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Otherworldly Single Malt Scotch

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2021

patterns at the bottom of a whiskey glass that look like an alien planet

patterns at the bottom of a whiskey glass that look like an alien planet

patterns at the bottom of a whiskey glass that look like an alien planet

patterns at the bottom of a whiskey glass that look like an alien planet

For his series Vanishing Spirits: The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch, photographer Ernie Buttons photographed the creatively lit bottoms of glasses emptied of their single malt Scotch whisky. The results look like alien worlds.

These remind me a lot of Christopher Jonassen’s frying pan worlds and Nadine Schlieper’s & Robert Pufleb’s photos of pancakes that look like moons. (via moss & fog)

Tree Root System Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2022

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

drawing of a plant's root system

The Wageningen University & Research houses a collection of almost 1200 drawings of the root systems of trees, grasses, crops, shrubs, weeds, flowers, and other plants. These drawings were done of plants in Europe, mostly in Austria, over a period of 40 years and are a wonderful combination of scientifically valuable and aesthetically pleasing.

The Courtroom Sketch Artist

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2021

ghislaine-maxwell-court-sketch.jpeg

Choire Sicha’s interview with Jane Rosenberg, the courtroom sketch artist currently working on the Ghislaine Maxwell trial in New York, is delightful.

Do you and other courtroom artists ever fight?
Oh, sure. You don’t want to hear all that.


All I want to hear is that!
Oh, no, no. I’m not starting. I get along professionally with most artists. There are some who are just really a problem. It’s not normal, what I put up with from the other ones. I used to have a story every day — they cursed me out! They knocked my pastels over! They’re sly as a fox, they do it when no one’s around, but all the court officers know who they are. They’re not in this trial.

Jeez. It’s much nicer among the reporters!
We compete, also! There’s issues of competition for certain clients. Some of us have our set clients, and there’s stealing going on, all kinds of backstabbing going on. It’s not all roses. I’m okay with who’s here, and we do what we have to do.

(Rosenberg has been drawing defendants since 1980.)

Cracked Eggshells, Carefully Arranged

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

cracked eggshells carefully arranged

I am in deep like with this image of neatly arranged eggshells by Kristen Meyer. And her saltine arrangement is still extremely satisfying. You can check out more of her work on her website and at Instagram. Ok wait, I really like this one too:

torn book pages carefully arranged

(via colossal)

This Is A Film About The James Webb Space Telescope

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2021

In this entertaining, informative, and charmingly goofy video, Dr. Kevin Hainline tells us all about the James Webb Space Telescope. The JWST is a bigger and better version of the Hubble Space Telescope and will allow scientists to peer deeper into the universe and farther back in time than ever before.

Listen, science is hard! Engineering is hard! It’s difficult to figure out how to build an incredibly sensitive infrared detector that you have to cram together on the back of a giant, foldable, gold covered mirror, sitting on a delicate, tennis-court-sized parasol, that can survive a rocket launch! It’s hard stuff!

And hundreds and hundreds of people around the world have been working on it together. JWST is the single most complicated science project human beings have ever attempted. But it’s been worth it. Because we want to discover the earliest galaxies in the universe, and clouds on other planets, and baby star-forming regions, and debris disks around stars, and weird dwarf galaxies, and supermassive black holes!

It’s been in development for almost thirty years and everyone is really ready for it! The James Webb Space Telescope is about to change astronomy. Get ready for discovery!

I am ready and excited! The JWST is currently set to launch no earlier than Dec 24, 2021. You can follow the progress of the launch here.

See also Looking back in time with the James Webb Space Telescope (60 Minutes) and 29 Days on the Edge. Oh and scientists have been working on this project for 20 years and are (understandably) really nervous about what happens with the launch.

Winners of the Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

a boy wearing a gas mask connected to a potted plant

a room full of high-tech blue tubes

an overhead view of a house surrounded by flood waters

The winning entries in the Environmental Photographer of the Year for 2021 highlight the ways in which our planet’s climate is changing and how humans are (and are not) adapting to those changes. From top to bottom, photos by Kevin Ochieng Onyango, Simone Tramonte, and Michele Lapini. (via dense discovery)

Voyage of the Moons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2022

Space is mostly just what it says on the tin: empty space. The solar system is no exception; it’s a massive volume occupied by little more than the Sun’s mass — the mass of all the planets, moons, comets, asteroids, space dust, and stray electrons are just a bit more than a rounding error. But oh what mass it is when you get up close to it.

The NASA space probe Cassini, on its seven-year journey to Saturn, cozied up to Jupiter in December 2000 and captured a succession of images of Io and Europa passing over the Great Red Spot during the moons’ orbit of the gas giant planet. Kevin Gill turned those images into the incredible video embedded above. That we have such crisp, smooth video of two small moons orbiting a planet some 444 million miles away from Earth is something of a miracle — it looks totally rendered. Also in the video is footage of Titan orbiting Saturn — that horizontal line bisecting the frame is Saturn’s rings, edge-on.

J Is for Jim Crow - Typography and Racial Stereotypes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2022

Ruby Font Jim Crow

For The Believer, Sarah K. Kramer wrote about a typeface called Jim Crow, how it came to be called that (its original name was Gothic Shade), and what its casual use by designers for decades means.

One of Seals’ pet peeves is “stereo-typography” — things like east Asian restaurants with brush-script logos — and in particular, he takes issue with the way designers often use “black weight” (very thick and bold) font to signify African American culture. For example, the Neuland typeface (designed in 1923 by Rudolf Koch) has been used on many covers of books by Black writers, like Richard Wright’s Native Son. One theory on the origin of the association of these black-weight fonts with Black culture is that they evoke woodblock typefaces printed on nineteenth century tobacco ephemera — an industry closely linked with slavery. Needless to say, much of this material featured racist imagery of African Americans. When Seals was contracted by HarperCollins to design a cover for Charles Blow’s The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, he definitely was not going to use a “black weight” font. Instead, he designed the cover with Ruby.

Ruby is a reworked version of Jim Crow from Tré Seals’ type foundry Vocal Type Co, which I covered here a few years ago. (thx, reed)

Won’t Someone Think of the Actual Children?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2021

For her Culture Study newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen listed a few themes she’d identified over the past year. The first one is something I’ve noticed people talking a lot about too:

1) Our society values parenting, not parents; it honors “work ethic,” not workers; we cherish children in the abstract, but not actual children themselves.

To me, these ideas are borne out in the contrasts between the rhetoric of who and what we value (Moms! Kids’ futures! ESSENTIAL WORKERS!) and actual policy and behaviors. I mean that in terms of Covid, of course, but also in terms of labor protections for workers, the safety nets we provide for parents (and single parents in particular) and general actions and policy in regards to the future of the planet. We don’t value people, just generally. We value capital.

The Christian nationalists — who, despite ostensible Democratic control of the Senate, the House, and the presidency, nonetheless command the vision and future of the country — dress up obsession with controlling women’s bodies and freedom in the wardrobe of “the rights of the fetus,” but then allow that fetus, once it turns into an actual child, to go hungry, to live in fear of violence in their schools, to go unhoused or deal with housing insecurity, to endure the effects of environmental racism, and to grow into an adult indelibly marked by all of those experiences.

Bingo. This is also true to varying degrees for education (not teachers), art (not artists), and the troops (not individual soldiers that we send to incur PTSD, injury, and death).

BTW, Petersen has a new book out with her partner Charlie Warzel called Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, which relates to another of her yearly themes: “Work is miserable on so many levels — but it’s so hard to imagine a different way forward.”

Award-Winning Photos from an Action & Adventure Sports Photo Competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

a climber jumps away from a cliff face

a person in a kayak shoots out of a massive wave in the rapids

dozens of paragliders fly in the air over the mountains

a man skateboards on a curved rock face next to a stream in the forest

The winners of the 2021 Red Bull Illume Image Quest photography contest have been announced. You can take a look at the winners, runners-up, and finalists in the contest — so much impressive work here. Photos above are by Will Saunders, Rod Hill, Andreas Busslinger, and Adrien Petit. (via in focus)

What Will Pandemic Life Be Like in a Month?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

Bob Wachter is the chair of the Department of Medicine at the USCF medical center and last week he posted a pair of threads about what the Covid rates might look like in a month and how we might behave if that comes to pass (and if we don’t get another variant mucking things up). I’m going to quote extensively from Wachter’s threads because I think they contain some things that people need to hear right now.

In the first thread, he explains why an individual’s risk of catching Covid will likely be quite low a month from now:

The virus is the same, your immunity is the same, the chances of getting infected from a given encounter much the same. Yet I predict that I — and most of us — who are trying our best to dodge Omicron now will be more “open” next month. Does that make sense?

Yes! It’s all about community prevalence — basically the chances that the person next to you at the restaurant, the movie, or the store is infectious w/ Covid. It they’re not, your encounter is 100% safe. If they are, your encounter is as risky as it is today.

Today, near the Omicron peak, the odds an asymptomatic person has Covid is ~10% in most of U.S. At 10% prevalence, when you enter a room w/ 20 people, there’s an 88% chance that one of them has Covid. Do that enough times without masks and you’re going to get infected.

In a month — if cases fall to prior non-surge #’s — the prevalence among asymptomatic people may be more like 0.2% — even in less vaxxed regions, which’ll have more people whose immunity came from infection. (They should still get vaxxed for better & longer protection.)

0.2% means that the odds of an asymptomatic person having Covid=1-in-500. That room of 20 people: now a 4% chance (1-in-25) that someone’s infected. Not zero — you’ll still want to be careful if you’re at very high risk. But for most, % is low enough to feel pretty safe.

And because overall rates would be much lower, the chances of survival for those who do get Covid will increase because hospitals won’t be overwhelmed, testing will be more available, and antiviral medicines will be more available. Caveats:

Yes, the specter of Long Covid (for some, mild; others disabling) continues — maybe a ~5% chance in a vaxxed person. Some will look at those odds as being concerning enough that they’ll continue to act very cautiously. I probably won’t, but it’s an understandable choice.

And others who have lots of contact w/ very vulnerable people — unvaxxed who didn’t get Omicron, for example, or immunosuppressed - may also make different choices. That’s entirely reasonable.

And there’s also this…he’s fairly confident rates will be low this spring but perhaps not later in the year (because under-vaccinated people’s immunity from catching Omicron in the past 2 months will have waned):

As for me, this is why the community prevalence (cases, test pos %) will dominate my decisions. If they don’t plummet, I’ll keep my guard up until they do. And while I’m reasonably confident about the Spring, my confidence level falls as we move to later in the year.

In the second thread, Wachter talks about how we’ll know when the risk is low and shares how his behavior will change once that happens:

Add it all up & it’s clear that this Spring — w/ a milder virus & nearly 100% population immunity — may be about as safe as it gets… perhaps for many years. Thus I see this Spring as a time when everyone (especially those who have been extra careful for two years) needs to figure out how to navigate a far less risky landscape. (Cue the usual caveat: a new variant could easily screw things up, yet again.)

The bottom line is this: in a few weeks — when this surge ends — things are going to be as good as they’re likely to get for the foreseeable future.

Here’s how he’s going to know when his personal risk level is low enough to do some things differently:

What will my trigger be for switching to less cautious mode? It’s a bit arbitrary - there’s no bright line separating “too risky” & “not risky.” This means that others may come up w/ different thresholds.

Mine will be case rates <10/100K/day (recognizing that reported cases now underestimate case #’s due to home testing). I’d also like to see test positivity rates of <1%. (The math: when we reach a 1% overall rate in SF, that would translate to a ~0.5% asymptomatic positivity rate; or 1/200 asymptomatic people having Covid. At that prevalence, in a room of 15 folks, there’s a 7% chance that at least 1 has Covid.)

So what does that mean in terms of shifting behavior? Here’s Wachter’s personal plan w/ his acceptable level of risk:

The main questions center on indoor spaces crowded with unmasked people of uncertain vaccination status. Small indoor groups, visiting friends & family, indoor dining: all fine, without masks.

If I had school-aged kids who were fully vaccinated, I’d be comfortable without masks in school, particularly if there were a school-wide vaccine requirement and good ventilation.

My practice will be to always carry a KN95, and to don it in very crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with lots of unmasked people, particularly in parts of the U.S. or world with low vax or high case rates. I can’t tell you how crowded or how poorly ventilated, any more than I can say how likely rain needs to be in forecast before I grab an umbrella. I’ll just trust my Spidey Sense: how long I’ll be in space, how awkward wearing a mask will be, whether folks are speaking, yelling, singing, or just standing around. Does it feel scary?

At least at first, I’ll still mask on public transit (trains, planes) & shopping — crowded public spaces w/ lots of unmasked people. Once masks are no longer mandated, I don’t think I’ll mask at the hospital unless I’m seeing a patient with respiratory symptoms.

Both threads are worth a careful read to catch all the caveats and to get a full picture of his reasoning regarding risk and behavior. Hopefully reading them will give you a similar sense of empowerment and hope that they gave me.

“America Is Now in Fascism’s Legal Phase”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, writes about the recent revitalization of the long tradition in the United States of fascist movements using race & racism as tools to move towards their goals. And now with attacks on the courts, education, voting rights, and women’s rights, America is now in fascism’s legal phase.

According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 states have considered 230 bills criminalizing protest, with the threat of violent leftist and Black rebellion being used to justify them. That this is happening at the same time that multiple electoral bills enabling a Republican state legislature majority to overturn their state’s election have been enacted suggests that the true aim of bills criminalizing protest is to have a response in place to expected protests against the stealing of a future election (as a reminder of fascism’s historical connection to big business, some of these laws criminalize protest near gas and oil lines).

The Nazis used Judeo-Bolshevism as their constructed enemy. The fascist movement in the Republican party has turned to critical race theory instead. Fascism feeds off a narrative of supposed national humiliation by internal enemies. Defending a fictional glorious and virtuous national past, and presenting its enemies as deviously maligning the nation to its children, is a classic fascist strategy to stoke fury and resentment. Using the bogeyman of critical race theory, 29 states have introduced bills to restrict teaching about racism and sexism in schools, and 13 states have enacted such bans.

Something I was disappointed about on last week’s anniversary of the terrorist attack on Congress was too much emphasis on Trump’s role in what happened on that day, as if focusing on him somehow makes it possible that the rest of the Republican Party can jettison this bad seed at some point without losing face and American politics can get back to the bipartisan business as usual. This is a total fiction, and as Stanley correctly notes, this shift towards fascism is a party-wide effort that preceded Trump and will outlive him.

A Ted Lasso Animated Short: The Missing Christmas Mustache

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2021

Well this is a nice little holiday boost: a four-minute animated short with Ted Lasso and the gang called The Missing Christmas Mustache.

The Dark Forest (Or, Why We Should Keep Still and Not Look for Aliens)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2021

Inspired by the second book in Liu Cixin’s excellent Three-Body Problem trilogy, Kurzgesagt made a video about the Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox.

Confronted with the seemingly empty universe, humanity faces a dilemma. We desperately want to know if we are alone in the Milky Way. We want to call out and reveal ourselves to anyone watching but that could be the last thing we ever do. Because maybe the universe is not empty. Maybe it’s full of civilizations but they are hiding from each other. Maybe the civilizations that attracted attention in the past were wiped away by invisible arrows. This is the Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox.

I have The Dark Forest on the Kindle, so I looked up how this is explained in the book (spoilers, obvs):

“The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life-another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod-there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.”

Shi Qiang lit another cigarette, if only to have a bit of light.

“But in this dark forest, there’s a stupid child called humanity, who has built a bonfire and is standing beside it shouting, ‘Here I am! Here I am!’” Luo Ji said.

“Has anyone heard it?”

“That’s guaranteed. But those shouts alone can’t be used to determine the child’s location. Humanity has not yet transmitted information about the exact position of Earth and the Solar System into the universe. From the information that has been sent out, all that can be learned is the distance between Earth and Trisolaris, and their general heading in the Milky Way. The precise location of the two worlds is still a mystery. Since we’re located in the wilderness of the periphery of the galaxy, we’re a little safer.”

That’s the basic idea, but there’s more to it…you should watch the video or, even better, read the series — I’ve read the entire trilogy twice and this makes me want to read it again! (I loved the Drive Easter egg towards the end of the video. Well played.)

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.

Powers of Ten, Updated With Current Science

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 short film Powers of Ten is one of the best bits of science communication ever created…and a personal favorite of mine. Here’s a description of the original film:

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward — into the hand of the sleeping picnicker — with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

As an homage, the BBC and particle physicist Brian Cox have created an updated version that reflects what we’ve learned about the universe in the 45 years since Powers of Ten was made. The new video zooms out to the limits of our current observational powers, to about 100 billion light years away, 1000X wider than in the original. (I wish they would have done the zoom in part of the video too, but maybe next year!)

And if you’d like to explore the scales of the universe for yourself, check out the Universe in a Nutshell app from Tim Urban and Kurzgesagt — you can zoom in and out as far as you want and interact with and learn about objects along the way.

Nadia Boulanger, the Most Influential Music Teacher of the 20th Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2022

At one point or another, legendary music teacher Nadia Boulanger taught Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Quincy Jones, and many many more. In the video above, Oscar Osicki of Inside the Score tells us about this remarkable woman and how she came to be “arguably the most renowned music teacher in the world”.

Later in his life, Aaron Copeland wrote to Boulanger about the influence she’d had on him:

It’s almost 30 years (hard to believe) since we met — and I still count our meeting the most important event of my musical life. What you did for me — at exactly the period I most needed it — is unforgettable. Whatever I have accomplished is intimately associated in my mind with those early years and with what you have since been as inspiration and example. All my gratitude and thanks go to you, dear Nadia.

Quincy Jones:

Nadia Boulanger used to tell me all the time, “Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being.” It’s okay to play fast and all that other stuff, but unless you have a life experience, and have something to say that you’ve lived, you have nothing to contribute at all. So I decided to live my life, and I did.

See also The greatest music teacher who ever lived and She Was Music’s Greatest Teacher. And Much More. (via open culture)

A Close-Up Photo of Comet Leonard by an Amateur Astronomer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

Comet Leonard

Using a composite of 25 different shots done over a period of 12 minutes in his backyard, amateur astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy created this stunning image of Comet Leonard. From PetaPixel:

Processing comet images is a challenge because even in the span of 12 minutes, the comet drifts across the frame relative to the background stars,” McCarthy tells PetaPixel. “Due to the comet’s motion, it has to be stacked differently. I tell the software to stack the images based on the comet position and star positions separately, which is then combined together to produce an image with the comet and stars both sharp.

See also this image of Leonard and McCarthy’s colorful photo of a full moon.

Mesmerizing Liquid Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

“Abstract shots of liquid experiments that aim to mimic the visual complexity of human eyes” is what it says on the tin and I cannot improve upon it in an effort to get you to watch the video. Some of these really do look amazingly like eyes.

A Humpback Whale Saved My Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2021

In this video, whale scientist Nan Hauser tells the story about how a humpback whale she was swimming with saved her from what she calls “the largest tiger shark I’ve ever seen”. It turns out this is not atypical behavior for humpbacks — they’re one of the nicest animals in the sea or on land and have been known to rescue animals from other species from predators.

First-person accounts of animals saving other animals are rare. Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, describes a pivotal encounter he witnessed in Antarctica in 2009. A group of killer whales washed a Weddell seal they were attacking off an ice floe. The seal swam frantically toward a pair of humpbacks that had inserted themselves into the action. One of the huge humpbacks rolled over on its back and the 180-kilogram seal was swept up onto its chest between the whale’s massive flippers. When the killer whales moved in closer, the humpback arched its chest, lifting the seal out of the water. And when the seal started slipping off, the humpback, according to Pitman, “gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.”

Is this behavior in humpbacks altruistic or even compassionate? Or is it “just” instinct?

So are humpbacks compassionate? Scientists, Sharpe tells me, shy away from using the same descriptors we use for humans. “What is exciting about humpbacks is that they are directing their behavior for the benefit of other species,” he says. “But there’s no doubt there are important differences between human compassion and animal compassion.” When I pose the same question to Pitman he concurs. “No editor is going to let me use the word compassion. When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.”

Blonde Drawings

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2021

drawing of a colorful wig

drawing of a colorful wig

drawing of a colorful wig

CJ Hendry has done a series of photorealistic drawings of hair called BLONDE. You can see some of the work in progress on her Instagram and see it in person in NYC Dec 10-12. Love these. (via @downtown.collective)

The Omicron Variant

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2021

Last week, a worrisome variant of SARS-CoV-2 burst into the public consciousness: the Omicron variant. The concern among scientists and the public at large is substantial, but it is unfortunately going to take a few weeks to figure out whether those concerns are warranted. For a measured take on what we know now and what we can expect, read these two posts by epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina (as well as this one on vaccines).

B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had 9 changes on the spike protein. We know that B.1.1.529 is not a “Delta plus” variant. The figure below shows a really long line, with no previous Delta ancestors. So this likely means it mutated over time in one, likely immunocompromised, individual.

Of these, some mutations have properties to escape antibody protection (i.e. outsmart our vaccines and vaccine-induced immunity). There are several mutations association with increased transmissibility. There is a mutation associated with increased infectivity.

That sounds bad but again, we presently do not have enough information to know for sure about any of this. As Jetelina concludes in one of the posts:

We still have more questions than answers. But we will get them soon. Do not take Omicron lightly, but don’t abandon hope either. Our immune systems are incredible.

None of this changes what you can to do right now: Ventilate spaces. Use masks. Test if you have symptoms. Isolate if positive. Get vaccinated. Get boosted.

This Science piece by Kai Kupferschmidt also provides a great overview about where we’re at with Omicron, without the sensationalism.

Whether or not Omicron turns out to be another pandemic gamechanger, the lesson we should take from it (but probably won’t) is that grave danger is lurking in that virus and we need to get *everyone* *everywhere* vaccinated, we need free and ubiquitous rapid testing *everywhere*, we need to focus on indoor ventilation, we need to continue to use measures like distancing and mask-wearing, and we need to keep doing all of the other things in the Swiss cheese model of pandemic defense. Anything else is just continuing our idiotic streak with this virus of fucking around and then finding out. (via jodi ettenberg & eric topol)

A Short History (and Future) of Choir Music in Movies

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 08, 2021

a sound designer at a mixing board scoring a film

Adrian Daub has noticed something unusual about choir music in movies: usually, we can’t understand the lyrics. For some reason, it’s important to have human voices rather than an instrument or orchestra carrying the musical load, but the linguistic content, whether it’s in pseudo-Latin, a made up Tolkien language, or Sanskrit translations of Welsh, usually might as well be empty.

This dates from the 1930s, when sound in movies got sophisticated enough to handle simultaneous polyvocal sound, the era of movie musicals and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:

And then there was Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937). The film concerns the discovery of Shangri-La in the Himalayas, and when we finally get to the fabled land the soundtrack accompanies the matte-painted wonderland with a chorus singing in… well, in a language that isn’t English and doesn’t seem to be Tibetan either. And thus another Hollywood tradition was born: film choruses belting out perfectly nonsensical prose with utter conviction.

The film’s producers tried to claim that the choral music from Lost Horizon was rooted in Tibetan folk traditions, but this, Daub writes persuasively, is plainly nonsense, and nonsense about nonsense to boot. What matters isn’t the sense, but the feeling, not the authenticity, but the cinematic je-ne-sais-quoi (literally, je ne sais rien) of the music.

What’s more, music choirs (even the nonsensical, polyglot ones) have gone digital and programmable:

The EastWest Symphonic Choirs software allows you to make a virtual choir sing in just about any style imaginable. Want your ooos and aaas to sound like a whisper? More Broadway or more classical? All of that’s in the package.

But there’s more: Due to a system called WordBuilder, you can have this choir sing pretty much anything — you can type in text in English, in phonetics, or a proprietary alphabet called Votox, and the software will assemble it out of a massive databank of vowels and consonants…

All the professional singers I spoke to were keenly aware of products like EastWest Symphonic Choirs and the sample libraries — because more likely than not they’re in them. If you’re in the business of singing on film, these days you won’t always be asked to sing for an actual score, but instead you might get booked to record samples. There’s a scary possibility that these artists are slowly eroding the industry’s need for their labor — that the fruits of their one day of paid work will perform for the studios in perpetuity and with no extra residuals.

At the moment, though, singers come pretty cheap — and in many cases, even a union shop in a city like London (a favorite of movie music producers for just this reason) might insist only on a set rate without residuals. They’re even good at singing their way around nonsense:

As the soprano Catherine Bott said: “You enter a studio and you open the score and off you go. You sing what you’re told, and it’s all about versatility, just being able to adapt to the right approach, whatever that may be for that conductor or that composer.” And part of that, singers told me, was singing the words — whatever they may be. As Donald Greig pointed out to me, a lot of these singers have training in classics; they certainly know their way around a Requiem or a Stabat Mater. And yet often enough when they step into Abbey Road they’re being asked to sing perfectly nonsensical phrases in pseudo-Latin — but the studio is booked, the clock is ticking, and as Bott put it, “that’s not the time to put up your hand and, you know, correct the Latin.”

But the thing is, many of us have some experience being sung at in Latin we don’t understand — it’s the Catholic mass. And as Daub writes, the emotional content of the mass (and the accompanying tradition of Latin choral music) has never depended on its intelligibility — in fact, it’s often benefitted from the fact that few if any of the audience could understand what is being said word for word.

Whether they’re after a feeling of evil (as in The Omen), magic (Harry Potter), exotic African-ness (the misplaced Swahili of The Lion King), or familiarity (Black Widow’s callback to the theme from The Avengers), movie producers are literally counting on familiar human voices being misunderstood.

Dogs That Look Like Celebrities

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Compiled by Joaquim Campa, here are several dogs that look like celebrities. There’s Harrison Ford:

a dog that looks like Harrison Ford

William H. Macy:

a dog that looks like William H. Macy

Snoop Dogg:

a dog that looks like Snoop Dogg

And from the comments on that post, Patrick Stewart:

a dog that looks like Patrick Stewart

Also from the comments, Martin Scorsese:

a dog that looks like Martin Scorsese

This is not my usual thing, but this caught me at the right moment and I needed to get my annual pet post in so…

Business Garden Inn & Suites & Hotel Room Inn

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2021

This pitch-perfect SNL commercial featuring Kate McKinnon & Billie Eilish advertises the bland budget business-ish hotel that can be found all across America.

Our rooms provide every comfort required by law: tiny soap in plastic, phone that blinks, Band-Aid-colored blanket, chair for suitcase, black & white photo of Ferris wheel, blow dryer that goes oooooooh, short glass wearing little hat, and small stain in place you have to touch.

And be sure to enjoy our hot tub; it’s always occupied by an eight-year-old boy in goggles staring at your breasts. He’s been in there for hours and he’s not getting out until you do.

I have stayed at this precise hotel many times in the past and I will again in the future. C+++++.

Surreal Psychedelic Headshots

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

a painting of a man with a landscape for a face

a painting of a woman with a landscape for a face

a painting of a man with a landscape for a face

a painting of a woman with a landscape for a face

Among Brazilian artist Rafael Silveira’s surrealist work are these portraits of people with landscape faces. I loved what he said about them in brief remarks to Colossal:

From inside, we are a strange mix of dreams, thoughts, feelings, and human meat. I think these portraits are not persons but moods.

(via colossal)

Dave Eggers: We Finally Have Jetpacks and No One Cares

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

In a recent piece for The Guardian, Dave Eggers observes that we now have actual jetpacks that actually fly, an invention that was supposed to alert humanity that The Future had finally arrived,1 and no one really cares too much about them.

We have jetpacks and we do not care. An Australian named David Mayman has invented a functioning jetpack and has flown it all over the world — once in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty — yet few people know his name. His jetpacks can be bought but no one is clamouring for one. For decades, humans have said they want jetpacks, and for thousands of years we have said we want to fly, but do we really? Look up. The sky is empty.

Eggers, an avid flyer but not pilot, decided to take a jetpack flying lesson, just to see what none of the fuss is about.

When he returns and begins pouring the fuel into the jetpack, only then does it register just how dicey this seems, and why jetpacks have been slow to be developed and adopted. Though every day we fill our cars’ tanks with highly flammable gasoline, there is — or we pretend there is — a comfortable distance between our frail flesh and this explosive fuel. But carrying this fuel on your back, in a glorified backpack of tubes and turbines, brings the reality of the internal combustion engine home. Just watching the kerosene getting poured into the pack, inches from Wesson’s face, is unsettling.

And then there’s the noise:

Jarry asks if I’m ready. I tell him I’m ready. The jets ignite. The sound is like a category 5 hurricane passing through a drainpipe. Jarry turns an invisible throttle, and I mimic his movements with the real throttle. The sound grows louder. He turns his invisible throttle more, and I turn mine. Now the sound hits a fever pitch, and I feel the thrust down the back of my calves. I step ever so slightly forward, and lock my legs together. (This is why jetpack wearers have their legs stiff like toy soldiers - any deviation is quickly punished by 800-degree jet exhaust.) Jarry mimes more throttle, I give it more throttle, and slowly I leave the earth. It is nothing like weightlessness. Instead, I feel my every pound, feel just how much thrust it takes to get me and this machine to levitate.

Jarry tells me to go higher. One foot, then two, then three. As the jets howl and the kerosene burns, I hover, thinking that this is an astounding amount of noise and trouble to float 36in off the ground. Unlike the purest kinds of flight, which harness wind and master soaring, this is just brute force. This is busting through space with heat and noise. And it’s really difficult, too.

(via clive thompson)

  1. I have had one of these t-shirts in my rotation for more than 20 years now: “they lied to us / this was supposed to be the future / where is my jetpack, where is my robotic companion, where is my dinner in pill form, where is my hydrogen fueled automobile, where is my nuclear-powered levitating house, where is my cure for this disease”.

One-Minute Time Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2022

A Groundhog Day-esque short film about some of the unintended consequences of time travel, even for short hops. (See also…)

The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the American Mall

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 10, 2021

A long corridor in an empty shopping mall

Lili Loofbourow on that great symbol of capitalism, now hollowed out by (mostly) private equity and (partly) changing consumer habits:

They aren’t easy to physically dispense with, malls.

It’s no surprise, then, that people are desperately trying to find new uses for them. The afterlife of a dead mall is interesting. Schools are moving into malls; some students are completing high school in a converted Macy’s in Vermont. A Dillard’s in Texas is now a radio station. Malls are becoming home to community colleges and libraries and offices. The Eastmont Town Center in Oakland, California, is home to a Center for Elders’ Independence, Social Security offices, and a lab.

These efforts are noble and good. They are also—and can’t help but be—anti-makeovers. Malls were made to be malls. This means every effort to repurpose a mall becomes a fascinating performance of architectural insufficiency, of a bespoke thing being wrenched into a different, and more practical, and less entertaining, function. It’s not that you can’t have schools in malls—or libraries, or social services. It’s that malls, being temples to consumerism, were tailor-made to be exactly what they were. Trying to square-peg another operation amid the former makeup counters beside onetime dressing rooms makes the result seem impoverished, weird, jangled. The erosion of detail is essential, but it makes the space grim.

Americans get nervous when symbols change. If the American grocery store was, among other things, deployed as an active rebuke of Soviet scarcity in the Cold War, the American department store was a serene display of endless availability. There were more kinds of makeup than anyone could possibly want, and they all had loyalists. Can we adapt to a new idea of the mall, the way old maritime warehouses turned into loft-living for gentrifiers? Should we? A stroll through these deserts finds dots of life poking through: mom and pop stores offering to repair watches or do your dry cleaning or your hair. I visited the Eastmont Town Center recently to see what it looked like in its new incarnation as a hub for seniors and Social Security and a “self-sufficiency center” where an anchor store used to be. A security guard stopped me at the entrance: Without an appointment and a specific destination in hand, she would not let me in. It puzzles me that the building is less accessible as the site of a library than it was as a mall, but I love the idea of a mall serving people in need. Still, the new configuration isn’t scratching the itch a mall did—at least according to other nostalgic mallgoers who have tried to haunt its halls. As one Yelp review reads: “Not enough stores, too many social services.”

“Americans get nervous when symbols change” — I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.

Something I think about a lot is if they remade Back to the Future today. Marty would travel back in time to 1992, and probably accidentally invent dubstep or something. But if he and Doc still met in the parking lot at the shopping mall, it would be a very different, much more haunted place. And the time machine wouldn’t suddenly crash into pine trees, but would appear near the mall’s peak in popularity. The scene from 1955 where Marty marvels at the officious gas station attendants would be replaced by one of Marty at the mall, amazed at the sheer number of people shopping, walking, letting themselves see and be seen at the outlet that in his time is now home to a plasma bank.

A Short History of the Week

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 07, 2021

calendar-dates-week.jpeg

Years, days, seasons, even months correspond to natural divisions of time in most parts of the Earth. We split those into hours, minutes, seconds, pretty cleanly if you’re a post-Sumerian who loves the number 60. But weeks? You can talk about phases of the moon, but for the most part, weeks are our most arbitrary (and mathematically awkward) imposition on the experience of time. (Not everybody observes a seven-day week, even today.)

So how did we make the week a thing?

Although taboos and cosmologies in several different cultures attached significance to seven-day cycles much earlier, there is no clear evidence of any society using such cycles to track time in the form of a common calendar before the end of the 1st century CE. As the scholars Ilaria Bultrighini and Sacha Stern have recently documented, it was in the context of the Roman Empire that a standardised weekly calendar emerged out of a combination and conflation of Jewish Sabbath counts and Roman planetary cycles. The weekly calendar, from the moment of its effective invention, reflected a union of very different ways of counting days. This fact alone ought to discourage us from assuming that weeks have just one obvious technological application.

Along with charting the stars and setting aside time for the sacred, weeks, David Henkin argues, serve as mnemonic devices, divide work from non-work days, allow us to distinguish one cycle of days from the next, and offer a regular opportunity to take stock.

Starting around the nineteenth century, particularly in the United States, the division of time into weeks (which correspondingly creates a repeating order of days) also allowed for a new, industrial-bureaucratic conditioning to take place: we created schedules.

Increasingly and pervasively, Americans were applying the technology of the seven-day count to the project of scheduling. Some of these schedules emerged in work settings, specifically schools and housekeeping. As daily school attendance became a normative activity outside the southern US in the early 19th century, masses of schoolchildren learned early and often to expect certain regular activities (examinations, early recesses, special classes) to take place on the same day of the week. And as new norms of hygiene and respectability took hold in middle-class households, domestic manuals began prescribing weekly schedules for core housekeeping tasks: washing on Mondays, ironing on Tuesdays, baking on Wednesdays.

Offices and workplaces were soon to follow. Eventually, the week provided such a regular structure to our days and activities that when any disruption happens (be it mild and passing like a holiday, or more deeply deranging, like a pandemic), it throws us into disorientation. We made the week, but now we can’t live without it.

CDC Report Shows Steep Drop in US Life Expectancy in 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2021

The CDC recently released their report on Mortality in the United States, 2020 and this graph of US life expectancy at birth since 1950 by Christopher Ingraham dramatically summarizes the report’s main finding:

graph showing US life expectancy at birth since 1950, featuring a steep drop in 2020

That’s a decrease in life expectancy of 1.8 years from 2019. Here are some more of the report’s significant findings:

In 2020, life expectancy at birth was 77.0 years for the total U.S. population — a decrease of 1.8 years from 78.8 years in 2019. For males, life expectancy decreased 2.1 years from 76.3 in 2019 to 74.2 in 2020. For females, life expectancy decreased 1.5 years from 81.4 in 2019 to 79.9 in 2020.

In 2020, the difference in life expectancy between females and males was 5.7 years, an increase of 0.6 year from 2019.

graph of the death rates in the US for 2020

The age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 16.8% from 715.2 per 100,000 standard population in 2019 to 835.4 in 2020. Age-adjusted death rates increased in 2020 from 2019 for all race-ethnicity-sex groups, increasing 42.7% for Hispanic males, 32.4% for Hispanic females, 28.0% for non-Hispanic Black males, 24.9% for non-Hispanic Black females, 13.4% for non-Hispanic White males, and 12.1% for non-Hispanic White females.

graph of the leading causes of death in the US in 2020

In 2020, 9 of the 10 leading causes of death remained the same as in 2019. The top leading cause was heart disease, followed by cancer. COVID-19, newly added as a cause of death in 2020, became the 3rd leading cause of death. Of the remaining leading causes in 2020 (unintentional injuries, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease), 5 causes changed ranks from 2019. Unintentional injuries, the 3rd leading cause in 2019, became the 4th leading cause in 2020. Chronic lower respiratory diseases, the 4th leading cause in 2019, became the 6th. Alzheimer disease, the 6th leading cause in 2019, became the 7th. Diabetes, the 7th leading cause in 2019, became the 8th. Kidney disease, the 8th leading cause in 2019, became the 10th leading cause in 2020. Stroke, and influenza and pneumonia, remained the 5th and 9th leading causes, respectively. Suicide dropped from the list of 10 leading causes in 2020.

And from the report’s summary:

From 2019 to 2020, the age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 16.8%. This single-year increase is the largest since the first year that annual mortality data for the entire United States became available. The decrease in life expectancy for the total population of 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020 is the largest single-year decrease in more than 75 years.

Since more people in the US died of Covid in 2021 than in 2020, I’d expect the decline life expectancy and the rise in death rate to continue.

Victorian Condoms (Possibly)

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 06, 2021

You find the strangest things in the pages of old books, and the folks at the Bodleian Archives at Oxford are no stranger to the eccentric bits of paratext one picks up here and there. But this is indeed something of a mystery:

Folded Tissue with Ribbon.jpeg

The tissue was folded in half, lengthwise. When I unfolded it, it was immediately clear: not a glove, not unless you wanted to cover only one (very long!) finger at a time.

Instead there were four, individual, 8 inch/20cm-long tubes. For each, one end has been skillfully shaped, cut and sealed into a three dimensional dome, like a fingertip on a glove. The other end of each tube is fully open, and a pale blue ribbon drawstring is neatly tucked into a narrow hem around the circumference of each opening.

The archivist’s best guess? A small pack of condoms, quite possibly made from an animal casing, which would have been soft and supple when new (now quite brittle). And to be honest, a book is a perfectly good place to keep such supplies — unlikely to get lost in laundry or wardrobe changes, the closest thing a man of that era might carry to a bag or purse.

My Recent Media Diet, the Belated End of 2021 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

“Recent” is increasingly becoming a lie with these media diet posts…the last one I did was back on Sept 13, right before my life went to hell in a handcart for a couple of months.1 So let’s get to it: a list of short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV shows, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) in the last few months of 2021 (as well as a few 2022 items). As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades — they are subjective and inconsistent. Oh and some of this stuff might have already popped up in my end-of-2021 review, but I’ll try and say something different about them here.

The Great British Baking Show. I already covered this in the last media diet (and the year-end review), but I wanted to include it here as well because it’s become a real favorite. Rahul 4eva! (A)

Project Hail Mary. After my whole family read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, I had to read it too. And……it was alright. I guess I don’t quite get the acclaim for this book — reminded me of a sci-fi Da Vinci Code. Looking forward to the movie being better. (B)

The French Dispatch. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums? (A)

The Hunger Games. I watched all four movies in this series because I needed something familiar and also mindless to switch my brain off. (B+)

Ted Lasso (season two). Not quite as good as the first season and definitely not as beloved because they had some new ground to cover, but I enjoyed the season as a whole. And put me down as a fan of the Coach Beard Rumspringa episode. (A-)

Izakaya Minato. I don’t exactly know what it was about this meal, but I’m still thinking about it more than 3 months later. Really fresh, clean, creative food. (A)

Magnus on Water. Amazing cocktails, great service, and the outdoor seating area was just right. (A-)

The Lost Daughter. Gah, so good! Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley are all fantastic and the direction and cinematography (all those tight, almost suffocating shots) were just great. Gonna be thinking about this one for awhile. (A+)

Therapy. I’ve got more to say about this at some point, but I’ve been seeing a therapist since September and it’s been really helpful. (A)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I enjoyed this quite a bit, more than Black Widow or The Eternals (haven’t seen latest Spidey yet). (B+)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack. Really, really good — been blasting this in the car a lot lately. (A)

Dune. Felt good to see a serious blockbuster in the theater again. And to be able to rewatch it on HBO Max a couple of weeks later. (A-)

Ravine. I’ve only played this a couple of times with the kids, but it got high marks all around for fun and quick rounds. (B+)

The Power of the Dog. A slow burn with a great payoff. Wonderful cast & direction. (A)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I loved the first half of this book — lots of pithy observations about social media. (B+)

Don’t Look Up. Everyone is comparing this to Dr Strangelove and while it’s not quite on that level, it certainly does some of the same things for climate change that DS did for nuclear war. (A)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut. A super interesting mix of historical fact and narrative fiction about the swift technological changes that took place in the early 20th century that altered history in small and large ways. (A-)

Wingspan. Bought this game after reading Dan Kois’ review and our family has been enjoying it. (B+)

Pirates of the Caribbean. Still fun. I remember being very skeptical before seeing this for the first time back when it came out, but as soon as Jack Sparrow stepped off his sinking ship right onto the dock, I knew it was going to be good. (A-)

Clear and Present Danger. I don’t actually remember watching much of this…must have switched off my brain too much. (-)

Spies in Disguise. I read the plot synopsis of this on Wikipedia and I still don’t remember watching any of it. I think the kids liked it? (-)

The Courier. Solid spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a true story. (B+)

Finch. Charming but nothing much actually happens? (B)

Eternals. Now that the Infinity Saga is done, I’m not sure how much interest I’m going to have in some of these new characters & storylines. (B)

Mad Max Fury Road. Seventh rewatch? Eighth? I just plain love this movie. (A)

No Time to Die. I am not really a James Bond fan but I liked this one. (B+)

Succession (season three). This got off to a bit of a slow, meandering start, but the last few episodes were just fantastic. (A)

Omicron variant. You think you’re out but they keep pulling you back in. (F-)

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton. Thought the water was going to glow as I swam through it, but it was more like sparkly fireworks. Magical. (A)

Xolo Tacos. We stumbled in here for dinner after nothing else looked good and were rewarded with the best tacos on Holbox. The carne asada taco might be the best taco I’ve had in years and we ended up ordering a second round. (A)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I liked this one slightly less than her first two novels. But only slightly. (A-)

Free Guy. Fun entrant into the video game movie genre. (B+)

Hacks. It was fine but ultimately didn’t understand why so many people on my timeline were raving about this. (B+)

NY Times Crossword app. I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but the Times app does all the fiddly work (e.g. of finding the current clue’s boxes, etc.) for me so I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe into the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. But the Minis and Spelling Bee are where it’s at for me. (B+)

The Hunt for Red October. Still a great thriller. (A-)

Avatar: The Last Airbender. After watching The Legend of Korra, the kids and I went back to watch Avatar. The first season and a half is kinda uneven, but overall we really liked it. The beach episode has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on television and the one where Aang is hallucinating from the lack of sleep made my kids laugh so hard I thought they were going to pass out. (A-)

The Matrix Resurrections. I am someone who didn’t dislike the second and third Matrix movies as much as everyone else seemed to, and so it is with this one as well. Wish I could have seen this in the theater, but Omicron. (A-)

The Wrong Trousers. The last five minutes is still maybe the best chase scene in movie history. (A)

Preview of the next media diet: I am enjoying the hell out of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, want to read The Lost Daughter, just started the last season of The Expanse, listening to the audiobook version of Exhalation, want to check out Station Eleven on HBO Max, and plan on watching Pig, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. Oh, and I need to dig into the second seasons of The Great and For All Mankind. And more GBBO! We’ll see how much of that I actually follow through on…

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. Nothing serious, I am embarrassed to say. I just got really into the weeds with a number of things and I kinda fell to pieces.

Don’t Look Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Somehow, I missed the teaser trailer for Don’t Look Up a couple months back, but the official trailer just came out yesterday. Directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice) and starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Jennifer Lawrence (and Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet), Don’t Look Up is a comedy about what happens when scientific fact (in the form of a planet-killing comet) slams into the fantasy worlds of politics and entertainment media. Just because you can’t spin Newton’s laws of motion doesn’t mean you can’t try!

Nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, about this movie is related to current events, nope, no sir. *sobbing intensifies* (I love disaster movies and will 100% see this even though it will probably be completely enraging.)

Lydia Davis on Translation and Learning Languages

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 10, 2021

Lydia Davis.jpeg

My favorite contemporary writer is probably Lydia Davis, in no small part because I don’t know if anyone takes a finer care for the language they use, as a writer and reader.

Davis also does double duty as both an original writer of fiction and essays, and a translator of other people’s writings, in multiple languages. In her new collection, Essays 2, she describes her unusual technique:

Although she learned German by immersion, Davis’s preferred method of language acquisition is quite different, and, to an outside observer, demonically challenging: She finds a book published in a language that she does not fully or even partially understand and then tries to figure out what it means.

To improve her Spanish, she digs into a copy of “Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer.” In some cases the decryption proves easy. Words like “plan” are the same in English and Spanish. In other cases she inductively reasons the meaning of a word after noticing it in different contexts. Hoja initially stumps her when it pops up in the phrase hoja de papel — “hoja of paper.” Later in the book, it occurs in the context of a tree. Finally, Huck wraps a dry hoja around something to make a cigarette, and Davis realizes that only one meaning would work as well with paper as with a tree or a cigarette: “leaf.” Of course, it would be possible to solve the hoja enigma in two seconds by plugging the word into Google, but that would destroy the fun.

I’m (re)learning Italian right now — I sort of learned it backwards the first time, starting with Dante and Petrarch and only now learning how to ask where the bathroom is (dove el gabinetto?) and the difference between coat (cappotto) and hat (cappello). But what remains exciting are the little associations you learn, the conjunctions of phrasing, the possible substitutions of one term for another, the way a question and an answer can reflect the same structure — a map of phonemic possibilities that is also a way of seeing the world. Davis’s method might be impractical for learning a second language, but for a gifted language learner, it seems to put a premium on finding those connections. Which is, indeed, a big part of the fun.

“52 Things I Learned in 2021”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned during the past year is always worth a read. Here are some of my favorites from the list:

4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

10. Short afternoon naps at the workplace lead to significant increases in productivity, psychological well-being and cognition. In contrast, an extra 30 minutes sleep at night shows no similar improvements. [Pedro Bessone]

21. Women’s relative earnings increase 4% when their manager becomes the father of a daughter, rather than a son. This daughter effect was found in 25 years of Danish small-business data. [Maddalena Ronchi]

35. Clean rooms used to make semiconductors have to be 1,000x cleaner than a surgical operating theatre, because a single transistor is now much smaller than a virus. [Ian King]

37. The notion of a personal ‘Carbon Footprint’ was invented by Ogilvy & Mather for BP in the early 2000s. [Mark Kaufman]

47. The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram. [Anthony Warner]

Inspired by Whitwell, I have been sporadically compiling my own list throughout the year. I’m going to review it soon and see if there’s anything in there worth publishing. Of course, the 1300+ Quick Links I’ve posted in 2021 work as their own giant list of things I’ve learned this year.

US Quarter Featuring Maya Angelou Starts Circulating

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

US quarter featuring Maya Angelou on the reverse side

The US Mint has started shipping a quarter featuring poet & activist Maya Angelou on it.

A writer, poet, performer, social activist, and teacher, Angelou rose to international prominence as an author after the publication of her groundbreaking autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Angelou’s published works of verse, non-fiction, and fiction include more than 30 bestselling titles. Her remarkable career encompasses dance, theater, journalism, and social activism.

The front of the Angelou quarter features a portrait of George Washington (a slaveowner, I feel it is important to note) that is different from the usual image on regular quarters. The new image was sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser in 1931:

In 1931, Congress held a competition to design a coin to honor the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The original competition called for the obverse of the coin to feature a portrait of George Washington, based on the famed life-mask bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The reverse was to feature a design that was to be “national” in nature.

Laura Gardin Fraser submitted a design that features a right-facing portrait of George Washington on the obverse, while the reverse shows an eagle with wings spread wide. In a 1932 letter to recommend Fraser’s design, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) wrote to (then) Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon:

“This bust is regarded by artists who have studied it as the most authentic likeness of Washington. Such was the skill of the artist in making this life-mask that it embodies those high qualities of the man’s character which have given him a place among the great of the world…Simplicity, directness, and nobility characterize it. The design has style and elegance…The Commission believes that this design would present to the people of this country the Washington whom they revere.”

While her design was popular, it was not chosen. Instead, Secretary Mellon ultimately selected the left-facing John Flannigan design, which has appeared on the quarter’s obverse since 1932.

the obverse side (with George Washington) of a US quarter featuring Maya Angelou on the reverse side

The Angelou quarter is the first in a series of quarters featuring notable American women:

Beginning in 2022 and continuing through 2025, the Mint will issue five quarters in each of these years. The ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse group of individuals honored through this program reflects a wide range of accomplishments and fields, including suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The additional honorees in 2022 are physicist and first woman astronaut Dr. Sally Ride; Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and an activist for Native American and women’s rights; Nina Otero-Warren, a leader in New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first female superintendent of Santa Fe public schools; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood, who achieved international success despite racism and discrimination.

The Angelou quarter will start circulating later this month and early next month — look for it in your change soon!

Randomly Bouncing Balls Arrange Themselves Into Satisfying Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2022

In this clever simulation, bouncing balls obeying the laws of physics somehow arrange themselves, mid-chaos, into neat patterns. This is immensely satisfying.

Spoiler: the trick here is a pair of simulations stitched together, like a physics Texas Switch: “Each sequence is obtained by joining two simulations, both starting from the time in which the balls are arranged regularly. One simulates forward in time, one backwards.”

The Postage Stamp Pictures of Paul Edlin

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2022

a colorful abstract scene created with fragments of postage stamps

a colorful abstract scene created with fragments of postage stamps

Artist Paul Edlin used tiny fragments of postage stamps to create these beautiful abstract collages. Here’s closeup of the top image where you can see the fragments more clearly:

closeup of a colorful abstract scene created with fragments of postage stamps

(thx, philip)

Grief Is Unexpressed Love

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Andrew Garfield how performing and art helps him deal with grief. The relevant bit starts at around the 4:05 mark and continues for three minutes — just give it a watch…there’s not much more I can add to what Garfield says and how he says it.

Update: Colbert is no stranger to conversations about grief — here’s his 2019 conversation with Anderson Cooper. (thx, david)

Practices of Viewing

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2022

In a series of video meditations on what he calls “Practices of Viewing”, Johannes Binotto explores techniques that filmmakers have used since the invention of film but are now within the control of home viewers: fast forward, mute, pause, screenshotting, and masking. Great stuff; this series was the most-mentioned in the recent Sight & Sound poll of the best video essays of 2021. Communications professor Katie Bird wrote of Practices of Viewing:

Beyond inspirational, and field changing, nothing made me want to throw in the towel on making more than seeing Binotto’s playful, critical, and incisive video series Practices of Viewing. Each one challenged our ways of ‘seeing’ and making, each one carefully bringing in new techniques to test the boundaries and possibilities of videographic form. But whatever trepidation I felt, was always overshadowed by the openness and curiosity that grounded each of Binotto’s experiments and his welcomeness as a videographic maker joyfully throwing out these gambits for the rest of us to up our games.

They’re so good and succinct, but somehow only one of them has over 500 views (and even that one hasn’t broken 1000 views). If you’re even a casual student or fan of film, take a few minutes to watch the first one and you’ll get sucked into the rest.

Extreme Macro Photography of Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2021

closeup photo of an eye

closeup photo of an eye

closeup photo of an eye

closeup photo of an eye

closeup photo of an eye

I have featured Suren Manvelyan’s ultra-macro photos of human eyes on the site before, but since I think about them all the time, here they are again. I just wish the images were bigger. Manvelyan has also shot a bunch of animal eyes at close range — this is a llama eye:

closeup photo of a llama eye

Hyperrealistic Paintings of Rich Vegetation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2022

hyperrealistic painting of grasses and leaves

hyperrealistic painting of grasses and leaves

hyperrealistic painting of grasses and leaves

Why am I showing you these photos of lush, grassy, leafy plants? Because they are actually meticulously constructed hyperrealistic paintings of lush, grassy, leafy plants by Serbian artists Jelena and Aleksandar Paunkovic. The couple have been inspired by their verdant surroundings (I mean, just look at this) to produce these paintings:

From the big city we moved our studio near the mountain Kosmaj where we started with the production of paintings. We throw plastic bags out of everyday life and instead of them we made our canvas bags that still serve us today. We establish our own small garden, and started producing our natural non-hybrid food. We started composting organic food residues which we will use later as a soil that is rich in ingredients that will help other plants during growth. We meet new people and come to incredible information and knowledge. There will be more about that and other topics on our blog. When we harvested our first fruits after two months, there was no end to our happiness. For a moment we went back to our childhood, we remembered growing up, beautiful moments, and we had the privilege of feeling like a kids again.

With the pleasure of contact with plants, we discovered that we love hiking, but not for the reason of conquering the peaks, they are free and there is nothing to conquer. They can teach us that what we see there should be respected. All the paintings we create are created on those places. Each tour on new mountain, or visiting new environment, becomes material that will later serve us in the studio as a sketch for a new painting. We have found a way to bring the nature to a home or gallery and hang it on the wall to serve as a reminder that we need to think more about how our modern lifestyle affects the environment.

You can follow their progress on Instagram or order prints of their work. (via colossal)

Beneath the Bird Feeder

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2021

a red bird with its wings flared in the snow

a gray/brown bird in the snow

a squirrel on snowy ground

Last winter, Carla Rhodes captured some scenes of the animal life underneath her bird feeder. Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer, so the photos are good and she made certain to do the right thing with her feeder:

Ethical considerations were at the forefront of this project. This included hanging the feeder in a tree away from house windows. If not cared for properly, bird feeders can be a vector for diseases, such as salmonella. To avoid this issue I regularly raked beneath the bird feeder (and turned the soil below), rotated the feeder to different branches, occasionally allowed the feeder to be empty, and regularly disinfected the feeder with dish soap and dilute bleach solution.

(via colossal)

Objects

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

Objects is a film about the type of person who holds onto things as “a way to keep a treasured record of their lives”. The trailer is embedded above and here is a statement from filmmaker Vincent Liota:

The idea to make Objects came from a phone conversation I had back in 2014 with a long-time friend and collaborator, Robert Krulwich.

We mused about how we had saved objects for years that seemed precious to us, yet had no intrinsic value. Often, we came to own these things accidentally… mementos from an important moment in our lives or objects that evoke a time shared with a loved one. Over the years, these objects gained great significance; some we had each held onto for many decades. To us ‘keepers’ this seemed… natural.

Of course, not everyone shares this quirk. Take both our spouses, who do not hold onto things from the past. For them, objects simply have no resonance or meaning.

Why? What was it that made certain things so important to some people?

Objects is available to stream online at DOC NYC until November 28.

While I’m much more of a person who does not want a lot of possessions, I have keeping tendencies as well — old photos, favorite books I read to my kids when they were tiny, postcards from friends, 90s internet swag, the computer I built the first version of kottke.org on, and nearly every drawing, sculpture, and painting my kids have ever made for me, not to mention keeping online and public every single post I’ve made on kottke.org since March 1998. (via rob walker)

Watch the Careful Creation of an Instant Bonsai Tree

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2022

Bonsai is an art that rewards patience. You make moves, often small, and then wait years for the results to show themselves. Trees can take decades to shape into their “finished” form and even then they aren’t ever done. Instead of all that waiting, AbdarRahman Eatwell of Bonsai Releaf took an off-the-shelf juniper and through clever pruning quickly turned it into a bonsai tree that mimics the look of a much older tree that has been struck by lightning.

An ‘instant’ bonsai seems to be somewhat of an oxymoron, but bonsai from untrained material can be created in a very short space of time. As rewarding as it is to invest years into a tree, there is still an undeniable satisfaction gleaned from an occasional faster transformation, but that is always just the beginning of the journey!

I am interested in practicing bonsai someday, but my discomfort at his bold clipping of those branches (you can’t put them back!) makes me think I am not ready yet.

Goofy 18th-Century Self-Portraits by Joseph Ducreux

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2021

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux

Joseph Ducreux was a French painter active in the latter part of the 18th century — he was a portraitist in the court of Louis XVI and continued his career after the French Revolution. But Ducreux is increasingly remembered for his series of self-portraits that were surprisingly informal for the age in which they were painted. To contemporary eyes, they almost seem to have been painted for use in memes, a purpose for which they certainly have been used.

The Vinyl Boom

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 06, 2021

Bar chart titled The Huge Resurgence of Vinyl Records; vinyl records projected to break 30m units (LPs) sold in 2021

About five years ago, a funny thing happened: for birthdays and holidays, instead of LEGO sets or basketball jerseys, my son started asking me to buy him vinyl records. I happily complied: it was fun to mix new and old records together, track down semi-rare albums, and then listen to the music together, plus talk about music all the time.

It turns out my teen wasn’t an outlier: younger people are buying vinyl at a rate not seen in over a generation, not just as collectors or as an affectation, but as a first-line way to enjoy music, new and old. What’s more, the revenue from vinyl sales was a small but substantial lifeline to artists squeezed by streaming’s stingy royalty rates.

At The Hustle, Zachary Crockett does the math:

For modern-day indie artists, it’s a welcome boom. A vinyl record costs ~$7 to manufacture, and a band typically sells it directly to fans for $25, good for $18 in profit. By contrast, streaming services only pay out a fraction of a penny for each listen. A band would have to amass 450k streams on Spotify to match the profit of 100 vinyl sales.

There are also moments where the streaming and vinyl economy come together. Bandcamp has a vinyl pressing service, and some of the most popular music videos on YouTube are needle drop recordings of a fan playing a vinyl record.

There are some bottlenecks, though. First, streaming is a much bigger ocean than vinyl. Second, vinyl’s manufacturing capacity is greatly reduced from its heyday, making it more arduous and fragile to make, manufacture, and distribute a vinyl record. Finally, the environmental impacts of vinyl manufacturing aren’t great.

But the aesthetics — oh, the sweet joy of a needle on a record — the aesthetics can’t be beat.

Update: Crockett’s arithmetic above is a little hasty. For one thing, it doesn’t include shipping costs, which can either make a record much more expensive or cut into the profit margin. It’s definitely a better profit margin than streaming music royalties, but it is one where costs are at a premium.

“A Grand Unified Theory of Buying Stuff”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2022

I like Paul Ford. He’s a pal even.1 But here’s my problem with Paul Ford, professionally: there are so many good lines and observations in the things that he writes that it’s difficult to do the absurdly simple thing I need to do in my work here, i.e. pick the “best” selection of a piece of writing to get you to click through and read the rest of it. This is a problem even for his short pieces, like A Grand Unified Theory of Buying Stuff from Wired. Here goes:

The problem is that certain kinds of stuff simply attract more stuff. The home is an obvious one: It craves sofas, sweaters, buffet cabinets, chandeliers. Computers are another; they grow USB tendrils. Smartphones beget earbuds, cloud backups, and music service subscriptions. I am jealous of the people who make it work with an Eames chair, a fancy ottoman, some nice art books, and multigenerational inherited wealth. Their iPads are so empty, just a few apps, whereas I have 60 terabytes of storage spread across a variety of blinking devices because I download large data sets for fun.

But also: “I often trick myself into thinking that the road to less stuff might be paved with more stuff.”

And: “The supply chain is fractal: Zoom in on your stuff and there’s more stuff, ad infinitum.”

Ok maybe just go read the whole short thing.

  1. Ok T for truth here…I have an intellectual crush on Paul Ford that’s now entering its third decade.

The Role of Type in Wes Anderson’s Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2022

a film still from the French Dispatch showing a magazine scheduling flowchart

In an interview with Creative Boom, type designer Marie Boulanger talks about Wes Anderson’s use of type and typography in his films, specifically The French Dispatch.

I’m just speaking for myself, but I recently rewatched all of his films in chronological order. You can see typography become a more and more prominent component over time — it’s quite fascinating. In later films like Isle of Dogs and the French Dispatch, it almost becomes its own character rather than a visual or narrative flourish. Especially in a story about writers and publishing, every book, every page, every shop sign, every poster.

Even thinking about the three stories contained within the film, graphic design and typography are really at the core of each one: exhibition posters, protest signs and even menus. You piece a lot of key information together just through certain objects from the set, as well as emotional nuance: humour, joy, sadness. With such a huge part of the narration depending on typography, you have to expect a high level of detail.

Some people can be quite dismissive of Anderson’s work as preoccupied with mere aesthetics, so it’s great to hear Boulanger talk about the depth that something that’s ostensibly aesthetic like typography brings to his films. I loved the use of type in The French Dispatch…so much information conveyed with “just” words. (via sidebar)

How to Build the Perfect Medieval Castle

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2021

Castles across Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages were all pretty different, but by looking at the trends over a period of several centuries, you can determine how to build the perfect castle.

We trace the origins of the castle in the feudal system that emerged in France c.900 CE, and look at the early motte-and-bailey castle, used by the Normans to subjugate England and Wales in the 11th century. We then look at how castle’s became stronger and more sophisticated, with the addition of stone curtain walls, massive keeps, towers (square, round and D-shaped), as well as powerful gatehouses, barbicans, machicolations and moats.

(FYI: The sponsorship in this video for a medieval role-playing game is a little annoying but easily skippable and ultimately doesn’t detract from how interesting & educational the video is.)

Ghost Signs of London

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 08, 2021

London Ghost Signs.jpeg

From Bloomberg’s CityLab:

Study the buildings flanking London’s older streets closely and you’ll see one soon enough: an old painted sign that, once bright and eye-catching, is now faded into the masonry, the name of the business or product it promoted flaking and faint.

Such “ghost signs” are fixtures of older neighborhoods in many cities around the world, but the U.K. capital, which bustled with competing commercial enterprises in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is unusually well-supplied with them. Ghost signs aren’t always easy to spot, but for sharp-eyed passersby and enthusiasts of urban history, they add an extra dimension to London’s appearance, their florid Victorian or cheerful art deco script and images a spectral reminder that once, not that long ago, these were somebody else’s streets.

London’s ghost signs are merely a fraction of the signage that used to greet 19th city dwellers, an era when cheap paper and a movement towards universal literacy made cities unusually alive with letters. But they are the special project of a new book by Sam Roberts and Roy Reed. From the book’s website:

Ghost signs are fascinating pieces of urban archaeology. Imposing yet hidden in plain sight, these faded advertisements are London’s history written on to the contemporary cityscape. They reveal fascinating stories of everyday life in the capital and each sign has its own tale to tell - not just of the business it represents and the people behind it, but of its own improbably survival.

A feast of history, typography and the urban environment, Ghost Signs: A London Story showcases London’s most impressive and historically significant faded painted signs, located, photographed and presented with archival andother contextual images.

Introduced by Wayne Hemingway MBE, the opening section shares insights into topics such as production techniques, economics and preservation. The themed chapters take on subjects including building, clothing, entertaining, branding and, ultimately, burying the city.

How Does The James Webb Space Telescope Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2022

The James Webb Space Telescope is still winging its way to its permanent home at the L2 point1 about 930,000 miles from Earth — it’s due to arrive in about 4 days. It’s a massive and fascinating project and for his YouTube series Smarter Every Day, Destin Sandlin talked to Nobel laureate John Mather, the senior project scientist for the JWST, about how the telescope works.

Also worth a watch is Real Engineering’s The Insane Engineering of James Webb Telescope:

It really is a marvel of modern science & engineering — I can’t wait to see what the telescope sees once it’s fully operational.

  1. You can read about Lagrange points here or here…they are interesting!

Dreamy & Surreal Imagery by KangHee Kim

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

clouds appear to come out of the top of a gas station canopy

a transparent road sign says 'Hope 1/2 Mile'

clouds in the middle of a lamp

a cloud nestles in a tre branch above a cliff face

Loving these fanciful and playful manipulated photos by KangHee Kim, which can be found on her Instagram or her series Street Errands.

Female Bolivian Skateboarders Shred in Traditional Dress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

a group of Bolivian women skateboard in traditional clothing

a Bolivian woman in traditional dress stands on a skateboard

a Bolivian woman in traditional dress stands holding a skateboard

Brazilian photographer Luisa Dörr travelled to Bolivia and photographed the members of ImillaSkate, a group of Aymara and Quechua women who skateboard, often in traditional cholita clothing. From a slideshow of photos by Dörr in El Pais (translated from Spanish by Google):

I traveled to Cochabamba in September and was struck by the strong prejudice that exists in Bolivian society against indigenous people. There are medical cholitas or lawyers there who radically change their way of dressing if they go to the city and you hardly see young cholitas. It is a culture that is being lost. However, these women, beyond emboldening girls with sport, show their pride in being cholitas.

Here’s a short documentary about ImillaSkate with English subtitles and you can follow more of Dörr’s work on Instagram. See also the Girls of Guanabara.

Bold Proposal to Make Central Berlin a Mostly Car-Free Zone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

Berlin pictured with and without cars on the streets

A group of Berlin residents has put forward a proposal to turn all of central Berlin (an area larger than Manhattan) into a car-free zone. What would that mean in practice? Adele Peters at Fast Company explains:

As in other cities, “car free” doesn’t literally mean that no cars could enter the area, but private car use would dramatically drop. Special permits would be given to emergency vehicles, garbage trucks, taxis, commercial and delivery vehicles (though many deliveries in Berlin already happen on cargo bikes), and residents with limited mobility who depend on cars. Others would be able to use a car, likely through a car-sharing program, up to 12 times a year to run longer errands. But most people, most of the time, would walk, bike, or take public transportation.

That sounds amazing and reasonable. There are five main goals the plan is trying to achieve for Berliners: better quality of life (walkable vibrant streets), better health (less pollution & noise), space for people (not vehicles), less climate impact, and street safety:

Berlin’s streets must become safer. There are still too many traffic deaths and injuries in Berlin. Especially the weakest must be protected: pedestrians and cyclists. Children and senior citizens in particular should be able to feel safe on Berlin’s streets; otherwise their mobility will be restricted because the risk or fear of an accident is too great.

The city is currently considering whether to turn the proposal into a law. This would be amazing to see in Berlin (and in some American cities too).

Natural Forest Growth Simulator

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2021

The YouTube channel Two Minute Papers enthusiastically shares the findings from scientific papers about technology: computing, graphics, AI, robotics, etc. Recently they reviewed this paper on simulating the growth of large-scale plant ecosystems based on real-world forestry and botany research. From the paper’s abstract:

In this paper we describe a multi-scale method to design large-scale ecosystems with individual plants that are realistically modeled and faithfully capture biological features, such as growth, plant interactions, different types of tropism, and the competition for resources. Our approach is based on leveraging inter- and intra-plant self-similarities for efficiently modeling plant geometry. We focus on the interactive design of plant ecosystems of up to 500K plants, while adhering to biological priors known in forestry and botany research.

What that means, as they show in the video, is that you can watch these incredibly detailed time lapse videos of forests developing over time in a realistic way. So cool. This kind of thing always reminds me of favorite childhood thing, Al Jarnow’s Cosmic Clock. (via waxy)

Bell Pepper Time Lapse: From Seed to Fruit in 115 Days

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2021

Watch as a single seed is plucked from a red bell pepper, planted in soil, and eventually grows into a fruit-bearing plant. I love how plant leaves in time lapse videos always look like they are flapping madly, trying in vain to reach the nourishing light.

This is one of many such time lapse videos on Boxlapse’s YouTube channel — their most popular videos include dragonfruit, tomatoes, and oyster mushrooms.

Exit Strategy, a Time-Loop Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2022

In this short film, a man stuck in a 24-hour time loop enlists his firefighter brother to stop a fire that will cause many deaths. But their efforts repeatedly fail to change the ultimate outcome of the day and they’re left with what really mattered all along.

See also One-Minute Time Machine and The Various Approaches to Time Travel in Movies & Books. (thx, leslie)

Ten Years Since Trayvon

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2022

a collage-style illustration of Trayvon Martin

A special issue of New York magazine tells the story of the first decade of the Black Lives Matter movement: Ten Years Since Trayvon. Zimmerman getting away with murdering Martin (and becoming a right-wing celebrity for it!) is still infuriating almost a decade later. Michael Arceneaux on The Day I Quit Believing:

The day George Zimmerman was acquitted was the end of a very brief moment in which I gave America the benefit of the doubt. Six days later, Barack Obama, the man responsible for that temporary suspension of disbelief, gave a speech that drove home for me how foolish I had been.

The president acknowledged the pain many of us felt, but, ever the peddler of hope, he stressed that “as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.”

I didn’t believe it when he said it, and it sounds even sillier to me now so many years later.

The whole timeline and package of stories are essential reading.