need to do actually exactly what Netflix did when they first launched their digital service. Everyone scoffed at that, too. Like, “you’re offering digital plus DVDs and you’re not charging more?”

Netflix was able to get away with the fact that the content was not great at the beginning because it was free. It was like, “Oh, by the way, here you go, here’s some movies along with it.” And we were going to take a page out of their book.

I remember Jeff used those exact words — It’s an, “Oh, by the way.” “Yeah, Prime is $79 a year. Oh, by the way, there’s free movies and TV shows with it.” And how much could consumers complain about the quality of movies and TV shows if it’s free?

Rebuilding the Notre Dame with Strong Trees and Laser Scans

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

According to an expert, France doesn’t have any of the large, old trees necessary to replace the burned wooden beams in the roof of the Notre Dame.

Bertrand de Feydeau, vice-president of preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, told France Info radio that the wooden roof that went up in flames was built with beams more than 800 years ago from primal forests.

He says the cathedral’s roof cannot be rebuilt exactly as it was before the fire because “we don’t, at the moment, have trees on our territory of the size that were cut in the 13th century.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories about future planning (possibly apocryphal). As told by Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn, the story goes:

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was founded around the late 14th century. It has, like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oak beams across the top. These might be two feet square and forty-five feet long.

A century ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because they had no idea where they would get beams of that calibre nowadays.

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be some oak on College lands. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked about oaks. And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sirs, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the College was founded, a grove of oaks has been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down from one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

Hopefully the trees needed for rebuilding Notre Dame can be sourced elsewhere. Just as important, a more modern form of future planning was recently undertaken that should help greatly with the rebuild. In 2010, two men photographed and laser-scanned every inch of the Notre Dame, creating an incredibly detailed 3-D map of the building.

3D Notre Dame

Now, with the building having sustained untold but very substantial damage, the data that Tallon and Blaer created could be an invaluable aid to whoever is charged with rebuilding the structure. Ochsendorf described the data as “essential for capturing [the structure] as built geometry.” (He added, however, that the cathedral, no matter what happens now, “is irreplaceable, of course.”)

Tallon and Blaer’s laser data consist of 1 billion data points, structured as “point clouds,” which software can render into images of the three-dimensional space. Stitch them together, inside and out, map the photographs onto the precise 3-D models, and you have a full digital re-creation of incredible detail and resolution.

“I saw this happening, and I had two thoughts,” Blaer told me of watching the cathedral engulfed in flames. “One thought was that I was kind of relieved that he didn’t actually have to see this happen. But on the other hand, he knew it so well and had so much information about how it’s constructed, he would have been so helpful in terms of rebuilding it.”

(thx, meg)

Update: According to this piece in Le Monde (as best as I can discern in Google Translate), French forests have both the quality and quantity of wood available to provide new beams for Notre Dame. (via @ramdyne)

The Devil and the Explicit Lyrics Sticker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 16, 2019

In the first episode of season two of Earworm, Estelle Caswell explains where the “Explicit Lyrics” sticker found on many of your favorite music albums came from. The story involves heavy metal, Prince, the rise of the religious right, the Satanic panic, Tipper Gore, and lots of amazing hair.

The very public discussion around the advisory label involved the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a group led by the wives of Washington politicians, and a few musicians including Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver.

While the PMRC’s involvement was allegedly sparked by some raunchy lyrics from Prince’s 1984 album Purple Rain, the debate over rock lyrics had been infiltrating American culture and politics for a decade. The driving force behind that debate was the rise of heavy metal, a genre that saw explosive popularity with the launch of MTV in 1981, and the growing influence of the religious right, who saw rock music as a powerful threat to Christianity.

One of the main sources for the video is Eric Nuzum’s book, Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America.

Athens architecture map from Curbed

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 08, 2019

gate-of-athena-archegetis.JPG

You likely know that the Greek islands are stunning and special, but you may not know that Athens is an incredible city for architecture, well worth more than a few days in between sunning yourself on beaches. Beyond the obvious ancient sites (go see a show in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus!), Athens has classic mid-century modern design, a local vernacular plus a number of important buildings from the past decade. Its cafe culture, hidden alleys, well-curated museums, walkable scale, and deep history give it a unique charm that can’t be quickly summed up. You’ll feel it immediately if you dine al fresco under the glow of the Acropolis at night.

wisteria-in-athens.JPG

Some of Athens’ ancient sites have been recently updated with contemporary structures, such as the Acropolis Museum, other neighborhoods are worth a wander for the graffiti and shaded facades, and there is significant Bauhaus presence and influence beyond the Gropius-designed American Embassy.

May, June, and September are all prime times. I don’t recommend going in August when it is VERY hot, but if you must, you can stay cool with freddo cappuccino (strong iced coffee with cold-foamed milk), the pulpiest fresh-squeezed orange juice, and of course, frozen Greek yogurt (what Pinkberry wishes it could be) as the locals do. Local English-language publication Greece Is has lots of useful travel tips if you’re not sure where to start your planning.

plaka-street-market.JPG

Russian Doll has depth, and bodega scenes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 10, 2019

In one of his recent media diet* posts, Jason mentioned Russian Doll.

Russian Doll. Groundhog Day adjacent. Natasha Lyonne is mesmerizing. (B+)

natasha-lyonne-russian-doll-bangs.jpg

Natasha Lyonne is quite mesmerizing in Russian Doll, and both Greta Lee and Chloe Sevigny give layered performances around her curly bangs and gruff but sensitive delivery. But the Groundhog Day comparison sells it short.

Russian Doll is all at once a New York story, a story of rediscovery, of addiction, of healing, of trauma, and of how visually stunning a vivid palate can be on the small screen. The full season was utterly captivating on many levels, and deserves more recognition than just being good episodic television. The soundtrack is note-perfect as well, though Love’s “Alone Again Or” will forever stand in my mind as part of this scene in Bottle Rocket. (The best Wes Anderson film. Fight me.)

I lived by Lyonne’s tidbit of advice via The Cut for a couple cold weeks in March, but really it’s always applicable for introverts.

This is all to say, please watch Russian Doll if you haven’t already, and let’s discuss. Find me on Twitter.

Running From COPS

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2019

Running From COPS is a new podcast that examines the cultural influence of the long-running TV show COPS. Vox did a short video on the main themes of the show:

From a Fast Company article about the podcast and its creator, Dan Taberski:

The problem is that Cops is more reality show than documentary, and Taberski, a veteran reality show producer, knows there’s a huge disparity between reality show “reality” and documentary reality. In the course of their investigation, the Running from Cops team discovered that the police had final cut approval for the series. “When you start to look at the contractual relationship between producers and police-and we got our hands on a few of those contracts between Cops and the police departments — I think people will be really surprised how much the police are controlling their own message on the show,” Taberski says. Watching the show in that light, he adds, “It just shows how dicey it is to be using reality-show storytelling techniques for something so real and important as policing, and how your biases can creep in even unintentionally.”

Taberski and the producers also found that while prostitution, drugs, and violence make up 58% of crime depicted on Cops, according to the FBI, those three categories only account for barely 17% of crime IRL.

The first four episodes are available now on your favorite podcasting platform. I binged them over the past week and they’re worth a listen.

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.

The History of Italics In Type

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

1200px-Arrighi_italic.png

I don’t know the author or typographer behind The Temporary State. There’s a contact address that reads “B. Tulskaya ul. 2-571, Moscow, Russia, 115191.” But Mx. Tulskaya (if that’s indeed the author) has made an outstanding pocket history of the use of italics in type, partly to defend against the fact that The Temporary State’s fonts do not use an italic typeface.

I knew, for instance, that Venetian printer Aldus Manutius is generally credited with introducing italics into European print (partly, the histories say, to imitate Latin handwriting, and partly as a space-saving device). I did not know that after other printers began to copy Manutius’s use of italics, the Venetian Senate granted Aldus exclusive right to use them.

I knew that Italian futurist poet and manifesto-writer Filippo Marinetti championed a wide range of typographic innovations; I did not know (or had forgotten) that he wished to reserve italic type for “a series of similar and swift sensations,” while bold would be used for the imitation of heavy tones, and so on. A kind of emotional functionalism in type.

It is strange, how Marinetti in his call for revolution against “the Poetry Book” doesn’t see any problem with italics. Somehow, Roman numerals are an issue, but the use of highly decorative imitation of a 16th century pretty handwriting is a futuristic expression, not part of the “typographic harmony” ensemble. It is even stranger, that he doesn’t address the application of italic itself, as his idea of highlighting the page with «3-4 colors and 20 different typefaces» is very close to how the use of italic is regulated in the Chicago Manual. The only difference is: where Marinetti suggests «20 different typefaces», Chicago suggests only one — italic. So, seemingly to achieve Marinetti’s idea all that is needed is to diversify the means of text highlighting. And it’s not like there are no alternative typographic traditions, which could be used to substitute the italic.

Much of the article is devoted to this; how you can achieve the typographic effect of italics (emphasis, foreign words, titles, etc.) without using italic type. Here the examples are legion. In German blackletter, foreign words (especially in Roman languages) would be put in Roman type, while emphasized words or phrases would be in boldface. In Cyrillic printing, especially in the Soviet period, you see “sperrsatz,” or wide spacing, to denote emphasis.

SperrsatzCyrillic.png

Bauhaus, following the German blackletter tradition, forsook italic typesetting altogether, opting for a combination of boldface, sperrsatz, and fonts of different sizes, all of which achieve the effect of italics without the pretense of adopting an old Latin handwriting style.

Since few social media networks support bold and italic typesetting, it’s interesting to think about the range of ways users still suggest italics or the effect of italics.

There’s pseudo-Markdown, in the form of

*italics*
or
_italics_

Of course, there’s
ALL CAPS

There are also memes and GIFs, which are a way of both drawing emphasis to text and giving it an emotional characterization that go far beyond what Marinetti could dream of with his really quite limited notion of “3 or 4 different colours and 20 different typefaces on the same page. That text itself would and could be animated, that it could be superimposed on a miniature movie that would explode into mostly-text networks, is a future Marinetti might have embraced, but one he couldn’t quite fully see.

(Via Robin Sloan)

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.