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A Journey Along the Mekong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Niemann Cambodia

National Geographic sent illustrator Christoph Niemann to Cambodia and Vietnam and he returned with this series of drawings and observations. He talked about the trip in this behind-the-scenes video.

In a region with so much natural beauty, ancient architecture, and vibrant culture, travelers can easily get stuck behind their viewfinders — consumed with capturing the most vivid moments for their photo albums and Instagram feeds. But over the years, Niemann has developed a different method of documenting his trips.

“I always drew when I traveled … I draw just to calm down essentially, so I’m not constantly checking my phone,” he says.

Niemann believes that painting and drawing his experiences creates a dialogue between his mind and a place — this process ultimately allows him to turn the lens on himself. “Essentially the drawing is like a visual filter,” he explains. “You take the world — and you take it through the abstraction of your drawing — and you start seeing differently.”

Some my favorite posts I’ve written over the past few years have been about my travel: my western roadtrip, Berlin, Istanbul, the solar eclipse. Aside from the eclipse post (which gives me goosebumps every time I reread it), I hadn’t intended to start writing about travel. Ostensibly these trips are supposed to be vacations, my time off from constantly sifting through culture for observations. But Niemann is right…there’s something about applying the creative process to unfamiliar places that that makes the experience more worthwhile. For me, photographing and taking notes for a later post gives me a much better sense of a place, forces me to pay more attention & be more open, causes me to learn about myself, and produces a written document of my trip that I can go back to and experience again.

A Velocity of Being

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

Velocity Of Being

Edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick, A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader is a collection of letters written to young people by dozens of noted cultural figures that “reflect on the joys of reading, how books broaden and deepen human experience, and the ways in which the written word has formed their own character”. Each letter is accompanied by an original illustration from a visual artist (that’s Maira Kalman above).

Among the diverse contributions are letters from Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, Jerome Bruner, Shonda Rhimes, Ursula K. Le Guin, Yo-Yo Ma, Judy Blume, Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Jacqueline Woodson, as well as a ninety-eight-year-old Holocaust survivor, a pioneering oceanographer, and Italy’s first woman in space. Some of the illustrators, cartoonists, and graphic designers involved are Marianne Dubuc, Sean Qualls, Oliver Jeffers, Maira Kalman, Mo Willems, Isabelle Arsenault, Chris Ware, Liniers, Shaun Tan, Tomi Ungerer, and Art Spiegelman.

All the writers and artists donated their time & energy to the project and all profits will go to the New York Public Library.

Greenland, Land of Unending Ice

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2018

Swiss nature photographer Stefan Forster has been visiting Greenland for eight years, documenting the ice, glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife of this “magical country”. For his latest video, Greenland - The Land of Unending Ice, he visited several parts of the country to witness a glacier calving, icebergs from above, the aurora borealis, and a changing landscape.

Today quiet and untouched places are becoming more and more rare. On my first visit to Greenland, I was fascinated by the incredible power of nature that can be felt everywhere. But during the last years things have changed. The amount of icebergs is increasing savagely. Glaciers I’m visiting every year are retreating not meters but kilometers a year and the unending amount of ice seems to be endless. There is nothing more beautiful than an iceberg — everyone is unique and the light reflecting from its surface is magical. It’s sad how close beauty and decay can be seen in an iceberg.

A new study published in Nature says that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in 350 years.

“From a historical perspective, today’s melt rates are off the charts,” Sarah Das, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “We found a 50 percent increase in total ice sheet meltwater runoff versus the start of the industrial era, and a 30 percent increase since the 20th century alone.”

Forster also ran into an interesting technical problem while using his drones to capture video:

But the hardest thing of flying in Greenland is the fact, that every 2-3 minutes the difference between the magnetic north and the geographic north (which are not the same place — especially so far north) causing a fatal p-gps flight error and the drone is flying away (also the camera’s horizon).

The Flag of the Popular Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Flag Of The Popular Vote

Toph Tucker has designed an algorithmic version of the US flag called the Flag of the Popular Vote, where the size of the stars and stripes are proportional to the current populations of the original 13 colonies (stripes) and current 50 states (stars). There’s also an animated version with tiny new stars appearing when new states are admitted into the union and the stars & stripes shift in size as populations grow. This New Aesthetic flag reminds me a bit of Rem Koolhaas’ proposed EU flag.

Barber Shaves Play Button into Man’s Head

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

Technology is so ubiquitous now that bits of our digital interfaces make their way into real life — like people saying “hashtag” in conversation or coding error messages printed onto clothing labels. In a hilarious recent instance of this, a man showed his barber a paused video clip of the haircut he wanted, and the barber obliged, shaving the overlaid play button into the side of the man’s head.

Play Symbol Haircut

I laughed for a solid minute when I first saw this. It’s the literal cake wrecks of haircuts. It’s also an inadvertent example of the flip-flop, Robin Sloan’s term for things moving from the physical world to the digital world and back again. The play button has been used on media players since at least the 60s, made the jump to digital interfaces sometime in the 70s/80s, and has now flipped back to analog on the side of this dude’s head.

My Recent Media Diet for Late 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. Look for 2018 media recap sometime later this week.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Under-read and under-remarked upon by the tech press…but if you read this just for the Steve Jobs bits, you’re really missing out. (A)

The Good Place. Not quite as charmed by this as everyone else, but I’d definitely listen to a weekly hour-long podcast that goes deeper into the philosophy featured in each episode. (B+)

Outlaw King. Not so bad if you’re in the mood for medieval battles. (B)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A letdown after the first film, which has gotten better every time I’ve rewatched it. Way too much exposition and not enough fun. By the end, I was bored. My kids said they liked it but without much conviction in their voices. (C+)

Bodyguard. Some shows, even my all-time favorites, took a few episodes to get into. Bodyguard hooked me after 5 minutes. (A-)

Function. A podcast on “how technology is shaping culture and communications” hosted by my pal Anil Dash. (I listened to the Should Twitter Have an Edit Button? episode.) The podcast reproduces to a remarkable degree the experience & content of dinner conversation with Anil. (B+)

Andy Warhol - From A to B and Back Again. I was personally underwhelmed by this, possibly because I’ve seen so much Warhol and read so much about him and his work? (B)

Hilma Af Klint Gugg

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. Absolutely thrilling, like discovering a secret room in your house. Many thanks to Chrysanthe for the nudge. (A)

The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson. Finally finished reading this with the kids. Everyone loved it. (A)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s green gazpacho. It was hardly the season for it, but I was jonesing for the green gazpacho dish that my favorite restaurant used to serve. I took a guess that they used Ottolenghi’s recipe…naaaaaailed it. Delicious with some shrimp and croutons. Will use less garlic next time though. (A-)

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. There’s probably a better movie to be made of Jay’s life, but this was sufficient for my purposes. (B)

Fawlty Towers. Passing on the family tradition of watching old British comedies to my children. Some of the best television ever made, yessiree. (A)

Ralph Breaks the Internet. Perhaps this is small-minded, but I really wanted to see a little kottke.org shop in the background when Ralph and Vanellope are bopping around Internet City, like a tiny boutique next to BuzzzTube or something. (B+)

The Favourite. Delightful and fun. Loved it. (A-)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen brothers, perfectly tuned to the streaming TV format. The stories reminded me a bit of Roald Dahl’s The Tales of the Unexpected. (A-)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Great acting, particularly from Melissa McCarthy. She reminded me of a young Kathy Bates in this. (B+)

The Day After Tomorrow. I’ve seen this movie probably 10 times and it seems more and more plausible with each viewing. (A)

Circe by Madeline Miller. I am enjoying this trend of old stories told from new vantage points. (A-)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I was charmed by the first three episodes but the rest wasn’t as entertaining. People kept changing their entire personalities from episode to episode and we’re supposed to just go along with that? I don’t agree with all of it, but I loved reading Emily Nussbaum’s pan of the show for the New Yorker. (B-)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Visually dazzling and by far my favorite Spider-Man movie, but I preferred Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. This movie is much more “comics-y” than the live-action Marvel movies and despite much effort, I am just not a comics guy. (B)

Dr Mario

Dr. Mario. Used to play this a lot when I was a kid. Still fun. Would love a networked version to play against friends. (B+)

My Brilliant Friend. About halfway through and enjoying it, but it’s just not the book (which I loved). (B+)

My Brilliant Friend soundtrack. Max Richter, enough said. (A-)

Summer Games. This track off of Drake’s Scorpion has grabbed my attention lately. I love the Chariots of Fire + NES Track and Field vibe of the music. (B+)

On Being with Anand Giridharadas. An interview about his book, Winners Take All. (B+)

The Ezra Klein Show with Anand Giridharadas. This episode was referenced in the On Being interview above and is slightly better because Klein pushes back on Giridharadas’s argument and makes him work a little harder. (B+)

Why Is This Happening? with Ta-Nehisi Coates. They talk politics & racism but also how to focus on what’s important to you, even if it means quitting Twitter. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Typewriter Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

Typewriter Map

Daniel Huffman dug his dad’s old typewriter out of the basement and used it to type out a map of the major rivers draining into Lake Michigan.

The final product has various interesting smudges where the paper accidentally contacted the ribbon. In particular, I noticed that typing in red always produced a faint black “shadow” a couple of lines above. When the slug hit the red part of the ribbon, a small portion of it would lightly hit the black portion of the ribbon, too. Later on, I started holding scrap paper over my map in order to prevent this, so that the black shadow would go on the scrap.

In sum: my typewriter is not a precision instrument. This makes it a somewhat uncomfortable-feeling tool for a detail-oriented designer like me. I like being able to zoom in to 64,000% in Illustrator and correct errors that are small enough that no human eye could possibly ever see them. But, there’s something attractive about the organic messiness of the typewriter.

He experimented with a couple of other maps as well: a shaded relief map of Africa and a contour relief map of the Great Lakes.

See also An Atlas for the Blind.

Meet the Yamabushi Monks, Who Commune with Nature to Find Themselves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Mountain Monks is a short film by Fritz Schumann about a group of Japanese monks called the Yamabushi who regularly commune with nature to get in touch with their true selves.

The Yamabushi in northern Japan practice a once forbidden ancient religion. While their tradition is at risk of disappearing, it offers a way for those seeking a different path in Japan’s society.

Walking barefoot through rivers, meditating under waterfalls and spending the nights on mountaintops — that is the way of the Yamabushi. They walk into the forest to die and be born again.

You may remember another short film by Schumann that I posted last year about Hoshi Ryokan, a 1300-year-old family-run hotel in central Japan. (via laughing squid)

The Embroidered Computer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

Artists Irene Posch & Ebru Kurbak have built The Embroidered Computer, a programmable 8-bit computer made using traditional embroidery techniques and materials.

Embroidered Computer

Embroidered Computer

Solely built from a variety of metal threads, magnetic, glas and metal beads, and being inspired by traditional crafting routines and patterns, the piece questions the appearance of current digital and electronic technologies surrounding us, as well as our interaction with them.

Technically, the piece consists of (textile) relays, similar to early computers before the invention of semiconductors. Visually, the gold materials, here used for their conductive properties, arranged into specific patterns to fulfill electronic functions, dominate the work. Traditionally purely decorative, their pattern here defines they function. They lay bare core digital routines usually hidden in black boxes. Users are invited to interact with the piece in programming the textile to compute for them.

The piece also slyly references the connection between the early history of computing and the textile industry.

When British mathematician Charles Babbage released his plans for the Analytical Engine, widely considered the first modern computer design, fellow mathematician Ada Lovelace is famously quoted as saying that ‘the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.’

The Jacquard loom is often considered a predecessor to the modern computer because it uses a binary system to store information that can be read by the loom and reproduced many times over.

See also Posch’s & Kurbak’s The Knitted Radio, a sweater that functions as an FM radio transmitter.

Thirty Years of Spike Lee

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 25, 2019

Spike Lee - Black KKKlansman.jpg

Spike Lee’s first film, She’s Gotta Have It, came out in 1986, but the writer/director/actor’s best film, the one that made him famous, Do the Right Thing, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this summer. It’s worth reading contemporary reactions to Lee’s film—Joe Klein’s infamous “Spiked?” is the classic example—if only to see how terrified Lee made people.

Lee’s Q&A in Cannes in 1989 is also required viewing:

Lee still does should-be-shocking things—last year at Cannes, he repeatedly called Donald Trump a “motherfucker”—but the reaction to him is very different. He’s become an elder statesman, part of the fraternity, an academy nominee for Best Director and Best Picture thirty years after his best work got shut out from award consideration.

It’s all about timing. Lee thinks the Academy has come a long way from where it was thirty years ago, but warns against becoming complacent:

“Hollywood has really ramped it up,” he said. “They are making more diverse films. But in order to make sure this is something that is steady and not a trend is for us to see diversity among the gatekeepers, the rarified individuals that decide what we’re making and not making. That’s the only way to ensure against more cyclical droughts, that’s the new frontier. We’ve got a lot of stuff now, but what films are coming out next year? I’m not going to have a film. Who’s going to be there next in the marketplace? The only way to ensure this does not become a trend is that it should be commonplace.”

He used saltier language with the New York Times, but still suggested that the different treatment of his newer film is largely a matter of good timing:

Does any part of you feel like it’s overdue?

I mean, look, it’s no secret. 30 years is a long [expletive] time. But I’m not complaining! It’s a joyous day. I’m blessed for this day. Blessed for the recognition. And there’s a feeling that it’s not just the people that worked on this film [that have earned recognition], it’s the people that have been working on my films since 1986.

You’ve made all kinds of films — some independent, some with studios, some that you wrote, some that were written by others — was there anything about “BlacKkKlansman” that you thought had the potential to resonate in a different way?

Well, when Jordan Peele called me up and gave me the pitch “Black man infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan,” I was intrigued, because with the absurdity of that premise comes humor. Kevin Willmott [a co-writer of the film] and I knew that if we could use the movie to connect the past with the present, we could do something that connected with people. And it was a tough thing to do. But it was successful, and it speaks directly to the world we live in today with this guy in the White House. Today, when 800,000 Americans need a break as we go into another week of this temper tantrum about how this guy wants his money for his wall. A wall he wants to be built upon the border of a country that he says [is home to] rapists, murders and drug dealers. And that they’re gonna pay for! Which is not true.

This film deals directly with the madness and the mayhem of this Looney Tunes, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs world [laughs]. And I feel that many years to come, when historians search for a piece of art that clearly shows what is happening today, “BlacKkKlansman” will be one of the first things they look at. Because this film is on the right side of history.

But if you really want to use Do the Right Thing to understand contemporary film, the best example is this magisterial essay by Wesley Morris, “Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?

From Driving Miss Daisy (which won the Best Picture Oscar the year Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated) to the past year’s Green Book, pictures about race the Academy loves tend to have a common structure, where racism is somehow not enabled by capitalism (and vice versa) but abated by it:

The white characters — the biological ones and somebody supposedly not black enough, like fictional Don — are lonely people in these pay-a-pal movies. The money is ostensibly for legitimate assistance, but it also seems to paper over all that’s potentially fraught about race. The relationship is entirely conscripted as service and bound by capitalism and the fantastically presumptive leap is, The money doesn’t matter because I like working for you. And if you’re the racist in the relationship: I can’t be horrible because we’re friends now. That’s why the hug Sandra Bullock gives Yomi Perry, the actor playing her maid, Maria, at the end of “Crash,” remains the single most disturbing gesture of its kind. It’s not friendship. Friendship is mutual. That hug is cannibalism.

Do the Right Thing blows up that structure, which is why it was so threatening:

Closure is impossible because the blood is too bad, too historically American. Lee had conjured a social environment that’s the opposite of what “The Upside,” “Green Book,” and “Driving Miss Daisy” believe. In one of the very last scenes, after Sal’s place is destroyed, Mookie still demands to be paid. To this day, Sal’s tossing balled-up bills at Mookie, one by one, shocks me. He’s mortally offended. Mookie’s unmoved. They’re at a harsh, anti-romantic impasse. We’d all been reared on racial-reconciliation fantasies. Why can’t Mookie and Sal be friends? The answer’s too long and too raw. Sal can pay Mookie to deliver pizzas ‘til kingdom come. But he could never pay him enough to be his friend.

The Winners of the Information Is Beautiful Awards for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

Since 2012, Information Is Beautiful has picked the best data visualizations of the year. Here are the winners of the 2018 Awards, which includes the team at Northeastern University & National Geographic for their Simulated Dendrochronology of U.S. Immigration 1790-2016 project.

Immigration Dendrochronology

Nature has its own ways of organizing information: organisms grow and register information from the environment. This is particularly notable in trees, which, through their rings, tell the story of their growth. Drawing on this phenomenon as a visual metaphor, the United States can be envisioned as a tree, with shapes and growing patterns influenced by immigration. The nation, the tree, is hundreds of years old, and its cells are made out of immigrants. As time passes, the cells are deposited in decennial rings that capture waves of immigration.

A deserving winner in the “Most Beautiful” category. Here’s an animated view of US immigration’s “tree rings”:

“All Truths in Roma Are Revealed by Water”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Yesterday on Twitter, Guillermo del Toro shared “10 personal musings about ROMA”, the film by Alfonso Cuarón that just won best film at the Critics’ Choice awards. It is also a tiny masterclass in how to watch a film.

1) The opening shot suggests that earth (the shit-infested ground) and heaven (the plane) are irreconcilably far even if they are joined — momentarily — and revealed, by water (the reflection). All truths in ROMA are revealed by water.

2) These planes of existence, like the separation within classes in the household cannot be broached. The moments the family comes “closer” are fleeting… “She saved our lives” is promptly followed by “Can you make me a banana shake?”

This bit in particular makes me want to watch the whole thing again:

In every sense, ROMA is a Fresco, a Mural, not a portrait. Not only the way it is lensed but the way it “scrolls” with long lateral dollies. The audio visual information (context, social unrest, factions & politics / morals of the time) exists within the frame to be read.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Roma. It’s still showing in a few theaters but is also available on Netflix.

Metallic Pinatas Inspired By Medieval Illuminations

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Medieval Pinata 1.jpg

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

Medieval Pinata 2.jpg

Medieval Pinata 3.jpg

Medieval Pinata 4.jpg

Medieval Pinata 5.jpg

Medieval Pinata 6.jpg

Via Colossal.

The Beastie Boys Rap “Cooky Puss” in 1983

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

Before they hit it big with Licensed to Ill in 1986, the Beastie Boys were a punk rock quartet experimenting with rap. In this footage from 1983, the band performs their very first hit song, Cooky Puss, at The Kitchen in NYC. They all look so impossibly young (Ad-Rock is only 17) and sound really uneven, like they’re performing in a high school talent show.

Here’s the full set they played that night; the band sounds a lot more confident playing their punk/rock repertoire (which included “Cum On Feel the Noize”):

It’s amazing that this footage exists. You can literally see the changeover in the group’s focus from the musical genre of their youth (which was on the wane a bit) to something newer (rap), weirder (fratty white-boy rap), and eventually unique and amazing (Paul’s Boutique).

Compare with a 17-year-old LL Cool J playing to an audience of ~120 people in a small-town Maine gymnasium and a 17-year-old Notorious BIG freestyling on a street corner in Bed-Stuy. (via open culture)

14 Rules for Maintaining Your Sanity Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

In an issue of The Discourse, Sean Blanda shared a list of rules for interacting with others online while maintaining your sanity. Among them are:

4. Take a second.

6. If an online space makes more money the more time you spend on it, use sparingly.

8. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt, be charitable in how you read people’s ideas.

10. Create the kind of communities and ideas you want people to talk about.

12. You don’t always have the moral high ground. You are not always right.

Creating Saturday Night Live’s Cue Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

As part of their YouTube series on how the Saturday Night Live sausage is made, this short video details how the cue cards that the actors read from during the show are made and used. There’s even a tiny little bit in there about how they use whitespace (between words and lines) to make sure the cards are readable from a distance.

I am kind of amazed that the cue card process is still done by hand. I don’t want to see any hard-working staffers or interns getting fired, but it seems like a couple of fast large-format color printers capable of printing on poster stock and a block letter handwriting font could dramatically streamline the workflow, particularly when late-stage changes are needed.

“Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” Exhibition in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

The “Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth” exhibition at NYC’s Morgan Library & Museum is “the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations”. Running from January 25 through May 12, the exhibition includes drafts, drawings, maps, and memorabilia related to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, including hand-drawn maps done by Tolkien of Middle-earth.

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

Tolkien Exhibit

I’m totally going to this the next time I’m in NYC.

Update: Note to those who are heading to exhibition: cosplaying your favorite LoTR character at the Morgan Library is totally permissible.

Tolkien Exhibit

But all Gimlis, Legolases, and Gandalfs, leave your weaponry at home. (via @arbesman)

How to Be an Artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2018

From Jerry Saltz, failed artist and art critic for New York Magazine, a list of 33 rules on how to be a successful artist.

Lesson 3: Feel Free to Imitate. We all start as copycats, people who make pastiches of other people’s work. Fine! Do that. However, when you do this, focus, start to feel the sense of possibility in making all these things your own — even when the ideas, tools, and moves come from other artists. Whenever you make anything, think of yourself as entering a gigantic stadium filled with ideas, avenues, ways, means, and materials. And possibilities. Make these things yours. This is your house now.

And on the other side of the same coin:

Lesson 12: Know What You Hate. It is probably you. Make a list of three artists whose work you despise. Make a list of five things about each artist that you do not like; be as specific as possible. Often there’s something about what these artists do that you share. Really think about this.

How to Spot a Fake Jackson Pollock Painting

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Is Stealing Our Children’s Futures

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2018

On Wednesday, 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the UN plenary meeting at the COP24 climate talks in Poland. In it, she blasted world and business leaders for their political inaction on climate change, calling them immature (italics mine).

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.

But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.” Damn. Thunberg has been leading school strikes for climate justice in Sweden and is calling for worldwide strikes in schools today. She recently gave a talk at TEDxStockholm about her climate activism.

In October, Masha Gessen profiled Thunberg for the New Yorker.

Thunberg developed her special interest in climate change when she was nine years old and in the third grade. “They were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food,” she told me. “I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.” Turnberg has an uncanny ability to concentrate, which she also attributes to her autism. “I can do the same thing for hours,” she said. Or, as it turns out, for years. She began researching climate change and has stayed on the topic for six years. She has stopped eating meat and buying anything that is not absolutely necessary. In 2015, she stopped flying on airplanes, and a year later, her mother followed suit, giving up an international performing career. The family has installed solar batteries and has started growing their own vegetables on an allotment outside the city. To meet me in central Stockholm, Thunberg and her father rode their bikes for about half an hour; the family has an electric car that they use only when necessary.

Update: Thunberg does not mince words. At a lunchtime panel at Davos (featuring Bono and Jane Goodall), she told the room:

Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.

The Explorer and The Hermit

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

In a piece called I’m the Food Expert But My Kids Love My Husband’s Cooking, Amanda Hesser talks about food, tradition, and the differing cooking styles between her and her husband Tad. When she was younger, Hesser’s approach was to experiment relentlessly with her cooking, moving from one new dish to the next. But her husband took a different approach:

One of my other nicknames for Tad is Mr. Efficiency. He obsesses over the shortest route to a destination, orders everything in bulk, is always on time, writes thank-you notes within a day, and absolutely detests standing in line. Especially for food.

When it came to cooking, Tad was characteristically economical. Once we had our kids and our schedules went haywire, he set about mastering a handful of dishes he could pull off on a moment’s notice: fish tacos, pasta alla vodka, and Daddy’s pasta.

Mr. Efficiency…that could be totally be me. I do occasionally enjoy trying to find new stuff to cook, but their mom is way more adventurous in cooking for the kids. I always come back to my go-tos of caldo verde, taco salad, smoky corn chowder, the world’s best pancakes, burgers, and even the occasional tater tot hotdish.

But Hesser’s approach to cooking has shifted towards the familiar in recent years after noticing the downside to always pushing the boundaries:

Meanwhile, I continued to roam and experiment, rarely making the same dish twice. I enjoy the hunt for a new great recipe, the push for something better. But it comes at a cost; cooking new things is more stressful because the unknowns are many. Tad would chat with the kids while making his pasta; I would cook distracted, with my nose in a recipe. Even after focused cooking, things don’t always work out well, and no one around the table is happy. And it’s hard to expect anyone to build an emotional connection to a dish if they’re only seeing it a few times.

I am really feeling that tension between novelty and stability lately, and not just when it comes to food. Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. The Explorer craves new experiences, finds routine boring, and wants to learn new things or he’ll feel brain-dead. The Hermit needs the stability of a comfortable routine, finds exploring exhausting, and doesn’t want to have to think about what’s next all the time. Should I go to my favorite restaurant or try a new place? Regarding travel…should I re-experience somewhere I’ve been before or head somewhere new? (For my last trip, I did both: a repeat trip to Berlin with a short stay in Istanbul after.) There are certain types of books, movies, and TV shows I like to watch — their reliability is comforting but when I do venture from those paths, the results can be very rewarding and horizon-expanding. Should I spend time with old friends or work on some new relationships?

The part of my life in which I’m feeling this most acutely is in my work. Editing kottke.org is a constant exercise in balancing the familiar with the new. My approach is: “here’s something you haven’t seen before but packaged in a familiar way” and then do that 9-to-5, day-in and day-out, 52 weeks a year. I bury you (and myself) in novelty, but in a clockwork fashion.1 I never know what I’m going to find on a particular day and you never know what you’re going to read, but by the end of the day, every single weekday, there is (I hope!) an interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking, and awe-inspiring collection of things to explore.

But even though I enjoy editing the site and learn about a lot of new things along the way, the work itself sometimes isn’t that challenging. There’s a lot of repetition, sitting in a chair, and willpower — not insignificant things when trying to accomplish something — but it increasingly feels like I’m on autopilot creatively. Has the site gotten better in the last 5 years? I think so. But have I? What creative boundaries have I pushed along the way? In what ways could kottke.org be better or different that would provide new challenges for me? Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but my desire to “roam and experiment” (as Hesser puts it) has been on the rise lately for sure.

  1. When I think about how I approach my work on the site, two references come to mind: 1) the Dunkin Donuts guy (“time to make the donuts”), and 2) what the doctor in Gattaca says about regularity of Ethan Hawke’s character’s heartbeat while exercising (“Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.”).

Love Letters to Mars

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2018

Mars-Illustration.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Die Hard, the Greatest Christmas Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2018

The tradition of fans recutting trailers and clips of movies and TV shows into different genres — like Toy Story as a horror film and The Shining as a romantic comedy — has been around almost as long as YouTube itself. But I think this trailer by 20th Century Fox is the first official effort I’ve seen. Die Hard has become an unlikely holiday favorite so I guess they figured, hey, let’s put out a trailer that explicitly recasts the it as a Christmas film. Merry Christmas Hans!

Going Birdwatching in Red Dead Redemption 2

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2019

Birding in Red Dead Redemption 2

For Audubon, avid birder Nicholas Lund writes about the experience of going birdwatching in the mega-popular Red Dead Redemption 2 game, set in the American West, circa 1899. The attention to detail and the number of species represented is impressive.

I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything.

The sound design, too, is impressive. The landscape is alive with birdsong, including many species not actually in the game, like Northern Flicker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I was riding through a wooded area one time as dusk turned to night, and whip-poor-wills began singing out all around me.

But the game’s realistic portrayal of wildlife and its exploitation by humans causes Lund to reflect on how much destruction we’ve caused.

The demand for egret plumes for fancy hats was driving several species toward extinction. (Snowy Egret plumes can be sold in-game for $2.50 apiece.) Habitat loss and overhunting contributed to the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet soon after the game’s timeframe, in the early 20th century. (Carolina Parakeet flight feathers can be used to make far-flying arrows in the game.) The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades.

Lund’s birding trip reminded me of other non-conventional uses of realistic video games by players: Jim Munroe being a tourist in Grand Theft Auto III and war photographer Ashley Gilbertson sending back photographs from the ultra-violent The Last of Us Remastered.

It’s So Cold Out! Where’s the Global Warming?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In what is now an annual tradition, when the temperatures in some part of the US plunge below zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, some nitwit Republican climate change-denier live-tweets from the back pocket of industry something like “It’s so cold out where’s the global warming when we need it???? #OwnTheLibs”. This time around, it was our very own Shitwhistle-in-Chief who tweeted merrily about the current polar vortex bearing down on the Midwest:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

Some time ago, Randall Munroe addressed what severe cold in the US has to do with climate change on XKCD: it used to be colder a lot more often but we don’t really remember it.

XKCD Cold Weather Global Warming

When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, I recall experiencing overnight low temperatures in the -30°F to -40°F range several times and vividly remember being stranded in my house for a week in 1996 when the all-time record low for the state (-55°F) was established in nearby Couderay.

Munroe’s observation isn’t even the whole story. Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, writes that the polar vortex bringing cold air into the Midwest is connected to the rapidly warming Arctic.

Because of rapid Arctic warming, the north/south temperature difference has diminished. This reduces pressure differences between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, weakening jet stream winds. And just as slow-moving rivers typically take a winding route, a slower-flowing jet stream tends to meander.

Large north/south undulations in the jet stream generate wave energy in the atmosphere. If they are wavy and persistent enough, the energy can travel upward and disrupt the stratospheric polar vortex. Sometimes this upper vortex becomes so distorted that it splits into two or more swirling eddies.

These “daughter” vortices tend to wander southward, bringing their very cold air with them and leaving behind a warmer-than-normal Arctic.

(via @mkonnikova)

A Delightfully Fourth-Wall-Breaking “Nancy” Comic from Olivia Jaimes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2019

Comics fans and the internet at large have been enchanted by the new author of the classic Nancy comic, Olivia Jaimes. This comic from Sunday shows why:

Nancy Recursive

If you check out the thread for the comic on Twitter, there are several instances of comics that mess with time and space like this, but the final panel by Jaimes is particularly strong. I definitely Laughed Out Loud.

Against Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

W.H. Auden, Jacques Barzun, and Lionel Trilling once published a rather unusual review of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In it, they write:

What a relief to resist what one can entirely respect and even admire! What a comfort it is to be not always defending oneself from vulgarity, or enlightened stupidity, or the masked cliché, or smallness of aim, but sometimes to stand out against the force of greatness.

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is not Finnegans Wake, but it is a stunning technical achievement made by a filmmaker and producer at the top of their form. If I had seen it in my twenties, when I was obsessed with the Great War, with war in general, and with films that emphasized both the quotidian and the unthinkable nature of violence, I would have doubtlessly been very taken with it. But as I am today, given everything I’ve learned about cinema and the universe, I can’t help but refuse and reject this picture in the strongest possible terms. It is a brilliant film that is also, unfortunately, a total mistake.

I’m not interested in films that plunge themselves headlong into violence any more. I’m not interested in the manipulation of multitudinous evidence to tell a simple, linear story. I’m not interested in British soldiers fighting Germans on the Western Front, telling stories about their time in the trenches. I came to the film looking for a story I hadn’t seen or heard before, and those stories were nowhere to be found.

To be sure, the best parts of the film are about the everyday life of soldiers: what they ate, what they wore, the things they carried, how they kept themselves clean, how they occupied themselves in downtime, how they made tea using water heated by tank chassis and took a shit by sitting six abreast on a long pole. This is rich material.

The problem, however, is principally who gets to tell their story, and how their story is told. Peter Jackson took hundreds of hours of archival film footage, and later audio recordings of veterans made by the BBC, and artfully juxtaposes the two.

Despite the many voices, it is almost as if a single soldier is telling his story: he enlisted young because he felt a peculiarly British call of duty, and to alleviate boredom on the home front; he trained and drilled relentlessly until his body was whipped into shape; he was dispatched to fight and kill Germans in defense of France; he visited brothels and became a man; he was gassed and recovered, wounded and recovered; he dodged artillery shells launched by both the enemy and his own side; and he killed Germans in a heroic over-the-top charge across the no-man’s land that soon ended the war; he returned to ungrateful civilians who couldn’t possibly understand the horrors he’d seen, and how they’d forever changed him.

Any differences between these men, of class, of region, of age or experience, of height and weight, of rank or distinction achieved during the war, are completely washed away. They are simply young British infantrymen, made entirely generic and interchangeable. This is whose experience we’re getting in the film: not any particular men with individual stories, but a monolith.

Jackson can do this because he’s already selected these soldiers for their homogeneity. He tells us after the film that he’s discarded any footage that falls outside what really is a quite narrow view of the war and the people who fought it. He’s not interested in any of the other fronts of the war or the nations who fought in it. He has hours of footage of aircraft and pilots. He doesn’t use them. He has footage of women working as nurses and drivers and support staff, on and around the battlefield. He discards it. He has really quite stunning footage of women working in factories to produce the arms and gear that he so lovingly dotes on when they’re in his beloved soldiers’ possession. He throws it away. And, he tells us, he chose not to tell the story of the British colonial soldiers, men from all over the world, or their allies, including Chinese soldiers who fought on the Western front, or white or black Americans or anyone else.

He takes the “world” out of the first world war. And then, he tells us, unbelievably, that this extremely diluted, abstract take on the British soldier could stand in for any soldier who fought in the war. Whether they were German, Canadian, American, Polish, Turkish, or Russian, he thinks their experience of the war was likely very much the same as the British soldiers whose stories he smashes together.

Ask a black American soldier, fighting in a segregated regiment, whether his experience of the war was the same as the British soldiers he fought besides. Ask one of the Arab irregulars immortalized and distorted in Lawrence of Arabia what it was like to fight across German soldiers, who turned out to be really not so different after all, in trenches. Ask the African soldiers who fought and died in Europe. Ask what their equipment situation was, whether they got paid, or what their lives were like when the war ended. Ask the civilians whose lives were uprooted by these soldiers killing and destroying the countryside in their midst. Ask one of the women who cranked out artillery shells in the factory only to be turned away from her job at the war’s end whether or not anyone else could really understand her wartime experience.

Go ahead, ask them. I’ll wait.

Because Jackson didn’t have any footage of hand-to-hand combat, he chose instead to do a kind of Ken-Burns-effect dramatic pan over contemporary cartoons from war magazines. The trouble is that, as Jackson notes, these were racist propaganda magazines that he just happened (for some reason?) to have a complete personal collection of. But, he promises, he and his editors avoided the most egregiously racist images.

Jackson’s depiction of violence in this movie is jolting. One technique he loves is to pick a voice-over of a veteran describing the death of a friend that he witnessed, laying this audio over a zoom-in of a soldier smiling and laughing, then quick-cutting to a dead body lying in a heap, with blood and bodily matter everywhere. The blood isn’t the matted black stuff of reality that the men saw, but a sickly, B-movie red.

If you loved watching orcs get their heads split open in The Lord of the Rings, you will love this movie. If you loved Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, or any war movie that substituted blood and guts for gritty realism, you will love this movie. If however, you think, as I do, that these films, while works of a kind of genius, ultimately worked to manipulate our emotions and make us less feeling and less human, you will have huge problems with this movie.

Ultimately, at this point in my life, when movies like Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk and Creed and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exist, I’m less interested in brutality for brutality’s sake, and much more interested in the possibility of love between fully realized, lovingly rendered human beings. I’m much less interested in white people’s stories, and the white man’s gaze, especially when they are stories we have heard so many times before, from a point of view that everyone is expected to pretend has no differences from their own.

You will learn nothing about love in They Shall Not Grow Old. You will learn nothing about World War 1 that you didn’t already know if you’d read a few Wilfred Owen poems and skimmed a high school history book. You honestly learn very little that you don’t learn from the trailer.

You get no sense of what the war was about, why it was fought, how it changed anything, or why it mattered, or even if it did matter. The world that it shows is seen through a peephole in a trench, made by a boy who fantasized about reliving his grandfather’s experiences.

That peephole is not a door that can take you anywhere. The shift from a narrow, small black and white screen to a full-screen 3D color experience is just a camera trick. You never left Kansas, not even for a minute.

In an ideal world, Jackson will return to all that footage he left behind, and make the film he should have made, telling the stories of the war that truly have not already been told. As it stands, though, this film is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick. In trying to celebrate their heroism, it distorts and distends the memories of all those who died in the war, who didn’t return to tell their stories.

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Richard Feynman and the Myth of Separating Science from the Scientist

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2019

In Surely You’re a Creep, Mr. Feynman, science historian Leila McNeill writes about the difficulty in separating science from the behavior of the scientist.

In addition to cataloguing the trespasses of individual scientists who abuse the cultural power of their position, we have to dismantle the structures that have allowed their abuses to continue with little to no disruption. Just for starters, this means abandoning the myth that the science can be separated from the scientist.

The conversation about separating the person from the practice has been slower to surface in science than it has in the literary, film, journalism, and art worlds. It might seem that there is less distance between an artist and the thing they create than for their counterparts in the sciences because art is often positioned as subjective and abstract. It’s easier to draw a clear line from a writer like Junot Diaz who has displayed abusive behaviors to women in real life and his male characters who do the same. Scientists, however, have been framed as objective observers of phenomena while scientific practice itself has been seen as empirical, measureable, stable, and separate. This typical framing disconnects science from the rest of the world, allowing it to be perceived as a disembodied conduit for unadulterated knowledge. But science isn’t just a body of knowledge; it’s an institution and a culture with material connections to a lived-in world. Its practitioners are makers of and participants in that institution and culture.

Gradually, Then Suddenly

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2019

Using one of my recent favorite mental models,1Tim O’Reilly writes about some technology-related changes happening in the world where incremental advances in recent years are set to soon become pervasive.

2) The rest of the world is leapfrogging the US. The volume of mobile payments in China is $13 trillion versus the US’s $50 billion, while credit cards never took hold. Already Zipline’s on-demand drones are delivering 20% of all blood supplies in Rwanda and will be coming soon to other countries (including the US). In each case, the lack of existing infrastructure turned out to be an advantage in adopting a radically new model. Expect to see this pattern recur, as incumbents and old thinking hold back the adoption of new models.

  1. I’ve referenced “gradually, then suddenly” in recent posts about what living in a dictatorship feels like and climate change.

The “Beastie Boys Book” Audiobook Is a Star-Studded Mixtape

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2019

Beastie Boys Book

I am only a casual Beastie Boys fan, but I’ve been hearing nothing but really good things about their goofball memoir, Beastie Boys Book.

With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.

The boys also went all-out on the audiobook edition, a 13-hour version of the book that’s as much a mixtape as an audiobook from an all-star cast of more than three dozen readers, including Beasties Mike D and Ad-Rock as well as Steve Buscemi, Elvis Costello, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell, Kim Gordon, LL Cool J, Spike Jonze, Pat Kiernan, Talib Kweli, Bette Midler, Nas, Rosie Perez, Amy Poehler, and many more.

There are a pair of excerpts on Soundcloud, the first from the book’s introduction by Ad-Rock and the second from Mike D:

Ok well, I’m totally hooked.

Visualizing Dubious Spelling with Flow Diagrams

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2019

Colin Morris recently analyzed a corpus of comments from Reddit for misspellings by searching for words near uncertainty indicators like “(sp?)”. Among the words that provoked the most doubt were Kaepernick, comradery, adderall, Minaj, seizure, Galifianakis, loogie, and Gyllenhaal. Morris then used a Sankey diagram to visualize how people misspelled “Gyllenhaal” in different ways (with the arrow thickness denoting the frequency of each spelling):

Sankey Chart Gyllenhaal

Tag yourself! (I’m probably on the yellow “LL” arrow.) Sankey diagrams are typically used in science and engineering to visualize flows of energy in and out of a system, but this is a clever adaptation to linguistics (sp?). I’d to see one of these for rhythm. (via @kellianderson)

Happiness Spells: A Podcast About Everyday Joys

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2019

HappinessSpellsPodcast+(2).png

My friend Amanda Meyncke (who’s been a guest on Kottke before, talking about musician Bill Callahan) has a new(ish) podcast, called Happiness Spells. It’s a five-minute podcast that’s delivered twice a week, and it’s just about things that make you happy. From the “About” page:

Happiness Spells is devoted to noticing and celebrating the small pleasures of life.

This life is filled with enjoyable things, and the foundation of all creativity and true joy is in noticing and appreciating all that lies around us and in us.

That’s very Kottke-like! (In fact, Amanda contacted me to note the overlap between her podcast’s raison d’etre and the themes I’ve been exploring at Noticing.)

The experience of listening to the podcast is very meditative. As the narrator (Amanda) tells you at the beginning, it works best with headphones. There’s gentle ambient music playing, and the narrator just reads a list of ordinary, everyday things that make you happy, even if (actually, often) in an oblique way. Like these from the January 31 edition:

Amanda’s ramping up her podcast this year, working with a professional production team for the first time (it’s all been self-produced so far). She’s already getting 50,000 downloads a month, just from word of mouth, but I think we can do better. Seriously: check it out.

Video: A Meteorite Hit the Moon During the Recent Eclipse!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Something incredible happened during the super blood wolf moon eclipse that took place on Sunday night: a meteorite struck the moon during the eclipse and it was captured on video, the first time this has ever happened.

Jose Maria Madiedo at the University of Huelva in Spain has confirmed that the impact is genuine. For years, he and his colleagues have been hoping to observe a meteorite impact on the moon during a lunar eclipse, but the brightness of these events can make that very difficult — lunar meteorite impacts have been filmed before, but not during an eclipse.

The 4K video of the impact above was taken by amateur astronomer Deep Sky Dude in Texas…he notes the impact happening at 10:41pm CST. I couldn’t find any confirmation on this, but the impact looks bright enough that it may have been visible with the naked eye if you were paying sufficient attention to the right area at the right time.

Phil Plait has a bunch more info on the impact. If the impact site can be accurately determined, NASA will attempt to send the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to get photos of it.

Interestingly, I talked to Noah Petro, Project Scientist for LRO, and he noted that the impact may have created secondary craters, smaller ones made by debris blown out by the main impact. Those will spread out over a larger area, and are easier to spot, so it’s possible that even with a rough location known beforehand the crater can be found. Also, fresh craters look distinct from older ones — they’re brighter, and have a bright fresh splash pattern around them — so once it’s in LRO’s sights it should be relatively easy to spot.

It’s not clear how big the crater will be. I’ve seen some estimates that the rock that hit was probably no more than a dozen kilograms or so, and the crater will be probably 10 meters across. That’s small, but hopefully its freshness will make it stand out.

In a Race to the Edge of the Solar System, Which Star Trek Ship Would Win?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2019

These visualizations of the speed of light I posted last week somehow demonstrate both how fast light speed is and how slow it is compared the vastness of the galaxy & universe. Science fiction often bends the rules of physics as we currently understand them, with fictional spacecraft pushing beyond the speed of light. In Star Trek, the measure of a ship’s velocity is warp speed. Warp 1 is the speed of light, Warp 6 is 392 times the speed of light, etc. In this Warp Speed Comparison video, EC Henry compares the top speeds of various Star Trek vessels (the original Enterprise, Voyager, the Defiant), racing them from Earth to the edge of the solar system.

Once again, you get a real sense of how fast these ships would be if they actually existed but also of the vastness of space. It would take 10 seconds for the fastest ship to reach the edge of the solar system at maximum warp and just over 6 hours to get to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Wikipedia lists a few dozen stars that are within a day’s journey at full warp…a trip that takes light more than 16 years. The mighty speed of light is no match for the human imagination. (thx, jim)

American Football Commentary, Animated!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

For this video, freelance animator Nick Murray Willis took the audio from football commentators and made these little animated vignettes to go along with each line. Here’s a sample:

The Bears Have Won

My only complaint about this video is that it was over too quickly. Luckily Willis has done the same thing in videos for NBA, soccer, movie lines, etc.

AeroMexico Trolls Xenophobic Americans with “DNA Discounts” Commercial

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

This commercial from Mexican airline AeroMexico cleverly reminds some Americans of the melting pot nature of our nation, where even “white” folks living near the border share significant amounts of DNA with those in Mexico. According to this piece in Adweek, the ad features non-actors and their actual DNA test results.

For those wondering how legit the scenarios shown in the ad are, Agost Carreño says it’s all real and that each person featured in the video was a non-actor who did have a 23andMe DNA test done in advance of the reveal.

Update: A possible inspiration for the AeroMexico video is The DNA Journey commercial by travel search engine Momondo:

The folks in that commercial may seem a bit naive about how DNA and ancestry works, but I took the 23andMe DNA test many years ago and was also surprised to find a few significant possible geographic outliers (British/Irish, Dutch) that were not accounted for in the handed-down family genealogy. (via @rudhraigh)

The Colorful 80s Vibe of Blank VHS Tape Cases

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

I don’t know about you, but my house was blanketed with VHS tapes. The tapes were filled with episodes of Star Trek and movies meticulously taped from network TV without commercials — you had a to be a real Johnny-on-the-spot with the pause button or you’d miss a few post-commercial seconds of Chevy Chase’s antics in the G-rated version of National Lampoon’s Vacation. This video is a quick two-minute ode to the colorfully designed cases those tapes were sold in. Total memory bomb seeing these again.

The Art of Noticing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

When Tim and I first started the Noticing newsletter, I got a note from Rob Walker, a design and technology journalist whose work I’ve followed for some years. He said he was working on a book about paying attention and that the book and an affiliated newsletter were going to have a similar name to “Noticing”. Name collisions like that are always a bummer, but we didn’t challenge each other to a duel or anything. Instead, he asked me to contribute a tiny bit to the book and I said I’d write about it when it was coming out.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

The Art of Noticing is an expansion of an essay by Walker called How to Pay Attention. One of the suggestions is “Look slowly”:

Robert Irwin, the artist mentioned above, shaped his practice in part by spending insane-sounding amounts of time simply looking — at his own paintings, at rooms, at outdoor settings. “Slow Art Day” is an annual event at multiple locations around the country that picks up this spirit in a perhaps more manageable form: Participants meet at a museum and “look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience,” the event’s site explains.

The weekly newsletter associated with the book is right here if you’d like to join me in signing up. So far, it’s both whetting the appetite for the book and also providing interesting attention-adjacent things to snack on in the meantime.

P.S. I love Walker’s idea that paying attention is something that a person can learn to do. In the introduction letter to Noticing, I wrote about a similar assertion Walter Isaacson made about Leonardo da Vinci in his biography:

One of Isaacson’s main points in the book was that Leonardo’s accomplishments were due in no small part to his extraordinary powers of observation. By observing things closely and from all possible angles, he was able to make connections and find details that other people didn’t and express them in his work. Isaacson argues that Leonardo’s observational powers were not innate and that with sufficient practice, we can all observe as he did. People talk in a precious way about genius, creativity, and curiosity as superpowers that people are born with but noticing is a more humble pursuit. Noticing is something we can all do.

P.P.S. When working on the book, Walker asked a number of people for tips on paying better attention. My tip (the “tiny bit” mentioned above) didn’t make it into the book, so I thought I’d share it here:

The thing that popped into my head about noticing suggestions is to pay attention to kids. They are literally at a different level in the world, ocularly speaking, and so notice different things. They’ve also got Beginner’s Minds, again literally. Having been a designer for many years, I am pretty good at observation, but my kids are always noticing details that I miss. I’m not saying you should crawl around on your hands and knees, but occasionally directing your gaze as a child would is often instructive.

Related to this, a few months ago I was able to add a new tool to their observational skills. The kids were having repeated difficulty with the door to a store in our town and on one particular visit, my son voiced his frustration. I asked them why he thought the door was so tough and they couldn’t really say, so I told them about Norman doors and now every time they have trouble with, say, a PULL door with PUSH indications, they go, “Norman door! They should get a better designed door.” It’s really fun because it turns a boring shopping trip into a little exercise in how the world could be a tiny bit better if people were just a little more observant about how others use things.

P.P.P.S. <— Last one, I promise. A version of this post first appeared in last week’s Noticing newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe, right this way.

The Story of the Titanic Keeps Getting Weirder

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2018

Within the last couple of days, I’ve learned two things about the sinking of the Titanic and I’m going to share them with you. The first is that the discovery of the wreckage of the Titanic by ocean explorer Bob Ballard was actually a cover for the top secret investigation of two nuclear submarines during the height of the Cold War.

In 1985, Ballard’s mission was to dive to depths of 9,800 feet using a towed camera system called Argo to find and document the imploded remains of the Scorpion. The objective of the mission was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons and to gain evidence to help determine what led to her loss. After concluding his successful investigations of the Scorpion, Ballard used the final 12 days of his expedition to discover the RMS Titanic at a depth of 12,540 feet.

Ballard, you tricksy bastard!

The second thing is that the Titanic was on fire for days before it hit the iceberg, possibly causing damage that contributed to its quick sinking.

The work of Molony in his documentary is compelling and seems to make logical sense. The hidden fire caused damage to a bulkhead in the ship. The increased speed of the ship was due to the excess burning of coal to fight the fire. Also the failure of the bulkhead was due to the incredible heat generated by the coal fire, which was right against the bulkhead. In Molony’s opinion if the bulkheads held, the passengers on the ship may have been rescued. There was a ship hailed and on the way. If the Titanic could have stayed afloat for a few hours longer, a historic tragedy may have been averted.

Update: The coal fire thing has been a theory for years. After Molony’s documentary aired last year, a group of maritime historians who have studied Titanic extensively, wrote a thorough article debunking the idea that the coal fire contributed to the disaster in any way.

When hard evidence is factored in, there is only one viable conclusion: the coal bunker fire aboard Titanic was not a primary factor in her contact with the iceberg, or in causing her to sink after the she struck the ice. It played no part in the significant loss of life.

(thx, andrew)

Update: A group of enthusiasts used a video game engine called Unreal Engine 4 to build a fantastically detailed model of the Titanic that you can (virtually) walk though:

(via @mejum)

Papercraft Computers

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Papercraft Electronics

Rocky Bergen makes paper models of vintage electronics and computing gear. And here’s the cool bit…you can download the plans to print and fold your own: Apple II, Conion C-100F boom box, Nintendo GameCube, and Commodore 64.

What Time Is the Super Bowl? (According to a Theoretical Physicist)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Ever since the Huffington Post struck SEO gold in 2011 with their post about what time the Super Bowl started, pretty much every online publication now runs a similar article in an attempt to squeeze some of Google’s juice into their revenue stream. My “attempt” from last year: What Time Isn’t the Super Bowl?

For this year’s contest, Sports Illustrated decided to ask theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time, his thoughts on time and Super Bowls.

6:30 p.m. is the time the Super Bowl will start in Atlanta. Most of us are not in Atlanta. So for us, the game will start later than that. You need the time for the images to be captured by the cameras, be broadcasted to air or cable, be captured by my TV screen, leave my TV screen, get to my eyes (not to mention the time my brain needs to process and decode the images). You may say this is fast — of course this is fast. But it takes some time nevertheless, and I am a physicist, I need precision. For most of us, the game will actually start some time later than the kickoff in Atlanta.

Not only that, but time moves at different speeds for each of us:

We have discovered that clocks run at different speed depending on how fast they are moved, and depending on how high they are positioned. That’s right, it is a fact: Two equal clocks go out of time with respect each other if one is moved and the other is kept fixed. The same will happen if one is kept, say, above your head, and the other lower, say, at your feet. All this was discovered by Einstein a century ago; for a while it was just brainy stuff for nerds, but today we are sure it is true. A good lab clock can check this, and it is truly true. Your head lives a bit longer than your feet (unless you spend a lot of time upside down).

So, the clock of the guy up in the high sections of the stadium runs faster than the clock of the referee on the field. And Tom Brady’s clock (if he were to wear one) runs slower, because Tom moves fast (okay, maybe not “fast,” but faster than the people sitting and watching him).

P.S. The Super Bowl starts at approximately 6:30pm EST on Feb 3, 2019. (via laura olin)

Why Is the Night Sky Dark?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2019

I love how simple questions can reveal deep truths about how the universe works. Take “why is the night sky dark?” It’s a question a small child might ask but stumped the likes of Newton, Halley, and Kepler and wasn’t really resolved until Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the Big Bang theory rolled around. Here’s the paradox: if we live in a static infinite universe, shouldn’t the sky be unbearably bright?

Distant stars look weak, and very distant stars shine too dimly for you to see with your eyes. But when space telescopes like Hubble peer deep into the darkest spots of sky, they uncover bunches of incredibly faint galaxies. And the deeper they look, the more they find. If the universe went on forever with stars sprinkled evenly throughout — as many early stargazers assumed — the night sky would be full of so many points of light that it would never look dark.

“The fact that the stars are everywhere makes up for the fact that some of the stars are far away,” says Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University. No matter which way you look, in an endless universe your line of sight would always end smack on the surface of a star, and the entire sky would always blaze with the brightness of the sun.

The answer to this paradox is that the universe is both finite & unbounded (per Einstein) and the darkness we see is the Big Bang.

The mystery of the dark sky is solved by the fact that this history has a beginning — a time before stars and galaxies. Many cosmologists think the universe started out as a very small point, and then started inflating like a balloon in an event called the Big Bang. If you look deep enough, you can see so far back in time that you get close to the Big Bang. “You just run out of stars,” Kinney says. “And you run out of stars, in the grand scheme of things, relatively quickly.”

If you’re anything like me, you just had a Little Bang go off in your brain. (via laura olin)

The Very Slow Movie Player

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

My pal Bryan Boyer has built a device he calls a VSMP (Very Slow Movie Player). It’s an e-paper display that shows a movie not at 24 frames/sec but at 24 frames per hour.

Films are vain creatures that typically demand a dark room, full attention, and eager eyeballs ready to accept light beamed from the screen or projector to your visual cortex. VSMP inverts all of that. It is impossible to “watch” in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose. It can be noticed, glanced-at, or even inspected, but not watched. That’s one of the things I like about the Bill Viola pieces. You don’t watch them because they’re not films; they’re portraits so you see them, and it just so happens that you see them in four dimensions.

Ahhh, look at this gloriously retro aesthetic:

2001

His whole essay about the project is worth reading for the thoughtful insights throughout. I totally want a wall-sized VSMP in my bedroom.

Update: Inspired by the VSMP, Jon Bell built a web page that will show Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation stretched out over the course of the next year. You can watch here.

Update: Inspired by the projects above, Nic Magnier made Yearlong Koyaanisqatsi, a Twitter bot that will show Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi very slowly over the course of the next year, one frame every 6 hours.

Gritty, the Philly Sports Messiah

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Gritty 01.jpg

Like any once-and-hopefully-future resident of the great city of Philadelphia, I’m entranced by Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, full disclosure: the Flyers were not one of the teams I initially adopted when I moved to Philadelphia, because my hometown Detroit Red Wings were still great in 2002, and so I was all set, hockey-wise. I picked up the New York Rangers when I moved to New York in 2012, when Henrik Lundqvist was winning Vezinas and stunting on fools. But Gritty is sufficiently compelling that I might have to add the Flyers to the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, becoming a full Philadelphia sports fan.

Why is Gritty captivating the world? Is it because or despite of his muppet-like googly eyes and shaggy appearance? I mean, when you really dig into it, it’s not like there’s a whole lot there. But a sufficiently advanced cipher can become a multilayered text to the devout, and that’s what’s happened with Gritty. Fans turned what was briefly an object of ridicule into an icon of devotion. And a legend was born.

For a deeper look into the Gritty phenomenon, seek no further than The Ringer, the website that was designed from its origins in the late, beloved Grantland to get to the bottom of sports questions like this. Michael Baumann’s “The Monster In The Mirror” is insightful, and nearly exhaustive, in answering why people inside and outside of Philadelphia have taken to Gritty so strongly. It also doubles as a psychological profile of one of my favorite cities and their sports fans.

Some excerpts:

In the past two and a half months, Gritty has proven to be an overwhelming success as a mascot. More than that, he’s become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time. He is all things to all people.

“Gritty is fairly appalling, pretty insurrectionary for a mascot, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s our kind of symbol,” says Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. “There’s nothing more Philly than being unapologetically yourself.”

And:

The Flyers, Raymond says, had long resisted the idea of creating a mascot, at the insistence of founding owner Ed Snider, whom Raymond calls “old-school.” The Flyers unveiled a furry mascot called Slapshot in 1976 but quickly shelved it, leaving the team without a mascot for more than 40 years. But after Snider’s death in 2016, the team’s marketing department pushed ownership to reconsider, Raymond says, and after overcoming so much institutional inertia, they weren’t going to be half-hearted about their new mascot.

One part of doing a mascot right, Raymond says, is sticking to the bit no matter what, rather than submitting the mascot to the public for approval, a lesson learned from the Sixers’ failed mascot vote in 2011. Philadelphians, and people on the internet in general, can sense uncertainty and will punish it.

On Gritty’s Hensonian roots:

Mascots are always at least a little silly and ridiculous because at their core, they’re created more for children than adults. Gritty is no exception. His hands squeak, and his belly button—which Raymond calls a “woobie”—is a brightly colored outie. The woobie, says Raymond, was the brainchild of Chris Pegg, who plays Rockey the Redbird for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and is a mutual friend of Raymond and Flyers senior director of game presentation Anthony Gioia.

When the Flyers unveiled such a weird, menacing mascot, it brought to mind something Frank Oz said about his longtime collaborator and Muppets creator Jim Henson: “He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.” According to Raymond, in any sufficiently large group of children, a mascot, even a familiar one, will make at least one of them cry. Not Gritty.

“I’d never seen a mascot rollout anywhere where I didn’t see at least one kid running, crying in terror, trying to grab on to their mother’s legs,” Raymond says of the Please Touch Museum rollout. “I didn’t see any of that [with Gritty]. The kids were dancing and hollering and calling for him to come over, but no kid looked terrified.”

And on Gritty’s additional incarnation as the subject and vehicle for leftist political memes:

Some Gritty memes, however, are not just funny or scary, but overtly political. Gym’s resolution addressed this issue head-on; “non-binary leftist icon” was one of the descriptions quoted in the resolution. The resolution itself goes on to praise Gritty for his status as a political symbol: “Gritty has been widely declared antifa, and was subject to attempted reclamation in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It has been argued that he ‘conveys the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism’ and that he represents a source of joyful comic respite in a time of societal upheaval.”…

“The great thing about memes—as ridiculous as this sounds—is they create an instant mass internet mobilization,” FWG says. “Memes can be used to perpetuate systematic oppression, or they can be used to burn down the prison-industrial system or talk about police brutality.”

This identity is independent from — this is to say, it has been thoroughly stolen from — Gritty’s original role as a corporate sports mascot.

There’s a danger to wrapping up one’s identity in anything one can’t control, whether it’s an artist, a sports team, or a fuzzy orange monster. And if Gritty played it safe, he’d stop being worth investing in; the reason Gritty is so popular is because he’s weird and unpredictable in a way that isn’t cultivated to be “edgy.” Fear of being let down might just be the price of trying to live with empathy in a society that frequently elevates the cruel. It’s worth thinking about something FWG said: that their Gritty is not the same thing as the Flyers mascot.

“I think that the spirit of Gritty will be fulfilled through the proletariat,” FWG says. “As the spirit of Gritty moves people, that’s how the people will act.”

This is serious business! But as Walter Benjamin wrote, in a time of crisis, the here-and-now becomes shot through with messianic time. Gritty recalls the Phillie Phanatic, Sesame Street’s muppets, and Blastaar from the Fantastic Four, but puts all of their energy to use in a sense of futurity, that hope for the future that sports fandom echoes, however dimly. To quote Benjamin again:

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It’s ridiculous to see Gritty, the googly-eyed, outie-bellybuttoned Philadelphia Flyers mascot, as a messianic figure of the revolutionary left. But is that any more ridiculous than everything else that is happening in our fucked-up present? No. No, it is not.

paul-klee-angelus-novus.jpg

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds

I love this photo of the Space Shuttle Endeavour rising through the clouds on a plume of smoke during its last launch in 2011. We are but infinitesimal specks on a tiny rock orbiting a small star in an ordinary galaxy among trillions in an endless universe. And yet we’ve pushed our way into that vastness, just a little bit. I wonder where we’ll end up?

Life-Size Stone Mosaics Based on 16th-Century Anatomical Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

John Unger Anatomy

Sculptor John T. Unger is making a series of life-size stone mosaics based on anatomical drawings by the 16th-century Italian scientist Bartolomeo Eustachi.

Bartolomeo Eustachi, one of the first modern anatomists, is also considered the first comparative anatomist, as he was the first to use examples from the animal realm for comparison and clarity. Eustachi was a contemporary of Vesalius, and they share the credit of having created the science of human anatomy. In 1552 (nine years after Vesalius published his Fabrica) Eustachi completed a series of anatomical illustrations so accurate that had they been published in his lifetime, a modern understanding of anatomy might have come to pass two centuries before it was attained.

Unger has completed about half of the mosaics and is doing a Kickstarter campaign to help finish the rest of them. The first public showing of the finished artworks will be at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY starting in June 2019.

Flying Alongside Migrating Birds in an Ultralight

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

For more than 20 years, Christian Moullec has been flying with migratory birds in his ultralight aircraft. He raises birds of vulnerable species on his farm and then when it’s time for them to migrate, he shows them how, guiding them along safe migration paths. To support his conservation efforts, Moullec takes paying passengers up with him to fly among the birds. What a magical experience!

My passengers come from all over the world and are all kinds of people, especially Europeans. The flight inspires in me a huge respect for nature and I can communicate this respect to my passengers. There are also people with disabilities and those who want to experience a great time in the sky with the birds before leaving this world. It is an overwhelming spiritual experience. The most beautiful thing is to fly in the heavens with the angels that are the birds.

When watching the video, it’s difficult to look away from the birds, moving with a powerful grace through the air, but don’t miss the absolute joy and astonishment on the faces of Moullec’s passengers. This is going right on my bucket list.

See also The Kid Should See This on Moullec’s efforts, the 2011 documentary Earthflight that features Moullec, and Winged Migration, a 2001 nature film that features lots of stunning flying-with-birds footage. (via @tcarmody)

Is Eating Organic Food Better for Us? For the Earth?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

In their latest video, Kurzgesagt asks: “Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam?” Using the results of dozens of studies (their extensive list of sources is here), they examine the evidence that organic food is better for our health and for the environment than food produced by conventional methods (with artificial pesticides, fertilizers, etc.). The result is pretty much a toss-up. Their ultimate conclusion: eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind and buying local food that is in season is a better option than eating organic. (Note: the video and studies they used seem to cover only organic produce and not meat. That comparison might have a different outcome.)

El Chapo, Master of the Drug Tunnel (and Escape Tunnel)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In this video, Vox takes a look at how El Chapo leveraged his use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States and became one of the richest and most powerful drug lords of all time.

Throughout his career as a drug trafficker, tunnels have been the common theme in El Chapo’s story. When he gained control of a major drug trafficking corridor in the late 1980s, Joaquin Guzman Loera — then known as “el Rapido” — was the first to create super tunnels for transporting drugs across the border.

At the time, a crackdown by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) meant Colombian cocaine was in decline and the Mexican narcotrafficker saw an opportunity. By using tunnels to facilitate fast transport, El Chapo leveraged his role as a trafficker to claim new responsibilities as a cultivator and distributor of drugs.

El Chapo is currently on trial in the US and the proceedings thus far indicate that the Trump administration’s proposed border wall likely wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs into the US from Mexico. Most of the drugs shipped by El Chapo into the US went through regular old border crossings on trucks and trains, hidden in truck panels, packed into fake plastic bananas, or surrounded by food.

At one point, testimony at the trial has shown, Mr. Guzmán sent tons of cocaine across the border in cans of jalapeños marked with the label La Comadre chiles. The cans were stacked on pallets in the backs of commercial tractor-trailers, which simply drove through official border entry points. To protect his product from being found, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán often placed the cans filled with cocaine in the middle of the pallets, surrounded by cans with actual chiles.

The NY Times link is via Geoff Manaugh, whose take on this tunnelling I’d love to read.

The Year in Photos 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

Best Photos 2018

From top to bottom: Christine Blasey Ford by Win McNamee, Emma Gonzalez by Jonathan Ernst, White House rally by Carolyn Kaster, Indian LGBT activist by Abhishek Chinnappa, Nakosha Smith of the Caramel Curves motorcycle club by Akasha Rabut, and a young churchgoer at Orthodox Easter service by Mikhail Svetlov.

That’s just a tiny slice of 2018…check out these sites for many more photos from the year that was:

2018 in Photos (part 2, part 3), Top 25 News Photos of 2018, The Most 2018 Photos Ever, and Hopeful Images From 2018, all from The Atlantic.

Best photos of 2018 from National Geographic.

Pictures of the year 2018 from Reuters.

These Are The Most Powerful Photos From 2018 from Buzzfeed.

Year in Pictures 2018 from Bloomberg.

The Year in Pictures 2018 from the NY Times.

2018 Year in Photos from Associated Press.

2018: The year in pictures from CNN.

Top 100 Photos of 2018 from Time.

Styrofoam

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2019

In this lovely short film by Noah Sheldon, we meet Wo Guo Jie, a migrant worker from rural China who makes a living in Shanghai collecting styrofoam boxes and reselling them at a wholesale fish market. Even though styrofoam is a relatively light material, she packs so much of it onto her bike that the front wheel bounces off the ground as she motors slowly down the street, unable to see anything but what’s right in front of her.

My hometown is all farmland, there are no factories. During the winter there is nothing to do so people work elsewhere. Now everyone has left to go find work. No one farms anymore. It’s rare for me to get a chance to go home. Sometimes I don’t even go back once a year. When my son was younger, around 7 or 8 years old, I came home and he refused to call me ‘Mom’. He didn’t recognize me because I hadn’t been home for 3 years. I take each day as it comes. I haven’t thought too much about the future.

(via @rmpenguino)

A Metalsmith Makes a Puzzle Box From Scratch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2019

Over the course of two years, metalsmith Seth Gould built a project he calls Coffer, a gorgeous wrought iron puzzle box. Gould made the box from scratch — he forged the metal, machined the bolts, everything!

The majority of pieces, including the bolts, levers, and staples, are made from wrought iron, a material I use primarily for its working properties (enjoyable to forge and file). Wrought iron is no longer manufactured, so each piece needed to be forged from salvaged material. The forging is done using a coal forge, hammer, anvil, and power hammer. Once the pieces are forged as close to their finished shape as possible, I move to the bench to refine the surface and shape with a file. The final touch is a bit of file embellishment.

I mean, look at this intricate deliciousness:

Metal Puzzle Box

The video above is a short film of Gould making his box filmed by Jesse Beecher. The soundtrack cleverly incorporates the sounds of the workshop (sawing, hammering, flames) into the music, resulting in a particularly artful making-of film. (via colossal)

Update: The box made by Gould is called an armada box.

An iron-bound strongbox for storing valuables in the 16th and 17th centuries, often with a large, complicated lock on the underside of the lid. Some were for the use of officers at sea, and would have been bolted to the deck of the owner’s cabin. Usually of German make, the chests could be anything from a few inches to 6ft (1.8m) long. The name itself was a fanciful Victorian invention recalling chests imagined to be used by the Spanish Armada.

Email Love Letters to Trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2018

You might remember this 2015 Atlantic piece about what happened when Melbourne gave each of the city’s trees its own email address for reporting arboreal problems: people started writing love letters to the trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

More than three years later, people are still writing. ABC News has collected some of the most interesting emails and presented them alongside photos of the trees they’re directed to.

Melbourne Trees Email

Another admirer wrote to a Moreton Bay Fig tree:

You are beautiful. Sometimes I sit or walk under you and feel happier.

I love the way the light looks through your leaves and how your branches come down so low and wide it is almost as if you are trying to hug me. It is nice to have you so close, I should try to visit more often.

Menendez Brothers Found Courtside on 1990 Basketball Card

posted by Aaron Cohen   Jan 17, 2019

About 30 years ago, the Menendez brothers of Beverly Hills murdered their parents, collected a hefty life insurance policy, and then went on an 8 month spending spree. The brothers bought cars, watches, opulent vacations, restaurants (what?!), and… courtside tickets to see the Knicks play. Incidentally, a photo of Mark Jackson from that game was used as his 1990 basketball card, and you’ll never guess who was in the background

Mark Jackson 1990 Basketball Card

The guy who found it, Stephen Zerance, isn’t an NBA fan but a fan of true-crime. He’d read in court documents the brothers had bought the tickets and went looking for proof. When archival photo and video searches were fruitless, he thought about basketball cards. After looking on eBay, Zerance found his match and announced it this past August, 29 years after the murders. It’s some sort of real-life Time Travelers in Historic Photos bananas coincidence.

As an aside, I learned while writing this post the Menendez brothers weren’t initially considered suspects and got caught after one of the brothers admitted the murders to his psychologist, who told his mistress (the psychologist’s, not the brother’s), who told the cops. Eventually, the affair between the mistress and the psychologist ended, perhaps on account of the stress related to being an ancillary part of a high profile murder case, and likely badly as evidenced by the fact the mistress attended the Menendez trial as a witness for the defense with the intention of impugning the character of the psychologist. What a ride.

AI-Generated Human Faces That Look Amazingly Real

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

The opening line of Madeline Miller’s Circe is: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” In Miller’s telling of the mythological story, Circe was the daughter of a Titan and a sea nymph (a lesser deity born of two Titans). Yes, she was an immortal deity but lacked the powers and bearing of a god or a nymph, making her seem unnervingly human. Not knowing what to make of her and for their own safety, the Titans and Olympic gods agreed to banish her forever to an island.

Here’s a photograph of a woman who could also claim “when I was born, the name for what I was did not exist”:

AI Faces

The previous line contains two lies: this is not a photograph and that’s not a real person. It’s an image generated by an AI program developed by researchers at NVIDIA capable of borrowing styles from two actual photographs of real people to produce an infinite number of fake but human-like & photograph-like images.

AI Faces

We propose an alternative generator architecture for generative adversarial networks, borrowing from style transfer literature. The new architecture leads to an automatically learned, unsupervised separation of high-level attributes (e.g., pose and identity when trained on human faces) and stochastic variation in the generated images (e.g., freckles, hair), and it enables intuitive, scale-specific control of the synthesis.

The video offers a good look at how this works, with realistic facial features that you can change with a slider, like adjusting the volume on your stereo.

Photographs that aren’t photographs and people that aren’t people, born of a self-learning machine developed by humans. We’ll want to trust these images because they look so real, especially once they start moving and talking. I wonder…will we soon seek to banish them for our own safety as the gods banished Circe?

Update: This Person Does Not Exist is a single serving site that provides a new portrait of a non-existent person with each reload.

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

I’ve you’ve ever skied or snowboarded in the US, Canada, or many other spots around the world, chances are you’ve used a ski map painted by James Niehues. He’s hand-painted almost 200 trail maps for places like Alta, Vail, Big Sky, Okemo, and Mammoth.

Ski Magazine regularly ranks the Top 50 resorts in North America. Jim has hand painted 45 of them. His tools of choice are a camera, a notepad, a paintbrush and a canvas. Every painstaking detail — peaks, cliffs, trees and shadows — is painted by hand. Jim’s large and beautiful paintings have helped generations of skiers navigate and capture the unique character of each mountain. He has had more impact on the image and feel of skiing than almost anyone, yet few people know his name.

With the help of a small team, Niehues is publishing a hardcover coffee table book featuring all of his work along with a series of prints. Here are a couple of the maps that will be in the book:

Niehues Maps 01

Niehues Maps 02

Kottke.org’s Best of 2018, Parts 1 and 2

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 21, 2018

2018 light bulb.jpg

Subscribers to Noticing, the Kottke.org newsletter, have already seen our two-part Best of 2018 series, published on Thursday the 20th and Friday the 21st. We decided to split the best-of into two parts, with the first letter, the A-Sides, focusing on the 50 most popular posts of the year, and the second, the B-Sides, collecting our personal favorites.

For the B-Sides, Jason and I each submitted lists of posts we wanted to include, and after discarding redundancies, it turned out that the number of “favorite” posts was an even 100. I’d expected to write up about fifty, which was the number of the first newsletter. But that century mark felt like a sign, and a challenge I wanted to meet. So, fuck it; we wrote up the full 100.

Here’s an excerpt from the first newsletter:

Mapping cities, the planet, the stars

A number of the year’s best posts, as always, featured maps. A literal world map stars countries with the literal translations of their names. A map of the world after four degrees of warming is sobering, if not outright depressing. (Spoiler: most of the places where lots of people live will become hostile to the point of unliveable.) A map of the world where the sizes of countries is determined by their population has a similar “whoa!” effect, making you rethink the distribution of the planet. But maybe nothing is more “whoa!” than a timeline map of the 200,000 year history of human civilization, starting with migrations out of sub-Saharan Africa and following human travel and development through to the present.

We’ve reached the point in our development where we don’t necessarily need cartography to map our surroundings; photography will do the job. Even in 1920, photographers were able to capture stunning aerial photographs like cities, like these snaps of Edinburgh. These days, you can take aerial panoramas from 20,000 feet using as something as ubiquitous as an iPhone. Or use a fractal lens to take pictures of Tokyo, bending yourself into the future from that great contemporary city.

We now know what high-resolution photos of the Earth taken from the surface of the moon look like. We know how our seemingly geometric road grids subtly correct themselves for the curvature of the Earth’s surface. And we can even photograph black holes — or rather, watch stars in orbit around black holes, using a twenty-year time lapse. (Twenty years? Huh.)

That “twenty years” bit is a callback, as Kottke.org turned 20 this year.

And here is an excerpt from the B-Sides issue, which is, let’s just say, more dense:

The Year In Inspiration



Consider the fable of the dragon-tyrant. Literally, it’s about the possibility of extending the human lifespan and human flourishing, instead of sacrificing the young and old alike to the tyranny of death. But allegorically, as Jason writes, “humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.”

Consider, too, the calmness of airline pilots. In the midst of disaster, good pilots actually get calmer, and this helps them solve their problems.

Do you need to get yourself out of a funk? Or console or otherwise help a grieving friend? Think about what Augustine says about hope: hope stretches us out across time. It makes our hearts bigger in order to contain it. And all our secular hopes help to prepare us for the great hope to come, that all might be redeemed and made perfect, and we can find our true place in the cosmos. Think about Dean Allen, one of the kindest and most talented people in the tech universe, and whether or not he’s found the peace that eluded him — that eludes us all — on Earth.

We are, all of us, explorers and hermits, both searching for adventure and longing for routine. This is why, despite it all, it is some small comfort to know that humans right now are better at Tetris than they have ever been. And that if we decide to move to Los Angeles, we’ll have to solve a lot of problems with ourselves first: “How do you help care for the city that drew you in, rather than allow your presence to steamroll its culture?” And, to generalize: how can we care for 2019, as we’re drawn inexorably into its vortex, rather than allow it to steamroll us all?

It’s been a great year. I’ve loved writing this newsletter, and being able to chime in with my Friday posts and occasional guest weeks. (Guest editor Chrysanthe Tenentes put up some great posts this year as well.) Cheers to Jason for continuing to host the best blog in the universe. Here’s to more and better in 2019. Here’s to blogs making their inevitable comeback. Here’s to another twenty years.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

As he does every year, President Obama shared his favorite reads of the year on Facebook, books that he found “thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved”. Among them are:

Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

This year, Obama also shared his favorite movies and songs. The movie list contains some pretty interesting entries: Annihilation, The Death of Stalin, Shoplifters, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I wonder if he sees these in the theater or via Netflix/Apple/Amazon or he just gets a ton of screeners from the studios?

And Mr. President, let me know if you ever want to contribute a guest media diet post…I will try to squeeze you into my editorial calendar.

Why Video Games Are Made of Tiny Triangles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2019

For Vox, Cleo Abram explains why game designers use triangles when designing 3D animated games (and not, say, circles or rectangles).

Triangles are a key part of how these gorgeous, detailed games appear on your screen — the hidden heroes we should all thank as we play. This simple shape helps keep the number of computations needed for each detail as low as possible, allowing the player’s computer to process these elaborate games.

I like how the arms race among game developers to create more and more realistic objects out of smaller and smaller triangles mirrors the process in differential calculus of finding the slope of a curve by — wait for it — using smaller and smaller triangles. The game designers are going to have a problem truly getting to infinitesimally small triangles though…

How Language Shapes the Way We Think

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2019

At the TEDWomen 2017 conference, cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky gave a talk on how different languages affect how their speakers think about the world. It ended up being the most viewed online TED Talk in 2018. Boroditsky’s first example of how language shapes thought is the directional thinking of the Kuuk Thaayorre people of Australia.

I’ll start with an example from an Aboriginal community in Australia that I had the chance to work with. These are the Kuuk Thaayorre people. They live in Pormpuraaw at the very west edge of Cape York. What’s cool about Kuuk Thaayorre is, in Kuuk Thaayorre, they don’t use words like “left” and “right,” and instead, everything is in cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. You would say something like, “Oh, there’s an ant on your southwest leg.” Or, “Move your cup to the north-northeast a little bit.” In fact, the way that you say “hello” in Kuuk Thaayorre is you say, “Which way are you going?” And the answer should be, “North-northeast in the far distance. How about you?”

So imagine as you’re walking around your day, every person you greet, you have to report your heading direction.