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An audiovisual remix of La La Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

An LA-based DJ named Sleeper has made an audiovisual mashup of La La Land, featuring music by Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys, Adele, and the Beach Boys and visuals from other musicals like Singin’ In The Rain and West Side Story.

I love La La Land. The movie presents the agony and wonder of dreams in spectacular ways. I think it captures a tiny taste of God’s dreams for us. I wanted to create an audio and visual experience that allows you to enjoy the film over and over again. It’s a turntable tribute to La La Land.

One way to deconstruct a movie, using There Will Be Blood as an example

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Evan Puschak takes us behind the curtain at the Nerdwriter a little bit and shows us that one way to deconstruct a movie is by counting the number of cuts. If you do this with PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood for example, you’ll notice that the average scene is quite long compared to most contemporary movies, which makes the viewer pay more attention to each cut.

Blade Runner 2049 making-of featurette

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

As if I weren’t looking forward to this enough: this four-minute making-of featurette on Blade Runner 2049 features Harrison Ford, Roger Deakins, Ridley Scott, Denis Villeneuve, Ridley Scott, and others talking about the forthcoming film. Come *on* October, get here already.

Should we be messaging the stars?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Message Aliens

Humans currently have the capability to blast powerful messages into space that will travel hundreds and thousands of light years and fall on the ears, eyes, and radio telescopes of possible habitable worlds. A group called METI wants to do just that…to say a bracing “hello” to whoever is out there listening. But not everyone, starting with Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, thinks this is such a good idea. In a piece for the NY Times Magazine called Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.), Steven Johnson details the effort to communicate with possible alien worlds and the potential pitfalls.

The anti-METI movement is predicated on a grim statistical likelihood: If we do ever manage to make contact with another intelligent life-form, then almost by definition, our new pen pals will be far more advanced than we are. The best way to understand this is to consider, on a percentage basis, just how young our own high-tech civilization actually is. We have been sending structured radio signals from Earth for only the last 100 years. If the universe were exactly 14 billion years old, then it would have taken 13,999,999,900 years for radio communication to be harnessed on our planet. The odds that our message would reach a society that had been tinkering with radio for a shorter, or even similar, period of time would be staggeringly long. Imagine another planet that deviates from our timetable by just a tenth of 1 percent: If they are more advanced than us, then they will have been using radio (and successor technologies) for 14 million years. Of course, depending on where they live in the universe, their signals might take millions of years to reach us. But even if you factor in that transmission lag, if we pick up a signal from another galaxy, we will almost certainly find ourselves in conversation with a more advanced civilization.

It is this asymmetry that has convinced so many future-minded thinkers that METI is a bad idea. The history of colonialism here on Earth weighs particularly heavy on the imaginations of the METI critics. Stephen Hawking, for instance, made this observation in a 2010 documentary series: “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” David Brin echoes the Hawking critique: “Every single case we know of a more technologically advanced culture contacting a less technologically advanced culture resulted at least in pain.”

As Johnson notes, concerns like these will likely grow in number and magnitude in the coming decades. The march of technology is placing more and more potential power into the hands of fewer people.

Wrestling with the METI question suggests, to me at least, that the one invention human society needs is more conceptual than technological: We need to define a special class of decisions that potentially create extinction-level risk. New technologies (like superintelligent computers) or interventions (like METI) that pose even the slightest risk of causing human extinction would require some novel form of global oversight. And part of that process would entail establishing, as Denning suggests, some measure of risk tolerance on a planetary level. If we don’t, then by default the gamblers will always set the agenda, and the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of their wagers.

Between 1945 and now, the global community has thus far successfully navigated the nuclear danger to human civilization but has struggled to identify and address the threat of climate change initiated with the Industrial Revolution. Things like superintelligence and cheap genetic modification (as with CRISPR) aren’t even on the global agenda and something METI sounds like science fiction to even the tech-savviest politicians. Technology can move very fast sometimes and the pace is quickening. Politics? Not so much.

P.S. If you want to read some good recent sci-fi about the consequences of extraterrestrial communication, try Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem.

Update: Johnson’s long piece was even longer pre-publication and he shared some of the outtakes on his site, including a reference to the The Three Body Problem.

Even with 8,000 words to play with, we had to cut a number of passages that might still be of interest. About fifty people asked me on Twitter (or in the Times comments section) why the piece didn’t reference The Dark Forest trilogy, and particularly its opening novel The Three Body Problem, which features a METI-style outreach that goes spectacularly wrong. We did originally have a nod to the books, but just didn’t have the space to keep it; but they are indeed terrific (and haunting) and well worth reading if you’re interested in this question.

What if animals were round?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2017

An outfit called Rollin’ Wild makes these fun videos imagining if animals were super round, like balloons. (via swissmiss)

A subway-style map of Roman Empire roads circa 125 A.D.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Roman Empire Subway

After much research, Sasha Trubetskoy has completed a subway-style map of the road system of the Roman Empire. From about 300 BC, the Romans built or improved over 250,000 miles of roads (50,000 miles were stone paved) that extended into the farthest reaches of the Empire: from Spain to modern-day Iraq to Britain to northern Africa.

Creating this required far more research than I had expected — there is not a single consistent source that was particularly good for this. Huge shoutout to: Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary (found a full PDF online but lost the url).

The lines are a combination of actual, named roads (like the Via Appia or Via Militaris) as well as roads that do not have a known historic name (in which case I creatively invented some names). Skip to the “Creative liberties taken” section for specifics.

(via @zachklein)

A montage of title drops

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Sometimes in a movie, a character will say the name of the movie. This is a supercut of 150 examples of title dropping from movies like The Right Stuff, Free Willy, Chinatown, Back to the Future, Full Metal Jacket, Con Air, and a bunch of Bond films.

Update: Paul Thomas Anderson talked about film titles on Fresh Air several years ago:

I had a friend who…any time he went to see a film and the title of the film was said onscreen he would scream out this horrible obnoxious noise, he would say “buk-CAW!” really loud.

Update: In the late 80s and early 90s, Penn Jillette did a movie night in NYC and there were rules. One of them was responding to film titles:

If the title of the movie is mentioned in the movie, it is always greeted by Movie Night people with polite applause. I’m still not clear as to how that custom began, but I do know that it leads to a lot of applause in a movie like “Wall Street.”

And if the title of another film is mentioned, that leads to a different reaction:

Whenever the title of another film was mentioned in the dialogue (as in, “I don’t want to be home alone tonight”), everybody whispered, “Wow.”

That EW piece also mentions a 12-year-old kid who shows up to Movie Night named Nick Jarecki, who has to be director Nicholas Jarecki (brother of Andrew Jarecki, director of Capturing the Friedmans and Jinx, the HBO doc about Robert Durst). (via @fortybillion)

Wolf trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Wolf Tree

I took this photo of a wolf tree over the weekend. When thick forests were cleared for pasture and farming by settlers to colonial America, single trees were sometimes left by design or accident. In the absence of competition for light and space, these trees were free to branch out and not just up. They grew tall and thick, providing shade for people & animals and some cover for predators like wolves. Being the lone tree in an area, wolf trees were often struck by lightning or afflicted by pests that had nowhere else to go, contributing to their grizzled appearance.

In some cases, they grew alone like this for hundreds of years. Then, as farming moved to other places in the country, the pastures slowly turned back into forests, the new trees growing tall and straight with an old survivor in their midst. Wolf trees often look like they’re dead or dying, partially because of their age and all the damage they’ve taken over the years but also because the newer trees are crowding them out, restricting their sunlight and space. But they still function as a vital part of the forest, providing a central spot and ample living space for forest animals, particularly birds.

More reading on wolf trees, including the possible etymology of the phrase: Wolf Trees: Elders of the Eastern Forest, the Public Land Journal, and What’s up with the “Wolf Tree” at Red Rocks Park? (specifically about the tree in my photo, which might date from the 1700s). I’ll leave any possible metaphorical meaning of the wolf tree as an exercise to the reader.

Man uses a 3D model of his face to get a national ID card

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

Raphael Fabre

Frenchman Raphael Fabre recently requested a French national ID card, but instead of sending in a headshot, he sent in a 3D model of his face created on a computer. The French government issued the card to him.

The photo I submitted for this request is actually a 3D model created on a computer, by means of several different software and techniques used for special effects in movies and in the video game industry. It is a digital image, where the body is absent, the result of an artificial process.

The image corresponds to the official demands for an ID: it is resembling, is recent, and answers all the criteria of framing, light, bottom and contrasts to be observed.

The document validating my french identity in the most official way thus presents today an image of me which is practically virtual, a version of video game, fiction.

If you look long and close enough at the high-res 3D image, there are little tells that it’s fake (the hairline, for example) but you could glance at it 1000 times without suspecting a thing. Even if it’s fake it’s real, eh Sippey? (via @zachklein)

Radiohead hid an old school computer program on their new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

As if you already didn’t know that Radiohead are a bunch of big ole nerds, there’s an easter egg on a cassette tape included in the Boxed Edition of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. At the end of the tape recording, there are some blips and bleeps, which Maciej Korsan interpreted correctly as a program for an old computer system.

As a kid I was an owner of the Commodore 64. I remember that all my friends already were the PC users but my parents declined to buy me one for a long time. So I sticked to my old the tape-based computer listening to it’s blips and waiting for the game to load. Over 20 years later I was sitting in front of my MacBook, listening to the digitalised version of the tape my favourite band just released and then I’ve heard a familiar sound… ‘This must be an old computer program, probably C64 one’ I thought.

The program turned out to run on the ZX Spectrum, a computer the lads would likely have encountered as kids.

NASA’s super accurate map of the 2017 eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Using data about the Moon’s terrain from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as elevation data on Earth, NASA’s Ernie Wright created a very accurate map of where and when the August 2017 eclipse will occur in the United States.

Standing at the edge of the moon’s shadow, or umbra, the difference between seeing a total eclipse and a partial eclipse comes down to elevation — mountains and valleys both on Earth and on the moon — which affect where the shadow lands. In this visualization, data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter account for the moon’s terrain that creates a jagged edge on its shadow. This data is then combined with elevation data on Earth as well as information on the sun angle to create the most accurate map of the eclipse path to date.

You can download maps of your area from NASA’s official eclipse website…I will be studying the Nebraska map closely.

Nebraska Eclipse Map

See also Eclipse Megamovie 2017, an eclipse simulator you can use to check what the eclipse will look like in the sky in your area, and what looks like an amazing eclipse watching festival put on by Atlas Obscura.

The most beautiful shots in film of the 21st century

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Ignacio Montalvo compiled a list of the most beautiful scenes pulled from dozens of movies from the first part of this century and edited them into a succinct video less than 3 minutes long. He included scenes from movies like Spirited Away, Kill Bill, Sunshine, Mad Max: Fury Road, Moulin Rogue, Children of Men, Wall-E, Melancholia, and Interstellar.

The Defiant Ones

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2017

From HBO, The Defiant Ones is a four-part documentary on Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine directed by Allen Hughes (who co-directed Menace II Society).

The four-documentary event is told with the help of many of the most notable artists and figures of our time, reflecting Hughes’ unfettered access to Iovine, Dre and the remarkable cast of figures who have been a part of their success story. In addition to extensive interviews with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, who speak frankly about their highs and lows, the show includes interviews with such music icons as Bono, David Geffen, Eminem, Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Jon Landau, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen and will.i.am. The series also features never-before-seen footage from a multitude of recording and writing sessions with Eazy-E, JJ Fad, Stevie Nicks, N.W.A., Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and U2, among others.

Ok, fine, looks good, but the real reason you should watch this trailer is to hear Snoop talking about being on the cover of “The Rolling Stones” magazine and its aftermath…and then the cut to Eminem. Who says there’s no good editing happening in trailers?

Also, I wonder if they’re going to go into Dre’s history of domestic violence? I’m guessing not? Defiant indeed.

The 12 signature characteristics of a Christopher Nolan film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

This short video from ScreenPrism details the 12 things you’ll find in a Christopher Nolan film, from non-linear storytelling to moral ambiguity to ambiguous endin…

My favorite observation in the video is that Nolan films his movies from the subjective point of view of his characters, so that the viewer often only knows as much as a characters know, which turns the audience into detectives, trying to unravel mysteries alongside the characters.

If you enjoyed that, ScreenPrism has also made a longer video that takes a more extensive look at Nolan’s career patterns and influences.

The Robbery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2017

For once, it’s nice to watch an onscreen robbery where everything goes according to plan.

Photos from a trip to Uzbekistan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Kevin Kelly Uzbekistan

Kevin Kelly recently visited Uzbekistan and shared a bunch of photos from his trip.

I knew almost nothing of Uzbekistan before my visit there so everyday was a cascade of surprises. While Americans think of Central Asia as the most remote places possible, people in Uzbekistan see themselves as at the center of the universe. They’ve been farming there for 6,000 years, and everyone has passed through over the centuries. I was so delighted I could as well.

Aside from its status as a former Soviet republic, I also knew next to nothing about Uzbekistan until a month or two ago. My barber told me he was “from Russia” when I first started seeing him many years ago, but at my last appointment, I asked him where he lived in Russia before his family moved to the US and he said he was actually from Uzbekistan. But then he went on to explain that Uzbekistan is a predominately Muslim country, that his family is Jewish, and so he didn’t consider himself an Uzbek. “If you’re not Muslim, you can’t really be considered a true Uzbek,” he told me. According to Wikipedia, Uzbekistan was home to a small Jewish community until the fall of the Soviet Union, when nationalism drove most Jews to leave for the US and Israel. We moved on to other topics before I learned more of the specifics — getting to know someone in 20-minute intervals every month or two can be challenging — but the post-collapse timing makes sense; he probably moved to the US as a kid in the early 90s, grew up in Queens, and now runs a successful business cutting hair.

The distribution of letters in English words

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

David Taylor analyzed a corpus of English words to see where each letter of the alphabet fell and graphed the results.

Letter Distribution

No surprise that “q” and “j” are found mostly at the beginnings of words and “y” and “d” at the ends. More interesting are the few letters with more even distribution throughout words, like “l”, “r”, and even “o”. Note that this analysis is based on a corpus of words in use, not on a dictionary:

I used a corpus rather than a dictionary so that the visualization would be weighted towards true usage. In other words, the most common word in English, “the” influences the graphs far more than, for example, “theocratic”.

Taylor explained his methodology in a second geekier post. (via @tedgioia)

You have to switch to Sprint to hear Jay-Z’s new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Jay-Z has a new album out today called 4:44 and it’s available exclusively on the streaming music service he owns, Tidal. But that’s not the only catch. To hear the album, you need have been a Tidal customer before today or you need to switch your mobile service to Sprint (or be a current Sprint customer).

This is all part of Tidal’s $200 million deal with Sprint and it makes very little sense to me. It’s a nice extra for current Sprint subscribers, but I can’t imagine that many people are going to sign up for Sprint just to hear an album. And Tidal’s gonna get a bunch of pissed-off first-time subscribers who will sign up thinking they’ll have access to the album but, oops!, they actually don’t. Dumb.

Rumor has it the exclusive is only for a week and then it’ll be elsewhere…which seems like a lot of fuss for very little reward.

What is it like to be white?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2017

Here’s Fran Lebowitz talking about race in the US in a 1997 Vanity Fair interview:

The way to approach it, I think, is not to ask, “What would it be like to be black?” but to seriously consider what it is like to be white. That’s something white people almost never think about. And what it is like to be white is not to say, “We have to level the playing field,” but to acknowledge that not only do white people own the playing field but they have so designated this plot of land as a playing field to begin with. White people are the playing field. The advantage of being white is so extreme, so overwhelming, so immense, that to use the word “advantage” at all is misleading since it implies a kind of parity that simply does not exist.

It is now common — and I use the word “common” in its every sense — to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at — or actually in — their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like — other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.

(via @amirtalai)

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

A bunch of libraries and museums have banded together for the Color Our Collections campaign, offering up free coloring books that let you color artworks from their collections. Participating institutions include the NYPL, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Smithsonian, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

Your world just keeps expanding (if you want it to)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Moon landing, but it’s also my pal Mike Monteiro’s birthday. He wrote a really moving essay on what turning 50 means to him, and how he’s expanded his personal definition of “us” and “we” along the way, moving from his family, to his immigrant community, to a group of punk art school outcasts, to a wider and wider world full of people who are more similar than different.

When we arrived in the United States in 1970, we settled in Philadelphia because it was the home of a lot of Portuguese immigrants from the small town my parents (and I guess me) came from. And so the we grew from a family unit to a community of immigrants who looked out for each other. We shopped at a Portuguese grocery store because they gave us credit. We rented from a Portuguese landlord because he wasn’t concerned about a rental history. And my parents worked for Portuguese businesses because we didn’t come here to steal jobs, but to create them.

This same community also looked out for each other. When there was trouble, we were there. When someone was laid off a construction job for the winter, we cooked and delivered meals. When someone’s son ended up in jail, we found bail. And when someone’s relative wanted to immigrate, we lined up jobs and moved money to the right bank accounts to prove solvency.

But as anyone who has ever grown up in an immigrant community knows, we also demands a them. They were not us. And they didn’t see us as them either. And at the risk of airing immigrant dirty laundry in public, I can attest that immigrant communities can be racist as fuck. We hated blacks. We hated Puerto Ricans. (It wasn’t too long ago I had to ask my mom to stop talking about “lazy Puerto Ricans” in front of her half-Puerto Rican grandchildren.) We hated Jews. In our eagerness to show Americans we belonged, we adopted their racism. (We also brought some of our own with us.)

I cried about three times reading this. Happy birthday, Mike.

When you walk over to shoot hoops at Drake’s house with Kanye

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2017

A celebrity story is usually far more interesting when the person telling the story doesn’t give a shit about offending the celebs in question (or talking to them ever again). This story told by Ninja, one half of the Die Antwoord musical group, is clearly in that category. In it, he recounts hanging out at Kanye’s house, eating Kim Kardashian’s delicious banana pudding (not even a euphemism), and then wandering over to Drake’s house (with whom Ninja has a history) to play some basketball. One of the things I liked about this story is that it could have stopped in three or four different places and been a complete & entertaining story, but it just kept going.

The stories behind the 100 most iconic props in movie history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

Movie Props

Movie Props

Thrillist has a great feature on 100 of the best props in movie history and how the directors, production designers, and artists found, chose, designed, bought, borrowed, or stole them to be a part of their films. About the plastic bag from American Beauty:

“It was a very low-budget movie. A tiny budget, and I had a tiny portion of the tiny budget. When I talked to Sam [Mendes, director] about the shopping bag, he was very specific about it not having markings on it. No store name, no ‘thank you, have a nice day’ — he wanted a plain, white plastic bag.

“Back in 1998, it was the early days for internet shopping. Now I do most of my prop shopping online, but back then it was yellow pages and finding things. I made calls to various manufacturers but the only way I could get one unmarked plastic bag was to buy 5,000 unmarked plastic bags. Even though it didn’t seem like a lot at the time, it was still in the range of $500. Which with my $17,000 budget or about that, I couldn’t afford it.

“The bag was always going to be filmed separately. Sam was going to take the video camera [that Wes Bentley used] and go out with the special effects guys with lawn blowers. It wasn’t slotted in the schedule. So I started my prep and I said, I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. Towards the end of my prep, my assistant and I were in downtown LA and we’re buying all sorts of stuff from all sorts of stores for all the characters. We came back to my house, and we’re unloading my car, and we’re piling all these bags on to the table, and right in the middle of the pile, is this white plastic bag with no markings. And I’m like, THAT’S THE BAG. We didn’t know where it came from — we’d been to 55 different places. The receipts just say ‘item number whatever.’ I have no idea where that bag came from, but it came to me. It came from the prop gods who knew I’d never find one otherwise.”

The cup of water in Jurassic Park:

“I was at work and Steven [Spielberg] calls into the office. He goes, ‘I’m in the car, I’m playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking. That’s what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror and I want to do something with the water.’ The mirror shaking was really very easy — put a little vibrating motor in it that shook it. The water was a another story. It was very difficult thing to do. You couldn’t do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.”

Oh, and the red stapler from Office Space!

“I wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and the color scheme in the cubicles was sort of gray and blue-green, so I had them make it red. It was just a regular off-the-shelf Swingline stapler. They didn’t make them in red back then, so I had them paint it red and then put the Swingline logo on the side.

“Since Swingline didn’t make one back then, people were calling them trying to order red staplers. Then people started making red Swinglines and selling them on Ebay and making lots of money, so Swingline finally decided to start making red staplers.

“I have the burnt one from the last scene. Stephen Root has one that was in his cubicle. There were three total that we made. I don’t know where the third one is.”

Ahhh, I could read these all day. Wait, the horse head in that scene in The Godfather was real?!

“John Marley, the guy who played the movie producer, was a pain in the ass because he was a complainer every time he was on screen. Now, we go to shoot the famous scene. We’re shooting out on Long Island on a winter day, which is cold, dark, and rainy outside. We’re down at an elegant old stone mansion, and John is wearing his silk coat and his pajamas, standing by the bed. Now, four grips walk in carrying this huge metal case. He has no idea what the hell’s inside. I’m not exaggerating — it was probably about 6 to 8-ft square with the latches on each corner. He stands by the bed, and they lower this thing on the floor. They take off the four latches, and he almost faints. He sees this fucking horse’s head with the tongue hanging out. Oh, Jesus Christ!

“The next thing we know, the head is on the bed, on the yellow sheets. So you know, the horse’s head was frozen with dry ice, so it was fucking cold. Francis figures, ‘This is my shot to get him.’ They put all the phony blood. John refuses to stretch his legs out. He’s got his legs pulled in so it doesn’t hit the horse’s head. Francis kept telling him to straighten out. His scream was blood-curdling. What you hear in the movie was not done later on. We were laughing at a certain point. We were fucking howling. He was freaking out. When that scene was over, he ran off the set, throwing the bloody shit on the floor. He was gone for the rest of the day.”

Ok, that’s enough, go read the whole thing already.

Super NES Classic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

SNES Classic

Last year, Nintendo came out with a mini version of their original NES console with 30 pre-installed games. This year, they hoping to repeat that device’s wild popularity with the Super NES Classic. List price is $79.99. The SNES Classic comes with two controllers and 21 games built-in, including Super Mario Kart, F-ZERO, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. US pre-order information isn’t available yet (relevant Amazon page), but I’ll update this post when it is.

Google search data shows “a crisis of self-induced abortions”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

For his book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz combed through data on Google Trends for five years, looking for data on searches that Google users “don’t tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys, or doctors”.

According to a recent interview with Stephens-Davidowitz, right now the data is showing an increase in search queries on how to perform abortions at home and, no surprise, the activity is highest in parts of the country where access to abortion is most difficult.

I’m pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it’s hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They’re also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren’t showing up in either abortion or birth rates.

That’s pretty disturbing and I think isn’t really being talked about. But I think, based on the data, it’s clearly going on.

The voices in your head don’t tell the truth

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

A recent job loss left Byrne Reese feeling depressed. He sought advice from his stepfather, who has struggled with depression for much of his life.

The voices in your head don’t tell the truth. They are determined to be heard, revered, awed; to get you to hear them at all times — to take them very seriously. They want to be looked upon as the voice of God. Nothing modest about them.

To achieve their goals they lie like crazy. They know you — have been around you a long, long time.

They know the lies you will buy, the ones you cannot dismiss — they know all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and they are going to work on you as only a great Pro can.

Remember they have your brain so finely tuned, and aware of all your knowledge and insight. They are going play the whole shebang against you.

They are going to lie to you as you’ve never been lied to before. It’s a crisis and they know how to savage you. This is their chance to take you over, to ground you down into fine nonexistence. To powder.

A subway-style map of the Roman roads of Britain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Trubetskoy Britain Map

After completing his subway-style map of the roads of the entire Roman Empire, Sasha Trubetskoy began work on a highly requested follow-up: a similar map of the Roman roads in Britain.

This was far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. Not only were there way more Roman Roads in Britain than I initially thought, but also their exact locations and extents are not very clear. In a few places I had to get rather creative with the historical evidence.

As Wikipedia notes, most of the roads were completed by 180 AD and many of them are still in use today.

After the Romans departed, systematic construction of paved highways in the UK did not resume until the early 18th century. The Roman road network remained the only nationally-managed highway system within Britain until the establishment of the Ministry of Transport in the early 20th century.

Here’s what’s wrong with the “relax, the world is better than ever” arguments

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

In recent years, commentators like Max Roser, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, and Matt Ridley have argued contrary to the prevailing mood that our world increasingly resembles a dumpster fire, things have actually never been better. Here’s Kristof for instance arguing that 2017 will likely be the best year in the history of the world:

Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.

In a long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman does not dispute that the world’s population is better off than it was 200 years by any number of metrics. But he does argue that this presumably bias-free examination of the facts is also a political argument with several implications and assumptions.

But the New Optimists aren’t primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago. (Even if you’re a card-carrying pessimist, you probably didn’t need convincing of that fact.) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further — though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists — that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than just believing that things aren’t as bad as you imagined: it means having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon.

What things are like right now are the result of past actions. But the world to come is the result of what’s happening right now and what will happen in the next few years. Momentum (mass times velocity) is a powerful thing in a big world, but it’s not everything. It’s a bit like saying “ok, we’ve got the car up to speed” then letting up on the gas and expecting to continue to accelerate.

The New Optimists “describe a world in which human agency doesn’t seem to matter, because there are these evolved forces that are moving us in the right direction,” Runciman says. “But human agency does still matter… human beings still have the capacity to mess it all up. And it may be that our capacity to mess it up is growing.”

And just because things are good now doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better or start heading in the other direction soon.

But after steeping yourself in their work, you begin to wonder if all their upbeat factoids really do speak for themselves. For a start, why assume that the correct comparison to be making is the one between the world as it was, say, 200 years ago, and the world as it is today? You might argue that comparing the present with the past is stacking the deck. Of course things are better than they were. But they’re surely nowhere near as good as they ought to be. To pick some obvious examples, humanity indisputably has the capacity to eliminate extreme poverty, end famines, or radically reduce human damage to the climate. But we’ve done none of these, and the fact that things aren’t as terrible as they were in 1800 is arguably beside the point.

Read the whole thing…it’s a solid defense against a sentiment I find increasingly irksome.

Ikea’s “Cook This Page” posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

For a promotion in a Canadian store, Ikea developed a series of posters that help you cook dinner. You lay the poster down, place the food directly on it according to the printed directions, and then you fold up the ends to cook it — the posters double as cooking parchment. (via fast company)

Systemic racism in America explained in just three minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

This short video shows several ways in which systemic racism is still very much alive and well in the United States in 2017. See also Race Forward’s video series featuring Jay Smooth.

“What Is Systemic Racism?” is an 8-part video series that shows how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society: Wealth Gap, Employment, Housing Discrimination, Government Surveillance, Incarceration, Drug Arrests, Immigration Arrests, Infant Mortality… yes, systemic racism is really a thing.

The reason why this matters should be obvious. Just like extra effort can harness the power of compound interest in knowledge and productivity, even tiny losses that occur frequently can add up to a large deficit. If you are constantly getting dinged in even small ways just for being black, those losses add up and compound over time. Being charged more for a car and other purchases means less life savings. Less choice in housing results in higher prices for property in less desirable neighborhoods, which can impact choice of schools for your kids, etc. Fewer callbacks for employment means you’re less likely to get hired. Even if you do get the job, if you’re late for work even once every few months because you get stopped by the police, you’re a little more likely to get fired or receive a poor evaluation from your boss. Add up all those little losses over 30-40 years, and you get exponential losses in income and social status.

And these losses often aren’t small at all, to say nothing of drug offenses and prison issues; those are massive life-changing setbacks. The war on drugs and racially selective enforcement have hollowed out black America’s social and economic core. There’s a huge tax on being black in America and unless that changes, the “American Dream” will remain unavailable to many of its citizens.

A commonsensical approach to sales and marketing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

First, congrats to my friend Gina for becoming a partner at Postlight. Second, I love how Postlight thinks about their sales and marketing process:

“Sales” at Postlight is probably not what you’re thinking. It’s an un-flashy, consultative process done in everyday clothing (although sometimes we put on nicer shoes). Our goal is always to figure out what a potential client really needs, and then to figure out the fastest way to make that happen. By the time we get to a formal proposal it’s usually exactly that — a formality. Gina has been involved with the Postlight sales process for many months now, and has proven to be a natural.

Similarly, “marketing” at Postlight is less about brochures and more about sharing what we know, giving good talks, hosting events for the NYC tech/design community, interviewing podcast guests, and saying good, true things about Postlight when appropriate. Here again, Gina’s experience as the founder of Lifehacker and her years of experience giving conference talks around the world comes to bear.

Seems to me that this approach gets you closer to potential clients and employees and hews more to the truth than “traditional” methods.

Can We Solve World Hunger With One Big-Ass Ear Of Corn?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

From Clickhole, a fascinating video essay on one of the most important scientific projects yet undertaken by the human race: solving world hunger by engineering a single massive ear of corn.

Impeachment and its misconceptions explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 05, 2017

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, legal scholar and former Obama advisor Cass Sunstein shared some views on his understanding of and some misconceptions about impeachment, namely that it doesn’t need to involve an actual crime and “is primarily about gross neglect or abuse of power”. Or as he put it more formally in a 1998 essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review:

The simplest is that, with respect to the President, the principal goal of the Impeachment Clause is to allow impeachment for a narrow category of egregious or large-scale abuses of authority that comes from the exercise of distinctly presidential powers. On this view, a criminal violation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for impeaching the President. What is generally necessary is an egregious abuse of power that the President has by virtue of being President. Outside of this category of cases, impeachment is generally foreign to our traditions and is prohibited by the Constitution.

The “distinctly presidential powers” bit is a high bar to clear. Examining the case for Nixon on that basis, and only some of the reasons for wanting to impeach him hold up.

Richard Nixon nearly faced four counts. One failed count, for tax evasion, was completely inappropriate, Sunstein argued: Though an obvious violation of law, it had no bearing on Nixon’s conduct of the presidency. A second charge, for resisting subpoena, is possibly but not necessarily valid, since a president could have good reasons to resisting a subpoena. A third is more debatable: Nixon was charged with covering up the Watergate break-in. Nixon might have been more fairly prosecuted for overseeing the burglary, Sunstein argued, but nabbing him for trying to use the federal government to commit the cover-up was “probably good enough.” Only the fourth charge, of using the federal government’s muscle to prosecute political enemies, is a clear slam-dunk under the Founders’ principles.

Clinton’s impeachment, argued Sunstein in that same Penn Law Review essay, was less well-supported:

I suggest that the impeachment of President Clinton was unconstitutional, because the two articles of impeachment identified no legitimate ground for impeaching the President.

Sunstein explained the intent of the members of the Constitutional Convention in a Bloomberg article back in February. It’s interesting in the light of the Russian collusion investigation that the debate about impeachment at the convention centered around treason.

James Madison concurred, pointing to cases in which a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Gouverneur Morris added that the president “may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

So what about Trump? Sunstein doesn’t offer much (no apparent mention of collusion with Russia):

Sunstein, having scolded legal colleagues for playing pundit, was reluctant to address the question directly. Setting aside the impossibility of impeaching Trump under the present circumstances of GOP control of Congress, Sunstein said he was wary of trying to remove the president simply for being bad at his job. Nonetheless, he said Trump’s prolific dishonesty might form a basis for trying to remove him.

“If a president lies on some occasions or is fairly accused of lying, it’s not impeachable — but if you have a systematic liar who is lying all the time, then we’re in the ballpark of misdemeanor, meaning bad action,” he said.

If I were a betting person, I would wager that Donald Trump has a better chance of getting reelected in 2020 than he does of being impeached (and a much better chance than actually being removed from office through impeachment) if the Republicans retain their majority in Congress. Although their healthcare bill has hit a hiccup due to public outcry (and it’s only a hiccup…it will almost surely pass), Congressional Republicans have shown absolutely no willingness to do anything not in the interest of their agenda…so why would they impeach a Republican President who is ticking all of the far right’s action items thus far?

mother!

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2017

Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) is coming out with a new film in September called mother! It’s a “psychological horror-thriller” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The score is by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who did the excellent score for Arrival, and not by Clint Mansell, Aronofsky’s long-time collaborator.

Cream, the product that will fix your life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

From David Firth comes the story of Cream, a magical invention that’s poised to fix all of the world’s problems. Until… (via @faqsonly)

Awaken, a documentary full of arresting imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

This might be the most beautiful three minutes of your day. Director Tom Lowe is making a feature-length documentary “exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and the natural world” called Awaken. This trailer is stuffed with some of the most arresting imagery I’ve seen in a long time. Perhaps most striking is the moving time lapse footage, which was shot from a helicopter using equipment of Lowe’s own design…I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

Awaken will be out next year and, unsurprisingly, is being executive produced by Terrence Malick (Voyage of Time) and Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, etc.).

The winners of the Magnum Photography Awards 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

The legendary Magnum Photos agency has announced the winners of their second annual Magnum Photography Awards. You can peruse the full selection of the winners, finalists, and juror’s picks on Lens Culture. The photos above are by (respectively) Nick Hannes, MD Tanveer Rohan, and Antonio Gibotta.

The potent combination of individual freedom and collective action

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

As part of a longer post on the role of capitalism in bringing about gay rights in America, staunch libertarian and Cato Institute executive VP David Boaz writes:

All the advances in human rights that we’ve seen in American history — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — stem from our founding ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The emphasis on the individual mind in the Enlightenment, the individualist nature of market capitalism, and the demand for individual rights that inspired the American Revolution naturally led people to think more carefully about the nature of the individual and gradually to recognize that the dignity of individual rights should be extended to all people.

This passage has been bugging me ever since I saw a link to it on Marginal Revolution in a post titled “Independence Day”. There’s this undercurrent in libertarian writing that suggests that if we just let capitalism rip, unfettered, unregulated, everyone will be automagically free. Independence Day, amirite?!

What’s interesting is that the way all of those freedoms Boaz talks about — abolitionism, feminism, civil rights, gay rights — were attained is through collective action that resulted in government protection. Capitalism is not Miracle Grow for individual rights. People organized and fought for their freedoms. Economic activity is taxed in order to protect our freedoms. Unchecked capitalism led to slavery, child labor, unfair labor practices, monopoly, and the ruin of the environment. Gosh, it’s almost like a system of capitalism combined with liberal democracy would be a fairly good way to both gain and protect individual freedoms. Yes, harness the incredibly useful engine of capitalism but make sure it doesn’t grind humanity up in the process.

Apple’s diseconomies of scale and the next iPhone

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

Apple is the biggest company in the world and they sell one of history’s most successful consumer products. As the total human population of Earth becomes a limiting factor in the iPhone’s continued sales growth (see also Facebook), they are perhaps running into problems designing a desirable product that they need to produce 200 million times over the course of a year.

This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many, too fast.

A Daring Fireball reader put it this way:

People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new devices in a year?

Diseconomies of scale is a real thing, btw. John Gruber has been arguing that Apple’s way around this is to produce a more expensive iPhone ($1000-1200) with exceptional components and features that the company simply can’t produce at a scale of 200 million/year. Rene Ritchie describes this iPhone++ strategy as “bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today”. Gruber compares it to the Honda Prelude, quoting from the Edmunds description of the car:

Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord — both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices. Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.

The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on the 1990 Acura NSX).

Keen observations all around and it will be interesting to see if Apple can benefit from this strategy.

“We’re in the era of the living god”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

Sports superstars are staying superstars longer than ever before. Sure, there have been outliers before (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ted Williams) but increasingly the best players in the major sports are veterans fighting off the ravages of time: Tom Brady, Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianluigi Buffon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Aaron Rodgers, etc.

When players perform at such a high level for so long, we no longer get sick of them. Instead, they become such an ever-present part of sports culture that many of us can’t help but love them. Buffon was launched to superstardom in 2006, when, perhaps already the best goalkeeper in the world, he was one of the faces of a then-unlikable Italian team that controversially made their way to winning the World Cup. Now he probably has a near-100-percent approval rating — still saving enough shots, winning enough games and doing enough stunts to earn it. Ronaldo became a worldwide name after replacing Beckham in the no. 7 shirt for Manchester United and doing a bunch of stepovers. He was unpopular with a segment of English fans for his entire stay in the Premier League; they viewed him as having an overly precious playing style in a game that was supposed to be anything but. Even upon his 2009 departure to Madrid, which came after he delivered every major trophy to Manchester, Ronaldo was mocked for, as this Telegraph headline put it, being a preening peacock: England would miss his footballing talents but not “the theatrics, the astonishing self-regard.”

But if you hang around long enough, you begin to earn a grudging respect from everyone who isn’t a Barcelona fan. If you have closely watched the last decade-plus of Ronaldo, Buffon, Messi, and Zlatan and not seen a play in which you learned to love them, then you haven’t really watched them.

Interesting observation, but I would have liked to read more about why…the piece only quickly mentions “modern training methods [and] technology”. Training and technology have made it possible to blend the energy & power of youth with the wisdom gained through experience, and it’s a potent combination.

P.S. A round of applause for writer Kevin Clark for the line: “It is possible that Ronaldo cannot pass the Turing test.”

Buildings photographed to look like spaceships

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2017

Spaceships Stieger

Spaceships Stieger

Spaceships Stieger

For his series entitled Spaceships, photographer Lars Stieger took photos of architectural structures that look like futuristic spaceships. (via colossal)

Some things kottke.org readers have recently read/watched/heard/experienced

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Every once in awhile, I send out an email newsletter to the kottke.org members. I’ve been having fun doing my media diet posts recently, and I’m always on the lookout for new things to try, so I used the most recent newsletter to ask them: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read/watched/heard/experienced in the past few weeks?” Here’s a sampling of what they said, accompanied by some of their short thoughts.

I’ve mentioned Dreaming the Beatles on the site before, but Celia offered up a short but compelling review: “In any group of 2-4 people, I mentally assign each person the role of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. This book has changed most of my assignments.”

Quoting Lars Gotrich, Robb recommends Green Twins by Nick Hakim: “it’s soul music for outer-space”.

Several people suggested Master of None’s season 2 on Netflix. I watched the first two episodes when season 1 came out and didn’t take to it.

Mind. Blown. Not only was the NBA on NBC theme song composed by John Tesh, he left himself a message singing the tune on his answering machine. Thanks, Alex!

Ben says of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: “Minimalism is appealing, but often not simple. This feels more simple, and helpful to me.”

Sarah praised Rami Malek’s performance in Mr. Robot as well as the show’s rich visuals. See also the off-kilter cinematography of Mr. Robot.

The A.V. Club’s A History of Violence series was highlighted by Chris. “As a fan of quality action movies (and occasionally cheesy ones) it was great to see an in-depth review of every year’s best of the genre, including things I’ve seen and some I haven’t.”

A few people recommended Tim Urban’s epic post on Elon Musk’s newest venture, Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future. Neuralink is working on “a way for our brains to communicate directly with one another”.

Rich shares that Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind “moved me profoundly and I continue thinking about it months after reading it”.

Benjamin recommends Magnum Manifesto, an exhibition at the International Center of Photography Museum in NYC: “Amazing history of photojournalism and documentary photography. Emphasized the importance of journalism in this specific medium.”

I have friends who rave about Pop-up Magazine and Mary agrees: “It’s a live performance of California Sunday magazine. Insane.”

Big fan of 99% Invisible here and Jessie recommends this recent episode, Squatters of the Lower East Side. “I’m familiar with squatting and adverse possession. However, I have never heard of a city/county working with squatters to legally adversely possess properties, especially those are city-owned.”

Sean recommends The Barkley Marathons, a documentary “about a crazy race, eccentric organizer, and lunatic participants”.

Les Cowboys is a recommendation from Joao: “devastating beautiful take on immigration, terrorism and family”.

HBO’s The Leftovers got many recs. I think I watched most of season 1 and it didn’t stick.

Neil is a doctor and recommends Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back: “nothing has come closer to capturing how dysfunctional things are in American medicine”.

Suzanne has been enjoying True Story, a monthly publication delivered monthly to your home — what a concept! She particularly enjoyed the first issue, Fruitland.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is broadcasting its production of Julius Caesar to theaters around the world. Says Steve: “A play about the overthrow of a dictator and the rights and wrongs of the method chosen seems more resonant than ever!” (FYI, my query and Steve’s response predated the recent controversy about The Public Theater’s production of the play.)

Diana recommends the audiobook version of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (review). Although not normally an audiobook listener, she says: “I have been listening to this for weeks now and am so impressed. It’s the best book of the year for me (and I typically read 100+ books a year).”

Of New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff says, “I’m just thrilled that an author as smart as this thinks there will even BE a New York in 2140”. I almost started this the other day after a recommendation from a pal…perhaps I’ll pick it up if my current book sputters.

And last, but perhaps not least, this heartbreaking clip from Clickhole: Hibachi Chef Tries To Make Meal On A Regular Table. Sez Mike: “Having seen teppanyaki food cooked with such drama and precision, this was a nice piece of satire… especially with the music.”

Thanks to everyone who responded and for supporting the site by becoming members!

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t running for President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

The scuttlebutt around the tech/media internet water cooler over the past few months is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going to run for President in 2020. This feeling has been fueled by Zuck’s goal for this year of visiting the remaining 30 or so US states that he has yet to visit and the way in which he’s been documenting his trips. Nathan Hubbard argues that Zuck actually has other things on his mind as he tours America:

Zuck isn’t running for President. He’s trying to understand the role the product he created played in getting this one elected.

Facebook has undergone two major evolutionary events in its history, both of which were driven by what Zuck saw as existential threats.

The incredible revenue growth in mobile (probably the greatest biz execution of our generation) helped Facebook survive a platform shift.

And the fearless acquisitive streak of Instagram, WhatsApp and others helped Facebook survive a shift in how we communicate and organize.

Zuck woke up on Nov 9th acutely aware that FB had facilitated a new shift he didn’t foresee or understand; that’s terrifying to a founder.

He’s the head of product. So he’s ventured out into the world beyond his bubble to do field research and inform how FB will evolve again.

I am also sympathetic to the argument that Zuckerberg doesn’t need to run for President because he’s already the leader of the largest group of people ever assembled in the history of humanity (aside from possibly the British Empire). Facebook doesn’t possess many necessary qualities of a sovereign country, but it also has many advantages that countries don’t. Zuckerberg is already among the world’s most important people and with Facebook still growing, he could one day soon be the most powerful person in the world.

Young Explorers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

Young Explorers is a wonderful series of short films by Jacob Krupnick that follow toddlers who have recently mastered walking as they explore the wide world on their own. Fair warning: as a parent, the solo NYC street crossing scene gave me a heart attack!

Kids do not want to be contained — they are built for adventure. As a culture, we are wildly protective of our little ones, often to the point of protecting them from happy accidents and mistakes they might learn from. “Young Explorers” is a series of short films about what happens when you allow kids who are very young — who have just learned to walk by themselves — to explore the world completely on their own.

There are ten films in all so far, two of which are available on Vimeo (embedded above). They are on display outside the ICP Museum in NYC until July 23.

2017 Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Prime Day, a holiday1 invented by Amazon to sell more stuff and sign up Prime members, is upon us once more. I know you don’t need more stuff, but if you do, there are some good deals to be had.

Many of the Echo/Alexa devices are available at their lowest prices ever. The flagship Echo is $90 (50% off), the Dot is $35, and the Tap is $80. (I actually have no idea what those last two things are.) The Dash Wand (which I have and have used sparingly so far…the kids use it mainly to hear jokes) is back in stock and is still essentially free (it’s $20 with a $20 credit after activation).

Amazon is also offering special deals for items ordered with Alexa devices, I guess to get people used to ordering with their voice from their electronic butlers?

The Kindle Paperwhite, still my favorite gadget, is $30 off.

Use the code PRIMEBOOKS17 to get $5 off book purchases over $15.

Exploding Kittens is $14, the 23andMe DNA testing kit is 50% off, this 4TB external hard drive is $110, and these All-Clad cookware sets are 40% off at checkout (All-Clad is amazing).

Update: Everyone’s favorite pressure cooker is on sale: the 8-qt Instant Pot is $90 (30% off).

  1. You laugh at me calling this a holiday, but someday Prime Day will be a bank holiday and members will have the day off. As my pal Matt Webb tweeted recently: “It’s 2047. Amazon Prime membership is now paid as a percentage of your income and includes healthcare”.

Compound interest applied to learning

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

How are some people more productive than others? Are they smarter or do they just work a little bit harder than everyone else? In 1986, mathematician and computer scientist Richard Hamming gave a talk at Bell Communications Research about how people can do great work, “Nobel-Prize type of work”. One of the traits he talked about was possessing great drive:

Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode’s office and said, “How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?” He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, “You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: “Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.” Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity — it is very much like compound interest. I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.

Thinking of life in terms of compound interest could be very useful. Early and intensive investment in something you’re interested in cultivating — relationships, money, knowledge, spirituality, expertise, etc. — often yields exponentially better results than even marginally less effort.

See also this metaphor for how cultural, technological, and scientific changes happen. (via mr)

A timeline of women’s fashion from 1784-1970

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

Fashion Plates 1784-1970

Part of the appeal of watching period shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey that happen over the course of many years is observing how fashion changes. Collected from a number of fashion plates, this image shows what a woman might have worn each year from 1784 to 1970. (I’m guessing the image only goes up through 1970 because photography made fashion plates increasingly irrelevant.)

Fashion plates do not usually depict specific people. Instead they take the form of generalized portraits, which simply dictate the style of clothes that a tailor, dressmaker, or store could make or sell, or demonstrate how different materials could be made up into clothes. The majority can be found in lady’s fashion magazines which began to appear during the last decades of the eighteenth century.

The above-the-knee dress makes its first appearance in the late 1920s (and then not again until the 60s) and everything is a dress or a skirt until the pantsuit in 1970.

During the 1960s trouser suits for women became increasingly widespread. Designers such as Foale and Tuffin in London and Luba Marks in the United States were early promoters of trouser suits. In 1966 Yves Saint-Laurent introduced his Le Smoking, an evening pantsuit for women that mimicked a man’s tuxedo. Whilst Saint-Laurent is often credited with introducing trouser suits, it was noted in 1968 that some of his pantsuits were very similar to designs that had already been offered by Luba Marks, and the London designer Ossie Clark had offered a trouser suit for women in 1964 that predated Saint Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’ design by two years. In Britain a social watershed was crossed in 1967 when Lady Chichester, wife of the navigator Sir Francis Chichester, wore a trouser suit when her husband was publicly knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

The last item about Lady Chichester was marked with a “citation needed” on Wikipedia, but I found a YouTube video of Chichester’s knighting and sure enough, his wife is wearing a bright red pantsuit (and he’s wearing what looks like a baseball cap (but is likely a sailor’s cap)).

The 100 best solutions to reverse climate change, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Climate Change Solutions

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has edited a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming which lists “the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.

In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here-some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline.

On the website for the book, you can browse the solutions in a ranked list. Here are the 10 best solutions (with the total atmospheric reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions in gigatons in parentheses):

1. Refrigerant Management (89.74)
2. Wind Turbines, Onshore (84.60)
3. Reduced Food Waste (70.53)
4. Plant-Rich Diet (66.11)
5. Tropical Forests (61.23)
6. Educating Girls (59.60)
7. Family Planning (59.60)
8. Solar Farms (36.90)
9. Silvopasture (31.19)
10. Rooftop Solar (24.60)

Refrigerant management is about replacing hydro-fluorocarbon coolants with alternatives because HFCs have “1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. As a planet, we should be hitting those top 7 solutions hard, particularly when it comes to food. If you look at the top 30 items on the list, 40% of them are related to food.

If, somehow, we could get to a place where we are talking about dealing with climate change not as “saving the planet” (which it isn’t) but as “improving humanity” (which it is), we might actually be able to accomplish something.

The infinite auditory illusion that makes the Dunkirk soundtrack so intense (and good)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

I remarked on Twitter recently that “Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Dunkirk is outstanding”. The music blends perfectly with the action on the screen without being overbearing; it’s perhaps the best marriage of sound and visuals I’ve experienced in a movie theater since Mad Max: Fury Road or even Tron: Legacy.1

Zimmer and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan achieved that effect by utilizing an auditory illusion called the Shepard tone, a sound that appears to infinitely rise (or fall) in pitch — the video above refers to it as “a barber’s pole of sound”. From a Business Insider interview with Nolan:

The screenplay had been written according to musical principals. There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a “Shepard tone” and with my composer David Julyan on “The Prestige” we explored that and based a lot of the score around that. And it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals. Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking and we started to build the track out of that sound and then working from that sound we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there’s a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve before.

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this — because it fits somewhere between “unpopular opinion” and “embarrassing admission” on the scale of things one doesn’t talk about in public — but seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D IMAX was one of the top 5 movie-going experiences of my life. The Light Cycle battle was 80 feet tall and because of the 3D glasses, it looked like it extended out from the screen to immediately in front of my face, to the point where I actually reached out and tried to touch it a couple times. And all the while, Daft Punk was pounding into my brain from who knows how many speakers. I was not on drugs and hadn’t been drinking, but it was one of the most mind-altering experiences of my life.

The rolling shutter effect explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

When your phone takes a photo of something, it scans the frame of view line-by-line from top to bottom quickly. But, if you’re photographing an object like a fan or plane’s propellor that’s moving very quickly, the scanning exposure can warp the final image. That’s the rolling shutter effect. Using high-speed camera footage to simulate the warping, Smarter Everyday shows us exactly how the rolling shutter effect occurs. The guitar strings are the coolest; more of that in this video:

P.S. Here’s the behind-the-scenes for Smarter Everyday’s rolling shutter video.

Where do ideas come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

In this video, creators like David Lynch, Susan Orlean, Tracy Clayton, and Chuck Close share their thoughts on the creative process and where new ideas come from. For some, inspiration strikes. For others, new ideas come from copying someone else’s old ideas imperfectly. For artist Chuck Close, ideas are generated through the process of working:

I always said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Every great idea came out of work. Everything. If you sit around and wait for a bolt of lightning to hit you in the skull, you may never get a good idea.

How Eminem was discovered by Dr. Dre

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

In an extended clip from the HBO series The Defiant Ones, this is the story of how a white rapper from Detroit and rap’s best producer got together to start one of the decade’s signature musical collaborations. It’s evident from how Eminem and Dre tell the story that their first session in the studio was like falling in love…you only click like that with something a few times in a lifetime and then you spend the rest of your life trying to get back to that feeling.

This isn’t an official clip from HBO (they uploaded a much shorter segment) but after seeing it, I am definitely watching the whole series.

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, is coming out with a new book called Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences — for example, the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

It’s based on his BBC podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fun fact that I just discovered: Harford and I share the same birthday, both date and year.

Winners of the 2016 Red Bull Illume photo contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Over at In Focus, Alan Taylor is featuring a selection of the winning photos from the the Red Bull Illume photo contest, an “international photography contest dedicated to action and adventure sports”. If nothing else, we’ve discovered that there is nothing that says “Red Bull” more than slacklining on an iceberg (unless it is snowboarding on an iceberg).

The bottom photo is actually from the 2013 contest but is a good reminder that waves are nothing more than a bunch of high water that needs to get down in a hurry, not unlike Wile E. Coyote hanging in midair after running off of a cliff. Photos of the waves at Teahupo’o makes this pretty evident as well.

From the top, photos by Lorenz Holder, Alexandre Voyer, and Stuart Gibson.

Oldest homo sapiens fossils found in Morocco, dating back 300,000 years ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Oldest Human Jawbone

The oldest known fossils of homo sapiens have been found in Morocco. The bones date back to ~300,000 years ago, more than 100,000 years earlier than previous fossils found. Here’s Carl Zimmer reporting for the NY Times about the paper in Nature:

Dating back roughly 300,000 years, the bones indicate that mankind evolved earlier than had been known, experts say, and open a new window on our origins.

The fossils also show that early Homo sapiens had faces much like our own, although their brains differed in fundamental ways.

Until now, the oldest fossils of our species, found in Ethiopia, dated back just 195,000 years. The new fossils suggest our species evolved across Africa.

“We did not evolve from a single cradle of mankind somewhere in East Africa,” said Phillipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany, and a co-author of two new studies on the fossils, published in the journal Nature.

The previous oldest fossils were found clear across the continent in Ethiopia, in eastern Africa. From a New Yorker article on the discovery:

And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco. “We’re not claiming that Morocco is the cradle of modern humankind,” the lead author, Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said at a press conference yesterday. Rather, he added, our emergence as a species was pan-African. “There is no Garden of Eden in Africa — or if there is, it’s Africa,” Hublin said. “The Garden of Eden is the size of Africa.”

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

The newest editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books come with maps of the story structure that depicts all the branches, endings, and links of each story.

On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.

Mapping the bones of the books can have other purposes, too. Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”

(via @RLHeppner)

A masterful video tribute to 40 years of hip hop in 4 minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

Biggie, Nicki, Snoop, Wu-Tang, Biz Markie, Lil Kim, Public Enemy, Missy Elliott. In a video featuring 150+ songs from more than 100 artists, The Hood Internet has distilled 40 years of hip hop into a tight 4-minute video.

It’s not a chronological history of hip hop. It’s rappers from different eras finishing each other’s rhymes over intersecting beats, all woven together to make one song.

I just watched that three times in a row. Lots more Hood Internet in the archivestheir last remix was a retrospective of the past 10 years of hip hop and indie music.

Fictional names for British towns generated by a neural net

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Dan Hon recently trained a neural net to generate a list of fictional British placenames. The process is fairly simple…you train a program on a real list of placenames and it “brainstorms” new names based on patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable”…and often hilarious. Here are some of my favorites from his list:

Heaton on Westom
Brumlington
Stoke of Inch
Batchington Crunnerton
Salt, Earth
Wallow Manworth
Crisklethe’s Chorn
Ponkham Bark
Buchlingtomptop
Broad Romble
Fuckley

See also auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds.

Update: Tom Taylor did a similar thing last year using Tensorflow. Here are a few of his fictional names:

Allers Bottom
Hendrelds Hill
St Ninhope
Up Maling
Firley Dinch

There’s also an associated Twitter bot. (via @philgyford)

Also, Dan Connolly had a look at the etymology of the names on Hon’s list.

Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.

I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!

Climate change: a plausible worst-case scenario for humanity

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Climate Worst Case

After talking with dozens of climatologists and related researchers, David Wallace-Wells writes about what will happen to the Earth and human civilization without taking “aggressive action” on slowing climate change. It is a sobering piece.

Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe. Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015. At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer. At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today. As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.” The high-end IPCC estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.

Carbon is not only warming the atmosphere, it’s also polluting it.

Our lungs need oxygen, but that is only a fraction of what we breathe. The fraction of carbon dioxide is growing: It just crossed 400 parts per million, and high-end estimates extrapolating from current trends suggest it will hit 1,000 ppm by 2100. At that concentration, compared to the air we breathe now, human cognitive ability declines by 21 percent.

Our climate is supposed to move slowly, in concert with many other slow moving things like ecosystems, evolution, global economies, politics, and civilizations. When the pace of climate change quickens? A lot of those slow moving things are going to break. Heat, drought, famine, coastal flooding, pollution, disease, war, forced migration, economic collapse…humanity will survive, but the worst case scenario is not pretty. And of course, the most vulnerable among us — the poor, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, and the otherwise disadvantaged — will undergo the most suffering.

Update: And once again, addressing climate change isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about preserving humanity and preventing human suffering. As Seth Michaels tweeted: “‘the planet’ will be fine. the patterns and structures that determine where we live, what we eat, how we get along? *that’s* what’s at stake”. (via @lauraolin)

Update: A piece like this was going to be controversial and some of the responses are worth reading.

Climate scientist Michael Mann:

I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.

The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.

Eric Holthaus: Stop scaring people about climate change. It doesn’t work.

The real problem is that time and time and time again, psychology researchers have found that trying to scare people into action usually backfires. Presented with the idea that the planet that gives us life might be dying, parts of our brain shut down. We are unable to think logically.

Our brain’s limbic system is hard-wired to prioritize these kinds of threats, so we shift into fight-or-flight mode. And because the odds look stacked against us, most choose to flee. If anything, strategies like this make the problem worse. They take people willing to read something like “The Uninhabitable Earth” and essentially remove them from the pool of people working on real-world solutions.

Robinson Meyer: Are We as Doomed as That New York Magazine Article Says?

Many climate scientists and professional science communicators say no. Wallace-Wells’s article, they say, often flies beyond the realm of what researchers think is likely. I have to agree with them.

At key points in his piece, Wallace-Wells posits facts that mainstream climate science cannot support. In the introduction, he suggests that the world’s permafrost will belch all of its methane into the atmosphere as it melts, accelerating the planet’s warming in the decades to come. We don’t know everything about methane yet, but the picture does not seem this bleak. Melting permafrost will emit methane, and methane is an ultra-potent greenhouse gas, but scientists do not think so much it will escape in the coming century.

Andrew Freedman: Do not accept New York Mag’s climate change doomsday scenario.

In several places, the story either exaggerates the evidence or gets the science flat-out wrong. This is unfortunate, because it detracts from a well-written, attention-grabbing piece. It’s still worth reading, but with a sharp critical eye.

In recent years, scientific evidence has solidified around central findings, showing that sea level rise is likely to be far more severe during the rest of this century than initially anticipated, and that key temperature thresholds may be crossed that make life difficult for some kinds of plants and animals to survive in certain places.